Profiles In Monotheism & Madness: Kenneth Copeland

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.

Michael Flynn Is The Poster Boy For Why Monotheism Is Dangerous

Michael Flynn speaks during a protest of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election outside the Supreme Court on December 12, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Ever notice how it’s never Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Native Americans or anyone other than Christians who think their religion should be the only religion practiced in America? What is it exactly about Christianity — okay, American Christianity — that makes it so easily taken in by megalomaniacs like Jim Jones and David Koresh and a thousand other mostly men who insist they are “God’s messenger” (and you better effiin’ listen to what they say!)? What makes a guy like Michael Flynn say out loud that America should have only one religion: his? What in his religious instruction when he was growing up made him equate “Do unto others” with “Do what I say or else?” How does a loving god become an authoritarian monster? Spoiler alert: it’s how monotheism works. Loving people having loving “God’s” inside their heads. Racist authoritarians have racist, authoritarian gods inside theirs.

Guess who’s better at imposing their god on other people — because that’s what their version of God is telling them too do? Hint — loving Gods don’t ever have to “impose” anything on anyone; they wait for people to come to them. So, it will always be the monotheist with the darker version of God who does the better job of marketing and spreading his version because that’s what his version is telling him to do (while the loving God’s followers preach patience — admirable but time consuming). The whole idea of forced conversion is ludicrous of course. If you have to force belief on someone? That’s probably because what YOU believe isn’t all that believable.

Polytheism itself didn’t produce empires the way monotheism produced the Holy Roman Empire. That’s not a coincidence. Polytheism by its nature diffuses divine power. There may be a “head deity” like a Zeus or Odin but they control the other gods mostly. Humans are incidental to their existence, not its focus. Monotheism flipped that on its head. Now, for reference sake, we should note that the Romans regarded Christians — who didn’t believe in the Roman gods — as atheists. For real! “Atheism”, ya see, is kinda relative. Judaism may have put monotheism on the map, but it was Christianity that took monotheism wide. Following Gods laws was the point of the exercise, not spreading them to people who didn’t believe already. That’s one of the reasons Jews don’t proselytize. In our heads, you have to come to God (or be born into the tribe); there’s no “good news” to spread.

And that “good news” — that’s the whole thrust of Christianity. It’s Paul’s true genius (and Paul invented Christianity, “Jesus” did not). Paul wove a thousand years of conflicting Jewish messiah mythology into a brand new religion that took monotheism itself to a brand new place. While polytheistic gods offered individual humans nothing in return for believing in them, the Hebrews’ Yahweh (itself a distillation of the Canaanite god El) took a personal interest in humans because, for starters, he created them and they epitomized him. Humans were a not-quite-exact-but-close-enough image of God himself. Somehow though, this perfect God creates a creature that can’t even remember who created it. Next thing ya know, these stupid creatures think there are thousands of gods!

In Genesis, Yahweh tells Abraham “Believe in me and me alone and I will make of you a great nation!” Think about that. A deity capable of creating literally everything has to negotiate with something he’s created just to get them to believe in him! But that’s part of what made monotheism so attractive — there’s only one deity and he’s emotionally fragile. And fluid. You can make of this deity what you like. The Apostle Paul clearly understood that. Remember: Paul traveled outside the teeny-tiny world of Judea and Samaria. Jesus (Joshua ben Joseph is how he thought of himself) — a guy Paul never met in the flesh — did not. Jesus was born, lived his entire life and died a Jew. He thought Jewish thoughts and taught Jewish lessons to other Jews who understood all his Jewish references and concepts.

When Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul, it’s because of a vision he has — INSIDE HIS OWN HEAD. He goes to Jerusalem and tries to sell that vision but gets rejected: by the people who knew Joshua ben Joseph personally and who had actually heard him. They reject Paul out of hand because, well, he wasn’t describing the real Joshua ben Joseph, Paul was describing an imaginary character that he himself had created: Jesus, the Christ. And Paul’s version of Jesus did something the real Joshua ben Joseph most certainly did not: he defeated death.

That’s it. That’s Paul’s whole sales pitch in a nutshell — and it’s genius. In a world where gods did nothing for human beings, Paul offered a deity who cared so much about individual humans that he 1) had a son who 2) died for their “sins” and 3) if they believed in him exactly the way they were told to, then 4) just like Jesus, they, too, could live forever! in a magical after life called “heaven”. Of course, if they didn’t accept “the good news”, they would absolutely go to another place Paul and the early church fathers invented: “hell”.

Jesus preached that one didn’t need the corrupt temple or its corrupt priests in order to have a relationship with God. Paul couldn’t preach that because it would cut him out of the relationship. So Paul inserted the very same corrupt temple and priests that Jesus had railed against. In place of a simple one-on-one relationship, Paul inserted complexity over-brimming with dogma. He also created a hierarchy where a direct relationship between human and God was impossible! It required training — or maybe just being “special” — to understand God.

Even the Catholic Church couldn’t always agree with itself what God wanted. During the 14th century, there were two Popes for a while (actually, for a short while there were actually three Popes!) Martin Luther didn’t agree with anything about the Catholic church. I wonder — has anyone ever tried to figure out exactly how many humans died because they disagreed about whether God was a Protestant or a Catholic? Or a Muslim?

Quick reminder: Jews don’t kill other people because they don’t believe in the exact same version of God. Israel’s Palestinian problems are all entirely political, not religious. Their solutions will be entirely political — not religious.

Guys like Michael Flynn are nothing new to non-Christians. Every evangelical is just as threatening because of utter nonsense they accept as “gospel truth”. Remember — in an evangelical’s head, all the Jews have to die in order for the evangelicals to get their final reward. Thanks anyway, fellahs! But, here’s the thing — if we were to sit down with Mike Flynn and go deep into his religious beliefs, we’d get to that place where Flynn has fused his ideas of God with the fact that he “hears God’s voice in his head”, telling him “do this” or “do that”.

When Flynn then “does this” or “does that”? Who does Flynn think he’s doing it for? Himself? He may insist that, no, he’s doing it for God but unless we can see or hear the other side of that conversation for ourselves? Sorry, Mike — that’s just you talking to yourself, telling yourself what you think “God” says. Take this to the bank and anticipate getting richer than rich: people like Michael Flynn have completely swapped their own sense of self for whatever they think “God” is. When they speak for God, they speak AS God.

And that’s because, really, they ARE God.

To be fair, this doesn’t happen inside every monotheist’s head. It doesn’t have to for it to be dangerous. But a monotheist who insists he speaks for God will always be able to sway plenty of other monotheists to go along because that dynamic version of God sounds more appealing than they’re undynamic version. And, so, off they go — a mutually agreed upon version of God in their heads — to attack people whose version of God isn’t the mutually agreed upon version.

Michael Flynn believes that his version of God (and that God’s “religion”) should be the only version of God and religion here in America. Hey, so does Steve Bannon. So does every single Republican member of Congress who calls him or herself “Christian”. They must feel that way about God because that’s how they act. To reiterate: a loving god doesn’t need to be shoved down peoples’ throats.

An angry god, on the other hand, relishes that form of delivery. Take Michael Flynn’s word for it.

I Am Sick To Death Of People Who Literally Think They’re God

Personally, I blame monotheism.

We’ve got it in our heads that monotheism was a positive evolutionary step forward from polytheism. That is, “people who believe there’s only one sky deity are more advanced in their thinking than people who think there are more than one sky deity”. Can I tell ya? From an atheist’s POV? Less of the wrong idea isn’t really an improvement over more of the wrong idea — or vice versa. When looking around at the world and wondering where did this all come from and what is the point of it all, different people in different parts of the world answered those questions differently. In their defense, they were all working with a very limited knowledge base. If the men (they had to be men — would women write about women like this?) who wrote what became the Pentateuch had had telescopes and microscopes and the internet available to them as they sat down to scribble, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have scribbled out Genesis in the same way. For one thing, they’d have had a handle on geology and its very reliable data set.

They may still have written about the world being created in seven days, but, at least the metaphor would have been clear to everyone.

East of Eden — in the high, high mountains far beyond the Canaanite desert where El morphed into Yahweh (the biblical character we call “God”) — spiritual enlightenment meant finding an answer to suffering, not eternal life with all your loved ones in a magical sky-place. If this atheist suddenly felt compelled to “run for cover”? I’d run to Buddhism. It seems the shortest distance between two points by millions and millions of miles. Still, you can’t deny the radical forward progress monotheism presented over polytheism. From a polytheist’s POV, a monotheist is an atheist (because they deny all the polytheist’s gods). But then, polytheistic faiths didn’t work at all the way monotheism does. For one thing, polytheistic gods don’t really give a crap about humans or what humans do. They’re definitely not there to serve humans or larger human needs. They don’t even work as human wish fulfillers.

Right off the bat, Yahweh is different. Eden is literal perfection. Adam is Yahweh in the flesh. Eve, on the other hand…

Yahweh punishes man because he loves us so. But mostly because we disappoint him so. All he asks is that we behave ourselves — and worship him like he was the only god in existence. That is where the trouble begins.

Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, Paul did. If you brought Jesus back from the dead (for real) and asked him what he thought about “Christianity”, Jesus would have zero idea what you were talking about. He was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew (I’m going to assume someone like Jesus existed only because of Paul’s writing about Jesus). He preached Jewish teachings to other Jews who were equally familiar with all the same ritual and mythology. If Saul Of Tarsus doesn’t have his “Road To Damascus” moment (which he writes about forcefully — like he really experienced it inside his head), he never goes to Jerusalem to try and sell his version of Jesus to Jesus’s family and all Jesus’s followers. The reason everyone Jesus knew rejected Paul’s version of Jesus is because they all knew Jesus and had heard him actually teach. Paul’s version of Jesus was just that: Paul’s version of Jesus.

Atheist that I am, I consider myself a fan o’ Jesus. “Do unto others” is an amazing message for a religious faith to preach to the world. Every religion should be so humane in its purpose. But, to be fair, “Do unto others” isn’t radical, it’s a simpler expression of “Tikkun Olam” — a central tenet of not just Jewish faith but Jewish culture. “Tikkun Olam” obligates every Jew (every person, really) to make the world a better place just for having been it it. That’s it. That’s our mission, however we choose to fulfill it. Paul saw value in “Do unto others” but that wasn’t the hook he saw in Jesus. Resurrection — that was the hook on which Paul hung his version of Jesus and the brand-spanking-new religious faith Paul invented on the fly. Paul’s pitch to the Gentiles in a nutshell: “believe in this version of Jesus — in exactly the way I’m telling you to do it — and just like Jesus did, you, too, can defeat death.”

Oh, and by the way? This Jesus guy? He’s Yahweh’s son — that’s how we know his word’s good.

So long as you believe in Yahweh — and that Yahweh had a son with a virgin human being — and that son was imagined by Yahweh as a way for humankind to fix what Eve broke — then eternal paradise awaits! Just follow those rules to the letter. Jesus may have taught “Do unto others” but his churches (which is crazy since Jesus preached against corrupt temples and their corrupt temple priests) turned that into “Do what we say — or else”. And since the “we” is speaking for God (no longer Yahweh), who are little “you” to question? How exactly does a human go from being a fallible priest one moment to being an infallible pope the next? I mean, aside from inside his own head?

Polytheism didn’t concentrate the whole power of the universe into one pair of hands the way monotheism did. Also, it doesn’t put the voices of its gods inside human minds the way Abrahamic faiths put God’s voice inside every believer’s head. Christianity took the idea of a “personal relationship with God” and ran amok with it. It’s not hard to get why it worked. Imagine the “Voice Of God” inside your head. On the one hand, yeah — it could be terrifying. Like the worst acid trip ever. But, OTOH, if God liked you… if God saw that YOU understood him like few others…

That’s what priests are, in theory — people (usually men of course) who have a better relationship with God than you ever could. They feel God’s love better than you, see his intent where you see mysteries. When God really, REALLY needs to get his point across? He knows YOU are the guy to get it across for him. That, of course, is just you putting on a show inside your head — as we all do — and giving yourself the role of “God’s Favorite”. As you look at yourself in the mirror however, with the Voice O’ God in your ears, you convince yourself (what else can this be?) that you and God have an awful lot in common.

Show me a televangelist, I’ll show you someone who thinks they’re God…

Show me a Republican politician whose religiosity is tied to their brand, I’ll show you a fraudulent toad who thinks they’re God.

Yeah — I blame monotheism.

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

The Monotheism School - Home | Facebook

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.

Being Republican Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry

Anyone’s who’s ever raised a child knows what can happen when a five year old gets crazy belligerent. Trying to reason with them is pointless on steroids. They act and argue like five year old’s because that’s what they are. Republicans can’t claim the same excuse though that doesn’t stop them from arguing like five year old’s anyway. It’s how five year old’s think. Especially five year old boys. That doesn’t get any better with age. By the time they’re ten, they understand control of their lives this way: “Are YOU the ‘boss’ of me?” Or, as it’s stated in context, usually with lower lip thrust forward, “You’re not the boss of me!” That’s something they’d never say to a parent because their parents ARE the boss of them. So’s their boss and anyone above them in the pecking order as they perceive it. Someone with more money, a better car, hotter arm candy — those people are the boss of every sniveling Republican.

The ultimate bottom line for our story — the thing driving all the worst behaviors — is corruption. Ours is a story of what happens when corruption threatens to overwhelm everything good. Republicans want to overturn every election they lose — in other words, toss democracy entirely. Oh, sure, we can have mock elections that look like the real thing, but the outcomes would always be pre-determined with whole blocks of voters simply dropped from the system because they’re not white and won’t vote for Republicans. One does not gerrymander voting districts or suppress Democratic voters because you believe in your cause. You do it because you’re a criminal intent on circumventing the will of the people.

Part of our problem here is that, all along, Republicans have helped us define what “normal” is or what “acceptable corruption” is. It’s remarkable what white people get away with compared to everyone else. Lanisha Bratcher was on parole in North Carolina when she voted in 2016, unaware that she was ineligible because she was still on probation. Her vote never counted anyway. A Black woman, Lanisha faces two felonies and years in prison. Crystal Mason (also Black) faces five years in prison if her appeal loses for voting in Texas, also while under probation. In fact, the kind of voting fraud Republicans rail about is extremely rare while Republican voting fraud goes on like a bad habit. Republican election fraud actually changes election outcomes.

There’s not a single issue facing America where the Republicans stand upon sound logic and reasoning — or legal logic and reasoning. Not on voting, not on the economy, not on climate change, not on Russia’s takeover of our country which the January 6 insurrection was very much a part of. Considering how deep Russia’s tentacles run throughout the Trump White House, it would beggar belief that that Russia played zero part in this particularly war-like action. It is a simple fact of life that Russia helped make the insurrection happen. Perhaps some of their money paid for it. If I’m right in any way, shape or form, that means the insurrection isn’t just sorta, kinda treasonous, it’s one hundred percent treasonous.

Well played, Republicans!

The point of this disgusting exercise is permanent minority rule — a thing for which Republicans feel no need to apologize. They want US to apologize to them for being here in America and for not being them. They will never say “Sorry for racism — building an economy on stolen labor and destroyed lives was no way to build a country.” They will never say “We apologize deeply for the whole offensive idea of “manifest destiny”; seriously, how could grown adults with even a lick of perspective have gone along with that horse shit? Ah, but when you’re invented god tells you you’re entitled to anything you want — cos God says so — that’s not really God smiling on you, that’s you smiling on you and calling it “God”. Which means it’s you speaking as God.

As I’ve written here, monotheism is damned dangerous. Republicans prove the point. Monotheistic gods, being “perfect” and “divine”, don’t make mistakes and if they do, their mistakes aren’t mistakes. They make up rules as they go along and change them on the fly just because they can. They get to make up prophecies that justify their continuing hold. When a believer thinks God — a powerful deity who, the mythology says, created everything — speaks to them or that they (better than others) understand what this fundamental universal force wants, it’s not just because they’re “special”. Oh, they are “special” but it’s not because this God character speaks to and through them. It’s because, if you peel off the “lives in the clouds” window dressing, the “God” you arrive at is them.

It galls white people more than they can bear to watch 3oo years of white hegemony finally slip away as it should have long ago. There never should have been any sort of white hegemony on this continent. If not for the success of our pathogens (much more than the success of our guns and steel), white people may have never gotten much more than a toehold in the Americas. A trading hub.

Thinking you’re God is a massively corrupt way to think but plenty of people do it. To think your hold on America is justified simply because white people came up with a good idea that they executed poorly is, well, soooooo “white people”.

Republicans feel entitled to undermine the rule of law in service of themselves. They feel entitled to run America. That’s what “originalism” really is — a statement of white entitlement.

Frankly, I’d prefer it if not a single Republican ever apologizes or takes real and true ownership of their diabolical behavior. That way, when we get to the punishment phase, we can throw the book at them, hard. The fact is, Republicans feel entitled to do whatever they need to to hold onto power. They’ve always felt that way. That’s why they never apologize for anything and why the press never asks or expects them to apologize. Because Republican entitlement is baked into our architecture.

God Goes On A Job Interview: A Sketch

SETTING: A long, featureless, fluorescent lit hallway that seems to go on forever. Approaching footsteps and heavy breathing. Whoever’s approaching must be late — and worried about it. God steps into frame, a slip of paper clutched in his powerful (to hear him talk about it) hand. He peers at the number scribbled on it. It matches the room number above the doorway. This MUST be the place.

God straightens his tie. Gives his mighty (him again) head a shake as he clears his throat in a long roll of thunder. The timbre seems right. Reminding himself that he’s the one who created all this in six days damn it, he reaches for the door knob and steps into the next room like the monotheistic deity he is.

God comes up short on the other side of the door though. He wasn’t sure what to expect here. A respected bible scholar trying to make sense of unfathomable times or a world leader struggling with a terrible choice. Or a pope maybe. He definitely wasn’t expecting the attractive but business-like young woman seated across the very plain desk, a clutch of papers in her hands. From the look of the papers — the extensive wear on them, the young woman has gone over them relentlessly.

Like she was looking for answers on them. “Sheila,” she says, extending her hand toward God like he wasn’t the deity who created literally everything.

“Erm,” says God, uncomfortable but trying not to show it, desperate to do anything but shake her hand. The Young Woman has seen his discomfort. She withdraws her hand, never taking her eyes from his face. Finally his eyes meet hers.

“Sheila,” she repeats. “I’m Sheila.” She points to the folding chair on his side of the desk. Sits in the much more comfortable rolling desk chair on her side. The one with lower lumbar support.

God looks again to the folding chair, not quite sure how to fit his enormous, glowing magnificence into it. But, he’ll try. He reminds himself again, he’s the deity here. “Nice to meet you, Sheila,” he says, smooth as the Red Sea before it parted, “I’m God”. He sits, knowing it’s just a matter of time before he wins over Sheila–

“I know what job you’re here for,” she’s halfway through saying as God snaps to, “But god’s just your job description. It’s not actually your name.”

God starts to answer. Stops. “Well, over time, I’ve gotten used to it. We all have–“

Sheila’s looking at her smart phone. She’s found a source. “Says here your name’s Yahweh.” Sheila focuses on the fine print. “Yeah,” she says confidently, “Yahweh’s your name, not ‘God’.” She points her phone’s screen (with the “receipts” on it) toward God. “God’s” just your job description,” she says. “Is that true?”

God starts to answer. Stops. “Well, I did create everything,” he says, a little less ironically than he’d hoped to. “And that,” he says, leaning forward, “Is why I think you’d be crazy to believe in anything else but me.”

Sheila stares back, hard to read. Finally — “You probably know that members of my family believe in you”.

God leans forward even further, seizing the opening. “Of course I do. They’re great people. That’s why I love them–” He knows immediately: too much.

“Do you think my family believing in you speaks well of you?”

God hesitates. He’s sure of it: that was a trick question. “Perhaps,” he says, hedging, “We could agree that being a deity is hard and sometimes you have to move in mysterious ways?”

“Uh huh,” says Sheila, unimpressed. “Did you tell my Tanta Louise that she got cancer because she fooled around so much when she was younger?”

God starts to answer. Stops. “Erm,” he says (looking as uncomfortable as he feels), “Was I supposed to get some sort of notes about this?”

“You’re God, aren’t you?” says Sheila, making God feel much more like he was on a witness stand instead of a job interviewee’s chair.

“Is that a question?” asks God.

“Then you’re all-knowing, right?”

God knows exactly where this is going. He rolls his eyes. “There’s ‘all-knowing‘ and there’s “ALL-KNOWING“, know what I mean?” He hopes like hell the extra boom in his voice took a little of the wind from Sheila’s sails.

“So you don’t know my Tanta Louise or, at least, you don’t remember her, is that right?”

God studies his hands. They don’t feel very mighty right this second. His cuticles are looking rough. “What was that again your…”

“Tanta. Tanta Louise. She was my favorite aunt. She taught me how to live. But, smart as she is in some ways, she makes no sense in others. Like believing you gave her the cancer that nearly killed her.”

God squirms despite himself (flashes of lightning shoot this way and that). “Can we… talk about… you?”

She stares back, a little incredulous.

God presses on. “Things were different back when your beloved auntie was trying to figure things out. It’s true. People weren’t as broad-minded as they are now.”

“By ‘broad-minded’, you mean they don’t believe in you?”

God looks down. Stepped in it. “Now that door’s open,” he starts to tell himself–

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” says Sheila. God raises a hand to object. “Don’t,” says Sheila crisply. Down goes God’s hand. “Do you honestly think if no one mentions atheism that no one will think it?”

“It’s a little more complicated than that.” God looks down. Clears his throat — this time holding back on the rumble. “Know what special dispensation is, right?” He knows she does. She’s Catholic. “I’m taking it,” says God. “Different time and place.” He catches Sheila’s eyes. Holds them. “I, uh — I think I might remember this aunt of yours and, yeah — I might have said something along those lines — but there was context!”

Sheila and those damned eyes.

“She needed an explanation.”

Did you give her the cancer?”

“What? No!” Suddenly God’s all knowing: “The office building she worked in was on a super fund site. Honestly, it wasn’t my fault. I’m sorry I said anything–“

“You couldn’t tell her the truth?”

“Nobody knew it then — Google it!” God sits back a little. Feels the first hint of breathing room. “Google it”, he chuckles to himself, “Man, that was genius.”

Again with those damned eyes.

“Are you all knowing or aren’t you?”

God’s been in this minefield. Doesn’t make it any easier. “Depends”.

“When my Tanta Louise asked you why she got cancer, did you tell her it was because of the building she worked in? No. You told her a lie — even though you knew the truth.”

God sits back in his metal folding chair. He tries to. Finally, he fixes Sheila with a stare of his own. “You’re very good, know that?”

“I’ve thought about it, yeah,” says Sheila. “I’m thinking about it now. What should I believe? What seems most true to me?”

“And that is why — if you’re looking for Truth, you can’t not go the monotheism route — sticking a pin in your Tanta Whatever — not literally of course!” Her eyes say “continue”. “Go with me here,” he says, kicking into full salesman mode, “Take it from a deity — all those other deities? They’re not deities. The don’t think they’re better than you, for one thing!”

He turns up his palms. Slowly realizes his faux pas. “What I meant was polytheism’s small because all its gods are small. You don’t want to believe in a small god, do you?”

“Why should I believe in any god?”

“First cause,” says God, throwing down the words like it ended the argument.

“Bull-shit”, says Sheila. “Where’d YOU come from then? Who created you?”

“Nothing did, don’t you get it?” says God. “I’m the first cause. The alpha, the omega, the beginning, the end, the peanut butter and the jelly.”

“I’m allergic to peanuts”

“Figures,” God starts to say, catching himself immediately. “What I meant was I know you’re allergic to peanuts because I know everything.”

“What’s on the other side of a black hole?”

God hesitates. “What’s–“

“On the other side of a black hole. You know what a black hole is, right?”

Pride a little wounded: “Yes, I know what a black hole is, I invented them, right?”

“If you invented them then you know what’s on the other side of one, right?”

“Well…” God stammers, “Some of these inventions of mine — they’re works in progress, know what I mean?”

“They ‘evolve’, you mean?”

“Exactly,” says God, not catching himself in time, “They evolve.”

To God’s surprise, Sheila smiles. “I’ve come to a decision,” she says, standing. God, feeling like he’s being led here, stands as well. “I’m not hiring you,” says Sheila.

Not the first time this has happened (especially not recently). God lets it roll off his shoulders. “You don’t have to decide anything today,” he says — having answered this objection a few kajillion times before.

“I don’t have to decide anything ever,” says Sheila. She sits back. Studies God. Starts to laugh — not at God, not at anything in particular. Finally, the laugh peters out. “Even if, some day, I decide to look you up,” says Sheila, “It wouldn’t be you that I’d be looking up. It’d be someone better. Something better — a better God, know what I mean? But that’s only if I felt like I needed to believe in a God to begin with.”

“Can I tell you how sorry I am that I lied to your auntie?”

“If I was going to invent a god,” Sheila says, indicating the door behind God, “I’d hope like hell I could invent a better god than you.” Sheila extends a hand. “Good luck in the future.”

God looks at her hand. He knows that she knows he isn’t going to take it. And just like that, he knows: he made her point again.

“Thanks for coming in.”

As Texas’ New Abortion Ban Proves, Right Wing Religionistas Don’t Believe IN God, They Believe They ARE God

No words are more darkly ironic than “pro-life” when seen through the lens of American politics. It’s kinda like the southern states claiming — after the Civil War — that the whole thing was an argument over states’ rights rather than what it WAS an argument over, slavery. The Confederacy still lives, having lost the war but won the peace that followed. They literally rewrote history right in front of us. The most vehemently pro-life also are the most vehement when it comes to denying living, breathing people an iota of human sympathy. These institutionalist Christians have perverted “Do unto others” into “Do what I say — or else”. Not an ounce of Jesus in it. That’s because Jesus wouldn’t recognize the sentiments behind it. He was born a Jew, lived his whole life as a Jew and died a Jew, only ever preaching to other Jews about subjects Jews understood and non-Jews didn’t. His biggest teaching (aside from reminding his fellow Jews that they’re all obligated by “Tikkun Olam” — the responsibility to make the world a better place for having been in it; “Do unto others” is the genius ad slogan for that very human ideal — is anti-corruption. He taught that one doesn’t need a temple or its corrupt priests in order to talk to God. All one had to do is talk to him .

Jesus did not invent Christianity, Paul did — and Paul deserves most of the credit for modifying some old Jewish ideas into a new religion which offered its believers (gentiles with no knowledge of these old Jewish ideas) a way to beat death. If Jesus could do it, so could his followers. All one had to do, the early church said (as it slowly figured itself out) was believe in the Jesus story the way the church wanted you to — to the letter. Do that and, the church promised, just like Jesus, you would “rise from the dead” like Lazarus and live forever in a magical after-life filled with nothing but goodness and all your loved ones. To a world where polytheistic gods had little real impact on human lives — and really didn’t give a toss about humans — a monotheistic deity that cared about them personally was a revelation and a radical, new idea. That this deity could also give you immortality of a kind? It’s genius! But, that it’s still with us is, my opinion, more a testament to the underlying desire not to die than it is to the “truthfulness” of the dogma that gets a believer there.

Who gets to control life and death? Why, God does of course because that’s what God does. The fact that God — a being powerful enough to create literally everything — can’t put that simple idea into literally every human’s head (because aren’t facts facts?) gets tossed down the “free will” rabbit hole. The same institution that invented the idea of “free will” also insisted that the earth was the center of all creation until pretty much now. I’d stick a giant-sized pin in the institution’s hold on reality.

The history of the church itself — of any church — is a proof that the institution itself (and those running it) think THEY are God. Hey, why do you think God talks to them and not to regular people? Because they’re special, don’t ya know. They hear God better than the rest of us. They “understand” what he wants from all of us, but more specifically from them. God wants them to be the tip of his spear. His enforcer. His spokesperson. His raw intent.

Texas took a clever tack to get their law this far. They made all the peril civil. Now, literally ANYONE from anywhere in America can sue anyone they even suspect of helping a woman get an abortion in Texas. They’ve put a $10,000 bounty on literally everyone in Texas who doesn’t answer the accusation. Don’t appear for the shit show cos it’s a shit show? You lose. The fix is built right in. It’s a way for EVERYONE to play God with the bodies of any woman seeking or needing an abortion in Texas. And — count on this — the point of the exercise is to “lead the way” for other “pro-lifers” who think they’re God to force their Godness upon other people.

Personally, I blame monotheism. This kind of egomaniacal free association with the self as deity is baked right in to the architecture. Ask ten sincere theists what “God” is and you will get ten different answers. That’s not a function of the fluidity of God, that’s a function of the fluidity of the CONCEPT of God. It’s the “Get Out Of Logic Jail Free” card that religionistas always have up their sleeve. Magical thinking and their feelings will trump everything — especially facts.

Hey, when you’re God, you get to say what’s a fact and what isn’t. And, in Texas, you get to decide between life and death.

Every Church Has A Dirty, Little Secret: Jesus Taught You Don’t Need Them

Sometimes, atheist that I am, my heart goes out to Jesus. On the one hand, I see Jesus as a fellow Jew. The simple fact is Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. He preached only to Jews. The ideas he taught were fundamentally Jewish. “Do unto others” is a graceful, eloquent, actionable expression of the Jewish concept “Tikkun Olam” which commands every Jew (every person actually) to make the world a better place simply for having lived in it. If not for Paul — and his complete repurposing of Jesus away from Jesus’s actual teachings and toward the teachings of an institutional church that Jesus could never have and would never have imagined — there would be no such thing as “Christianity”. According to the Jesus Seminar (a group of theologists and actual Bible scholars versus Bible college graduate,), Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him. That’s 18% attributable to Jesus. For comparison’s sake, Paul himself wrote 28% of the canonical Bible.

Even by the numbers, Paul has a greater say in what we call “Christianity” than Jesus. Per Wikipedia, the Jesus Seminar “was formed by American group of about 50 critical biblical scholars and 100 laymen founded in 1985 by Robert Funk that originated under the auspices of the Westar Institute.[1][2]“. Westar Institute remains active today online. The Seminar’s goal (in addition to “Honest scholarship in religion for the public”) was to try and parse an historical, real Jesus from both the texts themselves and from the real scholarship that’s been done regarding Jesus, his time and his world. In other words, the Seminar wanted to strip out the church’s dogma while focusing on Jesus himself.

Being scholars equipped with actual analytical skills, the Seminar’s participants recognized that Christianity did not drop from the sky in one piece. The early church was the product first of Paul and the message HE took to the gentiles after the Jews in Jerusalem (including Jesus’s family) rejected it. Paul never met Jesus. Never personally heard Jesus teach. His vision of Jesus occurs AFTER Jesus physically dead. We have to believe Paul literally if we’re to believe Paul at all. What inspired Paul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus? Does it really matter? He experienced it. That’s what matters — and good for Paul that he did experience it.

But the fact that he “experienced” it doesn’t make it real. J. K. Rowling “experienced” Harry Potter. She made Harry and his world seem incredibly real to all of her readers but, as we all know, Harry and his world are NOT real. Same goes for Paul. Jesus (per the Jesus Seminar) “did not refer to himself as the Messiah, nor did he claim to be a divine being who descended to earth from heaven in order to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. These are claims that some people in the early church made about Jesus, not claims he made about himself.” Further, “Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic view of the reign (or kingdom) of God—that by direct intervention God was about to bring history to an end and bring a new, perfect order of life into being. Rather, in Jesus’ teaching the reign of God is a vision of what life in this world could be (emphasis mine).

So, if we go strictly by Jesus (avoiding Paul’s spin), we get a completely different teaching. What the hell is Paul talking about? The Jesus Seminar answers that question, too: “At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and actions was a vision of a life under the reign of God (or, in the empire of God) in which God’s generosity and goodness is regarded as the model and measure of human life; everyone is accepted as a child of God and thus liberated both from the ethnocentric confines of traditional Judaism and from the secularizing servitude and meagerness of their lives under the rule of the empire of Rome.” Though preaching exclusively to Jews, Jesus sees Yahweh (that’s the “god” Jesus believed in) as a universal god. As Jesus put it (per the Jesus Seminar), “Render unto God that which is God’s and render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.

The God that Jesus imagines doesn’t seem to need that much help being generous and good. And whenever people do intercede between God and believer? Corruption ensues! The temple priests let money changers in the temple’s front door!

Nowhere does Jesus say — “But, after ‘doing unto others’, don’t forget to join my church!” There’s a reason. To Jesus, doing unto others is as universal as his idea of Yahweh. Anyone can do it — even a simple atheist (another thing Jesus probably couldn’t imagine). Jesus taught a simple, eloquent, very Jewish message. The church that Paul created in Jesus’s name teaches a far more complicated message that Jesus himself would find confounding if not entirely contradictory. Paul didn’t care so much what Jesus said as the fact that he died for having said it (regardless of what it was he said). Paul had latched onto Jewish mythology about a messiah that had percolated orally for a thousand years.

Let’s not rush past that. It’s MYTHOLOGY. Tribal mythology. There is zero basis in reality for any of it. That’s Paul’s starting point. When he tried to preach HIS version to the Jews, they rejected it because it wasn’t the mythology they knew. But, the gentiles had no such knowledge. To them, this monotheistic mythology was brand new. It was different — especially because it featured a god that (unlike most polytheistic gods) cared about humans having personally created humans. In fact, the god Paul was pitching offered something no other deity had ever offered a human before: a way to beat death.

That, ultimately, is Paul’s (and the early church’s) message: believe in Jesus the way we’re telling you to and, like Jesus, you too can defeat death. Can we talk “genius”? Can we talk “invitation to dogma”?

Can we talk corruption?

If Jesus never said he was any sort of messiah then any institution flocking such a thing is flocking bullshit. Any institution that says Jesus’s dying is more important than the fact that Jesus lived isn’t selling Jesus. They’re selling something they invented. To sell to you. Like a money changer in the temple forecourt.

Hell, even non-believers can tell you how Jesus felt about those guys.

Do Religious People Believe “IN” God Or That They ARE “God”? I Suspect It’s Mostly The Latter…

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.

In fact, it won’t matter to them if it doesn’t.

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.