What we want vs. what Allah wants for us.
Those who choose not to vote the prophets and revelation into their lives seem to do so for one of two reasons — the first being that they sample the message with which the prophets were sent and find it to be personally distasteful or, at the very least, inconvenient. The call to take the revelation back and return with something more to individual liking has been heard before. The charlatan who produces a fabricated revelation stuffed with more agreeable alternatives gains a following from such individuals.
More commonly, people seem to be overcome with a sense of hopelessness over ever figuring out the truth. Who was a prophet and who wasn’t? What part of the message is from God, and what part from man? So many paths and so many choices, and everybody pointing to a different path with the same promise of salvation. The cry of, “Oh, forget it, I’ll never figure it out — it’s too confusing. I’ll just trust to my own feelings and thoughts” is a popular escapism. Claiming a personal ‘guiding light’ or the pull of the ‘Holy Ghost’ is not far off.
Many such people excuse the effort of researching the foundational scripture for one’s own self, adopting the posture of abstention. This stance has been nurtured by a large number of belief systems which teach individual adherents to follow whatever institutional thought pattern is promoted, to the exclusion of examining the foundational scripture with their own minds — a sort of ‘Don’t mind that man behind the curtain’ attempt at thought control.
Those who conform frequently become fanatical supporters of everything from spoon-fed canonized principles of mainstream religions to sects of the most infinite deviancy. Most people conceive their belief system to be the least socially disruptive, the most tolerant, and the answer to all social ills. Like-thinkers agree; all others disdain such views due to the perception of a failure to face religious issues with an objective and educated effort.
In the end, those who believe in God, His message and His messengers, realize that the philosophies and adolescent theories of man carry zero weight against divine directive. Consequently, identifying the true prophets and the valid scripture gains a goal of primary importance. Returning, then, to the subject of this section, who is a prophet and who isn’t, and by what criteria can they be known?
And that is, after all, the nature of mysticism in religion. It is a construct which convinces each person that the message of God is transmitted to them personally, whether by ‘the Holy Spirit’ or by way of an indefinable ‘Inner Guiding Light,’ imparting the false impression of possessing more than ordinary moral and spiritual insight. Hand in hand is the elitist concept of belonging to a spiritual aristocracy – a mental attitude which effectively barricades the brain from further enlightenment or education on the subject.
The question arises, for those who claim such personal paths, “How can a person embrace the concept of following a ‘guiding light’ or ‘holy spirit’ when some people’s ‘guiding light’ leads to a life of sociopathy, drugs, rape, murder, etc? Are mankind to presume that God guides some of His creation by a mystical inner light of halogen clarity while the internal guiding light of others illuminates only the path of deviancy?” The answer, unless a person believes in an arbitrary God, is of course, “No.” So did God leave mankind to wander? Most people would again answer, “No.”
Take an example. Larry Layton was one of the top security guards for Jim Jones at the Jonestown compound of the People’s Temple in Guyana. Layton was the man who opened fire inside the airplane, injuring two, while other cult members were murdering Congressman Leo Ryan and his entourage on the tarmac. Layton was also one of the few surviving members of the cult, and the only one convicted (December 1, 1986) of conspiring and aiding and abetting in the murder of Congressman Ryan. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
How does this relate to the topic under discussion? Simple – prior to joining the People’s Temple, Layton was a Quaker and a pacifist. This disclosure unfolds a theological paradox. Here is a man who left a Christian cult renown for absolute pacifism, God-fear, and for stressing the primacy of following a person’s ‘inner guiding light,’ for a theology of clear and destructive deviation. The fact is that no Christian cult assigns higher priority to following a personal ‘inner guiding light’ than do the Quakers. And yet, here is a man who followed his inner guidance to the People’s Temple, Jonestown, attempted murder, and a life sentence in jail.
Now, the standard Quaker response would probably be to assert that Layton must not have been a very good Quaker. But no, that is not the right answer, or rather, it is a correct answer, but to the wrong question. For the issue of significance is not what Layton changed to, but rather how he changed. The issue is not one of comparing end results, but one of evaluation of process. A person cannot fail to recognize that the Larry Layton of the People’s Temple (a man so enthusiastic as to have become one of Jones’ top security personnel; a man so thoroughly indoctrinated as to have earned the alias ‘robot’ for his unquestioning obedience, even when called to the commission of torture, sexual atrocities, and murder) was about as distant from the pacifist, altruistic, pinnacle of virtue/height of morals, God-fearing, peace-loving Quakers as a person can get. But that is not the point. The point is that Layton was a Quaker, and then made a conscious decision to change. So at exactly what point did Layton stop following his ‘inner guiding light’? At precisely what point did he deviate from Quaker methodology?
In other words, if Layton was not following his ‘inner guiding light’ in choosing his path, then what was he following? Can a person truly claim that some members of the human race turn off their own judgement and assume the guiding light of others? So perhaps Layton was crazy. But if so, what kind of an inner guiding light is that? Which leads a person back to the untenable consideration of God as an arbitrary Creator, assigning some an inner guiding light which illuminates the path to beatitude, and condemning others to darkness and misdirection.
Examples taken from others of the various Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sects which endorse personal mysticism are plentiful enough to fill not only another book, but volumes of an encyclopedia of religious paradox. Similar to the above example, the problem is not one of explaining disparities of end result, but of process. The demand upon those who claim an ‘inner guiding light’ is to satisfy the questions offered above. The challenge to those who claim the guidance of the ‘holy spirit’ is to explain why so many people are guided by this alleged ‘holy spirit’ in so many different, and frequently diametrically opposed, directions. For unless the Holy Spirit is assumed fickle (at best) or schizophrenic (at worst), variability in direction of those guided by the ‘holy spirit’ is not to be considered compatible with the perfection and consistency of Almighty God.
So while the claim of personal guidance has great appeal, the inability to rectify the oneness of God with the many disparate personal paths proves problematic from a rational point of view. From an emotional perspective, while ‘spiritual’ pathways engender a pleasant and charitable character within a few individuals, the majority use their claim of personal guidance to justify corrupt actions in the name of God. If only everyone were as nice and respectable as the finest of examples, the claim might have something to stand upon. As it is, whether adopted by those who identify with the label of Jews, Christians, or Muslims, such claims open the door to one big question — “If God is One, and subjective inspiration is the methodology of His guidance, then why are so many ‘guided’ individuals on so many different paths?”