When one faith is dominant in a culture, it can sometimes lead to weird things being celebrated as positive moments. For example, certain Christians love to reference Elijah’s challenge to the worshipers of Ba’al and Asherah on Mount Carmel. Being an exemplar of intolerant monotheism, Elijah hated the idea that other (false) gods were being worshiped in Israel, so he issued a showdown, a challenge between his God and their gods.
“Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. And call ye on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.’ And all the people answered and said: ‘It is well spoken.'”
Having cornered the polytheists into trying to produce a miracle on demand, he proceeds to mock them as they pray.
“And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said: ‘Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is musing, or he is gone aside, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.'”
Classy, right? Elijah then manages to miraculously light his sacrifice (after dousing it with “water”) and uses that moment of triumph to order all the priests killed.
“And Elijah said unto them: ‘Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.’ And they took them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”
It’s an ugly story, a tale of triumphant monotheism told by the victors (all inconvenient truths, like what was in those “water” jugs, no doubt excised). A tale that was used just the other day by former Arkanasas governor-turned-pundit Mike Huckabee in a conference call in support of Missouri Senate candidate Todd “legitimate rape” Akin.
“This could be a Mount Carmel moment,” said the former Arkansas governor, referring to the holy battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in the book of Kings. “You know, you bring your gods. We’ll bring ours. We’ll see whose God answers the prayers and brings fire from heaven. That’s kind of where I’m praying: that there will be fire from heaven, and we’ll see it clearly, and everyone else will to.”
The problem with this metaphor, this meme, is that it dehumanizes their opponents into demonic caricatures, and leaves the fate of those priests after the contest often unsaid. Yet the Bible-believers all know what happens next, as it’s a popular story. They know that the Ba’al worshipers are slaughtered by the mob. Invoking a slaughter as a metaphor for a social struggle is problematic, to be sure, and displays an ugliness at the heart of conservative Christian culture warriors. “Mount Carmel moments” leave no room for compromise, accommodation, civil discourse, or even mercy. It’s a winner-take-all showdown between God and all that is not His.
We live in a secular, multi-religious culture, and there is no room for winner-take-all showdowns. The priests of one god don’t get to slaughter the priests of another god in mountain-top pray-offs. We are forced to live and reason with one another. We must learn to not demonize those with disagree with, to realize that they are human and have similar wants, hopes, and dreams. To invoke the specter of intolerance and murder when talking about a political race is absurd and counter-productive. Whoever wins they’ll have to represent the Christians and the metaphorical Ba’al worshipers too. The days of calling fire from heaven is over, as are the days of one religion being allowed to eradicate another, at least in the United States. These days, that Ba’al worshiper (ie polytheist) might be your next door neighbor, your best friend, or your co-worker.
So let’s stop hoping for a Mount Carmel moment, because there’s enough intolerance and death to go around already.