Magazine article USA TODAY

Reexamining the Creator: What Do Religious Texts Really Teach Us about God?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Reexamining the Creator: What Do Religious Texts Really Teach Us about God?

Article excerpt

GOD CREATED the heaven and the earth. This is the foundational axiomatic premise of the three Abrahamic faiths that have dominated so much of world history. From the nameless God of an illiterate Bronze Age desert nomad we have received the innumerable sects, branches, cults, and bastard children of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the inarguably impressive influence that faith in this God continues to exert in world affairs today--but let us pause at the outset to get ourselves away from the danger of clumsy sectarian nomenclatures and establish the term Yahwism for that great collection of beliefs, practices, and rituals that owe their ultimate origin to the fantastical divine lord of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. This divine lord most often is called God by his devotees, but appropriation of the general term 'God,' capitalization notwithstanding, for the God of Abraham seems a little ungenerous to the devotees of Siva, Izanagi, and Pachamama.

So, the God of Abraham will be called Yahweh, a widely accepted vocalization of the ancient Hebrew tetragrammaton, four letters probably derived from the Hebrew verb "to be" and Latinized as YHWH, and substituted for the actual name of God, the utterance of which could bring untold wrath. The billions who have professed faith in the God of Abraham over millennia of human history may then be fairly called Yahwists.

Of course, we are not introduced to Abraham until the author or authors of Genesis have spent some 5,000 words on the various deeds and misdeeds of the Creator and countless generations of men from Adam through to his third son Seth, whom he sired in his 130th year on Earth, when Eve presumably was around the same age; to Lantech, who, at age 182 begat Noah; to Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the three sons of the aged Noah who receive credit for repopulating the Earth after a particularly heavy rain; to Terah, who begat Abraham at the comparatively spritely age of 70--but never mind all of that. It is to Abraham that Yahwists in their multitudinous variants trace the covenant between themselves and what they have come to believe to be the lone, omnipotent Creator of the universe.

Impressive though the Yahwist faiths may be, not least for their longevity and ability to eradicate rivals, the key question pertains to another fundamental belief of the Yahwists. Not only do Yahwists believe that their God is the only God, the creator of all that was, is, and ever shall be, but that He is the only possible salvation of humanity, and that it is from Him and Him alone that we derive our sense of right and wrong. Yahweh, through His words, deeds, revelations, and prophets, not only provides us with a code of ethics, but the very ethical core of humanity without which any sense of morality or justice is impossible.

This claim demands examination. Can it be that those peoples and societies that stand outside Yahwism, the majority of humanity past and present, not only are less capable of ethical existence on Earth than their Yawhist neighbors, but are, in fact, doomed to an eternity of torture for their inability or unwillingness to embrace the capricious demands of the God of Abraham? In the millennia since the words of the Old Testament were recorded, there have been many saints, prophets, messiahs, and other charlatans who have sought to clarify the will of Yahweh, but it is more than fair to say that within the vast majority of sects and branches of Yahwism, there is no suggestion that, Yahweh has changed his mind about any of the proscriptions, commandments, instructions, or morality tales that He and His appointed messengers have set down for us in the foundational texts of the faith. The word and will of the omnipotent Creator of the universe are immutable.

Yet, does faith in Yahweh really offer us the only road to ethical relationships with our families, friends, and neighbors? Indeed, does Yahwism offer us anything at all in the way of ethics? …

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