Wednesday, October 24, 2012

El Shaddai Fhtagn*

Fair warning, darlings. Uncle Jeremy is feeling facetious today. This, naturally, is the worst mood for a vindictive opinionated writer to be in when, say, going off on the faults in religion. Three guesses what we're talking about today, and the first two don't count…

For those that are just tuning in: I like religion and spirituality, I hate the use of religion in place of critical thinking, and I especially hate it when a deity is used to justify bad things done in the name of religion. Got all that? Sweet. Now, let's tuck into this right quick. For the first time, I am unashamedly going to fire all cannons at Christian fanatics. Note that last word, before the lynch mob forms: fanatics.

There are those Christians who have the seeming unshakeable belief that their God is the final end of all things. Nothing done in his name can be wrong, for these people. From them, we get the current assault on women's rights. We get an entire faction of political and social life that revolves around creating a theocracy. We have the suppression of rights for LGBT individuals. We have theological discussion championed as science. I can't turn on my radio or TV without finding some way that Christian fanaticism is hurting the world somewhere, someway, however small.

This is not to say that I dislike Christianity. Let's be very clear on that: I like the ideals espoused by the various branches of Christianity that I'm aware of. It's the extremes that some of the religion's practitioners will and can go to, in the name of the religion, that offend me. 

So far, this is all par for the course for me, right? Like the religion, wish people practiced it, blah-blah-blah. But here's the thing: in pure function the Christian God, as defined by the fanatics closely resembles a Lovecraftian horror.

Oh, yes. I now postulate that if all the various positions on God are true, he's the entire Cthulhu mythos in a box. With ribbons.

How do I get there from pretty paintings by Michelangelo? Well, let's look at this: first up, the power level postulated. 

The Christian god is defined as omnipotent. That means nothing is impossible, there is no force more powerful, that's it, the end. But! An omnipotent being could still be beneficent. After all, the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely" refers to humans

We flawed creatures, given the power to do absolutely anything at will, would make a massive mess of things. No living being can even imagine having that much power, much less what could be done with it. We'd have to apply that insane amount of juice within our scope of experience. And that would be horrible.

A deity with absolute power, on the other hand, would have a much wider scope of experience, and would technically be born/created with or have always had that sort of power. So it would not necessarily corrupt such a being, and would allow for a sphere of responsibility that could make a decent god.

But then we slide a little closer to H.P.'s ol' fish. The Christian god is also omniscient. On the one hand, this makes for an infinite scope of experience. On the other hand, this being literally knows everything all at once. There's no concept of time because everything is now. There's no concept of individualism beyond what that being chooses to perceive. 

And while yes, this being could know and perhaps understand human emotion, the problem is that this being also knows what it feels like to be a sun. Or a planet. Or a black hole. Or a worm, an ant, a speck of dirt, a dinosaur, a flame, a drop of water, a deluge, a hurricane, the Coriolis spiral in a bathtub drain…

And without a sense of time, if all of existence is one moment of pure knowledge for this being, then it is all those at once. Oh, and it's also all powerful. That's so far beyond human understanding as to be outside the realm of analogy. We quite frankly don't have words to describe this being's existence. But this is still within the realms of the loving being described by Christians. Such a being could, conceivably, use its awesome power and knowledge in ways unknown and unknowable to show love for creatures it created.

But wait. There's more. 

See, this god is also omnipresent. Everywhere, in all places and things, at all times. So, to recap: this god has the power to do anything; it knows all things in existence at all times simultaneously; and it inhabits reality perfectly, permeating it entirely from the moments when all the universe was an infinitely dense point, to the final moments when it will be a frozen wasteland.

It could still be beneficent, however. This is not a total loss. Such a being could have perfect understanding, could love its creations. After all, such a being would know us perfectly, inhabit us totally, and have absolute power in our lives. 

Yeah…problem is, once we get outside pure theory, there's supposedly this one book and an assload of historical precedent for what this being is supposed to be all about. A God-o-pedia, if you will. 

S'called the BIble. Heard of it?

Sweet! So when this absolutely infallible rulebook is interpreted to give the foundations for modern Christianity, it gets ugly.

If the Bible is absolutely correct, if the dogma of the Catholic Church (it's the oldest Christian denomination standing. Bite me.) is true, everything that ever happened, is happening, and could happen is all one eternal moment of existence for this being, right? 

Including, I don't know, the War of Heaven and the Fall of Mankind? 

And there it is. There's the problem right on the nose. If God's word is infallible, if the Bible is a solid source of information about what God wants and the actions taken, if it can be interpreted correctly to allow for man to judge man and to make causing harm in the name of righteousness acceptable…then we have a seriously malicious bastard on our hands.

Think about it: That war kicked off because an angel didn't want mankind put ahead of his kind. Mankind's fall was possible because that angel was deliberately given the explicit power to go on day-trips out of his maximum security prison. A fall that was only possible for that creature to bring about because an omnipotent being told a pair of brand new creatures that they weren't to do something just because.

What? They were warned? No, not really.

Here's the Douay-Rhiems on the subject:

But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.
Genesis 2:17

Anyone that wants to complain about my textual choices: the Douay is the (chronologically and linguistically) closest translation to the original Aramaic without speaking Latin or Greek. So I neither know nor care what you KJV says. This is the closest to the freaking source, so it's what I'm using.

So, quick point then: when did the subject of death come up? I mean, we've got one guy that was brought to life from a pile of dirt, and a chick that was formed from one of his bones. They don't have any knowledge whatsoever of reality beyond the extremely limited perceptions of their existence. Children in all but form.

Children don't understand death. 

That warning was as meaningless as saying: "if you eat that, you'll flibberty-wob." The only way to know why they shouldn't have eaten it in the first place was to eat it. Worse, the idea of consequences wasn't present either. If that tree was the only way in the whole world to learn the distinction between good and evil, that means those two suckers didn't have a concept of "bad." Everything that had ever happened to them was pleasant. Every other being and creature they met was pleasant. How the hell are they supposed to know that something bad can happen if they do something stupid if they have no idea what bad and stupid are?

Ahh, some would nod meaningfully, but it's a test of obedience. And if there's a stick, you can't decide if someone is obeying because they want to or because they're afraid of the stick.

Couple problems: a stick was provided, they just had no way to know it was a stick. Two, you've met one intelligent being. You have no concepts for anything beyond love and pleasant outcomes. Obedience is guaranteed, because if you have no idea what bad is, no concepts of greed or envy, or lust, or power, then there's no reason to do what the nice Deity asked you not to do.

Unless, of course, you meet the second ever intelligent being in your whole existence. And that being actually gives you a somewhat intelligible reason why you should.

Remember the bit where the first poor sap to tell this all powerful being "no" got to go live in a festering hole of a maximum security prison? Remember the bit where he gets day-trips?

Now, also hold in your mind that these people have no reason to distrust a talking snake. They don't know what betrayal is, can't fathom lies, and think of God as an awesome big bro type guy that gives them good things all the time because he can.

For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as  Gods, knowing good and evil.
Genesis 3:5

So…basically, we eat this, and we become like that awesome person that we love so much? And we could maybe, I don't know, give him some great stuff like he gives us?

Yeah. That's pretty much what that looks like. The only being in existence that knows what's going on, knows how to lie, and has the freedom to get to the brand new species that has no concept of anything bad or wrong, "somehow" gets to them and casually mentions they could be like their big brother, and all they have to do is the only thing he asked them not to. Which they don't have a reason for not doing anymore at that point, since they don't know what "betrayal" or "disobedience" mean.

Ah, but sure, this is all free will, right? Stepping back, letting people choose their own path…sure.

In this vein, please feel free to let your toddlers play with lit candles, or out on the highway, because they're free to choose. Why wouldn't we do that? Ohhh, right, because we know that the only way to exercise free will is to know what the choices are. 

So…where does this leave us? Well…basically, God punished an entire race, for doing something they couldn't understand, at the behest of the only evil creature in the universe, who can only leave his prison because God lets him. And who, by the way, rebelled in the first place because of those beings he helped destroy.

That would seem to be a fairly high benchmark for malice. All the horrible things that happen to humans, according to Christians, goes back to there. 

All the times the Bible has been applied absolutely, all the times that a fanatic Christian says, "X is wrong, and should never happen, no matter who gets hurt, because God loves us"? 

Those all stem from the basic principle that the original sin stained us somehow, and therefore inclines us to sin. 

Sounds at this point like I'm taking on the whole religion, no? Here's the catch: Jesus showed up. And spent three years telling everyone he could get to listen to him that the key to life, the universe, and everything was to love everyone, judge no-one, get through life being nice to people and doing the best you can to obey the basic rules. 

And then knowing it was going to happen was betrayed by a close friend to a bunch of royal bastards that tortured him, and then killed him in the most painful means available to them. Which he took on the chin because he was the only sacrifice big enough to appease God for the bullshit scenario that put mankind in the hole in the first place. 

That's it. That's the whole sum total of what it means to be Christ-like. Love, peace, helping others by any means available, and acceptance of everyone, knowing that if anything goes wonky the all powerful deity will catch things up on the backswing.

All this other stuff? Protecting the world from sinners, stamping out sinful things through legislation, protecting your fellow man from even the ability to sin by voting to have his free will curtailed? Choosing to interpret the Bible to say that you can hate gays and hold women to unreasonable ancient laws, but still watch football on Sundays and not be killed if you want to have an affair?

That's where God becomes Cthulhu. Because even if all of this is some strange attempt to just allow a race to determine their own course, none of that crap is in the playbook. None of that applies. We're supposed to follow precepts of love, to live in the image of a God claiming to be loving.

So, the question to take away here is: which is it? 

Is God a malicious eldritch abomination that is essentially toying with beings that are suffering because it amuses it?

Is God a being of love just trying to let his kids grow up, and the entirety of human history is one long "this is why you don't play with matches;" and if that's true, how can you justify hurting and judging others in the name of a being that explicitly told you to do neither?

Is God a chessmaster, playing out the moves all at once to reach an unknowable "perfect" outcome? And again, if so, why choose to interpret what is claimed to be his rulebook to say that you should do things the namesake of your religion told you not to? Wouldn't playing outside the rules sort of invalidate the game?

And finally, the one that most will both agree and disagree with, is God everything he's claimed to be, and you're right in interpreting his word to allow you to simultaneously claim the salvation offered by his Son, while emulating the behavior of the Father in the old testament?

That last? That's the scariest. Because if that's correct, then the statement "made in his image" is absolutely correct in every particular. And this world we've built? This is heaven. After all, if God is just like us, only more powerful in every respect…then there's nothing but more of this on a larger scale waiting when we kick it. 

It would mean that this horrible little world we're trying to make better is heaven in miniature, with fewer special effects and dead people. And frankly, the thought that God is a really big human and "perfection" simply means "encompassing all that it is to be human" is the worst possible outcome to me. 

I'd honestly sleep better at night knowing Cthulhu's more powerful twin was watching me and dreaming of how my soul will taste than knowing that the most powerful force in all reality…

…is just like us in every way.


*Rough translation: God Almighty Dreams

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