Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I've just read a chapter from John Loftus's 2011 book "The End of Christianity". Not chapter 1, I'll go back to that in due course. For reasons I'll explain I started with Chapter 5: 
"Can God Exist if Yahweh Doesn't?" by Jaco Gericke
The reason I turned to this chapter first is that I had listened to an interview between Robert M. Price (a.k.a. The Bible Geek) and the author on Point of Inquiry a few months back and Dr Gericke sounded like an interesting guy and his journey through belief and skepticism seemed to slightly parallel my own, so I was interested to read his thoughts.

You see, where I find myself at the moment is strongly skeptical of many of the stories and details in the bible, but still watching the evidence and seeing that some 'supernatural' things appear to happen in Christian contexts (possibly also of other religions, but I have no experience there). In other words I'm getting increasingly agnostic towards the biblical picture of God, but am still open to there actually being a God of some variety, who interacts with believers in 'supernatural' ways. So the title of this essay caught my eye and my imagination, so I read it first.

Sadly, from my particular (probably skewed) perspective, the chapter does not discuss the issues I thought it would, given the title. The point of the article is much more intended to be a demonstration that Yahweh, as described in the bible, does not and cannot exist, so therefore there is no God. The intended answer to the question in the title is "No".

However, following my slight disappointment that the chapter wasn't what I expected it to be, I found the chapter to be interesting, thought provoking, and generally compelling in its arguments. Which I will summarise here.  

The author's main argument is to present the character of Yahweh as the bible (Old Testament) actually presents him, and point out that such a character is not only incompatible with the way we know the world to be, but is also incompatible with contemporary Christian belief. In other words, Gericke contends, Christians themselves do not actually believe in the God of the bible. As he says: 
"If you read the scriptures and are not shocked out of all your religious beliefs, you have not understood them." 
Yahweh, as presented in the Old Testament, has a face, hands, feet, breast, backside, nostrils, eyes, ears, etc. None of the wording of any of the places where these features are asserted in the Old Testament is implied to be metaphorical, either in context or the language used. In other words, as far as the authors of the OT are concerned, Yahweh has a body. A human shaped body. And he also appears to have no existence beyond that body. Nothing in the OT suggests that he is a spiritual being who only manifests himself in human form occasionally. The OT writers believe that he is physical. Of course, the chapter gives bible references to support all these statements.

In order to harmonise contemporary Christian beliefs about God with the character of Yahweh, as presented in the OT, Christians have to interpret the OT passages as if they were metaphorical.  In other words, contemporary Christian belief is not bible-based, but rather contrary to the bible.

Beyond Yahweh's physicality, the OT also presents God as having human limitations. He needs to rest (e.g. Genesis 2:1 or Exodus 31:17), he has to travel to obtain information or to verify reports (e.g. Genesis 11: The Tower of Babel), he appears to act out of fear of human potential (e.g. Tower of Babel again), and sometimes he appears to need assistance or advice from others (e.g. 1 Kings 22:20-23). There are other instances given. None of this is presented as metaphor. The writers of these stories believed that God was limited in these ways.

The OT also presents Yahweh as having a human-like mind. Not only does he appear to believe things which are not true of the universe (e.g. that it was created in six days), but statements attributed to Yahweh assume the existence of mythical creatures, a literal place under the earth where the dead go, a literal heaven above the clouds, that the earth sits on top of a subterranean ocean, and so on. (NB, not all the verses used to support this reading of the OT are entirely compelling.) Furthermore, he is shown to behave in a temperamental manner on occasions and appears to have moral and ethical values which we would now regard as immoral and unethical. This is not a step in 'progressive revelation', this appears to be exactly the sort of character that a superstitious, bronze/iron age people would create, by amplifying and exaggerating the characteristics of their own tribal leaders.

Having considered all this, Gericke makes the statement that:
"All Christian theology is actually Yahwistic atheism"
Fair point.

The chapter goes on to discuss the world in which Yahweh apparently lives. And here we have the greatest number of verses quoted to demonstrate that the OT presentation of Yahweh is incompatible with both reality and Christian belief. I could cite verses here, but you may as well buy the book if you want to read the whole argument. It is a compelling case, and is more compelling if you actually look up the verses quoted and take them seriously, and at face value.

For example, how about Isaiah 43:10
“You are my witnesses,” declares Yahweh, “And my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me there was no God formed, and there will be none after me. "

The statement clearly says that God is not eternal - there was a time before him, and there will be a time after him. Furthermore, while this does claim that he is the first God and will also be the last, it does not claim that he is the only God. Indeed, if that were the claim this would not be the way to say it. In other words, this verse clearly says that God had a beginning and will have an end. Something that Christian theology rejects. So Christians have to interpret this verse rather than taking it at face value.

The chapter concludes by making a comparison with Zeus. There are a whole host of reasons why we don't believe in Zeus today. Similarly, there are a whole host of the same reasons why we don't believe in Yahweh. Christians interpret the OT through harmonising, Christ-tinted specs. If you take these off and look at the OT on its own terms, it paints a picture of a thoroughly unbelievable God.

My reflections on this chapter bring me back to my ongoing fascination with Marcion and Marcionism. This chapter demonstrates (without actually saying it) that most Christians today are functional Marcionites - they believe that the 'Father' of Jesus is not the same as the biblical Yahweh. I wonder how different the world today would be if Marcionism had won the ideological battle over 'Catholic' Christianity? Perhaps it did and we just didn't notice...