I came across an intriguing statement in the book "The Man Who Knew Infinity." First, to set up the scene, Ramanujan is a young 20-something-year-old mathematical genius. He has an extremely devout Hindu mother. In their culture, it is considered defiling for an Indian to travel to a Western country (which England was considered). Ramanujan had already been asked one time if he would consider going to England, to Cambridge, to receive further mentoring. His mother strictly forbade it. But now, sometime later, a second offer to go to England was being laid before Ramanujan. What would he do?
On page 206 Ramanujan's mother excitedly declares that "in a vivid dream" she "had seen Ramanujan surrounded by Europeans and the goddess Namagiri commanding her to stand no longer between her son and the fulfillment of his life's purpose." (Each family could choose from thousands of gods and goddesses as their personal god, in much the same way (as the book’s author stated) Catholics choose a favorite saint. For Ramanujan’s family, it was the goddess Namagiri.)
Before reading this, it had never dawned on me how shrewd and crafty people can be in turning religion into a convenient way to evade dealing with uncomfortable situations. Ponder this: You live in a society whose whole culture is diametrically opposed to everything Westerners hold true. The book had already revealed that for any Indian to travel to England would mean ostracism from his family, his community, his way of life. There could be no “comfortable” return home. As far as everyone was concerned, you’ve rejected everything everyone considers sacred.
Now, you have a goddess that supposedly appears in a dream. How does that help the impasse? Well, first, there is no way to prove or disprove that Ramanujan’s devout mother did or didn’t have this vision (dream). Second, having the goddess’ approval helped the mother save face in front of potential community disapproval. Third, it prevented upset in social order by having others want to follow suit (because they too would need divine approval). After all, you can’t have every young man wanting to see the world just willy-nilly turning his back on his homeland. Fourth, since the directive came from a goddess, disobedience would be tantamount to sacrilege. Thus, the insurmountable mountain of cultural beliefs was in one fell swoop reduced to an ant hill that was easily stepped over.
The mother doesn’t mention seeking further clarification or challenging her goddess as to why all Indian heritage can be thrust aside so her son can study math in England. (Come on now, does that really make sense?) But it is not just the Indians that have the convenience of gods to use as scapegoats. I can think of many people in Western cultures that have claimed to see visions, have dreams, etc.
But you may object, “Wait a minute! The Bible itself is full of visions and dreams.” And you would be right. However, the instances in the Bible provide details that make them much more believable. For example, take Moses. At the very beginning, he claims to spot a bush that is burning but is not consumed (turned to ash). He goes to inspect the bush when he hears a voice. In the subsequent dialog between God and Moses, God instructs Moses that he has been chosen to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. Unlike Ramanujan’s mother that unquestioningly accepts her goddess’ direction, Moses raises objections. He says that even his own Israelite people will never believe him. He claims that he is not well-spoken. God addresses these matters, providing the undeniable, tangible proof he would need in talking to his own people and to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Or take for instance the case of Jeremiah. Now, in this case, he wasn’t given any tangible evidence that he was speaking under the authority of God. However, the end result of the truthfulness of his prophecies was demonstrated when everything he foretold came true.
There is another difference between the visions and dreams in the Bible and the one like Ramanujan’s mother had. The ones in the Bible were for the benefit of a large audience of people, with the specific direction toward pure, unadulterated worship of the one true God. In the case of Ramanujan’s mother, it was for the personal benefit of just one man to follow a dream that only had secular consequence. Or, since the book mentioned a specific comparison to a vision that Joan of Arc had, in her case, it was a call to war and nationalistic fervor that had nothing to do with pure worship, nor could she offer anything more than the claim of having had the visions. And how convenient that one of the characters in her visions was “Michael the Archangel,” commander of God’s heavenly army forces (as if Michael were the slightest concerned over mere earthly kingships).
The Mormons also do something along this line with their potential converts. They tell them to “pray to the holy spirit” asking for guidance in joining the LDS church. If those new converts would only use their brain and compare the Bible to the writings held as greater value by the LDS organization, they would quickly see that God says “NO!, absolutely not true.” But instead, the new ones succumb to whatever peer pressure, personal desire, and emotionalism that is working on them. Then, after they claim to have the “testimony of the holy spirit,” which, conveniently, no one can prove or disprove (except maybe with sheer logic which, by this time, has been thrown to the wind), they feel “safe” no one can challenge the validity of their (most likely fabricated) experience. In this matter, the advice of the Bible is a much better course to take: “examine the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
But wrapping this up, the point I wanted to make is that it struck me how conveniently people use visions and dreams from the realm of supposed gods and saints to justify their actions.