Ignoring the Vengeful God

Many Christians insist that the teachings of Jesus require accepting the entirety of the Older Testament (ie, the Torah, Wisdom literature, the prophets, etc) in order to properly appreciate his new wisdom. Now, it is impossible to understand what Jesus taught without an awareness of the world (and religious underpinning) in which he lived. But it seems to me that in order to derive the available benefits, one need only read what Jesus said and ignore any supposed prior context.

Yes, I am of course aware of his “jot & tittle” comment, but basically every substantial commandment or suggestion that originated directly from Jesus flies in the face of the vengeful maniac who presided over the Older Testament. Buddhism is not Hinduism, though it has its roots there. Christianity is not Orthodox Judaism, though it grew out of it. Jesus, like Gautama Buddha, was an ethical and religious genius who was able to formulate a radically new morality while living in the midst of a millenia-old world view. Love thy neighbor. Turn the cheek. As ye care for the prisoners, so ye care for me.

I don’t need to reconcile Jehovah and Jesus. I’ve read most of the Older Testament. Taking that dark and vengeful “god” literally would be to willfully partake in the insanity his words and actions imply. The main takeaway, the truly positive idea, that came from Abraham and Moses (mainly the latter) is monotheism, and even that concept may have originated with the heretic Egyptian Akhenaten, a sort of “one-termer” pharaoh who, during his reign, forced the Egyptians to solely worship Aten, the sun. Oh, and I guess the codification of the Ten Pretty Obvious Commandments was another sort of breakthrough, though even those had their origins in previous Mesopotamian cultures. But then you have to also deal the 100 or so “minor” commandments in Exodus, not to mention the endless city ordinances in Leviticus.

No, I don’t care to reconcile YHWH with the red text in the New Testament. I have no problem whatsoever in reconciling Jesus and God, since there is no ontological reconciliation necessary: they are two completely separate entities. The latter, under the rubric of “I AM”, and depicted in the first several books of the Bible, is of course an embarrassing myth, but perhaps the best an unsophisticated tribe of nomads in 1000 BC (or so) could come up with. Like I said, their major theological leap was monotheism.

And what I mean about “YHWH as myth” is strictly the Older Testament depiction; I do not want to suggest that I deny a Creator, only that YHWH is a very flawed example. Every ancient description of The Creator/ Sustainer suffers from the mythological trappings of the specific cultures in which they occur. And all of those descriptions therefore obscure whatever transcendence must obtain to such an entity (if “entity” can be used to imply what is meant, which is problematic).

The genius moment that happened in the far mists of the past was when some human mind(s) made the leap to conclude that there was a beginning, and that something caused it. To anthropomorphize that cause, and imbue it with the powers of storm and lightning and fire and earthquakes, the most powerful forces imaginable, was the most natural next step. And certainly these attributes accrued to the chief god of the pantheons of all ancient religions.

And then someone (Moses?) made the reductionist conclusion that, given that power, a pantheon isn’t required: just make YHWH the sole mover, responsible for everything. Unfortunately, they maintained the anthropomorphism. And also unfortunately, that concept of monotheism never leapt from within the confines of the Hebrew tribes (I AM a god for your people; don’t pray to other peoples’ gods). Even Jesus  mainly constrained his teachings to Judah and Israel. It took Paul to combine Jesus’ message with various aspects of Greek philosophy and Mediterranean “god-men”, and thus liberate Chrsitianity unto the Gentiles. But Jesus and Paul were men, which is one up the reality ladder from myth.

I maintain my conviction that Jesus was in many ways a theological genius, meaning that he was able to create Brand New Ideas. Most creative people just sort of reorganize whatever exists. It’s the Newtons and the Einsteins and the Buddhas and the Jesuses who make the gigantic leaps ahead, conceptual leaps so huge they almost seem like they came out of nowhere.

© 2017 Chuck Puckett