Tuesday 14 August 2012

Oh God

Have a look at this:

Interesting, isn’t it? Can you feel the love?

But Keno, whoever he or she might be, is only an heir to a tradition that’s been going on since, oh, I’d say at least the time of the Old Testament and the massacres sanctioned by YHWH of whichever people happened to be living in the lands coveted by the Chosen People. And then we have, let’s see, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and so on, all the way to our dear demented brethren of Al Qaeda.

Christian Jihadist

Muslim Jihadist

Hindu Jihadist

 The base idea, of course, is very simple: “If you dare insult my god, I’ll kill you.” It’s the logical extension of a jingoistic love for whichever deity the speaker worships. Of course, though, there’s a little more to it than that.

Once upon a time I read a book by Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, in which an Igbo village in what is now Nigeria had its first contact with Western missionaries. A fresh convert, filled with the zeal of all new converts, murdered the villagers’ sacred snake. The other villagers, who had resisted conversion and were still in the majority, talked of taking revenge against the Christians. But then the convert who had killed the snake died, and the villagers decided that they didn’t need to do anything, since their gods evidently knew how to take care of themselves.

Well, why not?

If a god is supposed to be omnipotent – as it should be if it’s expected to be able to respond to prayers, grant one’s desires, and so on – then why on earth should one have to fight for it? Why can’t it simply, you know, blow its enemies away by its own efforts? And if it can’t do that, if it has to rely on you to fight its battles for it, why then, it can’t possibly be omnipotent, can it? It can only be a rather petty god, on the level of a feudal warlord at best.

So, either a god is omnipotent and doesn’t need anyone to wage wars in its favour, or it’s so powerless that it’s not worth worshipping. Or, a third alternative – it’s omnipotent, but chooses for purposes of its own to allow people to massacre and murder in its name. None of these alternatives is particularly appealing.

A religious person faced with this conundrum might well say, and usually does, that those who fight in the name of their god aren’t truly religious at all, or that they don’t really understand what their religion is all about. Fair enough, but more likely than not that this religious person will then find himself accused of heresy, and punished accordingly. After all, suppose someone insults your god, and you refuse to get angry over it, aren’t you as much a traitor to your religion as anyone who refuses to get angry when someone insults his country? (Assuming, of course, that a country is something worth getting angry over, which I personally do not believe.)

Or, of course, you can simply apply Occam’s Razor and decide there are no gods at all. And then you don’t have to be angry about religion anymore. Nor do you have to fight on the aggressor side of a holy war. That won’t stop angry people from threatening to kill you in defence of their deity, though.

It’s a mad, mad, mad world.


  1. Funny how religions seem to inspire so much hatred, bigotry and plain stupidity? What ever happened to love and forgiveness?

  2. Excellent look at religion Bill. Thank you.
    I get a "kick" out of the xtians here in the USA who keep telling me that I should help "do gods' work". Why? Their god never did any of my work for me. Isn't their god able to do his own work? And their god must be a "he" as no woman would ever be as plain stupid as the xtian god seems to be. George Carlin had a great take on this god. Seems he always needs money.
    Also, the bit about there being no atheists in fox holes, well, I was not a follower of any religion when I went to the imperial war in Vietnam and I was in a few fox holes and other places under fire by the VC and NVA. If you have the time to pray when being attacked, you are letting your comrades down big time. Just the 2 cents worth from an old atheist/ war veteran.

  3. When I was a theist, I was not violent at all. I did not discriminate between Allah and Ram, and resented everyone that did. I had muslim friends, and hindu friends, and this feeling was not reciprocated too often. I am sure there is a subset of people like that.
    I remeber an incident after the Gujarat riots in which the Mahant(high priest) of the popular Hanuman temple "hanumangarhi in Ayodhya publicly declared that he will protect the muslims in the city against the goons of the VHP at a time when they were planning on laying some kind of a seige to the city. http://www.countercurrents.org/comm-joshi301003.htm

    It brought me a lot of cheer. These incidents are of course few and far between, and what is necessary IMHO is a great need for education in comparative religion and for religion to be seen as one aspect of the culture of a people.


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