My Word!

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" (from "The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins). Lest you think Dawkins himself deluded, a gentle poet from Amherst also remarked on God's approval when frost beheaded a flower.

What a way to start a chapter! We could also say that Dawkins had verbally abused God. Is that possible? Because if so, then God is a victim and, being surely older than Moses, a victim of Elder abuse. Should we now put God into an institution? But that has already been done. He has been institutionalized for centuries, in various creeds and beliefs and dogmas and traditions and rites and ceremonies and laws and commandments. Nobody really looks at God any more, only at the gold and silver accoutrements that accrue to believers, only to fables written by others. My friend says she has "God envy": others get relief from their anxieties by turning to religious panaceas; she, as a non-believer, doesn't get the stairway to heaven.

Dawkins' words would please my English teacher, because they clamor for attention, but they wouldn't please many other people. Why is it that we cling so fiercely to the word, the word of god or anyone else? Does the word, any word, change the reality? Maybe because so often in history the word of the dominant power group is treated as gospel and woe be to anyone who dissents. (We have made certain that dissenters don't fare very well, haven't we? Dissenters are dangerous and might even be contagious.) What ferocious power we give to words, just as centuries ago our ancestors gave power to rocks and animal spirits.

In the sacking of Baghdad a few years ago, literally thousands of precious letters, library books, and documents were destroyed, not unlike the burning of Baghdad by the grandson of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. At that time it was said that "the Tigris River ran black with the ink of books".

The political scene all over the world today runs black with the ink of deception, especially if black is the color of your true love's dogma. Never mind that the dogma is ungenerous and self-serving. Never mind that the words frequently misstate the facts. Just say it, say it again, say it loud, and pretty soon the crowds will be saying it with you. You might even begin to believe it yourself.

I don't think that most people will say Dawkins' words aloud. Those ideas are simply too provocative, too far from the gospel of St. Elephant and Sir Donkey. They invoke centuries of censorship and flirt dangerously with the idea that the Bullies of Baghdad, or Boston, or Bosnia, might be wrong.

They couldn't be wrong.

Could they?

Because if they are wrong, the Dow Jones Industrial Average would plunge ten thousand points, religious real estate might have to pay taxes and save the national debt, and Lourdes might declare bankruptcy.

If Dawkins is right, we might have to think, rather than rote repeat. We might have to acknowledge how little we know, and how much deception has been foisted upon us by those who know just as little but are afraid to admit it. If Dawkins is even a little bit right, how would we justify dropping the atom bomb, holding slaves, denying legitimacy to certain lovers and not others, torturing, bombing, napalming - all in the name of the one and only truth. My truth, of course, not yours. My word!

c. Corinne Whitaker 2011