But why?

So I was watching the new episode of Creation Today and I just… Am so sad at what they think of how lowly they think of other human beings. The episode itself is about pain and suffering, but for the most part they focus on the low hanging fruit, ignoring what others would consider the real issue.

They talk about how pain is important for our survival, citing a child with CIP (does not feel pain) who constantly injures herself as a result. “Obviously,” their reasoning goes, “pain is important. Case closed.”

What’s really funny is that they opened the episode with Stephen Fry asking why God would give children bone cancer, but ignore that point. “Christianity is the only religion that explains why pain is important.” They never touch on how children with cancer improve our world, but they do argue that general pain does. I mean, often the YEC will resort to misdirection, but they are the ones who brought up Stephen Fry, they are the ones who highlighted this clip of him lamenting children who live short, painful lives, then die, and then they are the ones who completely ignore the point they brought up. That is quite odd, even for them.

The weird part is where they get into ethics; “Atheists just think we are matter doing things to other matter, and why should that matter? Atheists really believe there is nothing wrong with murder!” Why do you get to say that? Why do you think there are no scientific reasons for morality and ethics? Why do you so strongly think you know what I believe more than I do?

I am sad that they think so little of people who are not Christian. They will tell you that they love all people, that they want to spread the word, that they want to convert people… And it works on some, but their methods are so insidious. “You are worthless except to God,” goes their logic, “Your morals are bad, your ethics are bad, you are going to hell, you are ignoring science, facts, and knowledge, you are looking at the world wrong, your thoughts are wrong. So join us, and all of that goes away!”

Wow. I am glad you think so highly of me. I am glad you are so reasonable.

They go further, in the episode; “Forest fires kill hundreds of humans, destroy life, damage habitats. So we should stop them, right? WRONG! Ecosystems require forest fires to thrive!” That is correct, of course; many lives, many trees, many ecosystems rely on forest fires for their regenerative purposes, for clearing out the old to make way for the new. We cannot stop them, and many will die in the future, many homes lost, many lives destroyed, because there is a greater good that comes from it.

But why?

Why did God create the ecosystem, as they would assert, that requires the destruction of so much, the death of so many? Is that pain good? Is it required? Did He have to create it that way? They tackled the question of forest fires from only the first level, assuming they are a given, but why should they be a given in a world created by an all loving, all caring creator? I am not attacking the fact that God did create these forest fires, the true question is “Why?” Why did God create an ecosystem that not only kills His Chosen people, but requires killing.

To me, it is always odd when people cite The Exodus as a reason that God loved his Chosen people. “He went to bat for us! He destroyed the Egyptians! He helped us escape oppression!”

First, he helped you escape after 400 or more years of oppression, by your own count. Second, once you escaped, he didn’t give you a home–you wandered for 40 years in the desert. Not only that, but He, the God who loves you, put strange, almost crazy restrictions on the Chosen people, the people that He loved. Dietary restrictions? You know it! Restrictions requiring the painful and occasionally horrific modification of male genitalia? Absolutely! How about we go back even further, because right out of the gate, even long before this, He cursed all women to monthly menstrual cycles and the pain of child birth, due to them eating a fruit! And, if one thinks about this at even the shallowest level, you have to remember that Eve did not know it was wrong. She and Adam had not yet eaten of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which means they would not have known their actions were evil. Oh, they may have found it odd that they were going against something God said, but all people go against their parents via our apparently God-given instincts. What do you do if your child disobeys you for the VERY FIRST TIME? Do you punish them slightly? Ground them? Get unhappy with them?

I am going to assume you would not curse their entire gender. I would say their entire species, but that isn’t true, is it? God is not good at targeting His curses, for He hit the females of every animal species because of Eve. Those are not the actions of a loving God. Those aren’t the actions of a stable God. Those aren’t the actions of a sane God.

This might seem an unjust attack on Christianity, or on a loving God, but that isn’t what I intended. I wanted to build context. “Why do you believe God loves us?”

Is it the Exodus? We covered that, the Exodus took his “Chosen” people from 400 years of slavery into 40 years of starvation and thirst. During that, His people were subjected to harsh Laws and restrictions. Hell, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he calls what God did “The curse of the Law.” That’s right, God saved His chosen people… Then immediately cursed them. Did He curse the Chinese, who did not know of him? The North American Native peoples? The Mayans? No, He did not curse those people. He cursed His chosen, but not any of his non-Chosen, except for the Egyptians… But thinking about that, they rebounded FAR BETTER than the Jewish people.

During any point in history prior to, and for several years after, Jesus Christ, being a Chosen Person of God was TERRIBLE. It was a curse, a hamper, it required pain and suffering. Pain and suffering of the kind that no other people had to suffer.

Hell, even after Christianity was accepted as the official religion of Rome, being a chosen person of God was awful. Right up through World War 2, where Hitler killed so many Jews, following that ancient religion has been a burden more terrible than God has set out for His non-Chosen. Being a Christian was not flowery, either, for there was the wars with the Muslims, the Crusades, the Inquisition. I hope you were born believing the right version of being God’s Chosen, because even being a Christian could get you killed by other Christians. There is a saying that I love that goes back many decades, and I do not know the original source, but it basically states that prior to the eighteenth century, Muslims were more tolerant of Christians than Christians were tolerant of other Christians.

“But for our pain, we are granted eternal paradise!” But why would God require you to suffer for the blink of an eye, for 10 or 20 or 70 years under oppression and pain, then give you eternal life? That seems such an odd choice.

And then, of course, come the odd questions–if someone has never heard of Christianity, will they go to Heaven? There is an old joke about African Missionaries converting pagans to Christianity. A pagan woman asks “If I become a Christian, will I go to Heaven?”

“Yes,” replies the Missionary.

“But,” continues the woman, “Would I have gone to Hell if I had never heard of your Christianity?”

“No,” the Missionary answers, “You would have been judged by your works, since you had never heard of God, He would not have punished you for it.”

“Then why,” the woman says, exasperated, “Did you tell me about your God?”

It’s sort of funny, but it’s more sad. Do you not read the implication there? In what the Missionary said? “You would have been better off had you never heard of our God, for you would not have had to Believe this particular story to go to Heaven.”

Again, not only are God’s own people punished, but people who are not of His own flock are rewarded for never having heard of his flock. And God loves His Chosen?

It sounds like He loves everyone except His Chosen.

So why?

But why?

Why?

Why do you believe God loves you? Why do you believe God cares? I simply do not have the tools at my disposal to answer that question for myself.

What’s in a Name

There are many different approaches to a name, and they manage to cover the entire spectrum. I think they are covered in the fantasy universe perhaps even better than by contemporary sources, so I’ll use extensive examples.

In Harry Potter, it is well known that the name of Voldemort is reduced to “He who must not be named,” by the general people… But by people of greater power and renown, such as Dumbledore, he is just Voldemort (or even further reduced to his original name; Tom). It is not a that a name has power, Dumbledore patiently explains, it is that people give it power.

In The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan paints a different picture. You are your name; your name is you. To invoke the true name of the Dark One, Shaitan, is nearly akin to casting a spell, drawing his attention to you. The name Shaitan is not truly a taboo to the lower of people, but it is in this universe that the most learned only are the ones who truly understand the nature of a name. In the first book, it is an ignorant yokel is said to have invoked the name of the Dark One, to prove that it holds no power, and what follows is dark fortune for a long time (crops failing, livestock dying, family coming down sick). It is clear to Robert Jordan that a name holds even more power than it is given by the people, the name is the root of the thread that is weaved into the pattern of destiny.

Why are these two diametrically opposed views even able to exist in our world?

That question is one of philosophy that I’ve barely heard discussed, but more and more there are people around me who mention it. It is Jewish tradition, well known, that you are never to utter the name of God. Further, when speaking of God, highly observant people will write “G-d”, so as to avoid digitally uttering the name of God.

The name is incredibly powerful, invoking it something that one must never do without full conviction.

In contrast, the name of God to most people is barely something worth considering. I do apologize, as I know the following curse is viewed by highly observant Christians as the worst thing a human can utter, but I do have to paint an illustration. The average person will say “Goddammit,” with almost no force, no conviction, a throwaway barely thought about.

In the real world, then, we have both Harry Potter style naming present (the ability to say Goddammit at all, without fear of repercussion being the evidence), and Wheel of Time naming (Those who read the word “Goddammit” feeling as though the world has been profaned).

Which world do we live in?

That is a question that is philosophically weighty, as it says thing about religion that cannot be merely bandied about haphazardly. I cannot tell you for a certain which world we live in, but I can tell you my beliefs.

I believe we live in the world of Harry Potter (not the fantastic elements, though I would hope most readers understand what I mean) as far as naming goes. I believe a name has no power but the power we give it, and that does allow for the Jewish (and some Christian) use of the word G-d, for to them the name has been given a great charge.

That being said, I do not believe the name (certainly to me, personally) has any power. One cannot invoke the name of God to me, and hope that I will give whatever is said more weight. If something is said to have “the weight of the Word of God,” behind it (The Bible. I am talking about the Bible here), I think it should be subjected to every bit as much scrutiny as any word published by a scientist (for the sake of popularity, I’ll reference Dawkins in this column).

It is expected of me, by YECs, that I should believe the Word of God because it has the weight of the Creator–but what does that mean?

We don’t know much of God except by the word of the Bible, and the Word of the Bible uses the name of God as a talisman. The disagreements between myself and the YEC crowd stem from the disagreement of the power of God.

What is God? Well, of course, He is God. Tautological though it may seem, the name, the word, conveys meaning to a degree, but it does not contain power.

Perhaps the meaning of the word contains power; the sum definition of God? That, I suppose, is for the reader to decide.

It is at this point that I have to step back in fear, for things that have been told to me by a good friend whose religious views I have seldom fully understood make some degree of sense–but while he would ascribe a strong power behind a name (I think?), we would disagree on this point. It is only through his context, though, that I am even able to discuss these things.

I am a very young mind in this arena of philosophy, though, and I know there is much I don’t see. Do you think a name holds power? If so, please let me know. Tell me why.

I know I am ignorant in this field, and certainly my knowledge of Jewish tradition (extra-biblical tradition, specifically) is lacking. I read a short essay on why the name of God is held in such high esteem, and I still can’t say I fully understand it all.

It is here that I must assure you that I understand why you hold God in high esteem, but God is a concept far greater than a name.

There is a much longer essay stuck between the lines here, an essay about words themselves. The religious friend I just mentioned would likely be very proud of that statement, it is something I learned directly from him.

Why does the name G-d mean less than writing God? They both refer to the exact same concept. Do you think an omniscient God is not aware of what G-d means?

The rule is that the name of God must never be written where it could be profaned, but is writing G-d not profaning the name before it could be profaned by others? Does that not count? Why doesn’t it count?

If I wrote the word God, then scratched out the “o” and changed it to a dash, that would certainly count as a defacement. But if I write the dash before I ever wrote the “o” it isn’t?

Such an odd set of rules, rules that seem very arbitrary and designed not by the mind of God but by the mind of humans. I understand, of course (from the essay I wrote) that writing G-d is a human construct, not of the Bible, but is born of the fear that someone, some day may deface the name (which, as per Deuteronomy) must never be defaced.

To write, though, “the unutterable name”, a synonym for YVHV (the name of God), still refers to that same name. So why doesn’t defacing the words “the unutterable name” count as defacing the name of God?

What is the meaning of a primary name, and other names? Certainly, to people of strong Jewish conviction, “the unutterable name” is an alternate name for God… But what makes a name “alternate” and another name “primary”? It seems to me to be more human rhetoric at work, where humans have no business working.

Of course, Muslims take that to another level, where the words used to describe God cannot be profaned (altering a Qur’an, or burning a Qur’an, of course, is punishable by death). What gives that very arrangement of words so much power? All of the words of the Qur’an are present in some form elsewhere, so why does that mere configuration have the weight of death? Is this at a higher level than that of the name of God? A lower level?

What is it that makes these things what they are?

I do not know. If anyone has any resources, or any advice, or anything that can help me understand, I am very open to it. I am sure people more knowledgeable than me could tear apart my views simply, or find flaws in my logic quickly, so go at it. I am not opposed to it at all.

A Confused Narrative

Something crossed my mind yesterday, for reasons I can neither explain nor fully understand. I have never been entirely comfortable with the idea of the Old Testament Yahweh, and have certainly levied many criticisms of Him and His supposed omniscience, but all of my words are seemingly cast aside by the counter argument of “progressive revelation.”

Progressive revelation is, for all intents and purposes, boiled down to the idea that God gave us His Holy Word (capitalizing those three words in a row feels wrong, somehow) in pieces for various reasons; we weren’t able to understand it, or the time wasn’t right, so He waited. I think this is nicely encapsulated by the disparity between the commandments of Moses stating that divorce can be granted via proper papers (Deuteronomy 24) as opposed to Jesus specifically saying “Hey guys, I know Moses said you could get a divorce, and I know my Dad more or less said that was cool, but you know what? Not cool.” (Slightly paraphrased from Matthew 19:1-9.) That seems an odd thing for an omniscient deity with strict rules and laws to do, for Jesus explicitly said “They could get a divorce because their hearts were hard.” Does God seem like the kind of deity to allow for something along the lines of “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Their marriages aren’t working out well, so I’ll let them have divorces. But only temporarily.” No, God is generally pretty clear in His explicit (and timeless) rules. At least, insofar as I am able to understand Him/them.

You know what, though? That is small potatoes. That is a blip on the radar so small that it passes by unnoticed by the gaze of ten thousand watching eyes in comparison to the nearly blinding idea that I had never considered until yesterday. It is so obvious, why had it not occurred to me? It is so obvious, yet why is it that I get only sparse Google results when considering it on a larger scale? It is so large as to cover the entire screen of our metaphorical radar, and perhaps that is why so few notice it.

Why did an omniscient, timeless God have a Chosen People at all? In the Old Testament, the Jews are the chosen and beloved, they are commanded on more than one occasion to kill all the men, women, and children (except the female virgin children for… reasons… [Numbers 31:17-18]), kill the animals and crops, to make the land as though no one had ever lived there before the Jews. When they were slaves under Pharaoh (historicity aside), He performed amazing shows of force, and freed them, His people, from the lash and chains of slavery. Historically, there were other slaves at the time; God did not save them, only the Jews (this is an important distinction). God set aside land for His chosen people, though it is odd that an omniscient God chose such contested land (there are places the Jews could call home that would result in far fewer deaths, then and now). As far as the Prophets, the narrative in the Old Testament seems to indicate that the Messiah would come to save the “lost lambs of the tribe of Israel,” a phrase translated to mean “The Jews.” In other words, as far as the Old Testament prophets were concerned, the Messiah was coming to save them, not the world. This makes sense, in the grand scheme of things; God has shown a remarkable level of callousness to all people and races who were not Jewish; personally I find it odd that He, in His omniscience, would often show Himself to and have direct conversations with people of His own chosen race… Then punish other races for not worshiping Him. This seems a heavy handed approach, as other peoples would have had no reason to worship Him or know he existed, as He had not frequently spoken to (and presumably dislocated the hip of [go read Genesis 32. If that wasn’t written under the effects of hallucinogens, I don’t know of any way it could possibly have been inspired]) their leaders. Hey, speaking of Genesis 32, Jacob (whose hip has been dislocated by God) seems … Well, it is an odd chapter, for Jacob is wrestling with a man who comes out of NOWHERE (verse 23? No man. Verse 24: Jacob was wrestling with a guy. Verse 25: wrestling guy decides he can’t win, dislocates Jacob’s hip. Verse 27: RANDOM GUY WAS CLEARLY GOD!). That summary bears some explanation: in verse 25, the man (who later turns out to be God) decides he can’t win. Omniscient, all-powerful God cannot beat Jacob in a wrestling match on even footing, so He uses magic to dislocate Jacob’s hip. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO LEARN FROM THIS?!

Got side tracked there. Anyway, yeah, God only talks to Jews, Jews are His chosen, and He will smite anyone who gets in the way of His chosen (sometimes). I mean, he actually makes His chosen do the smiting at His command, AFTER He commands that “thou shalt not kill.”

Then… Jesus! Chosen people? WHO CARES ABOUT THE CHOSEN PEOPLE! I am here to save everyone! Gentile and Jew, as many a popular hymn reiterate! Now, I know you might be bitter because my Dad commanded that your forefathers be killed and your virgin children taken as slaves, but HE CHANGED HIS MIND! Rejoice, all people! Rejoice!

My question, and the whole point of the post, is this: Why did God have a chosen people at all if He planned to eventually reveal Himself as the savior of all people? Why did He smite so many people, if He eventually planned to save their descendents? Were their forefathers just born at the wrong time? Was God just cranky that day (read: that several hundred years)? Why would a timeless God smite so many, only to save them later? Those are the actions of someone who can’t decide what they want, not the actions of someone who has a timeless, eternal plan. Like God is making it up as He goes along. Oh, I know the Bible says “Jesus was there from the foundations of the world,” (the Gospel of John, though to me the evidence of that is dubious, and the wording unclear at best), but that seems more like someone who trips into a somersault, bounces up, and says “I meant to do that!” This whole situation reeks of that same level of excuse to me; I chose a people, it didn’t work out, so then I chose ALL PEOPLE! Then, like the aforementioned person who tripped, we are informed “And that was how I meant to do it all along.

I won’t lie, if someone broke into my house, and killed my dogs and raped my wife, and took my children, and then told me “You are alive because I have chosen you!” I would not be like “Truly, you are an awesome person, great in mercy, and Just in decision!” I’d be like “Oh what the f*** dude, the cops are on their way, and I hope you share a cell with the biggest, most rape-happy prisoner in the supermax.”

And yet here we are, and it was when I was very young that I learned the jubilant tune of “Our God is an Awesome God,” and it is only now that I consider just how odd it is that He commanded the killing of so many, then proclaimed eternal, unconditional love for all. You say the word “unconditional”, but I do not think it means what you think it means.