Did you know that I wrote a holy book? Yes, indeed. Brian Hines, the unpastor of the Church of the Churchless, is the author of “Life is Fair.” It was published in India by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) in 1999 with a first printing of 25,000 copies.
When I first got a copy of the book I enjoyed looking at the back page. There was “Life is Fair” listed in the Books on Sant Mat in General category, right along with such classics as “The Path of the Masters” by Julian Johnson.
I wrote the book because I was asked to. One day the phone rang and I found myself talking to Faith Singh, the head of RSSB publications in India. She said that a book project aimed at explaining the karmic rationale for vegetarianism had stalled. Faith asked if I’d like to review the work that had been done so far and take it from there.
I said, “Sure.” The guru who initiated me, Charan Singh, reportedly had said that he’d like to be able to hand out a little book that would explain why it is wrong to eat meat. He died before such a book could be written. I was honored to be able to offer my guru a posthumous gift.
I got to thinking about “Life is Fair” while watching the first episode of PBS’s Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason last Friday. Salman Rushdie was his guest. Near the end of the program Rushdie was shown reading from “The Satanic Verses.” This was the supposedly blasphemous book that forced Rushdie to spend ten years underground, hiding from Islamic assassins.
A transcript of the Rushdie interview is well worth checking out. He’s a courageous guy who knows first-hand how dangerous true believers can be. He has no qualms about writing “The Satanic Verses.” I haven’t read the book, so was interested to hear the excerpt read by Rushdie.
It is about an educated scribe, who happens to be called Salman, and his experience taking down rules dictated by the prophet Mahound—who is channeling the Archangel Gibreel. Salman suspects that the revelations have much more to do with Mahound’s earthly ambitions than any godly purpose.
Salman began to notice how useful and well-timed the angel's revelations tend to be, so that when the faithful were disputing Mahound's views on any subject from the possibility of space travel to the permanence of hell, the angel would turn up with an answer, and he always supported Mahound.
So Salman starts to change Mahound’s recitations. Minor changes at first. Then, when Mahound doesn’t notice the alterations when his words are read back to him, bigger edits. For example, “He said Christian. I wrote down Jew.” Mahound still is clueless.
Here's the point. Mahound did not notice the alterations. So there I was actually writing the book or-- or rewriting anyway, polluting the word of God with my own profane language.
But good heavens if my poor words could not be distinguished from the revelation by God's own messenger, then what did that mean? What did that say about the quality of the divine poetry? Look, I swear, I was shaken to my soul. It's one thing to be a smart bastard and have half suspicions about funny business, but it's quite another thing to find out that you're right.
I can tell you for a fact that no angel helped me write “Life is Fair.” The book came right out of my own mind, then improved with some expert editing by Jean Rosenblatt, Faith Singh, and others. I have no idea whether the metaphysical side of what I wrote is true. I thought at the time that is was, but now I don’t know.
Karmic law may guide what happens to souls after death. Or it may not. Each of us will find out after we die.
“Life is Fair” contains intriguing spiritual hypotheses which will make a lot of sense, or seem like nonsense, depending on your perspective. In no way is it a divine revelation. Yet my book is read at meetings of Radha Soami Satsang Beas devotees as if it was. The same is true of the other books published by RSSB. It is assumed that if this religious organization puts its stamp of approval on a title, the words inside can be trusted.
Yet in the case of “Life is Fair” I know that they can’t be, since I wrote them most fallibly. I read other books about karma and vegetarianism. I delved into my own experience. I stared out the window, came up with ideas, and typed them into my word processor. Then I’d re-read what I wrote and change it. Sometimes I’d start a chapter over again from scratch.
I’m willing to bet that most (if not all) “holy books” have been written in much the same fashion. Human beings put down what they believe to be true. But they don’t know for sure. So a reader should give their words no more credence than he or she would give the content of any other book.
No book is holy, just as no flag is. Today, thankfully, the United States Senate failed to approve a constitutional amendment that would ban burning of the American flag. Proponents talk of “desecration,” as if a piece of cloth somehow could be divine.
Nothing earthly is. Not the American flag. And certainly not books written by all-too-human beings.
Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.