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The Arrogance of Personal Revelation

Most religious belief isn’t propegated by logic, reason, or historical analysis. It’s propegated by culture. My witty catchphrase to explain this is that the reason most Christians in the U.S. are Christians is the same reason most Christians in the U.S. speak English. Following the English example, every single thought that Christians think is not in its original, “pure” form. Their thoughts – before they even get to their waking mind – are filtered through their default language.

There’s no way to get around that filter.

This brings up some problems for “personal revelation”, which is the main vehicle for religious conversion. Personal revelations assume that this cultural filter doesn’t exist, and that the believer is getting a direct tap on the shoulder from god himself. They completely ignore all of their cultural baggage/brainwashing, their psychological/emotional status, their cultural “language” (in the U.S., the cultural language is Christianity), and myriads of other unavoidable biology mores that influence their thoughts.

In order for personal revelation to be a valid form of epistemology, the believer has to assume that they are a superbeing that has no epistemological, psychological, biological, or any other sort of flaw at all. If two people are talking on a cell phone, in order for the two people to have a meaningful conversation, beyond having to share a common language both parties have to have 1) working cellphones 2) working reception and 3) a working network, to say the least. If one side has a working version of all three, but the other side doesn’t, then conversation and understanding is going to be flawed.

Assuming that god is perfect, his “cellphone” would also be perfect. But what about the believer’s cellphone? What about the believer’s network? For personal revelation to be valid, the believer’s cellphone has to be flawless as well. This is the only way that communication could be made and understood. God could be talking in his pristine, perfect cellphone all day, but if your cellphone isn’t in working condition, this communication fails. This is where the arrogance of personal revelation comes in. The believer assumes their “cellphone” is perfect and they are getting perfect communication from their god(s). Of course, the believer might say that their holy books confirm their revelations, but the people who wrote these holy books were people just like the believer. So not only does the believer think that they are a flawless human being, the believer also assumes that the many people who penned their holy books were just as flawless as they are.

Even if I grant that personal god(s) exist, the imperfection of human beings negates the validity of personal revelation. People have broken cellphones, dropped calls, packet loss, etc. and this imperfection explains the many myriads of contradictory religious belief on the planet. Yet people continue to fall back on personal revelation (it just feels right) as the sole trump card of religious faith.

Personal revelation as a means of religious validation is the height of arrogance. It assumes that the person who gets the revelation has gotten clear communication and has interpreted this revelation accurately. It assumes a flawless human being.

What if your interpretation is incorrect? The implications of that question are impossible for the believer to address.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2010 in personal revelation

 
 
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