“Of all the communities available to us, there is not one I would want to devote myself to except for the society of the true seekers, which has very few living members at any one time.”
When I talk about religion or the Bible, believers often think that I’m a skeptic, and skeptics that I’m a believer, but I’m neither one nor the other. Although a lot of people assume that one either has to accept or to rejects beliefs, one can also investigate where those beliefs come from and what they mean in order to obtain a better comprehension of religion and of the Bible.
A seeker longs for a better understanding of himself and the world he lives in. He questions everything. That is important because by asking questions –formulating the right questions– we obtain wisdom.
Some of the questions a seeker asks regarding religion and the Bible are: What is a religion? Why do some people accept and others reject certain beliefs? What is the origin of those beliefs? What is God? Why did societies, who now believe in one God, previously believe in many gods? Do all people who believe in God have the same idea about God? Is the God that believers believe in the same as the God atheists do not believe in? Why do some people regard God as a creature that looks like a human but has supernatural powers? What are sacred books and who wrote them? How did people once come to believe that a sacred book holds the word of God and says the truth.
What is a religion? When we look up the origin of that word, we find some linguists claim it comes from the Latin word ‘religare’, which means to re-connect, while others suggest it comes from the Latin word ‘relegere’, which means to re-read. Since ancient religions had no ‘sacred books’, and pagans needed a word to refer to the study of sacred books when they adopted Christianity, the idea that it comes from ‘re-legere’ makes a lot of sense.
Before the Romans became Christians, ‘pietas’ was the word they used to refer to their collection of rituals and beliefs. Although ‘religion’ originally referred to the study of sacred books, some time later its meaning changed, and people started using it as a synonym for ‘pietas’. That is why today we do not even demand of a religion to have sacred books.
What is a sacred book? When we look up the origin of ‘sacred’, we find it comes from the Latin word ‘segregare’ (to separate) and that it was originally used to refer to that part of the temple that only the high priest could enter. Also the word ‘secret’ comes from the Latin word ‘segregare’. Since what is segregated stays hidden, our ancestors associated the concepts ‘sacred’ and ‘secret’ with each other. Therefore, when they later created stories that held secrets, they called them ‘sacred’, just like the books in which these were later written down. We thus see that the word ‘religion’ originally referred to studying sacred books in order to discover their secrets –to reunite (religare) ideas that were seperated from them–, which in turn lead to a better understanding of the whole.
Being aware of what ‘religion’ originally meant, it is surprising that nowadays the word is often used interchangeably with faith. Searching for the truth is indeed very different than believing that you already know the truth.
Do all sacred books hold secrets? Not necessarily, because we can not trust the criteria that the religious authorities used to decide whether a book was sacred or not. Since the Bible is a collection of books some may hold secrets and others not. That Genesis holds secrets is obvious, because it recognizes the most important lesson that mankind has to learn: the fact that a society that doesn’t live in harmony is bound to destroy itself. To avoid our self-destruction we have to ask why we have conflicts with other people and with our environment, and that is the same as asking what the forbidden fruit refers to. Therefore, we have a good reason for studying –or re-reading– Genesis.
The fact that Genesis recognizes what awaits a society that doesn’t live in harmony is amazing, because it was written several thousand years ago, and it was the invention of nuclear weapons that allowed us to come to this conclusion. What made the author (authors) of Genesis realize that a society that doesn’t live in harmony is ‘doomed’? We can assume this person discovered that mankind had destroyed itself in the past and therefore realized it was bound to happen again in the future if mankind didn’t learn anything from that experience.
Why do sacred books hold secrets? Why does Genesis hold secrets? This is because to grasp new ideas, we have to be ready for them. Whereas someone enlightened is ready, because he has a broad view on mankind’s evolution, most other people aren’t, because they are ‘prisoners’ of the present, and are therefore unable to question old habits and beliefs.
People who live in an age of primitive weapons find it difficult to imagine arms that can destroy the earth’s atmosphere. Whereas the author of Genesis managed to do so, his contemporaries couldn’t. Therefore, this person realized that people would only be able to imagine the ultimate consequence of not living in harmony when mankind again disposed of such weapons. And to avoid their self-destruction, people would then have to be able to question their habits and beliefs, as that is necessary to discover why they have conflicts with each other and with their environment.
This enlightened person –the author of Genesis– wanted people to benefit from his wisdom. To prevent mankind from destroying itself in the future, he invented a story that one generation would pass on to the following till eventually it reached that generation that would again dispose of weapons of mass destruction. And since that generation would have to be able to comprehend what would happen in case people did not restore harmony, these stories had to help all generations with their spiritual evolution, so that bit by bit mankind learned to question habits and beliefs.
It is by asking many questions that seekers obtain a better comprehension of religion and of the Bible. That neither believers nor skeptics realize that the Bible –or at least Genesis– is the work of someone enlightened, and that asking what the forbidden fruit refers to is the same as asking why we have conflicts with each other and with our environment, is because they have prejudices and do not read that book in an objective way.
Believers and skeptics are considered opposites, but actually have a lot in common with each other. Let us, for instance, compare their points of view regarding the origin of the universe. Although there seems to be a big difference between assuming that the universe started with a Big Bang several billion years ago and assuming that God created the earth less than six thousand years ago, both visions assume there is a starting point. Asking what started the Big Bang is also very similar as asking who created God. The careful reader of Genesis –the seeker– realizes that it encourages us to reflect upon eternity. That it starts with, ‘In the beginning’, is not because it assumes there was a beginning, but because it is logical to tell the story of creation starting from a certain point and refer to this point with a special name: beginning.
Believers and skeptics also interpret Adam and Eve in a similar way. Both assume that Genesis says they are the first people on earth, but the careful reader –the seeker– realizes that this book only regards them as that generation that put an end to harmony.
Believers and skeptics also have similar ideas regarding the forbidden fruit. Both assume it is a metaphor. They igore that by pointing out that Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the days of paradise, Genesis clearly associates the end of paradise with a change of people’s diet.
The main difference between believers and skeptics is that the former give more importance to what an old book says and the latter to what science says. But they have again in common with each other that they base their opinion not on their own study, but on that of certain authorities.
Skeptics assumes that science has demonstrated that what the Bible says is wrong, but they ignore that what the Bible is believed to say, is not necessarily what it really says, and that what we think has gotten demonstrated by science, has not necessarily been proved to be right. The fact that new scientific theories often contradict previous theories demonstrates that we must also question scientific ideas.
People’s view on religion can be compared with the stages we go through in life: that of the believer with a child, because a believer believes everything his religion says, just like a child believes everything its daddy says; that of a skeptic with an adolescent because a skeptic rebels against religion when he discovers that some of its beliefs are contradicted by science, just like an adolescent rebels against his dad when he discovers that not everything his dad said is right, and that of a seeker with an adult, because just like a seeker evaluates religion himself, instead of basing his points of view on the opinions of others, an adult evaluates all information himself, instead of basing instead of basing his points of view on the opinions of others.
Why do not all people grow up? That there are so few seekers is because it is easier to accept ideas, then having to evaluate them oneself. However, when we accept ideas that we do not completely understand we become the slave of the authorities that defend those ideas. By having faith in authorities we really underestimate our own comprehension.
Are skeptics more evolved than believers? Not necessarily. To become a seeker, one has to question authorities, but why question the authorities of religion and not those of science? Or vice versa, why question the authorities of science and not those of religion?
Believers and sceptics have in common that they defend one source of information while they ignore the other. Therefore, both are ignorants, since an ignorant is someone who ignores information. And is there anything more ridiculous than deliberately ignoring information? Einstein, a seeker, said that science without religion is lame and that religion without science is blind. I totally agree with him.