2012-03-10

Fear and Loathing in the Bible

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by Tim Widowfield

Is God mad?

I grew up in a church that took the Bible very seriously. It was the inerrant Word of God. It was our rock, our comfort. But the funny thing about taking the Bible literally is the unspoken assumption that God is a very dangerous character. He’s interested in every little thing you do, every little thought that crosses your mind, and if he’s displeased — why, there’s practically nothing he won’t do.

For instance, a rather large number of people in my country (all the members of my former congregation, in fact) believe that God once got so angry that he flooded the earth and killed every man, woman, child, fetus, animal, insect, arachnid, etc. If you stop to consider it, this story of wild rage makes every 20th-century dictator look like a piker by comparison.

And yet this story is something children are taught at a very early age. In fact, you can buy Noah’s Ark plush toys from Amazon. Aren’t they cute? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the story of the Ark, and how the animals came two-by-two. However, I don’t much recall the details of the stinking, bloated, rotting corpses of the millions of dead creatures that God killed. What, no plush “floaters”?

Seriously, is God mad?

The idea of an insane god with unlimited power and a malevolent personality is a staple of speculative fiction. One well-known example is Billy Mumy’s portrayal of the ill-tempered god-child in the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.” (Spoiler alert!)

I don’t know what effect viewing this has on kids today, but when I saw it back in my youth, I was disturbed for days, maybe weeks. The idea of ultimate power in the hands of a petulant child is terrifying. We eventually discover that it isn’t just a matter of doing something that upsets the angry god-child. That line — “You keep thinkin’ bad thoughts about me!” — rings in my ears even today.

I mean, is God insane?

Another famous example from the genre is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream. It is about as forgettable as a tattoo on the back of your hand (stealing a line from the Ted Sturgeon’s review of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said). An insane machine with boundless reach, unlimited power, and unquenchable hatred controls the lives of our protagonists, to the point where they would rather kill themselves than go on.

As you probably know, Ellison’s short story frequently ends up on lists of banned literature. Usually, the reasons given include the relentless horror, thoughts of murder, thoughts of suicide. But I wonder if somewhere back in people’s minds they understand what makes I Have No Mouth truly subversive. Who is it that makes us scrape for our daily bread? Who is it that sends rain on the just and on the unjust? Who might fly into a blind, world-destroying rage just because we thought of something displeasing?

You know who.

Where the worm dieth not

Tim, you say, relax! You’re thinking of that crazy Old Testament God. Modern, sophisticated, SBL-approved Christianity isn’t like that. Oh really? Hey, at least in the OT, when you’re dead you’re dead. Job could at least take comfort in the fact that his insane, vengeful creator would leave him alone once he was in the grave. But not in the world Jesus made. Guess what, Job — wake up! Get your skin on! It’s resurrection time!

The New Testament adds more insanity. Jesus doubles down on the mayhem. For not only do we suffer the whims of a vengeful God while we’re alive, but we can all look forward to reanimation followed by the Judgment. And if you don’t pass muster, you’ll be thrown into the fiery pit to writhe in agony for eternity. If you have a mouth you will probably scream.

Is God mad at me?

Now add to this the new concept of the unpardonable sin. It isn’t murder. It isn’t rape. No, it’s the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. How many people, like me, have spent sleepless nights and horror-filled days, scared to death that we might accidentally commit the thought crime of blasphemy against a fictional character? I admit it. I lived in constant dread that I might be “tempted” into saying something unkind about the Holy Ghost and be damned forever.

Recall as well that in Judaism sin is understood as a natural tendency, while in Christianity it is a taint we are born with. In Judaism, God has the power to forgive our transgressions, while in Christianity our original sin is so awful it required the torture and execution of Jesus. Have you ever heard this one?  “If you rebel and backslide it’s like crucifying Jesus all over again.”  How’s that for a guilt trip?

Finally, I remember falling even deeper into the abyss of despair when our minister delivered a sermon in which he mentioned Matt 7:21 — “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven . . . ” Really? Even if we stay on our toes and follow the Bible? Even if we don’t dance, play cards, smoke, or drink? The prospect of being turned away on Judgment Day after doing everything in my power to obtain eternal life was devastating.

It’s good ya done that!

When you live inside the bubble you dare not talk about the elephant in the room. You dare not say out loud what we all know to be true — this God or these Gods engage in behavior that by definition makes them genocidal, sadistic monsters. When you’re outside the bubble, there’s so much relief in realizing that it’s all just a fairy tale that you tend to forget the crushing, unremitting fear you used to live under. You forget the feeling of being watched and judged every second of every waking moment. You forget being afraid that you might be “left behind.”

It gets better

As Neil has said many times, this is not an anti-Christian blog. However, it is a pro-human blog. I’m not here to debunk any religion. But I know there must be people out there who are like the old me — living in constant terror of displeasing an angry deity while harboring suspicions that it’s all just a hoax. To those people, I just want to say, “It gets better. You can break the spell. You can live your own life on your own terms. There is hope.”

Eventually, you’ll let go of your anger, too. Because let’s face it, when you finally realize your sleepless nights and wasted days were for nothing, you’re going to be a little upset. Don’t be. Let it go. Successful religions need fear to keep them going. Blame it on evolution. Yes, they talk about joy and “oneness” with the divine spirit, but what keeps people locked in is the fear of hell and the terror of being left behind. They can’t help it. They don’t know any better.

In the end, we have to make peace with our past. We have to forgive the people (probably our parents) who pushed us into these unhealthy beliefs. And finally, we have to forgive ourselves for not catching on sooner.

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is an RV Park host who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.


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37 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing in the Bible”

  1. Beautiful, Tim.

    And what it does to you during puberty can compromise your self-image, not to mention one’s sexuality, for the rest of one’s life. I’ve had a couple of Jewish girlfriends, and the difference between them and Christian girlfriends I’ve had was striking. I know the Jews have the same OT as Christians, but somehow Jews don’t seem to do the same damage to themselves with it. Their ‘guilt’ tradition is less sexually oriented and self-destructive. (Maybe because they don’t add the Jesus/crucifixion factor to the mix and don’t share the long anti-body paranoia of Christianity.)

    1. Yes, and part of the difference could simply be the misinterpretation of ritually unclean as “dirty.” In Jewish culture, some natural, necessary things in human life are ritually unclean in the sight of God, so they require a ritual of purification. But that doesn’t make them evil or shameful.

      And at the risk of painting with too broad a brush, Catholics with their sense of community salvation seem to have a healthier outlook on life than Protestants, as I think Jung pointed out. Personal guilt, personal shame, and the burden of personal salvation are terrible things to live with.

        1. If you’ve ever read the history of the Christian church in England, you’ll recall there’s a point when praying for your dead ancestors becomes forbidden. It’s as if one day you have this huge, extended family with dead grandparents, great grandparents, great uncles and aunts, all needing your help to pray them through purgatory. And the next day somebody tells you, “Stop it. They’re all dead and it’s too late.”

          It must have made people feel very alone.

  2. I’ve said it before but humour me while I tell the story again. When I had a chance to meet Bishop John Shelby Spong I thanked him for helping me on my way to atheism, and the reason I was so grateful was that as an atheist I found myself so much more genuinely relaxed and at peace compared with my Christian believing years. He conceded that yes, there is an uptightness about so many Christians in the churches.

    I also have Marlene Winnell to thank for giving me one tip in particular that helped me rebuild my self-love and acceptance: visualization. I never went so far as using a real toy doll to represent myself as a baby, but I would spend a lot of time visualizing myself as a baby again and learning to love me no matter what I had done — since I was only an infant and only needed assurance and love to get over whatever it was that normally would have sent me into a spiritual crisis.

    I once posted here a series from her book, Leaving the Fold, (no quotation marks just to prove I really have read it — an in-joke here) about the good and positive things people take away from their years as fundamentalist type believers. That’s also a good thing to keep in mind when rebuilding one’s life.

    I love observing the religious practices and and peoples in south-east Asia — the Buddhists, the Taoists, the Hindus, the “ancestor-worshipers”. People quite openly — all peoples of all backgrounds, think inclusively of sinners, tax-collectors and prostitutes — openly making offerings and prayers at shrines, intersections, anywhere, throughout the day. It’s done to honour the spirits, for thanksgiving, and no doubt in hopes of a good turn of fate or luck. But I don’t sense any guilt-ridden hangups and self-loathing and fear of sin. One senses a healthiness and communal positive spirit to it all. And they’re “good people” in that they really do believe in being good to others (without a check-list of do’s and dont’s) — which is quite the normal thing for any healthy person to feel. (I am speaking in generalities but, unless you are still a seriously brainwashed bible-believer, you know what I mean.)

    But nothing human is absolutely simple. I now am reminded of the Festival of Thaipusan where Hindu men will put themselves through extreme endurances of pain as they walk for miles carrying the heavy burdens of the glory of the gods (heavy decorated frames) pierced through their skin, tongues. I somehow suspect that once the ceremony is over they don’t continue to carry around heavy guilt feelings and fear of wrong (usually natural) thoughts or feelings.

  3. Bringing hell in (your ‘doubling down’) was a master stroke. The doctrine of receiving your just dues was obviously at odds with what was observed in the real world, where good people often suffer unjustly and bad people often prosper. Nice coup to make the reward and the punishment undetectable and thus unfalsifiable.

  4. Tim, I also was also raised in a fundamentalist church well into early adulthood, however my reactions have been quite different. I certainly did not experience the excesses of beliefs which you describe. However it became evident, from very early on, that the packaging was quite wrong, yet the reality of God as presence or the man Jesus our most certain source of God talk was never in doubt. One constant standby was the particular faith of my father. For him faith was not something one questioned nor to speak of, it was a way of being, I never doubted that his faith was real. In any case response to my church experience throughout my adult life might be described as that of “faith seeking understanding”. I was always alert to the most legitimate authentic religious voice I became aware of.
    In a recent comment Neil wrote: “All conclusions in history are necessarily tentative and open to review. How to account for Christian Origins, that is the historical question”.
    As to the first statement I will try to take Neil at his word in spite of all. To the second, a question, I again make the claim that my reconstruction in the form of a letter to R. Joseph Hoffmann offers an answer consistent with present historical methods and knowledge. I dare say I am open to comments.

  5. Ed, my comment remains the same. Your reconstruction in your letter with reference to scholarship points to the flaw in almost all historical Jesus scholarship. It all begins the the mere assumption (only the assumption) that there was a historical Jesus at the start of it all.

  6. Neil, fully aware that this will effectively say nothing, I am yet forced to form the words: No I can not take you at your word. Overwhelming evidence conveys beyond all shades of doubt that you are,fixed to the dogmatic conviction that there was NO Jesus, This against all justifyable reason or what in any conceivable sense, present or future, might be taken as “evidence”. All amply confirmed by the evident, remarkable, fact that you prejudged Betz’s Essays on the Sermon on the Mount, the very object of our dialogue, to be unworthy even of the read, particularly from the fact of being a liberaian having the most ready access to anything in print.

    1. How anyone can state, let alone believe, that Neil’s or mine, or any other mythicist’s conviction that there was no historical Jesus is “dogmatic” when faced with all the argumentation in its favor that has appeared on this blog and elsewhere, in books written or read, and in the face of all the demands we regularly make to historicists to provide us with convincing evidence in the other direction and which we regularly do not receive—well, it’s beyond me. It is this sort of comment, regularly received instead, which demonstrates that historicists are yet unwilling or unable to approach the subject of mythicism, and the scholars who promote it, neutrally and without bias. In other words, treating it as a scholarly opinion, neither more nor less. Without that, they are incapable of judging it on its own merits.

      Firmly held conclusion based on a study of evidence is not dogma. It may not be correct, as all thing scientific are in theory open to the possibility of being mistaken, but “dogma” it is not. Dogma is “prescribed doctrine” whether based on presumed evidence or not (usually not, such as the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, or the existence of Purgatory, or that Jesus died for our sins).

      When Neil starts to provide a catechism of necessary convictions before someone can sign up to his blog, then you can accuse him of dogma.

      1. Strange contradictory facts: My #45 comment, # Ed Jones Dialogue references two articles from the Journal of Higher Criticism (of all places) which I find to be particularly supportive of my position expressed in my reconstruction of Jesus traditions, Ed Jones Dialogue. More to the point than what I might find at SBL. These are articles correcting historical mistakes and distortions made by NT Gospel authors in their intent to propagate their Christ myth which has seriously contributed to our lack of knowledge of the HJ and his teaching.. Might you take the interest to at least read my reconstruction on the chance that it may offer some contribution toward “the demands we regularly make to historcists to provide us with convincing evidence in the other direction and which we do not receive.”

    2. Ed, i have not pre-judged Betz’s essays “unworthy”. The main reason I have not read them is that I do not have ready access to them. The university where I work does not teach religious or biblical studies so does not have a large collection of such books. A check on WorldCat shows me the nearest copy is over a thousand miles from where I live. Nor do I have access to free interlibrary loans.

      Whether Jesus was a historical person or not makes no difference to me personally. I have never said dogmatically that there was “NO” Jesus. I have always, as Earl indicated, attempted to draw attention to the evidence on both sides of the question.

      Our discussion was on the origins of Christianity with special attention to the evidence of the Sermon on the Mount.

      From the beginning I have raised the question: How do we know that any of the sayings in the SM originated with a historical Jesus?

      Does Betz give an answer to that question? In other posts on this blog I have quoted the names of some prominent biblical scholars themselves who have pointed out that their peers generally begin with the assumption — only the assumption — that there was a historical Jesus. I have quoted others who have acknowledged the fundamental circularity at the heart of their arguments about the historical Jesus.

      The only evidence we have for Jesus are stories or sayings passed on by believers. We simply have no way of confirming whether any of these stories or sayings really did originate with a historical Jesus.

      But we do have reasons to doubt that they have any historical worth:

      1. The narratives are full of the miraculous and supernatural characters, and the role of these miraculous events and supernatural characters are absolutely essential to the heart of the story. Remove them and we do not come closer to any history. We only destroy the stories.

      2. The sayings are not original but reflect the same sorts of teachings found in wisdom literature throughout the ancient eastern Mediterranean and Hellenistic worlds.

      3. Both the narratives and sayings — even the Sermon on the Mount — betray evidence of having been borrowed and adapted from earlier well-known stories and teachings, especially those of the Old Testament.

      4. The earliest literary evidence (the letters of Paul) stresses the divine nature of Jesus; and the first gospel is rich in symbolic personal and place names and coded narratives. All of this strongly suggests fiction.

      On the basis of these points I believe the simplest and strongest explanation for Jesus is that he originated as a theological and literary construct, not as a historical person.

      That is where I am coming from. Does any of that really sound dogmatic?

      1. Neil. Apologies for the accusations, age impatience.

        For the record I try once again. We seem to agree that the writings of the NT are in context propagating the Christ myth not the man Jesus. We might further agree that Christianity did not begin from Jerusalem (M. Miller), the term being first used of Paul and Barnabus’ Antioch mission after 60 CE, never used of the Jesus movement.

        For the period 30 CE- 65 CE there were two radically different communities. The first, the Jerusalem Jesus Movement first led be key disciples with the intent to again take up the message of Jesus. This was soon followed by a Jewish Hellenist group taking up the idea of the salvific death which abrogated the Torah. Paul soon converted to this group to take this Christ myth gospel to the Gentile world meeting with great success. This had the effect of severing Jesus both from his message and his Jewish roots. The Gospels soon followed all written in the context of the Christ of faith, not of the man Jesus.

        Betz: “More intense preoccupation with the SM only began during preparation with the Galatians commentary, as the extraordinarily intimate, more precisely, adversarial, relationship of the Epistle to the Galatians and the SM continued to force itself upon me.´

        To make the point that here we are dealing with two starkly different sources, one in the contest of knowledge of Jesus, the other in the context of the Christ myth. This intimate relationship between Galatians and the SM (which comes from the Jerusalem Jesus Movement) makes them contemporary around 50 CE.

        By any judgment there can be little choice of which source is the more reliable for knowledge of Jesus, if only by that much.

        1. Ed, I will copy your comment and paste it in the # Ed Jones Dialogue where we can follow an exchange more easily. Join us there, Roo, if you like.

          ———

          I have since removed the Ed Jones Dialogue page — Neil, 14th November, 2012

      2. Neil, I believe I have a copy in my library. Is this the correct book you are discussing? If so, I could send you some sections of it.

        Betz, H. D., & Collins, A. Y. (1995). The Sermon on the mount : A commentary on the Sermon on the mount, including the Sermon on the plain (Matthew 5:3-7:27 and Luke 6:20-49). Hermeneia–a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (v). Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

        1. That’s it, thanks. But I can’t say what sections would be most useful, sorry. As Roo says below it’s not likely to address the existence of Jesus, and Ed also conceded on the # Ed Jones Dialogue that to accept the certainty of a Jesus at the start of it all means “God talk”.

          And that brings to mind a related point. I am beginning to think that Earl Doherty was right when he suggested that the fundamental reason even nonbeliever scholars become so indignant and offensive when challenged on the existence of Jesus is pride, ego. People who have staked their professional reputations on the study of the historical Jesus have no wish to suddenly feel like they may have been fools. They are not fools, of course, but I can understand the fear and the defensiveness against the challenge.

          1. That’s fine, I was just offering if you were interested in seeing it. If I might comment on one thing you said, “As Roo says below it’s not likely to address the existence of Jesus.” The truth is, there is no book, argument, or historian that will prove Jesus’ existence unequivocally in a secular or humanistic manner. The same applies to all those hoping to disprove his existence, it simply can not be done with the limited evidence available. It would be the same as trying to prove or disprove the existence of extraterrestrial beings. We simply can not do it with the information we possess today. We can postulate their existence by examining all the facts related to the possibilities of planets that are capable of supporting life, at least life as we know it. The only way it will become a fact of reality is if we meet one someday, or through some other life altering event. Until then, all we can hope to do is to guess about this or that. But haven’t many people said this has already taken place, numerous times? The people who claim they have seen, talked to, and visited the home world of aliens are the eye witnesses to these events. But sadly, no rational person believes them, they are either liars, mistaken, or delusional. What this has done is create a culture where even if a real alien did arrive on earth and only made himself known to a single individual or a small group, society would still not believe. What could this individual or small group say that would prove aliens exist? Probably nothing that has not already been said by those who claim they saw one. So to correct myself, the only way we will ever know if aliens exist is if they make themselves known to a large enough group, so it will be believable to the rest of the world, and even then some will not believe. Therefore, the only way to prove Jesus existence to society is if he comes to earth and makes himself known to a large enough crowd. And if that really does happen, it is not going to be a good day for those who have waited for that level of evidence. My opinion as for why we lack so much evidence for Jesus’ existence is because it was done on purpose. It reveals the true motives of people. (John 20:29) . . .“Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.”

            1. No sweat, Howard. If we sit tight long enough, He’ll come. It’s written in the Scriptures. Just wait and don’t be too impatient. Nobody knows His time, but it’ll come. Stay happy.

              1. But the hour is coming, and will soon be here, when the patients worshippers who have eyes to see will see the Son of Man in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such patient worshippers who can sit tight for him and see the truth when it appears.

            2. Talk of proving existence or non-existence of Jesus is missing the point, I believe. And so is comparing it the questions with the claims for alien abductions. No-one would put Socrates, Alexander, Hillel, Pilate, Tiberius in such debating frameworks.

              My interest is handling the evidence for Christian origins no differently from the way one would expect evidence for any other ancient historical development to be handled. I believe I have shown many times that theologians (and even a few historians who rely on them) bring assumptions about the evidence with them before they begin to analyse it, and that their arguments about the existence of Jesus are circular.

              I am falling in line with a minority of biblical scholars who have recognized the fallacies at the heart of biblical studies, whether Old or New Testament, and in line with the fundamentals of how most historians handle evidence and ancient documents when approaching any other historical question.

              Historical Jesus studies in particular claims for itself an exceptionalism of methods that I believe are invalid. No other historical discipline of which I am aware uses criteriology to establish basic facts to work as their foundational raw material for reconstruction. They start with unambiguous and generally accepted and verifiable strong probabilities and use criteria to interpret this data, not to create their raw data from the get-go.

              1. No, it may not be the point you have in mind at the moment, but it was merely a point I wanted to point out that is in line with a lot of discussions on this blog. I apparently did not clarify myself, when I talk about Jesus, I’m always talking about the son of God, I couldn’t care less it there was a mere man behind some mythical gospel story. If that turns out to be the truth, then I was mistaken, but I have no interest in investing my time and energy with a search for a mere man, unless I was a historian, which I am not. It also has no effect on my life if Socrates, Alexander, Hillel, Pilate, or Tiberius were real or not since they were mere men if they existed. But the Jesus of the Bible does, so my search is for the Jesus as described in the Bible. And my comparison is quite useful if the Bible is true, by definition, Jesus is in fact an extraterrestrial being.

                About the circular reasoning, I totally agree with you and I thought it was implied in what I had said. I have no trouble admitting that my belief in Jesus is based on circumstantial evidence. People can do a lot worse than believe that Jesus was real. And just for the record, people who believe in Jesus or God, should not be condemned or mocked for the things other people say and do who also claim they believe in Jesus or God.

        2. There are two different books by Hans Dieter Betz: “The Essays on the Sermon on the Mount” (1985, 200 pages) and the huge “Commentary (Hermeneia) on the Sermon of the Mount” (1995, 700 pages).
          The Preface to the Essays clarifies the purpose of the books: They insert themselves in the “quest for the historical Jesus”, that is, they try to reconstitute what was the “original” teaching of “Jesus of Nazareth.”
          Betz’s essential “hypothesis” is that the Sermon on the Mount (and the parallel Sermon on the Plain) is based on on initial composition, which was an “epitome”, a compilation of Jesus teachings put in writing to facilitate memorization and diffusion. This original composition predates all adaptations and redactions that led to the texts in the Gospels.
          So, the focus is on retrieving and highlighting the “original” sayings of the historical “Jesus of Nazareth”, not on tackling the question of whether such a man ever existed or not.
          From the very start, we are facing an illuminated stage, where this man Jesus is already pacing around, voicing his harangues and followed by a nondescript crowd. There is no wondering if this man is some kind of theatrical creation, or a real preacher.

    3. I got curious about Ed Jones’s insistence on Hans Dieter Betz’s Essays on the Sermon on the Mount and his commentary. Not being a librarian, I couldn’t get the book, but read the ch. 8 “The Sermon on the Mount according to H.D. Betz” in Robert Gundry’s book “The Old is Better – NT Essays in support of Traditional Interpretations (2005)”.

      I did not find there anything that “in any conceivable sense, present or future, might be taken as ‘evidence’” of the existence of Jesus Christ.

      Grundy explains that Betz makes some fundamental assumptions about the Sermon on the Mount:

      “Higher critically, Betz posits a primitive pool of Jesus’s sayings and then argues that drawing on that pool, someone composed Q. Drawing mainly on that same pool but occasionally on Q, someone composed the SM as a free-standing entity; and in the same fashion someone composed the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-49, “SP”) as another free-standing entity. Q contained a protosermon that provided a basis for the SM and the SP; but after the composition of the SM and the SP someone revised Q by substituting the SM for the protosermon and someone produced another revision of Q by substituting the SP for the protosermon. Finally Matthew incorporated the version of Q containing the SM (Q Matt) into his Gospel and Luke incorporated the version of Q containing SP (Q Luke) into his Gospel, but these incorporations entailed no redactions of the SM and the SP by Matthew and Luke”.

      Very interesting speculations by Betz about the composition of two Q’s (two are better than one) but nothing that resembles an independent “evidence” of the existence of any Jesus Christ as initially described by Mark.

      1. Wheh! I guess it’s all possible, but wow, . . . . Might not we call on 1 Corinthians 14:23 and say: “If therefore the whole scholarly guild be come together into one place, and all speak with hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?”

        On the one hand we have literary appreciations of the SM, some even saying it is something of a masterpiece. But we are to believe that this final literary result was just lucky chance given the very unliterary, the hotch-potch way it evolved. Where are the creationist arguments when you really need them?

  7. Indeed, the Creator of heaven and earth=YHAH TSABA of Israel is jealous over those he love; that is why he takes vengeance on those who hurt his people!

    He furiously destroys our enemies. He is slow in getting angry, but when aroused, his power is incredible-and he does not easily forgive.
    He show his power in the terrors of the cyclone and the raging storms; clouds are billowing dust beneath his feet!
    At his command the ocean waves destroyed towns and city.

    Remember Japan 2011!

    1. I’ll assume that this comment was intended to be funny, but even so, the chosen people haven’t had it easy. The children of Israel have lived with the archetypal abusive spouse for thousands of years.

      Who can forget the story of Moses pleading with YHWH not to wipe them all out and start again? How many times have they been driven from the land, brought back again, driven out, and brought back?

      As Randy Newman put it:

      The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
      The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
      They picked their four greatest priests
      And they began to speak
      They said “Lord the plague is on the world
      Lord no man is free
      The temples that we built to you
      Have fallen into the sea
      Lord, if you won’t take care of us
      Won’t you please please let us be?”

      “God’s Song” (1972)

  8. Neil: 03/13, 8:51 am comment: “My interest is handling the evidence for Christian origins.” However different our SM understanding, to which I see little hope of reconciling, at least my treatment of origins must incite some response, I am aware of none. My 03/11 comment which you saw fit to paste to # Ed Jones Dialogue restates my opening treatment of origins. I go to some length to make the point that “Christian origins” is a serious misnomer creating distinct historical and social inaccuracies and misunderstandings. “Christian” was first used of Paul and Barnabus’ Antioch mission after 65 CE, it was never used of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. I see this as a crucial historical fact for understandings Jesus traditions. It is basic to understanding the origin of the Christ of faith myth, Pauline-kerygma, which became the context of Christianity based on the writings of the NT rather than on the Jesus-kerygma. Reimarus (1750), the father of the Quest for the HJ, made the statement: Search the NT Scriptures and see if Christianity was not based on a historical mistake.
    Again I name two online articles which I find consistent with most of the details contained in my reconstruction.
    Institute of Higher Criticism – Articles from the Journal of Higher Criticism.
    Stephen Curkpatrick, The Spectre of Stephen And The Haunting of Acts.
    Merrill P. Miller, Beginning From Jerusalem.

  9. I don’t know that the essentially humanistic concepts of ‘justice’, ‘insanity’ or ‘good’ are applicable to nigh-omnipotent entity. While I am annoyed by the equivocation of Thomistic types who try to tell us god is ‘analogically’ just I have never found the ‘argument of evil’ or the attack on YHWH’s character as any telling argument against his existence, though it does help us get back to the psychology of the people who invented him. There is such a thing as ‘beyond good and evil’, and where people like Dawkins go wrong is trying to apply liberal Enlightenment ideas about reciprocity and justice onto a being that is beyond any such petty constraints.

    To be clear, I don’t believe YHWH exists or ever did exist but the ‘problem of evil’ and the bizarre wrathfulness of YHWH are more descriptions of why Protestant-cultured rationalists feel the need to rewrite God in their own image than any actual objection to YHWH,

    1. Once we think of this being as “beyond any such petty constraints” then aren’t we simply imagining another personification of “nature” as per the words of poet A. E. Housman and repeated by Dawkins:

      “For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.”

      1. Only if you’re a pandeist. Thanos (Marvel comics) certainly qualifies as a god, and I really don’t think ‘good’ or ‘evil’ can be meaningfully applied to him. Moral and legal norms are a product of human social life and evolutionary biology, not objective facts of right-behavior. If you’re powerful and different enough from a human being – and anything like Zeus certainly is – then it’s really just ants crying when you piss on their hill. Their needs have no intrinsic relevance to such a creature.

      2. In fact, I’d argue that anyone who can act without serious consequences from opposition or disruption of society (i.e., not needing about or being threatened by humans and technology) the whole framework of normativity comes crashing down. It’s a human invention for human needs, take those needs away and it becomes useless and adhering to it (moral and legal norms) *would* be insane. I know that non-cognitive nihilism isn’t exactly en vogue, but I don’t see any reason to think morality is anything else but an obbyoss for apes.

    2. I should have put this all into one comment, but a final example: we don’t call lions ‘evil’ when they murder a house full of children. As much as one might object to lions doing that, to imply the lion has ‘done something wrong’ is crankish; and although not of the same kind of difference I think deities are sufficiently different that human norms just don’t make any sense to apply to them.

      Now it gets complicated when you’re advocating a polytheism with all sorts of divinities that are reliant on human beings and one another. Then you re-enter a social cooperation game. But in anything like monotheism or cooperative divinity the idea of a god having any kind of moral obligation to his clay-puppets is bizarre to me.

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