The Chosen Few
Another important aspect of revelation is that it occurs only to select individuals, and conveyed only in a few chosen languages. Moses, Vedic Rishis, the Buddha, Nammazvar, and Mohammed are among the few historical personages who are believed to have been so gifted. Because in each of these instances God is said have communicated to the recipients directly, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Pali, Arabic and Tamil are regarded as sacred languages by members of the respective traditions. Over the ages, other individuals have felt that they too have been beneficiaries of divine revelation. Thus Joseph Smith (the founder of the Mormon faith) announced that God had communicated with him. Over the centuries, a number of other human beings have reported similar experiences. However, not all have been equally successful in convincing a sufficiently large number of people of God’s direct contact with them.
Adherents to a religious system are expected to take the revelations of their seers seriously. Generally, they are also convinced that the revelations of their own tradition are the only ones that merit universal acceptance. Even those who grant that other groups may have also had some sort of revelation, tend to think that theirs stands at a notch higher level. Thus, the Doctrine commission of the Church of England, after granting that Jesus “does not invalidate this (the Jewish) tradition, nor even that of other religions,” adds, “By his suffering, death, and resurrection he significantly enlarges the range of human experience … .” Likewise, after granting that Christianity “has been a great spiritual force in the history of the world.” One also reads in the Bible: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
After referring to Christuianity’s diminishing impact in the West, Swami Ranganathananda noted: “Guided by the synthetic philosophy of Vedanta, the culture of India has not rejected or excluded any tested human value, but has synthesized them all under the hegemony of the spiritual.” Islam recognizes Moses and Jesus as prophets, but it maintains, according to one Muslim spokesman, that “Muhammad is the chosen instrument by which God sent the Eternal Message in its definitive form, the prophet par excellence.” Though some parts of the Qur’an emphasizes the commonness of Abrahamic faiths, we also read in the Muslim Holy Book: “O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely God does not guide the unjust people.” There is the belief of some that Ethiopian royalty is descended from Solomon and Sheba, and that all Africans are therefore the children of Israel, hence the chosen people.
Sometimes, the chosen-few idea extends to whole groups. The notion that one’s own people are somehow special in the eyes of God and therefore in human history has been a running theme among traditional Hindus and Jews who believe (or used to believe) that one is born into their group and cannot be converted into it. Yet others are convinced that God extends His grace arbitrarily only on some chosen people. Such ideas have found expression in the secular modern world in expressions like la mission civilisatrice (French), the Nazi ideology, Manifest Destiny (American), and other totalizing worldviews.
For some people, such convictions are not at all necessary for genuine religious experience, but to many others they add much to the religious experience. Many reflecting people are also puzzled by the claim that God chooses groups of people as His own from among all his children, that he gives his Grace only to some seekers after Him, or that he would mete out unbearable torture on those who fail to recognize Him in the name or form that historical religions do.