فصل 12

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12

HUMILITY

You are not the centre of the world

Most people tend to believe they are the centre of the world, and their culture is the linchpin of human history. Many Greeks believe that history began with Homer, Sophocles and Plato, and that all important ideas and inventions were born in Athens, Sparta, Alexandria or Constantinople. Chinese nationalists retort that history really began with the Yellow Emperor and the Xia and Shang dynasties, and that whatever Westerners, Muslims or Indians achieved is but a pale copy of original Chinese breakthroughs.

Hindu nativists dismiss these Chinese boasts, and argue that even airplanes and nuclear bombs were invented by ancient sages in the Indian subcontinent long before Confucius or Plato, not to mention Einstein and the Wright brothers. Did you know, for example, that it was Maharishi Bhardwaj who invented rockets and aeroplanes, that Vishwamitra not only invented but also used missiles, that Acharya Kanad was the father of atomic theory, and that the Mahabharata accurately describes nuclear weapons?1 Pious Muslims regard all history prior to the Prophet Muhammad as largely irrelevant, and they consider all history after the revelation of the Quran to revolve around the Muslim ummah. The main exceptions are Turkish, Iranian and Egyptian nationalists, who argue that even prior to Muhammad their particular nation was the fountainhead of all that was good about humanity, and that even after the revelation of the Quran, it was mainly their people who preserved the purity of Islam and spread its glory.

Needless to say that British, French, German, American, Russian, Japanese and countless other groups are similarly convinced that humankind would have lived in barbarous and immoral ignorance if it wasn’t for the spectacular achievements of their nation. Some people in history went so far as to imagine that their political institutions and religious practices were essential to the very laws of physics. Thus the Aztecs firmly believed that without the sacrifices they performed each year, the sun would not rise and the entire universe would disintegrate.

All these claims are false. They combine a wilful ignorance of history with more than a hint of racism. None of the religions or nations of today existed when humans colonised the world, domesticated plants and animals, built the first cities, or invented writing and money. Morality, art, spirituality and creativity are universal human abilities embedded in our DNA. Their genesis was in Stone Age Africa. It is therefore crass egotism to ascribe to them a more recent place and time, be they China in the age of the Yellow Emperor, Greece in the age of Plato, or Arabia in the age of Muhammad.

Personally, I am all too familiar with such crass egotism, because the Jews, my own people, also think that they are the most important thing in the world. Name any human achievement or invention, and they will quickly claim credit for it. And knowing them intimately, I also know they are genuinely convinced of such claims. I once went to a yoga teacher in Israel, who in the introductory class explained in all seriousness that yoga was invented by Abraham, and that all the basic yoga postures derive from the shape of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet! (Thus the trikonasana posture imitates the shape of the Hebrew letter aleph, tuladandasana imitates the letter daled, etc.) Abraham taught these postures to the son of one of his concubines, who went to India and taught yoga to the Indians. When I asked for some evidence, the master quoted a biblical passage: ‘And to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country’ (Genesis 25:6). What do you think these gifts were? So you see, even yoga was actually invented by the Jews.

Considering Abraham to be the inventor of yoga is a fringe notion. Yet mainstream Judaism solemnly maintains that the entire cosmos exists just so that Jewish rabbis can study their holy scriptures, and that if Jews cease this practice, the universe will come to an end. China, India, Australia and even the distant galaxies will all be annihilated if the rabbis in Jerusalem and Brooklyn stop debating the Talmud. This is a central article of faith of Orthodox Jews, and anyone who dares doubt it is considered an ignorant fool. Secular Jews may be a bit more sceptical about this grandiose claim, but they too believe that the Jewish people are the central heroes of history and the ultimate wellspring of human morality, spirituality and learning.

What my people lack in numbers and real influence, they more than compensate for in chutzpah. Since it is more polite to criticise one’s own people than to criticise foreigners, I will use the example of Judaism to illustrate how ludicrous such self-important narratives are, and I will leave it to readers around the world to puncture the hot-air balloons inflated by their own tribes.

Freud’s mother

My book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind was originally written in Hebrew, for an Israeli public. After the Hebrew edition was published in 2011, the most common question I received from Israeli readers was why I hardly mentioned Judaism in my history of the human race. Why did I write extensively about Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, but devoted just a few words to the Jewish religion and the Jewish people? Was I deliberately ignoring their immense contribution to human history? Was I motivated by some sinister political agenda?

Such questions come naturally to Israeli Jews, who are educated from kindergarten to think that Judaism is the superstar of human history. Israeli children usually finish twelve years of school without receiving any clear picture of global historical processes. They are taught almost nothing about China, India or Africa, and though they learn about the Roman Empire, the French Revolution and the Second World War, these isolated jigsaw pieces do not add up to any overarching narrative. Instead, the only coherent history offered by the Israeli educational system begins with the Hebrew Old Testament, continues to the Second Temple era, skips between various Jewish communities in the Diaspora, and culminates with the rise of Zionism, the Holocaust, and the establishment of the state of Israel. Most students leave school convinced that this must be the main plotline of the entire human story. For even when pupils hear about the Roman Empire or the French Revolution, the discussion in class focuses on the way the Roman Empire treated the Jews or on the legal and political status of Jews in the French Republic. People fed on such a historical diet have a very hard time digesting the idea that Judaism had relatively little impact on the world as a whole.

Yet the truth is that Judaism played only a modest role in the annals of our species. Unlike such universal religions as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, Judaism has always been a tribal creed. It focuses on the fate of one small nation and one tiny land, and has little interest in the fate of all other people and all other countries. For example, it cares little about events in Japan or about the people of the Indian subcontinent. It is no wonder, therefore, that its historical role was limited.

It is certainly true that Judaism begot Christianity, and influenced the birth of Islam – two of the most important religions in history. However, the credit for the global achievements of Christianity and Islam – as well as the guilt for their many crimes – belongs to the Christians and Muslims themselves rather than to the Jews. Just as it would be unfair to blame Judaism for the mass killings of the Crusades (Christianity is 100 per cent culpable), so also there is no reason to credit Judaism with the important Christian idea that all human beings are equal before God (an idea that stands in direct contradiction to Jewish orthodoxy, which even today holds that Jews are intrinsically superior to all other humans).

The role of Judaism in the story of humankind is a bit like the role of Freud’s mother in modern Western history. For better or worse, Sigmund Freud had immense influence on the science, culture, art and folk wisdom of the modern West. It is also true that without Freud’s mother, we wouldn’t have had Freud, and that Freud’s personality, ambitions and opinions were likely shaped to a significant extent by his relations with his mother – as he would be the first to admit. But when writing the history of the modern West, nobody expects an entire chapter on Freud’s mother. Similarly, without Judaism you would not have had Christianity, but that doesn’t merit giving much importance to Judaism when writing the history of the world. The crucial issue is what Christianity did with the legacy of its Jewish mother.

It goes without saying that the Jewish people are a unique people with an astonishing history (though this is true of most peoples). It similarly goes without saying that the Jewish tradition is full of deep insights and noble values (though it is also full of some questionable ideas, and of racist, misogynist and homophobic attitudes). It is further true that, relative to their numbers, the Jewish people have had a disproportionate impact on the history of the last 2,000 years. But when you look at the big picture of our history as a species, since the emergence of Homo sapiens more than 100,000 years ago, it is obvious that the Jewish contribution to history was very limited. Humans settled the entire planet, adopted agriculture, built the first cities, and invented writing and money thousands of years before the appearance of Judaism.

Even in the last two millennia, if you look at history from the perspective of the Chinese or of the Native American Indians, it is hard to see any major Jewish contribution except through the mediation of Christians or Muslims. Thus the Hebrew Old Testament eventually became a cornerstone of global human culture because it was warmly embraced by Christianity and incorporated into the Bible. In contrast, the Talmud – whose importance to Jewish culture far surpasses that of the Old Testament – was rejected by Christianity, and consequently remained an esoteric text hardly known to the Arabs, Poles or Dutch, not to mention the Japanese and the Maya. (Which is a great pity, because the Talmud is a far more thoughtful and compassionate book than the Old Testament.) Can you name a great work of art inspired by the Old Testament? Oh, that’s easy: Michelangelo’s David, Verdi’s Nabucco, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. Do you know of any famous work inspired by the New Testament? Piece of cake: Leonardo’s Last Supper, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Now for the real test: can you list a few masterpieces inspired by the Talmud?

Though Jewish communities which studied the Talmud spread over large parts of the world, they did not play an important role in the building of the Chinese empires, in the European voyages of discovery, in the establishment of the democratic system, or in the Industrial Revolution. The coin, the university, the parliament, the bank, the compass, the printing press and the steam engine were all invented by Gentiles.

Ethics before the Bible

Israelis often use the term ‘the three great religions’, thinking that these religions are Christianity (2.3 billion adherents), Islam (1.8 billion) and Judaism (15 million). Hinduism, with its billion believers, and Buddhism, with its 500 million followers – not to mention the Shinto religion (50 million) and the Sikh religion (25 million) – don’t make the cut.2 This warped concept of ‘the three great religions’ often implies in the minds of Israelis that all major religious and ethical traditions emerged out of the womb of Judaism, which was the first religion to preach universal ethical rules. As if humans prior to the days of Abraham and Moses lived in a Hobbesian state of nature without any moral commitments, and as if all of contemporary morality derives from the Ten Commandments. This is a baseless and insolent idea, which ignores many of the world’s most important ethical traditions.

Stone Age hunter-gatherer tribes had moral codes tens of thousands of years before Abraham. When the first European settlers reached Australia in the late eighteenth century, they encountered Aboriginal tribes that had a well-developed ethical world view despite being totally ignorant of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. It would be difficult to argue that the Christian colonists who violently dispossessed the natives exhibited superior moral standards.

Scientists nowadays point out that morality in fact has deep evolutionary roots pre-dating the appearance of humankind by millions of years. All social mammals, such as wolves, dolphins and monkeys, have ethical codes, adapted by evolution to promote group cooperation.3 For example, when wolf cubs play with one another, they have ‘fair game’ rules. If a cub bites too hard, or continues to bite an opponent that has rolled on his back and surrendered, the other cubs will stop playing with him.4 In chimpanzee bands dominant members are expected to respect the property rights of weaker members. If a junior female chimpanzee finds a banana, even the alpha male will usually avoid stealing it for himself. If he breaks this rule, he is likely to lose status.5 Apes not only avoid taking advantage of weak group members, but sometimes actively help them. A pygmy chimpanzee male called Kidogo, who lived in the Milwaukee County Zoo, suffered from a serious heart condition that made him feeble and confused. When he was first moved to the zoo, he could neither orient himself nor understand the instructions of the human caretakers. When the other chimpanzees understood his predicament, they intervened. They often took Kidogo by the hand, and led him wherever he needed to go. If Kidogo became lost, he would utter loud distress signals, and some ape would rush to help.

One of Kidogo’s main helpers was the highest-ranking male in the band, Lody, who not only guided Kidogo, but also protected him. While almost all group members treated Kidogo with kindness, one juvenile male called Murph would often tease him mercilessly. When Lody noticed such behaviour, he often chased the bully away, or alternatively put a protective arm around Kidogo.6

An even more touching case occurred in the jungles of Ivory Coast. After a young chimpanzee nicknamed Oscar lost his mother, he struggled to survive on his own. None of the other females was willing to adopt and take care of him, because they were burdened with their own young. Oscar gradually lost weight, health and vitality. But when all seemed lost, Oscar was ‘adopted’ by the band’s alpha male, Freddy. The alpha made sure that Oscar ate well, and even carried him around on his back. Genetic tests proved that Freddy was not related to Oscar.7 We can only speculate what drove the gruff old leader to take care of the orphaned toddler, but apparently ape leaders developed the tendency to help the poor, needy and fatherless millions of years before the Bible instructed ancient Israelites that they should not ‘mistreat any widow or fatherless child’ (Exodus 22:21), and before the prophet Amos complained about social elites ‘who oppress the poor and crush the needy’ (Amos 4:1).

Even among Homo sapiens living in the ancient Middle East, the biblical prophets were not unprecedented. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were well known in the legal and ethical codes of Sumerian city states, pharaonic Egypt and the Babylonian Empire. Periodic rest days long pre-dated the Jewish Sabbath. A thousand years before the prophet Amos reprimanded Israelite elites for their oppressive behaviour, the Babylonian king Hammurabi explained that the great gods instructed him ‘to demonstrate justice within the land, to destroy evil and wickedness, to stop the mighty exploiting the weak’.8 Meanwhile in Egypt – centuries before the birth of Moses – scribes wrote down ‘the story of the eloquent peasant’, which tells of a poor peasant whose property was stolen by a greedy landowner. The peasant came before Pharaoh’s corrupt officials, and when they failed to protect him, he began explaining to them why they must provide justice and in particular defend the poor from the rich. In one colourful allegory, this Egyptian peasant explained that the meagre possessions of the poor are like their very breath, and official corruption suffocates them by plugging their nostrils.9 Many biblical laws copy rules that were accepted in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Canaan centuries and even millennia prior to the establishment of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. If biblical Judaism gave these laws any unique twist, it was by turning them from universal rulings applicable to all humans, into tribal codes aimed primarily at the Jewish people. Jewish morality was initially shaped as an exclusive, tribal affair, and has remained so to some extent to this day. The Old Testament, the Talmud and many (though not all) rabbis maintained that the life of a Jew is more valuable than the life of a Gentile, which is why, for example, Jews are allowed to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save a Jew from death, but are forbidden to do so merely in order to save a Gentile (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 84:2).10 Some Jewish sages have argued that even the famous commandment ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ refers only to Jews, and there is absolutely no commandment to love Gentiles. Indeed, the original text from Leviticus says: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18), which raises the suspicion that ‘your neighbour’ refers only to members of ‘your people’. This suspicion is greatly strengthened by the fact that the Bible commands Jews to exterminate certain people such as the Amalekites and the Canaanites: ‘Do not leave alive a single soul’, decrees the holy book, ‘Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the Lord your God has commanded you’ (Deuteronomy 20:16–17). This is one of the first recorded instances in human history when genocide was presented as a binding religious duty.

It was only the Christians who selected some choice morsels of the Jewish moral code, turned them into universal commandments, and spread them throughout the world. Indeed, Christianity split from Judaism precisely on that account. While many Jews to this day believe that the so-called ‘chosen people’ are closer to God than other nations are, the founder of Christianity – St Paul the Apostle – stipulated in his famous Epistle to the Galatians that ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).

And we must again emphasise that despite the enormous impact of Christianity, this was definitely not the first time a human preached a universal ethic. The Bible is far from being the exclusive font of human morality (and luckily so, given the many racist, misogynist and homophobic attitudes it contains). Confucius, Laozi, Buddha and Mahavira established universal ethical codes long before Paul and Jesus, without knowing anything about the land of Canaan or the prophets of Israel. Confucius taught that every person must love others as he loves himself about 500 years before Rabbi Hillel the Elder said that this was the essence of the Torah. And at a time when Judaism still mandated the sacrifice of animals and the systematic extermination of entire human populations, Buddha and Mahavira already instructed their followers to avoid harming not only all human beings, but any sentient beings whatsoever, including insects. It therefore makes absolutely no sense to credit Judaism and its Christian and Muslim offspring with the creation of human morality.

The birth of bigotry

What about monotheism, then? Doesn’t Judaism at least deserve special praise for pioneering the belief in a single God, which was unparalleled anywhere else in the world (even if this belief was then spread to the four corners of the earth by Christians and Muslims more than by Jews)? We can quibble even about that, since the first clear evidence for monotheism comes from the religious revolution of Pharaoh Akhenaten around 1350 bc, and documents such as the Mesha Stele (erected by the Moabite King Mesha) indicate that the religion of biblical Israel was not all that different from the religion of neighbouring kingdoms such as Moab. Mesha describes his great god Chemosh in almost the same way that the Old Testament describes Yahweh. But the real problem with the idea that Judaism contributed monotheism to the world is that this is hardly something to be proud of. From an ethical perspective, monotheism was arguably one of the worst ideas in human history.

Monotheism did little to improve the moral standards of humans – do you really think Muslims are inherently more ethical than Hindus, just because Muslims believe in a single god while Hindus believe in many gods? Were Christian conquistadores more ethical than pagan Native American tribes? What monotheism undoubtedly did was to make many people far more intolerant than before, thereby contributing to the spread of religious persecutions and holy wars. Polytheists found it perfectly acceptable that different people will worship different gods and perform diverse rites and rituals. They rarely if ever fought, persecuted, or killed people just because of their religious beliefs. Monotheists, in contrast, believed that their God was the only god, and that He demanded universal obedience. Consequently, as Christianity and Islam spread around the world, so did the incidence of crusades, jihads, inquisitions and religious discrimination.11 Compare, for example, the attitude of Emperor Ashoka of India in the third century bc to that of the Christian emperors of the late Roman Empire. Emperor Ashoka ruled an empire teeming with myriad religions, sects and gurus. He gave himself the official titles of ‘Beloved of the Gods’ and ‘He who regards everyone with affection’. Sometime around 250 bc, he issued an imperial edict of tolerance which proclaimed that: Beloved-of-the-Gods, the king who regards everyone with affection, honours both ascetics and the householders of all religions … and values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause … Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought ‘Let me glorify my own religion’, only harms his own religion. Therefore contact between religions is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, the king who regards everyone with affection, desires that all should be well learned in the good doctrines of other religions.12 Five hundred years later, the late Roman Empire was as diverse as Ashoka’s India, but when Christianity took over, the emperors adopted a very different approach to religion. Beginning with Constantine the Great and his son Constantius II, the emperors closed all non-Christian temples and forbade so-called ‘pagan’ rituals on pain of death. The persecution culminated under the reign of Emperor Theodosius – whose name means ‘Given by God’ – who in 391 issued the Theodosian Decrees that effectively made all religions except Christianity and Judaism illegal (Judaism too was persecuted in numerous ways, but it remained legal to practise it).13 According to the new laws, one could be executed even for worshipping Jupiter or Mithras in the privacy of one’s own home.14 As part of their campaign to cleanse the empire of all infidel heritage, the Christian emperors also suppressed the Olympic Games. Having been celebrated for more than a thousand years, the last ancient Olympiad was held sometime in the late fourth or early fifth century.15 Of course, not all monotheist rulers were as intolerant as Theodosius, whereas numerous rulers rejected monotheism without adopting the broad-minded policies of Ashoka. Nevertheless, by insisting that ‘there is no god but our God’ the monotheist idea tended to encourage bigotry. Jews would do well to downplay their part in disseminating this dangerous meme, and let the Christians and Muslims carry the blame for it.

Jewish physics, Christian biology

Only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries do we see Jews make an extraordinary contribution to humankind as a whole, through their outsized role in modern science. In addition to such well-known names as Einstein and Freud, about 20 per cent of all Nobel Prize laureates in science have been Jews, though Jews constitute less than 0.2 per cent of the world’s population.16 But it should be stressed that this has been a contribution of individual Jews rather than of Judaism as a religion or a culture. Most of the important Jewish scientists of the past 200 years acted outside the Jewish religious sphere. Indeed, Jews began to make their remarkable contribution to science only once they had abandoned the yeshivas in favour of the laboratories.

Prior to 1800, the Jewish impact on science was limited. Naturally enough, Jews played no significant role in the progress of science in China, in India or in the Mayan civilisation. In Europe and the Middle East some Jewish thinkers such as Maimonides had considerable influence on their Gentile colleagues, but the overall Jewish impact was more or less proportional to their demographic weight. During the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Judaism was hardly instrumental in the outbreak of the Scientific Revolution. Except for Spinoza (who was excommunicated for his trouble by the Jewish community), you can hardly name a single Jew who was critical to the birth of modern physics, chemistry, biology or the social sciences. We don’t know what Einstein’s ancestors were doing in the days of Galileo and Newton, but in all likelihood they were far more interested in studying the Talmud than in studying light.

The great change occurred only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when secularisation and the Jewish Enlightenment caused many Jews to adopt the world view and lifestyle of their Gentile neighbours. Jews then began to join the universities and research centres of countries such as Germany, France and the United States. Jewish scholars brought from the ghettos and shtetls important cultural legacies. The central value of education in Jewish culture was one of the main reasons for the extraordinary success of Jewish scientists. Other factors included the desire of a persecuted minority to prove its worth, and the barriers that prevented talented Jews from advancement in more anti-Semitic institutions such as the army and the state administration.

Yet while Jewish scientists brought with them from the yeshivas strong discipline and a deep faith in the value of knowledge, they did not bring any helpful baggage of concrete ideas and insights. Einstein was Jewish, but the theory of relativity wasn’t ‘Jewish physics’. What does faith in the sacredness of the Torah have to do with the insight that energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared? For the sake of comparison, Darwin was a Christian and even began his studies at Cambridge intending to become an Anglican priest. Does it imply that the theory of evolution is a Christian theory? It would be ridiculous to list the theory of relativity as a Jewish contribution to humankind, just as it would be ridiculous to credit Christianity with the theory of evolution.

Similarly, it is hard to see anything particularly Jewish about the invention of the process for synthesising ammonia by Fritz Haber (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1918); about the discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin by Selman Waksman (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1952); or about the discovery of quasicrystals by Dan Shechtman (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2011). In the case of scholars from the humanities and social sciences – such as Freud – their Jewish heritage probably had a deeper impact on their insights. Yet even in these cases, the discontinuities are more glaring than the surviving links. Freud’s views about the human psyche were very different from those of Rabbi Joseph Caro or Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, and he did not discover the Oedipus complex by carefully perusing the Shulhan Arukh (the code of Jewish law).

To summarise, although the Jewish emphasis on learning probably made an important contribution to the exceptional success of Jewish scientists, it was Gentile thinkers who laid the groundwork for the achievements of Einstein, Haber and Freud. The Scientific Revolution wasn’t a Jewish project, and Jews found their place in it only when they moved from the yeshivas to the universities. Indeed, the Jewish habit of seeking the answers to all questions by reading ancient texts was a significant obstacle to Jewish integration into the world of modern science, where answers come from observations and experiments. If there was anything about the Jewish religion itself that necessarily leads to scientific breakthroughs, why is it that between 1905 and 1933 ten secular German Jews won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine and physics, but during the same period not a single ultra-Orthodox Jew or a single Bulgarian or Yemenite Jew won any Nobel Prize?

Lest I be suspected of being a ‘self-hating Jew’ or an anti-Semite, I would like to emphasise that I am not saying Judaism was a particularly evil or benighted religion. All I am saying is that it wasn’t particularly important to the history of humankind. For many centuries Judaism was the humble religion of a small persecuted minority that preferred to read and contemplate rather than to conquer faraway countries and burn heretics at the stake.

Anti-Semites usually think that Jews are very important. Anti-Semites imagine that the Jews control the world, or the banking system, or at least the media, and that they are to blame for everything from global warming to the 9/11 attacks. Such anti-Semitic paranoia is as ludicrous as Jewish megalomania. Jews may be a very interesting people, but when you look at the big picture, you must realise that they have had a very limited impact on the world.

Throughout history, humans have created hundreds of different religions and sects. A handful of them – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism – influenced billions of people (not always for the best). The vast majority of creeds – such as the Bon religion, the Yoruba religion and the Jewish religion – had a far smaller impact. Personally I like the idea of descending not from brutal world-conquerors, but from insignificant people who seldom poked their noses into other people’s business. Many religions praise the value of humility – but then imagine themselves to be the most important thing in the universe. They mix calls for personal meekness with blatant collective arrogance. Humans of all creeds would do well to take humility more seriously.

And among all forms of humility, perhaps the most important is to have humility before God. Whenever they talk of God, humans all too often profess abject self-effacement, but then use the name of God to lord it over their brethren.

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