Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stark Lunacy - Part 3 - Divine Revelations

Wrapping up chapter 1 of Rodney Stark's latest book, Discovering God, the next noteworthy part of this chapter deals with religious innovators who have revelations. Stark defines a revelation as "a communication believed to come from a supernatural source, usually from a God, or to be divinely inspired knowledge."

Contrary to the popular belief that people who claim to have received revelations from god are crazy or dishonest, Stark tells us that these assumptions are "incompatible with the biographies of many prominent cases: most showed no indications whatsoever of mental illness, and most made personal sacrifices utterly incompatible with fraud. This led me to formulate a model whereby entirely normal people can, through entirely normal means, believe that they communicate with the divine."

David Koresh, a normal man with no indications of mental illness whatsoever, who believed that he received revelations from God and whose personal sacrifice of his own life at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas was utterly incompatible with fraud.

An example that Stark provides is when "Spencer W. Kimball, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced the revelation that persons of African ancestry should be admitted to the Mormon priesthood, he described the process by which he gained this revelation as the result of many hours of prayer that ended in the sudden, absolute certainty that this was God's will."

Gee, ya think so Professor Stark? Or was it more of a case of "Holy shit, we better come up with a face saving way of allowing blacks to become Mormon priests because in a post-Civil Rights America, we're starting to look awfully raycist!" Why Stark does not consider this possibility is beyond me. I wonder if Stark believes it is plausible that God really told President McKinley that he should "Christianize" the mostly Catholic Filipinos after the end of the Spanish-American War.

Stark compares the religious innovator's receipt of divine revelations to composers such as Gershwin or Mozart, who claimed that they did not compose tunes, they simply played the complete melodies that came to them in their heads from "out there." Stark suggests that while it is possible these allegedly divine revelations "are purely human creations", we should also be "free to assume that the revelation was sent... that God does reveal himself to humans - even if it is only within the limits of their capacity to understand."

In discussing the credibility of religious innovators, Professor Stark does get one thing right. He points out that in many cases, converts are family members, close friends, and members of the community, or to put it in his words, "It follows that successful religious innovators will tend to be well-respected members of an intense primary group." He points to examples such as Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, as well as Jesus, Muhammed and a host of other religious founders.

For a Stone Age religious innovator, converting ones family and neighbors was tantamount to converting the world, and the religion would eventually spread to other tribes through cultural diffusion. And the reason why religion tended to be everywhere is "because the needs it fulfills are everywhere... Alternatively, many religions come from God according to the ability of humans at a particular time and place to understand, and, of course, all revelations are subject to misunderstanding, exaggeration, and faulty transmission." (bold emphasis mine)

Then again, a God could solve that problem by revealing the same message to a number of people in a particular group simultaneously. After all, if two people approach you within the same time period, both claiming to have received different revelations from God, how are you to know which one to believe?

Coming soon, Rodney Stark looks at ancient state-sponsored temple religions, followed by an examination of that great religious marketplace called the Roman Empire, where Christianity would end up becoming the Walmart of the 4th century C.E.

8 comments:

homar said...

i wish i could get a copy of that book. it seems interesting to debunk. by simply stating that "all revelations are subject to misunderstanding, exaggeration, and faulty transmission," the author has admitted that the so-called revelations are not trustworthy. this is just another case of rationalizing something that has no factual basis whatsoever.

homar said...

i am a former mormon. the mormon church's reversal of its former stand on black priesthood is a clear indication that it is really not diviely inspired or at least their god can be politically pressured.

Tommy said...

Hey Homar! Kumusta?

One theme Stark keeps referring to in his book is the concept of divine accomodation, which means that god only reveals himself to us according to our capacity to understand.

To me, that seems like an all too convenient excuse.

I already finished the book and will try to get the rest of my commentary up by the end of this weekend.

Pyramidhead said...

I'm sorry David Koresh had a mullet...that only should tell you about his mental state.

Tattooed & Atheist (T&A) said...

Being an apostate mormon, I can also attest to the lack of authenticity of Kimball's "revelation." The other factor of that was involved, was the coinciding event of the opening of the temple in Brazil in 1978. Brazilians are so mixed with different ethnicities, that it would have been impossible for the mormons to find anyone there who wasn't of some sort of african decent.

Pyramidhead said...

one time with feeling. I'm sorry David Koresh had a mullet...that alone should tell you about his mental state.

Tommy said...

Pyramid, for me, it's Koresh's eyes in that picture.

He's got that strange happy look to him.

Pyramidhead said...

Yeah this true is Tommy. Now that I think of it ever picture I ever saw of him he did have that crazyer then a shit house rat look in his eyes.