The foremost uncertainty about religions is whether someone said, or was supposed to have said, was real. Whatever was said, was it recording on paper, and if recorded on paper did someone had a chance or inclination or temptation to change it? Did the tenets undergo a drastic change by the time time the history unfolded. For most of the religions these doubts persist, and it is a wonder that so many people follow these very tenants.
The entities in discussion are the prophets or messengers of God. For example, the existence of Moses in Israel or Lord Rama in India is shrouded in mystery. Lack of historical and archaeological evidence questions the veracity whether the Red sea ever split to provide a pass for the Israelite. Many critics do not believe that Jesus was born to Virgin Mary, given that he had a father in Joseph. Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh religion claimed that he was offered nectar (amrit) by God. The mode of communication between prophets and God makes these mysteries even more certain. No human has ever heard voices from the skies or seen any archangel after Jesus or Mohammad died.
Hinduism too, is unable to provide convincing proofs that Ravana had ten heads. No physical evidence can be shown for the stone-assembled bridge that was propped up by the monkey army of the god Hanuman, for connecting India to Sri Lanka. Doubts arise whether king Dhritarashtra, could have 100 sons from one wife. It is certainly hard to believe that a voice from the skies forewarned King Kansa that the son of his sister, Lord Krishna, would exterminate him. To believe that a blind king could see the proceedings of an on-going war of Mahabharata for 18 days, through the eyes of another person, can be no more than an allegory. Perhaps all of them are allegories of one form or the other.
The innumerable fables in Hindu Purans, with astronomical number of sons or extended duration of pregnancy are exaggerated allegories, certainly unbelievable. And these are only some of the fallacies of religion. Many such myths exist and they nourish people’s faith in the religions. Is it that all religious stories are allegories, even if supported by partial historical footprints?
Graham Phillips in his book The Moses Legacy published by Pan Macmillan in 2002, has torn to pieces all history connected with Christianity and Judaism. This brilliant history detective has also refuted a few claims made in favor of King Arthur, Robin Hood and Shakespeare. His work of 327 pages is well worth a read.
The main secrets hidden under this murky set up are how and when such elaborate though conflicting literature is actually created. We of course know why. There is a first level of uncertainty and ambiguity about whether someone existed, communicated with God, assumed responsibility for God’s mission and then wrote about it.
Even If we grant this miracle, the second level of distortion hits us in the face immediately. A Latin proverb that history is written by the victor, applies aptly in the domain of religion. Roman Kings destroyed all the Hebrew literature and promoted Christianity. Then who wrote the scriptures, and so many of them?
Battles were fought between Hussein and Yazid that endorsed the split of Shia and Sunni in Islam. So whatever was written in Hadith, Sunnah and even Quran, might have been doctored by people other than the prophet himself. Such garnishing of religious truths by political overtures is equally valid when Brahmins wrote the Upanishads. How one can disregard the possibility, that changes were made when Dara Shikoh, son of the emperor Shah Jehan, got 90 of them translated into Persian, in 1657. In Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev’s teachings were penned down for the first time by the third Guru, in the series of ten.
In the absence of worthwhile printing mechanisms, how much credence can be given to history? The authenticity of whatever was heard, remembered or communicated by verbal messages is anybody’s guess.
To what extent one must believe the religious history, is better left to an individual’s discretion. It is strange that people do not want to dispute the obviously dubious religious history. They quarrel with all their might when arguments are traded on the content of religious teachings, as if everything was recorded in front of their eyes. As if, it is their experience, which is penned down.
And how does one explain the situation that people do not blame their adopted religion or spiritual guru for anything bad that happens to them. They attribute it to their karma. But for everything good that comes their way the credit is voluntarily passed on to their spiritual guru; even disowning the credit that is due to self.
If someone could isolate the history of religion from its canons for attaining the purpose of life, people may even accept the mysteries of birth, death, afterlife as unsolved and get on with their lives.