It took me a long time to realize this, but the only source I have to go on for what is or isn’t the word of God is the word of humans. And different humans say different words are the words of God. Hell, different humans can’t even agree on what god or gods exist, and even among people who agree that a specific god exists, they still disagree about what that god says. So when somebody utters phrases such as “Don’t take my word for it, it’s in the Bible”, it sounds ridiculous to me, because they are still asking me to take their word (or the word of other humans) for it that those words are actually the words of God.
This is a realization I first came to when reading Abul A’la Maududi’s “Towards Understanding Islam”. At the time, I had been looking for a book that explained Islam from a Muslim point of view. This book certainly did that. It also contained a lot of arguments that Islam is right. Some of these arguments appealed to emotion (e.g. unbelievers are misguided fools), or had other flaws, but the book is well written. I disagreed with the thesis, but it wasn’t necessarily easy to point out flaws in the arguments.
One of my most deeply held values is that I should be willing to consider that I might be wrong, and that I should not dismiss evidence or arguments just because I don’t like the conclusions. In fact, if I’m feeling that unpleasant sensation of cognitive dissonance, that I don’t like what this person is saying but can’t quite pinpoint why they must be wrong, that is when I should be paying especially close attention, and not just dismiss their ideas because I don’t like them.
I’m not perfect at following this ideal, of course, but I think I did pretty well with Maududi’s book. It was not an easy read at all. I frequently had to stop and think, and I took a number of breaks from reading, because investigating those cognitive dissonance feelings (or even just having them at all) can be pretty exhausting. Eventually, however, I realized. The only assurance I have that God said, or thought, or did as Maududi said… was that Maududi and some other Muslims said so.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to Islam. I’ve been told countless times that I should believe the Bible because it is the word of God. It isn’t God who told me I should believe the Bible because it is his word (though, if that had happened, I wouldn’t be doubting his existence in the first place). It’s humans who told me this.
The Bible itself was even written by humans (and translated, and transcribed, and preserved, and put together as a single collection of works, with humans choosing which works to include or omit). Christians have told me that the Bible is divinely inspired, that God guided the writers’ hands, or something. Again, I only have the word of humans that this collection of human writings is divinely inspired. Some people claim that the Bible is inerrant and perfect, and they know it was written by God because of how perfect it is. I’m really not seeing it. To me, it reads like a collection of works written by humans at various different points in history.
And given that so many humans disagree so thoroughly with each other about what God says, even within the same religion (by focusing on different statements as being important, and interpreting them in different ways, with no way to just go ask God to say which interpretation is better), I really don’t see why I should accept any of it without proof that God actually said what some people say he said. And it always does come down to what some humans say God said (barring God deigning to speak to me in person, or give some sign about which words are his).