Religion is a serious business. It used to command our lives and our attention, albeit the latter only weekly. Still, it not only provided the moral principles for our lives, it provided that affection for the law without which the law is a nothing. Its importance was more than the stuff of legends.
In the West there were until recently only two religions of note; Judaism and Christianity. Unlike any other of the world’s faiths, the religions of Judaism and Christianity relied on written texts which stated that they actually originated with God and were revealed by Him to His prophets.
For Jews, the greatest of all prophets is Moses to whom God gave the Torah which contains the Law. The Torah starts with the Book of Genesis which explains the beginning of the beginning. Modern Biblical scholars dismiss the beginning of Genesis as a myth; much the same as they describe the legend of Uluru, a myth invented over time and disproved by historical and archaeological studies. Despite this academic interest, we learn three fundamental theologems from the Torah: the existence, the unity and the incorporeality of God.
Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus is God made human, which is a claim made in the four Gospels. Interestingly, the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel and an insistence that the great law of Moses about how to love God and its corollary, to love your neighbour as yourself, underpin Christianity. About half of the Christian Bible is made up of the writings of the Apostle Paul who appears after Jesus has been crucified. Christians generally give authority to the teaching of St Paul regarding Christianity, even where it differs from the Gospels. While Christian doctrine refers to three Godheads, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity are believed to be One, and not to offend the Mosaic theologem of the unity of God.
I mention this by way of introduction to the place of religion in Australia. If you want to understand Christianity or Judaism, you can read the relevant Biblical texts and you can discuss them with any of the religious in the churches or synagogues. It is even possible to take instruction and become one of the faithful. What is expected of the faithful is written for all to read and, despite the endeavours of some to make the texts more-woke, original and good translations are still available.
It is also possible to visit the churches and synagogues in order to experience the worship or at times when private prayer is needed. You will be welcomed in those holy places. What is unique about the one God is that He is separate from the universe that He creates. But without His revelation, He is unknowable.
All human knowledge, on the other hand, is based upon sense experience. Pagan gods were always in the form of statues that resembled men and women, combinations of animals or inanimate thing. Sense experience gives us many particulars, and from those experiences, we can imagine other creatures that combine some of their features; the half-man/half-horse is one, as is the unicorn or cyclops.
The pagan gods were imaginary forms comprising things that can be observed. As the late Professor Harry Jaffa explained: “A god that can be imagined would be a pagan deity (of which there can be many), but not the One of the Bible.”
In the current religious climate, my brief explanation would be attacked by university specialist academics whose interpretations rely on certain modern methodologies. By assuming the Kantian philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard, for example, they have ruled that Jesus’s Divinity is unnecessary. Historiographic analysis has cast doubt on Moses’s existence.
On the other hand, were I to tell them that I worshipped a rock formation in a desert; that that rock was the sacred home of ancestral spirits; that its creation was the result of battles between animals and people who were transformed into landscape; and that I demand that no one should tread on this sacred rock or even look at it, those same academics would be noted for their silence; which silence would demonstrate their sympathy for my stories; either sympathy or an academic condescension.
There would be no historiographic investigation of the origins of the story; no theological examination of the effect of people walking on my rock; or even a comparison of that with the weathering effect of the harsh desert using the power of the physical sciences. Least of all would there be any attempt to show that the divinity that underpinned my religious belief was not really a divinity because it did embody a divine reason. The academics would simply bin their previously purchased tickets and lament the fact that the money had been wasted.
The truth is that my god would be a pagan deity which does meet the criterion of a rational being. Such a god is unassailable to modern religious scholarship because modern theology identifies divinity as the product of subjective feelings, informed by legend.
The claim of myth or legend is levelled at revealed religion as well. That claim is made with the reverse onus, that believers must prove God’s existence. The trouble is, however, that though there is a proof available, the unbeliever, like St Thomas, is not satisfied by the proof. Perhaps the truth is in a better understanding of the written text of the Bible.
And that is the academic problem. If the Bible is only the work of the human mind, it can be read as Leo Strauss explained in is lecture ‘On the Interpretation of Genesis’, like Homer, or Plato or Shakespeare — with respect, but with a willingness to argue, disagree and criticise. But if the Bible is the work of God, it has to be read in an entirely different way. “According to this view, only a believing and pious man can understand the Bible — the substance of the Bible.”
One has, therefore, to be open to the belief in God and the possibility of revelation before one begins.
David Long is a retired solicitor and economist.
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