Now, anything can be seen as divinely inspired, if you're willing to play fast-and-loose with the definition of fiction. We've seen, for example, that there are people who think that The Lord of the Rings is describing actual history, and others who have decided that H. P. Lovecraft's pantheon of Elder Gods is real. But I'm wondering what it would take for such an idea to spread beyond just a handful of wingnuts.
I'm talking the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Sutras, the Vedas.
Clearly, there's a religious answer to all of this, and I'm not trying to be disingenuous by ignoring it. Of course adherents to a religion believe, to one extent or another, that their holy book was divinely inspired, if not the exact word of god, or gods, or whatever. But if you look at it from the outside, it does pose an interesting question -- and not one that is as easily answered for most religions as it is for Christianity, for which the history of the documents in question, and how decisions were made about which texts to incorporate into the Bible and which to exclude, are somewhat better known. (See this page for a good overview of how the biblical canon was put together.)
All of this comes up because yesterday I stumbled on a claim by a guy named Marshall Vian Summers to have a "New Message from God." It showed up on Reddit, and in fact has its own subreddit that I saw because it got cross posted to r/Atheism. This new message was, Summers says, received over a thirty-year period from god himself, and "is not based on any existing religious tradition or spiritual teaching." (You can see a summary and excerpts on Summers' website here.)
On July 1 and 2 Summers is having an "event" in Boulder, Colorado to proclaim his new message (which apparently hinges on the idea that the Divine Deity wants to "end our isolation" and allow us to interact with our alien brothers and sisters on other planets). His candidate for the next generation Holy Scripture runs to over 9,000 pages, and will be available for purchase on July 15.
Anyhow, I read a bit of what's on his website, and most of it sounds like pretty ordinary stuff. (One passage goes, "But who can recognize the Messenger? He appears to be very average. He is not sensational looking. He does not hold a great position in the world. He will disappear into the masses of people. He will walk amongst them. No one will recognize him, except perhaps for those who have been struck by the Revelation.") There certainly wasn't anything there that struck me as being of divine origin, but then, I suppose that's to be expected. What I wonder, however, is what other folks -- people who are, perhaps, more receptive to persuasion on the topic of religion than I am -- will make of Summers' writing. After all, all current holy writings started this way; with some person or group of people writing a bunch of stuff down, and then saying, "Look, I have this book I wrote, except it wasn't really me that thought it up, I was just taking dictation from god! It's really great!"
It's always been a matter of curiosity to me why people gravitate toward certain belief systems, beyond ones into which they were born (the vast majority of people, after all, belong to the same religion as their parents and community members -- making geography a far stronger driver of belief than any perception of the inherent truth of a religion). But new ideas do come along, and (as I said) every religion was new at some point. What happens in a person's mind that makes them read something, or hear someone speak, and think, "This is it?"
Anyhow, I must say, Summers isn't doing it for me, not that anyone would probably expect that he would. It'll be interesting to see how people react to his "event" and book release in July -- if he is hailed as the latest prophet of The Truth, or if -- as happens to most self-proclaimed Mouthpieces of God -- he, and his 9,160 page Holy Scripture, will simply vanish back into obscurity.