Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins - The God Delusion

(Parte 5 de 6)

T H E G O D H Y P O T I E S I S 3

Tax-free! Roberts himself is still going strong, as is 'Oral Roberts University' of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Its buildings, valued at $250 million, were directly commissioned by God himself in these words: 'Raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the Earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.'

On reflection, my imagined Hindu litigator would have been as likely to play the 'If you can't beat them join them' card. His polytheism isn't really polytheism but monotheism in disguise. There is only one God - Lord Brahma the creator, Lord Vishnu the preserver, Lord Shiva the destroyer, the goddesses Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati (wives of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), Lord Ganesh the elephant god, and hundreds of others, all are just different manifestations or incarnations of the one God.

Christians should warm to such sophistry. Rivers of medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the 'mystery' of the Trinity, and in suppressing deviations such as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance or essence) with God. What on earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What 'substance'? What exactly do you mean by 'essence'? 'Very little' seems the only reasonable reply. Yet the controversy split Christendom down the middle for a century, and the Emperor Constantine ordered that all copies of Arius's book should be burned. Splitting Christendom by splitting hairs - such has ever been the way of theology.

Do we have one God in three parts, or three Gods in one? The

Catholic Encyclopedia clears up the matter for us, in a masterpiece of theological close reasoning:

In the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, these Three Persons being truly distinct one from another. Thus, in the words of the Athanasian Creed: 'the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.'

34 T H E G O D D E L U S 1 O N

As if that were not clear enough, the Encyclopedia quotes the thirdcentury theologian St Gregory the Miracle Worker:

There is therefore nothing created, nothing subject to another in the Trinity: nor is there anything that has been added as though it once had not existed, but had entered afterwards: therefore the Father has never been without the Son, nor the Son without the Spirit: and this same Trinity is immutable and unalterable forever.

Whatever miracles may have earned St Gregory his nickname, they were not miracles of honest lucidity. His words convey the characteristically obscurantist flavour of theology, which - unlike science or most other branches of human scholarship - has not moved on in eighteen centuries. Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said, 'Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.'

The other thing I cannot help remarking upon is the overweening confidence with which the religious assert minute details for which they neither have, nor could have, any evidence. Perhaps it is the very fact that there is no evidence to support theological opinions, either way, that fosters the characteristic draconian hostility towards those of slightly different opinion, especially, as it happens, in this very field of Trinitarianism.

Jefferson heaped ridicule on the doctrine that, as he put it,

'There are three Gods', in his critique of Calvinism. But it is especially the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity that pushes its recurrent flirtation with polytheism towards runaway inflation. The Trinity is (are?) joined by Mary, 'Queen of Heaven', a goddess in all but name, who surely runs God himself a close second as a target of prayers. The pantheon is further swollen by an army of saints, whose intercessory power makes them, if not demigods, well worth approaching on their own specialist subjects. The Catholic Community Forum helpfully lists 5,120 saints,18 together with their areas of expertise, which include abdominal pains, abuse victims,

T I E G O D H Y P O T H E S 1 S 35 anorexia, arms dealers, blacksmiths, broken bones, bomb technicians and bowel disorders, to venture no further than the Bs. And we mustn't forget the four Choirs of Angelic Hosts, arrayed in nine orders: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels (heads of all hosts), and just plain old Angels, including our closest friends, the ever-watchful Guardian Angels. What impresses me about Catholic mythology is partly its tasteless kitsch but mostly the airy nonchalance with which these people make up the details as they go along. It is just shamelessly invented.

Pope John Paul I created more saints than all his predecessors of the past several centuries put together, and he had a special affinity with the Virgin Mary. His polytheistic hankerings were dramatically demonstrated in 1981 when he suffered an assassination attempt in Rome, and attributed his survival to intervention by Our Lady of Fatima: 'A maternal hand guided the bullet.' One cannot help wondering why she didn't guide it to miss him altogether. Others might think the team of surgeons who operated on him for six hours deserved at least a share of the credit; but perhaps their hands, too, were maternally guided. The relevant point is that it wasn't just Our Lady who, in the Pope's opinion, guided the bullet, but specifically Our Lady of Fatima. Presumably Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Zeitoun, Our Lady of Garabandal and Our Lady of Knock were busy on other errands at the time.

How did the Greeks, the Romans and the Vikings cope with such polytheological conundrums? Was Venus just another name for Aphrodite, or were they two distinct goddesses of love? Was Thor with his hammer a manifestation of Wotan, or a separate god? Who cares? Life is too short to bother with the distinction between one figment of the imagination and many. Having gestured towards polytheism to cover myself against a charge of neglect, I shall say no more about it. For brevity I shall refer to all deities, whether poly- or monotheistic, as simply 'God'. I am also conscious that the Abrahamic God is (to put it mildly) aggressively male, and this too I shall accept as a convention in my use of pronouns. More sophisticated theologians proclaim the sexlessness of God, while

36 T H E G O D D E L U S I O N some feminist theologians seek to redress historic injustices by designating her female. But what, after all, is the difference between a non-existent female and a non-existent male? I suppose that, in the ditzily unreal intersection of theology and feminism, existence might indeed be a less salient attribute than gender.

I am aware that critics of religion can be attacked for failing to credit the fertile diversity of traditions and world-views that have been called religious. Anthropologically informed works, from Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough to Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained or Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust, fascinatingly document the bizarre phenomenology of superstition and ritual. Read such books and marvel at the richness of human gullibility.

But that is not the way of this book. I decry supernaturalism in all its forms, and the most effective way to proceed will be to concentrate on the form most likely to be familiar to my readers - the form that impinges most threateningly on all our societies. Most of my readers will have been reared in one or another of today's three 'great' monotheistic religions (four if you count Mormonism), all of which trace themselves back to the mythological patriarch Abraham, and it will be convenient to keep this family of traditions in mind throughout the rest of the book.

This is as good a moment as any to forestall an inevitable retort to the book, one that would otherwise - as sure as night follows day - turn up in a review: 'The God that Dawkins doesn't believe in is a God that I don't believe in either. I don't believe in an old man in the sky with a long white beard.' That old man is an irrelevant distraction and his beard is as tedious as it is long. Indeed, the distraction is worse than irrelevant. Its very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly. I know you don't believe in an old bearded man sitting on a cloud, so let's not waste any more time on that. I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.

T H E G O D H Y P O T H E S I S 37

The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal - God is the Omnipotent Father - hence the loathing of women for 2,0 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates.

The oldest of the three Abrahamic religions, and the clear ancestor of the other two, is Judaism: originally a tribal cult of a single fiercely unpleasant God, morbidly obsessed with sexual restrictions, with the smell of charred flesh, with his own superiority over rival gods and with the exclusiveness of his chosen desert tribe. During the Roman occupation of Palestine, Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus as a less ruthlessly monotheistic sect of Judaism and a less exclusive one, which looked outwards from the Jews to the rest of the world. Several centuries later, Muhammad and his followers reverted to the uncompromising monotheism of the Jewish original, but not its exclusiveness, and founded Islam upon a new holy book, the Koran or Qur'an, adding a powerful ideology of military conquest to spread the faith. Christianity, too, was spread by the sword, wielded first by Roman hands after the Emperor Constantine raised it from eccentric cult to official religion, then by the Crusaders, and later by the conquistadores and other European invaders and colonists, with missionary accompaniment. For most of my purposes, all three Abrahamic religions can be treated as indistinguishable. Unless otherwise stated, I shall have Christianity mostly in mind, but only because it is the version with which I happen to be most familiar. For my purposes the differences matter less than the similarities. And I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as

38 T H E GOD DELUSION religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life.

The simple definition of the God Hypothesis with which I began has to be substantially fleshed out if it is to accommodate the Abrahamic God. He not only created the universe; he is a personal God dwelling within it, or perhaps outside it (whatever that might mean), possessing the unpleasantly human qualities to which I have alluded.

Personal qualities, whether pleasant or unpleasant, form no part of the deist god of Voltaire and Thomas Paine. Compared with the Old Testament's psychotic delinquent, the deist God of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment is an altogether grander being: worthy of his cosmic creation, loftily unconcerned with human affairs, sublimely aloof from our private thoughts and hopes, caring nothing for our messy sins or mumbled contritions. The deist God is a physicist to end all physics, the alpha and omega of mathematicians, the apotheosis of designers; a hyper-engineer who set up the laws and constants of the universe, fine-tuned them with exquisite precision and foreknowledge, detonated what we would now call the hot big bang, retired and was never heard from again.

In times of stronger faith, deists have been reviled as indistinguishable from atheists. Susan Jacoby, in Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, lists a choice selection of the epithets hurled at poor Tom Paine: 'Juclas, reptile, hog, mad dog, souse, louse, archbeast, brute, liar, and of course infidel'. Paine died in penury, abandoned (with the honourable exception of Jefferson) by political former friends embarrassed by his anti-Christian views. Nowadays, the ground has shifted so far that deists are more likely to be contrasted with atheists and lumped with theists. They do, after all, believe in a supreme intelligence who created the universe.

It is conventional to assume that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic were deists. No doubt many of them were,

THE GOD HYPOTHESIS 39 although it has been argued that the greatest of them might have been atheists. Certainly their writings on religion in their own time leave me in no doubt that most of them would have been atheists in ours. But whatever their individual religious views in their own time, the one thing they collectively were is secularists, and this is the topic to which I turn in this section, beginning with a - perhaps surprising - quotation from Senator Barry Goldwater in 1981, clearly showing how staunchly that presidential candidate and hero of American conservatism upheld the secular tradition of the Republic's foundation :

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And lam even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.19

The religious views of the Founding Fathers are of great interest to propagandists of today's American right, anxious to push their

(Parte 5 de 6)

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