My Problem with Your God 5 – The Burden of History

The Bible was written down over a long period of time from a variety of oral sources, sources which a hardly the most reliable foundation for history at the best of times. But God did not begin with the Bible, Old or New Testament. Primitive man may have been monotheistic, believing in a simplistic and solitary sky-god rather than a pantheon of promiscuous phantasms. As humans grew more complex they required a more nuanced understanding of reality, which became fused with ancestral tales passed from one generation to the next, becoming ever more fantastic, provided early cultures and civilisations with a rich tapestry of spirits, demi-gods, city deities, and entire economies of faith. Judaism came from out the deserts of the Near East, bequeathing to Western Civilisation the ‘One True God’, a title which every spurious schismatic sect slaps on its derivative deified delusion. But even in this, even in faith and religion, through the discipline of history, we can perceive an evolution of the illusion of god.

By the time the Jews and their strange theology became a spotlight in the Roman Empire every other culture worshiped many, many gods. The Romans, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, and Celtic peoples possessed pantheons which fitted every niche of society; the Romans had spirits for everything from doorways to docks, from wine to winter. Some monotheistic sects did exist in this world, such as the cult of Atun in Egypt, Zoroastrians in Persia, and the cult of Zeus. The word ‘Zeus’ itself (in Latin rendered as ‘Deus’) literally means ‘god’. The Jews did not invent the one-god concept, and may even have had more than one over the course of their history. The Bible itself suggests that the early Israelites had several gods, one of which was the ‘God’ god. YWHW, the purposefully unpronounceable name of the god that became God, was the son of El, and the patron god of Israel. Going out and meeting the world the people of that particular god met other people with many gods. They may have borrowed the one-god idea from the Atun-cultists during their time in Egypt (where they were probably not slaves but skilled workers). On their way home to the promised land they lost faith in the one-god, and switched it for another while they wandered through the desert, which Moses was rather upset with. Later one group of Israelites would attack another for worshipping ‘Baal’, which was just a title (Lord) for the same god, in a war which essentially extinguish all other branches of the fait; imagine, if you will, if one of the Christian Churches declared was on all the others, and succeeded in annihilating them, and then wrote the history of the world describing themselves as the only true Christians. This monotheistic cult was reinforced when Babylonians and Assyrians kept conquering the people who were supposedly chosen by the one-god. In spite of having had the crap kicked out of them twice by non-believers, it seems that the Israelites decided that their god was not just their god, but also the supreme god of everything. Their reasoning may have been that since their god loved them and they were chosen by ‘Him’, clearly ‘He’ was using the invaders to punish the faithful; it wasn’t that the gods of the invaders were better or that the Israelites couldn’t form a united front to defend themselves. This is an innovation of a conquered people who seek to aggrandise themselves through faith and divide their identity from that of their conqueror. It wasn’t their fault that they lost, nor was it due to the victors’ prowess in battle, it was all part of ‘God’s Plan’. The whole formation of the one-god concept is very complicated and largely lost to time, but at its core it is the ideal that an exclusive club of people are the only ones who know the Truth, and that even though they are not in charge right now, given time, and enough homage to their peculiar fantasy, they will rule and all who oppressed them will be punished. An empty threat that would only work on those who believed in the first place.

Building on this religion of desert nomads and oppressed peoples, the words of a man executed, ironically, by the tools of his trade began a new schismatic cult. Where the Jews of the Roman Empire believed that they would be rewarded on Earth, and that the Messiah was a military leader cast in the mould of King David, the followers of Christ believed in the promise of an afterlife. This is an innovation of capitulation. Many of the early converts were from the lower classes, the poor, and slaves, and so the idea of a reward for their suffering in the kingdom of fantasy was very appealing. These early masochists revelled in the persecutions of Rome; it only proved their worthiness to their chosen fiction. And then Paul of Tarsus opened the gates of heaven to the gentiles and all of a sudden wealthy and decadent Romans could join in on this ‘eternal reward’ gimmick. Jesus’ hippie-esque peaceful protests and sermons of love were soon happily ignore as the One God of the Judeo-Christians found itself a new home in the armies of Rome. The popular cult figure worshipped by Roman soldiers prior to this was that of Sol Invictus, the Invincible Sun, which may have influenced the newly militarised faith of peace. Soon Christ became the official brand of the Empire, and an official doctrine was needed. So a bunch of supposedly pious men got together and decided, with some encouragement from the business end of a Roman sword, what everyone else should believe in. From this we get the Bible, and the Council of Nicaea. This Creed was designed to be, and is seen by the Church as being, a legal document which binds you to the one True Faith. It is not a prayer; it is a contract with God and its representatives on Earth.

Before long the Empire split in half, divided by subsequent emperors between the Greek- and Latin-speaking parts, which also caused a division in the faith. This eventually resulted in the Great Schism, leading to the establishment of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. These two branches of the faith were imperilled by the rise of Islam. Roman Catholicism only really took off with the discovery of America, where it did a very good job of converting the entire population to its version of God’s Word by following the teachings of Jesus and living in his example, by which I mean sycophants and soldiers committed acts of genocide which rivalled the Holocaust. The Catholic Church may not had condoned such actions, nor did it condemn them, a rather ambiguous position for an establishment which sees itself as the arbiter of all morality.

Soon, a new schism arose offering whole new flavours of faith, ranging from the sour and super-strict to the laid-back and lemony. Many of these new Protestant religions were connected intimately with a state or king, so that not paying taxes became a sin, or were based around small independent, quasi-communist communities. Bringing Christianity to Africa became the fashionable thing to do, as Protestants and Catholics fought for the souls of those they would enslave. Christian faith fused with racial theory allowed European and American society to subjugate vast numbers of people it deemed to be in need of guidance and care, in a token of ‘Christian charity’. The teachings of the carpenter found their true home once more in the downtrodden underclass which dreamed of freedom in the afterlife. Not much has changed since then; Rome still dooms Catholic Africa to grotesque torture by allowing the HIV/AIDS pandemic to endure despite the proven effectiveness of prophylactics. Many Christian faiths rabidly oppose homosexuality, a lifestyle which is older that the teachings of Christ, among many other perfectly reasonable ideas, such as evolution, logic, and reason.

If the word of God was True and Immutable surely it wouldn’t have changed much in the last few thousand years. Except that we clearly have several competing versions of this ‘Immutable Truth’. Add to this the fact that the Bible, the container of Truth, comes to us not as a pure source, but as a text which has been copied, amended, edited and altered for the best part of two thousand years. Large parts of it are based on oral accounts, hearsay, and dreams, which is hardly the basis for historical accuracy. Compounding this algal bloom of confusion are the claims of each new version of Christianity which claim a novel interpretation of the teachings of Christ. Each makes claim to the past, espousing a nuanced version of history to prove their validity, or simply ignore reality entirely and accept the Bible as history. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ provides a far more convincing history of the world before the Age of Reason than the Bible, and it’s far less self-contradictory, though much less people die in it, and it was written by one man! Evangelical and Charismatic Churches are a new red tide which threaten to expunge all intelligent life, leaving only stupid life in their wake. Is this all part of God’s plan? Inventing new versions of belief in himself every twenty minutes? If so, does he suffer from ADHD, and can we give him some pills to make him calm down? No, of course not, that would be silly; you wouldn’t give Bambi grief counselling, nor demand Shiva attend therapy for it’s destructive tendencies, nor suggest to Santa that he has some kind of benevolent OCD because, and I cannot stress this enough, they do not exist. And neither does the Judeo-Christian God.

Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam

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