Inspiration: Dictation or Filtration?

[Note: For the next few weeks this site will include items I post on my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. About once a week I will also post an entry that is more specifically related to theism and atheism. Here’s an adapted version of my latest entry on the Bible blog.]

Before considering other problematic Bible verses, I want to suggest two different ways of understanding the divine inspiration of scriptures.

A sacred book can be inspired through dictation. God, or an emissary from God, can speak to a human (or put thoughts into a person’s head) and these can be written down word for word. In this scenario, the person is a passive instrument, serving as “God’s pen.”

On the other hand, inspiration may involve filtration. Communications from God or some other source of wisdom are filtered through the minds of human beings. Sometimes people are so thoroughly conditioned by their cultures or so full of their own prejudices that most or all of the message gets filtered out. And sometimes they think they’re hearing God when they are actually listening to a very different voice.

Something similar can happen with guidance that comes from within, and this suggests the possibility of a secular humanist interpretation of inspiration and filtration. At times people unconsciously realize something important, and that realization “tries” to push its way into consciousness. But for one reason or another they suppress or distort this message. The classic example is a revelatory dream that the dreamer misinterprets. Sometimes people discover, years later, that they completely missed the point of what a dream was trying to tell them.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that a personal deity did communicate with those who wrote the Bible. If the Bible seemed like perfect heavenly guidance from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21, then one could reasonably believe that this book was divinely dictated. But if there are numerous passages that clearly do not reflect higher guidance, perhaps such guidance was filtered through the minds and hearts of fallible humans.

Isn’t that how Christians often experience prayer? Even if they have been listening carefully for the voice of God, they may see later on that they were mostly hearing themselves. “Uh-oh! That was my ego talking, not God.” Or: “That was my anger … my stubbornness … my attachments … my narrow-mindedness … my self-righteousness … my fear of change.”

And maybe that sort of thing sometimes happened to those who wrote the Bible.

Roger Christan Schriner

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One thought on “Inspiration: Dictation or Filtration?

  1. See “By the Hand of Mormon” by Terryl L. Givens, Professor of Religion and Literature at the University of Richmond. It gives a critical and thought provoking analysis of how scripture came forth in the United States. Whether viewed as inspired by God or human imagination, the process shows humans involved with weaknesses of language, reluctance to write, wondering and doubts, work and muse to translate, and errors in hearing or reading while still providing an inspired and monumental work. This history and analysis also sheds light on divinity as beings relative to concepts of ultimate truth, purpose and love.

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