Essays in the Tim Maroney Web Collection
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The Book of Dzyan
Definition of the Sacred
Descent: A Meditation
Even If I Did Believe
Facts and Phallacies
The Freedom of Doubt
Healing The Spiritual Community
Hekate and the Satanic School
Introduction to Crowley
The Included Middle
A Letter to Close
The Problems of Syncretism
Theory of Divination
Why Crowley Doesn't Suck
Why I Study Magic
This late draft of an early religious essay from 1983 and 1984 is an example of my "angry young man" phase. I have outgrown the anti-Christianity of the piece, and now feel that Christianity is no better or worse than most other religions overall. Those of us who were raised in it and came to realize its falsehood and other problems naturally experience feelings of betrayal, but other religions contain moral and ethical flaws of similar magnitude. (We know about foreign traditions largely from advocacy writing, after all.) Still, nearly twenty years later, I am happy with the style and the reasoning. The piece remains a serious challenge to simple-minded Biblical literalism.
I am not a Christian. In my discussions of this fact with Christians, I have repeatedly run into a major misunderstanding. The Christians assume that if I believed the Bible were true, I would become a Christian; that is, they believe that my reason for not being a Christian is that I don't believe in their god. This is not the case. In this essay, I will explain more clearly why I am not a Christian. The essay is not meant as an attack on Christianity, just as a statement of personal belief.
One disclaimer: The thesis of this essay is that even if a God as described in the Bible does exist, he is not fit for worship. Consequently, I speak sometimes as if I did believe the Bible, when in fact I do not.
If I had undeniable proof of the existence of Yahweh, aka Jehovah, aka Adonai, aka El Shaddai, aka Yahweh Elohim, the father of Jesus and the ancient leader of the Semitic peoples, I still would not worship the bastard. If an angel appeared to me and removed my appendectomy scar so I could never deny the reality of divine power, I still would not be a Christian. My primary reason for not being a Christian has nothing to do with my lack of belief in their god. My primary reason is that the Bible is a disgusting book describing the behavior of a god without the morality of the average high school student.
That God does what he wants, when he wants, without even an attempt at self-justification, and all for what reason? According to Paul, all for his own greater glory. For his own glory he condemns billions to eternal torment, drowns millions of innocent beasts and thousands of children, orders the slaughter of entire cities down to the last man, woman, and child, creates a race that he knows is flawed and will hurt itself, refuses to deal with any other god on a friendly basis, rains doom on those who dare to try to be as knowledgable as he is, and so on.
Jesus preaching love in no way atones for Yahweh's many hideous crimes; lest we forget, it was at the time of Jesus that he created Hell. This cruellest of all concentration camps (certainly far worse than the ones created by the Nazis) was at no time mentioned in the Old Testament, and the wrathful and threatening god of the Old Testament would hardly have omitted any chance to terrify his worshippers.
(Incidentally, the "Sheol" of the Old Testament is simply a generic term for the afterlife; neither modern scholarship nor Judaic tradition equates it with Hell.)
I have heard some Christians who believe that there is no everburning Hell in their religion, that the "lake of fire" is purely destructive, that sinners will be annihilated rather than tortured after the Last Judgment. Sometimes, they claim that medieval Catholics created that "myth", and that they would revile any god who made this concentration camp.
Well, get ready to start reviling then. The myth of Hell was not created in the Middle Ages. It is explicitly stated in a set of books called the Synoptic Gospels, you know, the ones by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Since some people don't seem to be very familiar with these books, usually considered the cornerstone of Christianity, I'll fill them in.
In Matt. 18:34-35, Jesus finishes up a parable about an unforgiving debtor with: "And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart." Not clean killing - you will be handed over to the torturers. In the parable of the wedding feast, Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus concludes with "Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.'" The king didn't say, "Execute him", but bind him and throw him into a painful place. This is echoed in Mat. 24:51, in almost the same words, and again in Mat. 25:30, again with similar words. Finally (for Matthew), we have Mat. 25:41-46, on the Last Judgment. "Next he will say to those on his left hand, 'Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels... And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.'"
My point is proven, so I won't bore you with the quotes from Mark and Luke; however, check out Mark 9:43, Mark 9:48-49, Luke 13:27- 28, and Luke 16:23-26 if you still doubt. Why would Jesus have so frequently mentioned the existence of an afterlife of torment if that was misleading his followers? And why did he never imply the existence of a forthcoming destruction of the unfaithful?
Among the Christians who accept the reality of Hell, another rationalization is quite popular. This holds that Hell is in some sense voluntary, and chosen by its inmates. It's an interesting idea, and certainly one of the more interesting aspects of Dante's "Inferno" is the way the conditions of the damned reflect conditions created in life by their sins. I agree completely that the man who commits murder must live ever in fear of attack, that the thief will never feel secure in his property, that the liar can trust no one, and so on. By their offenses they create an unpleasant life for themselves.
However, you don't have to hurt anyone to get into Hell. All it takes, according to Scripture, is knowing about Jesus and not accepting him as Savior. It doesn't matter how virtuous you are, how much good you do, how happy an environment you create for yourself and others. Given this, the voluntary entry argument doesn't make sense. The same argument could be used to justify the sending of Aryan opponents of Nazism to concentration camps: they voluntarily chose not to give homage to Hitler, so they chose to be interred. Why should we blame the Nazis for the inmates' choice? Why should we blame Yahweh for the choice of the damned?
You hear a lot from Christians about Yahweh's "infinite compassion and mercy". Tell it to the Midianites. Numbers 31 is a classic example of wholesale slaughter and rape under the direction of Yahweh. A sample of this tale: "They waged the campaign against Midian, as Yahweh had ordered Moses, and they put every male to death.... The sons of Israel took the Midianite women captive with their young children, and plundered all their cattle, all their flocks and all their goods. They set fire to the towns where they lived and all their encampments.... Moses was enraged with the commanders of the army ... who had come back from this military expedition. He said, 'Why have you spared the life of all the women? ... So kill all the male children. Kill also all the women who have slept with a man. Spare the lives only of the young girls who have not slept with a man, and take them for yourselves.'" Yes, friends, this is infinite mercy and compassion for you. I particularly like the way that Moses got upset with them for sparing women and male children, but allowed the young girls to be kept for later raping. If only humans could keep to such lofty standards without the necessity of divine revelation.
This wasn't the first time the Hebrews harassed the Midianites (although it was obviously the last...) Earlier, in Chapter 25 to be precise, Israel settled in Midian. Rather than toss the Hebrews out on their ear from this land of limited resources, the Midianites - well, I'll let the author of Numbers tell it: "The [Hebrews] gave themselves over to debauchery with the daughters of Moab. These invited them to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down before their gods. With Israel thus committed to the Baal of Peor, the anger of Yahweh blazed out against them. Yahweh said to Moses: 'Take all the leaders of the people. Impale them for Yahweh, here in the sun; then the burning anger of Yahweh will turn away from Israel.' Moses said to the judges in Israel, 'Every one of you must put to death those of his people who have committed themselves to the Baal of Peor.'"
Now that is written in a rather negatively-connotated fashion. Look at what actually happened: Israel arrived in Midian. The Midianites welcomed them like kinfolk. They let them date their daughters; they invited them to come to Church. Right neighbourghly reception, if you ask me. Some of the Hebrews, no doubt impressed by the friendly ways of these people, took up the local customs of their own free will. So what does Moses do? He puts spears through them and lets them rot in the sun. Who's the bad guy here? I'd say it's pretty obvious. Neither apostacy or fornication deserve the death penalty - or do you think we should start frying unwed mothers and those who leave their religion, by Federal law?
Right on the heels of this comes a plague. This is blamed by the Hebrews on one Zimri, who had the incredible gall to actually marry a Midianite woman! Fortunately, a zealous son of Israel speared them both right through the genitals, and the plague went away. Now we moderns know that disease just doesn't work that way, but a more important objection concerns a point of Biblical trivia. Of what nationality was Zipporah, the wife of Moses? You have five seconds ... That's right, she was a Midianite! But for some reason Moses' genitals were allowed to remain intact. This makes marriage to a Midianite seem like less than a capital offense.
I don't think the firstborn in Egypt during the captivity would have agreed with the verdict of compassion and mercy (Ex. 11:5,12:29). Yahweh could have teleported the Jews out of captivity without bloodshed, or put the Egyptians to sleep while they left, but no. That wouldn't be gory and exciting enough for him. Now rivers of blood, killing innocent children: there's something you can really sink your teeth into.
It was due to Yahweh's hardening of Pharoah's heart in the first place that made the later cruelties necessary. And why? Yahweh explains to Moses in Ex. 11:9, "Pharoah will not listen to you; so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt." Wonderful. All those children and adults tortured and killed, for the same reason that would lead one of us today to set off fireworks. This is immorality, pure and simple.
The entire book of Joshua is a long sequence of atrocities. I have not given all these quotes for space reasons - I urge you to look them up for yourself. If you are not shocked, then your moral standards must be low indeed.
Of course, you will sometimes hear rationalizations of this slaughter. There are two major forms: the corruption argument and the mercy argument. The former says that those slaughtered were evil and deserving of their fate; the latter says that since they were religiously incorrect, it was a mercy to terminate their existence.
The corruption argument simply does not hold up. The people slaughtered in the Old Testament were almost uniformly blameless (with a few exceptions, of course - for instance, the Sodomites violated the conventions of hospitality.) Usually, no justification is offered beyond the fact that since they were of another tribe, it was OK to kill them. And it goes without saying that the hordes of slaughtered children were innocent.
As to the mercy argument: They shoot horses, don't they? However, people are not animals to be destroyed against their will in the name of mercy. If I don't claim to be suffering, and don't ask to die, neither you nor any god has the right to decide that you know better. If a person tried to do this to me, I would shoot him; if a god tried, well, the only weapon I would have would be withholding my worship.
Most of us, given omnipotence, would be able to do a far better job than Yahweh. What would you do if given omnipotence? If your answer is anything other than "abolish world hunger", there's something more than a little skewed in your perception of mankind. There is no question that this is the greatest evil in the world today. The second thing would be to abolish disease, right? This doesn't take "infinite mercy", just normal compassion and a bit of common sense. God's supposedly infinite mercy is apparently the same thing as no mercy at all.
What makes this particularly unforgivable is that even Jesus's own standards demand feeding of the poor. See Matthew 25:35, in which it is stated that the blessed feed the hungry, and that the damned do not. Yahweh is held blameless, though, for not feeding them. Does the old saw about "practicing what you preach" not apply to Yahweh? Is his hypocrisy not a sin?
Usually, when I bring this up in a discussion, someone says, "No; it is the evil of men that is to blame; they have lots of money and keep it to themselves rather than feeding the poor." This argument uses a double standard. Men are held guilty for not feeding the poor, while Yahweh is held innocent for doing exactly the same. In fact, it would be far easier for Yahweh to feed all the poor than for any man to feed even one! Men are certainly not blameless here, but it is Yahweh who is the true villain.
One popular rationalization of this is that for Yahweh to feed all the hungry would somehow (and it is never explained how) make it more difficult for people to get into Heaven. Sure, and another reason is that it would make the quality of newspapers worse, right? You can't just say that two things are connected when there is no apparent or explained link between them! (Well, you can, but you'd be making a fool of yourself.)
Another popular rationalization is that life without "challenges" would be boring and dehumanizing, so Yahweh does not remove them. The fallacy here is grouping all challenges together. I personally lead a very challenging and satisfying life, but I have not lately had to flee any volcanos or earthquakes, go without food for a week, or suffer the ravages of some disease. I would be quite happy, in fact, if I never do have to face such challenges as those. There is plenty of room for amelioration of the human condition without making it dull. Another objection here is that the same people who like this rationalization usually believe that they will enter a world that is perfect and without challenge after death, but they don't seem particularly put off by it ....
Suppose you were a god and there were other gods. What would you do? What I would try to do is the same thing I do as a person among other people - try to make friends or at least truce with as many of them as possible. The jealous Judeo-Christian god does the opposite.
Some people feel that Yahweh is the only god, and therefore cannot be faulted for not having friendly relations with other gods. This idea is a fairly modern invention: that not only is he the best god, but the only one. Yahweh is repeatedly referred to as "our God" in the Pentateuch, and there is no implication until Isaiah that he is the only real one. Also, try Deut. 5:7-9. It is psychotic to be jealous of nonexistent beings. The statement "You shall have no gods except me" clearly implies that the contrary is possible. However, I am willing to grant that there are no other gods for the sake of argument.
Suppose you were an omnipotent god and there were no other gods. What would you do? Perform a continual sequence of verifiable miracles; after all, this doesn't require any effort, and keeps people from delusion. No such luck in the case of Jehovah. He demands absolute fidelity without any demonstration of his existence, beyond some visionary manifestations of the sort that you can get from any religion.
Christians commonly rationalize this in one of two ways. First, they claim that there is a virtue in believing something without proof; that is, faith in itself is held to be a virtue, and Yahweh doesn't want to remove our opportunity to indulge in it. All I can say to this is that I do not consider faith to be a virtue - I consider it to be a sign of intellectual weakness, and a significant barrier to scientific and other progress.
There is no virtue in accepting a thing on faith, since it may well be false, and it is clearly not virtuous to believe the false. Given that one has faith, how does one decide whether to put it in Christianity instead of Hinduism? There is no way; you just have to cross your fingers and take the plunge. Whichever choice you take, you will hear voices in your head, see divine manifestations, and so on, so even once the plunge is taken there is no way to know you are correct.
It has also not escaped my attention that many of the same people who prattle about the virtues of faith like to talk about "proofs" of various things in their religion, such as the resurrection of Jesus. Which is it? Do you have faith, or do you have proof?
Second, there is the rationalization that scientific discovery would become impossible if a continual stream of verifiable miracles were performed. This argument denies the omnipotence of Yahweh. If he can do anything, he can perform a sequence of miracles in such a way as to convince everyone of his existence and not interfere with scientific discovery at all. The only things he can't do are logical absurdities such as making 2+2=5.
The point to remember here is that if we don't believe in him, we go to Hell, and this is a greater evil than a lack of the "virtue" of faith or a stunting of science, or anything else conceivable. If Yahweh is concerned about the good, he will do what he can to keep us from Hell, and withholding vital information from us is the exact opposite of this.
The charge against Yahweh of infecting us with disease is particularly strong. God made these micro-organisms, and made us subject to them. If I made a bunch of plague germs and set them loose, you would rightly hold me accountable. Since (according to Genesis) all life and thus all disease comes from Yahweh, I hold him similarly accountable.
A similar consideration arises with respect to the common Christian conception of Satan. This being was created and unleashed by God, who knew exactly what he would do: that is, spend his entire existence wreaking havoc and leading people into criminal activities. Suppose I were to build an evil robot that I knew would go around killing people. Whose fault would it be if I let it loose, mine or the robot's? Whose fault is deviltry in the world, the puppet Satan or the being that deliberately created Satan's evil?
Yahweh deliberately acts to restrict man's capability for understanding. I have heard the claim that Yahweh does not restrict us from learning, that he encourages us to learn all we can. Tell it to the workers at the Tower of Babel. In case your memory fails you here, Gen. 11:6-7 says, "'So they are all a single people with a single language!' said Yahweh. 'This is but the start of their undertakings! There will be nothing too hard for them to do. [Horrors! - tim] Come, let us go down and confuse their language on the spot so that they can no longer understand one another.'"
One of the criticisms most frequently levelled at me when presenting these arguments has been that I have no right to judge God. In the universe model of many Christians, God is the definition of good. All morality proceeds downwards from him, so it makes no sense to apply moral standards to him. From the perspective of man, trying to determine which of the various conflicting belief systems he should abide by, this argument makes no sense.
Assume that there is some religion of an evil god; we'll call this god Satan for convenience. It is clear that adherents of the religion of Satan would see him not as evil, but as good. Someone who is not a member of the religion of Satan might say, "But your god has ordered the slaughter of innocents! How, then, can you say that he is good?" The reply of one of the Satanists is likely to be, "Satan is the source of good; he is good by definition; he is far above us humans; it is thus nonsensical for us to judge him." That's the only way to wriggle off the hook. Slaughtering innocents is obviously evil, so to save Satan he has to be taken outside the normal standards of good and evil.
Now suppose that the questioner of the previous paragraph is trying to decide which religion to join. He must try to evaluate the various religions available to him; in particular, he will try to avoid falling into the clutches of some religion that worships an evil god or evil spirit. However, no religion says "We are evil; shun us like the plague." All religions claim to be good. So he will have to use some standard to compare the various religions, and this standard has to be independent of any one religion. Otherwise, he couldn't even get started. All religions are best by their own standard.
What standard is available for this necessary comparison? None is really ideal. The best we can do is say that religion is best which causes evil acts in its worshippers least and in which apparently evil acts are not performed by the worshipped being(s). Here he uses the common standard for "evil": theft, murder, rape, terrorism, and so on are held to be evil. He uses this standard because there is none better, and because it is necessary to use some such standard to avoid becoming ensnared by a cult of evil.
If we allow exemptions to any religion, there is no reason not to allow the same exemption to all the others. If we let Yahweh get away with murder, we must let Kali kill as well. This leaves us right back where we started, so we can't make exemptions in any case.
The fact of the matter is that Yahweh and Jesus do not pass this test. There are murder, theft, rape, and terrorism all through their books. Sometimes Yahweh does it; sometimes people do it on Yahweh's orders; sometimes Jesus just sits around gloating on the fate of sinners in the afterlife. It's just not an acceptable religion when you hold it to a moral standard. Furthermore, this unacceptability is manifest in the history of the religion, which is one of holy wars, intolerance, purges, vicious infighting, and general immorality.
Some of the responses I have heard to this essay in the past are shown below, with my answers. (Actually, most of the responses I've gotten have been personal attacks and sheer, unadorned sophistry; these are the cream.)
One particularly curious rationalization here is that "starvation and disease and all the other evils of the world come from breaking God's laws." Starvation comes from not having enough food. Disease comes from exposure to various nasty micro- organisms, and from genetic infirmities. If you can show me how these two things come from breaking God's laws, I will be greatly surprised. Perhaps at the root they are caused by Adam and Eve falling from grace, but you can't hold some starving infant in Namibia responsible for the actions of two long-dead people, any more than you can hold me responsible for the acts of Jack the Ripper. There just isn't sufficient connection to establish guilt.
Christians have been claiming that there will be wonderful events, that will more than make up for the abominable pain and suffering on Earth, for about two thousand years now. It is clear from the gospels that Jesus thought that it was about to happen shortly after his death. Before the Christians, the Jews and Zoroastrians were saying it. Yet the world still turns as it has, and there is still no reason to think of these claims as other than pipe-dreams to mollify the masses.
In closing, let's see how Yahweh/Jesus stands up to his own standards. In Matthew 26:41-46, we hear the King, "Next he will say to those on his left hand, 'Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.' ... And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life."
Yahweh does not feed the hungry; he does not give drink to those who thirst; he dispenses no clothes, and lets the faithful sicken and die. In the light of this, Yahweh himself is the worst of sinners; if there is no double standard, he will be at the head of that line into eternal punishment. He is guilty of almost every crime of which he accuses the damned.
I do not believe in the reality of Jehovah, except as a psychological phenomenon, but if I did believe I would not worship that horror. It could send me to the Hell it's made for those it dislikes, and if there were no other choice but worshipping it, I would walk in proudly.