By Israel Drazin
I just published my twenty-second book Rational Religion, a book on philosophy. I wrote it under the pseudonym Daniel A. Diamond because I do not want people to think it is a Jewish book; it is designed for all people.
The first chapter sets the tone and is the basis for the rest of Rational Religion. It is based on a book that I believe people who think about philosophy, religion, and truth must know. I titled this first chapter “Most people can’t understand the truth.” The twelfth century Muslim philosopher Abu Bakr ibn Tufayl tells a fascinating thought-provoking parable showing how and why his predecessors hid the truth from the multitude. His story dramatizes that the majority of people, virtually all people, cannot be taught the truth, are threatened by it, and sometimes react to it with violence.
In my second chapter I show how many other philosophers dealt with the fact that people are unable to handle the truth. Among others, I describe how the fourth century BCE Greek philosopher Plato, rather than teaching the truth to the general population, resorted to the “noble lie,” a version of the truth that people could accept. He called it “noble lie” because, while untrue and not ideal, the teachings help people, give them some sense of how the world functions, and some ideas how to live a full and enjoyable life.
Since people can only manage “watered down truths,” it follows that Bibles also could not teach the real truth and had to “allow” practices that had become almost sacrosanct among people, such as sacrifices, slavery, and discrimination of women. I discuss this in my third chapter. These biblical laws were generally improvements over those practiced by pagans and encouraged further advancement, but because of the limitations of human nature could not bring the populace to a perfect rational life.
The remaining thirty-two chapters build on these facts. While being careful not to disparage religion, the book examines subjects such as:
- The value of a life of reason rather than faith.
- Should we accept biblical accounts and laws that seem contrary to reason?
- How do we differentiate superstitious ideas from those that are rational?
- Does the Bible rewrite pagan stories to teach its own agenda?
- What is the biblical agenda?
- The Hebrew Bible has a belief in the existence of many gods, but required the Israelites to serve only one of them. This may be one of many instances where the Bible reflected ancient thinking while encouraging improvement.
- Changes were made in the wording of the Hebrew Bible.
- The New Testament contains many errors, inconsistencies, and impossible events that bothered many thinkers, even Tolstoy and Thomas Jefferson.
- The concepts of a soul and an after-life are not in or even hinted in the Hebrew Bible, but are ideas taken by ancient Jews from pagans probably around the fourth century BCE.
- There are obscurities and seemingly conflicting accounts in the Bible.
- God may have created or formed the world but is no longer involved in this world, does not help people, and may never have helped people. He may have created the laws of nature that are good and allowed people freedom to choose, but then became transcendental.
- We do not know when or why the world was created, and it is possible that the world was not created to benefit humans.
- What is expected of people?
- Why does evil exist?
- Are humans essentially good?