God is the main protagonist of the Bible. The idea that He created the universe makes us associate God with a supernatural force; the idea that He created man in His image –male and female He created them– makes us see Him as parents. Our parents also impose their rules and reward or punish us depending on how we behave.
The God of the Bible is harder to understand than our parents. Why did He look with favour on Abel and his offering from the firstborn of his flock and not on Cain and his offering from the fruit of the ground? Why did He ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Why is He a jealous God who punishes the iniquity of parents until the third and fourth generation?
To understand the God of the Bible, we must first understand the gods of our ancestors. Like us, they asked existential questions. What was there at the beginning? When did it all start? How does one explain the fossils of marine life found at high altitudes at a long distance from the sea? What happens after death? Why do we die? Why do some people do well and others not?
Our ancestors longed so much for an answer to these questions that any explanation was better than having none. They therefore invented the idea of a supernatural force that was capable of everything. What created the universe? God did so! What caused the flood? God did so! They thus explained certain mysteries without actually doing so.
Our ancestors were aware that their well-being and survival depended on a variety of factors: good harvests and hunting; no illnesses and accidents; winning their wars against enemies; many offspring to avoid being outnumbered by enemies and to ensure sufficient help during their old age; luck during sea voyages; etc.
Sorcerers understood these forces better than others. By intuiting the principle of cause and effect, they knew which herbs healed people. Since sorcerers were important for the survival of a tribe, people respected them and assumed that they also understood the other forces on which their well-being and survival depended. Sorcerers however also knew which herbs made people sick.
While some sorcerers used their knowledge for the benefit of their community, others took advantage of the credulity of others to increase their own power and wealth. The latter came up with the idea that behind each of the factors on which their well-being and survival depended was a god and that to gain his favour, he had to be worshipped.
People thus began to worship a god of war to win their wars with their neighbours; a god of fertility to have many offspring so as to avoid being outnumbered by their enemies and to ensure enough help during their old age; a god of the seas to ensure safe sea voyages, etc.
Since they claimed to know what the gods desired, sorcerers gained a lot of power and wealth. The idea of gods that looked like human beings, but had supernatural powers, allowed some sorcerers to pass themselves off as gods.
A story in the Bible tells us about the priests of Bel who told people that the tribute of flour, sheep and wine that Bel demanded was consumed by him during the night, when in reality they consumed it themselves. Other stories in the Bible tell us of the priests of Baal (also called Molek) who demanded the sacrifices of the firstborn sons.
After centuries of worshiping multiple gods, someone realized that all the forces in the universe are governed by the principle of cause and effect, and on this idea, he based monotheism. The fact that Abraham is the ancestor of Jews and Arabs, and that God gave him a covenant, suggests that he founded monotheism.
To understand ourselves and what surrounds us, we must investigate. And what encourages us to investigate, if not the idea that each cause has its effect and each effect has its cause? The intuition that everything in the universe is governed by this principle encourages us to ask questions. Since everything in the universe is in some way related to everything else, the answers to those questions encourages us to ask new questions, thus creating a dynamic that allows us to continually improve our understanding of ourselves and everything around us.
The search for wisdom is innate in the human being: at a certain age, children don’t stop asking: “why?” If later few achieve wisdom, this is because, at a certain point, adults no longer know the answers to their questions. Then they reply that things are the way they are because they are the way they are. With these answers they discourage children from asking more questions.
The reproach for not knowing something –”But don’t you know?”– also discourages a child stops asking new questions. When his desire for wisdom is interpreted as a sign of his ignorance, a child may be afraid of losing the respect of others. He will then imitate others: he will act as if he already knows everything. He will hide his ignorance with arrogance. And, of course, when he stops asking questions and accepts that things are the way they are because they are the way they are, it is easy to indoctrinate him.
Biblical stories encourage us to ask questions, and when we don’t do so, we don’t improve our understanding of them. After He created man and the animals –male and female He created them– God told them what they could eat. To the former He prescribed eating the herbs that have seeds in them, and eating of the trees that have fruits with seeds in them; to the latter He prescribed eating the green grass.
The information that God prescribed a vegetarian diet for humans and animals encourages us to ask why God looked with favour on Abel and his offering of the firstborn of his flock.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims claim to long for harmony on Earth. Therefore, the fact that Genesis associates the days of paradise with vegetarianism encourages us to ask why they eat animals. This is because a few chapters further on in Genesis God gave a new dietary law to Noah which allowed eating other creatures.
Accepting the idea that God demands something for no reason –to forbid eating a certain fruit– or changes His mind for no reason –first prescribing a vegetarian diet and later allowing eating other creatures– is degrading the god of monotheism to the level of pagan gods.
The idea that many Jews, Christians and Muslims have of God is not so different from the idea that their pagan ancestors had of their gods: they also assume that, like any earthly sovereign, God can demand what He wants, that He can punish those who disobey him, and change His mind without having to offer any explanations. For these people, the only thing that differentiates God from the pagan gods is that He does not tolerate any competition.
To understand the protagonist of the Bible we must however ask why He acts one way and not another, or why on certain occasions He seems to change His mind.
The next 10 articles are:
5 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 Adam and Eve
6 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 The snake
7 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 Cain and Abel
8 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 Cain’s descendants
9 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 The Flood
10 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 Noah
11 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 Evil since childhood
12 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 Repopulating the Earth
13 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 The tower of Babel
14 PHILOSOPHY versus THEOLOGY 0 An only language