The height of moral perfection, the leaders of our lives, omnipresent for as long as we have had language, gods (or God) have ruled over the lives of humans. Now that we are able to look back into our storied past at what we now call mythology, but what for hundreds or thousands of years was called religion, we have the ability to uniquely criticize our own roots. It is an odd exercise, and one which paints a very interesting picture of religions even today.
Greek mythology was recently summarized thus.
Zeus, created by man, written to be the god of the gods, could have been a paragon of virtue. Instead, he was pictured as a drunken, chauvinistic, lecherous mess of a being. From the infinite set of human traits, the highest of all beings in Greek mythology bore some of the worst that could be given him.
The funny thing is that this religion was considered so solid, it was picked up by the Romans. They had to integrate the names, of course, but even so, the god of gods, Jupiter, maintained his lecherous, hedonistic lifestyle.
He was a mythological celebrity, and the tales of his excesses would hardly be out of place in a modern day tabloid (Pictures of Zeus exiting a limo and flashing his junk? I’d imagine those would be so frequent that even tabloids would just pass them up).
I could mention Norse mythology, of course, as its gods were lovers of war and violence. Odin is an interesting case study, taking on so many personality traits that it is often said his personality is unknowable, as knowing his true personality, it was said further, is to know his true weakness. That out of the way, he is tied to madness, to battle, but also to knowledge, prophecy, mystery…. He was also the god of wandering, which would be a chief belief among such a nomadic people as the vikings.
There is something odd here, often overlooked, in that deities (while taking on some of the worst traits of humankind) often take on so many traits that their personalities are a mess that doesn’t make sense. I am far less knowledgeable in Egyptian mythology, but I know early mythology and late mythology are at odds with each other in strange ways. They simply merged gods together, and the same event was credited to many gods or goddesses independently (rather than cooperatively).
That is a very short summary of the oddness of gods in mythology, but let us pass through the veil into the modern world of religion, and see if we can find any odd personality quirks.
I’ll try to do this chronologically, but for those who have studied religious history, you will understand that this is difficult to do. That being said, my focus will be on the God of Abraham and His three sects; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
In the Beginning, as the book of Genesis famously begins, God created the heavens and the earth.
Among such things as are attributed to God is omniscience; he knows what was, what is, and what will be; ignoring the questions this raises as to the nature of free will, we can see something odd from the very beginning.
Not too long after the creation of Adam and Eve (which itself is more complicated than many Christians would have you believe), Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil. Further, she convinced Adam to do the same. By this act of treason, this act of defiance, Sin and Death entered the world. Regardless of which of the three primary Abrahamic traditions you follow, you believe that this original sin has condemned (to varying degrees) all humans to the Pit. This was, if you are Christian, a temporary condition remedied by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. If you are Jewish or Muslim, there is atonement in the hereafter before you enter into the light of Heaven and the presence of God. Forgive me for preaching a history lesson, this is all very important to the overall point, and I would like to make clear where I am coming from.
Of course, as has become rather public lately, martyrdom is one way for Muslims to queue-jump, and enter directly from this life into the presence of God (Though there is a passage in the Qur’an that says you should not destroy yourself, so it may be that suicide bombers have inadvertently made a mistake for which they will pay for all eternity).
Ok, so we have Adam and Eve, original Sin, and untold generations of humans condemned to the Pit. Why?
Because Adam and Eve defied God.
This story is odd to me, since God knew the heart and soul of Adam and Eve before they even existed, and by knowing all things to come, He knew they would eat of the tree. Since He knew they would do this, He knew that they would go to the Pit.
He created the Pit, mind. That is important, too. Not only did he create Adam and Eve knowing they would suffer for an eternity for defying him, he created HUMANKIND knowing that ALL people would suffer the pit, before ever creating Adam and Eve.
Is that not odd to you? “I love this dog more than all others, but before he has even been trained, I have to let you know that I will kill him if he ever pees on my carpet. Oh, he peed on my carpet. Well, I will breed this dog, allow him to die, then take his puppies, breed them, then spend the rest of eternity torturing them. BOY I LOVE DOGS SO MUCH!”
That is only the beginning, though. Our God is a Jealous God (a more famous line would be difficult to find), he is wrathful, quick to anger. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, millions of people gone, millions of his own beloved creations, because he didn’t like the way they acted. He saved but one, though for good measure He killed Lot’s wife. Lot, the man who was righteous in the eyes of God, then became drunk off his ass repeatedly, and had sex with his daughters. We have here, friends, a God who is a great judge of character. Nevermind that when the people of Sodom wanted to rape a pair of angels living temporarily in the city, Lot said “No, don’t rape the angels. Here’s my daughter. She’s a virgin. Go nuts.”
This is the only man God found to be righteous in all of Sodom.
Let’s move on, out of the book of Genesis. In Exodus, of course, God killed a huge number of people, but he was really only getting started. “I don’t like the Pharaoh,” God tells Moses, “So I will strike down the first born male of all of Egypt.”
The God who knows the hearts and minds of all men saved the Jewish people from bondage, but killed the first born male of every family in Egypt. Were they a social justice warrior of their day? Did they fight against the cruel conditions put upon the salves of Egypt? Doesn’t matter; your ruler, whom you have no control over, made God mad, and now we have killing to do.
We now, from this saga, gain the ten commandments. The fifth commandment is thou shalt not kill.
Reading the Old Testament, we find that God kills an estimated 2,476,633 people EXPLICITLY. This does not count the populations of Sodom and Gomorrah, nor does it count Noah’s Flood. The God who knows the hearts and minds of all of the people saved only eight from His wrath, and four were related by blood.
This is the God of deepest love.
This also does not fully account for the fact that in the book of Judges, God orders (on more than one occasion) the murder of countless people. Not just people in the general sense, he is pretty explicit; He orders the murder of the men, the women, and the children; and their oxen, and their crops, and their belongings (except the gold and silver; you should keep the gold and silver), so that no trace of them ever having BEEN remains here. The book of Judges, please recall, takes place AFTER God thought that Thou Shalt Not Kill was worth a place in his list of SIX moral tenets. SIX! That is the total number of things you aren’t allowed to do. “But Chad, there were TEN commandments. Duh.”
Right. The top four were “No carven images, worship me and no other, don’t use my name as a swearword, and don’t work on the Sabbath day.” At best, those can be said to be good in keeping with his Word, but they certainly do not count as moral teachings. They have nothing to do with morals. So we have six rules God created for morality. And, as many a historian has made note, the Ten Commandments are the ONLY words that are supposed to have been written by God Himself. The rest are by divine inspiration.
Do we have a picture of God’s personality, yet? I think we have a vague outline, but let’s move forward a little.
I will gloss over the rest of the Old Testament and many other pieces of weirdness. (Okokok, I have to mention one. A man of God went to the Philistines and proposed to his girlfriend using an engagement gift of…
Wait for it…
Two hundred foreskins. Yup, that deserves a place in the Bible, friends. I am not sure what I am supposed to learn here, but men inspired of God thought it an important enough story to include. The funny thing? SHE ONLY ASKED FOR 100 FORESKINS! Don’t believe me? Read 1 Samuel, Chapter 18. That story always makes me chuckle.)
So we move from purely Jewish words now, into the age of Christianity. It is important to note that even in its current form, Christianity decided that the God of the Old Testament was definitely worth believing in. But now we have Jesus, the pacifist, the moral teacher, the Rabbi, the Son of God.
To recall a famous quote “I must punish you for the Sin I knew you would commit, then I will redeem that sin by sacrificing myself to myself, because I could forgive you no other way.”
But even then, it would hardly have been believable that the God of the Old Testament would be one to preach love and tolerance of all, so we have introduced a new character. To this point, I would recommend you read the book “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” by Reza Aslan. He can say more than me, and much better. Long story short, Jesus may not have been what we recall in the Bible. At the very least, there are certainly parts of the Bible we can disprove factually.
But now we have a God who loves and tolerates all people. How odd, from the God of the Old Testament, who periodically purged just about anything or anyone who looked at him funny. He purged everyone in the whole world at one point, condemning billions (I am using YEC numbers, since they are generally the only group who takes the story literally, and puts serious thought into it) to HELL. He created them, and he sent them to hell, and that’s ok, because it is ok for a creator to judge his creation (seriously, they say that). By that logic, should it be ok for me to beat my dogs? My cats? My children? Certainly, in the Old Testament, beating your children was considered not just justified, but actually important for their upbringing. It is the book of Proverbs, a book of the Old Testament, that made famous “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Do we have a clear picture of God’s personality, yet? To me, it looks like the canvas was half finished, erased sloppily, then repainted. The picture is actually less clear than it was about a thousand words ago.
Also, is it not odd that even the people closest to the heart of Christianity had no idea what the religion was about when it was first created? I can’t really blame them, with a God who appears dangerously bipolar. I am comfortable saying it; this is the God who commanded the killing of women and children and animals, but ALSO commands that we are to treat all equally, help the poor, and love all.
In any case, Paul (I am going to say he did more for Christianity than Jesus did, and those who look deeply into religious history will likely agree) disagreed with James the brother of Jesus (I’ve talked about it before, but it deserves a place here). Was God here to save all people, or just save those who already worshipped God? Paul will say all should be converted, James would say Jesus came to call the flock (read: the Jewish people) back to the God of their ancestors.
Again, we have two directly conflicting opinions on the personality of our God.
Let’s move forward again, and we end up in the palace of Islam. While they certainly are an Abrahamic religion (One cannot read the Qur’an without having first read the Bible. I do mean that literally; the Qur’an frequently references the Bible), they have many core disagreements with Christianity. In fact, the God of Islam is very much reminiscent of the God of the Book of Judges. The interesting thing, of course, is that this God still recalls his flock; Muslims are commanded, both by the Qur’an and Hadith, as well as by a scrip dictated by the Prophet himself (Muhammed), to protect the Christians and Jews wherever they find them. Not tolerate, not kill, not wipe, but to protect and cherish. But what about those not of the flock (People of the Book, as they are called in the Qur’an)?
They are to be cut down, wherever you may find them. Killed, converted, or wiped out. Apostates (those who were Muslim but have renounced their faith) are to be killed quickly, without thought or mercy. Now we are talking Old Testament! Now we have a God that we recognize from a previous age!
But now the canvas is all muddied again. A God who is jealous, wrathful, loving, kind, merciful (THAT FLOOD WAS SO MERCIFUL, GUYS!), peaceful, but quick to war.
This, the height of morality and love, the greatest of all Gods (certainly, more worship this God, between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, than any other God that came before)… The God we look to for true justice, for help in tough times, is a dangerously bipolar sociopath?
If we look back on the gods of history, and compare them to the prevalent God of today, we find many common themes. We can’t decide on His personality. We can’t decide what He wants.
Perhaps God, the God of the Bible is real. I don’t know, He could be. But if He isn’t, what does that say about humankind?
It says that we WANT to worship a God who is unstable, bipolar, hedonistic, misogynistic, hateful, jealous, wrathful, vengeful… So if we step outside of religion, what do most people worship today? Well, that is clear enough; celebrities. Today, celebrities are often all of these things. When a celebrity has a meltdown, everyone is totally on board. Everyone loves it (even if they don’t love *it*).
That’s right. When society creates something PERFECT to worship, they just take whatever their current celebrities look like, turn the dial up to 12, and there we have it.
We never wanted a moral compass. We wanted someone to tell us what to do, and we wanted someone to tell us what we are doing already is ok. In our gods, in our God, I think we have always had that. In our gods, we have created that, and told ourselves this is what is perfect.
And this dangerous thought… I think it really should make you think.
But that’s just me.