“Man is stark mad; he cannot make a flea, and yet he will be making gods by the dozen”
-- Michel de Montaigne.
We find religion in every crevice where humanity has created a home from the earliest of times. Even if it is not a god we create, theologians like Mircea Eliade argues that we find a need to define the “sacred” and separate it from the “profane.” The sacred explains our universe in personal terms and directs our pathway as we travel through it. The profane flounders around, not really comprehending the meaning of it all.
Often, if not always, the center of our search for meaning is a book. Many have found it in “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx; in the 1930s and 1940s, Nazis found it in Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Political books and religious books often serve the same purpose -- the search for meaning and a pathway through life.
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Hindus look to the Upanishads, Muslims the Quran. Christians have their Bible; Muhammad considered the New Testament’s gospels holy as well. Muhammad called Christians “people of the book,” recognizing where the center of Christianity rested. Jews found meaning in the Torah, prophets and the wisdom literature, that Christians call the Old Testament.
Various versions of the Christians’ book divided Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their own Bible.
Through many years, Roman Catholics have read Douay-Rheims, New Jerusalem Bibles, etc. which have included 46 or 47 additional books which Protestants do not use. Mormons have a revision of the King James Bible plus the Book of Mormon provided them by Joseph Smith.
All sacred Scriptures offer meaning and provide “light” and guidance; hence one Bible version is entitled “The Way.” Given the usage and importance some modern politicians give to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” perhaps we should add her writings to the list of sacred books. Paul Ryan’s recent use of this book was denounced by a council of bishops who called Ryan back to the Bible.
“Atlas Shrugged” was written by an atheist philosopher, but it still offered meaning and a pathway through life. Many of the religious have added an additional “sacredness” to their Scriptures by regarding their books inerrant. In the “Southern Baptist Faith and Message,” this document reads: “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”
A young Islamic man told me Muhammad held the pen and God moved his hand; the Quran was the result. A testimony to the sacred source of these books is often offered in the writing’s miraculous source.
The Torah records God’s laws written in stone on a sacred mountain and handed to Moses. The original sources for the Book of Mormon were Scriptures engraved on plates of gold. Most holy writings are filled with mythical stories providing stories of origins, meanings and guidance.
Ancient Scriptures did not have the benefit of science books, newspapers or books written by modern historical standards. That is why light was created before the sun in Genesis, and clearly a flat Earth was assumed. Geologists cannot find any evidence of a worldwide flood and “great fish” don’t normally swallow men like Jonah and later spit them out unharmed. Though the science and history is questionable in most holy books, most Scriptures contain meaning common to many of the various sacred writings, such as the supremacy of and obedience to God. Do unto others as you would have others do unto to you. Show compassion to the poor and hungry; care for the less fortunate. Beware of the pitfalls selfishness and greed. Love your neighbor.
Jesus taught these lessons sometimes with parables, not necessarily true stories containing an important truth. The sacredness is mostly measured by their guidance through life and death. Sacred books speak to the needs of changing times, social conflicts and pressures. Most of Islam no longer lops off people’s heads for sinfulness.
Most Mormons no longer condone polygamy. And Christians would not send an escaped slave, like Onesimus, back to his owner, Philemon.
Sacredness is not found in a miraculous origin and ancient stories challenging the beliefs of the educated, but in love and help relevant to all generations. In the language of most Christians, but a message for all who hold books sacred, it is not God the father, God the Son and God the Book. It does not matter if God did not move Muhammad’s hand, or Moses had no tablets of stone.
Tom Scholl is a resident of Macon. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.