RETURN TO RELIGION PAGE | E-MAIL ME
THE PROBLEM WITH DIVINE REVELATION
a student of religion, I often look for common threads that seem to run through
the many faith systems on this planet, trying to find a common denominator between
them that might potentially point towards a central theme or, even better, a
single source. Some claim to be able to find this, though I have not been quite
so fortunateat least not in regards to finding that central core concept
that ties ALL of them together.
I have, however, encountered some curious parallels running between some faith structures that I find intriguing. Probably one of the most interesting is that which exists between Islam and the more modern religion of Mormonismnot in regards to either faith's teachings or doctrines, but in their inception. Consider the following uncanny parallels:
what do these parallels mean? It's uncertain, but it is evident that those who
adhere to the idea that for a faith to be valid it must be able to attribute
its inception to some sort of externalized divine revelation seem to work along
the same lines. This doesn't mean that Islam and Mormonism are necessarily similar
belief structureswhich they clearly are notbut it does mean that
they look upon their foundational principles in much the same way and their
early history demonstrates that it impacted them in similar ways.
Why is this important? Mostly, it's important because it forces us to question the entire issue of divine revelation. Clearly, if the Book of Mormon and the Koran-which are both considered to be the inspired and infallible word of God by their adherents-teach contradictory ideas, then they both cannot have originated from the same sourceGod. Either one is bogus and the other divine or they are both merely human inventions and not divine revelations at all. Of course, some will argue that both books contain elements which might be considered complementarysuch as teachings regarding mercy and faithfulness, for examplebut that is irrelevant, at least in regards to determining which might be divinely inspired and which is not. It's the conflict between them that is the problem, not the agreement between them. In fact, even if they agreed about 90% of their teachingswhich they do notthat still forces us to consider which book's differing 10% is divinely inspired.
Of course, the same argument can be made for the Christian Bible and the Hebrew Torah; they too are considered divinely revealed texts and-at least among fundamentalists of both faiths-inerrant and infallible. However, these writings differ from the Book of Mormon and the Koran in the fact that neither claims a single authorship, nor were either supposedly revealed through the agencies of an angel (claims to the Torah being revealed to Moses and the New Testament Book of Revelations being revealed to John on the Island of Patmos by an angel not withstanding.) Most Jewish and Christian scholars attribute multiple and often unknown authors to most of their writings, completely in contrast to what followers of Islam and Mormonism claim in regards to their sacred texts.
But if we have to make a choice between which book to embrace as divinely inspired and which to reject as the musings of a mislead religious zealot, we are suddenly forced to tread on very dangerous ground. Clearly, we do not want to reject the wrong book, thereby potentially endangering our eternal fate, so what is one to do?
The obvious answer is to question whether God uses this method to reveal Himself at all, especially considering the problems doing so obviously entails. It also forces us to consider that if God is omnipotent and omniscientas all western faiths agreethen why couldn't He have intervened in ensuring that only the right book survived the centuries, while destroying those writings that made similar claims? Considering the eternal ramifications and potential consequencesfor choosing poorly, one should imagine an all knowing, all powerful, and loving Creator would want to make it especially evident which revelation was truly His. Alas, it seems He does not deign to do soat least not in an obvious, self-evident mannerresulting in much conflict, bloodshed and confusion being in evidence among His lost and fallen creation.
But if God does not choose to reveal Himself through external sources of revelation such as the Koran, the Book or Mormon, or the Bible, then how can we know of Him or come to have a relationship with Him? For that matter, what becomes of religion in general? Without the sacred texts as the foundation upon which all later teachings and doctrines are based, do they not all fade into nothingness?
Exactly, and that is what is so frightening. Imagine living in a world in which we don't have external revelations from which to work from and as such, one in which we all are free to create any sort of God we wished to imagineor maintain no belief in a supreme being at all, if one so chose. Surely chaos would result, with all the social and moral consequences that would entail, wouldn't it?
It can be arguedand quite convincingly I might addthat thousands of years of stubborn, unwavering allegiance to the precise words of our various holy texts have created the very chaos we imagine would ensue without those teachings. Certainly, without the Bible the Crusades and the Inquisitions would have been impossible, and without the Koran there would not have been centuries of intermittent warfare as the faith of Muhammad swept across most of the known world. Would the witch burnings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have been possible without the Bible to tell us that God forbade all forms of witchcraft, or would 9/11 have been possible without the Koran's promise of paradise to anyone who died a martyr for the cause of Islam?
So am I suggesting that we do away with the holy books, with religion, with the very notion of God itself? Of course not. We need our sacred texts for what wisdom they do contain and as a place from which to begin our search for the divine. For many in the first stages of that journey, these books contain useful and even spiritually enlightening concepts within their pages that often prove to be invaluable guideposts and a source of tremendous inspiration to many. What I'm proposing is that you try to imagine a world in which God is not revealed through the words of an ancient manuscript, but through the musings of the human heart. In other words, I suggest that God does reveal himself to us, but he (or she, as the case may be) does through in the most personal and intimate ways specifically tailored to our own unique personality. I believe this is what makes God truly omnipotent; this ability to reveal itself to us in whatever form is going to mean the most to us. This is what makes God truly great.
We don't need to look for God outside ourselves. The sacred texts are another person's experience with the divine; they need not be our own. They may contain words that mirror our own understanding, and may show us different paths we might pursue in our own quest to perceive the divine, but they should not be a substitute for our own personal revelation. To give them that power detracts from our own personal journey and encumbers us with a burden that can, in some cases, actually prevent us from finding our way to God.
I am convinced God has given us everything we need to know him/her/it; we just need to find the personal courage to look within ourselves and the confidence that God delights in our exploring His nature. Only then can we vanquish the angry God and find the God of love that the human heart longs for more than life itself but has been told exists only within the parameters of a particular faith system, a specific set of doctrinal imperatives, or within the words of a centuries old manuscript. It can be a frightening journey, but then so was the first steps a child takes or the first day of school; all, however, are necessary we take if we are to realize our fullest potential or even begin to discern our purpose for life itself. All it takes is a little faith.
| RELIGION PAGE | HOME