Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Why Religion Still Makes Me Cross, Part 2: The Manifold Presence and the Almighty Absence.

God’s absence would be less incongruous if He at least said why He chose to make His manifold Presence so obscure. What kind of parent fails to explain his actions, thus causing His offspring to feel confused and insecure? Come on God, why the riddle if you want us too earn salvation, through faith or however? You could give us a palpable basis for faith, and an object for our love, instead of abandoning us to a blind – thus certainly unwise, and most likely morally unsound – ‘leap’. Or just putting a stop to the Almighty subterfuge would be a start: why not, for example, arrange things so that our bodies disappear rather than rot in the ground, unless we aren’t really meant to believe in life after death? Yes, I’m aware of Jesus’ supposed triumph over decomposition, but I’m not all that impressed by one distant and poorly substantiated exception to the general rule.

From the Christian point-of-view belief on the basis of faith rather than fact is a good thing – a proper criterion for salvation since anything else would be too easy. (We are advised to believe in God on faith at any rate, even though the absurdity of believing anything else on those grounds is granted, naturally enough. How many upstanding Anglicans would set forth to proclaim the Good News to a group of hooded ruffians, or eschew medical care when ill, trusting on faith that Providence and prayer should keep them from harm? “Ah, yes, well… Quite.”) Indeed, some Christians may feel moved to chime in with “Gosh, isn’t it all wonderful; isn’t our Lord fulsome because He has bestowed upon us a chance to be tested?” And, to be fair, such sentiments would extend logically from a sort of twisted rationale, wherein belief has value precisely because it’s not straightforward, owing to its lack of foundation. Other apologists say, again with a whiff of reason, that the nature of God’s presence in a time and in a “mortal” guise, explains His current absence: they say He had to become our Messiah and die on a cross at a specific point in our history, which is, of course, now past.

But no, once Risen the Lord didn’t have to limit His Royal Appearances to such a short period after His “death”. He didn’t have skip the twenty-first century Jesus tour for his modern day fans, nor did He have to deprive all but a few close allies of his post-resurrection appearances in the first century. Come on, didn’t the resurrected King realise that we, now, would all be far more impressed if he’d appeared to (and converted?) the movers and shakers (and the sceptics) of his day – the Jewish Sanhedrin, or Pontius Pilate perhaps? He could even have dispersed visions of his Risen Self beyond the confines of Palestine, if He’d chosen to do so. That would’ve been something for the history books, and mindful that He was restricted to one stay on Earth He ought to have thought about the history books. It seems God was in a too trusting frame of mind if He thought human beings would be sufficiently moved to comprehensively record their experience of the Divine. What a disappointment: not a single authentic first century record of Christ, outside the Gospels, even though Roman historians and Jewish historians meticulously recorded just about everything else – including other “saviours” like Joshua of Galilee. For goodness sake, didn’t anyone else notice the eclipse, the Earthquake, and the walking dead detailed in Matthew 28?

If faith rests on a delicate recipe which combines reasons to believe (presence) and reasons to doubt (absence), then God got it all wrong – He grossly overbaked the latter and made a terrible mess in the kitchen. Perhaps His ‘taking a back seat’ in times of plenty, or when events haven’t really concerned Him, is partially forgivable – if still inexplicable. But harebrained nature of belief is soon fully exposed when we ask how God could have kept His Abundance to Himself while massacres were being perpetrated in His various names. To my mind a bit of parental mediation was certainly called for in 1572, when Catherine de Medici precipitated the Catholic slaughter of thousands, and thousands, of Huguenots. Equally, the Early Church may not have visited unhappiness and murder upon “heretical” Manichaes, Docetists, and Arians, if only He had turned up to settle to odd doctrinal dispute.

But then we are talking about the same Moral Force that was furious with Moses’ cohorts when they didn’t murder absolutely everyone in the Midianite gang – sorry “race”, not “gang”, like the similarly unfortunate Canaanite race. (Yes, every single man and beast were for it second time around, even if God did expressly decree that the young female virgins should be ‘spared’…) Finally, sincerely, and most decisively, there is just no way – no way – to defend belief in a God who couldn’t even manage an appearance when six millions of his ‘chosen people’ were being stripped naked, obscenely brutalised, and then gassed.

No comments: