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A Humanist Perspective on The Word

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Language and writing are one of the most useful human inventions. Before the invention of writing, anything that was passed on from one generation to the next was passed on verbally and kept only in people’s heads - centuries of Chinese whispers, which created some exotic and beautiful legends, but were a poor guide to truth. After the invention of writing, words and ideas could be preserved in their original form for generations to come, and each generation could develop and build on the achievements of their predecessors

Not divine revelation
Humanists don’t believe in gods so we do not believe there can be any sort of divine revelation which can give us knowledge, nor that the special books of the various religions are anything other than books written by men - like all other books. The way we get knowledge about the world is through our reason, through experience and through evidence, not through revelation from supernatural entities.

But words have value

So, the stories we make up may not be a way to gain knowledge about the non-human world - how life came to be, or what happened in the past, for example. Stories and books are essential to being human however - we can use them to give colour and meaning to our lives, and they can often express great moral truths through - they can be great works of human art.

Philip Pullman, himself a creator of wonderful stories and bestselling books, feels this way: ‘The secular person has an advantage, because we’re not committed to one tradition, one book and one strand of truth alone. We can look around and we can see what’s true here and what’s not so true there. I don’t believe that the entire truth about anything exists in any one single book. The problem with people who make this sort of claim about this book or that book - about the Koran, about the New Testament, about ‘Science and Health: the key to the Scriptures’ or about Scientology - the people who make that sort of claim make it an exclusive claim: ‘The truth is in this book but not in that one’ or ‘This book is true and all the other books are useless’ and I just don’t be believe that. I can find a great deal of truth in many different books. I can find a great deal of truth in the Bible. Not truth about the supernatural claims that it makes but truth about human beings: the wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, for example, it’s wonderful; and the great poetry in the Psalms; and the wonderful story-telling that tells us about what human beings are like. The stories about David and Saul and so on - extraordinary stories. The Bible is a great book because it tells us the truth - the truth about human beings, the truth about what we’re like. That’s why the Bible is true. I haven’t read the Koran, I haven’t read the Book of Mormon or any of these other ‘Holy Books’, but I’m perfectly prepared to believe that there’s some truth in them, but it will be truth for me that is human truth and not truth about supernatural claims, not truth about the Buddha or Allah or anybody else.’

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