Sacred Texts and Sacred Cows

What’s your sacred cow?

I know it seems like a weird question, but for me it was a question I needed to think about this week. I like to think of myself as not dogmatic and open minded when it comes to beliefs. As I sat in my comfortable chair with my feet up on my comfortable foot stool and a comforting cup of hot coffee in hand, I had to ask myself the question: am I getting too comfortable?

For those not familiar with the “sacred cow” idiom, let me explain. Wikipedia took a look at the phrase and tried to explain what it meant. Apparently the idea of a “sacred cow” came in the 19th century when access to Hinduism revealed that the religion holds the bovine animal as sacred. Americans, of course, thought this was ridiculous as we ate our steaks and greasy hamburgers. So we started making fun of it. The phrase “sacred cow” came to mean ” something else that is considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so.”

That undertone of ridicule is the important part. We make fun of people who are so rigid in their beliefs that they have no room to consider different possibilities. I have done so many times on this blog and elsewhere. I thought I was being pithy and questioning things that need more dialogue. But everyone has blind spots and I’ve started wondering where mine are.

This morning I had a bit of an epiphany moment while reading an article on The Huffington PostIt was looking at texts, particularly religious ones, and pointing out that we need to question what is believed to be unquestionable. For instance, the article pointed out a good reason to look critically at religious texts.

Even if you believe that God is the author of the “holy” books, that doesn’t mean that the channels through which God spoke had perfect powers of reception. People receive information through the eyes and ears of their society, their experience and their convictions. People who are blind realize they are missing a dimension of life. But they cannot truly understand specifically what they are missing. We are all blind and don’t know it. So God could be screaming one thing, and we could hear another.

Fundamentally, humans are vulnerable to misunderstanding, so regardless of the nature of the text, we must always examine our understanding of it. For me, this explanation was a new way of thinking of things that I hadn’t considered.

But it’s not just sacred texts, as the article points out. ALL texts require examination, critique and ongoing consideration. For Americans, our founding documents sometimes avoid scrutiny by being quasi-sacred. That also needs to change.

Our religious “sacred” texts must be challenged. They are full of violence and prejudice that speak of their times. But so do secular “sacred” texts. Even the original Constitution of the U.S. allowed states to continue slavery and discrimination against women. The original Constitution even stipulated that a runaway slave could not be relieved of his or her servitude, and slaves were allowed to be considered property. It took a colossal social and political struggle to amend our Constitution. So much for our sacred text. Just because the Constitution does or does not say something doesn’t mean that we can’t change OUR minds.

The context in which a text was written is important, but so is the context of our understanding. We may see “all men are created equal” as including all races, genders and creeds, but that does not mean the people who wrote that line thought the same. Time brings greater understanding and that changes how we see things. Documents and texts from the past, but they are subject to the education of time just as we are.

Overall, I strongly believe that nothing is beyond being questioned. Religious texts, secular texts and even phone texts require that we look critically at them and not take their meanings for granted. But I also understand that we are all inclined to taking some things as fundamental and foundational, our sine qua nons, without which nots. I am just as guilty of that as anyone else.

What are my sacred cows? I’m sure there are plenty of them, but I can’t give you a list. In fact, you are probably in a better position to tell me my sacred cows than I am. That’s the nature of sacred cows: we have blind spots when it comes to them. I have blind spots when it comes to a lot of things, some intentional, some not. What I want to do is challenge myself. This blog is my soapbox and I admit that it is a hugely one sided arena. I always win here. But there are many places where I am at a disadvantage, forums for people who believe differently than I do, other blogs where someone else is winning all the time. That’s where I need to be. That’s how I will grow.


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