Ain’t no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christianity’. Theo-idiocy? Yeah, THAT’s a thing.

Seems like all I’m doing lately is calling out the IMPOTUS for inherent ignorance and institutionally-supported nonsense. It’s a holiday down south and that guy gave another scripted (yet poorly read) speech, part of which claimed that the US is ‘proud of the fact that the country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.’

Given my current job, it’s sometimes easy for me to forget that I spent a fair bit of time completing a Ph.D in something wholly and completely outside of the wheelhouse in which I now toil. At times the memory comes back in a rush that can knock me back quite significantly as I rage at the popular usage of terms that have zero basis in substantive reality.

‘Judeo-Christianity’ is one of those terms. It’s an illegitimate and dismissively conflated descriptor of nothing.

But, like many illegitimate descriptors, it has a history – sourced in US politics and the development of the concept of an American civil religion that deifies things like the specific interpretations of the Constitution and the Stars and Stripes – to the exclusion of things like human rights and racial equality.

So no. Let’s not use this term at all. I do not accept – let alone embrace – the misplaced nationalism that has led to the divisive rhetoric that has exploded under the current ‘administration’.

Judaism does not exist solely as an antecedent of Christianity. I cannot say this loudly enough.  Which people would know, if they ever bothered to read the books. ALL the books. ALL of ALL of the books.

Like other artificial constructs – race is a biggie – the concept of Judeo-Christianity is a conceit that has long passed its time and putative usefulness. It is not helpful to describe any human activities in (created) terms that conflate anachronistic ideologies in service of societal statuses quo.

Yeah. Apparently that’s not a realistic expectation. My bad thinking that humanity has grown out of the need to support crimes and criminals based in archaic worldviews that illustrate de-evolution of rational thought and evidential insight.

A while back, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in the US, the rhetoric – driven, largely, by that terrorist organization that controls Congress (I’m talking about you NRA), gun ‘hobbyists’, and demagogues who will use whatever language (‘holy’ or otherwise) that serves the furtherance of their continued power-mongering – reached a new low in one particular ‘opinion’ piece I read. I was led to the link through the Twitter feed of Mikel Jollett (again, I know. But the guy is really on top on most of what is going wrong with things down south of our border. With the proliferation of nonsense out there these days, I’m grateful for the filter he provides. He’s more than an incredible singer-songwriter).

I hesitate to link the article and its reprehensible idiocy. But context is vital, so, if you wish, you can find it here: http://thefederalist.com/2017/11/06/saints-first-baptist-church-murdered-god-answering-prayers/

To summarize (TA:DR = Too abhorrent, didn’t read): the author, a Lutheran pastor, seems to think that those who were murdered at that Sunday gathering had their prayers answered when they were gunned down by a person who should never had had access to weapons of mass-destruction. Not in any society that makes claims about its progressiveness and supposed-leadership, anyway.

The publisher of the ‘news’letter responded to Mikel’s understandable disgust with a snarky comment, suggesting that a googling of ‘theodicy’ – and an understanding of Dostoevsky – was required for a real appreciation of the offensive idiocy that the pastor was spouting.

If I’m honest, I’m not a fan of (depressing) Russian writers (been there, read that, moved on), especially when they are co-opted to support some twisted Ayn Randian libertarian agenda. So I’ll leave that bit of it alone.

But you want to talk theodicy? Them’s fighting words. Bring. It.

Seriously.

I dare you.

The ways in which people have attempted to justify the unjustifiable while still positing the existence of a beneficent deity has been a significant focus of my adult life. I’m exhausted with repeated readings of the bodies of literature that seek to understand the ‘minds’ of made-up beings who claim to have governance and judgement over our lives and deaths.

This enraged me:

“When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.” 

Even copying and pasting that bit of ugliness made me retch. After decades of immersion in the texts and histories and experiential accounts that support views like this one, I cannot get beyond the repugnancy and abrogation of responsibility that is represented in the cognitive dissonance that permits such beliefs to persist, still, anywhere in this world.

Even more enraging? That people who publish platforms that permit the dissemination of such excuses for human wrong-doing do so in an age of social media saturation that permits the spreading of credulous inanity without recourse or rebuttal – at least none that is presented in more than 140 characters.

The irrevocable damage that this causes is evident in the comments section of the original article. I despair.

The narrative that is being spun in the States (and elsewhere – it’s just too in-our-collective-faces to avoid concentrating on what’s happening as that dotard is allowed, somehow, to continue his reign of ignorance) is one of a contrived and dangerous story that promulgates the spread of ideas that seek to forgive the unforgivable in the name of a unsupportable theodicy and idiocracy, both. The combination of those two things is leading us in a direction that might have no turn-off.

The events of the past months – and the on-going reality of the pandemic – have demonstrated that we CAN change the narrative. Confederate statues are coming down (don’t get me started on said statues being ‘history’. Really. Just don’t). Black Lives Matter protests and articles and brave voices are having positive, visible effects. First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in Canada are speaking out – and demanding that engagement and action (as promised by the federal government – remember the TRC, PM Trudeau? A few years have passed since 2015) actually happens. Racists are running scared and their reactions are telling on them more-and-more (be they Karens, Kyles or otherwise).

Which isn’t to say the work is anywhere near being complete.

Max Weber saw theodicy – the justification for a ‘good’ god permitting bad things – as a social problem – a struggle with meaning. In these times – which are a-changing, regardless of those delusions held by the racist and Evangelical dinosaurs – that struggle is very much an attempt to order chaos – hence all the apocalyptic visions and promises. Right-wing religious types have no choice but to cling to their various theodicies (the prosperity gospels are one facet of the straws at which they grasp). Without them, their concept of a god of goodness vanishes – along with their perceived inherent privilege.

Although the struggle is found throughout (hello Prophets) the Hebrew Scriptures’ most obvious attempt at god-vindication is found in the Book of Job. Millennia of exegetes have discussed the theodicy of Job – and the suffering the righteous man was made to endure (as the result of challenge between god and his right-hand dude, the satan). Cole’s Coles’ Notes version? God does what he does because he does it – and us tiny humans don’t have the capacity to understand the workings of the universe or those things that are required to keep it all in order. Order, again. As far as question-and-answer literature goes, the response is a little thin IMHO (not unlike the edited version of that book by Qoheleth). “Because I said so” tends to be something resorted to when real justification can’t be sourced or explained. Regardless, the sufferings of Job – despite his goodness and obedience – are echoed in the trials of the Jews in their persecutions, exiles and disaspora. They well knew that their god was a jealous, demanding god.

Christian interpretations of  Job tend to over-emphasize his patience and obedience – skipping over the obvious frustration and anger he demonstrates in the conversations he had with his persecutor. It took a whole lot of reading of Christian exegesis for me to get a handle on how anyone could be said to have ‘the patience of Job.’ The guy didn’t strike me as particularly uncomplaining (nor should he have been). Later theologies – again, emphasizing a complete and total subjugation to the will of god – suggest Job as an OT parallel to Jesus.  The NT Epistle of James suggests that Christians should emulate the quiet perserverance of  Job as all he values is stripped from him – lands, belongings, children.

One doesn’t have to look far to hear contemporary Evangelicals echoing the emptiness of this perspective. The willfully-blind followers Cult 45 seem to have fully embraced this interpretation. Not one among them would dare to question the leader/god in his proclamations – never thinking to rage against the imposition of suffering and loss.

Admittedly, this reading of Job is a surface summary of the many papers I’ve written on the problem of evil in biblical traditions. I know my posts tend to be wordy, but even I need to draw the line somewhere. Suffice it to say that theodicy – the emphasis on the goodness of god in a world that holds evil – appears very differently in Jewish traditions than it does in Christian readings of the same Scriptures. Judeo-Christian is NOT. A. THING.

Suffice it to say, also, that Evangelical Cult 45 (‘literal’) readings of the biblical writings are used to support and suborn the actions of the current US leadership and those with vested interests in maintaining the state of affairs that continues to benefit a minority of the population.

As we change the narrative – re/learning history as it happened – we need also check our nomenclature. Theodicy has been used to justify the unjustifiable for far too long. Privilege – and the texts and traditions that support an inequitable status quo – needs examining. As do the imperatives behind the constant cries of ‘LAW AND ORDER’ by a wanna-be king who sees himself as untouchable – because he says he is – and all those who maintain the inherent justice and ‘rightness’ of his role.

#WearAMask

Pots and Kettles

“Evil, they said, was brought into the world by the rebel angels.  Oh really?  God sees and foresees all, and he didn’t know the rebel angels were going to rebel?  Why did he create them if he knew they were going to rebel?  That’s like somebody making car tires that he knows will blow out after two kilometers.  He’d be a prick.  But no, he went ahead and created them, and afterward he was happy as a clam, look how clever I am, I can even make angels… Then he waited for them to rebel (no doubt drooling in anticipation of their first false step) and then hurled them down into hell.  If that’s the case he’s a monster.”

Umberto Eco- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (pg. 349)

No one writes like Umberto Eco.  His language- even as translated from Italian- is beautiful beyond belief.  He seems to see words as symbols- and as a semiotician (not a ‘symbologist’- hear that Dan Brown?  No such thing) he maintains that all cultural phenomenon can be viewed as communication.

He is one of my heroes.

I will likely wax philosophic and play the super-fan about him at some point, but the focus here is meant to be what he has to say about god and the fall of the angels in Queen Loana.

(after one more quick aside… It’s a beautiful book- about memory, and the loss of memory, and how it is tied to our definitions of self and the construction of personality.  You should read it).

So… God is a prick.  And a monster.

What else can you say about a deity who sets its creation up to fail?  And to Fall?  That particular point of theology/theodicy has always been a big sticking point for me.

‘Look at all these super-cool trees.  You can eat from any of them.  Oh.  Except that one.  The best looking one of all.”  There seems to be a whole bunch of unreasonable and unjustified ‘testing’ going on throughout the biblical mythology.  It’s like Yahweh was playing The Game with an entire Nation of unsuspecting suitors.

Of course it’s not a new thing- questioning the theodicy of the god of Israel.  Reconciling a supposedly benevolent and omniscient singular deity (the ‘mono’ in monotheism) with the evil that is an apparently dominant presence in the world was something that the Ancients also wrestled with.  Some of the greatest Wisdom literature examines this tension in great detail- and to differing degrees of success.

For polytheists, this was less of an issue.  There were all kinds of gods- and not all of them had the good of humanity as one of their major points of concern.

Evil (or chaos- going back to that foundational Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian dichotomy) was easily explained as the influence of malignant beings- gods or demons- as they messed with humanity- either for their own ascendency or just for something to do.  Apparently, being a god could get boring.  This godly need to ‘interfere’ with humans is a functional component of most world mythologies and religion.

Interference can take the positive form of divine inspiration or communication (through such interesting media as burning bushes, voices in the thunder, taking human form on earth, and etc.) or the less-than-holy ‘temptation’- persuasion and inducement to join the dark side of the force.

And sometimes they just showed up to get their rocks off.  Zeus, for example, had a thing for animal disguises and tendency toward rape.  Even the god of the New Testament wasn’t above impregnating unsuspecting Palestinian maidens.

All this is pretty ‘hands on’ involvement in the lives of us human creatures as we crawled about on the face of the earth back in the day (it doesn’t seem to happen as much lately).  Many of the oldest stories feature humans as little more than playthings of the gods- pawns in some incomprehensible game of Twister.

(And as I wrote that line this popped into my head :

The gods may throw the dice, their hearts as cold as ice

And someone way down here loses someone dear

Ah, Abba.  Benny and Bjorn can be connected to anything!)

The biblical stories- canonical and non-canonical- demonstrate this propensity and the idiosyncratic changeability of the character of the god.  This can be explained by the fact that stories were written and re-written and redacted by generations of Israelites, Judeans, Jews and Christians (not to mention the ‘heretics’ like the followers of the various gnostic groups) over hundreds of years.

But many of those who see the bible- old and new testaments- as a single continuity and narrative have a harder time reconciling the vast differences in personality and approach of the singular deity (that was then divided- yet not divided– into three parts).  Still, they manage.  Somehow they are okay with this clearly bi-polar god being seen as unchanging and unchangeable.

The lengths to which we are willing go in the continuation of self-delusion when we try really hard is pretty spectacular at times.

Still, can we really look at the actions of Yahweh as being all about the betterment and support of humanity?  The authors of books like Job and Ecclesiastes didn’t really think so.  They asked questions and received less-than-strongly-supported ‘arguments’ about the god’s omniscience and justice.

If the fallen angels can be vilified for giving humanity the gifts of civilization (temptations that lead us from the path ordained by the deity) can we go any easier on the deity who allowed the Fall(s) (Adam’s and the angels’) to happen.  Who orchestrated the actions?  Is it not all part of the ‘divine plan’ that is laid out in linear history and leading us to the ultimate End of Days at which time those pesky fallen angels will finally get their comeuppance?

Free will is a tricky proposition.  Arguably, there would be far fewer (or non-existent) issues if we all were programmed to follow a set path at all times and under all examples of adversity.  The truth is, people often suck.  We do have this propensity to want to look out for ourselves, take what isn’t ours, reach beyond that which we’re capable of.

In order to explain that- in a worldview that posits a benevolent deity- evil, and those who suborn evil, had to be created in explanation.  And if we were to be able to be influenced by this evil and its incarnations, we had to have some sort of ability built in to us that permits that choice.  So, free will.

It would be lovely if I could believe in just the benevolence and the love and wisdom that can be seen in some of the myths of the biblical deity/deities.  As I have said before, faith can provide hope when faced with nothing more than hopelessness.

I had an email conversation with a friend, and former student, today.  In discussing current job searches, I offhandedly told him to ‘keep the faith’.

His response to that?  “Faith is the active suspension of critical thinking…. no thanks.”

And my comeback?  “It doesn’t have to be about a lack of critical thinking.  I was using it figuratively- or rather, in a humanistic manner.  In that I have faith in (some of) my fellow humans and experiential evidence that some people warrant that level of faith.”  Or something along those lines.

I can continue to believe in people.  We are continually subject to change and so very very adaptable that it astonishes me when I see the things that some manage to cope with, weather and emerge the stronger for.  I honestly think that we are constantly trying to do better, to be better, to achieve the level of goodness with which we imbue the best of our gods.

Even assuming that I could somehow change the entirety of the way in which I view the world and discover some form of faith in a supernatural entity that is overseeing my life and the lives of those I love, if that deity adheres to/embodies an approach to justice that I can’t begin to comprehend in what way does it deserve love and worship?

And if said deity is not as adaptable and open to evolution (as opposed to inconsistent and scatter-brained changeability) and betterment as its creation, how can he it considered in any way superior to the best of humanity?

Blaming rebel angels for the negative stuff that happens in the world is a supreme cop-out.  Especially when the creator deity, if we follow the theology and myriad attempts to explain an incomprehensible theodicy (‘humans cannot know the mind of god’?  Another cop-out), is supposed to be all-knowing, -creating, -seeing and -loving.

Making this group of rebels the source and continuation of all that is bad and wrong in the world not only doesn’t make the least bit of logical sense, it really is a case of one kitchen implement referring to its comparable counterpart as dark and evil.

Or, just a childish, petulant deity that has no place in the 21st century.

I know you are, but what am I?