REVELATION

"There are two different ways of describing how you came to know something. One way is to say you found it out. The other way is to say it occurred to you. Reason is involved in both. To say you found out that so-and-so was the best friend you had suggests that you reasoned your way to such a conclusion. To say it occurred to you suggests that, although the conclusion was not reached by reason, it was not incompatible with it.

It occurred to you as distinct from you found out suggests knowledge given as distinct from knowledge earned. It suggests inner meaning as distinct from outer semblance. For example, I found out that Francis of Assisi gave all his money to the poor, called the sun his brother, and preached sermons to birds. But it occurred to me that he must be a saint. Or an idiot.

Revelation means knowledge as grace. Nobody has ever managed to find out much if anything about God.

Classic Buddhism is reasonable, found out, and doesn't claim to be otherwise. In the Four Noble Truths, Buddha puts it in a nutshell. Like the family doctor, he diagnoses our ailment and prescribes a cure. He says (1) that the name of our ailment is life, which causes great pain because we know that it always falls to pieces in the end. He says (2) that if we didn't like life so much, we wouldn't mind having it fall to pieces in the end. Therefore, he says, (3) the way to get cured of the ailment is to stop clinging to life as though it were a prize instead of a fatal disease. Finally (4) he outlines eight steps for getting out of life and into Nirvana.

Classic Christianity, on the other hand, is not primarily reasonable or something we have found out or worked out for ourselves. Christ came. He healed people. He forgave people their sins and said to love everybody including your enemy. He died in a peculiarly unpleasant way, forgiving his executioners. Christianity was born when it occurred to some of the ones who had known him that his kind of life was the only kind worth living, and that in some invisible way Christ was still around to help them live it.

Nobody figured Christianity out. It happened. That is what it means to call it a revealed religion—not incompatible with reason maybe, if you give it some thought, but not arrived at primarily by reason either."

~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words