Can God inspire people? All religions will agree that the answer is “Yes.” Can different people write different sacred texts? Well, the Holy Bible is of such origin, so at least all Christians and Jews would have to nod in assent. Though the authorship of the Quran is ascribed to Muhammad, practitioners of the Islamic faith also recognize the Bible as sacred, so they too must agree. All mainstream Eastern religions, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, are also based on multiple scriptures from multiple authors. So, the evidence seems clear: different people can be inspired by God, and different sacred texts can be written by different people, hence different sacred texts can be inspired by God. Case closed.
So, if the logical response to this question is so straight forward, why is it that, over the course of the history of our planet, millions of people have died in the name of their faith, died defending the holiness of “their” sacred texts? What is it about religion that creates such controversy and conflict? Why is it that in order for a given faith to be right, all others must be wrong?
If even within a given religion, such as Judaism or Christianity, scholars agree that many different authors made vital contributions to the scripture, then how can it be that they deny the possibility that God revealed his truth to others as well? Is God really so small? Is his ability to inspire and enlighten so limited?
Raised a Catholic, and later separating ways and becoming a Protestant, my religious upbringing was strictly Christian. We were taught of the Garden of Eden and the Parting of the Red Sea, of the Wisdom of Solomon and how David slew Goliath. We were taught of the Ten Commandments and to love our neighbor. With wide eyes and open hearts, we learned of the Christmas story and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We learned of the unconditional love of God and that the Bible was his inerrant Word.
Even as a child, I couldn’t help but wonder why there were so many different churches, so many different faiths. If the Bible was without error, why wasn’t there just one church – a Church of God? “Childish oversimplification,” I was told. I was too young to understand the intricacies of faith. The Bible was indeed without error, but not all bibles were created equal, or so I was told.
You see, in order to understand the Truth of God, we must first know which bible contains that truth. And then, not only do we need to know which bible, but also which interpretation of which bible. Only then can we hold ourselves in contemplation of the true Word of God. It’s a small wonder why so many people just entrust these complex matters to those who are experts about God.
So all a poor soul has to do is pick a religion, and they’ll show you the way. They’ll guide you to the proper interpretation of the correct biblical text. But wait – with so many religions who all profess to be the only True path to God, how does one choose? I mean, you really wouldn’t want to make a mistake here, would you? This is important stuff.
Now, forget for a moment about Judaism and Islam and Eastern mysticism, and all those darn cults. Even if you limit the field, you’ll still find that amongst only the adherents of Christianity there remains much contention regarding which author was inspired and who got it right, whose interpretation is more valid, and in the end – who’s going to heaven and who’s stuck burning in hell.
Such an important decision, but with so much conflicting information, how can a person decide? It’s truly bewildering. How it can possibly be that so many religions profess to be the only True path to God. They can’t all be right, can they?
What then is the truth?
Well, as if I wasn’t already on a soapbox, I’m going to climb way up on one now. I actually have the audacity to think that I’m now going to share with you “The Truth.” And the Truth is that there’s only one significant error in the doctrines of most major religions – that theirs is the “only” True Path.
The crux of the matter lies in this single assertion.
If Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, and David, to name a few, could each be inspired by God to contribute the fruit of their work to help form the holy scripture of Judea, then why not the author of 1 Maccabees? If Matthew, Luke, John, Paul and others could independently be inspired to write the New Testament, then why could not John Smith have written an inspired work as well? Why is it so beyond the pail to believe that Muhammad too was a prophet of God?
It seems that, in the final analysis, the lines between that which is viewed as “Holy” and inspired and that which is considered artificial or in error are always nothing more than a human construct. Once written, each text is set into judgment by those appointed as the guardians of the faith, the “experts” in whom the multitudes turn to sort out the complexities of faith in God.
In the case of the main Western religions, this was first done by the Jews. They accepted the Law, Prophets and Writings – the Tanakh as their sacred text, and the Holy Scripture was sealed. God had completed his revelation. Christians, in contrast, believed the canon should be open, at least until they added their inspired works. They essentially accept their version of the Hebrew Bible – the Old Testament, and depending on which particular canon, some number of additional writings comprising the New Testament and/or the Apocrypha. But once the Gospel of Christ and the story of the early church were told, the canon was again closed. For most Christians, this meant, for once and for all, the end of God’s public revelation. All of the sacred texts had been identified.
Islamic faith does not accept the closed Christian canon. They trust that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were prophets of God, but their tradition holds that Christians and Jews distorted the revelations God gave to the prophets. They believe the Quran to be the final culmination of God’s divine message and that Muhammad is his greatest prophet. They believe that theirs is the only True Path to God. They alone venerate the true sacred texts.
Other faiths abound, each with their own sacred books. The Mormons have the book of Mormon, Hindus the Vedas and Smritis. Taoists have the Tao Te Ching and Buddhists the sutras and Pali Canon. The list is long and the variations many, each faith with its own sacred texts. Each faith carefully sorted and categorized according to its distinctions – its differences.
So, why is it that faith would be such, that a universal God would be so compartmentalized? Why would God choose to share his divine revelation in such a manner as to exclude the majority of humanity? Why would the omnipresent supreme being of the universe allow the Truth to be so confined and the path to enlightenment so restricted?
I’ve struggled with these questions for more years than I care to count, but I struggle with them no more. The answer is obvious, as plain as the large crooked nose on my aging face: God wouldn’t – Man would.
Humanity excels at nothing if not at categorization. From our earliest years, we’re taught the process: good and bad, light and dark, happy and sad, pretty and ugly, strong and weak, hard and soft, male and female – we are the great classifiers. We evaluate everything and judge it through our personal lenses. We look for differences, for they are the means to our end. We cannot classify without them.
Once properly classified, we’re ready to make our judgments. We can determine who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s worthy and who’s not. The sad truth is that humanity operates from a common belief in scarcity, a belief that there is just not enough to go around – not enough wealth, not enough happiness, not enough love, not enough God. And if we’re not careful, we may wind up with the short stick.
So, now I must step off my soapbox, but only so that I can shout from the mountain tops: God is for ALL of us! The Truth of God is one of unity, not of division. When we finally choose to look at what unites us, we will, at last, have hold of the thread of inspired life, for that which binds us together is God eternal.
The sacred texts were all inspired by God, but they were all written by men. Within the texts, God’s Truth is plain to see, but it’s not found in the intricacies. As with all true enlightenment, it’s much more basic. The Truth, the Path to God is found in the commonalities: altruism, the Golden Rule, self-reflection, integrity, prayer, spirit over material, the eternal soul – these are found in all sacred texts.
God is perfect, and God is abundant. When we choose to truly believe this, we will be released from the grasp of scarcity. Only then will we see the full beauty of all that lives. Only then will we find true harmony – harmony across denominations, across faiths.
The early Christians of the Book of Acts shared everything with one another. This is as God intended. The Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation and humility, these are God’s recipe for life. The Buddhist practice of the Noble Eightfold Path will surely aid in anyone’s walk. Christ’s instruction that we must first, “Remove the plank from our own eye,” applies to everyone, in every situation. The Truth is self-evident. It is in each and every one of us. It is as God is – everywhere.
God is infinitely abundant. God knows all, sees all, and most importantly – loves ALL. Nobody gets left out. There are no specific recipes for holy union. All sacred texts share the mark of divine inspiration. Beyond that, there are no intricacies that must be understood. Jesus gave us everything we needed to know in the Gospel of Matthew, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.” Nothing more was ever needed. Nothing more ever will be.