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I have read ninety and nine Suras with growing ease, familiarity and, i hope appreciation.  But Surah IV, (Women} has almost stopped me in my tracks; reading each word feels like slogging through shin deep muck.  I don't know why.  The words and ideas are comprehensible enough.  I know that the treatment of women in seventh century Arabia was abyssmal (and almost as bad elsewhere in "civilized" parts of Asia and Europe).  I knoe that "four wives" means "only four wives," and that being treated like half a man is better than having no social or legal identity whatsoever..I know that the Jewish and Christian scriptures are equally off-putting for anyone who values human equality.  Perhaps it is because i feel that whoever reads this is being promised either eternal  joy or eternal misery, both of which are indescribable; and that i am among those who, because of disbelief, will be "owners of the fire," i.e, doomed to hell.

So i am taking a break to muse for a while on the topic of revealed religion.  I will probably use words like fact and fable; history, legend, story, and myth.  I will avoid terms like "frame" and "structure" though these will often be in the back of my mind.  I also understand  that even today one historian's history writing can be another historians mythmaking.  I understand also that there are places in the world where myth and history are clearly distinquished but the correct myth is far more important than the correct history

Religions have been classified as "natural," "revealed." and "transcendent," with the definitions and boundaries of  each being somewhat confusing and blurred.  Transcendant religions seem  to be content with the knowledge that the ultimate reality is unknowable -- i guess that's how  i think.  Buddhism and Taoism (to the extent that they can be called "religions") seem to be examples.  Natural religions seem to say that the sufficient truth about reality is avalable to thoughtful and observant human beings. Aboriginal religions are of this type, but i find it also in Taoism, and to some extent, in the Abrahamic religions.  Revealed religions insist that there are certain truths about ultimate reality that can be known only as the Divine Creator reveals them to us through "prophets" (an elite).  Revealed religion is marked by written scripture: The Avesta, The Torah (plus the Prophets and the Psalms), The New Testament (or "Gospels"), and (by virtue of Sikhisms debt to Islam) the Abi Granth.  When (and if) i become far less ignorant about the Parsi (Zoroastrian) Avesta and the Abi Granth i may want to compare them all (I do not know whether the Vedas and Upanishids could or should be put in the same category,)

Adam (the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim first human being) Noah, Abraham, and all other prophets before Moses would be regarded by "non-Abrahamists" as legendary (or given the ages of Adam and Noah, mythical,) persons.  The Koran states that all prophets repeated the same message;  There is One God and only He should be served (i.e. obeyed and worshipped).  However the particulars are quite varied.

Adam, who is said to have conversed with God face to face while they walked together in the Garden of Eden was given total freedom save for a single rule.  Do not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.(i.e., obey Me.)  We are not told whether these face to face conversations continued after Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden.  God also spoke clearly  to Cain but we are not told whether eye contact was maintained.

Noah also supposedly clearly heard God's voice.  A covenant was established of which the book of Genesis gives few particulars.  Humans should breed, dominate nature, and pay fror blood with blood.  The Talmud (not a "scripture") records the so called "Noahide covanent" which applies to all  mankind (since everyone is supposed to be a descendent of Noah).  It is a mixture of the ethical and ritual ten commandments and actually covers more ground than the ten commandments.  For example, the rule agains adultery supposedly covers other forms of sexual "deviation;"  the rule against theft covers covetousness and greed.  The Koran speaks often  and fondly of Noah but is no more specific than the Bible.

I found it interesting that of the 28 prophets named in the Koran (and there are at least 40 unnamed), only 4 of of the 24 who came after Abraham are "Arabian." (Ishmael, Hud, Saleh, and Muhammed)  The others are all Old Testament characters plus John the Baptist and Jesus (Who is called Jesus Christ by both Christians and Muslims).

Moses a legendary forefather and "god founder" of the Judean and Israeli nations definitely did not see God face to face, but was once given a quick glance at His "backside."  God spoke to him out of a burning bush introducing Himself as "He Who would Be Who He would Be." But Moses and God spoke quite regularly.  God gave Moses the Ten Commandments -- but which version?  If both, why do Christians make such noises and demands about one version while completely ignoring the other?  And what about the other 600 plus commandments in the Torah?  Supposedly they came from Moses also.  But the Torah did not take its present form until  sometime after the  reign of Solomon, probably not until the Judeans returned from Babylon and "found" it in  the ruins of the Temple.

Whether Jesus was the founder of a revealed religion is very questionable in my mind.  Jesus was definitely a historical person.  He taught and healed and was executed by the Romans and afterwards some of his followers say he rose from the dead and left post mortum instructions for some of his followers before going up into heaven.  He had many followers some of whom may have written their memories of his teaching shortly after his death.  If so, none survive and our present knowledge is based on the hightly biased selections of some highly biased writings composed from forty to one-hundred years after his death.  Christians say that Jesus was "the Only Begotten Son of God.," part of an Eternal Trinity.

Muslims have great respect for the Semitic prophets. and especially Abraham and  Jesus..  They agree that Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and that he will return at the Day of Judgment to lead the defeat of God's enemies,  He was not, however, the Son of God (that is blasphemy, violation of the "prime directive:" there is no god but God.  Muslims also do not believe he was crucified (i have no idea why.)  Jesus and Muhammed were both great prophets but Jesus was prophet to "the people of Israel" while Muhammed was prophet to the "whole of mankind and jinn,"

I get the impression (probably wrong) that Muhammed did not, at least at first. see his mission as world wide.
He wanted to reform Mecca, then western Arabia, then the Arabian penninsula.  I do not recall that any of his Meccan revelations suggested a world wide mission.  I also get the impression that Jesus intended that his mission was to serve the poor of Galilee  and then, perhaps, Samaria and Judea.  Such restraint and humility would have been wise, and i am convinced that Jesus and Muhammed were very wise men.

Revealed religions present their One God as being All Knowing and All Wise.  Such  a  Being could not suffer from the limitations on knowledge that plague the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.  The fertile crescent is the center of the universe, stars are holes in the canopy of the sky letting God's light in, ritual purity trumps cause and effect, women are second class people, Northern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southern Africa, and the Western Hemisphere do not exist.

There is beauty and value in all the revealed religions, even those that come later: Sikhism, Protestantism, Bahi'a, Mormonism.  But i am not allowed* to "take what i like and leave the rest to those who can better use it."  Disbelief and doubt are sins as bad or worse than other sins. but if i am not an Arab, Arab "truth" is likely to leave me unconvinced, unbelieving, or in doubt.

Truth revealed by God or his authorized messenger is not open to debate.  Sometimes it is debated, but not often enough or widely enough,  Conflicting revelations are hard to reconcile; we end up agreeing that what could not possibly be true is true or we fight with the advocates of competing revelations.  We can see with Protestant Fundamentalism and Islamic Jihadism that changing times and eternal truths do not mix well.

Every revealed religion has permitted mystics who raised themselves or were raised by grace above the legalities, trivialities, peculiarities, and dualities of their respective religions.  As the Sufi Emre suggested. the law is a ship and life is an ocean, eventually the ocean will beat the ship to pieces and we will all have to abandon ship  and learn to live in the ocean.

Perhaps this discomfort with revealed religion accounts for my appreciation of Taoism and Buddhism.  The Taoist sages traveled far and wide to learn from shamans, ethnic groups, and  isolated tribes what their secrets of life were and incorporated these learnings into their philosophy.  Whether they recieved divine help they did not know and i do not know.  Yet their philosophy is the equal of what is best in any revealed religion.  The Buddha struggled with his own soul for ten years trying all that the religions of his day and place had to offer.  He evolved a theory of human reality and a path to salvation which has persisted for 2500 years and can rise to heights of understanding and beauty far beyond the average for revealed religion and reaching the level of the Sufi poets and the Catholic and Orthodox saints.

Finally, Jibreel told Muhammed in multiple revelations that he was to be "a warner, not a warder."  He is to deliver God's message, not enforce God's commandments on others.  Each human  being is responsible for taking the message  to heart.  When Muhammed became "head of state" in Medina the revelations began to pronounce  legislation and he merged a politico-military-economic role with his prophetic role.  But every wise tribal elder should know that the roles of head man and shaman should not be merged.

* Years ago (in the 1980s?) i saw a Gallup Poll, a portion of which asked adherents to rate their own faith community in terms of their satisfaction with it on a 21 point scale from +10 to -10.  EAstern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the  Protestant denomination had a broad scattering of responses with a median score of about +5 or +6.  (These faiths have had centuries in which to observe themselves in action and have had plenty of time to challenge the quality of their "revelations.")   Catholics, if i recall, were the most polarized with 60% at +10, 5% at -10, and 35% scattered across the other 19 possible responses.  But the Church of Jesus Christ of  Latter Day Saints (Mormons) which was revealed less than 200 years ago, and whose leaders continue to be "prophets and revelators" had 90% of responses at +10 and 10% at -10.  It  seems as though the alternative to total acceptance is complete non-acceptance, you are in  or you are out!



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