Witnesses, Prophets, and Saints
Many religions assert the existence of a parallel Universe, which is God's realm, separate and distinct from the world in which we mortals live. Then there are beings who can cross the boundary between this and that realm, including angels and messiahs. Everyone else knows only this realm, and what they are told by the supernatural beings.
Yet a parallel Universe, occupying the same space at the same time, while being made of different stuff, such that it does not interact with this Universe, is beyond human comprehension, and that's by definition. If we were to try to imagine such a thing, we would not be making contact with the other side. Rather, we'd only be imagining bits and pieces of this realm, just with some of the rules changed, to make it seem other-worldly. That isn't imagining another Universe — it's just imagining a distortion of this one. By definition, there is no evidence of another Universe, nor are there any meaningful concepts of one. Therefore, thoughts on such matters are useless. We should be seeking heaven on Earth, not suffering through hell, thinking that we are somehow endearing ourselves to the king of another realm.
If there isn't another Universe, there aren't any supernatural beings crossing over between this realm and the next. So there aren't any angels, or messiahs. Any person who claims to be God, or descended from God, or metaphysically different from any other human being in any way, is a false prophet who is trying to trick people into worshiping a person instead of God. It's an easy trap to build, once we have personified God, to get His words into our conversations — the false prophet merely has to pretend to be the realization of that personification. But those who truly know God would not worship a person in the flesh, any more than they would listen to songs sung by impersonators instead of by the original musicians. We are all witnesses to God's works, and we must let no person come between us and God. This is the realm of God, if God is in all things at all times, and we can know God directly. The only gatekeeper between us and heaven on Earth is the one inside ourselves, which sometimes prevents us from knowing the truth directly.
Still there is room in a well-founded belief system for saints, who are great examples of how to live by God's laws, without being metaphysically different from anyone else. These are the people who show us that we can do this too, and how.
And there is still room for prophets, as long as we keep them in their proper place.
A prophet is typically considered to be first a saint, but who also extends our knowledge of the laws. Yet prophets are not always such great examples. For example, the greatest prophet was Jesus, who was said to be God's only son, who was sent here to show us how to live. Yet Jesus never married, and didn't have any children. Anyone who has raised children knows that everything changes when the kids arrive. A man without children showing us how to live is like somebody who has never been inside a car trying to show us how to drive — that isn't teaching by example. Surely Jesus would have made a great dad. And surely he made the right decision — neglecting his opportunity to have a family so that he could devote all of his time to his ministry, that many more people would be touched by his wisdom, and by his compassion for humankind. So he did the right thing. And he wasn't just a man — he was the greatest man to ever walk the face of the Earth. But if we are to understand him, we have to understand his struggles, and his triumphs, in human terms. He never said that he was the son of God — he always said that he was the "son of man" — a human being. He wanted us to know that even mortals can find the right road here on Earth.
Once we start thinking of prophets in human terms, we can bring them into much clearer focus. If we study what we know about the lives of the great prophets (e.g., Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Siddhartha, and Confucius), we find that they were actually misfits in the societies of their times, and they wound up outside the paradigm. From those vantage points, they could see what others could not — problems that could be fixed. So they re-entered society with messages for humankind, which turned out to be useful. Society listened, and eventually bestowed the title of prophet on the messengers. But we can't all be misfits, and trying to follow in the footsteps of a disenfranchised visionary, who was in a position to see how society might make a great leap forward, might just turn out to be a wasted life, if there is nothing new to see.
The truly great people in this world are the parents who are striving to take care of themselves and their families, and who are raising their children to be decent and respectable citizens. There are such saints in every community. Of course, they are not famous. In the words of Will Durant, "Virtue is not news, and virtuous people, like happy nations, have no history." But they are respected as the pillars of society. Every so often, a misfit is considered great, because a rare opportunity presents itself, and the first person to spot it is somebody outside the paradigm. But the greatness is in the opportunity.
For example, what does it take to be a great journalist? A great journalist is just a witness (no different from anyone else in that respect), but who is more observant, more eloquent, and who takes a better selfie. Yet all of that put together still doesn't make a great journalist. It takes all of that, and to be caught in the middle of a pivotal event in history. So the more powerful "greatness" is the opportunity. For another example, to be a great surfer, one needs more than just the right surfboard, and to be a great swimmer — one also needs a great wave, and the power of the individual is nothing compared to the wave. So again, the great thing is the opportunity.
Furthermore, when it comes to prophets, the value is not in what they said — it's in what society heard, and was able to integrate. Here it's significant to note that we don't have any original writings directly from the hand of any of the great prophets — all that we know is what others wrote, sometimes hundreds of years later. This is actually useful. If we listen directly to the words of somebody who is outside of the paradigm, we might hear things that cannot be applied directly to daily life, because they are coming from someone who doesn't live the same way as us. So the messages have to be interpreted, and somebody has to figure out the application. This is actually easier to do if we don't know for sure what the prophet actually said. Somebody relaying a message, when there is no original copy, has more poetic license. Thus the message can more easily be an interpretation, which is more useful.
It's possible that in modern times, we're in desperate need of a new dispensation of spiritual guidance from God, but what's holding us back is that we live in a literate society, and we know all too well what would-be prophets are actually saying, leaving insufficient room for interpretation, and thus less chance of a practical application. To get past this barrier, we have to adopt a more mature understanding of the relationship between prophets and their societies. Someone who is outside of the paradigm, and who can see things that we cannot, might give us the greatest gifts we could ever possibly receive. But we are the ones who have to figure out how to apply them to our daily lives. The utlimate test of prophesy is not what was said, but the effect on society once the prophesy went into circulation. Analogously, it isn't the plucking of guitar strings that makes the sound. Of the total amount of mechanical energy in the plucking, most is lost, because only the wave energy that can resonate will persist. Then, it's the interaction of sustained harmonic frequencies that determines the consonance (or lack thereof) of the chord. So we need to evaluate prophesy on the basis of the social harmony that it creates, not the amount of energy that came from the source. Then we might find that we have all of the prophesy we need to live a better life, right in front of us.
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