Friday, March 18, 2011

Say "Hello" to Old Mean God


In the beginning, God was mean.

Right from the get go it was all about punishment. Adam and Eve, evicted, with shame as their lovely parting gift. Frogs and boils and rivers of blood were doled out to the Pharoah. And let's not forget that petulant moment when God drowned just about everyone in the world. Man, was he pissed that time. Then there's Job, and Abraham, and others who weren't so much punished as they were "tested" - if "tested" and "tortured" have the same meaning. Early God would have used waterboarding and never engaged in a morality debate. Just plain mean, that Guy. Probably was the first to say "I brought you into this world, I can take you out," and Cosby was just plagiarizing.

But God mellowed with age, his heart softened by bouncing the baby Jesus on his knee, and a new paradigm of love and forgiveness was developed and announced through a series of press releases and sophisticated manipulation of social media. Jesus was not so hot on the smiting and the hordes of locusts and whatnot. He preferred just sitting around with a little wine and bread, telling stories, and knocking out a miracle now and then to keep everyone focused.

From Siddhartha to Nietzsche to Hitchens, people have been trying to knock off old mean God and other God variations for awhile now, but he hangs in there. And it only takes something horrible to happen for that old God of Punishment to get trotted out for another scene. A few years ago it was AIDS - a plague sent to punish the wicked, according to some deep thinkers - and your Falwells and Pat Robertsons made careers out of pointing to old mean God and blaming disasters on the "immoral" - or more recently the nincompoopery of epic proportions perpetrated by the followers of Westboro Baptist Church, the holier-than-thou gang that parades around at funerals with signs like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." (As believers in the God of Retribution, I imagine they are emboldened by the fact that they themselves haven't been buried in a blizzard of frogs or something. "No smiting yet, we must be on the right track.") The most timely example of the staying power of old mean God was delivered by Glenn Beck, attributing the devastating Japan earthquake and tsunami as a punishment:

God -- what God does is God's business, I have no idea. But I'll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus -- there's a message being sent. And that is, 'Hey, you know that stuff we're doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.' I'm just sayin'.
So eloquently stated, and expansive thinking in now accusing Jesus the son of adopting the bad habits of the father. A reminder that it's always good to get your spiritual guidance from talk show hosts. In fairness (which is a concept Beck doesn't adhere to) it should be said that even the governor of Tokyo played the same card, but at least he had the intelligence to apologize.

It's not hard to imagine primitive mankind trying to apply some cause and effect to their world, trying to find some meaning in earthquakes or volcanoes or floods. They had no science, no written records, no access to larger context, so they envisioned angry gods in the sky and the earth and the oceans, and they tried to make amends and appease. To see modern mankind still using the same kind of logic is a little depressing.