Saturday, June 16, 2012

Finding Truth in All

I know that many people in specific religions privilege the sacred text of their religion as being divine, over and above all others.

For many Christians, the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and perfect, ever word of which is imperative.  For Muslims, the Qur'an represents God's final recitation to his Prophet Mohammed, praise be unto him.  For Jews, the Torah/Law takes absolute precedence, follows by the writings of the prophets, the sacred histories, and the oral traditional commentaries of the Law known as the Talmud.  Sikhs favor the Adi Granth, the inspired writings and hyms/chants of the Gurus.  Hindus base their religion on the Veda, with the Upanishads providing additional insight.  Buddhists favor the Pali canon, Taoists the Daozang, and Zoroastrians the Avesta.  I might add the Confucians who have the confucian classics, and Mormons who have their standard works, including the Book of Mormon.  Mormons likewise open canon to ongoing revelation.  Catholics add the apocrypha to the bible, but leave canon open to at least the pronouncements ex cathedra of the Holy See. 

Every one of these texts are revered by a minority of the world's population.  One has to wonder how a single god could have been so partial as to favor only one of these texts as being true.  And if he wasn't partial, how he could be so inconsistent so as to give conflicting guidance to so many. 

One has to wonder.

Perhaps Paul was on to something in his letter to Timothy
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16)
Of course, when Paul wrote this, 'Scripture' was only the Septuagint, the greek old testament, used by early christians for their interpretation of the meaning the prophesies of Jesus Christ found therein.  But Paul used the term 'inspiration', not 'dictation', or 'recitation'.  Inspiration is a feeling, not a coherent thought, a feeling around something within the mind (intellect) and heart (emotion) of the prophet receiving inspiration.  Scripture is not precise; as inspiration, it's symbolic, mythical, and perhaps mystically beyond words; and the words conveyed are somewhat short of the inspiration.  As well, 'inspiration' often gets filtered by the bias and knowledge of the prophet receiving inspiration.

In the Mormon tradition, Joseph Smith explained 'revelation' as follows:
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
(Doctrine & Covenants 8:2-3)
If prophetic insight can be explained by 'inspiration', then the wide variety of differences can be explained by the fact that different people within different cultures interpreted 'inspiration' differently.  If each tradition witnesses something of the divine through the lens of their own cultural minds and feelings, then each religion points, in a way, but to discern what the Truth is behind these inspirational writings, one must look beyond the words, combining the writings of multiple traditions, to find the common thread that points more accurately to ultimate truth.

I was once told by a follower of Falun Gong that one should only commit to a single path, by a single guru.  I have a strong feeling that this 'lock-in' is self-serving.  I don't accept that a single faith has all truth.  Not anymore.  I do accept that each faith has an image of truth in its scripture and teaching. 

I have journeyed through most of the great religions, perhaps because I'm just too curious, but in my journeys, I have found so much in common. I have felt great insight, being blessed by a Catholic priest, sitting in reverent devotion in a Shaivite temple, participating in great worship of all kinds.  While individual cultural traditions are not always accessible to me, there is something behind all these traditions, something that connects us, something that inspires us.

One amazing verse coming from the Book of Mormon helps me understand this:
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
(2 Nephi 29:10-13)
With this in mind, Joseph Smith, the author (proprietor, or translator, depending upon what your faith tells you) of the Book of Mormon said the following:
Seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.
(Doctrine & Covenants 88:118)
And by example, Joseph Smith was syncretic, meaning he was willing to adopt his definition of truth not just from the Bible of his original traditions, but also from the best books, including his account in the Book of Mormon, as well as his adoption of Masonic ritual and teaching into his Temple ceremonies.  While some people may find problems with his adoption (or plagiarism) of other traditions, and perhaps some of what he did was pious fraud, the reality is that his adoption of multiple traditions into a single definition of truth is an example of a method for getting to a more broad, more clear understanding of Truth in all things. 

But in the process of getting to Truth, one must set aside things that aren't true.  Just because a prophet said something in the past does not mean that it forever constitutes 'Truth'.  Paul explained this very clearly in his first epistle to the Corinthians:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect (greek: complete, and by extension, 'more accurate') is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Paul was one who had received the revelation of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.  He was one of those who knew the process of revelation, and yet he understood and taught clearly that revelation and prophesy is only 'knowledge in part' as if 'we see through a glass darkly'.  Strong orthodoxy, found in Fundamenatalist Christian churches or in the mainstream LDS church often have serious issues paring out falsehoods that have crept into the religion.  This creates a moribund, dogmatic belief structure that cannot grow as Paul suggests.

Thus, discernment of truth has to be part of the process of sorting through all faith traditions to find truth.  I wrote in an earlier blog about Truth, and to me, if something is true, provably, scientifically, and in action, then it should be adopted as True.  If something proves false, then it should be considered that part that is 'done away' as Paul said.  This concept of refining Truth very much is at the core of what I believe. 

So, I find Truth in all scripture.  It's been a passion of mine for many years as I have journeyed through the various faith traditions.  Sometimes, I've been so obsessive about it, I've been dissatisfied with english translations, and I've learned enough of the original language to try my own translation.  To me, it's getting to those nuggets of truth.  As an obsession, it may not be entirely healthy to deconstruct scripture at this level of detail.  The spiritual inspiration behind the words is not really so far from us -- it doesn't require this 'down in the weeds' study of scripture.  In fact, as Jesus pointed out to the scriptural scholars of his day,
Ye search the scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, but they are they which testify of me (the divine reality). 
So there is something I've learned in all this.  While it may be interesting to dig for this truth in each tradition, what I've really learned is that the Truth is also right back inside of me.  In the Bhagavad Gita, there is a verse that says:
To one who is enlightened, the scriptures are like a well in the middle of a pristine lake.
So, while there is truth in all scripture, all truth is also accessible within me, if I am only able to tap into my personal sense of light and truth.

And that's the journey of a lifetime.

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