True Believers would probably say no—it was perfect from the get-go, when it was revealed from heaven—but in so doing, they’d be flying in the face of 5,000 years of religions changing.
The first Jews were polytheists. Early Christians just wanted to hasten the return of Jesus by strictly obeying the Torah. The first Mormons were just camp-meeting Presbyterians—and then Joseph Smith got all his adventurous ideas about marrying multiple women, including women who were already married, and becoming a god and inheriting a planet when you die. (All the crazy stuff you’ve heard about Mormonism? It’s all true.) The first Druids worshipped dirt, for all I know. (I’m assuming there are still Druids. There’s got to be—at least on the internet.)
So whether or not you believe religion can change, the fact is that every religion has changed from its early days.
Well, believers will counter, at least our religion was pure at the beginning—when God handed it to us. If any change is needed, it’s just to get the religion back to the intent of the religion’s founder—to fix any damage done by humans. This is Mormonism’s schtick. The True Gospel was lost from the Earth after the last apostle died, during an event called the Great Apostasy. (Never heard of it? Strange. All the kids were talking about it.) So God had to use ol’ Joseph Smith to get the church back on track.
The point is, the religious folks say, is that it’s God who determines what a religion is about—all the dogma and the rituals and the sacraments. Humans just nod their heads and do as they’re told. If any adjustments are to be made, they’ll come from heaven.
Religion isn’t from God. It’s from humans. The signs are everywhere—obvious, really, if you just drop your presumptions and look around. Man’s fingerprints are all over the place—and the crumbs from his Pop Tarts. You want to see the gold plates? Oh, sorry, you can’t check them out. God took them back to heaven, you know. How convenient. And why is it that everything every religion calls God’s word was written by—wait for it—men? Even the religious folks admit this. They just say God controlled the authors from making any errors, which confounds every single thing we know about how God works and how humans work. We’re talking about humans, the people who are prone to walking outdoors blissfully unaware their fly is down.
The religious folks who say religion needs to change usually say the problem is that we’re misinterpreting the pristine revelation from God. The revelation is untouchable, but it must be read rightly. For example, progressive Christians will say the Bible actually encourages loving homosexual relationships and empowers women.
God does not reveal Himself through holy books or prophets, which tells you that all holy books and all prophets are just guesswork at best and hoaxes at worst. The only way God reveals Himself to us is through creation, so empirical evidence—facts and data—becomes our scripture. Discovering the truth—about the universe, about yourself, even about God—is a bit-by-bit struggle against ignorance.
Truth isn’t revealed. It’s wrestled to the ground.
Let’s just admit the obvious. The stuff religions teach was created by men—and if anyone is going to change it, it’s going to be humans.
I say we just chuck all the revealed doctrines—what you can and can’t do and what to hold dear. They really don’t get us anywhere. One minute, revelation’s telling us to bash our enemies against the rocks. The next minute, we have to bring our enemies a fruit bouquet. Make up your mind!
Blank slate. We’ll believe something if it can be backed up with facts and data. Maybe we don’t even call it religion. Maybe we just call it life—and it’s about constant learning, constant process, constant improvement.
Humans want what’s best for humans. That’s why we insist our caretakers—surgeons, diesel mechanics, pastry chefs—hone their craft. Improve. Find new ways of meeting our needs. In the Olden Days, they applied leeches to remedy dropsy. Now we know better. We use chemotherapy to treat cancer, which centuries hence probably will seem barbaric. Good God, 500 years from now, they’ll actually have a penis enlargement pill that actually works. Imagine. When everyone’s a porn star, no one will be a porn star.
So . . . why can’t we change religion?
What would a religion look like that was built on facts and data?
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