Chapter six – be angry
Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy. ~Aristotle
Why should we be angry? We should be angry because for nearly two thousand years the beautiful teachings and good deeds of Jesus of Nazareth have been twisted into a flail of fear and deceit with which to keep the people in line. In the last chapter I talked of the need for being aware and using our capacity to reason to make sense of who God is and what God wants for us. As modern Christians one of the things we don’t get is that our spiritual path is a beautiful and compassionate tool that can be used to aid people in many and diverse ways. The God that we have been introduced to is a God who seeks relationship with us, not because we have earned it, but because God has chosen it.
So what is it that makes this God so different from any other concept of god? Well, the biggest difference is that God seeks to aid us, not take from us, not demand from us, but simply to enrich our lives and grow us into the people we have the potential to be. The problem is that a good deal of this understanding has been lost because of foolish people using religion as a control on the populace and not seeing it for what it really is, a way to free us from needing that control. How does this work? First we need a bit of a history lesson. In very ancient times, pre-Judaism, we see that people were practicing at various forms of animism and polytheism, and everything was very supernatural and there was a good deal of fighting over who’s god was stronger. Judaism enters the scene and the idea of monotheism is brought about, this idea changes a good deal of the commonly held thoughts at the time.
Before Judaism gods weren't something you wanted to be involved with, gods were dangerous, finicky and bad tempered. Village priests spent most of their time using concepts like sacrifice to avoid the attention of these deities and keep them happy. So long as the local deity was happy, crops would grow, people would eat, and life was good. If for any reason, the local deity got upset, then you could bet life was going to get hard, with floods, disease and famine, it paid to keep these beastly gods happy. With the coming of the Judaic god, that concept began to change. Suddenly there was a deity who wanted to help man. Look at the promises that God makes to Abraham, to grow him, prosper him, and give him children and a land to have for his own. That same God makes an appearance to Moses in Egypt and aids the Hebrew people in escaping their captivity and finding a homeland. So why does it seem at this point that God seems to change? He suddenly goes from a God willing to help the people to a God of rules, regulations and often times a murderous temper. Let’s use some of that reason again; what we have here is a change in the story of the people of Israel. Before they were in captivity, or homeless in the case of Abraham, they needed help; they were looking for a reason to believe in themselves. God provides that for both Abraham and for Moses, but then seems to change. The change comes about when the Jews gain their own turf. Now, it’s not about needing a helping hand up, now it’s about conquering and maintaining a land. God didn't change, the thoughts and behaviors of the people did. If God had helped them this far, then surely it was okay to slaughter and kill their perceived enemies. This was the thinking of the pre-Judaic mindset coming back to haunt mankind. Haven’t you ever wondered why God’s temperament seems to change so drastically from time to time? You see it all through the Old Testament, one second God seems to be on man’s side, trying to help and guide him, and then the next second God seems to turn hateful and vindictive, usually ending in a large number of people being massacred. It’s all there, go read your Old Testament, you will find time after time that this cycle happens…God’s good, then God’s anything but good. How do we reasonably explain this in Christianity?
Truth is, we don’t, or at least no particularly good explanation. You usually get the old standby explanation of God being sovereign and so He can do as He pleases, or if the person you ask is a Theologian, they will trail off about God’s ethical identity, or the need to understand the unredeemable qualities of some ancient cultures or some other such rot, or if you’re really unlucky you’ll just get the most common answer, “because the bible says so.” You know, I never liked that answer from my parents and I sure don’t want that answer from my church. Nothing is ever because “someone says so”…there is always a reason that such decisions are made. So why are these contradictory stories of God in the bible? If you begin to understand that at various times, different authors were involved in creating, retelling, and eventually writing down the stories that make up the bible you being to understand why the variance is there. You see the same technique used to write about today’s wars. When the writer is in favor of peace and love and unity, that’s the kind of perception they are going to have of God and so that’s the flavor their writing is going to have. If the writer sees God as giving the Hebrews the right to commit genocide on other cultures, he is naturally going to assume that God sees things his way and write accordingly. When we go to war with anyone, the very first step we have to take is to dehumanize that group of people, so that we can have clear consciences about killing them. So surely if God is on our side we can kill at will because God will surely forgive us, or maybe even reward us for taking care of this business. If you don’t believe it, just look at any war propaganda, from any country, during any war, the same tale is told over and over again.
The pre-Judaic thinking about gods keeps coming back on us. We start beating our religious chests and trying to proclaim our god as bigger and meaner. This is why the bible seems to constantly argue with itself about rules, regulations, and the status of various tribes and sins. Its all “old” thought that is still hanging around even though the God who comes to Abraham and Moses really kind of did away with all that rhetoric. It comes down to this, God needs to make sense, and anything we do or say in the name of God should fall in line with who God is and what God expects from us. So how do we make something that we can’t see, touch or manipulate in any real way, make sense? Can we ever really make sense of God, or is God so far removed from us that His ways really are beyond our understanding? It is through sense and reason that we humans know anything and it is through those same tools that we are able to become civil and understand concepts like love and compassion, forgiveness and empathy. So if it is through the senses that I can make the leap from barbarian to civilized human, then it seems logical that God makes sense and is reasonable.
We must ask questions; does God want peace on Earth, love among all people, compassion for the sick and weak? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the answer is yes in all instances. We can’t pick and choose when to be compassionate, we can’t manipulate these concepts to fit our daily whims, but in fact, we Christians have spent two thousand years doing just that. Whether it was the persecution of pagans during the middle Ages, or the snubbing of the poor in our modern church, we are making the same mistakes over and over again. And these mistakes are unreasonable, without thought or logic, simply because someone says that this or that is right doesn't make it so. The bible can be made to say just about anything you want, taken out of context; it literally is a smorgasbord of potentialities. The bible has been used to uphold the concepts of slavery, murder, genocide, rape and child abuse, just to name a few. The things we understand about God must make sense, and that sense must jive with the message that God has been trying to pass on to us ever since He called out Abraham. “I am your God; I want the best for you. I want you to have peace, to love one another, respect one another and learn to get along. I have tried to make it clear that I love you, no matter what, no matter who you are, what you have done, or what you believe and I want you to treat one another with consideration and compassion.” Of course this is my own paraphrase, and you don’t have to believe it, but consider what you are left with if you don’t. God is either a God of love, compassion, kindness and hope, or he truly is a god of hatefulness, murder and bigotry.
We either believe these things about God or we must see that it was man who made the changes, not God. It is our responsibility as Christians to live up to the example given by Jesus, and to understand and reason about who God is and what He expects of us. The world needs to see that God isn't the bigoted, hateful, genocidal, and despotic, judge that Christianity has for too long portrayed Him as. The only way that anyone can see who and what God is, is by watching what his followers do.
We are responsible for God’s negative propaganda, and we have allowed it to go on for way too long, it’s time for a change. Urge your congregations to quit picketing abortion clinics, supporting anti-gay agendas, and doing anything that might even be construed as projecting the image of an angry, hateful God. People inherently know good from bad, they don’t need someone wagging fingers in their direction if they are making mistakes, what they really need is someone there to pick up the pieces, and assure them that they are still loved. The battle for whether or not the church will survive much into the 21st century rides almost entirely on whether or not we can begin to truly live the love and forgiveness of Jesus and open our arms and congregations to hurting and broken people, no matter who they are or what they profess. It’s time to get angry, but not at people who are hurting and broken, no its time to get angry at the childish leaders of our churches who carry on their own wars of bigotry and hatred through their own ignorance and pass on that venom to their congregations. Don’t willingly play a role in this sort of behavior, step up, get angry and put your foot down. Since it’s your money going in the offering, and each and every church functions at the will of its congregants, take a stand. If enough of us stand up and get angry about this sort of infantile nonsense, our churches just might have a chance to reform and ask forgiveness for a few thousand years of hate mongering. It’s time for a change of face, and that change depends on you, the congregant, and whether or not you want to serve a God of love, compassion, and forgiveness, or be trampled under by hate and bigotry.