Books of Revelation and Moral Issues
Every religion thrives on a common theme: a god (or gods) has communicated in some manner to a select group of people, and with that “revelation” has committed a responsibility to share these principles with the rest of the world. Often, this group of people have been given special status as this God’s chosen people, perhaps even “preferred” above all other peoples or nations.
This chosen group most often has been led to believe that the philosophy espoused by their deity and clergy is both exclusive and inerrant; in other words: there is not other truth but theirs and it is absolute and without error.
Throughout the history of mankind, there have been a select, few religions that have become, not only the national religion of their people, but also philosophies of more universal appeal. Christianity is, for obvious reasons, the premier example of a revealed religion that was crafted to become a world-wide phenomenon.
The idea of religion is often confused with spirituality; it is conceived as the vehicle through which we find our connection with the divine. Entire generations have understood their place in the universe as dictated by an unseen and arbitrary being to which the only relationship must be through a belief system and/or organization that essentially dictates right and wrong.
These ideas of right and wrong are often referred to as morality. It is the presumed dictates of a god or gods that set the standard for what is acceptable for adherents and what is not. These principles are also assumed to be unquestionable as the express commands of god, the authority figure.
Revelation often connotes predictions of the future, but is rightly defined as any communication from the divine source, be it an anthropomorphic individual, an impersonal force, or a group of creatures intent on communicating some form of truth to humans.
This truth is meant to be accepted by faith as a child would accept the authority of his or her parents. Most deities tend to be male, though a few female versions exist.
The relative differences among the world religions are minor and the content of said revelations matter little compared to the basic idea of acceptance of the very concept of revelatory messages.
Any message within a religious context that claims divine origin must also pass certain “tests” to be accepted as anything more than myth or superstition. For example: if the Book of Mormon must meet certain requirements, the same must be true for the Bible, etc. One cannot argue special circumstances to avoid scrutiny.
In order to accept that divinity can and would address humans directly presumes that the words of revelation may be first and foremost understood by every culture in every era of time. And if any message purported to convey universal truth is found in contradiction to basic morality, it must be rejected out of hand.
This is the crux of the discussion of revelation and religion. A message from an alleged, divine source cannot contradict itself. Therefore, one must simply look within the message to know if it could be divine in nature.
Conversely, any contradiction or obviously immoral principle or command must negate the potential divinity of that message. We can easily perceive whether any message is from a deity or is simply the vain philosophies of men. Truth must be above reproach if its origin is from anywhere but a human source.
But this further compounds the problem of religious devotion; for when we are faced with contradictions, we are forced to make choices. The choice is so simple, yet it eludes most people of faith. The desire to be “right” trumps the need for objectivity.
It is never in the best interest of the religious organization to encourage free inquiry or open-mindedness. Take for example the very idea that a god spoke directly, or thorough an angel, to any one human instrument. How would that claim be verified? More importantly, what might compel a bystander to accept any message spoken in such a manner as “revelation”?
The answer is closer to home than one might think. Imagine that you are the first person to hear Moses, Abraham, Mohamed, or Joseph Smith tell their personal experience of communion with a god. It is telling that most prophets are not well received by those closest to them. The messages tend to be rather unbelievable (again a telling fact).
To quote not a few religious critics: “Incredible claims require incredible proof.”
It is often the claim of the believers that revelation is not testable… that is a pathetic cop-out. If that is the standard, then not only a specific belief system, but EVERY religion and philosophy must be true. That is obviously an untenable stance; yet this is the stance of the true believer… the one totally committed to the veracity of THEIR system.
As a former believer of the system of Christianity, it was my belief that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God. Note the presumption that the words came from this god and that they carry an authority based entirely on the belief that this god is THE God.
It is also to be noted that this god is presumed to have a right above all other gods and that it is above question and reproach. In other words, it’s true because we say it’s true and that’s the end of the argument. But it is no argument; it is an excuse… an excuse to commit any atrocity and claim any authority desired. Religion (specifically, the revelation of whatever deity) has been the excuse for every form of debauchery and cruelty known to man.
The Bible (again, the holy book of my own experience) goes so far as to state that god has every right to favor one people over others, and more pointedly, to condemn, torture, and kill or destroy any unbeliever (heathen/infidel). God is right in every action simply because he is presumably above all else. He has no equal. He has ultimate power of all.
So, when god dictates that women are worth half as much as men (Leviticus 27) or that his people should kill babies and animals, one must choose to excuse or accuse god for his actions. On what shall we base that decision? May we defer to the holy book itself, or is there another standard by which we may judge? Are we left to accept these pronouncements as "gospel truth" without the benefit of things like common sense and reason?
Furthermore, how is one to decide which portions of the book are meant to be the moral code for believers and what is only a reflection of the character of god? I would assert that they are one and the same. God's character cannot be separated from his actions or his commands. How would a father gain the respect of his children if his only modus operandi were "Do as I say, not as I do?" Can parents or gods be role models if their actions are reprehensible by every standard known to civilized society? In politics we call such leaders by the very apt term of despot or even tyrrant and bloody revolutions have been foughtto return rightful rule to the people.
And this is what Deism does in the face of the paradox that is religion. This is a revolution of reason against the cloak of mysterium that is superstition. The God of Nature needs no excuse, for he gives none, neither does he espouse doctrine that divides humans from their reason. The gods of religion give their creatures reason, then dash it on the stones of contradiction and nonsense.
Regarding truth, Thomas Paine put it best: "But though every created thing is, in this sense, a mystery, the word mystery cannot be applied to moral truth, any more than obscurity can be applied to light. ... Mystery is the antagonist of truth. It is a fog of human invention, that obscures truth, and represents it in distortion. Truth never envelops itself in mystery, and the mystery in which it is at any time enveloped is the work of its antagonist, and never of itself."
Deism, the unadulterated belief in God as he is seen in his work of nature, seeks nothing but to shine the light of truth where revelation and superstition cloud it. This light does not prescribe morality from a pulpit, but draws it out from the very depths of creation itself. Morality is not contained in books, but in the soul of man, the crowning jewel of God's creative work. Generations of indoctrination have buried it under rote and ritual. Pages of precept serve only to confuse the lines between what is good and what is merely devout.
An appropriate "Bible" for Deists might be the Hippocratic oath- namely to do no harm. What better morality could thousnads of pages of mystery entail? Religion simply substitutes fear and guilt, wrapped in a cloak of cruelty as a fake morality that is based on nothing more than the whims of priests and masters.
That the murder of God's illegitimate son could somehow right the wrong of some ancient faux pas is both ludicrous and unnecessary. But it does exhibit the ignorance that flies in the face of all that God should be. It is not the example of a loving father, but a dysfunctional family with no direction and no rudder. The youth of our nation must be taught to discern the true value of their decisions and actions in the context of society as whole rather than the confines of pleasing an unseen master.
The search for morality must encompass the wealth of knowledge that has accumulated over the ages, as opposed to the ramblings of ancient men of dubious background with whom we have nothing in common and no perceivable connection. If we desire a true moral compass it cannot be found in the confusing and contradictory stories unearthed in obscurity. It must be alive and active and, most importantly, flexible. Its purpose is not to crush all under its foot, but to nurture and guide along the rocky path of life. And it is on this path that very real people stumble and struggle as they try to find their way... their purpose for being on this path.
And it is my personal belief that my purpose is to be a reflection of my creator, not the one who rules with an arbitrary whim, but the one who set the universe in motion and gives life and reason to all things. It is a noble purpose and its result is the mutual benefit of all creatures and even the earth itself. I was not made to dominate, but to cooperate. We are born with this innocence; it is our teachers who train us out of it.
I conclude with the words of Thomas Paine once again: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." But we must be willing to shed our dogma and selfishness if we are to realize the potential with which our creator made us.