Taylor: How words shape religions

The notion of looking for God beyond the pages of a single text appeals to me.

We’ve just come through an 11-week election campaign. More words have flown around than leaves falling off trees. With about as much significance.

I’m tempted to quote Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.” We will find out, in due course, how much all those words meant. And who the idiots were—the tale-tellers, or those who accepted their tales as gospel.

Words are a mixed blessing. They’re our primary means of communication. But sometimes they get in the way. When you’re kissing your sweetheart, for example. Or when you share grief. I shudder each time I hear a eulogist begin, “Words cannot express my sorrow….” Then they proceed to prove it. At length.

For good reason, Greek oracles spoke in riddles. The only safe way to provide prophetic insights was to be deliberately vague, to ensure that the wisdom expressed could seem true regardless of what happened.

Hmm… that too sounds like election talk, doesn’t it?

Michael Dowd thinks that the way we use words has shaped the phases of our religions.

Before we had words, your experience died with you; you had no way of passing it on.

Words enabled us to capture memory, and then to refine and interpret that memory. The tribe’s elders, the keepers of the tribe’s collective memory, passed along wisdom from the past through their stories and tales.

But memories are flexible. We can, and do, revise our memories. And so, in times of oral narrative, religion tended to adapt to new circumstances: “Orally transmitted stories would evolve over time as conditions changed and as generations faced new challenges,” Dowd says in his book Thank God for Evolution.

Writing, by contrast, is not flexible. Once written, words are fixed. Shakespeare cannot now say, of a politician, “It is a lie told by a bigot…” Even if his immortal soul wishes he could.

So, to quote Dowd again, the stories “were written down and declared to be the unchanging revelation of God. When a story becomes scripture, it ceases to evolve.”

The Bible was originally a record of one people’s fumbling efforts to make sense of their encounters with God. The wisdom came in hindsight.

The Bible was never intended to be a blueprint for the future. But fixing the words in print makes them feel eternal, unchangeable, God always right.

So we had, earlier this month, the founder of a fundamentalist fringe Christian group declaring that the world would end on October 7.

It didn’t.

Did that discourage his faith in a text? Not a bit. “We’ll keep studying the Bible to see what we can learn,” Chris McCann told the media.

If Michael Dowd is right, we’re on the cusp of a religious revolution. Religion 1.0 was flexible, he argues, because it relied on human memory. Religion 2.0 fixated on a printed text, so it hardened, became inflexible. Religion 3.0, Dowd suggests, will be evolutionary, constantly correcting itself, because it will treat the whole of nature—science, the universe, and everything—as its source of divine revelation.

The notion of looking for God beyond the pages of a single text appeals to me.

Just Posted

Lake Country resident crowned takes gold at 55+ games

Les Gilbert demonstrated a dominant at the men’s singles championship 55+ games

Kelowna city council green lights new park charge

City wants to introduce a new development cost charge to create new parks

Kelowna boy returns to school after recovering from possible Xanax OD

RCMP investigation found the drug to be a form of benzodiazepine, commonly known as Valium or Xanax

RCMP seeking assistance to locate missing West Kelowna resident

Kasey-Anne Balaberda was reported missing on Sept. 15

Renovations underway for Tim Hortons at Kelowna International Airport

The Tim’s will remain open through the renovations but with a reduced menu

VIDEO: Liberals make child care pledge, Greens unveil platform on Day 6 of campaign

Green party leader Elizabeth May unveils her party’s platform in Toronto

Canucks sign Brock Boeser to three-year, US$17.6-million deal

Young sniper will be in Vancouver Tuesday

B.C. forest industry looks to a high-technology future

Restructuring similar to Europe 15 years ago, executive says

RCMP conclude investigation into 2017 Elephant Hill wildfire

Files have been turned over to BC Prosecution Service

B.C. wants to be part of global resolution in opioid company bankruptcy claim

Government says settlement must include Canadian claims for devastation created by overdose crisis

B.C. ends ‘birth alerts’ in child welfare cases

‘Social service workers will no longer share information about expectant parents without consent’

U.S. student, killed in Bamfield bus crash, remembered as ‘kind, intelligent, talented’

John Geerdes, 18, was one of two UVic students killed in the crash on Friday night

Facebook group forms committee against Thompson Nicola R.V. crackdown

Group discusses issues with regional R.V. bylaw at recent meeting

Free Tesla 3 offered with purchase of Surrey townhome

Century Group’s offer for Viridian development runs through Oct. 31

Most Read