Monday, July 30, 2007

Last God Standing

Michael Gerson in a recent issue of the Washington Post argued that without God we humans are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, and without fear of God’s wrath we would have no motivation to choose the former over the latter. I agree:

Without God I would have no idea that it is wrong to eat shrimp, have a woman testify in court, see a woman’s face, let homosexuals marry, mix linen and wool in my clothes, or have a glass of milk along with a hamburger. Similarly, without God I would no idea it was right to slaughter followers of other faiths, kill witches, heretics, and wayward sons, and set ravenous she¬–bears loose to tear apart forty–two boys who taunt prophets in the vicinity of ravenous she¬–bears (look it up: 2Kings 2:24).

God is a source of morality. The problem is that there are so many gods and so many books purporting to be the Word of God that it is impossible for us to determine which god is God and which book is God’s Book. If you try to find common ground among gods and books you end up with the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others that which you would not want others to do unto you” to quote Rabbi Hillel, or “Do unto others what you would want others to do unto you” to quote Jesus who was obviously not paying close attention when he learned the earlier teaching of Hillel in Hebrew school.

While this is good advice, it didn’t come from God, unless of course Jesus is God and then it did come from God, but since a version of the Golden Rule exists in all cultures and seems to be indigenous to all peoples, it is hard to argue that without God human’s are incapable of ethical thinking or action.

If you still insist there is no morality without God, you then have the burden of deciding which god is God. Krishna allows things that YHVH condemns. Allah condemns things that Jesus’ Dad allows. Jesus’ “But I say unto you” statements overrule what YHVH said unto us. When slaveholders sited the Bible to justify owning other human beings they were drawing on God’s morality. When abolitionists decried such horror they made the same moral claim. The point is God is not so much the source of morality but the excuse. We call moral what we want to do, and then imagine a god who will back us up.

The only solution is to discover which god is God. In the previous blog (War on Krishna) I suggested we let the Senate vote on this, but that was silly; the only way to really know which god is God is to let them all battle it out in a global winner–take–all interfaith jihad. We see every day how very bloody this can be, so let me suggest a variation. Let each religion field its best warrior, and let them have at one another in a televised no–holds–barred battle to the death smack down I would call Last God Standing.

Give this some thought. I would be interested in hearing your picks as the best fighter in each faith. Oh, no fair converting someone to fight on your team.


Aaron said...

I have a better idea. Because human beings are different sizes and shaopes, and have different strenght and skill levels, a bloody hero fight would hardly be fair. How could we be sure it was God that won, and not the body type of the hero? Instead,I would suggest we simply make a number of golems of identical size/shape/and weight. Each golem would then be inscribed with whatever holy incantation was necessary to get them embodied by the will of their representative deity. We set the golems up in a field, or on a table top--they wouldn't need to be that big--and let them go at it. The last one standing obviously represents the God with the strongest will. Of course, if their all still standing we'd be forced to conclude that, left to their own devices, the Gods don't really feel compelled to beat the crap out of each other. That's a purely human game.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

I'm commenting twice on the same post? Should I violently disagree with myself for the sake of interest? Nah. I just want to address a completely different part of the original post: The Golden Rule.

I'm musing a bit on the difference between Hillel's version of the Golden Rule ("do not do") and Jesus' ("do do"). On the basis of the pun alone, I prefer Hillel. But are there better reasons?

Yes. Hillel's is a policy of least action. It's a prime directive style, live-and-let-live approach to morality. Jesus' is policy of action, and potentially leads to some very agressive behavior. For example:

I believe in a God made of Jello. You believe in a God made of Play-doh. Jello is, of course, the one true God, and I know that since you don't believe in it, you are doomed to hell--which, in my theology, is a luke warm bowl of tap water.

Under Jesus' dictum, I know that if I were violating my belief and risking a dousing, I would want you to save me. Therefore, I should warn you about your inevitable wetness and, if necessary, outlaw Play-doh.

However, working from Hillel's dictum, I would know that if you, as a believer in Play-doh, outlawed Jello, I would be hurt and angry, and probably jailed. I wouldn't want that. Therefore, I had best leave you to your Play-doh god.

Hillel's dictum is one of tolerance. Even if I disdain the Play-doh god and snicker at his followers, I don't actively work against them. I am asked to cause no harm, even when my cause promotes the greater good (the universal acceptance of Jello).

Jesus' dictum, at its worst, is Imperialist: I'm justified in any action, so long I do it in Jello's name. And, really, there's always room for Jello--even if I have to pelt you with water balloons to get it.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro said...

First of all there can be no contest with a God of Jell-o. There is always room for jell-o. Second, I personally reject Play-Doh in favor of Aristotle.