The soldiers of a cruel God

For those who know that the only valid inference we can make from an omnipotent and omniscient God is that he, if he exists, does not want happiness or even human and animal well-being, it is easy to understand why his spokesmen are scoundrels. When we contrast reality with a creative deity capable of absolutely everything and who knows everything, we can only reach one intellectually honest conclusion: God is not concerned with the happiness of comfort of any animal species capable of feeling pain.

Massacre of the Innocent, by Nicolas Poussin

By contrasting the brutal reality in which animals and humans have always lived with the presence of an omnipotent and omniscient God, this will always be the conclusion of those who are not attached to unfathomable mysteries about the divine nature. If such a god exists, he gave us logic, and no logic can take away the responsibility that an all-powerful and omniscient God has for the suffering of countless creatures over half a billion years—the time when the first animals appeared.

If he did create the world—and he had the knowledge and power to do it differently—then he is responsible. God is only free of guilt when we add magic to the argument. But when we do that, we abandon logic and go on to speculation about indecipherable mysteries, which is neither philosophy nor science. In order to make this analysis, it doesn't matter the deity to which we refer, as long as it has the attributes of omniscience and omnipotence. It can be the deity of any religion. I wrote about this subject more deeply in an article titled Misotheism.

Note that, so far, I have not spoken of benevolence, one of the attributes commonly associated with the divine. It's very clear why I left this attribute out: it collapses the very idea of the existence of God. In fact, it is because of the supposed attribute of benevolence that the defenders of the traditional idea of God need to add the undecipherable mysteries when they speak of him. I do not dispute the the universe could have been created by a deity, the only thing I deny is that such a deity could be good. Returning to what I said in the first paragraph: an omnipotent and omniscient God, if he exists, does not want happiness or even human and animal welfare. That is, he is bad or, at least, indifferent, which is the same in the end.

So what I say is that it is impossible to reconcile the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent God with a world where life literally has to kill itself trillions of times every day in order to survive, in a process that has lasted for hundreds of millions of years. Having made that clear, it is disconcerting to see the surprise that many have when observing the actions of the self-proclaimed representatives of God. The criticism I make isn't new. Take all the religions based on the God of Abraham: they have been thoroughly criticized over the centuries.

Let us look at the example of Marcion, born at the end of the first century and one of the first to formulate a Gospel with the teachings of Christ. He, like the Gnostics who came later, differentiated the God of the Old Testament from the God preached by Jesus. In the early centuries, Christianity was still in its infancy, with several currents competing with each other. The winner, of course, was the one who sought to reconcile—in my view, unsuccessfully—the God of the Israelites with that of Christ and his apostles. The two figures merged. The result is that any possibility of a theology that made sense went down the drain, that is: a theology that separated the deity that created a world full of suffering from the deity who came to save us from this world.

Therefore, the God who caused the flood, killed the firstborn in Egypt, and ordered Moses and the Israelites to slaughter the Midianites—killing all males, including children, and all women who had already lost their virginity, sparing only the younger girls who became property—merged with the saving God who preached detachment from matter, love and equality among men. The result could not have been different: in a short amount of time, the Christian orthodoxy that won the power struggle massacred the Gnostics and the followers of Marcion and later imposed its will on the entire Hellenistic world and its pantheon of gods.

We need to understand once and for all that the hardened, intolerant and violent Christians we see are the result of the fusion between two contrasting views about the world and the divine. The God who ordered the massacre of men, women and boys, in addition to the enslavement of young girls—this is the God of mega-church preachers like Edir Macedo, Silas Malafaia, Valdomiro Santiago, Father Ricardo. It is the same of God of neo-fascists apologists like Allan dos Santos, Olavo de Carvalho and president Bolsonaro. The thinking of these men is the result of the fusion of a good God with a cruel God, in addition to being a thought that treats the material world of suffering in which we live as a good and perfect creation, which is inconsistent with the simple observation of nature.

In recent centuries, some thinkers have put part of the blame of Christian violence on their willingness to escape the material world, something that would be connected to a Platonist heritage. I disagree with that interpretation. For example: the Cathars, active in the south of France between the 12th and 14th centuries, were dualists like Marcion and the Gnostics. They, like the Marcionists and Gnostics before them, wanted to escape the world of matter, created by the evil God. But, unlike traditional Christians (whether Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants which didn't even exist at the time), the Cathars were not violent, hierarchical and misogynistic—women could practice the sacrament, which was only one among them. They emphasized the idea of escaping from the material world so much that they advised their more prepared followers to abstain from reproduction, as bringing new people into the world would only perpetuated the imprisonment of souls in the material universe.

They were all killed in the Albigensian Crusade, the first Crusade carried out specifically against heretical Christians. Before, however, the Church sought to revert them to Catholicism. The Holy See even sent Friar Dominic of Gusman to debate with the Cathars in the south of France and try to convince them to abandon their heresy. This is the same Dominic who founded the Dominican Order and became Saint Dominic. However, he was not successful, like all others who tried. What happened were years of massacres and torture that put an end to Catharism. They were defeated by the soldiers of a cruel God.

by Fernando Olszewski

(This article was originally published on September 12, 2020)

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