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"Cruel People and Cruel Gods"

The ancient Hebrew prophets were very hard on the gods of the neighboring tribes of Moab and Ammon. Moloch, the god of the Moabites, was depicted as a huge humanoid face with a gross gaping mouth, which was really the open door of a furnace, into which the priests cast the living child sacrifices. The infants were killed in order to gain supernatural help in warfare. Later scholars called this the cult of cruelty.

The cult did not die out with the disappearance of the Moabites. The Hebrew God, YHWH, had some traits similar to Moloch, although his cruelty was perhaps slightly more subtle. And the Christian God, who is supposedly the same as the one worshipped by the Hebrews, also has a mean streak in him.

Note the attitudes and statements of the most influential of his worshippers. That blue-robed Presbyterian pastor from Florida, who appeared on national TV recently, whose name I missed, thankfully, said plainly that he wasn't concerned about offending "doomed unbelievers." They deserve whatever mistreatment they get, he said, since they persist in their unbelief. His attitude reminded me of the medieval theologian's statement that one of the pleasures of heaven is to look down over the ramparts and observe the agonies of the residents of hell. That pastor was enjoying the pending pain of the lost souls around him.

Watch for that cruel streak. A Louisiana state representative said, after Hurricane Katrina submerged the poor neighborhoods of New Orleans, "We've been trying to get those people out of there for decades, and now God has removed them." He was gloating over the misery, thirst, hunger, neglect, drowning and death of persons, whose principle fault was that they were poor. He was also following the logic of Christian theology, that whatever happens is God's doing. And by blaming God, he excused the human policy of deliberate neglect, which was a large contributing factor in the disaster. The cruelty of God becomes very convenient, for certain persons. And, if God is the one who did all that damage, he is very cruel.

The war-planners talk of "acceptable risks" and "collateral damage," which refers to the rampant destruction of water, sewer and power supplies, and wholesale death and injury of ordinary people. At the same time they want us to pray for the aviators and the troops who commit those damaging acts, moving over onto God's shoulders any responsibility for the cruelty. Pre-emptive war, excused by false pretenses, is especially cruel and cynical.

The official doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and her recently acquired allies among fundamentalist evangelicals contain a large amount of cruelty. The doctrines can by summarized succinctly "Maximize suffering." Think of the teachings on abortion, in which they call the removal of a fetus murder, except when "God" does it naturally, which is then called a miscarriage. No extenuating circumstances are allowed into the consideration, including rape and incest. Maximize suffering.

The teachings on birth control and divorce are similar. Reasonableness and fairness and good sense do not count. Instead the teaching requires that we maximize suffering, on all sides. It is interesting to note that most Roman Catholics and evangelicals ignore the dictates of their ecclesiastical leaders in this regard, and go ahead and do the logical, kind and generous thing. But the teaching itself constitutes cruelty.

The advocates of the cruel God came out of hiding recently, in a book by W. A. Dembski and J. W. Rubards, called UNAPOLOGETIC APOLOGETICS, 2001, from Intervarsity Press. "From the sixth century up to the Enlightenment it is safe to say that the West was thoroughly imbued with Christian ideals and the Western intellectual elites were overwhelmingly Christian. False ideas that undermined the very foundations of the Christian faith [e.g., denying the resurrection or the Trinity], were swiftly challenged and uprooted. Since the enlightenment, however, we have not so much lacked the means to combat false ideas as the will and clarity."

These people regret the Enlightenment of the 16th and 17th centuries. They want to go back to when Christians controlled the state and could challenge and uproot what they regarded as false ideas, like equality and the social contract. "Uproot" sounds especially ominous. That means the burning of Wyclif and Hus, and Giordano Bruno and Savanarola. It means the Inquisition and the murders of hundreds of thousands of people, witches and heretics, all in the name of "God."

Where do gods come from? They come from the hearts and minds of their creators, the people who worship them. Cruel people invent cruel gods. Cruel gods are worshipped by cruel people.

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Copyright © 2005 Harry Willson

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