Sunday, June 26, 2005

Is God power hungry?

Just a quick follow up to yesteday's post. One reader (I have readers! Yaaay!) wrote in to say that he thought I was being overly cynical in portraying God as power hungry.

I don't think so. At some level, the very idea of belief being necessary is one that rests on the idea of God wanting, or rather, needing power. If there really is a God (an idea I'm far from convinced of btw - how's that for being cynical!), then why does it matter to him* whether people believe in him or not. If you were an all powerful, all-seeing being would you sit sullenly sulking in a corner, saying "I'll help you, but first you have to say that you believe in me"? If God were truly compassionate, then he would logically help everyone equally, independent of whether they believed in him or not.

Understand I'm not saying that God should be good to everyone (since at some level good is relative anyway) - I'm only saying that people should be judged (if they are judged at all) on their actions rather than on whether or not they happen to believe in one particular deity. So, take for instance, the issue of the death of unbaptised infants. How self-centred and small minded would you have to be to deny these little ones a place in heaven (always assuming there is such a place) just because their parents happened to be too busy planting paddy or getting their taxes done or attending their pilates sessions to get around to having some water poured over their child's head? Or alternatively, consider Dante's Inferno**, where the first circle of Hell is reserved for pagans who died without knowing Christ. This is a circle peopled by such great men as Virgil, Horace and Ovid (and presumably by Homer, Sophocles, Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, etc.) - who belong in Hell only because they were never baptised and never accepted Christ. The fact that Christ hadn't been born when these men lived is clearly not relevant.

Who would deny such men a place in Heaven? Who would be so churlish, such a bully? Only someone who was incredibly insecure - someone who was afraid that he would cease to exist if people stopped believing in him, that he would somehow lose his supremacy if the majority of people did not constantly worship him. The difference between such a God and a truly compassionate being is the difference between a pop star and a true artist - this is a God who is more concerned with TRPs than with human suffering. The God of the Old Testament, we are told, is a Jealous God, but jealousy implies a desire to covet, a hunger - and what can God hunger for except for power (and maybe the occassional pizza. Think what Christ could do with anchovies - one small fish and you have toppings for everyone.)?

You could argue, of course, that God needs belief to survive and therefore his desire for it is justified. There are two problems with this - one, if God truly had faith in his own abilities, then surely he would be confident that he had only to help people as best as he could and they would believe in him. The true artist does not need to pander to the crowd - he plays what his heart tells him and the people listen and are moved. The second problem is that even if God really needed belief to survive, how can you call a being compassionate when he prioritises his own survival over the welfare of his charges. If everything God (presumably) does is paid for by our belief in him, then he is surely little better than a service provider, a self-interested and rational economic actor (and presumably, soon to be outsourced to a call centre in Gurgaon).

Therefore, I don't think it's cynical to see God as power hungry - the fact that he demands belief makes him so. In fact, if you believe that he is all powerful to start with, then it makes him worse - it makes him a psychotic megalomaniac. Consider, for instance, the story of Rahab from the book of Joshua. When the Isrealites attack her city, Rahab is the only one whose life is spared, because she is the one who gives shelter to the spies of Israel and helps them destroy the very city she has been calling her home. This is treason; but in the eyes of the Old Testament God it is excusable because it is treason done in his name! (As a matter of fact, the entire book of Joshua is practically a creed for terrorists - the basic idea being that if you believe in the true God then you can go around slaughtering all your enemies and committing all sorts of henious acts, and as long as you're doing this in the name of religion, your God won't just let you get away with it, he'll actually help!!). For all the fuss made over (and scorn heaped on) Vidkun Quisling - there's actually biblical precedent for what he did!

One final point: understand that I'm not necessarily arguing that there's anything wrong with being power hungry (though you have to worry a little bit if the being hungry for power is supposed to be all-powerful to begin with); in some ways, to recognise that God is power hungry is to be able to establish a cleaner relationship with him (which I guess is the point of monotheism anyway). Think of it as any other career decision - would you want to work for a boss who was incredibly driven, highly ambitious, and would do pretty much anything (like murder his son, for instance) in order to get ahead (following the Christian God is almost like joining the Mob - I personally have always thought of God as being a sort of Don Corleone, only on a slightly larger scale - and don't even get me started on the significance of the twelve families all coming from the same place)? For some people, the answer to that question may well be yes - in which case this is the right God for them. Just as long as we're not kidding ourselves with the notion of some gentle, benign presence who watches over us with compassion and mercy. That's just the stuff they tell you before they shake you down for protection money.

* Throughout this post I refer to God as him - this is just a matter of convention. I see no reason why God could not be a woman (it might even explain why Mary was still a Virgin afterwards) - in fact, on the whole, I'd be happier if She was. (my biggest fear about heaven is that I'll make it there and it'll be a place where everyone sits around in front of this giant TV screen drinking beer and watching baseball; and there won't even be coasters)

** Of course, Dante is not exactly scripture, even though IMHO he's far more worthy of worship. Still, I don't seem to remember any Church strenously objecting to his interpretation of Hell.


Anonymous said...

Hello there. I was just wanting to comment on your post/blog/belief. As a believer in Christ (as you see, I did not use the term Christian, because I feel I am not worthy of being labeled as a complete follower of Christ)I would just like to point out a few things that I have learned from becoming a believer in Christ.

You refer to the idea that God needs power. Now if He was seeking power, then yes, your idea would be correct in saying that the power He is needing would come from His followers and the people who could be His followers. The same way a human leader would need followers in order to become powerful. But how much sense does it make for someone to say that an all powerful, almighty God like the one I believe is the one true God, needs power? Which is why the Bible does not speak of God in this way. He does not ask or force you to follow Him to make Him more powerful, the way that Xerxes or Hitler or Alexander had done on earth. He ask you to follow Him so that the world can know Him and know His love. This is why most people who claim to be Christians are greatly mistaken in telling people and forcing people to believe something. I, as a believer in Christ, am not called to force anything on you or anyone else. God has granted us the gift of free will. The ability to choose our paths in life.

Which brings me to my next point. You mention the following words, "If God were truly compassionate, then he would logically help everyone equally, independent of whether they believed in him or not." This is true. In our world today, you have the people who claim that they are Christians, but when disaster strikes, or when someone is needing comfort, rather than be the image of Christ, they choose to pass judgment or cast blame upon those fallen victim. But you also have people who are believers of Christ, true followers of The Word. And instead of rejecting the weak and weary, they reach out there hands to comfort them, help them understand, help them recover. So, God wants (not needs) us to be an image of Him. A compassionate, loving, caring, and helping person. We cannot be Him, but we can share who He truly is, if we choose to.

Anonymous said...

And so I continue to the next point of view you have. You mention that God is a jealous God, and that why would He covet something. This would make Him a hypocritical God, because He commands us "Thou shall not covet". But if you look into the context of this word "jealous" and the way that it is used in the Old Testament, you will find that it translates back to the word "zeal". You will find this in the Old and New Testaments when referring to how God feels. Now "zeal" refers to being jealous and/or zealous. Which causes this translation to be defined as "being eager to protect what is precious to oneself". So rather than God coveting humans, He wants to protect humans. And, unfortunately, since we have been granted free will, He can only ask of us to follow rather than force us to follow, this is what causes Him to say these words. He reaches out his hand and does only what He can to help us which is asking us to just believe in Him and follow His ways.

Now onto the whole terrorists and slaughtering. I can see your point. But do you know the whole story of the attack on this city? The reason they attacked the people of Jericho was due to the fact that they were people known for their acts of hatred and crime and that there would be an attempt for them to try to take over and corrupt the Israelites. Now if look into more recent history, why did the U.S. choose to aid the French and British soldiers during World War 2 before Hitler had declared war against the U.S.? Because the Germans were persecuting innocent people and the U.S. felt compelled to help stop this act of violence. The same way the troops of Joseph felt they should stop the acts of the Canaanites before they got any further.

Now, keep in mind, not all acts of war and violence can be justified. The acts of a serial killer cannot be justified because they take it upon themselves to murder innocent people. The same way that the U.S. attacking many countries cannot be justified, because there were no just causes. God calls us to protect the weak and powerless from tyranny and oppression.

Finally, my final opinion after reading your opinion. There is a problem with being power hungry. Striving for power causes selfishness, greed, conceit. Without a stable mind and knowing right from wrong, power can destroy you and cause more problems than when you were "powerless". That why it says in Isaiah, that power comes from The Lord. He has all the power needed, so which brings me back to the beginning. God does not need anymore power because He is all powerful and almighty God.

I'm sure a lot of what I have had to say can cause argument. But I am not here to argue. My only purpose is to shed some light on this subject from my point of view. And as I have said, it is good to know that people are using the free will they have been granted to express their opinions. And from my point of view, it would be great if people who did follow Christ would stand up and speak their mind about the truth of The Word, the way you have spoken about your belief. Maybe then the world would look at Christians from a completely different perspective.

Thank you for your time.


Anonymous said...

Now this can go into the next part of your opinion. You say that people should be judged upon their actions and their lifestyle. This is true, to an extent. The only unpardonable sin after death, according to The Bible from what I have read, is the rejection of God. I understand your point of view when you ask "Why should we have to believe in one particular deity?" But what have you been told that can convince you otherwise? Which is why I ask you, why shouldn't you believe in one particular deity? It is your choice, and I respect that because life is based on choices. It is just one thing that I am curious of because the response is always different.

But back to the subject at hand. The Bible does not hold those who are completely unaware of what is asked of us, for example, a child who never gets the chance to understand the love of God, or an infant whose life is lost. Even adults can be pardoned, if they have never been introduced to The Word of God and know nothing of His teachings. But when someone learns The Word, can understand The Word, but still rejects The Word, those are the ones who are held accountable for their actions.

And, personally, I love your reference to Dante's Inferno. Those are great works of literature.

But my only disagreement with these readings, is that I have never seen anything in The Bible about the levels of Hell. What I have read, is that on the day of judgment, those who are judged and cast into the fiery pit are all going to the same place. So for the people who were around before Christ, they will be judged based upon whether they believed in the teachings of God or accepted the ways of the world, and those after Christ will be judged based upon whether they believed in the teachings of Christ (who is the Son and God in the flesh) or if they accepted the ways of the world.