Tag: religion

Why such a mean god?

Back in the days when I went to Sunday school–or religious school, depending on your frame of reference, I remember going over various passages in the Bible. Usually these were passages in some way related to the service the rabbi had given the previous Friday. Now, I don’t recall what sermon the rabbi had given on this particular Friday, but on Sunday, I remember asking during Sunday school, why god was such a mean god.

I wish I could tell you the answer I was given. I have no memory of it. Nor do I have any memory of the Sunday school teacher being shocked at my question. I simple remember asking the question and everything else has been washed away. But clearly, the things that I had read in the Bible passages, or heard in the Friday sermon had led me to this conclusion.

All of this came back to me this morning when I read a fascinating passage in Our Oriental Heritage, in the chapter on Judea. The passage describes the evolution of Yahveh, the Hebrew god, and it shows that my 9 or 10 year old self was somewhat justified in asking the question.

Originally he seems to have been a god of thunder, dwelling in the hills, and worshiped for the same reason that the youthful Gorki was a believer when it thundered. The authors of the Pentateuch, to whom religion was an instrument of statesmanship, formed this Vulcan into Mars, so that in their energetic hands Yahveh became predominantly an imperialistic, expansionist God of Hosts, who fights for his people as fiercely as the gods of the Iliad. “The Lord is a man of war,” says “Moses”; and David echoes him: “He teacheth my hands to war.” Yahveh promises to “destroy all the people to whom” the Jews “shall come,” and to drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite and the Hittite “by little and little”; and he claims as his own all the territory conquered by the Jews. He will have no pacifist nonsense; he knews that even a Promised Land can be won, and held, only by the sword; he is a god of war because he has to be; it will take centuries of military defeat, political subjugation, and moral development, to transform him into a the gentle and loving Father of Hillel and Christ. He is as vain as a solider; he drinks up praise with a bottomless appetite, and he is anxious to display his prowess by drowning the Egyptians: “They shall know that I am the Lord whenI have gotten me honor upon Pharaoh.” To gain successes for his people he commits or commands brutalities as repugnant to our taste as they were acceptable to the morals of the age; he slaughters whole nations with the naive pleasure of a Gulliver fighting the Lilliput. Because the Jews “commit whoredom” with the daughters of Moab he bids Moses: “Thake all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun”; it is the morality of Ashurbanipal and Ashur. He offers to show mercy to those who love him and keep his commandments, but, like some resolute germ, he will punish children for the sins of their fathers, their grandfathers, even their great-great-grandfathers. He is so ferocious that he thinks of destroying all the Jews for worshiping the Golden Calf; and Moses has to argue with him that he should control himself. “Turn from thy fierce wrath,” the man tells his god, “and repent of this evil against thy people”; and “the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Again Yahveh proposes to exterminate the Jews root and branch for rebelling against Moses, but Moses appeals to his better nature, and bids him think what people will say when they hear of such a thing. He asks a cruel test–human sacrifice of the bitterest sort–from Abraham. Like Moses, Abraham teaches Yahveh the principles of morals, and persuades him not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there shall be found fifty–forty–thirty–twenty–ten good men in those cities; bit by bit he lures his god towards decency, and illustrates the manner in which the moral development of man compels the periodic recreation of his deities.

It is the last sentence which seems key to me. If only I had this insight back when I was nine or ten years old!

The sources of religion

Reading more of Our Oriental Heritage today, I came across a section on the sources of religion, within a chapter on the moral elements of civilization. As with most of Durant’s writing, it was a thoroughly rational discussion, but I must say, I was amused by one of the tales of the origins of death, this one from the natives of New Britain.

The good god Kambinana told his foolish brother Korvouva, “Go down to men and tell them to cast their skins; so shall they avoid death. But tell the serpents that they must henceforth die.” Korvouva mixed the message; he delivered the secret of immortality to the snakes, and the doom of death to men.

While Genesis is a wonderfully written fantasy where a mistake on man’s part (eating from the Tree) causes him to be expelled from paradise, I like the irony of the tale from the natives of New Britain better. In that case, it is a god’s error, not man’s. And of course, once the error is made, there is no recourse. Perhaps this is also an example of the earliest form of bureaucracy.

Writing about religion

It’s Good Friday, which is a religious holiday and that’s as good an excuse as any to do some writing about religion. Actually, Dan’s blog entry “The Soulful Atheist” also got me thinking about it a while back. In any case, here are my thoughts.

The last time I had any feelings which could be described as religious was sometime around 1978. Prior to that date, I can recall having thoughts that made it clear to me I never doubted the existence of some kind of supreme being in the universe. I remember watching Little House On the Prairie in our family room in Somerset, New Jersey, and wondering if God was simply a giant, invisible person who made us move around, talk, sleep, eat, and so forth. But around 1978 or 1979 that began to change.

The Metamorphosis

“The End of False Religion Is Near!”

When I got home this evening, among the several catalogs for expensive stuff I don’t need, and a copy of the 30th anniversary issue of ASIMOV’S was a small brochure entitled, “The End of False Religion Is Near!” Curious, I sat down and read all three pages. As it turns out, I am being recruited by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the very brief 3 pages, arguments were made why I should become a Jehovah’s Witness, and the Bible was cited 23 times. That’s 23 times in what I estimate to be 600 words total.

The tract appears to be designed to people who are fed up with how all other religions have gone soft. It attacks people who use religion to support war (both inside and outside of the U.S.) It attacks religions that “exploit their members by charging them money to pray for departed souls.” It attacks Western religions where church groups “ordain gay and lesbian members of the clergy” and even goes on to attack religions in which “religious leaders have sexually abused children.”

It was interesting and it got me thinking about religions and religious recruiting and I came up with what I think is a fairly novel idea. There should be a company that specializes in “religious recruiting”, a kind of religion broker, if you will, that you would use the same way in which you might use a job recruiter. You would give the recruiter your requirements (e.g. must allow bacon consumption, eternal salvation, and have cool uniforms) and he or she would then put you up to the highest bidder. The religions would reply with an “offer letter” which would detail for you what you would get if you picked them. Naturally, you would take the best offer, so the religions would have to compete for you. And the recruiter would get a percentage from whatever religion you ended up picking.

It would be interesting to sit in a room with a Jehovah’s Witness, Roman Catholic Priest, and an evangelical, and listen to them outline the respective good qualities of their religions, while de-emphasizes the bad qualities. Think of the muted arguments that would take place among such holy men? Threats of eternal damnation and what have you, each trying to one-up the other.

In the end of course, I would have to reject every offer, as none of them would be able to meet my requirements: strict believe in the scientific method, reason and logic, and what can be proved by observable phenomenon. Well, either that or the one where I am all-powerful and everyone worships me.

Why libraries and Sunday schools will be the downfall of society

I free associate when I drive. Driving to a clothing store this morning, I passed a church that was having a flea market in the parking lot. In front of the church was a sign that had the times for worship, as well as the time for Sunday School classes. Sunday school got me thinking about the days when I attended Sunday School, and that in turn got me thinking how it is ironic that I have no religious beliefs (which is a polite way of saying that I am an athiest). This last thought lead me to wonder just why I hold no religious beliefs. Thinking hard, as I pulled the car into a narrow parking space between two massive SUVs, I came up with three reasons. The irony is that the first of the reasons is Sunday School itself.

My transmogrification, or the road to apostacy

Spam of the week

I was forwarded the results of an NBC “poll” this week about whether or not the words “In God We Trust” and “God” belonged in the Pledge of Allegiance. The indigant author of the spam pointed out that NBC had the highest number of responses that they’ve ever had to a poll, with results as follows:

86% in favor of keeping the words “In God We Trust” and “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
14% against.

The instructions in the spam indicated that I was supposed to forward the email on to other people if I agreed with the poll, or delete it if I didn’t.

I decided to write about it here instead.

First of all, either the author of the spam is mistaken, or the poll is wrong. The words “In God We Trust” do not appear in the Pledge of Allegience. They appear on the back of our currency. The word “God” does appear in the Pledge of Allegience, however, in the phrase “One nation, under God…”

The spam goes on to say:

It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a mess about having “In God We Trust” on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegience. Why is the world catering to this 14%?

It is also said that a large percentage of Americans “believe in” U.F.O.’s, and Elvis sightings. Belief alone does not imply proof. In fact, the whole notion of faith is that no proof is necessary, you simply believe. As far as why the “world” is catering to this 14%, I can only ask a few questions:

Why the world? Did the author of the spam mean “nation”?

How is the “world” catering to this 14%? I just pulled my money out of my pocket and I see the words “In God We Trust” on the back of every bill. Last I checked, when most people say the Pledge of Allegience, they still include the word God.

The issue here, the “mess”, as the spam author suggests, has to do with the fact that the first clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Over two centuries of constitutional law have interpretted this clause to mean a “separation of Church and State”, that the state should not in any way interfere with religion, nor should the state be in favor of or sponsor any one religion. Only a narrow look at religion as a whole would indicate that the notion of “God” is part of all religions, when in fact it is not. By included the words “In God We Trust” or other referecnes to “God”, some people see it as the government supporting one form (a Judeo-Christian one at that) of religion over others.

Whatever one’s religious beliefs, the state should not interfere with them, so long as they are not causing harm to others. That is why the 14% are imporant.

It’s my opinion that email like this goes around to support the fragile egos of people who are uncertain of their own faith (or lack thereof) in an effort to gather reinforcement that they are, in fact, right in their beliefs. True faith, I imagine, doesn’t require this kind of second guessing.

Which religion is right for you?

I came across this quiz online. It contained 54 questions about various beliefs, etc. I took it because it thought it would be amusing, not because I beleive these statements actually reflect a set of beliefs. But the results were suprisingly accurate anyway. My results are below. At the bottom, there is a link to take the quiz for anyone who wishes to be similarly amused.

You scored as atheism. You are… an atheist, though you probably already knew this. Also, you probably have several people praying daily for your soul.

Instead of simply being “nonreligious,” atheists strongly believe in the lack of existence of a higher being, or God.



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)
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