The Exclusivity of Truth

Have you ever noticed just how undemocratic most religions are when it comes to sharing their version of truth? Doesn’t god seem just a tad bit stingy about letting us, his favored creatures, in on the secrets of the Universe? Whatever the particular truth, it never seems to come directly from god, but through some arbitrary spokesman chosen by god to relay his message to the masses. This goes back to the earliest iterations of religion. There are always priests, shamans, rabbis, prophets, and other holy men (always men) who receive the Word (capital W) from their god (small g) for dissemination to the people, rather than some comprehensive declaration directly from god, cutting out the middleman. There’s always a middleman.

Take the Ten Commandments. How did we get them? According to Genesis, Moses went up to the mountaintop, and god pulled them out of his metaphorical hat and when he descended to the crowd, he then passed them on (which ignores the fact that humanity was seemingly OK with murder, theft, etc. until then).  God could have written the ten commandments in the sky, for all to see, so that they would know it was god who was delivering them, so that the message would be unambiguous. It’s not like he had to write the whole Bible. Just ten short sentences. How hard would that have been for an omnipotent god?  Now that would be a miracle you could believe in, and we’d have numerous testimonials from the people who observed it as evidence that it happened. It wouldn’t be proof, necessarily, but it would be evidence.

What about the beginnings of Christianity? God supposedly sent his son down here in human form to tell everyone about his plan for salvation. Why didn’t he simply come here himself? Why rely on a single human, albeit a close relation, to show up in some backwater province in the Roman Empire to spread the message? As I’ve mentioned before, that particular relative didn’t have the presence of mind to write anything down, or for that matter leave everyone some evidence of either his existence, or of his message. He left that to other humans to relay to the masses, and they actually waited years to do so. So it still comes to us via unconfirmed revelation.

Islam isn’t immune from this criticism. Muhammad apparently, at the age of 40, went to live in a cave, to reflect on the questions of life, and coincidentally, it was in this cave that god revealed all of what eventually became the Koran. Of course, he also proclaimed himself a prophet, a job title typically incapable of confirmation, as it relies on self-evidence, but hell, everybody loves a good prophet, so his followers accepted this. He went on to conquer the Middle East for his new religion, and the rest is history.

In modern times we have the origins of Mormonism, where Joseph Smith claimed that it was revealed to him where certain golden plates could be dug up, plates that contained the story that would eventually become the Book of Mormon. His first vision came in what is now known as the Sacred Grove, and later he was visited by an angel named Moroni, who told him where the Golden plates were. There were no witnesses to these visions, and in Smith’s case, it took him years before he settled on the final, canonical story. Of course, he became a prophet too.

The convenient fact common to all revelatory religions, is that there is no way of confirming the revelations. When the revelation is received by one person, without witnesses, even a mildly skeptical person has to question whether the revelation actually occurred. Since there is no evidence in the entire history of mankind that any divine revelation ever occurred, it stands to reason that those being received by humans are either the result of intentional deception and charlatanry or mental illness. Correspondingly, one would expect that a god intent on having his message received and believed would and could devise a method of transmission and dissemination calculated to reduce skepticism to something approaching zero, while reaching the maximum amount of recipients as possible. Again, would this be so hard for an omnipotent god?

Doesn’t the fact that all religions not only start out with one lone prophet, but are usually maintained in the hands of an appointed elite that parcels out the dogma to be followed, militate in favor of the explanation that religion was invented by mankind? And doesn’t the fact that all religions demand a never ending flow of money indicate the human, rather than divine, nature of religion?

Isn’t the point of the gospels, and proselytizing, and preaching, and community, and fellowship, and all the other outward manifestations of religion, to convince everybody to join? If so, why is the nature of religion so damned exclusive, and secret, and controlled? Where is the widespread and accepted sense that the truth is the truth, something we don’t need to search for, sacrifice for, or pay for.

The answer is obvious to me. How about you?

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19 thoughts on “The Exclusivity of Truth

  1. The Truth is that if you knew the True Truth, you would have capitalize “Truth” in this post about the Truth. A Truly True Truth-knower would have Truly known to do that. So your Truth is Truly a False Truth and not the True Truth.

    And that’s the Truth.

  2. I spent 20 years of my life looking for the truth in my bible and I never found it. So I spent the last ten years of my life not looking for the truth in my bible and I did find it. What I can’t figure out is how I ever fell for any of it in the first place. But even the bible realizes there should be evidence. An incredibly massive amount of evidence: John 21:25, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” How strange that no one has ever found any of it. So your point must be true because the bible says it true. You, sir, are truly an holy man!!!!

  3. God(s) deal in individual psychosis, hallucinations and schizophreniae, not mass psychosis, hallucinations and schizophreniae. Maybe if Christianity had been founded in Northern Mexico or the American Southwest, Jesus and his disciples could have gotten into some really high-quality peyote and the everyone could have shared in the delusion. Or maybe some good opium from Afghanistan. Or some hashish. Or maybe Jesus could have run a meth lab for all his buddies. Still wouldn’t have been real, of course, but the sharing would have been spread out more. With the use of some good hallucinogenics, everyone can share the fiction.

  4. I’ve said it before, I know, but the tale will be retold!

    A lady I know is a single mom, and she has (it’s been a few years since this happened, so it’s actually “had”) two kids who were teenagers and a little guy about six or eight when this happened. She bragged about the fact that she had never raised hand or voice at any of her kids, and she did, indeed do a marvelous job.

    She used to instruct the youngest on the merits of truth. She actually used the same facial expressions, hand gestures, and intonations as my father used when giving me the same talk. The earnest gravity, head nods, everything! (She also told him there was no question he shouldn’t ask)She always said (as did my father) you can never be hurt by the truth.

    So, it was during christmas shopping that we happened to run into each other in the mall, she and all the kids. We were talking and another woman came up, it was my friend’s boss.

    Neither the kids nor I had ever met her and we were introduced around.

    Little guy looks at boss-lady, very dubious-like, and says, “You don’t REALLY stab people in the back, do you?”

    Sammy found out, before a nano-second had passed, that there was such a thing as parable, allegory, metaphore, Sunday Truth, and THAT is the language his mother had been speaking. That there WERE questions one should not ask.

    His mother’s admonitions had been The Truth. Her actions (shreiking like a banshee, snatching him up, dusting his jacket in public) was truth/fact/reality.

    Biblicly, the question of Pilate (I used to wonder a lot about him when I was a kid, what kind of airplane did he FLY?) “What is the truth”? is quite profound, really. Also, have you ever noticed that “The Word” starts out by telling a big fat lie to Adam & Eve (eat of this tree and you shall die) and also that the entity who tells the truth is “The Father of Lies”? I always found that odd.

    But, Rudyard Kipling’s mother said best, “Fear of the lord is the beginning of falsehood”.

  5. After my last surgery the hospital chaplain visited me and offered me “words of comfort”. I expressed my lack of belief or interest in such goings-on, and we actually had a pretty nice talk. Very nice lady, personally, I like her.

    As we neared the end of our visit she asked me why I didn’t accept things like religion.

    I told her that it didn’t make any sense, had no real evidence to support it, and it contradicted itself. Most of it was completely insupportable, and I just couldn’t use it in my business.

    One of the three other patients in the room had something to offer.

    I’d been watching him for a while and and could see that he was becoming more agitated and angry by the minute. His contribution seemed to be an emotional melt down or psychotic episode which was quite awesome to observe.

    The jist of his opinion (shorn of insults. profanity, incomprehensable bellows, and flying spittle) seemed to be thuswise:

    Of course it doesn’t make sense, you silly=billy. If it made sense it wouldn’t BE religion, now would it? Religion requires faith, and faith REQUIRES unquestioning belief in the ridiculous.

    From the horses mouth, as they say…although I’d stake my wig the pronouncement was from the OTHER end of the equine alimentory canal.

  6. A corollary to that which I learned from reading Rodney Stark is that you ever notice that the first followers of people like Joseph Smith or Mohammed happen to be their close friends and family? It gives them a core congregant of believers who follow them around as they get kicked out of one place or another until at last they get lucky and wind up someplace where their message is well received and they start adding to their numbers and becoming a powerful force.

    On one level, you really have to be amazed at what Mohammed accomplished. When he started out, the Arabs were a collection of warring tribes with no common interests. By the time of his death, the Arabs were practically united into a common cause ready to burst out onto the world stage. It was the ultimate black swan event. While the Byzantines and Persians, the two regional superpowers, were busy beating the shit out of each other like two heavy weight boxers, Mohammed was spreading his control throughout the Arabian Peninsula. In 620 CE, I don’t think anyone at the time could have anticipated what was going to happen. By the time the Byzantines and the Persians realized what was happening to them, it was already too late.

  7. If you take the meme’s-eye perspective, it’s no wonder that today’s dominant religions each claim to be the exclusive source of truth. Any religion which claimed that everyone’s belief was equally valid would soon be diluted to nothingness, as every believer would come up with their own, idiosyncratic notion of God, and there would be no such thing as a coherent belief system that could be passed down to others.

    On the other hand, religions which claim to have a sole, exclusive link to truth – whether a living authority or a written book – can much more effectively and coherently propagate themselves. No surprise, then, that religious authorities react with such fury to reformers who claim to possess a new notion of God’s will. Those people are threatening the propagation of the religion itself, using its channels to pass on their own differing views, just like an invading virus subverts its host’s reproductive machinery to its own ends. In this view, the dogmatic teachings of a religion are like an immune system, an effort to ward off the dangers that come with skepticism and free thought.

  8. I disagree with the immune system idea. I don’t think the religious authorities are as much concerned with reformations threatening the health and propagation of the religion as much as they are concerned over maintaining their positions of authority. Reformations are a threat to them personally, to the religion secondarily.

  9. Call me a cynic, but I’m not sure that was the real Richard Dawkins… or Stalin, for that matter.

    Pol Pot, however, does really talk like that.

  10. Incidentally, SI, I think you’ll find many of the Qur’an’s suras were composed in public – Mohammed pretty much made the Qur’an up as he went along to justify whatever he was doing at the time.

  11. Are you kidding me? I fucking love this site! Wait a second…Where am I…What the hell? Oh God dammit no!…I couldn’t find the left foot sock. Is it under the chair? *thump*

  12. I don’t get what points Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Richard Dawkins are trying to make here. Even writing under pseudonyms, those lying Christians can’t manage to make themselves clear.

  13. Stalin seems to like me, so I can’t criticize him. 8)

    Pol Pot and Dawkins are the same person according to their IP, and I was going to delete them until Yunsui commented, so now they stay up in order that his comment makes sense.

    Besides, I’m an Equal Assholes Opportunity Provider. It’s state law.

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