Tuesday, August 26, 2008

False gods - like there are any other kind!

As a child, there were many Bible stories that did not make sense to me. Sometimes they were explained, and sometimes I guess I just had to wait until I was older. Some stories just never gelled for me, even as an adult, but as a Christian, I had to deal with them in one of two ways: either accept it as an example of God's mysterious ways or create elaborate backstories and perform complicated routines of mental gymnastics to get the ends to meet.

As an atheist, these stories have all reverted to their natural states of nonsense and fiction. But one popped into my head the other day and it seemed more interesting that some others. It is the story of the golden calf, which adjoins the story of the ten commandments. I'm sure that no one reading this is unfamiliar with the story. If you are, you can click the link and read - it isn't a very long story.

Now, I don't believe for a minute that the story recounted here is true. At the same time, I believe that this 'event' is a good window into the minds of the authors of the Bible. The Israelites are just miles out of Egypt in their flight from slavery (never happened) and they are already melting gold into the shape of a calf and worshiping it! Obviously Moses gets upset, but what bothered me as a child is that they did it at all. Weren't the plagues, the giant wall of water, the pillar of fire and pillar of smoke and manna from heaven (I may have my events out of order, but I don't think it really matters in this case) enough for them? I think that people of today, who are far less gullible and far more educated than these ancient people would have been utterly convinced - I think these events might have converted even Sam Harris. And yet, give them a week and they've forgotten all about it. They are like children, like five-year-olds. No wonder Moses and god were so upset. Maybe god started to think that he had put his money on the wrong horse! Actually, he seemed to act more out of jealousy than anything else. It's like a girl getting jealous of her ex-boyfriend's blow-up doll. God seemed to regard the idol as a legitimate threat.

Of course, like I said, this is clearly not a true story. But the fascinating thing is that the writers of the Bible provided a window into the creation of a new religion. It was a stillborn religion, to be sure, and a fictional strawman to provide their own religion with more credibility. Nevertheless, it is strange to me that the writers of the Bible included this story without so much as a wink to the audience.

The people of Israel were not being foolish for creating another god, but for disrespecting their own 'existing' god. In other words, this was how it was done. If the creators of the golden calf had not been Israelites, then there would have been no issue and the world would have seen the arrival of a new religion.

Don't think that still happens? It does!

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