Over on Hessian With Teeth’s blog, the authors have watched a documentary and asked for comments about it. The doc is “A History of God” based on the book by Karen Armstrong of the same name. Armstrong is a theist who wants to have her god but who doesn’t want the baggage it comes with.
The following is my stream of consciousness kibitzing written while watching it. It was going to be just a comment on the blog, but it quickly got out of hand. 🙂
Well, the first thing that struck me is that the doc, and probably the book, assumes that everyone believes in a singular god and we’re all just one happy family, which of course is not true, the reality being much more complicated. It’ strikes me as the same bs when Christians want to claim that everyone “really” believes in their god, in an attempt to co-opt every good and decent person in history to their “team”.
Ms. Armstrong makes the claim that we “can’t” worship like our ancestors. That is of course not true. There are plenty of people worshipping quite like their ancestors, and there are people worshipping as close to their ancestors as they can get. There has indeed been a change in worship for some people, like Ms. Armstrong, who do their best to redefine their god so they don’t have to be responsible for what their religion has done, and so they can ignore that their religion is based on just as many ridiculous things as those “pagan” religions were.
Hilarious that the one Lutheran fellow says that Agnes was a saint for breast cancer when that was entirely invented. Funny how he forgets that the Church claimed that sickness was from being unright with their god.
It does do a decent job of showing how belief in gods is nothing more than human fantasy and that the idea of Israelites as culture always separate is nonsense. If the OT claims are wrong, then there is little reason to believe in a god invented from that culture. Armstrong’s attitude seems to be a bit condescending, rather like patting an ignorant child on the head.
It is interesting that the rabbi says that sacrifice is for when you really mean it, which does indicate that the resurrection is rather meaningless. It’s also rather amusing that the wrestling with God is now magically just a metaphor, but there is nothing to show this is what was thought by the authors. It’s the usual invention by modern theists to claim that they know exactly what the ancient authors meant in one case, and claim to not know in another.
We go from a god that can be physically wrestled with to a god, and won’t give his name, to one that you can’t approach and will give a name. Armstrong claims that it was about not being able to control this god. Which wrestling god to a standstill and winning seems to be quite a direct way to control this god. God becomes a little more vague and supposedly more powerful, murdering the innocent after controlling a man to do exactly what he wants so he can show off. Of course, no evidence of this at all.
An African American pastor says that they find a parallel in the exodus story. Which begs the question, why didn’t this god do for them as he supposedly did for the Israelites if prayer works as the pastor claims?
An Orthodox priest give a lovely non-answer, as does a imam, that god just “is” and how dare anyone try to define this god, which is of course exactly what the bible does its best to do. The rabbi also makes the same claim. It’s much more convenient to claim that one can’t define a god, because then one can say “well, this god doesn’t do that.” We’re well on their way to the “ground of being” claims of folks like Armstrong and other Sophisticated Theologians ™.
The doc does mention that this god is getting more and more contradictory, jealous and cruel, compassionate and merciful. The doc does not mention the genocide that this god commands.
Weirdly enough, it seems that Armstrong does think that one of the prophets did eat poop. This is amusing since she claims that the Israelites were trying to remove themselves from the “mythical” traditions of the Middle East. Doesn’t seem that way at all. The altar challenge is mentioned and unsurprisingly, this bit of nonsense is claimed to be true and it is claimed that God makes rain. It does mention that the priests of Baal were murdered. But golly, it’s just getting rid of a competitor.
The claims of “transcendence” is claimed, again that no one really comprehend this god, but then it’s claimed that one can see this god and understand how great this god is.
It’s rather amazing that Armstrong claims that Greek Rationalism is a “faith” just like Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc. There is a claim that there was an Axial Age at this time, that this is important since “all” of the major world religions were invented around this time and supposedly these cultures didn’t have any real contact, which is again apparently not true. It is noted that warfare was supposedly more prevalent at this time. Of course, there is nothing mentioned about this possible causation of faith that says one group is better than another to having an influence on war.
It’s also claimed that god finds compassion more important than sacrifice. This change in this god is right when the culture is failing as a power and now must claim that they are failing as a power because their god really didn’t want them to be conquerors. How convenient for this god to change right when humans need it to do so. The doc does make a great point that this god suddenly becomes a world god rather than a local god because the believers are spread out more. Again, this god is changed to fit, not the other way around. It is easier to believe your god wants something bizaare than to think that the god doesn’t exist.
The religion changes again, because well, what do you do about a failed culture that was conquered by Rome? Claims of the messiah coming were made, and real soon now this god would be back, just like it was back in the OT. But sicne that didn’t quite work out, then well, the messiah will take us to an invisible place. The doc does a good job at showing that no one really knows what the gospels are saying and that they disagree. Armstrong says that JC never calls himself god. That may be technically true but the bible sure gets close to it and most, if not all, modern Christians are sure of it.
The religion changes again and now includes all people, not just a chosen people, thanks to the efforts of the early Chrsitians who needed to keep growing. The doc does mention Mithras, and points out the similarities. The one commentator does get something completely wrong, that Jesus was supposedly illiterate. It’d be rather hard for JC to read in the temple for this to be true. Again, we see the story of Jesus change to fit what humans want to believe, not the other way around.
Then we get to the problems in the various sects of Christianity and how politics crystallized it into a creed. Eastern and Western churches split and of course each claim that they are the truth. Is JC a sacrifice for original sin, a one-time ultimate god sacrifice, or is JC an example of a deified being and anyone can become like him. It’s no surprise that as much as the RCC claims they want to rejoin with the orthodox churches, this is rather unlikely to happen.
The invention of the trinity is discussed. It is as much as a mess as you might think. The invisible “holy spirit” is the excuse for not seeing this god doing anything, as it did in the past. Now it doesn’t have to be actually seen. An analogy is attempted to be drawn between humans and this god. God is somehow limited by humans, and somehow “can’t” make itself entirely understood. Why it couldn’t make humans to be able to understand is a “mystery” aka “we’ve argued ourselves into a corner and now have to make it seem that we knew what we were talking about by saying you just have to believe what we say.” The doc does give a good overview of all of the explanations of what the trinity “really” means.
God gets more and more vague in Christianity. Islam shows up on the stage and God gets temporarily more real, having a new prophet and doing more miracles, coopting the native religion of the Arabian penninsula. But Islam also runs into the problem of making concrete claims of this god and it rarifies too. Parts become metaphor. And each variation of the faiths of the book insists that each give the same magical feeling that one knows the “truth”. Hard to do if there is only one truth, eh? It’s also very amusing to see the claim of equality prated about, when not a woman is to be found in so many religions holy places shown so nicely by the documentary. Such pious bullshit.
It also mentions that Islam didn’t require conversion by Jews and Christians (in some cases there was a tax), but funny how Islam also says that the non-believer should be killed. The doc doesn’t mention that at all.
“How will the history of God in human consciousness continue to unfold?” The doc says that humans find their god unchanging. This is of course ridiculous since the claims about god have constantly changed. This would indicate that this god is unable to make itself clear, an omnipotent being limited by a thing it made.
Religion is supposedly caught between atheism and fundamentalism. It does point out that fundamentalism is a point of view. Of course, no version can be shown to be right, no matter how piously each commentator claims that their version is the new right one. The usual whine that “but but my religion explains ultimate meaning” is trotted out, and of course each one of the commentators don’t quite get that each of them makes the claim, and none of them have been shown to have this ultimate meaning. Atheism is claimed to be “good” because it kicks the religions out of their complacency, the usual attempt to claim that God is using everyone, with no evidence at all. What atheists, not atheism, can do is show that religion is nonsense, makes false claims and is not the bastion of objective morality that each claims. Then religion changes when the emperor is shown to have no clothes. My husband asked this while we were watching the doc, “If you don’t believe in slavery, where did that idea come from? It certainly wasn’t from the bible. If it wasn’t from there, morality is generated by humans.”
This continues to happen today where the god can’t be what was claimed, so new claims have to be made and old ones have to be claimed to be only “metaphor”. Armstrong claims that this god is part of humanity and that we have to use our imagination to find this god. Isn’t that the truth…..