It’s indisputable that Christianity is the dominant religion in America, and there are those who’d like to keep it that way. Right-wing legal groups like the Liberty Counsel and the Thomas More Law Center exist solely to maintain Christian superiority, arguing in court that Christian believers should be afforded more rights and privileges than everyone else. But the Bible itself ridicules this effort as unnecessary, as we can see from a little-known Bible verse. (HT: Better than Esdras, a fascinating little blog that first made me aware of this passage.)
In the Old Testament book of Judges, the Israelites repeatedly go astray and wind up defeated and enslaved by their enemies, until they cry out to God and he raises up a hero to deliver them. Judges chapter 6 repeats this pattern with Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh. Gideon is visited by an angel who instructs him to destroy his father’s altar to the pagan Canaanite god Baal. He does it secretly, by night, but gets found out anyway:
When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down… And after they had made search and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” (6:28-31)
Rare for the Bible, this passage makes a persuasive and well-reasoned argument. If Baal is a god, especially the kind of actively involved god who’s performing miracles and answering the prayers of his followers, he should be able to defend his own interests. He shouldn’t need humans to serve as his agents, enforcing what they believe to be his will and punishing people who go against his decrees. And if Baal never intervenes directly and it’s only his believers who are ever seen to act on his behalf, wouldn’t we be justified in concluding that Baal probably doesn’t exist?
As I said, a good argument. But doesn’t it apply every bit as well to Yahweh? Why do right-wing Christians rise up in outrage when church-state defenders force Christian crosses or Ten Commandments monuments to be removed from public land, why do they react with fury when store greeters say “Happy Holidays” or museums display blasphemous artworks? If God is real, and if he cares about these things, surely he’ll contend for himself.
Why does the religious right feel they need to act as God’s agents in the world, forcing everyone to live by what they assume the divine law to be? It seemingly betrays more than a hint of insecurity. Atheists and other non-Christians routinely get threats of hellfire from Christian proselytizers, who promise that God will judge them as they deserve in the next life. But if they really believe that, why are they so concerned with reinforcing social penalties for religious dissent in this one?
Other posts in this series: