While watching the many marathon broadcasts that went on over Christmas, I noticed something that I consider reprehensible. The main Christmas special that was repeated night and day for two days, it seemed like, was "A Christmas Story," an awful production celebrating vulgarity and mediocrity. It was run over and over while the great "A Christmas Carol" starring George C. Scott did not appear at all.
Many other Christmas movies were conspicuously absent as well. I repeat once more, the media is not on our side. Talk about dumbing down! But as I was catching several episodes of Ancient Aliens, one thing did occur to me. I maintain that the basis for any discussion about religion has to start with a definition of the nature of God. It is an interesting thing to contemplate in light of the theory that non-earthly people intervened in our civilization in the remote past.
It is a comment on human ego that we always think that extraterrestrials will appear in our time. What if they have already appeared and done whatever they came here to do in prehistory? So much for our present importance! But I think it is quite likely that, if there are other civilizations out there far more advanced than ours, they might want to mine our gold or use our planet as a way station on their interplanetary/intergalactic wandering.
If this is the case, it explains one thing: the extraterrestrials, whatever they were, were not gods and goddesses. They were people--some kind of people--and if ancient mythology is to be taken seriously, they had all-too-human failings such as greed and sexual lust.
I can understand the idea that a super-human like the ancient Zeus might well be chasing women on earth to the consternation of his wife. It certainly marks the divide between the old gods and their human preoccupations and the Jewish/Christian/Muslim beliefs that were going on later and into the present.
The revelation of the nature of God gives us truly a supreme being: a spirit without body, parts or passions. Right there, though, you can see a contradiction between the removal of earthly passions from the concept of God and the very human personalities that mythology leaves us. So it seems sensible to me that if gods were constantly interfering with our lives, and leaving behind stories of their exploits, we can dismiss them as "merely" passers-by who encountered Planet Earth and were here for a time. Or perhaps, like the old television series Battlestar Galactica, they emigrated from our planet long ago and returned, or return now, keeping an eye on us.
People on earth saw some strange things: flying aircraft belching fire and smoke, weapons of deadly force that could be deployed from a long distance and weird experiments with earth's population that may have produced some of the legendary monsters that were recorded long ago, like the bizarre Egyptian gods with their animal heads. Perhaps the equally-strange mixture of human and animal body parts that we see in Babylonia came from the same events. Perhaps alien DNA was mixed with primitive humans and we are actually the descendants of those "gods" who amazed and intimidated people thousands of years ago. Furthermore, the bellicose nature of those ancient "gods" is a direct contradiction to the Jewish/Muslim/Christian concept of God.
And what does that contribute to our understanding of the nature of God? Well, we can dismiss some of the conduct of these misunderstood non-divinities. In other words, we can answer the question: is a thing good because God commands it, or does God only command things that are intrinsically good? If we can figure out, from our own moral codes, that some things were wrong even if "the gods" were okay with them--like raping young girls or genocidal wars--then we can separate the idea of a One True God from the stories of super-powerful extraterrestrial people who may not have looked like us, but they were our brothers under the skin.
So the answer to the nature-of-God question is, indeed, that God is totally just and righteous. That makes him hard to live with, but we demand that. If God is not just and good, ipso facto, he is not God. And the reverse is that if somebody calls himself/herself a god and acts like a fallible human being, then s/he is not actually a divinity, even if s/he wields appalling power. This idea ought to give fundamentalist un-Christians some food for thought.
I'm good with that, personally. I can look at the exploration of ancient mythology that goes on in the program Ancient Aliens, and I become more and more sure that there is a real cleavage between revealed religion and the best guesses of early human civilizations. The Jewish people were determined to observe their Laws because they received them from the Supreme Being, a divine spirit that knew no imperfection. But when we see Joshua rampaging through the Holy Land committing genocide, we can discount that and say that he had made a mistake in judgment--not because he understood the Lord's commandments but because he did not. And I bear in mind that it was Moses, not Joshua, who actually experienced most of the face-to-face encounters with the being that he thought was God.
Ancient Aliens makes a major error in assuming that everything out of the ordinary, or supernatural, was an alien encounter. They spent a wasted hour exploring the experiences of Joseph Smith, of the LDS Church, and revealed nothing more than that the writers had not familiarized themselves with the background of Smith's life.
Obviously no one sat down and actually read the Book of Mormon, with its backwoods grammar and stupid anachronisms. Smith writes of people hundreds of years before the birth of Christ who used steel, which would not be invented for centuries. His writing is full of phraseology like, "...they was a-journeying..." and "...both men, women and children..." No angel dictated that to him, nor was that type of language scratched into golden plates, despite the fact that Smith decreed that his fantasy was the most perfect thing ever written.
Doing your research is absolutely necessary when you choose to write of things that are well known. The staff of Ancient Aliens does not do their homework, which is painfully obvious. I attribute it to carelessness resulting from their pressure to produce so many programs in such-and-such a time frame. By contrast, the Priestly Writers who collected and codified the Hebrew Scriptures had many years to find them, write them down and weave them into the contradictory manuscripts that contain recognizable elements from many traditions. The Priestly Writers wanted to leave nothing out, so they did not leave out one of the two Creation stories or the two competing accounts of the death of King Saul. They could not know which story was the right one, but they knew that, so they put everything together and sanctified it so that the next generation of scribes would not lose the history of the Hebrew people.
The Christian Church was not so punctilious; the New Testament is full of contradictions and additions to the original texts--for example, St. Paul's accounts of his journeys are not synchronized with the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, I found out recently that quite a few people think that Paul was one of the original Apostles; they do not know that Jesus had lived and died without ever meeting Paul. It was St. Peter and St. James who summoned Paul to Jerusalem after he had been preaching the gospel that you read in his letters for about fifteen years. It is often said by scholars that if Paul had been able to read the Gospel According to John, he would have rejected it as blasphemy; it was a product of the emerging Church in an area that was contaminated with Neo-Platonism. Much of the theology that is contained in John's Gospel is not at all in agreement with the other three Gospels, and Paul made some specific statements that show that he was familiar with the encroachment of Platonism into Christianity.
Those who do not want to think about hard questions, and will consent to check their brains at the door of their churches, will take the preacher's word for doctrine and wonder where the problem is. This situation is producing the dying Church that many non-believers point to with satisfaction, happy that it is disappearing. I believe that the Church, like its Founder, will have to die and rise again. We are in the middle of that process and may not see the completion during our lifetimes.
For more info: a very interesting and inspiring project is going on right now out of India. You can go to The Girl Store online and buy things needed for an Indian girl to begin school. The products are things like workbooks, backpacks, lunch boxes and so on. This is a way to alleviate the worst problem facing young women in developing countries. I just paid for the backpack and workbooks for one girl who has had other things paid for. My contribution will send her off to school. This is a one-time donation, not like sheltering a child through another organization such as World Vision or the Child Fund. I have sponsored many children through World Vision over the years and I recommend them highly as well. But if you want to make a contribution to a real person and see her go off to school, go to the-girl-store.org and read it over.
And if you are concerned about homeless animals, as I am, check out the Search Dog Foundation. They take dogs from shelters and train them to become rescue dogs, an idea that I could not improve upon.