Writing for the pope: 11-20-09
Taking faith to the streets: 11-23-09

Ignoring revelation: 11-21/22-09

I am always amused -- and, at times, astonished -- by the way people outside of faith traditions seek to describe religion and the religious impulse.

What so often happens, it seems to me, is that they often overlook or intentionally ignore religion's own explanation of itself.

I found a good example of this in a Nov. 6 piece in Science magazine called "On the Origin of Religion." Someone shared a pdf copy of the piece with me, and I now share it with you. To read it, click on this link: Download Origin_of_Religion[1]

As you will see in the article, the author discusses quite a few scholarly approaches to the origin of religion. But nowhere is there even an acknowledgement of what at least the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam would cite as the origin: divine revelation.

I am not suggesting that scientists need to abandon all other studies of religions' origins or that they somehow must buy into religion's own explanation, revelation. Indeed, science has no way of verifying or even studying divine revelation. But not even to acknowledge that religion has its own answer to this question is to short-circuit the discussion and, in the end, not to take religion on its own terms.

In the piece to which I've linked you, for example, the author writes this: "If they had to name one time and one place when the gods were born. . ."

The clear assumption there is that there is no other explanation than that humans dreamed up their gods. Again, I am not asking scientists who study all this to believe that God is eternal -- no beginning and no end -- or that God has revealed the divine self to humanity in various ways. Or even that there is a God. What I'm asking them to do is simply acknowledge that people of faith have an explanation having to do with divine revelation.

Now, there has been a lot of writing about just what is meant by revelation, how we perceive it, what it means, how it happens. I point you to the indices of two helpful books: Systematic Theology: The Triune God, by Robert W. Jenson, and Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Volume I, by Donald G. Bloesch. I also like the succinct definition of revelation found in the online Catholic Encyclopedia. For that, click here.

And clearly there are differences among people of faith about how to understand the concept of revelation. But the concept exists. And whoever writes about the origin of religions fails to offer a complete account if revelation is left out of the picture.

* * *


No doubt you're aware of the effort to get the United Nations to adopt a treaty calling for an end to the mockery of religion -- sort of an anti-blasphemy move. It is, of course, a ridiculous measure that has the backing of some predominantly Muslim countries with bad human rights records. It that would limit free speech, and this editorial by a journalist I used to read regularly when he covered Washington gets it right.


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