Friday, March 23, 2012

Five Gods, Three Monotheisms

I’ve gotten to the point where I understand Judaism, Christianity and Islam fairly well, arguably better than most any other religions. I suppose I’m no world-renowned expert, but I have no dog in the race, and I am a pretty impartial observer, so I think you can all trust me when I say that Jews, Christians and Muslims are not worshipping the same god.

I know certain elements in those religions have repeated over and over and over and over that this is the case, but they’re incorrect. I don’t know whether these people are lying or mistaken, but they are certainly all either one or the other.

You cannot read the Torah and then the New Testament and convince me that they are depicting the same god. You can try, but you will fail miserably.

This is probably the connection that most people will have the hardest time abandoning, After all, Jesus was a Jew and he was supposedly talking about YHWH. Except… Christians don’t worship YHWH. Most Christians don’t know who YHWH is, nor El, nor Adonai. In the now famous song by Joan Osborne, “One of Us,” she ignorantly asks, “If God had a name, what would it be…”

What’s more, Christians don’t worship one god, they worship three: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Hercules was not also Jupiter. Thor was not also Odin. If a god has a child, the child isn’t also that god, that child is a child and the parent is the parent. Those are just the rules, people. I know people have been told over and over, “Oh, they’re one in the same,” but they most certainly aren’t.

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. – Matthew 24:36

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. – Mark 13:32

And these are not the only examples of separateness between the Jesus and God in the New Testament. The Revelation of John is full of very clear imagery of Jesus as a distinct being apart from the Father. How do you sit at the right hand of yourself, can anyone explain that to me?

The idea of Jesus and God as one comes only as a result of two theological phenomena. The first is that Jesus was deified and made a god, but Jews are monotheists… so you can’t worship two gods, according to many passages of the Old Testament. So, when it was decided that Jesus was a god, Jesus had to be the God, not just a god.

The Holy Spirit is another matter entirely. I conjecture that the Holy Spirit was a construct of later Christians who were trying to justify their adulteration of the original messages of Jesus. As humans, they couldn’t just go editing and redacting the message of Jesus, so they had to claim some divine presence was guiding them. And yet… there was no such mechanism in Judaism, so they borrowed from the Greeks and Romans, who believed in a concept we would call “inspiration.”

Through the muses, one could be “inspired” or literally allow the spirit of another being to inhabit their body. Jews don’t have muses, so they imagined the “spirit” of God coming down and guiding their hand as they made up the fairy tales that would become the New Testament.

In actuality, these people worked from what scholars call the “Q document,” an hypothesized collection of sayings and quotes of Jesus. This sort of thing was common at the time for many philosophers, as students would keep a record of things a teacher said. The New Testament writers (especially the Gospel authors) sat down with a list of sayings attributed to Jesus and a copy of the Old Testament, then went about writing a story tailor made to fulfill the prophecies of the Hebrews for their messiah. They also relied on the oral tradition pertaining to the life of Jesus, and they peppered in his words of wisdom along the way.

This is why the stories of the gospels do not match up. This is how it happened that arguably the greatest and most significant miracle of Jesus (rising from the dead) is retold four different times in four different ways with four different sets of circumstances and details, and also why a great many other stories in the gospels are simply impossible to match up chronologically or geographically.

The people writing about the three Christian gods (the one who walked the Earth, the one who speaks to people, and the one who is up in heaven demanding praise) are writing about a different trio of gods than the one, single God discussed in the Old Testament. Not even the Father bears any resemblance to the Hebrew storm god YHWH. The Father seems interested in what happens in the next life, while YHWH doles out justice and reward in this life. The Father is forgiving, while YHWH is vengeful. The Father is patient, kind, and loves all people, while YHWH is impatient, cruel, and seems to harbor a genocidal hatred for all non-Jews.

These aren’t two different interpretations, these are two totally different, irreconcilable deities. Both gods claim to be perfect, but a perfect being does not change over time. That implies improvement, and improvement is impossible for a perfect being.

While it’s hard to expect some people to acknowledge these gods are completely different figments of the human imagination (whoops… I mean “gods”), it’s slightly easier to convince people that Allah is not the same god.

It’s almost a shame, really, because there seems to be a bit of cultural hostility inherent in most people’s reasoning here. Post-WWII Western Culture is largely okay with the concept of a Judeo-Christian worldview, but if you try to throw Islam in there, a lot of really angry, ignorant people object.

I find Islam laughable, but not more than Judaism or Christianity. I certainly don’t take out my disrespect for the ideology on those who believe it, either. How I feel about Islam itself has nothing to do with my opinion on whether Allah is the same being as God.

If anything, Islam is more like Judaism than Christianity. Islam is almost a carbon copy of Judaism, in that it’s a poor-quality facsimile. Judaism and Islam are both more legalistic. Both have a thing against pork. Both of them like to cover their women up. Both are into fasting. Both worship only one god (as opposed to three). And, both put a higher priority than Christians (even crusaders of the Middle Ages) on controlling the Holy Land.

However, Islam is a more cosmopolitan religion than either Judaism or Christianity. Mohammed was a merchant, and he travelled a lot. He had a better firsthand understanding of the world than the writers of the Bible. Mohammed had more experience with other religions, and he came hundreds of years after Jesus and the writing of the Talmud, so his religion enjoys an ideological foundation with many centuries of theological development over that of the Jews and Christians.

Obviously, Mohammed was heavily influenced by Judaism and Christianity itself. The Quran is filled with retellings of biblical stories, and he was working with the benefit of both religions having established themselves (with the Jews in diaspora and the Catholic Church being a dominant force in post-Roman Europe) by the time he came around in the 6th and 7th centuries. Mohammed even gave these two faiths a special place in Muslim culture. For example, as “People of the Book” (i.e. the Bible), Jews and Christians were considered worthy of butchering meat in halal style without having to convert to Islam.

Mohammed was also influenced by native Arab religions and ideology, as well as religions in nearby Persia, like Zoroastrianism. And, to top it all off, Mohammed and many Muslims after him also drew influence from the Greek world, most notably from Neoplatonism. Muslims scientists for centuries to come would also continue the work of Greek philosophers like Aristotle as nobles in Europe violently bickered over small parcels of land, as the whole continent fell into abject ignorance (save for a few monastic centers of learning which dotted the continent and lagged hopelessly behind their Middle-Eastern and Far Eastern counterparts at the time).

One might be able to make the case that Muslims worship the same god as Jews, but still… after having read the Quran and many pages of hadith, I don’t think they’re talking about the same being. The Muslim conception of Allah is far more advanced and developed than that of the archaic Jewish YHWH.

Again, there are marked differences in what is asked of each group, and I simply find it difficult to believe that YHWH (who only picks Jews as prophets) would tap an Arab to be the last and most important prophet of all time. What’s more, Islam essentially drops many Jewish concepts and adopts Christian ones in place of them, like the fact that Muslims generally believe Jesus will return to usher in the end of the world.

It doesn’t take someone who has studied these religions extensively to see why adherents of each try to push the idea that these very distinct religions all worship the same god. It makes it easier to ignore these other religions, which constitute the overwhelming majority of Western religions being practiced today. It is a greater challenge to a religion if there are other competing faiths out there, but this challenge becomes more manageable if you can convince yourself and your fellow believers that really, they’re all worshipping the same god.

It can provide an artificial sense of unity, and can ease tensions between the groups. Maybe this is a good thing, but the problem is that the concept is incorrect and serves only to prevent people from questioning their faith or considering the faiths of others. I encourage people, both believers and non-believers alike, to learn about the various religions of the world, because knowing how different they all are helps you see that in actuality, they cannot all be correct, nor can they even be seen as all hinting at the same concepts.

Each religion has its share of wisdom to act as bait on the hook, but at their core, all religions try to reel you in and use you for their own aims. Every religion sees each believer (and especially non-believers) as expendable and essentially worthless, especially when compared to the will of the divine. This is truly the only thing all religions have in common, the claim that you are weak, dumb, and in need of being commanded, and this is precisely why all religions are wrong, no matter how many gods they worship.

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