We get the gods we deserve. And so I read with sadness an essay in my local newspaper:
“Regardless of your race, gender or social status, whether you believe in God or not, you are a sinner against God. That is bad news because God will judge you once your life on earth is done. Heaven and hell are real, and they are your only two options. Where does that leave you? Guilty, separated from God and going to hell to forever pay the penalty for your sin! Do you see your problem?” (Pastor Craig Grider, Murfreesboro Post 7.17.07).
Yes, I do. My problem, our problem, is that frightened and frightening men project their fears and fantasies onto the heavens to fashion monstrous gods who delight in eternal torture, and who use the threat of such torture to control the lives of millions. The god of this Pastor Grider speaks volumes—not about God, but about the good pastor.
Humans have long imagined gods who demand the blood of other humans. The call to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac echoed this horror; the substitution of a ram put an end to it, at least among the Hebrews. Still unable to imagine a god sickened by blood and the stench of burning flesh, the ancient Hebrews at least limited their god’s addiction to the sacrifice of animals rather than humans; a step up if you were human, a step back if you were not.
A thousand years later the prophets heard a new call and discovered a new understanding of God. This God desired not sacrifice is not of the other, but of the self, the ego, the passions that can so easily poison both soul and society. This God demanded justice, compassion, and humility. This God did not seek to control through fear, but to convince through love.
Jesus, I believe, stood with these prophets and the rabbinic sages who came after them. The paradigm of sacrificing others, whether human or animal, did not suit him or reflect his experience of his Father. Yet those who made Jesus God reverted to the old ways, and resurrected a bloodthirsty deity whose wrath could be sated by eternal torment. Your only hope was the murder of the innocent Christ. God had to do what Abraham did not: kill his son. And with this murder and the theology that followed it, justice was replaced with wrath, compassion with cruelty, and humility with violent triumphalism.
Christianity, as this editorial understands it, is not a hopeful act of spiritual evolution (as I believe the actual teachings of Jesus to be), but rather a terrible act of spiritual devolution: returning us to a god addicted to blood. And if we do in fact get the gods we deserve, what does this theology say about us and the future of our planet?
Do you see the problem?