Surely, as suggested before, in the beginning of mankind's history, religion originated from one, unique source. But the sacred water, wending its long way down the mountain side of history to arrive at 'the sea of truth', naturally divided itself into different chanels, then into various deltas.
Or, to again use the metaphor of the 'tree of civilisation', it stems from one root which, in its search to probe for the truth, gradually multiplies. The tree's branches mirror the roots in their deep, diverse quests. They stretch up and out, aspiring to reach the Heavens in their own, individual way.
And the tree blossoms and flourishes. Its various branches, each one sure of its own path towards Heaven, naturally determine the balance and beauty of the entire tree, like the colours of the rainbow that constitute white light, or the truth. (Truth is not a colour, it is light..)
In the uncensored writings of Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth,
he made some scathing observations about the Bible, especially with regard to the incoherencies and contradictions of the Old Testament.
But of course the Old Testament is very ancient, and in ancient times it was normal to think in terms of women being (even more) inferior to men, and therefore more 'lapidatable' when presumed unfaithful. It was reasonable not to encourage the people to try to educate themselves; acceptable to recognise the guilt of an entire community as well as their leaders, for the sins (or what was then judged as sinful) of the smallest minority. It was ok to wipe out an entire population, should it be thought to represent a threat.
Had there been no positive evolution to the reasoning of 'an eye for an eye', for example, perhaps blindness would have generally prevailed in such an intolerant world.
Mark Twain thus points out the contradiction concerning the Lord's sixth commandment of the Ten inscribed on the two stone tablets confided to Moses who was supposed to convey them to the Children of Israel after his forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai. 'Thou shalt not kill'. (Exodus 20: 2-17).
For later on, in Biblical history, Numbers 31: 1-24, the Lord commands Moses to annihilate all the male Midianites, burn their cities, and worse. This even though Moses' own wife was a Midianite and that the Medianites had kindly received him after his flight from Egypt.
Mark Twain made no allusion to the eighth commandment in this affair- 'Thou shalt not steal'. For Moses took all their women, their children, their cattle, their flocks and all their goods. And apparently even then he wasn't satisfied, for he ordered that every male among the 'little ones' be killed, as well as 'every woman that hath known man by lying with him'.
Such contradictions indicating that even the Lord was incapable of respecting- or abiding by- his own laws, must therefore also be found in the old manuscripts of the Koran and the far more ancient Tanakh.
But the wise moderates interpret the ancient manuscripts wisely thus moderately. The weak-minded are unable to interpret them at all, and the extremists only interpret them according to their own interests.
In spite of the invention of hell, the New Testament is a more consistent reference, and the story of Jesus of Nazareth can only have a more positive than negative effect on civilisation.
Yet is it necessary to believe in miracles, resurrections, Heaven and Hell, Paradise and Inferno?
Even without what most fervent Christians might deem as essential- Holy spirituality, the reward of immortal Paradise or the punishment of hell's eternal damnation- it seems to me that the story of Jesus is such that the miraculous and spiritual aspects don't really have an enormous influence on what he essentially preached and conveyed.
After centuries of barbarity, intolerance, hate, racism, wars and eyes for eyes, here at last appears on the scene someone who dares to preach of love, understanding and tolerance. At one time he even defended a prostitute. Maybe had he lived longer he would have also given a kick start to far greater tolerance of abnormalities that certain democracies today are vainly trying to 'normalise'..
Of course great weight and authority are added to Jesus' message by his claiming to be the Son of God. If he was truly convinced of this, then for him it must have been so, or at least symbolically or spiritually so. But even if this were not so, would it diminish the importance of his message to mankind, of the truth that time has proved he represents, and perhaps will always represent?
By this I mean that in order to believe, one shouldn't need to be convinced by a show of miracles. In order to be kind to one's fellow man, one shouldn't need to be assured that eventually one will be rewarded for it.
As showmen and illusionists can disguise charlatanism; or 'artistic' ornamentation can masque a poor meal, embellishments and artifices have always been used to compensate for mediocrity or lies. In order to promote anything, human nature has always thought it necessary to give too much priority to superficialities. But does goodness and truth really need any other support than goodness and truth? And isn't the beauty of the world and the order of the universe already miraculous enough for us to agree with Thomas More, that it can't possibly be ruled by blind chance?
If one wishes to believe that Jesus was finally compensated for all the good he did, and is enthroned on the right hand side of God the Father, to give the story a nicer ending, that's fine, and no doubt absolutely necessary, for those who follow and believe all the pertaining religious doctrine, but supposing one didn't? Would it fundamentally change anything?
Surely what counts is what he successfully preached and conveyed to mankind. A faith so strong that he was prepared to suffer and die for it.
What else is more essential, important and significant, compared to such an eternal example, and to such faith?
Text and photograph © Mirino. August, 2011