Monday, June 5, 2017

What Is Your Source of Authority? A Leader? an Expert? or the Truth?

Many have argued that “more wars have been fought in the name of religion than for any other reason”.  I think that in correlation with that one might also say that religion is the cause of more deaths than any other causative agent.

The intent of this essay is not to debate that point even though during the last century over 65,000,000 Chinese people died at the hands of Mao Tse-tung’s anti-God Communist “great leap forward”, another estimated 26,000,000 people perished under Marxist Soviet control, a purely political, atheistic movement, and another 60,000,000 people met their demise during World War II… a bloodbath instigated by a fanatic German dictator who probably only worshipped himself and a Japanese emperor who also was the object of worship by those whom he governed.

I would hold that all violent deaths, be they the result of war, political oppression, or violence at the hands of fanatics… is the result of an authority problem.  The massive deaths I mentioned earlier were the result of blind trust in the veracity of some authority figure.

But what about religions?  It seems that religions tend to promote experts who advocate for the veracity of their religion, however interestingly enough, in the process, they come to total disagreement on the nature of God.  In light of that, I somewhat bemusedly like to call an expert “someone who has the authority to disagree with another expert”.  The Muslim starting point for determining truth is the assumption that the Quran is the unaltered, unalterable word of God.  The Imam assumes that the eloquence of its Arabic is unsurpassed, it’s perspicacity concerning scientific knowledge is miraculous and the word-for-word unchangeableness of its texts attest to its superiority as a document.  Yet the Imam neglects to investigate the Quran from the skeptics’ point of view, rationally defending the challenges to its veracity that are thrown its way. 

Does the Muslim scholar consider the reality, for instance, that some of the scientific claims in the Quran are questionable?  For instance, Sura 23:13-14 states that bone was formed followed by flesh to cover it during human embryonic development.  However, this is an inaccuracy.  Mesoderm in an embryo divides to form bone and flesh simultaneously1

Does the Muslim scholar consider the fact that eloquence is not a test for “Holiness”?  Eloquence is a subjective measure.  It is in the eye of the beholder.  One can psyche oneself into believing that something is eloquent or repulsive.  People in the West would say that a Shakespearean play is eloquent.  Should we, likewise, regard it as holy?

Does the Muslim scholar consider the reality that when Zaid ibn Thabit compiled the Quran, it was a very daunting task and even after its completion there was evidence that some verses of his compilation had been left out?  If Allah had carefully preserved his word, should it not have been an easy task?  How does he explain that Aisha had commented that, upon Muhammad’s death, a goat had eaten a verse?  How does the Muslim scholar apologist explain that the ultimate cause for the alleged immutability of the Quran was because the Caliph Uthman, in an effort to standardize the Quran, and thus, unify a dividing Muslim world, had every verse that didn’t belong in what had been subjectively determined to be the final manuscript, burned because there was significant disagreement among the memorizers? 2

By contrast, for the purposes of this essay, I need only say that no document in the history of the world has faced the level of skeptical scrutiny as has the Bible.  And with every test, it has passed.  Archeology, history, and science, with each new discovery has only served to corroborate the claims of the Bible.

I will not indict Islam, alone and leave everyone else off the hook though.

I also fault the Rabbis who demand that you have them be the ones who interpret scripture for you.  Judaism, although it teaches good and worthy things gives vent to a tacit rejection of the notion that Jesus could possibly be the Messiah.  The stereotypic response from the Jewish community is “Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah because the Messiah is supposed to bring peace to the world and we don’t live in a world of peace”.  Any cursory look at the Book of Daniel chapter 9 would tell you not only that Messiah was supposed to have come already but after the Messiah’s being killed, there would be “wars and desolations until the end”.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Rabbi Shmuel BenNahmani, in the Talmud, said in the name of Rabbi Jonathan, "Blasted be the bones of those who calculate the end.  For they would say, since the predetermined time has arrived, and yet he has not come, he will never come.”3

Rabbi Shmuel, having assumed that the Messiah hadn’t come refused to allow anyone to use such texts as Daniel 9 for making such calculations.  I ask rhetorically, why not allow the texts simply to speak for themselves?  They’re quite straight forward!  I would hold that it's because they didn't believe their own texts.

Last of all, I will not let the supposed “Christian” off the hook.  Who is your source of authority?  Your preacher or the Bible itself?  Even the lauded Apostle Paul was questioned on more than one occasion.  The people of the town of Berea, however, went back to their homes and examined the scriptures to confer as to whether what Paul had been saying to them was correct or not (Acts 17).  To the Bereans Paul would not have had any credibility if what he’d been saying was inconsistent with, what we would call, the “Old Testament Scriptures” which were the only scriptures available to people of that time.

The questions that I present to you therefore are… 

1. "Do those whom you regard as leaders bas their opinioins on assumptions and predetermined biases?"

2.  "Are they willing to rationally defend their beliefs against the arguments of skeptics or do they merely brush off the arguments presented against their opinions as tacitly invalid?"

3.  "Worse yet, do they condemn the skeptic as a "heretic" or
"infidel"?

    When these questions are addressed to you… the individual, I’ll concede, the challenges presented by the skeptic can be extremely uncomfortable.  They can potentially turn your entire world upside down.  But I assure you… it’s the only way that you can gain any genuine approximation to truth.  By the same token, dismissiveness towards the challenges of your world view is the sum and substance of the content of human discord. 

Best Regards,

Benyomin Ellegant

1 Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity – Qureshi, Nabeel, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI  2016, p 233.

2 Ibid: p 237 (via Sahih Bukhari)

Talmud: Sanhedrin 97 b.

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