One of the keys to effective and engaging conversation about spirituality and religion is to let a particular religion “speak for itself”. In other words, rather than assume that we know what members of a religion believe, it is better to first find out what the religion itself teaches.
But how do we do that? How do we ensure that we understand a religion correctly? There are many ways of doing this, but first and foremost we must consider their sacred scriptures. Let’s unpack this by looking at six reasons why it is good to study sacred scripture (adapted from Anthology of World Scriptures).
- The use of sacred scripture is widespread among world religions. Although scriptures vary in form, length, content and even significance, they are a common thread among most religions. As such, the study of scripture is quite valuable, comparatively speaking.
- Sacred scriptures are often comprehensive for their religions. In other words, if a particular faith group has an important or foundational belief, is it probably contained in their sacred scripture. Although a religion’s beliefs can sometimes evolve throughout time, in general, their core beliefs are connected to their scriptures.
- Scriptures are usually authoritative for their religions. This also varies slightly from religion to religion, but in general, due to their often inspired or divine origin, sacred scriptures are of primary value and authority to followers.
- Most sacred scriptures are ancient. In most cases, the identification and/or creation of sacred scripture takes place in the developmental stages of a religion, and therefore they reflect the faith’s foundational experiences and beliefs. As a result, many subsequent religious practices and beliefs are either expansions of or amendments to the teachings contained in sacred scriptures.
- Most sacred scriptures are accessible in English. From a North American perspective this is significant, as it allows those of us in the West to be students of a wide range of sacred text themselves. However, while easy access can be positive, there is also a negative side. Because of the accessibility of sacred scriptures, it is tempting to assume that a “quick read” of a sacred scripture will easily and accurately reveal the truths therein. When studying an ancient text, we must also study the historical, literary, and religious contexts of the text.
- Related to the point above, many sacred scriptures are open to analysis. We can read books from a library, take a course at university, or be part of a church or temple. Scholars of any age and experience can access and study a multitude of sacred scriptures.
Questions to ask ourselves and others …
- Take a moment and think of your experience with religion or spirituality. Have you had access to sacred scriptures?
- If so, have you felt comfortable in studying them for yourself?
- If not, how has your spiritual life by impacted by the inaccessibility of the scriptures?
- What next step do you need to take, in terms of carefully studying a sacred scripture?