The Problem with Mount Carmel Moments

The Problem with Mount Carmel Moments August 27, 2012

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.

“The Slaughter of the Prophets of Baal” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

“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.

Mike Huckabee: Akin and Elijah, just picture it!

“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.”

He’s obviously speaking metaphorically, using Biblical language in a culture war context, I’m sure Akin supporters won’t start running around with swords after the election should he win (one hopes). Indeed, Huckabee is speaking the language of conservative Christian culture, which paints anything un-Christian as akin to the worship of Ba’al (and thus always in danger of being shown up by the true super-awesome God with kung-fu bullock-lighting punch). The modern connection between Ba’al worship and liberal/progressive/secular culture is most fervent in the anti-abortion movement, who see abortion as akin to human sacrifice, and Ba’al is referenced over and over again.


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.

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90 responses to “The Problem with Mount Carmel Moments”

  1. The Elijah story reminds me a lot of the scene in Agora where the Christians throw the Pagans onto the burning coals to prove that their gods will allow them to do so unharmed as the Christians did. Very painful to watch, and more painful to see hateful politicians continuing to use this story as a prop for their hate.

  2. Great post.
    The best answer to the likes of Akin and the fans of Elijah is an event that took place on the same mount Carmel just a few weeks ago. While Akin was uttering his nonsense, modern pagans in Israel were honoring Ashera and Ba’al on top of mount Carmel itself.
    Whatever they do , we’ll still be here, and we’ll “set up for ourselves on high places sacred pillars and Asherim, on every high hill and under every spreading tree”.

  3. I want to know how much the rantings of the prophets are bound up with class issues and class exploitation. I don’t go in for religious pogroms, but it’s a truly damned fool who fails to endorse slaughtering the rich.

  4. “Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor.”
    J. William Fulbright, speech against the Vietnam War delivered at Johns Hopkins University, 1966.

  5. I suppose the delayed Republican National Convention opening due to Hurricane Isaac is viewed by GOPsters as a completely materialistic event, not the least reminscent of divine wrath. Oh, no, not the slightest resemblance…

  6. Thanks for bringing this to light, Jason. I’ll go a step further by offering this small nitpick for you to consider, having to do with your sentence, “It’s a winner-take-all showdown between God and all that is not His.” When speaking about the Judeo-Christian deities, why not be specific and say “Yahweh,” or “Jesus,” or even “the Judeo-Christian gods”? The word “God” is not a proper name like “Bob,” or “Bill,” though Christians’ use of the capital-G word connotes exactly that – as if we are all supposed to assume that their “God” is the only god that deserves to be named as “God.” I’ve gotten to the point where I refuse to validate any assumed primacy of the Judeo-Christian worldview in my own neighborhood/locale – to the point of asking “God? Which one do you mean?” during a conversation where the subject of god comes up. It’s a matter of framing the conversation in a way that makes psychic and intellectual space for other views to be noted as being part of the religious landscape *today, in this day and age*. Just some food for thought. I appreciate so much what you have (and will) accomplish via “The Wild Hunt.”

  7. I got a hold of Agora a long time ago but have been really hesitant to actually watch the movie knowing what happens to Hypatia. I think you may have reaffirmed my decision.

  8. Seriously? There are 5.1 million people in the United States ( I am assuming you are American) who have assets at or in excess of $1 million. So it’s okay to kill 5.1 million people because you want what they have? I agree that the wealth distribution in the US is off balance, and dramatically so but killing them sounds like a bad idea.

  9. “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.”

    I firmly agree with you on this, Jason. It is why working with people of other religions on justice issues is important to me. I do sometimes need to remind people that non-Abrahamics have different views that need to be included. Sometimes people bristle, but mostly they are very appreciative. Meanwhile, can we stop our intra-religious battles as well?

    That said, a small part of me wants to pit Honored Ancestor James Baldwin against Mike Huckabee and see who wins:

    “How can one respect, let alone adopt, the values of a people who do not, on any level whatever, live the way they say they do, or the way they say they should?…The Negroes of this country may never be able to rise to power, but they are very well placed indeed to precipitate chaos and ring down the curtain on the American dream”
    -James Baldwin, from “The Fire Next Time”.

    If I were the gambling type, I’d bet on Baldwin.

  10. As you probably know, several of the Hebrew prophets condemned the oppression of the poor by the rich and powerful. These prophets said that God would reward or punish the entire society according to whether it treated the poor with dignity and fairness and ensured that all people had the means to earn or receive a basic living. The prophets did not encourage the poor to slaughter the rich and did not envision a classless society.

    I’m a damned fool in your eyes. From what history I have read, slaughtering the rich is one of the least effective ways of raising the standard of living of the masses. Taxing the rich is a better long term solution.

  11. I have Jewish friends who really bristle at the “Judeo-Christian” phraseology. Judaism is not Christianity with Jesus removed, and is not as represented by Christians who co-opted some of the Jewish holy texts (but not all of them). It is an entirely different religion, even though the reputed founder of Christianity did come from it.

    Jason’s use of “Christian” and “God” in this context is accurate. Many of the stories from the “Old Testament” are interpreted very differently by the Jewish culture/religion whose history they reflect.

  12. Oh, I don’t know. If the current weather conditions over at the GOP is any indication, I wouldn’t advise Mr. Huckabee to assume anything on what gods support whom…

  13. You could point out that Christianity is (or at least started as) a cult of Messianic Judaism.

    That said, I prefer the term ‘Abrahamic’ to refer to the followers of the god of Abraham (notably Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Yezidi.)

  14. Bust out the swords futhermuckers! I actually know how to use mine, and it’ll handily bisect triumphalist Xtians.

  15. I’ve held off on watching it. It’s been in my queue on Netflix forever. I don’t want to have a coronary because of anger.

  16. It can be a really difficult and upsetting movie to watch, but it’s definitely worth seeing. The Christian mob sacking and destroying the Serapeum is particularly upsetting to watch for Pagan viewers.

  17. That is the good thing about certain ‘Pagan’ traditions. They are not pacifist.

  18. If I may be so bold as to quote my exact thought on the matter in terms of what Dorothy (Beatrice Arthur) says on Golden Girls: “Idiots in positions of power.” Scary to think all of these extreme, right-wing religious nutters get voted into offices that holds so much power and influence at the expense of minorities, and people overall who do not tout their views.

  19. Also upsetting for Pagan viewers is the crippling of Hypatia by removing her historical polytheism in favor of a modernist Atheism.

  20. This makes me want to review our sometime practice of having a chair & table setting for Elijah, which is a Jewish customer at Passover (I think that’s the holiday). I think we should set aside the place for someone else, but am not sure who.
    In other news:
    I notice that no one is giving the RR/evangelical conservatives/teapartiers the usual nonsense they give places where disaster has hit–that it was God’s judgement due to the sinfulness of the area’s population (usually regarding gays, it seems). Now given that the southeastern and many midwestern states have regular storms, droughts, tornados, floods, you name it, and much of the population is Southern Baptist or stricter, wouldn’t their God be punishing them, maybe for being so hateful and mean? Nope–can’t be, because we’re Righteous.
    I just wonder how the late Isaac Bonewits feels about the political disruption a hurricane with his name on it is doing.
    Schadenfreude? Me? Why, whatever makes you say that?

  21. Cerrtainly Jesus preached along those lines–“what you do for these, you do for me”. We have something very like in the Lykewake Dirge.

  22. Agreed!

    Turning the other cheek is not in my religion. I may not start a fight, but I know how to finish one!

  23. Mike Huckabee should really spend more time concerning himself worrying about a repeat of the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, a situation which seems far more likely to happen (since it was a real, actual historical event) than this Mount Carmel myth. Those Christian sects really need to duke it out amongst themselves and find out which one rules before they take us on.

  24. Let them fight amongst themselves, then let them fight against their religious cousins.

    Divide and conquer.

  25. When I was 6 years old and a catholic and my wellwishing mother send me to church I began to ask myself: “what the hell do I have to do with tribes in Galilea, Baal and the desert?” Not to speak of the mental problems of some child sacrifizers in the name of Jahwe. The answer: nothing, absolutely NOTHING because it is strange to me, to us in central europe when we REALLY ASK OURSELVES.

  26. I am firmly of the opinion that the local gods and spirits are the important ones.

  27. Yes. Sibirian shamans say that the drum reflects only the stars under whom it was made. Not stars somewhere else. We are also drums, I believe.

  28. I would like to hear more about those pagans in Israel. The last report I heard from a lady trying to worship the old gods over there was not very promising….

  29. These comments just goes to prove how frikkin crazy our extremist left wing freinds really are . And please pagans and anyone with a thinking brain how dangerous these kinds of beliefs are . Trust me we are close to the top of their list , if not the top.The extremist fringe of Christianity is scared …………making them extremly dangerous , like a wounded animal .The Mount Carmel myth is horrendous , fits nowhere in modern life , the fact it would even be used in a modern context is telling of those who would use it at all.As Jason and T Thorne have said , there is no place for this kind of thinking in a multi cultural , multi religous society such as we live in today .Particularly in these polarised , divisive times we live in those of us in the minority groups /religions must be ever vigilant and careful . Kilm

  30. That is why we Celtic Recons consider the Christian God and his son a foriegn religion that has absolutly no real meaning to us Celts , we like you follow the gods of our Ancestors , A religion and beliefs that make sense to us . You are not alone in your way of thinking , my freind . Kilm

  31. And it wasn’t just Hypatia’s religion that was grotesquely distorted, but her science as well. In particular, Ptolemaic science is presented as simply a matter of blind belief in authority and accepted tradition, when, in fact, Prolemy was a proponent of experimentation and “the scientific method” as we know it today.

  32. I’m with T Thorn – it was hard to watch in spots, but what is said to have happened to her was not shown. And what a powerful movie.

  33. The Carmel myth sounds to me like straightforward smoke-and-mirrors stage magic. But what accelerant could Elijah have used to ‘bless’ his altar?

  34. I’m unsure. I don’t know enough about that system to make a solid judgement.

  35. What is not popular? That your personal connection is stronger to gods that exist in your natural habitat? Well that is maybe also the difference between ceremonial magic and heathenry I guess.
    When I move to other parts of the world, I feel the power of the gods living becoming stronger.

  36. Look at the diasporic Europeans who continue to follow the ways of gods not local to their new region. Very few people (relatively) will actually acknowledge the local gods and spirits, preferring to go with distant ones.

  37. In the end it may all come down to the difference between nature magic and ceremonial magic.When I am in India, I find it hard to worship Freyr and Odin. I prefer the local gods. Even the Romans did so when they were here. They worshipped local celtic and germanic gods also and even built temples for them.
    Heathens are pragmatic people….;-))

  38. I agree with the sentiment. I am simply saying that most will not, for whatever reason.

  39. For me, it is not about acknowledging the gods of my ancestors (whilst I have a fairly varied ancestry, a large number of my ancestors were almost certainly Christian) as much as it is about acknowledging the gods (and other spirits) of my locale.

    As such, when I am in Britain, I will acknowledge the Celtic and Germanic pantheons. If I were to travel to, say the Americas, I would look to the local gods and spirits there. Just seems the logical way, to me.

  40. That diasporic Europeans kept their own gods is an age-old practice. When the Angles, Saxons and Jutes came to England, they brought the Germanic pantheon with them, which is why you get to think of that foreign import as native. Similarly when the Norse went to Iceland. Why should we be different? In any case, the Native Americans I’ve known tend to be less than amused by white people trying to appropriate their folkways.

  41. The point with diasporic people is also unsolved for me. Don’t know if I would worship Woden ins the US………

  42. Those of us Diasporic Europeans brought our beliefs with us , or have taken them back up due to Ancestral / Ethnic ties to the ways of our ancestors and our native culture .I too have heard of Native Americans being upset at whites using their practices and ways , i understand this myself .I get a wee bit upset when someone mangles Celtic ways , out of context .In the Recon faiths ancestral beliefs/ways really matter to us .We do honor local spirits but go no further than that , do not even attempt to use native practices. In the case of my Scot ancestry there are more Scots in the Diaspora than in Scotland , so our pagan ways are more important to keeping the old ways alive . Kilm

  43. When people move, they bring their gods with them. There are historical examples of this.

  44. For the typical recon , myself included , the ancestral gods and ways feel natural to us , as if part of our DNA. When i became pagan i searched thru many pagan paths , once i found and researched the Recon Celtic ways i just felt right , like i was finaly at home within a belief system or faith .Like Odisson Christianity , the faith of my parents , didn’t feel right ,felt foriegn to me.Also being proud of my heritage , the Celtic Recon faiths work for me . Kilm

  45. Inside my own house, I do honor deities/wights that are part of my family’s heritage. When I’m out in the forests, I honor local deities instead, though if they choose to come into my house they are welcome there as well. So it’s half and half for me. I have to minimize what I do with local deities so that I don’t disrespect the local Native tribes and their cultures, because that’s an ongoing problem in the US. What I’ve noticed some kindreds and individuals doing to address this problem is to use names like Donar as titles rather than personal names. It would be acknowledged that the “Donar” of New Mexico would be a different being than the Donar of Germany, although similar in that they’re both storm gods.

    In addition, many gods are traveling ones. The Abrahamic deity is a big example, though the cult of Odin/Woden/etc. is also another example of a traveling deity. It’s not far-fetched to think that they can travel across the sea along with traveling across the land.

  46. I would say it depends on what kind of being we’re talking about. Gods specifically identified with certain geographical places (rivers, mountains, etc) might only be honored there, and obviously land and water spirits (wights, Vættir, haltija, etc) are local. But, for me, I don’t see deities, as a category, as being bound by geography. Even a cursory knowledge of ancient peoples shows that they had no issues with bringing the worship of their gods with them where ever they went.

  47. Isn’t it interesting that the more they try to destroy/demonize the Gods of old, the more interest pops up for these Gods. I only heard of Ashera and Ba’al in Sunday school and was fascinated. The more I researched into their rituals the more I came to understand Ashera and Ba’al.

  48. Doesn’t mean it always works, though.

    Can’t really disregard one god as ‘foreign’ without doing so with others.

    It is not a stance I am firm on, I must say. It is something that confuses me.

  49. I don’t get why the ‘Native’ Americans get upset at ‘whites’ using their practices. It’s not like they ‘own’ them, after all.

    I could understand if their practices were being misappropriated, but If people are sincerely connecting with the local spiritual entities and using the local practices, is that really such a bad thing?

  50. I believe that some gods are nomadic, but I am not convinced that many are globally travelled (certainly not YHWH.)

  51. Insofar as recons look to the actual practices of pre-Christian peoples, and the record shows that they didn’t have any issues with bringing their Gods along with them, that’s good enough for me, to be honest.

  52. That’s fair.I’m not going to say anything is right or wrong. Just that certain concepts confuse me when I try thinking about them.

  53. It’s definitely one of those points where I’ve noticed a difference between recons in Europe and those elsewhere, with the former being more likely to hold the view that where you are can matter in this issue, while the latter are more likely to reject the idea (and for obvious reasons).

  54. I think that is simply down to the fact that the European Reconstructionists are trying to reconstruct the religion(s) of their regional history, whereas the diasporic Europeans are trying to reconstruct the religion(s) of their (potential) ancestry.

    I can see merits and flaws to both. The latter simply confuses me due to how I believe in the existence of spiritual entities, such as gods.

  55. Yeah, many do. But as a pragmatic heathen who sees the gods and even more the spirits in nature as a kind of reflection of natures power I doubt if this works out. For the highest gods maybe, but I noticed the non-presence of lower spirits when I move more than 1000 km in Europe….and I always had the feeling it took the Hindus i.e. a lot of energy and people to keep something of the Hindu gods energy up here in Europe.

  56. And yet no one in this discussion seems to offer any explanation of the text or the actions of Elijah! Always easy to criticize that construct.

  57. It would certainly be difficult to conceive of Gods associated with the Sky, or with Thunder, or with the Sun or the Moon, as being geographically localized. And,as everyone knows, and as others have already pointed out, ancient peoples were often constantly on the move, and this is especially true for many of those peoples whose descendants now call themselves “Europeans”.

  58. Right, Odin is pretty clear Shiva in India i.e. But I wouldn’t worship Odin in India and Shiva here because there are differences still and these differences are reflected in nature, clmate, plants, customes etc.
    Usually tribes etc took their gods with them – but after a while they changed, adopted. What did the Romans do when they tried to conquer us here in Germania? They took their gods with them, esp. Mithras for the soldiers and after a while starting mixing local deities with their own. Especially the Matronae, local celtic-germanic godesses where extensively worshipped by Romans together with the local population. We had temples here build for the Matronae by the Romans with Jupiter added. I am pretty sure 500 years later Jupiter would have been Wodan if the Romans didn’t have to leave.

  59. “Odin is pretty clear Shiva in India”
    I wouldn’t put it quite like that. Any more than I would say that Obama is clearly the Queen…

  60. According to contemporary science in the book “Odin” by scholar Kris Kershaw he is. Odin is most likely one god from Iceland over Persia to India. He is the god of ecstatic male brotherhoods. Known under many names.

  61. Among those who have realized his presence or believe in him, the same or nearly same patterns have been identified by scholars. Not to believe in him is another topic.

    BTW: The Romans were terrified by warriors from odinic brotherhoods like Ulfhednar, Berserkers, etc.

  62. This is the big argument between hard and soft polytheism.

    I see two gods (in this example of Odin and Shiva) fulfilling the same function in different locations, whereas others see one god being viewed from different locations.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but were the Úlfhéðnar and the Berserkir not post Roman?

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