Wednesday, August 8, 2012

3. No single text has all the answers.

Back to the new religion.

Here is something I want everyone to consider.  Most people fervently believe that whatever ancient-ass text they hold sacred is the true revelation of what exists beyond physical existence.  Christians have historically placed a high premium on martyrdom--although no one is shamed for choosing not to die for their faith, those who do are generally venerated and hailed as courageous.

I'm sure that there are plenty of Christians reading this article thinking that same thing, that they would die for their faith.  They believe so strongly in the veracity of the bible, that nothing could ever shake their faith.  But why are you so certain that your story is the right story?  How can you be sure that it's the full story?

For every rock-solid-faithed Christian, there is a non-Christian who is just as solid in the faith of their religion, whether it's Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, or Sikh.  They believe in the unerring veracity of their sacred texts just as strongly as Billy Graham believes in the bible.

So what do most people do at such an impasse?  What do we do when rival groups of humans claim that their book is more true than someone else's?  Most people just reject the other texts as being compeltely false, or tools of the devil, or just "well intentioned but misguided."  Some go so far as to say that rival texts are just plain "made up."

Here's a thought: what if they're all made up?  Isn't it odd that these texts sort of mirror the culture that wrote them?  Certainly, the culture came before the texts.  Hebrew/Jewish culture existed long before even a word of the bible was physically written.  The bible is very different from the Quran, and both texts are reflections of the very different cultures from which they sprang.

So you've got groups of people who all claim that outside groups are all incorrect.  You know what that means?  It means that everyone thinks that everyone else is wrong.  So who the hell is right?  How does that Bufallo Springfield song go? 

"Nobody's right if everybody's wrong."

So the Church of Camwell takes an Aristotelian approach to this quandary.  Rather than just abritrarily picking a text that fits with our sentiments and feelings, we accept all texts as conveying some truth about existence beyond the physical.  As Aristotle said--and I'm paraphrasing here--no single person can have all the answers, but humanity as a whole sees all of truth.

Christians will say "well God says that the bible is his word!"  The problem with that is that the Muslims say the same thing about the Quran.  Just because someone, somewhere, said that "this is the word of God," doesn't make it true.

If I told all of you that my writings were divinely inspired, you would laugh at me just as everyone laughed at Joseph Smith when he made up the Book of Mormon.  So why would you not apply the same scrutinizing eye on your own sacred text?  In short: because you don't want to deal with the discomfort of doubting your most long-held convictions.

Think of it as like looking at a map.  There are several ways to get to your destination, and you can see that.  You see that there are many different routes to get from A to B.  Some of those routes will make more sense to you than others.  Some routes are more dangerous, some more lengthy.  Some routes take you through the mountains on rocky, unfamiliar backroads, others keep you on the highway doing 70 the whole way.

However, the incontrovertable truth is that every path you choose to take will get you to where you want to go.  Once you realize that the path you choose is based purely on your own preferences and biases--some people just don't like driving through the mountains (me)--then you will have made your first step towards a legitimate journey for Truth and self-discovery.  Don't avoid the mountain path just because you're afraid of it: you never know what you may find out about yourself.


Ed Bonderenka said...

Show me any other religious text than the bible that has accurately predicted future events as it has.
The book of Zechariah itself is astonishing in it's predictions.
It was the book of Zechariah's prophecies that emboldened the high priest to refuse Alexander's demand for tribute as he approached Jerusalem. They then showed him the prophecy concerning his approach.
I share this not as an argument, but only a response to you post.

Jack Camwell said...

Thank you for your response Ed.

Plenty of people have accurately predicted the future. Political analysts do it all the time. They predict who will win an election, what the nation will feel like about particular policies etc..

Nostradamus supposedly predicted the future.

I can make a bunch of claims right now, and if they come true I can say that I predicted the future.

About the particular example you provided. You say that Zechariah's prophecies emboldened the high priest. Did you mean that the high priest already knew of his prophecies before he made his decision? That's not really prediction, that's just a guy trying to prove something.

And that makes complete sense, because of course a high priest would spit in Zechariah's eye. If a "prophet" approached you, Ed, and said that tomorrow God will strike you down if you drink a soda, wouldn't you go out of your way to drink a soda just to prove that guy wrong?

I would.

Because the prophets at the time were considered to be wackoes. If the hierarchy took them seriously, then they wouldn't have done the dumb shit that ultimately boned the Jews.

The prohpets could have said anything, and the priests would have done the opposite just to show them up.

And seeing as how this all happened ca. 300ish BC, it's not entirely possible to get the most accurate date of the writing. Zechariah could have very possibly "prophesied" all of that AFTER it happened. There might be other sources that verify the time in which the prophesies happened, but seeing as how all we have to go off of is the Bible, it's veracity is taken on faith.

But that doesn't mean it's meaningless, and that's the whole point of this article. There is some truth in Zechariah's prophesies, even if that truth may have nothing to do with God's power or whatever.

If God appeared to you tomorrow and told you that the whole bible is bunk, would you believe him? Most Christians would simply deny the vision of God as some sort of trickery from Satan.

God himself could not convince most Christians that they're wrong.

Silverfiddle said...

It is not at all "odd that these texts sort of mirror the culture that wrote them."

All writings, music, artwork and other works of people naturally reflect their culture. Culture is a work of a people, a cultivation. Indeed people from different cultures could describe a common event they all saw, and they would describe it in their own cultural terms, but if they were truthful, each story would have common elements that accorded with one another.

"we accept all texts as conveying some truth about existence beyond the physical.

Now you are echoing Catholic theology, as espoused by the late John Paul II. No serious person would reject out-of-hand the religious writings and beliefs of other faiths. JP II addresses "Other Religions" directly in Crossing the Threshold of Hope

There are outright points where different faiths contradict one another, but there is a surprising amount of overlap as well.

"However, the incontrovertable truth is that every path you choose to take will get you to where you want to go."

This statement only holds true if you know where you are going. Also, you presuppose we are looking at a map and that we have epistemological certainty that the map is true. Indeed we do not, which is where all the arguing and disputes over faith come in. Your statement has an asserted conclusion in the premise.

We're back where we started from. Relying on faith and the historical testimony of others.

Jack Camwell said...

I know it's not odd, Silver. I was being sarcastic.

"There are outright points where different faiths contradict one another, but there is a surprising amount of overlap as well."

That was the whole point of this post, although I didn't explicitly state that.

"We're back where we started from. Relying on faith and the historical testimony of others."

Silver, we never left that point. I guess what I'm trying to say is that people have their faith placed in the wrong thing: religious texts that were ultimately written by the hands of men.

You can put your faith in the bible as much as you want, but at the end of the day you have no idea whether or not it's actually the word of God. That seems silly to me, because it makes more sense to put your faith solely in the notion that there is something beyond our physical existence.

There is a whole level of existence that we can't even comprehend. We are here, though. We exist in a physical realm. How the shit did we get here? Why are we here? Where are we going? These are the questions that no one text can answer. It's possible that not all of the texts of the world combined can answer those questions. But with combining all of those ideas, by actually looking at what other religions have to say, we can get a fuller picture of what those answers might be.

There is a lot of overlap, yes, but that doesn't mean that we have to throw out everything that contradicts each other. We have to look at those contradictions and figure out just what they mean. I think that you will find that those contradictions largely have to do with culture.

Lastly, you know where you're headed, because you see that the paths all lead to one spot: Truth. And that's based on a matter of perspective that is fundamentally different between you and me.

You say you don't know where the destination is, but I say I know where the destination is, I just have no idea what it looks like. The difference between you and I is that I'm not afraid to look and see where the destination is on the map.

You look at the map and you see all of the paths that are wildly divergent from yours. And because you're so focused on your own path, you don't see the destination. You're only looking at what's immediately around you. So when you see a path that's wildly divergent from yours, you don't even realize that ultimately it's ending up in the same place. To use arbitrary cardinal directions, you're headed south, and that other path is headed north, the exact opposite direction. But what you don't realize is that just because the map is flat doesn't mean the world is actually flat. That path that leads North might go all around the world travelling in that one direction, but it will still hit the destination.

The problem with world religions today is that there's so much emphasis on the fear of being wrong. That's why few people are willing to even look at the map. Someone tells them which path to take, and then they take it. Detours and backpedalling are NOT an option, because that takes a lot more time, effort, and thought.

So that's the difference. I know where the destination is, I just have no clue what's there. That destination is Truth, and if you believe that everything contains some part of the whole, then Truth becomes the destination. The burden, then, is to travel as many paths as you can, or at least listen to those who've gone down the other paths.

Silverfiddle said...

Sticking with your map analogy, you misunderstand what I believe. I don't accuse you of doing so uncharitably, I believe you're just trying to understand, so I'm not leveling a charge.

Religions and texts are the maps, and they are maps where the path is fairly clear, but they don't describe the terrain well. Some places are just voids labeled "Here there be monsters."

The Koran has laid out a path for Muslims. If one believes in it, then one must rationally follow its path.

I believe in the Bible and tradition. We have writings from eyewitnesses, and that is the path I follow.

Who am I to say that the Buddha path is wrong?

If I were violating the rights of people of other religions, I could see why you are arguing so, but I am not.

I am following the path I believe in, and I recognize the rights of other to do the same, even if their path is completely different.

Jack Camwell said...

This isn't about violating other people's rights. That we should allow people to follow whatever the hell they believe in is a given.

This is a personal issue.

"Who am I to say that the Buddha path is wrong?"

That, Silver, sums up the entirety of my article. Perhaps I've misjudged you, but a lot of religious people are keen on saying that their way is the *only* way, and those who don't follow that way are doomed to an eternity of torture. As if those people actually knew the mind of God and could make such a determination on the state of one's soul.

As if they know that heaven even exists.

If religions and texts are all sepparate maps, put them all together and I think you'll see that they lead to the same place. And the thing about the terrain, that's sort of what I was trying to say.

Ed Bonderenka said...

Jack, I once denied religion, being raised Catholic, while I was in the military.
I later had a medical emergency in a place I could not get help.
I swore that if there was a god, it was a perfect time for him to make himself known, and that if he got me through that, I would find him and serve him. I was miraculously healed.
So I was stuck.
I tried Eastern Mysticism, black magic, drugs. I can't criticize any one else's search.
Eventually I decided to read the Bible to be culturally attuned, literature and all that.
Then somebody gave me a tract that listed the prophecies of the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment that Jesus provided. I became convinced.
As I read the bible (and commentaries), I become more convinced. I recently read Zachariah and was utterly blown away by it's prophecies and their fulfillment. You wouldn't know that without a commentary showing the history. Just reading the book without the history leaves you scratching your head.
There are methods that assure it wasn't written in reverse (age of copies in places sealed since a known date etc).
I disagree with SF in that while I have no problem with anybody believing what they want (as long as they harm no one else, which excludes the koran), there really is only one way.
There are many theories of physics. Only one explains it more correctly than the rest.
Poor analogy since we don't have that theory yet, but you get my drift.
Thanks for listening.

Silverfiddle said...

Ed, we probably don't disagree. I believe Jesus Christ is the way, but I am not going to begrudge others a different belief.

Whose to say how God works? You and I have read the Christian writings, and our consciences tell us we must follow them. Whose to say Jesus doesn't work somehow in those other religions?

I just don't know, but I do know I am focused on my own salvation, working it out in fear and trembling, and I'm not going around deciding who's going to heaven and who's not.

@ Jack: If religions and texts are all sepparate maps, put them all together and I think you'll see that they lead to the same place. And the thing about the terrain, that's sort of what I was trying to say.

They don't all lead to the same place. Put them all together and you'd have a hopelessly confusing jumble. Yes, you can find commonalities, but there are also stark disagreements.

Christianity and Judaism, for example. You cannot reconcile the two's belief in a Messiah and who he is.

Did you read "Why So Many Religions" in Crossing the Threshold of Hope?

Also, I highly recommend Aldous Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy." It's right up your alley.

Ed Bonderenka said...

SiverFiddle: :)