Monday, July 2, 2018

Do Liberals Hate God?


By George Templeton
Gazette Blog Columnist
What God?  Is he the paradoxical one I wrote about last month?  We expect self-interested politicians to speak of her in meaningless ways, but do they do this out of obligation or because they want to suggest that he has selected them and that they are us?  It’s more than whether God exists, our sins are forgiven, and we go to heaven.  It’s complicated.
We are faced with understanding one’s self in relation to what is more than one’s self.  God is a symbol, pointing to more.  God is a metaphor that tells us what he is at the same time as what he is not.  God is a model, a theory that goes far beyond fact.  When our concept of God is challenged, it does not threaten the real God.  Yet, when our spiritual beliefs are threatened we become less tolerant.  This moves us away from compromise toward absolutism.  It promotes group purity, but it threatens assimilation.  Our view of God comes through interaction with humanity.  He is actor and principle, creator and created, mother and father, friend and foe, outside of the world but within life itself, beneath its surface, invisible yet present.  He is an emergent property, more than the sum of parts.  As he is divided, so are we.
We wrestle with the difference between the word of God and the word about God.  We think of today’s needs, forgetting the suffering, disease, short life, and illiteracy of ancient times.  The injustice and brutality of those days justified God’s punishment.  If it isn’t men who wrote the Bible, it is men who read and explain it.  What “God said” constrains inquiry and suppresses thought.  Our hope for the future lies in being intellectually alive.  Our perception has changed over the millennia.  It is more a matter of the evidence.
The Drama
The great flood was not caused by man as nuclear war would be.  We teach our children about the rainbow and its promise.  But promises can be broken.  Zephaniah quotes God 4,000 years later, “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth.”   
God is a judge and a warrior in the story of the Exodus.  He fought for justice and against slavery, but his revenge seems inconsistent with this motivation.  He takes the lives of the firstborn including those of Egyptian slaves during the Passover.  Children in Israelite homes were spared because their parents smeared their doorposts with blood.  God took sides with the Israelites, changing them, but they were a people whose strengths and weakness changed him.
When Moses returned from the mountain with God’s laws in hand, he found the Israelites worshiping an idol.   Moses commanded, “Whoever is for the Lord, come here!”  The Levites stepped forward.  They were required to slay family members and neighbors, not just the leaders of the idolatry, 3,000 people, to prove their loyalty.  Moses begged the Lord to forgive them.  Instead he sends a plague, but he also gives the Israelites the Promised Land, Canaan.
The Canaanites worshiped different gods and resided at a place for which God had different intentions.  Only God’s chosen people could be united with him to follow his plan.  Genocide came next.  It became the means to achieve homogenous race, value, and belief.  The presence of subversives was not allowed.  They were enslaved or killed.  But what was subversive?  The priests and prophets did not agree.  It included diet and sacrifice to a God who was pleased by the odor of roast beef.
The holiness code in Leviticus 18 explained that it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, and that the penalty was death.  Foreign slaves could be held as property and passed on through inheritance.  Gathering firewood on the Sabbath warranted punishment by stoning to death (Numbers 15).  In Numbers 25, the Lord slew twenty-four thousand Israelites with a plague.  The Lord required Moses to execute all who had lain with foreign women. 
God, speaking to Moses said, “You cannot see my face for man shall not see me and live.”  God would be in volcanic fire and smoke and then in a burning bush, a whirlwind, in the arc of the covenant, and the Temple.  In a recent study psychologists used facial recognition software to assess God’s appearance.  He looked like Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space-X!  Liberals saw God as younger, feminine, and more tolerant than conservatives who wanted a strong rule-maker.  But God is remote.  Because he is obscure, it muddies the clarity of his laws.
Deuteronomy 23 explains that interest is forbidden and debts must be periodically canceled.  God’s chosen people can lend, but never borrow.  Apparently, “Friendly Loan” does not know about this.
Isaiah spoke of the consequences of choosing the moral high road.  “Aliens shall stand and feed your flocks.  Foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers … you shall eat the wealth of the nations and in their riches you shall glory.”  The nation that stands as a trusted example would not rely on conquest for its wealth.
A preacher explained that God chose the Hebrews because of his goodness, not theirs.  Israel would be raised high above all nations if God’s commandments were kept, but disobedience would bring unimaginable plagues, starvation, and disease. Foreign conquerors would be God’s servants.  The Hebrews would be scattered from one end of the earth to the other. 
 In Judges 11:30, Jephthah offers God a human sacrifice for victory in battle.  The Lord inflicts a colossal victory and Jephthah slaughters his only child, an innocent daughter.  In the time of Elijah, violence was still the measure of God’s power.  In 1 Kings 18, he is given permission to murder the 450 priests of Baal.  Ezra 10 describes God’s required mass divorce, where non-Jewish women and their children were “put away”.  In Ezekiel 20: 25-26, God makes the Israelites sacrifice their first-born in fire so they will learn to respect him.  He admits that he made laws that were not good and rules by which people could not live.  In Lamentations 4, God reduces his people to cannibalism.  “The hands of compassionate women have boiled their own children; they became their food in the destruction of my people.”
God’s Justice
We have a stern Lord, who abounding in kindness and faithfulness and forgiving to the thousandth generation is vindictive.  Punishment goes to a criminal’s children and his children’s children to the fourth generation.  As for disobedient children, “He who insults his father or his mother shall be put to death”.   Interpersonal violence was a fact of life that was codified, like an “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth”, but at least that avoided further escalation.  The advocates of original intent or original meaning should see that it is written!  But what does it mean today?  Is justice really constant, unchanging, having nothing of the moment’s situation? 
Covenants can be broken, but a father remains a father no matter how his children behave.  God was disappointed by the Israelites who had become corrupted.  What would he do?  He was jealous for (not of) the Israelites.  He could chastise but not withdraw his favor.  He became more like a stern father instead of a force of nature.  He became tender and more empathetic.
God’s Love
The faithful make excuses for God’s angry behavior.  Can the Almighty really be simultaneously infinite and unconstrained in all measurable and understandable parameters, yet be precise and unambiguous?
A preacher said that God is love, not merely loving.  The Gospel of John emphasizes it.  But God condemns all the world’s Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims to eternal hell.  Does this make them love Christians?  However God is “merciful, healing, liberating, empowering, strengthening, protecting, and providing”.  His love is “passionate, creative, innovative, wildly beyond the rational, propelling, driving, pushing, and blowing like an untamed hurricane with no predictable path”.
The magazine cover explained that if your heart is broken, you should give the pieces to God and he will put them back together.  They knew for certain that God’s majestic unconditional love was in everything, a dream, the awe of the universe, the feeling when we touch our child, a wife’s love, and in us.  But what is the difference between God loving us and our appreciation?  Romantic love is emotional.  Agape love is fatherly concern, charity, and goodwill.  But why would a loving omnipotent God let the blameless suffer and the guilty prosper?  Does good always win or is it sometimes evil?  Left purely to chance, God does not control everything.  Just punishment in the after-life is a possible explanation, but it is not assuring that God can use us as a means to accomplish his ends.  Are catastrophes God’s lesson, or justice?  He gives us both what we want and what we dread.
Is virtue its own reward, or does one have to win?  Remember that it was the Devil who tricked God into cursing his obedient servant Job, killing his family and servants, taking all his worldly possessions, and leaving him a suffering heap scratching his infected body from head to foot.  Is it Job’s virtue when the Devil games God into doing what he wants, knowing that God will want to prove his point, to win the wager, to be respected?
When God restores Job’s wealth, he does not return his original family from the grave.  God seems to be trying to atone for what he has done.  Depending on how one reads the Bible, Job’s contrition is in question.  God speaks only about his power and his victory.  Isn’t it simultaneous justice and power that makes him what he is, not torturing a righteous man on a whim?
Tomorrow’s God
The philosopher Schopenhauer said, “The world is my idea.”  But those ideas have led to torture, mass-murder, and slavery.  They also have led to selflessness, cooperation, sacrifice, and courage.  It may be that God has a grand plan for the universe, but that includes the here and now and our duty to ourselves, our loved ones, humanity, and the earth.  Life has morality and meaning regardless of whether God exists or not.
Creativity requires uncertainty.  It could be heresy.  The author, Neale Donald Walsch interprets the God he thinks we have made up.  His God does not require anyone to believe in him.  He talks with everyone, all the time.  He is separate from nothing and everywhere present, the sum of everything that ever was and ever shall be.  He is the process we call life.  He is constantly changing.  He needs nothing.  He is the servant of all life.  He is unconditionally loving, nonjudgmental, non-condemning, and non-punishing.  He can only be experienced, never completely explained.  But is he necessary and sufficient?

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