Publishing Your Own Scriptures
- Wednesday, August 13, 2003
For everyone who has ever longed to hear the voice of God, the book market has a growing reply: you can. And you need not confine yourself to classical Scriptures either.
According to scholars and industry observers, the reading public has greater access than ever before to books claiming or seeming to be divine revelation, that is, God's own words.
Some in recent years have sparked sensations. "Conversations with God" by Neal Walsch (Putnam, 1999) and "The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield (Warner Books, 1997) reached the best-seller lists, begot sequels and spawned followings who saw the authors as prophets.
Others are less well known, such as "Salam: Divine Revelations from the Actual God" by Shyam D. Buxani (SAU Salam Foundation, 2003).
Despite small odds for success, growing opportunities for self-publishing have enabled the genre of new revelation to balloon with contenders to be the next big seller – or the text that births a new religion.
"Ongoing revelation is something that people have always claimed," said Rebecca Moore, associate professor of religion at San Diego State University and co-editor of Nova Religio, a journal of new religions. She notes, for instance, Anne Hutchinson whose claims to hear God's voice directly in her ear but not through Scripture led to her persecution in Puritan New England.
"Publication of the revelations," Moore said, "is what seems to be new." Publishers have traditionally brought a skeptical eye to manuscripts claiming to be divine revelation, according to Lynn Garrett, religion editor at Publisher's Weekly. That's because, she says, most are poorly written and have little new content of value to offer.
Nevertheless, the number of published authors who claim to be speaking for God continues to grow.
"I seem to get more self-published submissions than ever before," Garrett said. Though numbers in this "new revelation" genre are not officially tracked, she said, "there are always a few" that would fall into the category.
Authors of would-be scripture range in approach from new age to ultra-conservative, but they generally share at least one trait: thick skin. "Salam," for instance, required 20 years of work and more than $100,000 from the author's own pocket to become a published text. Mainstream and religious bookstores alike have in the end refused to put it on their shelves. One distributor, saying "Salam deserved a bit more comment" than a standard rejection letter, wrote Buxani: "This title is an exercise in old-time, hardshell, pig-ignorant, radical neo-Gnostic Dualism which I had thought the Consciousness of Humankind had moved 'way, 'way beyond."
Yet those who put what they say are God's words into print seem to feel a calling that keeps them focused on the message and gives them hope for a new faith to be built on their texts. Buxani aims to debunk the many religions that he says "worship the messenger" – from Jesus to Mohammed – and replace them with an Indian approach that echoes the Bengali Renaissance of the 19th century insofar as it promises a direct, logical link to the Creator.
"People are so conditioned, it may take a little time for them to accept the reality," Buxani said in a telephone interview with RNS. "I'm just presenting the truth and the reality to those who might be interested in it."
The spread of new revelations seems to know no borders. From Australia, for instance, an author known as "The Little Pebble" claims to provide direct messages from the Virgin Mary. Through his nine booklets, he has attracted enough followers in the Southern Hemisphere to inspire a five-year investigation and a bishop's mandate to disavow affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church.
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