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Patanjali Sokaris

Pondering the universe

The limits of scriptures

Most people live their lives using beliefs based upon one of a handful of principal scriptures, but do they deserve the high importance people place in them?

Because of the limited extent of documentation at the times when most scriptures were written, they tended to cover several facets of life.

For those peoples who don't have historical writings, the teachings have been passed down by word of mouth. Even for those that did have writing around at the time of founding, such as Christianity and Buddhism, their formal documentation did not appear for decades after the founder had died.

While religions largely appear monolithic, many rely upon principal proponents that gather followers around them, such as gurus in Hinduism, rabbis in Judaism, and imans in Islam. These principals will often have different interpretations of their scriptures, and require extra behaviours and expectations of their followers. They become known as a sect with the purpose of perpetuating their particular interpretations and instructions.

The topics scriptures typically cover are:

  1. a.Creation story
  2. b.Life of the founder(s)
  3. c.Quotations of the founder(s)
  4. d.Laws of behaviour
  5. e.History of the times.

Typically, these elements will be intermingled in the text.

While many religions have a single founder, they often are based upon an earlier religion which the founder diverged from. The new religion did not really take hold until formally documented after the life of the founder. For example, Christianity comes out of Judaism, and Buddhism out of Hinduism. Those earlier religions typically have many that could be classed as founders as sources for scriptures.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran provides a good example of how a founder may have talked at gatherings, answering questions on various topics from attendees. Their answers, recorded by followers, would become the basis for their scriptures when documented much later on.

Creation story ^

The creation story explains how the world and humans came into being.

Creation stories provide a sense of the scale of God's activities, and thus the context, influences and drivers of our lives.

The factors limiting how well a creation story can be explained are:

  1. a.Teller's level of connection to the truth.
  2. b.Teller's understanding.
  3. c.Teller's desire for accuracy.
  4. d.Capacity of the language, at the time, to express the concepts.
  5. e.Hearer/reader's capacity for understanding the concepts.

Followers seem to assume that the teller is somehow perfect, despite being human. We have no way of knowing the teller's capacities, so an assumption of perfection becomes a leap of faith, rather than a known fact.

Even if the teller's abilities for the first three were perfect, the last two provide a substantial difficulty to communication, so the teller may have made some adjustments to the story to accommodate the limitations.

Given all these factors, assuming that the story is an accurate representation of the creation reality is rather a stretch.

Then we have the ever-increasing knowledge about the processes of nature. Any past story that tries to explain these processes in any other way opens itself to being legitimately challenged.

Life of the founder ^

Descriptions of the life of the founder are attempts to show how they lived a life that exemplified what they taught.

The life of any person contains too much to document. Biographies are a cherry-pick of events, depending upon the bias of the writer. The depiction of the life of the founder contained in a scripture will tend not to contain anything that contradicts the impression that the writer/teller is trying to give.

Basically, the depiction will be filtered through rose-coloured glasses, and should be viewed in that light.

Sayings of the founder ^

Quotations of the founder are given to show the extent of their wisdom.

We now all have a mobile phone that can be used to record what is being said. Recording of what people said in the past relied upon someone to write it down, or at least remember it, completely and accurately, and transmit it accurately to others and so on until it was eventually recorded for posterity.

There is a lot of opportunity in that process for modifying text to fit the agenda of each person in the chain.

We have no idea how accurately the founder's sayings were recorded and transmitted before being incorporated into a verifiable format.

Laws of behaviour ^

People are given instructions in how to live the life according to the wisdom of the founder.

Unless they are explicit instructions from the founder, such laws will tend to reflect the agenda of those charged with enforcing them. In a sect, there will be others defined by the sect's principal.

We often have no way of knowing how strictly the founder would have enforced such laws, or even if they would still apply them in modern times.

In recent history, we have seen laws changed according to the understanding and needs of people as they change, so enforcing laws from hundreds or thousands of years ago may be improperly restricting the legitimate opportunities people can avail themselves of now.

A lot of laws reflect the customs of the times, such as dress codes, which may well be inappropriate in different societies and locations.

The other aspect of the law is that that scriptures are pretty well no match for the comprehensiveness and rigorousness of modern law making processes. Often being based upon the word of their founders as a result of questions asked, there can be large gaps in coverage compared to the 'laws of the land' which have to have that coverage.

Generally, in democracies at least, laws are not now enacted to decree what people must believe, mainly because it is open to discrimination, manipulation and corruption, but scriptures are still allowed to be used to indoctrinate the young. At some point, patent untruths promulgated in scriptures will need to be outlawed, so that unwarranted brainwashing cannot be used to poison young minds against reality.

I am not talking about banning opinion, per se, about the still unknown, but as modern research uncovers more of reality, much of what was used to placate the enquiring minds of the past may be shown to be definitively false, with others misleading. Everything must be open to scrutiny.

History of the times ^

Scriptures provide history as the context into which the founder brought changes for the better.

History is often written from the perspective of the victors, with villians ascribed accordingly. In the absence of corroborate evidence, scriptural history can only be assumed to be a story, which may or not be an accurate reflection of what happened.

Archaeology, combined with measurement technology to verify dates, is being used to verify, or at least give a more accurate context for, scriptural history, but there are still many details that have rather fuzzy dates associated with them, providing opportunity for a range of interpretations when trying to determine their historical context.

Only orthodoxy left ^

Typically, during the life of the founder of a system of thought, there will be much dynamism in their philosophy as they are getting it straight in their heads. It doesn't seem to stay that way!

There will be a lot of experimentation as they refine their philosophy and explore ways of how their followers can live the teachings. Many of their followers will come and go, depending upon what of the new or old appeals to them.

After the founder dies, there will be many vying to take on their mantle, creating factions and sects, some of which will gather enough followers to be able to define and enforce their ongoing orthodoxy.

The orthodoxy is what solidifies the political power in them, so they have a vested interest in maintaining their othodoxy. However, that relies upon the assumption that their orthodoxy is valid, and that the founder would have wanted it to stay fixed.

In this way, the orthodoxy has become the antithesis of how the founder lived their life. Dynamism and openess has been replaced by a staid determism to be dependable and reliable, unchanging in the face of the uncertainty of life, attempting to be a rock for their followers, rather than an example of a willingness to change and adapt.

Evolution of thinking ^

Historically, pre-mass writing/printing, teachings were given to the people present at the time. That does not mean that it wouldn't have evolved had the teacher still been living now.

Because we do not have the notes written by the founder in preparation for their public speaking, we don't know the full context within which their spoken words were framed.

When people make public appearances, people tend to ask questions, and a lot of what is recorded in scriptures may have resulted from answers to them. Due to time constraints, a prepared lecture will only cover some aspects of a philosophy, and questions will only reflect what some of those present were interested in.

Teachers, and not just religious ones, will hold classes for those who are really interested, especially those receiving training. Such private sessions may not be part of the recorded teaching because their content was:

  1. a.About private issues of the attendees.
  2. b.Too theoretical or esoteric, and so likely to be misunderstood by the general public.
  3. c.Private views of the founder, which may not be what they would have wanted the general public to hear.

As a result of all these factors, scriptures are probably not a complete representation of the teachings of the founders, but what was suitable for and given to the public at the time.

Now, not having the complete philosophy of the founders would not be an issue, except that people are expecting guidance for all of what life will throw at them.

That means that where something is not covered directly in the founder's teachings, the actions are to either:

  1. a.Interpolate or extrapolate what the founder would have said.
  2. b.Declare it off-limits, as something that should not be discussed.

Of course, the resulting guidance will be somewhere between these, depending upon the capacity and authority of those called upon to give it. Most religious organisations have formulated advice on how to handle issues not covered by the founders.

All of this raises the question about whether the founder would still be expecting their legacy to be tied to only what they publicly said, and how much of it would still be relevant today.

Unfortunately, not knowing where a founder would stand today has led to differences in the doctrine and practices of the inheritors of the philosophy, all trying to nail down their version as the most authentic.

In the end, we, as individuals, have to make up our own minds as to what to keep and what to modify through reflection and judgement based upon our own experience.

Beliefs ^

It is understandable that followers of a religion want their scriptures to be an infallable source of truth, but the reality may be far from that, just because the process by which they arrived into the present has too many opportunities to be subverted, unintentionally or deliberately, by each participant in the process.

And even if every detail in a scripture was true, a person doesn't have to believe it. After all, there are many politicians who balatantly tell disproven lies, yet many still believe them. People have free will to live by their own delusional beliefs, as well as those parts of the truth they perceive.

Therefore, care must be taken before making unilateral decisions which assume the absolute accuracy of scriptures. The most extreme action is when people are attacked because they do not seem to follow the actions or behaviours prescribed in the scriptures, but enacting laws based upon them may place unfair restrictions upon whole sections of a population.

Basically, scriptures are just opinions compiled to provide guidance for their followers. Making them anything more is stretching the truth, but making them into laws will tend to work against the evolution of society.

In recent times, people have been using various scientific, technological and archeological means to ascertain the veracity of much of what is in striptures. This will likely reveal details that may not agree with what we have come to know, especially in regard to creation stories and histories cited.

New facts will challenge some to be more flexible with their interpretations of the scriptures, which may have already resulted in more prople disconnecting from formal religions in favour of choosing what aspects they personally want to retain belief in.

People being willing to stop unquestionally following set doctrines has weakened the grip on their societies of many religious institutions, but also allowed their bad practices to be revealed, such as child abuse and their coverups. This at last allows the teachings to be separated from the power to enforce them, allowing them to be judged on their merits.


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