Word of God

Scriptures are considered the word of God. If you are atheist like me, you know that all words come from men. Gods have no words. This raises an interesting question about the men who wrote down these words. Why did they imply (or flat-out say) that they were uttering God’s words?

To put this in context, let me take the example of Bhagavad Gita. In it, a God (Krishna) tells a warrior (Arjuna) to carry out certain actions, and goes on to describe what the right thing to do is. So it is a work on ethics. But, Krishna also expounds on the nature of soul, substance and the dualistic nature of the perceived world, and presents the basis of a monistic philosophy. So it is also a work on metaphysics, ontology, epistemology and so on. Clearly a very insightful and well educated man (or group of men) wrote it. But why did they present it as though God was uttering those words?

Naturally, I have a theory; otherwise I wouldn’t be harping on this question. I think the reason is that the writer of the scripture had complete faith in the veracity of what he was writing, and wanted people to accept it with the same level of certainty and conviction. What better way to convey his conviction than to present it as the word of God? The writer is using a tried and tested technique to lend credence to his beliefs – authority.

Let me illustrate it with an example. Suppose I make a statement like, “Schrodinger’s cat? Quantum Mechanics? Nah, I don’t believe in all that!” Your response is likely to be, “Whatever floats your boat, man.” But suppose I phrase it this way, “Einstein didn’t believe in Quantum Mechanics. He said, and I quote, God does not play dice with the universe.” You would then take it a bit more seriously. The authority comes from Einstein, and even God. Why do you think all the new age spiritual movements want to enroll as many world leaders and celebrities as they can? They are trying the same trick of using authority to push their brand of divinity or whatever it is that they are pushing.

The problem with invoking divine authority is that in time, the philosophical insights degenerate into fanatic mumbo-jumbo. It suppresses genuine enquiry and prompts experts to make statements like, “Read the Bhagavad Gita everyday. Even if you don’t understand it, it will cleanse your soul.” You are not supposed to ask irritating questions like, what if you don’t understand the language? Will it still cleanse my soul? Do all souls speak Sanskrit? What is this soul anyway? Why would I want it laundered?

I do believe that there is great pearls of wisdom in all scriptures. After all, our basic questions haven’t changed over thousands of years: Where did we come from? What are we doing here? Where are we headed? What is the purpose and meaning of it all? And our ability to answer these questions hasn’t changed much either, despite our intellectual and scientific achievements. That could be the reason why these questions are often bundled together as spiritual quests and entrusted with less than capable pretenders. Why we (at least some of us) still believe in something bigger than ourselves.

What I certainly do not believe is the pretense that only a select few are privy to the wisdom contained in the scriptures, and it is the job of everybody else to shut up and listen, and never ever doubt. Sure, some people may know more, just like some people know more geography or algebra. But it doesn’t mean that they are infallible in their knowledge. Only through skepticism and constant inquiry can true wisdom be generated and imparted. That is my belief, and I hold it dearer than any word of God.