If you don’t know who Kenneth Copeland is, you should. Kenneth Copeland is the poster boy for why monotheism is dangerous.
Ken’s a televangelist and a big fan of the “prosperity gospel”. He preaches that contrary to what Jesus actually said about money and how corrupting it is, “true believers” like Ken owe it to themselves to get filthy, stinking rich. Still, ya gotta give guys like Ken their due. That’s quite an imaginative leap to get from “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” to a an actual rich man like Ken buying the kingdom of God out from under God because Ken is richer than God. That’s just one measly example of how easy it is in the religion biz to take something that clearly means one thing and make it mean its diametric opposite. As moored as monotheism seems to a concrete “God”, its god is never in fact made of concrete.
What a luxury it is to have such a fluid, malleable deity that each human can make God in their very own image – which is exactly what every theist does (by design). What’s the alternative? Imagine God in someone else’s image – like the guy praying across from you? Look, I honestly don’t care what anyone else believes so long as it doesn’t “get on me”. But, make your crazy belief system my problem (by, say, legislating it) and then, yeah – I’m going to take issue with you AND your deity. Especially when you think you ARE the deity.
Whose voice is it really that fills a believer’s head when a believer surrenders themselves to God? Does God (or Jesus) really “want” Ken Copeland to fly private rather than commercial? I doubt God or Jesus actually give a flying eff. But, Kenny C sure does – and he believes down to his mitochondria that it’s not him insisting that he treat himself like God, it’s God!
Except it ain’t.
Ask ten people who believe in God what God is and you’ll get ten different answers especially if those ten people run the gamut from Reform Jews to lapsed Catholics to FLDS Mormons to Wahabist Muslims. “God” can cover a lot of territory, plenty of it outright contradictory. Theists point to this fluidity as evidence of God’s transcendence. He can be all things to all people. So can a finger painting. The Lord may work in mysterious ways but if he’d just stay on his meds maybe he’d get a handle on that.
Guys like Kenny Copeland and Benny Hinn and Joel O’Steen and TD Jakes and David Oyedepo and Pat Roberson and Jesse Duplantis and Creflo Dollar do not for two seconds believe IN God. But they all – every one of them – believe they ARE God. Take that to the bank and prepare to get richer than a televangelist.
Monotheism is dangerous — far more dangerous than polytheism — and far, FAR more dangerous than atheism. Let’s be clear: there have been atheistic despots (Pol Pot comes to mind). But, atheistic as they may have been, it was never their atheism driving their heinous cruelty because atheism doesn’t work like theism does inside our minds. For starters, atheism is entirely undogmatic. There’s no institution to create rules for adherents to follow — the whole basis for dogma. Simply put, there’s no institution and certainly no institution telling atheists how to think in order to demonstrate how “religiously” atheistic they are. Dogma is like a suit of armor around the religionista, protecting their delicate sensibilities from the harsh cruelties of the real world. Religion only works if a follower is willing to suspend all critical thinking; they must accept without question the institution’s interpretation of the world and human purpose within it. And all that purpose is directed, the religious believe, by an actual being named Yahweh.
Or do they? If you asked the average religionista how they feel about Yahweh and they’d stare back vaguely. How do they feel about who now? That’s because most religious people haven’t actually read any of the texts they supposedly base their lives on. They certainly haven’t approached their spirituality with an ounce of curiosity. That’s a large clue as to what they’re thinking. Or not thinking as is the case. In their defense, a lot of people cling to their religion because it was introduced to them when they were kids. The fear buttons pushed then to set the God hook deeply stayed pushed. Even rational people can be intensely irrational given a certain subject matter particular to them.
And what of the deity — or, rather the idea of “the deity” — that set in their heads when the idea was introduced to them in childhood? Even kids (like mine) raised in an entirely non-religious household have to confront religion because American society has been so “religionized” by the religionistas among us. This morning, for instance, a unanimous (but narrowly focused) decision allows Catholic Family Services of Philadelphia to continue discriminating against LGBTQ couples in its adoption business. The God of the Religious Right knows what he likes but even more what he hates apparently.
How exactly, I wonder, do the religious arrive at their conclusion that God doesn’t want them adopting children needing love and a family to loving families just because those families aren’t “traditional”? I suspect they pulled such a thing from their asses. The Jewish Pentateuch took more than a thousand years to come together; it memorialized longstanding tribal mythologies and beliefs. But, even as they practiced their faith, Jews questioned their faith because acceptance of dogmatism just isn’t how Jews roll. In point of fact, Jews are more a culture than a religion. We may have begun life as a religion but fifteen hundred years of forced isolation in Europe forced Jews to invent a culture unto themselves. That’s one reason why Jewish culture endures even as more Jews become less religious. Irreligion is not a deal breaker. You don’t stop being Jewish just because you practice another faith. Ask the rest of the world. They’ll tell you: once a Jew, always a Jew.
The religious put on quite a show when they want to demonstrate their fealty to Yahweh. That’s because Yahweh — Creator of the Whole Universe and Everything In It” demands fealty, neurotic psychopath that he is. In Yahweh’s defense, he’s not a terribly original creation and the first Jews didn’t really make Yahweh their one and only god for a long, long time. He probably had reason to feel defensive. Whoever the original Abraham character was — the tribal chieftain who migrated his extended family from modern day Iraq (where he came from — so the book says) to modern-day Israel where he and his family co-existed with the Canaanites whose god El, these transplants from the East seem to have liked. They must have liked El because they embedded El’s name in so many places that endured even after the Canaanites were long gone: Beth-EL for instance or IsraEL.
What it all demonstrates is who invented whom. Yahweh didn’t invent anyone. The Hebrews — borrowing from the Canaanites — invented Yahweh a/k/a “God”.
Now, keep in mind, almost no one who claims to believe in God knows anything about this. If you told them, they’d shake their head in disapproval. They’d insist that they know God exists because they have a personal relationship with him (in fact, they’re quite sure this cosmic force is a “him”). I bet it’s not too far removed from the personal relationship they have with the person who stares back at them from the bathroom mirror. I bet, if we could be there in the room there with most of them, they wouldn’t give Yahweh or God or anyone not there in the room with them the time of day. Much more real to them — the face staring back from the mirror.
And much more real? The voice that speaks as they gaze at themselves. That, really, is the “voice of God”. For some people, that would be a profoundly discomfiting revelation. For the deeply religious, it’s the voice’s “familiarity” that appeals. The voice of God sounds good in their heads. It won’t matter to them how it plays in our heads.