Both the advocates for religion, people like the late Ravi Zacharias, and those against it, people like Richard Dawkins, tend to focus exclusively on the scriptures. This has always struck me as somewhat strange, as though the written words themselves actually prove anything. I’ve always wondered what people are expecting to find in the written word? Just saying ‘it is written’ is meaningless. Ancient graffiti is ample evidence that for the last three thousand years most people have had access to literacy.
What are you looking For?
So this begs the question, ‘what are you hoping to find in scriptures? Are you looking for a map or an instruction manual?’
What do I mean by that?
Recently, I’ve noticed that long car journeys are a little like life. There are two kinds of drivers, some love the freedom and love to explore. They will take the time to look around and will be able to tell you about the journey and the things they have seen. They take a map but only use it to inform their own journey – it is their own journey that they are interested in.
The other kind of driver just wants to be told what to do; they listen to their GPS navigation system and when it says turn right, by crikey they are going to turn right – sometimes with disastrous results.
Living life from an instruction manual often means that, by the time you arrive at your destination, you have learnt very little from your journey. For this kind of traveller, only the destination is important.
For example, when I was a boy driving in cities terrified me. Finding my way and trying to make sense of a map was hard but over the years I got to know the city very well. A few years go I abdicated responsibility and started to use the GPS navigation system. Now I have no fear. I have driven through the heart of Barcelona for years. The price of this confidence and absence of fear is ignorance. If you asked me how to get to the Rambla, I would not be able to tell you. This observation has to beg the question, which is more important, the journey or the destination?
It is evident that many religious people look to their scriptures to be somewhat like a GPS system – they want to be told what to do. They want to be in the right lane, they want to be saved. If you asked them why they felt justified to kill or sacrifice an animal they just look at you blankly and quote a passage of scripture. They mistake the map for the terrain; they look to abdicate spiritual responsibility for their own life to the words of a book.
Throw Away The Bible?
Modern archaeology has proven that Jewish history is so much more complicated and beautiful than the Bible would suggest (Finkelstein). The Jesus family tomb would seem to cast doubt on the whole resurrection idea (Talpiot). Why shouldn’t we just throw the Bible away? I would posit that it depends on whether you are looking for a map or an instruction manual. If the Torah and the Tanakh are maps and clues from our past, as most Jews believe, then we are not looking for them to be a substitute for our own journey. We do not, as Dale Allen Hoffman so eloquently said, ‘mistake the map for the actual terrain’.
So what is more important to you, the journey or the destination? Judaism believes the journey is the most important thing, as did the historical Jesus (Burton Mack: Q-Source). Buddhism is thinking two destinations ahead and desperately trying to escape this world and Christianity is busy selling tickets to the tunnel. So which is the right way for you? I guess it depends on whether you are looking for a Map or an Instruction Manual. Come to that, can you tell the difference between the map and the terrain?
My God is better!
Some people follow a religion all their lives, or one after another, and tell themselves and everyone else who will listen that they are ‘saved’. Often the people who know them best will tell you that they have not grown spiritually or emotionally one millimetre in their entire lifetime. People insist that ‘their God is better than yours’ – they are convinced that they are in the right lane because their sacred text, or more accurately, their interpretation of it, tells them so. They use this certainty of their destination as an excuse to pay absolutely no attention to how they live their lives.
Oh! By the way, if it’s of any use to you, a rule of thumb that I’ve learnt to apply to any scripture is simply this; do these texts increase the division between me and the world or is it the opposite? My own feeling is that if God is the life and animator of all things then if I am going in the right direction the divisions between (me) and (other) should be dissolving. If on the other hand my sense of self is hardening, I know that I’m going in the wrong direction.
A litmus test you can have fun with is a simple question that is common to most religions. Ask yourself, ‘is it now and has it ever been spiritually legitimate to sacrifice an innocent living being’? If you have to refer to the instruction manual to answer that question then you may be more lost than you think – turn off the GPS and look where you’re bloody going!
Read the Research Paper – The Jesus of History: Did He Really Exist – The Jesus Family Tomb