Motivated strongly by my good friend Sravan’s comment in my previous post about Religious activities, I decided to write more on the subject. The best part about having a debate is that new ideas and flaws are revealed during the process. And I hit upon one such realization when I was responding to my friend’s comment. You can find the essence of it in that comment but here I shall elaborate it further.
All religions, and I mean every single established religion, have their own respective collection of books which are referred to as “scriptures” or “word of God” etc. I will be dealing with Hinduism and its scriptures in this blog post. But the argument can be easily extrapolated to accommodate other religions as well.
Scriptures include every known collection of religious texts which is accepted by the religion as sacred to them in one form or another. They are said to contain the ultimate truth and an explanation for every single religious/spiritual/ritualistic activity that people do in the present day. I strongly believe in the second part of the previous sentence.
Scriptures definitely offer a very specific explanation for every single activity that we do or are supposed to be doing. They maybe spiritual, religious or ritualistic in nature. But each of them have an explanation somewhere in the scriptures. And I am NOT contesting this fact. But what I aim to discuss in this blog post is the ‘validity’ and ‘authenticity’ of these scriptures upon which the entire religion is built.
The scriptures claim to offer an explanation to everything that we may wonder about. And many of these explanations are quite elaborate and meticulous. So much so, it can appear convincing just because it is so elaborate and meticulous. They can also be convincing if you are ready to accept the axioms upon which they are based. (Which have really been exactly where religion stopped making sense to me.)
Now say one goes to inquire about Life, Universe and Everything with a ‘Guru’ who has actually read all the scriptures, obtained his knowledge from his Guru who is part of an ‘authentic’ chain of Gurus dating all the way back to God himself. Now such an inquiry would be deemed valid by religious or spiritual people I am sure. And so when one asks questions to the Guru, the Guru in turn replies drawing his knowledge from all the scriptures he has studied and been taught about. He cites the scriptures every now and then, for every single inquiry, thus giving the impression that the scriptures are indeed complete and ultimate. So essentially, every single question has an answer in these scriptures and one is expected to accept that answer without any further question.This makes the scriptures as the starting point for all answers. Or in other words, the axioms to the scriptures and to the entire religion are found in the scriptures themselves.
My question here is this: Why should we assume that what is said in these scriptures is indeed the truth, let alone the ultimate truth?
The only possible answer to this question is that the scriptures themselves say so. I am sure you can find somewhere in the scriptures that the scriptures are the final word and everything that they say is the ultimate truth. (And perhaps somewhere it is also said that those who doubt it or do not believe in it will face a lot of bad consequences.)
Here is where religion loses it. So all of religion and all of the practices and beliefs are written down in the scriptures and the scriptures are said to provide the knowledge needed to ‘liberate’ one from this world. But the only source that corroborates the validity of these scriptures in the first place – are the scriptures themselves!
The scriptures apparently validate themselves by simply asserting it in their own writings! And all the Gurus and Saints draw from THESE scriptures to guide ‘humanity’ so that they be ‘liberated’ from this world!
So you see where the Recursive part comes into play here.
The scriptures are widely considered to be the ultimate source of truth and knowledge and etc. But the only thing that says that these are actually the real deal are the scriptures themselves. Since every single piece of knowledge that is available in religion is based on some or the other scriptures, the impending and inevitable conclusion is that all religious knowledge is drawn from a source which does not have an independent source of validation.
The only way this can be disproved is if hard evidence is presented which proves the existence of independent authorities who can validate the scriptures. And here is where religion has a problem.
It is believed that the only source from which religious or spiritual knowledge is to be gained is through an authentic chain of command. This would essentially refer to the chain of Gurus that I mentioned earlier. If the Gurus or anyone justifies the scriptures by quoting someone or something independent of the scriptures, then the whole justification becomes void because the scriptures themselves say that the only authentic knowledge is to be found INSIDE the scriptures and from the people who have read it and quote it. And so what this implies is that any proof of independent validation of the scriptures cannot be provided by religion by itself. It is some kind of a Catch 22 situation, but hey, dont look at me like I wrote the scriptures or anything!
Also one other point that my friend makes in his (long) comment is that I should not be commenting on issues of religion as I do not have the necessary expertise in the field. He gives the analogy of how a doctor should not tell a fashion designer what is right and wrong in his field because he does not have the necessary knowledge or expertise to do so.
Well, this argument is flawed at various levels. Let me continue with the same analogy but let me replace the fashion designer with a Civil Engineer (which I am one btw :P). It is true the doctor should not guide the Civil Engineer and tell him what is right or wrong in his field. But when the Civil Engineer tells the doctor that he can build a bridge across a large river using only straws and says that the bridge can withstand an aircraft, the doctor is compelled to feel apprehensive about the knowledge and awareness of the Civil Engineer. The doctor asks the Civil Engineer for proof and the Civil Engineer says that what he has said is true because some book which he refers and draws all his knowledge from says so and that the doctor should accept it as it is. The doctor (and you) knows that what the Civil Engineer is claiming is not and cannot be true.
So when you have people with expertise in one subject claim a lot of things that range from maybe-possible to ridiculously impossible, you really dont need someone of expertise in the same field to question their assumptions and axioms.
Which is exactly what I have been doing. And I am sure any reasonable open minded person can understand this.
Call me ignorant or whatever you may like. But the way I see it, questioning the very axioms which religion is based on is the real inquiry- it does not attribute to being ignorant.