A holy text is a collection of writing considered sacred or central to a religion. Holy texts are often called scriptures.
How I view holy texts
I find considerable meaning and relevance in a number of holy texts, and I enjoy learning about and reading the holy texts of various religions. However, I have not found all holy texts to be equally true or equally relevant to my life. I also have found that the different approaches towards holy texts taken by different religious communities resonate more or less with my own experiences and beliefs. And I have also found that different holy texts require different approaches in order for me to find them useful for personal growth or relevant to my life.
Here are some of the things I have found:
- Religious groups that insist on the literal truth of the events described in religious texts do not sit well with me. The spiritual elements of the world are often strange and hard to put into words or understand in a straightforward manner. I think that an overly literal view of holy texts tends to move groups and people away from, rather than towards religious truth.
- Holy texts are rarely useful as a simplistic, literal manual of how to live.
- Holy texts become more meaningful, rather than less meaningful, to me, when I learn more about their history and cultural contexts. For example, I've heard the allegation from many Americans that the Quran (Koran) promotes values that are oppressive towards women. However, when viewed in the context of the society in which it was written, it can be seen as progressive or promoting of women's rights.
Are some holy texts divinely inspired?
Certain religious groups make the claim that their holy text, and no others, are divinely inspired. Some religions even make the claim that their text was sent word-for-word by God. Personally, I believe that many holy texts are indeed divinely inspired. But I find the idea that any one holy text has a monopoly on truth or inspiration to be completely ridiculous. I also have serious problems with the belief that a text is inspired word-for-word.
I tend to think of divine revelation as acting through processes, which could include the process of a person thinking and reflecting on spiritual ideas, writing those ideas or revelations down, and then the editorial and cultural process through which texts are edited, canonized, translated, and interpreted. I also think that even if a holy text were to be dictated word-by-word, this would not necessarily mean that it was most empowering to read it literally.
Why I do not believe in literal interpretation of holy texts
Humans are limited in our ability to communicate; and whenever we attempt to record, communicate, or receive any sort of message, we introduce errors, changing the meaning on the basis of our own limited understanding of language, the world, life, and spiritual truth. But even if we assume a message from God was written down without error, another perspective from which the word-for-word approach to holy texts breaks down is the considering of different languages.
Human language is incredibly diverse, and each holy text is originally written in one language (or rarely, a few). There is no such thing as a perfect translation, so the additional translations will change the message. The view that a holy text is inspired word-for-word is thus ethnocentric, and I find ethnocentrism to be highly problematic. Language also changes over time, and the use of language even varies from one person to the next. I would go farther though, and say that human language is inherently limited: there are numerous divine truths that cannot be adequately captured in a single human language.
But rather than see this is a "bad thing", I think this imperfection can actually bring us closer to divine truth. The process of studying holy texts from different time periods, languages, and cultures, and the evolution of our views of holy texts as they are translated and interpreted by different generations allows us to understand truths that we would never grasp if we remained wedded to a particular interpretation of a particular holy text. Only through embracing our imperfection do we become closer to perfection.
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