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Monday, February 15, 2010

Theologians have a lot to answser for

Rant warning!

I was reading Consilience by Edward O. Wilson. Happened to switch over to Augustine. It struck me, as it does from time to time, the sudden change. Wilson is reasonable, balanced, fair, clear. He argues and explains without making threats. He treats the reader with respect. Augustine is quick to condemn. Even when not specifically condemning someone or other, the very subjects he addresses and the way he addresses them drip with implied condemnations of someone or other. And on what basis? Because this passage or that passage from the Bible tells him so. Respect for the reader? No. The reader is to be bludgeoned into acknowledging his truth. I say "his" intentionally. The man was swimming in unacknowledged, unrecognized ignorance. He appeals to God to give him knowledge, confesses his dependence on God to provide him with knowledge, and then proceeds to make pronouncements on dozens of matters about which he knows next to nothing and press upon the reader the necessity of adopting his opinions or perishing.

I am not picking on Augustine; this is a pattern generated, not by failings in his personality or character, but by the nature of his beliefs. Judeo-Christian "orthodoxies" do this to people. They are a baleful influence. In short, as a professing Christian I think Christopher Hitchens is on to something: religion ruins everything. I can't speak about other religious traditions, since I don't know them well. But I can speak about Christianity from long personal experience. Orthodox Christian theology is poison in the well of the human heart. There is good in orthodoxy, but it is ruined by foolishness which invariably accompanies it. I am not saying religion is the ultimate cause of human evil. The ultimate cause is our own nature. Evolution has endowed the human heart with very destructive, malicious passions. Nobody escapes this. The problem with orthodox Christianity is that it masks its own malice in holiness. The consequence? The God clung to by the orthodox becomes a monster.

For a start, consider the prophets. Ancient Israelite society was no paradise on earth. The prophets testify to many "sins," some against God himself, some against fellow Israelites. But according to the prophets, God has a very limited set of remedies, almost always consisting of an invading army followed by devastation of the land and atrocities against the people. This God of the prophets is supposed to be superior in wisdom, mercy, and power to the evil Israelite aristocracy, but in practice he does nothing except destroy, destroy, destroy. Why? The prophets were realists; if Assyria, Babylon, or Egypt wants to overrun Palestine, what are the kingdoms of Israel and Judah going to do about it? But in order to get their message accepted they have to turn necessity into a virtue. Voila! God WANTS the foreign invader to succeed in order to punish the evildoers among his people. Never mind that the people most likely to suffer are the people already victimized by internal injustices. They have to suffer twice? So what? They deserve it; they're idolaters!

And then, of course, God avenges his people eventually. How? By really giving it to the invaders! But not the invaders that caused the problem in the first place. Their descendants get it, the ones unfortunate enough to live when the foreign empire's vitality is ebbing away and competitors start ravaging the homeland. But we can be more specific about this. The vast majority of those who suffer from this vengeance are peasants, people who most likely profited little or nothing from the devastations wrought by the ancestors of their overlords. And how does this help those Israelites who originally suffered injustice?

Are you a theologian? Fix this problem with orthodoxy. Tear the God-damned prophetic theology apart and put it back together so that it stops slandering God.

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