In the early verses of Genesis, the story goes that God said, “let’s create humans in our own image”. “Our” is taken to refer to God plus his divine council of supernatural underlings. It’s a bit like a prime minister and his cabinet (no, not the drinks one!) A great deal of ink can be spilled or, in these increasingly inkless times, ‘magic’ keyboards clicked, to fabricate ‘explanations’ of what this tells us about human beings. It may be the case, however, that carts before horses should trundle their way into our minds.
The bible wasn’t written by God about himself, but was written by humans about him. Over two hundred years of comprehensive and rigorous scholarly scrutiny have shown this to be the case, beyond reasonable doubt. Any student of Biblical Studies at any mainline, religiously unaffiliated university or seminary knows this, but not every person still occupying a church pew. One of my favourites among the sayings attributed to Jesus is, “the truth will set you free”. Truth matters, delivering, as it does, freedom from misconceptions, deliberately, mistakenly or misguidedly held.
Many hundreds of years ago, a Greek philosopher with one of those eye and ear catching names, Xenophanes, made a simple point which seems to keep being forgotten or ignored. “If cattle and horses, or lions, had hands, or were able to draw with their feet and produce the works which men do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make the gods’ bodies the same shape as their own.” Our bibles, in other words, tell us a whole lot of things – some good and some less than good – about ourselves!
This is why Richard Dawkins was able to pen one of his, to some people most amusing, to other people most infuriating, sentences. “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.” There’s no difficulty in providing chapter and verse for all of that.
Of course, depending on which cherries we choose to pick, it could also be said that God is good, honest, true, just, impartial, patient, forgiving, welcoming, kind, loving and so on. Whatever can be true of ourselves will also be true of the gods we write about. On top of Mount Olympus, the goings-on among the Greek gods, from the gorgeous all the way to the gruesome, were perhaps the earliest in the melodramatic, multicoloured genre of celestial soap operas. In this sense, the Bible, like Hesiod’s ‘Theogony’ or Homer’s ‘Iliad’, can be thought of as being more like a mirror in which we see can ourselves, and our own doings and antics, rather than a window through which we can see God or the gods.
So here’s my ‘thought for the day’. To what extent do you think the Bible is a see-through window, or a reflective mirror or, in any possible sense, a bit of both?
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