Sunday, November 2, 2008

Written revelation as main source of religious belief

The relation of the human mind with the supernatural, metaphysical area is an unknown field to us. We have not been able to observe God and therefore God's existence itself is a topic of debate. We don't know destiny, the future, and no one has come back from the hereafter to tell us about it. We do not know the face of evil and if a divine judgement truly awaits us and what criteria it uses. We hear and read about these issues through the various religious organizations. The metaphysical world is like an unknown and unreachable room behind a blind door. Metaphysical belief is visualizing and conceptualizing this secret room. Through the ages, people have formed and institutionalized different ideas about God, and many of these ideas are still prevalent and worshipped today. Some are culture bound, others are shared by more ethnic groups and nations. And in some countries institutionalized belief in God is a part of formal legislation while others emphatically exclude religion from the law system. The main questions are: where do these concepts of God come from and have they any validity? Is it possible to answer these questions at all? Secondly, is any of these concepts the correct one?

Validity is the necessary basis for authority, without clear proof one cannot say that a theory is true and enforceable. When considering religion, we meet a huge issue, namely its legitimate enforceability: Every religion claims to be truly revealed by a supernatural force to mankind through a messenger or prophet and claims witnesses to the process of revelation. Either the messenger, or the witnesses, or their descendants write this revelation down and publish it. This last aspect, witness, makes it unwise to discard or ignore the notion of revelation, even if the quality of written revelations should contain faults and imperfections. It's obvious there has been something that we may call an exchange of information. An important dimension for validation of any religious scripture is time. When religious principles appeared and were written down, they had live witnesses who could enforce them. Collective memory, however, becomes history and three generations later and it looses authority, unless the preservation of texts and other memorabilia is well taken care of. This care has not always and everywhere been good or sincere, which gives religion in general a bad cloud, even when not all written scripture is ill-preserved. Another aspect of revelation is its uniqueness. There is no structure, no repetition, no pattern in revelation. Revelation is therefore no part of the laws of nature nor science. The issue of a revealed concept of God naturally leads to the next question: what is religion?

Religion is the institutionalized worship of a supernatural power, usually called a God.

Institutionalized means a set of shared values and formalized rules that have a certain authority over a group of people who feel committed to this institution. This commitment also gives them a sense of connection to each other.

Faith can very well be an individual state of mind; religion, however, is a group phenomenon. The aim of religion is not only presenting individual people to God and vice versa, but also providing solid morals for leading the life that the supernatural power has intended for his creatures. Religion is always about promoting something positive for mankind which should be brought into practice, even though it doesn't always work out according the good intentions.

Religion as an institution is like any other institution linked to authority and sanctioning. The religion prescribes not only rules, but also systematic structures and leadership roles to teach and enforce these rules, set an example to the faithful, and punish transgressions. Many religions have complicated and appealing ceremonials concerning the worship of the deity, and concerning the roles the faithful are supposed to play. However, those who don't belong to the religious community, don't understand it, may disapprove, or at best find it an attractive scene to look at. Misunderstanding of other religious communities, combined with trying to impose one's own view on belief and morality, is the main cause of intolerance and violence between communities. Not only that, it also leads to intolerance and violence within the own community. Some members transgress the rules, or worse, quit the faith. In some religious communities this last phenomenon is unforgivable. Yet it is an inevitable part of faith: people may start or give up their belief in the deity, as the deity is invisible.

The origin of religion is a revelation of some kind, yet the origin behind this revelation is obscure. It cannot be exposed or validated, and that gives plenty of room to disbelief in a deity. Some people witnessed this mysterious revelation and can be convinced that its origin is supernatural and divine; others tend to say that it is a fraud, or that the messenger is in a state of mental illness. It is a fascinating question why people are so tenacious to their beliefs. Or their disbeliefs!