Bible’s callous cruelty a divine feature, not a human bug

Bible’s callous cruelty a divine feature, not a human bug February 10, 2019

Although its messenger is not ideal, this quote below from philosophy professor Andrew Bernstein (1949-) is in my view the most rational assessment of the intellectual catastrophe that befell Western civilization in the so-called “Dark Ages” (roughly from the 5th through the 15th centuries AD):

The biblical character Job is portrayed a good and prosperous family man who is beset by Satan with God’s permission with horrendous disasters that take away all that he holds dear, including his offspring, his health, and his property. Painting by Leon Bonnat (1833-1922). (Musee Bonnat, Flikr, Public Domain)

“Here is the tragedy of theology in its distilled essence: The employment of high-powered human intellect, of genius, of profoundly rigorous logical deduction — studying nothing. In the Middle Ages, the great minds capable of transforming the world did not study the world; and so, for most of a millennium, as human beings screamed in agony — decaying from starvation, eaten by leprosy and plague, dying in droves in their twenties — the men of the mind, who could have provided their earthly salvation, abandoned them for otherworldly fantasies.”

In short, he is saying that in the Christianity-saturated Middle Ages the greatest minds in what is now Europe wasted their time studying not how to help mankind but contemplating and proselytizing about religion. In other words, they obsessed over beliefs in supernatural (meaning nonexistent) ideas — which is to say, nothing. Meanwhile, suffering on earth increased.

Dr. Bernstein is not my preferred purveyor of these perceptive tidings, as the creepy and odd Dr. Jack Kevorkian wasn’t for assisted suicide in the 1990s, because Bernstein is a die-hard aficionado of novelist Ayn Rand, the 2th century apostle of super-selfish objectivism. Although Rand’s philosophy was rational — she characterized it as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute” — its callous self-absorption and supremacist edge are off-putting to most academic philosophers and many lay people.

But her novels — e.g., The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged — were, like the Bible, hugely popular.

And, speaking of the Bible, this brings me (in a very round-about way) to the real topic of this blog post: the enormous amounts of time in the 21st century still wasted on the “nothing” that’s religion.

What specifically motivated me to write this piece was a recent post, titled “Navigating through the Bible’s Shadow,” in Carl McColman’s blog in the Patheos Contemplative hub.

McColman’s reasoning (which took 1,500 words to articulate), in my view, perfectly illustrates exactly what is fatally flawed in two thousand years of Christian apologetics, a branch of the faith’s theology that was created starting with the apostle Paul to defend doctrine against practical, real-world objections (e.g., how an all-loving, all-merciful God could sanction massive evil and human suffering).

The key to understanding McColman’s “Shadow” post is the bogus (in my view) concept of divine duality, which, in a nutshell, involves two diametrically opposed views of God. In one view, God and evil are essentially separate; in the other, God is in everything, including evil. In McColman’s hypothesis, God is dual and therefore encompasses good and evil, but because God is omni benevolent any indication to the contrary must be mankind’s fault.

Forget for a moment that the concept of God itself has yet to be irrefutably verified in either dual or non-dual iteration.

A reader of McColman’s blog asked about how one reconciles “the shadow side” of the Bible with Christian goodness, such as when “God rejoices when the infants’ heads are dashed upon the rocks. … How can we still take the Bible as a whole with the terrible and downright evil in some cases and still be true to love and our contemplative practice?”

Fair and age-old questions.

McColman advises:

“I think it’s important to read the entire text, not just the ‘good stuff.’ … Part of having an adult faith is learning to grapple with the shadow side of life — including the shadow side of our faith community and belief structure. So we need to ‘receive’ the violent and oppressive parts of scripture — not to merely accept them, but to argue with them, understand them, and use them as a reminder of what we know is true about God: God’s justice, love, and mercy.”

Sounds open-minded and reasonable, but the trick is how one fairly learns to “understand them” in a way that validates God’s omni merciful and just nature, as Christians believe it to be.

Here’s how McColman’s attempts to rationalize the unrationalizable (and fails), by writing:

“If we read every [Bible] passage — including the texts of terror — through the eyes of love, it becomes easier to see when a passage represents the limitations or biases of the author — and not a declaration of the Divine Will.

For example, when the Bible suggests that God condones slavery, we know that God is a God of love and justice — so clearly, those slavery-accepting passages represent the cultural bias of the human author, and not the word of God. The same goes for all the shadow verses that suggest God is okay with violence, or genocide, or sexism, homophobia, and so forth. If a passage undermines God’s love and mercy, we can safely assume that the passage is telling us more about human imperfection than about divine perfection.”

It’s an self-serving way of justifying any divine hypothesis — God’s infinite love and justice, in this case — simply by stipulating without evidence that it’s true, and dismissing any evidence to the contrary as a result of human imperfection and corruption.

But, of course, this answers nothing and raises even more questions, such as, how is it that an omnipotent divinity who created the universe and manages its total behavior second by second somehow cannot mitigate the worst impulses of one of its own, admittedly minor creations? A creation, we should not forget, that the Bible tells us was made in God’s “own image.”

Also, if scripture is the inerrant, living “Word of God,” is it fair that such a deity would allow the book to contain, unedited, such depraved, merciless corruptions as particularly abound in the Old Testament?

So, McCollum’s “Kings X” strategy is to read scripture “with love” and dismiss any un-godly stuff as a human infection that in no way compromises God’s pure wonderfulness.

It reminds me of president Trump, as more and more of his closest associates plead guilty to or are indicted for lying about secret meetings with Russians, claiming “It has nothing to do with me. THERE’S NO RUSSIAN COLLUSION! IT’S A WITCH HUNT!”

As President Trump cannot wave away the stench of conspiratorial contacts by many of his aides with Russians, Christian clerics cannot wave away the stench of mortal sins commanded, orchestrated and celebrated by God in the Bible.

As God is purportedly everywhere in existence in all times, his divinity also saturates the Bible. One cannot be separated from the other.

No matter how much love you read it with.

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Image from “3,001 Arabian Days” — Son of an Arabian American Oil Co. (Aramco) employee learns to ride a camel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 1955. (Photo courtesy Saudi Aramco)

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