Personally, I Blame Monotheism For This Freakin’ Mess We’re In

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A monotheist is someone who thinks his imaginary friend can beat the crap out of your imaginary friend. The problem is, the monotheist’s friend isn’t all that “imaginary”. This atheist absolutely accepts the sincerity of all his monotheistic friends (and he has many!) that they believe a creature far larger than themselves created everything. And I know that many of my monotheist friends imagine a God that really does represent love (or, at least, the possibility of love in a universal sense). Alas, as I look around at the world, I don’t see much evidence of theists following the teachings of a loving deity. Instead, I see and hear people who insist that they understand God and what he wants better than you — so you better get out of their way. I see people determined that they’re acting on God’s behalf. Are they? I have doubts…

It starts innocently enough on the believer’s part. They walk into a religious institution’s door filled with questions. It ain’t even remotely innocent on the religious institution’s part. Judaism doesn’t imagine the activist God that Christianity morphed Yahweh into. But, the Apostle Paul’s genius (and this atheist thinks he was a genius precisely because we’re still talking about his work product) was in refashioning Jewish mythology (going back a thousand years by the time Paul started refashioning it) into a whole different thing wherein God offered eternal life in exchange for devout belief. The institutional church also put it into everyone’s head (as part of its teaching) that every non-believer (everyone who doubted the absolute veracity of this mythology) threatened the entire belief structure — and therefore must be eliminated because they’re “heretics”.

Wait, what? How the hell did we get THERE from a loving “God”?

It takes zero dogma to “Do unto others”. To be a good, practicing Catholic? It’s nothing but dogma. That’s because the institutional church — regardless of denominational branding — has turned “Do unto others” into “Do what we say or else”.

This atheist — grateful to Hebrew School for making him the atheist he is today (well, it iced the cake on the atheism with which I dropped from the womb) — considers himself a “Fan O’ Jesus”. Jesus was born lived his whole life and died a Jew who preached only ever to other Jews about Jewish things and in a way that only other Jews understood. Paul (also a Jew) took his version of Jesus (and Paul never met Jesus or heard him teach) to the Gentiles where no one was going to check his work or point out how he was getting either the Jewish mythology or the Jesus mythology all wrong. Because the Gentiles knew nothing about Jewish mythology or Jesus that Paul didn’t tell them.

Thus Paul and the early church fathers began to construct a brand-spanking-new Christian mythology.

When Jews took to monotheism, they were relatively unique. Yahweh (which is really the Canaanite god “El” repurposed and still represented in place names like “Beth-EL” and “IsraEL”) represented a radical shift in how people thought about the divine. Polytheistic gods didn’t really bother themselves with humans or human concerns. Few polytheistic gods had any sort of “personal relationship” with humans in general. Why would they? What could humans do for them? What could they do for humans? Almost nothing.

Monotheism changes that dynamic. Right off the bat, Yahweh tells Abraham to move from Ur (modern day Southern Iraq, where he was from) to modern day Israel (Canaan then) with the promise that the Canaanite’s land was going to be theirs. Because Yahweh said so. Yahweh, unlike any god before, takes a very personal interest in Abraham but only so long as Abraham agrees to believe ONLY in Yahweh.

Think about it… When the Pentateuch’s authors finally wrote down the stories they’d been passing along orally for a thousand years, their monotheistic god didn’t say “Well, you can believe in other gods if you like but that’d be silly since they don’t exist!” Instead, Yahweh is petulant: “You better not believe in any other god!” That’s being competitive where, if Yahweh is the real deal, no competition ever existed; if no other gods made the world then they can’t exist (other than as characters in a story)! That makes Yahweh’s petulance even harder to comprehend. This mighty creature was powerful enough to create literally everything in existence — and out of nothing no less. He should be the epitome of confidence! Instead, like a whiney little bitch, he can’t bear it if his creations don’t toady to him! What kind of bullshit deity is this?

If Yahweh creating everything in existence is a fact of life from the outset, then where would any alternative way of thinking come from? It makes “free will” look like a design flaw since free will can invent bullshit out of nothing — just like Yahweh can. Or, it makes Yahweh look deranged, mercurial, bi-polar and off his meds. Only a human being could invent a deity as horribly neurotic as that.

Hey, this doesn’t mean “God” or god-like being doesn’t exist. Show me proof, I’m there! But, Yahweh (“god” is Yahweh’s job description, not his name) is a piss poor creation. Valdemort makes more sense FFS!

And while we’re on the subject, God — as imagined by way too many monotheists — and Valdemort — have way, way too much in common.

Put aside whether or not a “creator of everything” exists. What monotheism does is put “God” (a character it says is God and describes as God and quotes as God) inside its believers’ heads. “When you ‘pray to God’,” the institutional religion tells its followers, “Or talk to God or think about him and “another voice” answers you, trust that that voice IS “God”.

This is exactly the moment when trouble begins.

The believer now believes that this voice inside his head — the one speaking AS God — IS God. Except, it’s not God. It’s just a voice inside their head — it’s them talking to themselves. And if you can’t show the other side of the conversation in any way, shape or form? Then it’s a one-sided conversation. The other side is not going to reply because it can’t. So any “reply” you attribute to it is you replying and not it. The True Believer swaps themselves with the God character. Therefore, whatever thoughts occur to them are also occurring to God (especially since God, being omnipotent, sees and hears literally everything).

Now the True Believer is thinking like God and for God. Oh, come on already! Whether they know it or not, whether they accept it or not, they’ve made the leap. They may put it “God speaks through me” or “I understand God and what he wants” but the divine entity in their minds is none other than themselves cos-playing as Yahweh.

Think I’m nuts? Watch televangelist Kenneth Copeland explain how life works and tell me Kenny-Boy doesn’t think God’s divine light doesn’t shine from his anointed ass. “Anointed!” That’s code for “I made me God”.

Part of the institutional church’s genius (an extension of Paul’s) is their insistence that believers need the church in order to have a relationship with God. Unfortunately that contradicts one of Jesus’s core teachings — that no one needs a corrupt temple or its corrupt priests (even if they’re priests working for a corrupt church) in order to speak to “the father”. But, hey — that’s just Jesus talking and what does that effin’ hippie know, right?

Monotheism concentrates the power of the universe in one place and in one “brain” — “God’s”. That would be okay if everyone had a truly uniform idea of what “God” is. That’s a literal impossibility. Every human experiences Life in their own personal way as Life filters through their brain. Ask ten theists what God is and you will get ten different answers. That’s not because God can be “anything” (isn’t that a neat trick!), it’s because the idea of God can be anything.

Put that kind of “power” inside a flawed human mind and it’s a stone cold guarantee that only bad shit will ever happen. The history of human beings and their religious beliefs says so.

The Dangerous Arrogance Of Monotheism

Had God really created humans – and not the other way around – he surely would have done a better job.  It takes a human being to invent a creator so neurotic he can’t content himself with HAVING created everything, he needs one of his creations – us – to praise him relentlessly for having done it – and then for  every other little thing he does – like a three year old who needs the endless stroking just to master toilet training.  To be fair then, it’s not God’s fault he is the way he is – petulant, jealous, irrational, inconsistent and homicidal.   It’s ours since we’re the ones who invented Yahweh.

That’s the Biblical “God’s” name: “Yahweh.  It’s not “God” – god is Yahweh’s job description as in, “Say, what does that Yahweh guy do for a living anyway?  Surely he doesn’t really think he’s a god!”   Ah, but Yahweh does think he’s a god – and we’re the ones who put that notion into his head. 

The writer Karen Armstrong spent seven years as a Roman Catholic nun before leaving her order and becoming one of the foremost writers on religion in the world.  She now teaches at the Leo Baeck College For The Study of Judaism and The Training Of Rabbis and is an honorary member of the Association of Muslim Social Sciences.  Her religion bona fides are rock solid.  In A History Of God, Armstrong writes about her experience as an eight year old trying to wrap her mind around the whole idea of “God”. 

“Hell,” she writes, was something she “could grasp imaginatively.”  God, on the other hand, was “a somewhat shadowy figure, defined in intellectual abstractions.”  At eight, she had to memorize the catechism question “What is God?” with the answer first drawn up in the Nicene Creed in 345 AD: “God is the Supreme Spirit, who alone exists of Himself and is infinite in all perfections.”  As the adult Armstrong puts it, that definition left her cold then and leaves her even colder now: “It has always seemed a singularly arid, pompous and arrogant definition.”

Arrogance and monotheism.  They go hand in hand like Adam and Eve. 

Human beings have probably been creating gods as long as they’ve been aware enough to think; the gods filled in the gaps in their limited knowledge base.  The gods’ existence explained why the world “was” to begin with and why it worked the way it did.  Armstrong points out that when “people began to devise their myths and worship their gods, they were not seeking a literal explanation for natural phenomena.  The symbolic stories, cave paintings and carvings were an attempt to express their wonder and to link this pervasive mystery with their own lives…”.

The polytheistic pantheon didn’t present a gulf between human beings and the gods.  In fact, in most polytheistic visions of the world, “…men, women and the gods themselves all shared the same nature and derived from the same divine substance.  The pagan vision was holistic. The gods were not shut off from the human race… divinity was not essentially different from humanity.  There was thus no need for a special revelation of the gods or for a divine law to descend to earth from on high.”

We like to think of monotheism as an evolutionary improvement upon polytheism – as if, by finally boiling the divine pantheon down to just one god, humans made some great intellectual leap forward.  That’s such a monotheistic way to think.

My Hebrew School teacher Henry Hyman taught me that the Biblical texts are works of culture and religion; they are in no way historical texts though they do reflect history.  A lot of Jews – if you ask them “who wrote the Pentateuch?” will answer “Why, Moses did!”  No, Moses did not write the Old Testament.  He didn’t write anything as far as we know because, as far as we know, he never wrote anything down.  There is nothing whatsoever in the archaeological record that even hints an actual “Moses” existed. There’s nothing whatsoever in Egyptian records (and, in the ancient world, they were among the best) that aligns with the Exodus story. You’d think losing a Pharaoh and his army to such amazing supernatural means would appear somewhere. It doesn’t. That’s the problem when you don’t write things down. It’s hard to believe you actually had the experience. Also, if you don’t write things down, it’s hard to make a case for you being a writer of anything — like the Torah.

Here’s a rough timeline for how we got from polytheism to monotheism and then formal, written-down monotheism:

1850 BCE: a person we now refer to as “Abraham” leaves Ur (in what is now Iraq) and settles to the west in Canaan.  The story passed down that he did it because Yahweh told him to. Per Armstrong: “We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean.” 

1200 BCE: the wave of Hebrews who’d emigrated to Egypt during a severe famine in Canaan return from Egypt contending they’d been enslaved while there.  They claim to have been liberated by a deity called Yahweh, the god of their leader Moses. Note: By now, these stories have existed in oral form only (as far as we know) for hundreds of years with zero reliable continuity from teller to teller (never mind generation to generation, decade to decade or century to century).

700 BCE: Over a thousand years of history FINALLY gets written down.  Contemporary thinking remains in general agreement about WHO finally committed a millennium of folk traditions to scroll and ink: Biblical author “J” gets down to work in the southern Kingdom of Judah) while “E” starts writing in the northern Kingdom of Israel.  Right off the bat, there are significant differences in how each writer conceived of and wrote about Yahweh. “J” referred to the character as “Yahweh” while “E” used the title ‘Elohim’ as the deity’s name.  One stays “familiar”, polytheist style, while the other uses not Yahweh’s name but a high honorific. Two different people give us two different Yahwehs — right in the cult of Yahweh’s founding documents. Oy.

400 BCE: The accumulated religious texts, collected over the course of three hundred years, are collated into the final text of what we now call “The Pentateuch” — The Five Books Of Moses. The Old Testament.

When “P”, the next recognized authorial voice arrives at about this time, he makes some important distinctions and “clarifications”.  P is likely responsible for “In the beginning” as we now know it.  This version of Yahweh has big plans for human beings – and for Abraham in particular.  P is busily shaping the narrative to suit an evolving concept.

Armstrong asks: “Did Abraham worship the same God as Moses or did he know him by a different name?”  Hell – was Abraham even really a monotheist never mind the first monotheist? “Israelite religion was pragmatic and les concerned with the kind of speculative detail that would worry us” says Armstrong, “Yet we should not assume that either Abraham or Moses believed in their God as we do today.”  It’s probably more likely that the early Jewish patriarchs were pagans who shared many of the religious beliefs of their neighbors in Canaan.  Armstrong points to the strong likelihood that Abraham’s Yahweh was El, the High God of Canaan, dressed up a little and repurposed.  Among the clues: Yahweh introduces himself to Abraham as “El Shaddai” – El of the Mountain – and his name is preserved in such Hebrew names as “Isra-EL” and “Ishma-EL”. 

But, even the way the characters relate to Yahweh is telling.  “Abraham and Jacob both put their faith in El because he worked for them: they did not sit down and prove that he existed; El was not a philosophical abstraction… pragmatism would always be a factor in the history of God.  People would continue to adopt a particular conception of the divine because it worked for them, not because it was scientifically or philosophically sound.”

Armstrong nails it right there – people accept the divine because “it works for them” and not because it actually “works” as an explanation.

Ask any two theists (for example, Biblical authors “J” and “E”) to describe their vision of Yahweh and the odds are pretty much certain you’ll get two different visions.  Theists will quickly point out either that no one can really “know” God or that God appears in very individual ways to individual people.  It must be good to have one’s cake and get to eat it too.  That “having it both ways” is easy when you never have to show your work. Or actually pin down your “God” character to consistent specifics. 

But, having it both ways is how theists roll.  They can and do revise Yahweh on the fly.  They can hang any attribute they want on Yahweh without fear of contradiction.  Yahweh is whatever his individual believers believe he is. Who are we to contradict them?

And, if Yahweh chooses to speak through them (and not, say, YOU), that’s simply because Yahweh works in mysterious ways. 

Ironically, the first Christians were thought of as atheists by the Romans because they were so vocal in their rejection of the Romans’ pantheon of gods in favor of Yahweh, a god the Romans didn’t believe in.  The Romans put up with the Jews – who more passively believed in their monotheistic deity.  Paul’s mission to spread the religion he was inventing with each Epistle – sharing the good news that Jesus rose from the dead – was harder for the Romans to ignore. 

Paul’s genius was to supercharge Jewish monotheism.  Not only did this deity personally make human beings from a mix of the divine & actual dirt – using himself as the design prototype – this deity was involved in his human creations on a quotidian basis.  In fact, Paul’s version of Yahweh was so involved, he was offering up a way for every human being to beat the thing that scared them most of all: dying.  How’s that for a deity!  And all anyone had to do was believe in the version of Jesus that he, Paul, was creating for the Gentiles (the Jews in Palestine, including Jesus’ family, having rejected it as nonsense). 

That is why Paul went to the Gentiles to invent Christianity – his tweaked version of Jewish mythology (tweaked so that Jesus would fit right into the mythology) didn’t conform to the Jews’ version — which they told him, pointedly.  So, off Paul went to make up his own. Out in the Gentile world, Paul’s inventions played far, far better. There was no one to say “Hey, wait a minute! Jesus never said that!

Now, let’s track monotheism’s progress from this point forward.  The Jews – their temple now destroyed for good – pretty much do nothing with Yahweh other than pray to him as his official “chosen people”.  A lot of good that does the Jews.  Mighty as Yahweh is — parting oceans is no small feat — he can’t seem to get a simple temple to himself rebuilt. And being Yahweh’s “Chosen People” turns out to be not just a headache but a full bore migraine. Though they “invented” the idea of monotheism, all the other monotheists declare open war on the Jews.  Go figure.

By the time Paul and the early church fathers get done with Yahweh, he’s a different deity altogether.  He’s become completely bi-polar.  One moment, he’s the angry, Canaanite El of old, the next he’s knocking up a virgin (like a horny Greek Satyr) so that his sprog can die for humanity’s sins.  Jesus – the guy preaching “Do unto others” and “Suffer the little children” and “The meek shall inherit the earth” – has zero place in Paul’s creation aside from being a kind of Jesus McChristian mascot.  Come for the “Do Unto Others” but stay for the “Beat Death”.   

The Lord Our God, father of Jesus has plans but people will have to believe if those plans are ever going to get realized.  Though Jesus specifically advocated against his followers joining a religious institution (he taught “speak directly to God”), Paul had no such compunction about churches because his success depended on having them, Jesus be damned! 

There’s that monotheistic arrogance for you! 

Already, “Do unto others” has become “Do what Paul says” and once Paul’s ideas become the church’s, it’s full on “Do what we say”.   Paul never, EVER speaks for Jesus.  The Yahweh he’s speaking for is entirely of his own making, too.  That — Paul’s vision — is the church that arises from this construction. Soon enough, a formalized, “catholic” church emerges. The Catholic Church early on put its stamp on “what God is” when they collectively created The Mycene Creed in 325. When Catholics recite their catechism, they’re uttering some version of this creed.  The church is telling each and every believer what ITS version of God is, never mind their “personal perceptions”.

Though Jesus would have you speak to God directly, “his church” says, “no, ask us first”.  But then, Jesus didn’t seem to suffer from the arrogance of monotheism.  He may be the one “Christian” ever who didn’t.