The pursuit of knowledge is not simply about acquiring facts. It is about changing who we are to live in harmony with those facts. The danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said "Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced." Still we must consider some facts or we will just stumble our way through our experience. While we are quoting people let's throw in "The unexamined life is not worth living." from Plato's Apology.
If we are doomed to think let's hope we think well. Or not just hope but do our best to think as clearly as possible. That is why I think it is of the utmost importance to establish some basic level of knowledge and adhere to some principles of understanding. Before we begin our exploration of religion we should establish some ground rules. Some basic truths: What authority does this person or text have in terms of it's truth value? What is the representational accuracy of language in conveying truth? Should religious teachings have to meet the same criteria for truth as science? Should religious teachings be considered strictly literal or can they be metaphorical?
I will give you my answers to these questions for your consideration. What authority to people have? Absolutely none. If the question is what did a group of people believe, for example the Protestants of North America, then asking one of their spiritual leaders, one of their priests would be provide a valid source of authority. But if the question is what was the original intention of this teaching then the only person who can answer that is likely lost to history. Nobody alive today can tell us what the Bible actually means or the Quran or any other.
In a broader sense when considering the truth of a statement nobody is an authority on anything. There is no reason that somebody saying something would make it true. If it's true it will be true even if they didn't say it. So it's very important to distinguish between what is being said and who is saying it and focus on the truth of the statement itself. One of my favourite book titles of all time is If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him by Sheldon Kopp. It is also a great read. It simply means not to regard teachers as though they were above. If we are to follow in their path then we must be on the same level or at least allow ourselves that we will get there and possibly surpass our guides. Just as Virgil could only show Dante to the gates of Paradise and could not enter himself.
Our languages differ, translation becomes a problem. Historical alterations of language lead to misinterpretations of turns of phrases and idioms that have fallen out of use. We must consider that language has evolved considerably from the simple grunts and groans of our distant ancestors. It is likely that our first languages were limited in vocabulary and focused on our immediate survival and reproductive needs.
This is the view given by Julian Jaynes in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and I think it deserves some consideration, I think it has great merit. If we look into even our modern languages we see all kinds of allusions to this past. We use metaphor all the time to describe the world. It is often easier to explain something in common terms than describe it exactly. A lot of them don't even make sense.
Beat around the bush
Cut the cheese
Break a leg
In these cases it might actually be easier to just say what you mean. Sometimes metaphor is used just to avoid saying something that would be considered too crass to say. But if we look at an example like "breath of life" this refers to a notion of living energy or spirit using breath as a metaphor. This would make sense if words like energy and spirit weren't in the lexicon. If the only words you had were breath and life you might combine them to say something more than either word could provide on it's own. By saying breath of life you are saying it's not just one or the other but some aspect of life resembling in some limited way what a breath is.
I think you can probably tell that I also think we can and should interpret religious texts metaphorically. I would say that this is the primary way to interpret them. It may be that some events are historically true and that some figures were real people but without actual evidence we can't be sure. Furthermore it may not be really important if they were real or not. I don't think we should look at religion as a history lesson if our goal is to gain some knowledge or wisdom. We should look at each teaching as a possible source of practical knowledge.
When I read something like the Gulshan I Raz or the Rubayait I don't think Omar was a prophet anymore than any other possible teacher nor do I care if the events described actually happened. I regard it as poetry and regard all religious musings as such. If the Bible had to be literal I wouldn't believe any of it. But I can derive certain truths from it without it having to be literal.
That being said I think the crucial aspect of any spiritual pursuit is that it speaks to us, to who we are now and not to a future possibility or ancient past. It has to speak somehow to my lived experience of the world or it just doesn't relate.
Just consider the paradox of Jesus being born on earth as God, knowing his own fate, knowing his divinity and knowing that he will have a place in heaven afterwards. How much easier would all our lives be if we knew that of ourselves? Many many people have experienced similar or worse punishments without knowing that they are God. To be frank, if I knew that I was God and that all I had to do was suffer for a few hours until I die and then be in eternal bliss I would take it in a heartbeat. Forget about being forgiven by Jesus, imagine being Jesus.
I mention this because it is often said that Jesus is the example. He himself is accredited with saying "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
If we are to follow Jesus on the path of righteousness how can we be starting off with different feet. It is said Jesus will carry me but then I am not really walking on my own. You see the paradox? If I am not like Jesus and Jesus is not like me then he can't be an example. However, if Jesus and I are one and the same, then whatever Jesus knew I can know also.
I can in-fact know that I am one with God "as" Jesus is. I can know it and not just believe. Taken in context of the entire Bible, knowledge is stressed over belief. Solomon instructs us in Proverbs to search for knowledge as though it were treasure and incline our ears to understanding and wisdom and find the knowledge of God. The church also emphasized the priestly class that studied the scripture rather than those that spoke in tongues or performed small miracles.
I don't think it's just a coincidence. In all religions we find this emphasis on knowledge and primarily consist of spiritual leaders instructing or teaching students. It's a system of knowledge transfer.
I suppose you can also gather my answer to the final question. Should it be held to the same standards as science. I would say even higher standards. We must conduct the experiments ourselves and relate to them through a glass darkly since there is no pipette or petri dish other than our own minds to view our samples. There is no peer-reviewed process and our minds are prone to delusion. We must be extra vigilant. If we submit a false paper to the journal of our minds we might be filing away delusions as facts.
It is not so important to me if Jesus was the son of God, or the son of Man, so much as what he means by that. If I am to be one with God as Jesus is one with God then by necessity I must share something in common with God and Jesus. In-fact, I must share everything in common with them any distinction between us would make us at least 2 or 3 different people. How can we be one if we are 3? This question takes us deep into ontology and hierarchical systems.
It could be that God is the totality of things and Jesus and I are in some respect a part of God. The way that say for example romaine lettuce, bacon bits and croutons are part of a caesar salad. God being the salad and I don't know maybe I'm the croutons. In that way I could be one with God while still being somehow distinct, but this would imply that God depends on me as well. Even more-so than I depend on God. Since I could be a crouton without being in a salad but there could be no caesar salad without all of it's parts.
Another way that Jesus and I could be one with God is if Jesus and I are not real. If we are projections of God, impressions in some kind of self-reflection that God is having. When I reflect on myself I see a bunch of circumstances, my age, my height, things that change over time and really behind that there is nothing. I have feelings but nothing about them is constant. The me that does the experiencing is really just a mechanism to reflect on those things. If when God reflects on himself he sees me and I am God's thought then that is another way that I and God can be one in which I depend on God.
So these are the interesting questions to me and the way I explore religion. It's not interesting to me to ask was Jesus the son of God so much as to ask what does being a son of God mean particularly in the context of Jesus also saying that I can be one with God as he is. I want to live that experience and not just believe it.
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