danger: word of god

Even long before I started feeling ambivalent towards religion I was made to think about the Episcopal Church’s practice of ending a reading with the words “The word of the lord” and the congregation’s response “Thanks be to God.” Knowing that the Bible comes from many sources, and was compiled by even well-intentioned people, made me think twice about whether it could really be directly from God. I tended to prefer words along the lines of “the word inspired by God.” Apart from the scholarly aspect of it all, I found it very presumptuous for humans to believe that they understood the will of the creator of the entire universe.

Yesterday listening to the news I heard two headlines, which were right next to each other. The first was about the horrific suicide bombing in Baghdad, where two women blew themselves up in a pet market where many children were visiting because they had the day off school. Just evil. The second headline concerned the funeral of the recently deceased head of the Mormon church (AKA the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints). The news item mentioned the afterlife beliefs of the LDS faithful. That, along with this article on how the LDS Church will choose its next prophet, made me think further about the use and abuse of people who claim to hear or understand the word of god. From the Mormon article:

Like the adherents of many religions, Mormons believe their president to be more than merely an administrative head. The president’s unofficial title as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” speaks to the quasi-divine nature of the role. As prophet, Hinckley was (and Monson will be) regarded as God’s human representative on earth, capable of receiving revelations to direct the church. “A growing church … that is spreading across the earth in these complex times,” Hinckley explained in a 2005 article for a Mormon publication, “needs constant revelation from the throne of heaven to guide it and move it forward.” Monson will now receive those revelations as he leads the Mormon Church into the years ahead.

Now clearly the Mormon Church is not a terrorist organization and would not advocate anyone to commit violent acts. But many people say that about the Muslim faith too, yet a few twisted leaders of that faith exhort followers to do just that. And it’s not just there – fundamentalist Christian leaders tell their followers that it’s OK to hate gays, attack abortion clinics, even hope for nuclear holocaust as a sign of the End Times, because that’s what God wants.

I asked the Dean of St. Mark’s a few years ago how come fundies can be so certain of beliefs which directly contradict the peaceful, reconciling version of Christianity which he preaches at the Cathedral, and how it works that people can be so sure that they hear god telling them to persecute other people of god. His answer basically said that there are often false prophets. But, surely they would say the same thing about him. So how do you know who is right? And where would an actual god fit into this? How would a benevolent, all-loving deity allow this state of affairs to happen?

One Response to “danger: word of god”

  1. Paul says:

    This is one of the things I struggle to understand as well. To take the admittedly extreme example of the Spanish Inquisition, I don’t doubt that there were many (perhaps most) who were cynically exploiting the situation. But at least some thought they were literally doing God’s work. And perhaps they were; we have no reason to think that we understand God any better than they did.

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