Or even simple comprehension of the things that have been taken as fact. Strange, that to access proven theories we must base it on belief that the proven theory or fact is true. What then, when it comes to religion?
Here is where hypertext would be helpful, although the good old fashioned way of looking it up yourself has for the most part been made almost as easy by putting aside the material form of the text (a book) and picking up the laptop and typing in "Manichees" in the search box of the Wikipedia site. So I come to find out that Manichaeism is one of the biggies, widespread and enduring. How come I’ve never heard of it before?
I came across it here, in Confessions, before I’ve even gotten to the beginning, but rather found this in the introduction:
The religion of Mani’s followers, called in Latin Manichaei, Manichees, expressed disgust at the physical world and especially at the human reproductive system. Procreation imprisoned divine souls in matter, which is inherently hostile to goodness and light. Manichees had a vegetarian diet, and forbade wine. There were two classes, Elect who were strictly obliged to be celibate, and Hearers allowed wives or concubines as long as they avoided procreating children whether by contraceptives or by confining intercourse to the ‘safe’ period of the monthly cycle. (p. xiv)
The first huh? was of course the context, the second being the fact that if Augustine spent nearly a decade following the precepts of this religion, then I should do the research. The first point was to comprehend how a religion that pretty much forbade procreation could endure many centuries.
While I can easily understand without necessarily agreeing to the idea of the above excerpt, at least up to the point of reproduction, it just opens up so many questions as to how it would influence the rest of a believer’s thinking. It would seem that the religion introduces a concept not of helping mankind as a whole, but rather to focus on one’s individual soul to body relationship. Yet there is history behind the prophet Mani’s travels to bring the word of his own gospel–revelations and secrets demystified–to the known world. And folks signed up!
But back to the research and believing what you read and how complex that trail becomes: between Wikipedia and this essay I found from Harvard, there is no obvious (easily quick-read and found, and I’m halfway through it) reference to the prohibition of reproduction efforts. So what now: do I just skip over that question and figure maybe Augustine will answer the question in his text or do I search the links further to discover some truth by myself?
And what if I do? Is it to be taken as any more truth than the paragraph (by Henry Chadwick, Oxford World’s Classics) above?