The Universal Scripture Wiki

Some of the claims that religions make are unique to them, and to the religions and sects that derive from them.  The specialness of the Jews and the divinity of Jesus are examples.  But many of the things found in religious scriptures are, or could be, shared among multiple viewpoints.  One need not believe in any god, or follow any religion, to support a commandment against stealing, to agree with the sage advice found in a proverb, to accept a historical account of some ancient event, or to feel the emotions captured in a psalm.

Moreover, even the narrowest religious content is subject to adaptation.  One does not have to be a believer in the Bible to echo its sentiments toward one’s own preferred god(s).  And when religious people use their own scriptures, they often do so in diverse ways.  Christians have fought wars over things like the significance of Communion, and present-day believers within a given religion, denomination, or sect can be divided over such topics as abortion or the qualification of priests.

In short, the nonbeliever-believer dichotomies commonly cited these days (e.g., atheist versus Christian) conceal a more complex reality.  The people who claim to believe in “the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible” often turn out to be quite selective about what they really believe within that scripture; and meanwhile, as suggested above, the people who supposedly do not believe in a scripture probably do sympathize with much of what appears in it.

These observations raise the possibility of developing a universal scripture.  Not everyone would agree with everything it said, but that is true of the Bible or any other scripture.  Not everything that it said would necessarily be consistent with other things it said, but that, too is familiar:  people will sing songs or adopt beliefs that can be somewhat unclear, illogical, or self-contradictory.  Religion is not science.

In essence, people who turn to a scripture have a right to home in on what they want or need in a particular situation.  With a universal scripture, as with any other, scholars could still debate technical points; indeed, people could probably continue to engage in substantially the same kinds of activities that any existing scripture supports:  counseling, analysis, reflection, and so forth.  A universal scripture would thus provide substance for skeptical, uncertain, or nonbelieving users who may wish to contemplate or advise upon spiritual matters in moments of crisis.  It might, in fact, provide a common ground, supporting efforts by noncommitted mediators to assist in the reduction of tensions among warring religious factions.

It seems that a universal scripture could bracket content that would only interest people of a particular religion.  An example of bracketing would be to say that the following chapter presents the story of Jesus, as understood by his followers.  That is, bracketing would take a step back from the content, perhaps offering it with various elaborations and caveats (e.g., “On this point, Roman Catholics believe that …”), rather than simply presenting it straightforwardly as a part of the scripture, as might be appropriate with history, proverbs, and songs.

It goes without saying that the potentially clunky, uninspiring way in which a lawyer might phrase such matters could be open to more inspired treatment by poets and other gifted writers.  In other words, this would hopefully be a scripture, not an encyclopedia.  Technical commentary about a given passage would best be relegated to a supporting role, in footnotes, concealable sidebars, or accompanying documents, to make room for creative wordsmiths who might offer more personally meaningful, liveable phrasings.

Before the advent of the Internet, it would have been impracticable to attempt to meld significant portions of the world’s scriptures into a single book.  A wiki can now accommodate a project of that nature.  An important goal of the wiki might be to work toward getting people on the same page, so to speak, with respect to various religious topics that now tend to be walled off in separate fiefdoms.  So, for example, if the universal scripture wiki has a major section called “Songs,” it might serve to introduce Christian songwriters to adaptable content from other faiths.

A universal scripture wiki would surely require decisions on such matters as structure and format.  There would be many challenges.  Some might require years to work out satisfactorily.  Nonetheless, a source of this nature could be enormously valuable in many ways.

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