Religious texts:

Why they're such a source of inspiration & continue to endure.

The main religion texts have been around for millennia.

For every issue that confronts us, there seems to be a matching passage in one’s religious text which either addresses it directly, or which lends itself to interpretation by a religious mentor who is ready to explain its relevance to the situation at hand.

How do they manage to continue to stay relevant, influence people, and attract steady streams of followers?

Let’s examine how religious texts that were written millennia ago are able to remain surprisingly relevant to our lives today.
  1. We select the best bits. Some things don’t change rapidly, and religious teachings that address such issues continue to stay relevant under many circumstances. We selectively focus on these aspects of traditional belief systems.

  2. Discard the rest. We ignore aspects of religious traditions that are irrelevant, unpalatable, and outdated.
Select the best
Religious speakers are able to extract gems from their religious texts, adapt their teachings to the issues of the day, and counsel us on how best to strike the optimal balance between practicality and godliness.

Numerous passages instruct one on how to uphold justice, act fairly and ethically, and conduct oneself gracefully and magnanimously. These doctrines strike a chord with numerous people, whether they be believers or not, and are cited by believers as examples of God-given pearls of wisdom, of which human beings could not have conceived, in the absence of divine inspiration.
  • Doesn't this demonstrate the brilliance with which the religious passages were written?

  • Does it not attest to the foresight and enduring wisdom of God, that a majority of passages are as vivid and relevant today as in the past?

  • Is it not obvious that without God’s majestic wisdom and omniscience, such texts could never have been written, since their scope and depth lie far beyond that which could have been traversed by the human mind alone?
Discard the rest
People often overlook the fact that they select certain religious doctrines to live by, while discarding inappropriate, irrelevant ones. When believers examine their texts in detail, they come across recommendations that could not be feasibly upheld today (e.g. the command to stone adulterers to death).

One finds that there is simply no way to implement the teachings in full, at least not at face value, because the actions prescribed are unacceptable in the context of modern society. Portions have to be glossed over, laughed at, and otherwise completely re-interpreted, if one hopes to extract a semblance of meaning from them.

Much of these texts are outdated and inapplicable- they’re far from flawless and enduring. And that's saying nothing about the flagrant contradictions, omissions, and offensively racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic statements in these texts.
Why does this disparity in the applicability of doctrines exist?
Why do some passages contain poetically elegant words of wisdom, while others clearly belong to a more primitive past? Why is it that certain chunks of text impress readers with their clarity, compassion, and relevance, while other passages would enhance the overall readability and applicability of the document if they were spliced out?

Let’s start by examining the scope of our religious texts. When documents such as the Bible, the Koran, and the Torah were written, human society was different from today's in numerous aspects, yet extremely similar or identical in other ways. Throughout human history, certain moral standards have been adhered to very strictly, and tend to be upheld across many cultures and religions (such as ‘do not kill’).

Other religious doctrines, on the other hand, mostly just serve as guidelines, rather than as unbreakable laws (such as ‘do not swear,’ or ‘do not drink excessively’). We find ways to incorporate elements of modern life into the traditional framework.

Simply, the answer is that the texts emerged from the minds of people- they are not representative of the thoughts of some other-worldly deity. While certain doctrines are just as relevant today as they were when the religious text was produced, other teachings have fallen out of date and never been removed. The faithful typically believe that religious texts are complete, timeless, and logical, having emerged from the mind of God, thus the unpalatable bits remain.

Many believe that there exists a moral code that is stipulated by a spiritual creator of the universe, to which members of a certain faith have exclusive access. However, this viewpoint is utterly refutable and untenable.

One sees these moral codes upheld not only across groups of people with different faiths and cultures, but also across different species of primates (human and non-human) and mammals, in varying degrees. Moral standards emerge as a result of inter-organismal interactions and genetic dispositions, which have evolved over the entire history of life as we know it.

(Click here for more on how Moral Codes evolve.)

Living by the broadly applicable madates of religion is easy- as long as the teachings are in some way interpretable in a modern-day context, they can be elaborated on and re-interpreted to make them fit in further with contemporary life.

This is true for any piece of advice that is stated in general terms, or any story that lends itself as a metaphor to a present-day scenario. It’s trying to defend the presence of the outdated passages that presents a challenge to any believer.

Thus, believers have to selectively ignore all passages that advocate unacceptable activities, and focus instead on the chapters and verses which remain applicable today (of which there are many). There's an abundance of wisdom to be found in the texts belonging to the main religions, as long as one takes care to choose sections that match the context and filters out the inappropriate bits.
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