Tag Archives: Bible

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with Realising That There is No God.

When I was young I loved reading about the myths and legends of other peoples; I still do. I was enthralled by the pantheons of the Greeks, Romans, Indians, Norse, Irish, Aztec, Egyptians, and pretty much whoever else I could find. I did prefer the European ones, as the gods they believed in were mostly human. Snake gods and monkey gods were fun, but, even in my youth, I found them a bit unbelievable. The gods of the Europeans were clearly kings and queens, warriors and heroes, concepts I could grasp much more easily, and, with the limited understanding of history a child has, might in some fashion be based on real people and events. But, I was told, they were all myths, all made up by primitive people who didn’t understand the world as we now do. Whoever told me that really shouldn’t have…

In my mind, the gods of the Greeks were just as true as the god of the Christians; they each had complicated histories, heroes and monsters, heaven and hell. In my mind, it was simply that one religion had replaced the other in a contest of popularity, aided by men with pointy bits of steel. I never understood why one was relegated to fantasy while the other was regarded as reality. I was told it was because Hercules and Achilles were not real people, but Jesus and Moses were actual historical figures who lived and breathed, and wandered around a lot. I put aside the myths and became more interested in the Bible because its stories were real, apparently. ‘Why then are there no dinosaurs in the Bible; if it’s true they should be in there somewhere?’ The answer I received was adequate; the old parts of the Bible are made up because when people started writing it they hadn’t discovered dinosaurs yet, and they didn’t know how life began, but the stories are still important. Which appeased me somewhat at the time; I could see how the Bible began like any good polytheist myth, but then, as time moved on it became more real; Greeks, Persians, and Romans started popping up and having wars and such, the places mentioned could be easily found on a map, and people were still fighting in the region, which made the newer bits of the book far more true in my mind.

I should point out that the nation in which I grew up was almost exclusively Catholic, the schools were run by the Church, and the Church had a dominant role in society (things have change somewhat since then, but the Church still wields a great deal of power). A priest used to come to my primary school on a regular basis and quiz us; we learned loads of prayers (which I have long since forgotten), parables from the Bible, and all kinds of other nonsense. I vaguely remember being afraid at my First Confession that I wouldn’t remember all the prayers and curious incantations, which would lead to the priest getting angry at me, and then I’d have to say lots and lots of prayers. I don’t recall ever being afraid of god, just of priests; they were weird and always smelled funny (I later figured out the smell to be incense and sweat). I remember that when we were supposed to say our prayers silently I used to think about other things, and wondered if the other kids were doing the same. I’ve often wondered how many people actually pray when they bow their heads in silence.

By the time Confirmation came around (another of Catholicism’s strange rites of passage) I had serious doubts about the whole Bible thing. Not god so much, I was willing to give that the benefit of the doubt. I had become very interested in physics and history, and these disciplines, while not questioning Christianity outright, were certainly showing me an alternative perspective. Reading about evolution or the Big Bang, no mention of god was made, just of natural selection and elementary particles. Mathematically defined forces had drawn the universe, not some benign deity, and natural selection had led, quite randomly, to the improbable existence of us. Where was god in all of this? I was told all things happen “by his hand”, or some such platitude, but that was not satisfactory. Science didn’t seem to need god to explain the universe, so why did religion? And why was it made so empty? I had begun to notice some small inconsistencies in the Bible too; history books on Egypt never mentioned the flight of the Jews, the kingdom of David, which was a mighty and powerful kingdom in the Bible, was barely a blip in the history of the Near East, and Jesus was hardly noticed by the Romans until Christians started becoming a nuisance long after he died. You’d think that these great empires, and all their historians and annalists, would have noticed these apparently important people and events. The Bible was looking more and more like a myth, and not a very good one at that (also, I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ around this time, and if one man could invent such a detailed world, well, it made me think that whoever wrote the Bible just wasn’t trying that hard). The history of the Church was also troublesome; its issues with Copernicus and Galileo, its oppression of reform, its stranglehold on education. This was looking more and more like an organisation that wanted confine the mind rather than liberate it. And who would want to be a part of that? I had not yet given up on the god thing though.

By the time I began secondary I was left with what, I learned later, is called deism. I reckoned that there might well be a god, but that it was beyond us, outside the universe, outside of understanding. So physics and history didn’t apply. I also thought that Jesus was probably a real guy, but more along the lines of Gandhi, a moral leader, rather than the son of god, and that Christianity, on the whole, was no more or less valid than any other mythology from the ancient world. I had move away from Christianity in general, and had begun to investigate Eastern faiths. I imagine many teenagers do this in some fashion or other. I became quite interested in Zen as it didn’t appear to require a belief in the divine; it was rather more an exploration of the self, and it had a far more positive attitude towards this self than Catholicism. Religion never really came up in this stage of the education system in my school; the one teacher who cared was generally regarded by students as an idiot; even other teachers seemed to shy away from her when she began talk of god and Jesus in her life. I had stopped going to Church, or rather being cajoled into going by my mother, except on special occasions (funerals, weddings, Christmas), so religion was having less and less of a real impact on my life, and I was becoming less and less interested in it. I was thoroughly agnostic. And one day something weird happened; some of my classmates and I happened to talking about something religious at lunchtime, and one of the girls in the class looked utterly baffled. I asked her why, and she said that she didn’t believe in god, and neither did her parents; she was never expected to believe. To me, this was a revelation. I had never thought of it that way; I had remained agnostic because I thought that I should believe in some kind of divine order, I hadn’t realised that simply not believing was an option available to me. Dispensing with deism, which was not difficult as it is the vaguest possible avenue of belief, in an instant I was intellectually free of this god character and the mass delusion.

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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