Wisdom, Justice And Mercy
If all of the People of the Book idealise three attributes in their deity, wisdom, justice and mercy, why the fuck is it that they all consistently and repeatedly pervert these into an irrational vengeful ruthlessness?
That's us, man. Consistently. I for one like to kick kittens before breakfast each day. On account of my arrested moral development, mindless adherence to dogma, and inability to distinguish my emotions from reality. Which is, you know, identical with the whole Judaism thing.
I didn't use to think so, but then, you know, there was the whole Baruch Goldstein incident, and so I was like "well HECK -- I guess I must be an immoral loonie too! 'Cause look, we both wear *the same little hats*!!"
Thank heaven you Tammuz-worshippin' fellas aren't given to allowing your emotions to dilute your powers of careful and responsible reasoning. Nice to know we can count on someone.
For the record, I don't worship Tammuz; I just lament his death. But to answer the point (with a little less vitriol this time)...
He's right to pick that piece of rhetoric, actually; it should've been worded differently in retrospect. The "they all" in the "why" reads as "all of those specific believers individually" where I meant it to refer to the Big Three as the sets of believers -- i.e. the question should really be: Why is it that within these three religions the concepts of wisdom, justice and mercy are consistently and repeatedly perverted into an irrational vengeful ruthlessness? I didn't mean to imply that every single believer, as an individual, "consistently and repeatedly" takes a set of spurious moral absolutes and decides that it's their God-given right -- nay, duty -- to smite the evil deus-defying heathens who, by not adhering to those dictates, can be justifiably demonised as "abominations in the eyes of God". What I am saying is that it's a pattern, a recurring feature in monotheism, that this sort of moralistic fervour erupts time and time again, and that rather than writing the pogroms and inquisitions and jihads and crusades off as aberrations I think it's high time we started calling the monotheist religions out on this tendency to go all Smite The Unbeliever on us.
The destruction of Sodom is pretty fucking ruthless; there's not much mercy shown there. It's vengeful too, justified as punishment for sexual crimes. And it's irrational, I'd say, the criminality of those sexual acts being based on a "this is disgusting therefore it is evil" argument which boils down to plain old prejudice. What feels shameful must be sinful.
We can shrug and say, yeah, but hey, that's just a legend from the second millenium BCE... but that's missing the point. All of the Big Three include that story in their holy scriptures. Whether taken as truth or legend that story is a picture of irrational vengeful ruthlessness in action as a good thing. It has a moral message which comes through loud and clear, and to this day that story is taken as the all-clear for homophobia by many believers.
And rightly so, I think. That moral message is fairly unequivocal. I am an abomination in the eyes of God and deserve to be wiped off the face of the planet.
Cheers, God. That's nice to know.
I'd argue that this is only one example amongst many in the scriptures. YHVH gets pissed off at humanity and wipes out all but one man and his family in the Flood -- and that act of genocide is portrayed as fine and dandy; YHVH makes the rules so he's quite entitled to perpetrate genocide if he thinks we deserve it for miscegenation (albeit miscegenation with angels). The firstborn of the Egyptians get wiped out in punishment for the crime of an autocratic Pharoah they can hardly vote out of office; man, in terms of wisdom, justice and mercy that makes Kaiser Soze look like Ghandi. David is a hero for the steaming mound of Philistine foreskins he brings back; fair enough, it's a war, but it's a bit sodding Colonel Kurtz as far as pacification of the enemy goes. And the Nabiim rail against the coastal city-states of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre for their "decadence", for the fact that they were mercantile melting-pots where different cultures tolerated each other's weird beliefs and ways of living, where diversity was not a threat but an opportunity, and where sex was seen as sacred rather than sinful; that the Nabiim reacted to this culture with such vitriol as they did may well be partly down to political, nationalistic enmity but it's articulated by them in terms of prejudice, vengeance and extermination.
Some might argue that these myths and messages have to be understood in the context of the time. I agree. But I don't think we can just cherry-pick our myths and messages from the scriptures, ignoring this part, reinterpreting that part, editing and exegesising it to suit our own individual ethics. Or rather, I think that we can (and do) take this approach but that in doing so religiously rather than philosophically we tacitly accept that others who do the same, who hone in on the very areas we've discarded, are quite entitled to cite those scriptures as holy revelations rather than human inventions. If we accept the validatory authority of those texts as divinely-inspired scripture, if we validate those texts as divinely authoritative, the Word of God, treat them as articles of faith rather than grist for the philosophical mill, then we're complicit, I think, in their use as justification for what I call irrational, vengeful ruthlessness.
Further, if those scriptures can be used as justification for irrational, vengeful ruthlessness, and are used in that way over and over and over again, I think you have to question whether that's to do with some feature of the texts. It's too glib and easy to just say that people can read into them what they will, that the zealots, jihadists and crusaders will just magically find what they're looking for because they're nasty fucked-up people who can twist the Word of God any which way they want. That's just too bloody complacent and too bloody convenient. I think monotheism has some simple questions to answer:
1. In what sort of ideological system can the destruction of Sodom be evaluated as an act of wisdom, justice and mercy? 2. Does that sort of ideological system validate other analogous acts of destruction by applying the same principles? 3. What are those principles exactly?
I think there are some simple answers to those questions:
1. A religious value system which resolves apparent contradictions with appeals to the ineffable nature of God (which trumps wisdom), the absolute authority of his decrees (which trumps justice) and the concept of sin (which trumps mercy). 2. Yes, as long as those acts of destruction can be represented as desired by God, executed according to his decree, as punishment or prevention of sin. 3. The fundamental principles are Faith, Scripture and Sin.
So, I'm not arguing that this unholy trinity of features necessarily ethically cripples all believers without exception, turning them all into dogmatic, kitten-kicking zealots, jihadists and crusaders. What I am arguing is that this sort of ideological system is an institutionalised version of Kohlberg's "law and order orientation". I don't doubt that it can and does serve as a stepping-stone for many believers, and that the particular beliefs and values they learn within this framework subsequently inform the individual ethics they work out in what Kohlberg calls the post-conventional stage. But I do think it can and does also serve as a barrier. It's a self-sustaining system, after all. Faith, Scripture and Sin all feed off each other as concepts, validate each other; if we question one of those principles the others are there to push us back into line. If you really think wisdom, justice and mercy are admirable characteristics that one shoud aspire to then I think you have to put away those childish things.
There's no wisdom that doesn't challenge faith. There's no justice that doesn't challenge scripture. And there's no mercy that doesn't challenge the very idea of sin. I honestly think, all bile and bluster aside, that it's in our nature to try, and that maybe, just maybe, there's some small part of those institutions -- an open doorway in the words "wisdom, justice and mercy" -- which is there simply as a way out. But I think the larger part of those institutions consists of walls and bars and trustee inmates working as guards, meting out rewards and punishments in a brutal regime. Faith is our meds. Scripture is our straitjacket. And Sin is the madness that keeps us sitting in the corner with our arms around our knees, rocking back and forth, too busy torturing ourselves with our own imaginations to see the exit sign staring us in the face.