Sunday, August 14, 2011

Divine Words Still Go Through Human Channels

The other day I mentioned something about Richard Nixon's "silent majority," and how scary a ploy like that was.  I think I used the example on Political Realities, a blog I contribute to occasionally, and I believe it was in reference to Gov. Rick Perry.  Perry is a God-fearing Christian who is rather vocal about his faith, and so naturally I posed this question: is he the type of man who claims to be doing "God's Work"?

President George W. Bush said that he was doing God's Work by trying to plant the seeds of democracy in the Middle East, and I'm sure he's not the first president that has thought he was doing what God wanted him to do.  The trick here is the medium through which the message is conveyed.  Nixon said that he spoke for the silent majority and what they wanted, but how did he know what they wanted if they were all silent?  Was he claiming that it was through him, and him only, that their will could be manifest?

The same thing goes for anyone who claims that God speaks to them and reveals his will through them.  If the rest of us are incapable of discerning that will, then could Nixon and good Christian warriors just be bullshitting us?  How would we know that it's the will of the silent majority, or the will of God, if we can't hear them, or if they choose to stay silent?  It seems to me that God and the Silent Majority can say whatever the hell you want them to be saying so long as there's no possible avenue for independent verification.

So that brings me to the actual matter I want to discuss, and that is divinely inspired religious texts, i.e. the Bible and the Quran.

Now, the official teaching for the Quran is that it is the direct dictation of God's word to the prophet Mohammed, and I think just about all Muslims agree with that.  The Bible is a bit different in terms of consensus.  The official teaching of the Catholic Church is that the Bible is indeed the word of God, but that it was divinely inspired.  Explication: God used the individual talents of the many humans who contributed to the bible in order to convey his message, rather than forcing them to write a dictation.  There are some Christians and Jews who believe, however, that it's a direct dictation, and that the word is immutable.

Well I read an article today that talks about how some fairly prestigious bible scholars in Israel have noted that the Bible itself has actually changed over the 2,000+ years it has existed.  We know that the Bible was never compiled as one work until well after the actual content was written.  The Pentateuch, or the Torah if your Jewish, was written long before the books of the Prophets.  The Torah, although traditionally held to be written by Moses himself, was probably written by several different authors who were not contemporaries of each other.

Of course some will reject this idea completely.  Despite the fact that the earliest manuscripts differ from current publications--i.e. there are words that are completely changed for meaning, and entire phrases are left out--some people will still cling to the idea that it's the immutable, unalterable word of God.  What is ironic about that--and irony makes the world taste better--is that most people who levy such a claim are probably reading the modern versions of their holy text, and don't even realize that the word they claim to be unalterable has been altered.

Sure, I believe that the Bible and Quran were divinely inspired, but I also realize that the will of God is not something that humans can fully articulate.  When Mohammed finally had the Quran written down, it had been years after he received the dictation.  So who is to say that what God "dictated" to him through the angel Gabriel hadn't been lost a bit, or retranslated by him?  Who'se to say that he didn't alter it completely to suit what he believed in his own heart?

The same can be said about the Bible.  How do we know for sure that these people actually wrote what they thought God wanted them to write?  Even more cynical, how do we know that any of these people were actually divinely inspired?  Could it be that the authors of the Bible's content, and even Mohammed himself, were completely full of shit?  Could it be that they just thought God spoke to them?  Better yet, could it be that they were just plain lying about God speaking to them?

Again, it all comes down to a matter of faith and a scholarly understanding of whatever religion you buy into.  The authors may have been lying their asses off about their sources of inspiration, but as bad as that might sound, it still wouldn't change anything.  There are universal truths found in these texts, truths that would exist whether or not humanity exists.

It's not comfort, factual veracity, or eschatology that you should be seeking from the religious text of your choosing:  it's Truth.  The good post-modern in me has to remind you, though, that no matter how hard you look for the Truth, you probably still won't find it.

6 comments:

D Charles QC said...

A childhoood school friend of mine, who was a priest for about ten years, became a muslim.

We discussed it a few times, as he remains a very good friend (it does not bother me as long as it does not bother him), and he told me that it was the "authenticity issue" of their Koran.

Basically he discribed that when Mohammed was dictating he had oral scribes, not one but at one point up to nine of them. They were not scribes but memorisers which was the method then. All of them were involved when Caliph Othman obtained a number of the scribes that write things down and they produced the first Koran and made a dozen copies to ensure that they were all the same. Thus every Koran is a copy of those original dozen and one of those dozen is in fact in a Museum in the old palace in Istanbul.

For it comes down to what you believe (or which one) and the amount of faith you have. I believe in the spirit of the Bible more than anything else and how humanity builds from it.

Harrison said...

So if you believe the Koran and Bible were divinely inspired then you believe the same god dictated two different belief systems?

Anonymous said...

Everything on TV is true...

nm, now that i got that out of the way. I do have belief in the history channel and their documentarys on vaisous topics. this last xmas they did an oragin of the bible. The book itself, not the religeos oragin or the insparation for it.

It was a cousil of men who sat around and decided what went
in and what was left on the floor so to speak.

REGARDLESS of inspirations, truths or lies... they were filted by the hand and minds of men.

Its for this reason that i never took up a religious flag as it were.... i live a moral life. My morals are instilled in me by a combination of family values, society's laws and my consence.

As i have only a wish and a dream of an afterlife, i live this one with no regrets and in a way i can be proud of. If more people did that......


~Smitty

Jack Camwell said...

Smitty,
You very succinctly summed up the whole point of this article, and that's actually the answer that I would have given to Harrison's question.

Harrison,
I do believe that there's probably a God, and that God reveals himself to us in various ways. I also believe, however, that we are human, and as such any information that goes through the human mind will come back out differently than it came in.

Harrison said...

Ok that's totally a non-answer.

Anonymous said...

This could be my misinterpretation..... but i had always thought that Judaism, Christianity, and Muslims all stemmed from the same belief system. Each one adding or re-interprerating the message a little more.



~Smitty