Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Blog 6. Consequences for a Planet Without Belief in Divine Revelation.
The Thinking Post. (There is some progression of thought in these blogs and to get the flow of the progression, it is best to start reading at the other end with Blog 1).
I can think of no lasting harmful or negative consequences for a planet without belief in divine revelation. There may be some temporary confusion and loss of a sense of direction for some members of the planet’s belief systems. In the aftermath of Copernicus’ insight that our planet was not the center of the universe, humans across the planet had to make significant adjustments to their worldviews, and those adjustments took time. Significant adjustments will be needed with the understanding that no holy books contain divine revelation, and these adjustments will also take time. But any short-term negative results are far outweighed by the long-term beneficial and positive consequences for the human family on a planet with religious traditions that forego all claims of divine revelation.
By far the greatest positive consequence is the freeing of human minds across the planet to explore relationships with the deity and understanding of the divine based on evidence-based knowledge as in all branches of human understanding. In the last few centuries, using evidence-based knowledge and the gathering of observed data subject to accepted principles of reasoning, we have seen advances in understanding in all fields of human endeavor – in technology, medicine, anthropology, geography, physics, economics and all branches of space/earth/life/sciences leading to growth in standards of living and wealth, which have transformed the lives of most people on our planet. We await similar growth and advances in our understanding of the divine.
The second greatest positive consequence is the de-legitimization of the source of inspiration for religious extremism and fanaticism. Growth in the understanding that the Creator has not communicated to humans through holy books will gradually over time diminish and hopefully eradicate all forms of religious fanaticism and extremist actions such as terrorism, persecution, and ostracism of non-believers. Absent divine revelation, religious zealots will not be able to claim that they are doing the deity’s will. They will not be able to hold up a holy book–God or Allah’s word–as the source of their religious zealotry and justification for aggression, crusades, denial of human rights, discriminations, female gender inequities, and condemnations of and holy wars against non-believers. And preachers will no longer be able to turn to a page in a holy book and proclaim fire and damnation to all who will not heed the proclaimed word, striking fear and trembling in listening hearts, especially in the hearts of impressionable children.
In foregoing all claims of divine revelation, religions would engender respect and the elimination of much of the negative criticism from non-believers, who would now see in adherents of religion a genuine quest for greater understanding of the divine based on the same methods of inquiry as in other branches of knowledge.
Another significant consequence is that absent divine revelation all religions are on the same level playing field, all striving to understand the divine. In such an environment, gradually all religions will be motivated to stop their tribal babble of who has the truth and who is going to heaven and to hell for that only foments intolerance, hatred, and division, and sets one group against another, and come together and join hands, minds, hearts, and resources in a common effort to:
· Learn from each other and build upon one another’s insights so as to promote a deeper understanding of the divine
· Proclaim that all the Creator’s children of all faiths and of no faith are brothers and sisters of a common Creator, traveling together through space and time on a shared spaceship with a common destiny
· Work relentlessly to reduce conflict and tension among religions and among the left and right elements within religions
· Lead humans across the planet in working together to eliminate prejudice, poverty, disease, and war
· Lead all humans in working to achieve an improved quality of life for all on our beloved planet.
Hopefully, we would see leaders of religion call for a World Religion Summit to declare:
· That on planet earth there are no chosen people, not Jews, not Muslims, not Christians, not Buddhists, not Hindus, not Mormons, not Sikhs, not Deists, not anybody, and that all are equally the Creator’s children.
· That religions must stop all dogmatic pronouncements that serve only to inhibit further inquiry and understanding.
· That religions must stop their imperialistic and divisive evangelizing and proselytizing programs across the planet and turn their energies to improving the quality of life for all inhabitants of the planet with no religious strings attached.
· That religions must not identify themselves with particular political or economic systems, but must transcend such systems, consider themselves as champions of the study of the divine, and have an unwavering commitment to advocating and promoting the spiritual and physical well-being of the entire human family.
What a breath of fresh air that would be, releasing untold spiritual and intellectual energy and innovation across all religions! Humankind would be eternally grateful. My dream is seeing religions on the planet as they can be-sources of unity rather than separation within the human family.
Consequences for me Personally. For me and no doubt for many others, it is not easy to come to terms with a world without divine revelation. The worldview spawned by the Qur’an has shaped the understanding of billions. The worldview spawned by the Bible has also shaped the understanding of billions more. The Bible has shaped my understanding spiritually, intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally for over 50 years, and to come to understand that the Bible is not the deity’s word means for me adopting a radically different worldview and a different relationship with the Creator. It requires of me a conversion and a recovery from long-term addiction to indoctrination. It requires of me a new faith in the Creator and a new resolve to grow in understanding of the Creator and of the Creator’s plan through the study of creation. Creation gives me a clear and direct understanding of the Creator. The holy books give me an understanding of the Creator that is for the most part tribal and comes to me reflecting the limited human thinking and cultures of a given time and place.
Without divine revelation I have the freedom to let my imagination soar in my attempt to understand the spiritual and the divine, for my thinking is no longer boxed in by a static belief system fostered by a closed system of divine teaching. I do not have to tie myself up in mental knots explaining how the Creator could utter or be associated with some of the inconsistencies and wildly unreasonable stories contained in the holy books. I no longer have to continually walk back and adjust my religious beliefs and understanding in response to discoveries by science.
There are additional consequences. With the absence of divine revelation, I understand that leaders or pastors/rabbis/imams/ vicars/bishops of all religions have no more authority than their church/temple/mosque communities bestow upon them as in any human organization. I understand that religions, as in all areas of science, can no longer claim to possess the ideal of completely correct and unchanging knowledge or truth.
Truth is not a goal of science, and it asks how can knowledge that is completely correct, which is what we mean when we say that it is true, keep changing all the time? In fact, it was only by giving up the certainty of truth and adopting questioning and inquiry as its approach to discovery that science became such a wonderful source of understanding and knowledge. Religion can experience a similar renaissance.
I have come to understand that science sees the concept of truth as very elusive (many would say unattainable) and is much happier with the concept of understanding, which changes with each new discovery and better ways of observing and measuring things. I now see that every scientific understanding is open to repeated assessment, questioning, and revision. Science constantly revises our ways of thinking about our planet and its place in the universe.
As for the future, I know that many facts and principles that I now accept will be replaced by ones that are superior, not just a little better understanding, but whole new ways of looking at things. What I now understand about the natural world will someday be completely revised with the advent of new discoveries, improved analytical tools, and more refined measurements. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the worlds of medicine and astronomy. Science is constantly in a discovery mode and never makes its answers final. I think that religious belief systems would do well to emulate science and have its beliefs open to repeated assessment, questioning, and revision. If my understanding of creation is constantly changing and growing, how much more so should my understanding of the Creator be likewise constantly changing and growing?
Belief systems have been and are often defended by political authorities not for their truths but for their usefulness as a governing and controlling system. We are very familiar with the politician who uses religion to push her/his agenda. In the case of Christianity, in its period of greatest influence, reason was enchained in a prison, and it took centuries for Christians to scale the prison walls. Christians stopped burning people at the stake for their beliefs, but Christians continue to condemn people to hell for their beliefs and actions and to torment them psychologically. Christians have still many other walls to scale. The Muslim belief system has yet to experience a reformation, any scaling of the walls. But some Muslims are currently speaking out for reform.
Summary. The belief or understanding of billions that the deity has given a message or messages to humans using holy books as a medium to communicate is a problem that adversely impacts every human and almost every human endeavor on the planet. This belief adversely impacts the human quest for peace, for tolerance and acceptance of other worldviews, for advances in education, medicine, and science, and for advancement in the efforts to eliminate poverty, hunger, and disease. Divine revelation is a global scale problem that needs to be addressed head on.
That said, the holy books of all religions have for me real value, not as the word of the divine, but as written repositories of human thinking on the divine, and consequently, the holy books should be wonderful sources of spiritual insights and understanding.
But I must be realistic. Just as the perception that our planet was flat or that it was the center of our universe took centuries to fade away, so the perception that the deity has handed us “revealed truths” that cannot be questioned may also take centuries to fade away. Meanwhile, what is needed on this over-heated religious planet is the realistic view to take hold that all religions are journeys of discovery in search of greater insights and understanding.
A Prediction that Flows from the Above Reflections on Divine Revelation. Future generations on earth may well regard Christian and Muslim worldviews and the worldviews of all existing religions on our planet (unless they change radically) in much the same way that we currently regard the worldview of the ancient Greeks. We usually refer to the worldview of the ancient Greeks as Greek mythology, which is that body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of their world, and the origins and significance of their cult and ritual practices. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. mythologies are those bodies of myths and legends belonging to Christians, Muslims, and all other religions concerning their gods and heroes (saints), the nature of their worlds, and the origins and significance of their cults and ritual practices.
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome.