I apologise: though I sometimes do edit text after publication, this time publication happened by accident. I must have pressed by mistake the appropriate key sequence, and there, suddenly, it was. There are a number of differences between this and the one thus so unexpectedly published to the web!
Many, if not most, religions claim to be founded on revelation, a concept which harbours so many problems that it is astounding that some people still think it can be used unproblematically. Drive through the countryside anywhere in North America, but especially in the United States, and you are bound to come upon a large billboard containing some minatory word from the Christian scriptures: “The wages of sin is death!”, “Prepare to meet thy God!”, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!”, and others of that ilk. I have never bothered to take pictures of them. They are execrable excrescences and a blot on the landscape, but they reflect an odd tendency that people have of taking texts written by men (and perhaps, very occasionally, women) and investing them with ultimate significance, by supposing that they come from a god or other supernatural source. The Qu’ran is supposed to come from God via the angel Gabriel, or Jibreel, but a more confused pastiche of texts from different identifiable sources would be hard to find. The claim is, of course, spurious, and is based, not on examination of the text or the validation of its source, but on the alleged claim of a man who could not possibly have written it. There is absolutely no reason for thinking that the Qu’ran as we have it (in its various versions and recensions) is the work of a man named Muhammad. Muhammad is as loosely related to the text attributed to him as is Jesus to the works he is supposed to have done, or the words he is imagined to have said.
The question never seems to be asked as to the proof that these words, and just these words, constitute a revelation from God. Richard Harries (now Baron Harries of Pentregarth), former bishop of Oxford (1987-2006), widely reputed to be a liberal theologian, states in his book about “Christianity and Judaism in the Shadow of the Holocaust” (the subtitle), After the Evil, states clearly, and remarkably, that
it is dangerous to talk of history being a continuing source of revelation, if new revelation is meant. 
On the other hand, he says, there is no reason not to think
of history as drawing out implications which lie latent in the New Testament. This was certainly what happened in the nineteenth century when Christians began to see that slavery was incompatible with the deeper truths of the New Testament. [Ibid.]
And then he goes on to say that
[s]imilarly in our time Christians have begun to realize that the traditional subjugated status of women is incompatible with a life of equality in Christ. [Ibid.]
However, if this is the case, we have to ask ourselves how we know that this is something latent in the scriptures, and is not being brought to the scriptures based on later understandings of what constitutes equality or compatibility with deeper truths. In what sense can a philo-semitic attitude, or repugnance at the idea of owning human beings, or acceptance of women as fully equal with men, be thought to be a part of revelation, if it takes social and moral change to enable us to recognise these “truths” as latent in scripture, when antisemitism and slavery and misogyny were believed, for thousands of years, to be, not only compatible with, but required by, revelation?
That slavery, to take but one example, was fully compatible with the Christian scriptures is evident from the parables of Jesus, in which slaves make a regular appearance, and the gospel Jesus never once raises a question about their status or the justice of treating people as property. Indeed, some of the parables evince an entirely contrary attitude, as when Jesus speaks of the justified anger of an owner at a slave’s failure to manage his owner’s property with diligence and industry. Such failure deserves punishment; and Jesus compares this to the individual’s relationship to God, who will justly punish those who are not ever mindful and watchful and about the Lord’s business. This trope, of the human being as the slave of God is then further developed by Paul, and is given as a reason why slaves, even if they might, should not seek their freedom; for just as their owners are slaves of Christ, they themselves are free in Christ.
As Graham Shaw says, in his book, The Cost of Authority, an unflinching study of the rhetoric of authority in Paul’s letters and the gospel of Mark:
The institution [of slavery] itself is unchallenged, and exploitation of the slave facilitated. Far from finding freedom in his new religion, he has acquired a more exacting and all-seeing Master. All the grand christological claims of release and reconciliation end in practice by reconciling slaves to their lot and conniving at their exploitation. 
It is vital to see this, for it makes a nonsense of Harries’ claim of the incompatibility of slavery with the supposedly “deeper truths” of the New Testament. Not only is slavery compatible with the New Testament; the position of slaves is in fact reinforced by the trick of believing that believers are slaves of Christ, and therefore that it makes no difference whether — socially – we are slave or free, for we are all, without exception, slaves.
But still, the question remains: How could it be shown that a text has its source in some divine, transcendent or supernatural source? Lots of people take the Bible, whether in its Jewish or many Christian forms, as the word of God. Some people will qualify this by saying that it is the word of God in the words of men, and some even claim that the Bible tells a story in which God progressively reveals himself to us, through the development of thought about God which can be discerned in the course of the scriptures (supposing that they can be arranged in roughly chronological order). So, for example, Exodus 20, where the famous Ten Commandments are to be found, tells us that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those who “hate me” (God speaking!). It is not altogether clear what this means, but it is evident in other places in the Bible that God may punish other people for sins committed by another. Thus, David is punished for his seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, by losing the first child born to them. Job’s tribulations begin with the slaughter of his children, and Job wonders what he has done to deserve such trials and tribulations. Yet in Ezekiel 18.20 we read:
The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. [Revised Version]
Each person is responsible for himself alone. So, we have two entirely different ideas about sin (misdoing) and guilt. The later idea of individual responsibility is in conflict with the earlier idea of a kind of communal, inherited responsibility.
We can see this as some sort of moral advance, if we like, but it is hard to square this with the idea of revelation. But if it is brought under the rubric of revelation, then why should Harries think it is dangerous to think of progress in revelation beyond the point at which the canon of scripture was closed? Surely, if the kinds of development that can be traced in the scriptures suggest a process of ethical progress in history, what reason could be given for bringing that process to an end, arbitrarily, by assuming that a particular collection of written texts have a special status that can never be superceded? If these human works — the word of God in the words of men — contain the word of God, then why cannot other works be accorded a similar status? And if we attribute revelatory status to those other works, what distinguishes those works from others in such a way as to mark them out as works in which God’s word is revealed? These questions form an endless regress, as you can see.
So the problem reduces to the question as to what distinguishes a work of divine or supernatural or transcendent revelation from one that is merely human? As Jerry Coyne continues his progress through the Bible — the last I heard he was reading Judges — it becomes patently obvious that some of the things in the Bible are not only very human, but even tediously so. (Here are a few of his latest LOLz from the Bible, with a Ceiling Cat version of similar laws.) For all the sanctity that has been ascribed to them, it is hard to see sanitary regulations about covering up one’s body waste as an appropriate subject for divine revelation. Some people have said, in response to those who have asked why, if the Bible is truly revelation, God did not reveal more about the scientific nature of life and the world, that revelation does not deal in facts but in those things that pertain to living a meaningful and moral life. But some of the things that Jerry has been digging up from the scriptures are, if anything, of no interest at all insofar as answering questions about the good life go, and if the Bible can deal with things that seem to us so trivial, would it not have made more sense for God to have gone into greater detail about things which would have made life a lot better, by teaching human beings about disease and its cure, and at least about aspects of science relevant to technologies that would have lightened their burdens?
Of course, the immediate reply to this is that revelation is not about this kind of thing. Revelation, in the end, it might be claimed, is more closely tied to the human experience of the transcendent and of redemption than that. The point of religion and divine revelation is to enable people to deal with some central aspects of the human condition: the experience of guilt and condemnation, the experience of alienation, the experience of purposelessness and remedies for these common human experiences. Thus, revelation might be claimed to be not unreasonably thought to be a message from God if it helps to resolve these experiences of inner conflict and provides experiences of peace, comfort and confidence in the face of the vagaries of life. This is the kind of thing recently argued by the commenter Antonio in some previous posts on this subject.
This of course does not put an end to the matter. There are a number of responses that we can make. For one thing, these experiences are common human experiences, and many of them take quite acceptable, even routine, secular forms. The sense of guilt or shame we have as a consequence of doing certain things which are harmful to others or embarrassing to ourselves, is a perfectly explicable outcome of social conditioning, and there are methods of getting beyond these obstacles to a full and enjoyable life without appealing to another realm of reality which is thought to give meaning to this one. People who are involved in twelve-step programmes, though such programmes are often based on belief in a Higher Power, are given methods for dealing with the harm they may have done in their lives because of their addiction, obsession, failure to manage anger, or other personal failing. To acknowledge failure to oneself, to acknowledge one’s failure to those who have been harmed, and to make restitution for that harm: these are all ways of dealing with psycho-social problems that often lie at the root of healing religious experiences of being loved and accepted. Indeed, this is a technique that is commonly used by those engaged in pastoral care. To be a caring, nonjudgemental presence is normative both for psychiatry as well as for spiritual/pastoral care. Thus the ”higher power” is very often another person who is prepared to help at times when the person is afraid of falling back into old familiar destructive patterns of living.
I know parents whose son found refuge in a pentecostal church which enabled him to turn around a life marred by drug use and failure. And while it is perfectly understandable why devotion to an imagined being who not only sees and knows everything you have done, but is also accepting of failure and forgiving, can be helpful in dealing with problems created by carelessness, social alienation and anger, there is no obvious reason for attributing the happy outcome to anything more than the friendly and accepting community that gathers together to celebrate the influence of this imagined being in their lives. Nothing in the experience or in the practices of the community, or in any of its beliefs, or the texts to which it lends credence, point in themselves to anything beyond human beings, human words, or humanly devised ritual in the context of which conflicted human beings may occasionally find relief.
I suspect that nothing in the practices and conventions of such groups cannot be explained in purely this-worldly terms, even when they most pretend divine. Indeed, the deep and fallible nature of the human beings who participate in these communities should be enough to convince us that nothing more than human is involved. Indeed, the fact that members of those groups which at the same time slander humanity, and hold human values in contempt, prove so often to be such defective human beings themselves, should convince anyone that there is no point at which they or their community touches a supposedly transcendent or divine realm which is a corrective to the evils of this one.
This becomes quite clear in testimony such as that of Hilary Mantel, the author of Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize for fiction in 2009, and who has just published its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, the second of a trilogy of historical novels about Thomas Cromwell and the English Reformation, who said, in an interview with Anita Singh of The Telegraph, that she thinks
that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.
Though educated in a convent school, she says she is one of nature’s Protestants, and of the paedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church she said:
The fact that it could happen, the extent of the denial, the cover-up, the hypocrisy, the cruelty… When I was a child I wondered why priests and nuns were not nicer people. I thought that they were amongst the worst people I knew.
Why were they not nicer people? Because they are human beings in possession of the truth — or so they think. So they don’t need to be particularly sensitive to other human beings, especially if those others are adversaries of the truth they think they know. Thus, Catholics seem to have no problem contemplating the miseries of those who are dying or suffering from incurable degenerative conditions, and say, without evident concern, that they should not be given a choice about the way that they will die. I can only consider such people with contempt. They do the same thing with women, whose reasons for abortion are never enough to satisfy their mindless prohibitions issued in the name of their God. And the very same thing is said to gay and lesbian people, whose desires are deemed unnatural and to act on them seriously disordered, without any concern that they are consigning them to lives either of unsatisfied and frustrated desire, or else of sordid, dirty secrets that dare not be brought into the light of day — “the love that dare not speak its name.” And these things they base on the fact that they have found a refuge from their own sense of guilt and unfulfillable longing, a refuge, sadly, that so often becomes a cloak under which the works of darkness proceed undeterred.