Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Bible - God’s Word or Man’s?

“What,” the reader may well ask, “is a post on this topic doing in this blog?”  Many of the problems that the world experiences, both today and over the millennia, are a direct result of religious teaching, or the cynical use of religious teaching.  Why does religion continue to hold such sway when in many ways the power of religion is weaker now than ever?  (See my post, “How Faith in Consumerism/Technology Replaced Faith in God.)  

Orthodox believers of Christianity and Judaism believe that the Bible, the Old Testament, is God’s revealed word.  Their certainty in their perspective of right and wrong, their self-righteousness, and their disapproval of all who do not follow God’s word/law as revealed in the Bible is based on that belief.  For Muslim’s, the same is true for the Koran, but this post deals solely with the Bible.  (I am not in this post going to discuss how these very same people/groups typically pick and choose those sections of the Bible they choose to follow and those they choose to ignore, which if it’s all God’s word I don’t understand, but that is another matter.)

Until the 20th century, this was actually the generally held belief …because all believers were orthodox.  And it still is the position of most Christian denominations and Orthodox Judaism.  While many Christian believers nevertheless adopted a more modern view of the Bible during the 20th century which did not interpret it literally or see it as God’s word, in recent decades those that adhere to orthodoxy in Bible interpretation have been increasing in numbers, voice, and power.

But is the Bible God’s word?  Recently, I came across a passage from Genesis that to me proves that the Bible, or at least parts of it, is not God’s word revealed to man but is man’s word.  The passage is Genesis 1:28.  “And God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish in the sea, and over the foul in the air, and over every living thing that moveth on the earth.”  [emphasis added]

There in a nutshell is the spiritual basis for what has become man’s relationship with himself and the rest of planet Earth.  Man is the controlling force on Earth.  Everything else that God placed on Earth is there for man’s benefit and use.  End of story.

Later in Genesis, after having seen the wickedness of man and sending the flood to destroy all living beings save those in the ark, God repeats this message with an even stronger statement.  “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”  Genesis 9:1-3

How convenient for man that God gave him such license.  Could the contemporary despoilers of the Earth come up with any more powerful and unquestionable language to spiritually legitimize their actions?

If one believes this is God’s word, well, there’s probably no arguing the point.  It either is or it isn’t.  You either believe or you don’t.

But even if you believe in God, it should be legitimate to ask whether the Bible is indeed God’s word as revealed to man, or whether it is just man’s word.  Thus the question arises … if God created the world and all that is in it, whether in 7 days or over millennia, would God have had such little regard for all the life and beauty that He created, for the miracle of life, that He would essentially say to man, do with it what you will, subdue it, rule it?  Especially having just had experience of what wickedness man is capable of.

I think not.  I would argue that if the Bible were indeed God’s word revealed to man, it would say something more like, “Be fruitful and multiply but always be mindful of your duty to your fellow man, your fellow creatures, and the bounty of the earth that I have created.  Every living thing must be honored and respected; no life shall be taken by you except when in need.  Use the bounty of the earth for your benefit but in so doing you must honor and respect it; any action by you should leave the earth whole and pure.”

Now that sounds like something God would say.  But the Bible doesn’t say that because it would be inconvenient for man.  It would not give him free reign over the creatures of the earth and its riches.

A believer would probably counter that because God created man in His image and is the highest life form, the language in Genesis is consistent.  Even assuming that, however, I still would argue that God would not be so cavalier with the life and bounty that He created.  But in fact this is just another example of the Bible being man’s word.  What conceit and brilliance to make the creator of the universe and man one in physical form.  And not just a man but a white man!

I would thus argue that, assuming there is a God, the Bible is not God’s word revealed to man but man’s word, at least in part.  That as such, the Bible is not sacrosanct or infallible.  Important parts of it are instead an exercise of man’s duplicity in his desire to use the power of faith to uplift himself and control all else.

The Bible has in fact been so used.  It has been a powerful weapon of control over the ages, and not just of God’s other creations but of men as well.  It has been interpreted and used to sanction man’s perspective … no, better put, the perspective of the male establishment … everything from the divine right of kings to slavery, the secondary status of women, and the pariah status of gays.  Such interpretations and misuse of the Bible have caused millennia of suffering for mankind.

But if you subscribe to my reasoning, that time is past.  People may choose to follow certain customs because it pleases them to do so.  But they cannot say that it is God’s word.  People may, for example, hate gays, but they cannot say that it is God’s word.

Instead, if one is a true believer, you will find in your heart a respect and compassion for all of God’s creatures and creations.  I must note that as a Buddhist I am not a believer, but I do have respect and compassion for all creatures and all elements of the universe.

None of what I have written here is to gainsay that there is without question much spiritual teaching in the Bible that mankind would be wise to follow.  Whether these lessons are the product of holy men or the revealed word of God should not matter.  The West, however, has always needed their spiritual guides to have a private line to God, either as His prophet or as His son or, these days, just being reborn.  It is that connection that legitimizes their teaching.  In the East, the Buddha did not claim divinity or that he was a vessel for God’s word.  It is not the source but the wisdom of the teaching that should be of paramount importance.

The Bible should be used as a tool to lift man from his earthly ego and open his eyes and heart to his true spiritual nature, his goodness.  The essence of the Bible is the Golden Rule … do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  

Indeed, Christian believers could do no better than follow the popular slogan of the 90s, “What would Jesus do?”  Regardless whether dealing with personal matters, or larger issues of domestic or foreign policy, the Bible’s central lesson of not doing harm to others but rather help them would result in a far more just and humane world.  The Bible should not be misused, in decidedly unspiritual ways, to subjugate human beings or the environment.