Most religions teach that ultimate reality is revealed to humanity in a series of steps. Despite this, most religions also claim to embody final truth. This contradiction is most pronounced in the classical monotheistic religions: Jews believe their religion to be the result of a new eternal covenant between God and man, replacing the polytheistic paganism of their era. But Christians believe that Moses and Abraham were only given partial truth and that Jesus was then given the next set of revelations, washing away the Old Testament and establishing a new final word - in Matthew 5:18 it says very clearly that the word cannot ever change, although John 16:12-13 admits that people are not yet ready for the full truth so some things are not yet revealed. Then comes the Qur'an, superseding the New Testament with another even newer final word from God. The eternal and perfect text of the Qur'an is held in heaven and Muhammad is another final "seal of the prophets" (Qur'an 33:40, 5:19, et al.). Yet he has been followed by Bab and Baha'u'llah of the Bahá'í Faith who too claim to be the latest messengers of God1. The sequence of messiahs continues and what is revealed by one, is annulled by another. It isn't just monotheistic religions that are at it; the teachings of the Buddha are divided into "Sudden" and "Gradual" teachings, and people must learn the more superficial doctrines before moving up to the more profound ones2.
Despite its appearance in formal doctrine and holy texts, the idea of sequential revelation doesn't make sense. (1) There is no reason for God to deceive entire cultures with claims that the latest revelation is the last - we cope with changes in knowledge without all going crazy. (2) The illusion of finality causes religious conflicts to be prone to violence and aggression, because 'belief' is raised to a matter of life and death. A benevolent God would simply tell everyone the truth, or, make it clear that it doesn't matter what we believe. The middle-ground of gradual-instruction is very destructive. (4) Many of the specific things revealed by religion differ from revelation to revelation in a haphazard manner; there is no sense in which religion is gradually getting closer to final theological truth. What this all tells us has more to do with human nature than divine truth: in reality, the only clear evidence from the proliferation of different religions is that if there is a god, it doesn't mind who believes what.
Causing Conflict and Confusion: Religious followers often clash with one-another due to their differences in beliefs. God ought to be explicitly state that it is revealing the truth in stages. God, as an all-knowing (omniscient) being, knows exactly when the next revelation will be given (and what human calendars will be in use at that time) so can state in advance how the next true revelation will occur. This simple technique would massively reduce ambiguity and conflict. If God cared what we believed, its methods of gradual instruction would be so much better. In reality, it seems that God is not using a series of prophets to inform us.
Divine Deceit: Each new religion claims to be universal and absolute. The Christian Bible and the Qur'an both demand and assert that nothing can be added or removed to their doctrine. If God does indeed send a series of prophets, then, God itself is guilty of spreading messages that are untrue: its revelations are not the final word and its moral rules are not absolutes.
Faith Versus Fiction: If there is a series of prophets and holy books from God, then, it forces us to doubt all of our current religions and traditions. Faith is difficult to maintain once you realize that the object of your faith is fundamentally unknown; Christians that were once told to worship Jesus are told in the Qur'an very firmly that such action is a mortal mistake. Future revelations could undermine the most heartfelt beliefs of today. The idea of gradual instruction makes religious beliefs hollow.
Humankind's Psychological Strength: There is little evidence that we need to be shielded from the truth. Every conceivable theological position has already been explored by mystics, philosophers, thinkers and science fiction authors. If there was a God, it would simply tell us all the truth, and, wouldn't design our brains in such a way that we couldn't cope with it.
A Rocky Road: Many of the specific things revealed about god (unity / trinity / obscure / imminent) differ from religion to religion in a haphazard manner; there is no sense in which religion is gradually getting closer to theological truth.
How is it possible for an outsider to ever be convinced by any the religions, claiming that their claims to truth are the final one, when so many have claimed the same thing, and so many religions contain so many divisions, all with different interpretations of the teachings of those many prophets? Enough is enough! It is about time we recognized that the very concept of a God communicating through selected human prophets is ridiculous, in terms of its efficiency, accuracy and believability. Any belief system that states that God use prophets to communicate eternal truth is proving itself to be yet another nonsensical human-invented religion.
God does not provide any clear or obvious communications to mankind. It has all knowledge about itself passed by word of mouth from human to human, deciding to send some revelations to individual people which have unfortunately been contradictory. Despite the number of clearly false messages, many holy books demand that believing in signs and messengers is the good and holy thing to do and they declare terrible punishments for those who fail to believe correctly. The fundamental epistemological problem is that it is impossible for anyone to verify the original message.
All evidence points to human-psychology being the source of divine communications. Religious texts have all been delivered to men - and throughout the entire Jewish Scriptures and Old Testament, God never talks directly to any woman3, mirroring precisely the patriarchal structure of traditional societies. It seems that human culture, not divine culture, is apparent in divine texts. Such texts contain large quantities of non-religious historical content. But none of that content has ever revealed any non-human knowledge. Scientist Victor Stenger notes that "Biblical and Qur'anic statements about the natural world, look exactly as you would expect them to look if there was no new knowledge being revealed - just what was the human understanding of the day. That is, they look as if there is no God who speaks to humanity through scriptures or other revelations" (2007)4.
This has led to uncountable errors, mistranslations, disagreements, sects, divisions and then disputes, conflicts, violence and war, sometimes on large scales. Given how many wrong revelations there have been, it is clear that no-one is compelled to believe any of them - not even the recipients, and it is probably safer and wiser to have a policy of non-belief in revelation. God could very easily reveal pure truth to everyone simultaneously and therefore put an end to all battles between different religions, but it does not feel morally compelled to do so. The only sensible conclusion is that God doesn't care about what we humans believe, nor does it care about what the effects of non-belief are.
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Because all regions of the world experience a gradual change in opinion and knowledge, other religious milieu aside from the monotheistic have also subscribed to the belief in gradual revelation:
“Although all of the above-mentioned five doctrines were preached by the Buddha Himself, yet there are some that belong to the Sudden, while others to the Gradual, Teachings. If there were persons of the middle or the lowest grade of understanding, He first taught the most superficial doctrine, then the less superficial, and 'Gradually' led them up to the profound.”
"Zen - The Religion of the Samurai" by Kaiten Nukariya (1913)2
Most modern forms of Christianity accept the Old Testament and the New Testament. Where the two collections contradict each other many believe that the New Testament overrides the Old: this goes for parts that disagree directly on legalities (dietary codes, etc), and, the feel of God in the New Testament is accepted whereas the short-tempered and smiting god of the Old Testament is generally forgotten.
Some Christians argue that the "you" in Old Testament Law only refers to Jews. But they do not follow through with the line of logic, and they do not argue that the sins and new laws mentioned in the New Testament only apply to you Christians. And they also do not apply this logic to all of the Old Testament - just to the bits that they don't like. Also, there are New Testament verses (such as 2 Peter 3:1-2) which also state that the OT laws should be kept. So the reasoning against not having to obey the OT laws is inconsistent.
There are lots of verses in the Bible that imply that the Old Testament laws no longer need to be followed. But there are also a greater number of verses in the Bible that are very clear that all of God's laws are eternal and unchangeable, and apply "forever". So no matter which side of the argument you take, your actions and beliefs are not in accordance with what the Bible says. So, many preachers and teachers will select which set of verses they are going to quote from, and they manage to discount some of the opposing verses, and often, completely ignore the ones that they can't discount. Such confusing contradictions occur because the Bible was written by many different people, who all had different ideas and vested interests, and who wrote at different times and in different places. So on some theological points, such as whether or not everyone has to follow all the rules in the Bible or just the nice ones, there is no consistent message in the Bible.
|All Laws Have to be Obeyed Forever||Old Testament Laws No Longer Apply|
Verses from the New Testament are also in harmony with all of the above verses from the Old Testament:
The number of verses and arguments that show that all the Old Testament Laws still have to be obeyed somewhat outweigh the verses that indicate otherwise.
The Qur'an recognizes that there have been prophets of God that have come before Muhammad, including Moses (Musa), Abraham (Ibraham) and Jesus. It, rather sensibly, tries to explain why God has seemingly sent different messengers at different times. It starts with the following admission:
“Now has come to you Our Messenger making (things) clear unto you, after a break in (the series of) Messengers [...].”
Many verses repeat the idea that there were previous messengers before Muhammad. For examples see Qur'an 6:42, 13:38 and 15:10. The Qur'an teaches that peoples have an assigned book, and each people have a set duration, and that both only last for a set time. The Qur'an and Muslims therefore have a set term, after which they will no longer be valid. In the following three verses the Arabic word ajal is translated either as "people" or "age":
But things do not add up. Qur'an 57:9 says clearly that the God's message brings people from "utter darkness" into light. Fair enough - this is what you'd expect the Qur'an to say. But what was the worth in the previous messengers if people are still in utter darkness? Another contradiction arises from 33:40 where Muhammad is said to be a final "seal of the prophets", contradicting the verses that say that each people, and their assigned book, both have a limited duration.
Previous prophets include Moses (Musa), Abraham (Ibraham), Jesus and then Muhammad. What does the Qur'an say about these prophets?
“Those who ... wish to make distinction between Allah and His Messengers ... saying, "We believe in some but reject others," and wish to adopt a way in between. They are in truth disbelievers. And We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating torment. And those who believe in Allah and His Messengers and make no distinction between any of them (Messengers), We shall give them their rewards.”
Not only were there previous messengers and the likelihood of future ones, but, failure to believe in them (or believe other signs) means you are destined for hell as a nonbeliever (Qur'an 4:150-152). But of course there are many more prophets than just those popular ones. The world is awash with religions, denominations and folklorists, many of which produce a steady stream of prophets. It seems that if you ignore the wrong one, if you disbelieve in the wrong one, you could incur the eternal wrath of God and end up in hell. This is a true dilemma. There are some very strong contenders for the title of the next prophet, and the Bible and the Qur'an give clear warnings that missing the signs, and disbelieving in a sign, is a serious misdemeanour with eternal consequences.