A couple weeks ago I noticed an announcement in the local weekly newspaper about an upcoming lecture that had the provocative title, God on Trial, which was scheduled for the following Sunday morning, a time when the majority of Americans would be attending services at one church or another. I was intrigued and made a note to attend.
When I arrived at the lobby of the auditorium, I found myself amongst a throng of people who were engaged in lively conversation. It turned out they were members of the sponsoring organization that calls itself the Center for Inquiry (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/ ), which I had not heard of before. Rather than try to butt into the conversations, I proceeded on into the auditorium and found myself an aisle seat with a good view of the lectern.
What followed was a thoroughly fascinating presentation by a man named Richard W. Morris, who went on at length about his experiences as a lawyer, prosecutor, professor, aviator, skeptic, and, as he eventually revealed, novelist. His lecture was largely based on his latest novel by the same title. As I told him during the Q&A session, what he had said was quite enough to convince me to buy his book.
I left with an autographed copy of God on Trial, (http://www.godontrial.ws/) which I found to be thoroughly engaging, and finished reading within a few days. Like most popular novels these days, it is filled with plenty of juicy sex, intrigue, deception and murder, but a great deal of history, philosophy, and logic besides. That’s the kind of story I like, one that is not only suspenseful and entertaining, but one that I can learn something from. The novel recounts many of the atrocities that have been perpetrated down through the ages in the name of one religion or another, particularly those of Christianity, like the “Holy Inquisition” and the various “witch trials,” and it highlights many of the discrepancies and contradictions that exist within the Bible.
The plot line centers on a blasphemy trial in which “the State must first prove the existence of God in court, using the standard Rules of Evidence.” A major sub-plot describes the corruption, debauchery and financial shenanigans that go on within a major religious organization that bears a striking resemblance to several well-know groups.
Throughout the book, David, the protagonist and the defendant in the trial, who also happens to be a Ph.D. candidate and teacher of philosophy at the local university, keeps repeating the question to his students: “What do I know, and how do I know it?” Quite a legitimate question, I think, and one that I have given much consideration over the years. In my youth I was taught that we can come to knowledge either (1) through our senses and rational processes, or (2) through “Divine revelation.”
Philosophers get into some pretty deep debates about the nature of “reality” and “consciousness,” but I won’t even try to go there. It seems quite evident that what we experience through our senses leads us to learn, to know, and to understand as we process information through our rational mind. It’s this “Divine revelation” that causes so much controversy and strife. Is it truly a way of knowing? If so, where does it come from? Is that what we call “God?”
At a practical level, I concluded long ago that most (if not ALL) religion is a racket. There has never been any shortage of people—priests, rabbis, ministers, imams, etc.—who claim to have had a Divine revelation, and/or who claim to speak for God – “Thus saith the LORD….,” etc. Some of these, no doubt, believe what they preach, but what is the foundation for their beliefs? What we “think” we know about these things is largely determined by an accident of birth. If I had been born into a Muslim or Jewish family I would have been instilled with a different set of beliefs. As it happened, it’s been my Roman Catholic indoctrination I’ve had to overcome. Having been the product of 17 years of Catholic schools, it’s something close to “miraculous” that I ever succeeded. Maybe it was my personal “Divine revelation” that did it. — Santos
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