Yesterday I read an article in which a prominent spokesman for atheism, Richard Dawkins, characterized God as humanity's projection of extra-human qualities. Specifically, he referred to the idea of Intelligent Design as our imagining that since we are intelligent and design things, then there must be a Grand Designer for the cosmos. It is one aspect of the argument that man made God in his image, not the other way around.
To a limited extent, Dawkins is right. The gods and goddesses of Pagan religion can be described as human beings writ large. Take a human personality with all its flaws, add superpowers, and you get those prehistoric divinities. Male gods took advantage of earthly women for sexual gratification when you would think they could have given some thought to relieving human suffering. Goddesses spent much of their time chasing after their wayward husbands and punishing some human woman who caught their wandering eye.
The possibility that these gods and goddesses, and the mythology that links their stories around the world, are based on ancient aliens is actually a good explanation for the scenario of godly misconduct that permeates Pagan beliefs. The peoples of antiquity lived in fear of powerful super-beings who were either lustful or irritable with them, and who used their powers without morality. The religious practices involving all kinds of sacrifices (up to and including human beings) was a system of naked bribery, offering anything the gods might want in order to protect the survivors of the sacrifice. Dawkins has every intellectual justification for rejecting that scenario.
In fact, I am surprised that Dawkins did not point out what I am sure the first atheists also pointed out to their prehistoric contemporaries: that the religion of prayer and sacrifice doesn't work. The droughts and storms come and go regardless of the sacrifices and prayers. I am sure that there was great elation when one impending catastrophe was averted, but it had to be followed by the next catastrophe that struck the community with all its force. And I am sure that people lost their faith in the tribal shamans, and perhaps from time to time one of those unbelievers got himself exiled or worse.
The ancient-aliens theory works much better than floundering in the contradictory descriptions of God as loving one minute and furious the next. Old-Testament theology is as confused as the Old-Testament prophets who kept berating the Hebrew communities for their sins no matter what happened. Every time misfortune struck them it was their fault. You could describe God as visiting the sins of the father on the sons down to whatever generation, and then describe God as just and righteous, and I just know that someone pointed out that such preaching doesn't make sense. But we still do not see any major re-think going on in the theological community.
The most common reaction of preachers to this situation is to speak of mysteries or to claim that it all makes perfect sense if you understand it correctly. They make the argument, however disguised, that a thing must be okay if God says it. But the plain sense of the New Testament tells us that some things are not okay with God: hate, greed and exploitation, for openers. And the story of Jesus pausing to converse with the Samaritan woman at the well is a comment on the equality of all people before God. The treatment of women in Judaism still leaves much to be desired.
A long time ago I had a friend who is a lovely Jewish woman. One day during the winter, her hat fell off--and so did her wig. She was wearing a wig for some reason that I did not discover until years later, when I had another friend who had grown up deep in the Jewish community of New York. I told him the story of my friend wearing a wig and he burst out laughing.
Then he explained that it was because of regulations that apparently forbid a woman to be "too attractive" to her husband. If they sleep in the same bed, she has to shave off her beautiful hair so that she will not provide him with what Catholics call an occasion of sin. So, my male friend explained, "your friend had a good sex life."
And what, I ask, can be bad about having a good sex life with your spouse? Well, at least as recently as the Sixties, it was definitely suspect. This kind of behavior is important because it gives us a real clue to their concept of the nature of God. Apparently some Jewish people believe that God will be offended or even angered if a husband and wife are passionately in love.
In other words, God creates us as physical and sexual beings, but then takes it back again. Not so fast! Don't like it that much! This kind of theological stupidity provokes pure ridicule and atheism from the likes of Dawkins and many other atheists who find religion ridiculous. It is inevitable. What kind of God do we claim to worship, anyway?
The head-shaving thing (for wives, you notice) is a Jewish problem and they will deal with it--perhaps they already have; the incident was fifty years ago or more. But the Christian problems that are being furthered by evangelical preachers who have shoehorned their way into the Republican Party are hurting real American women who thought until recently that they had reproductive rights. The idea that a woman has to ask her boss for permission to use birth control is ludicrous.
But then it is no worse than the repression of voter registration that is going on across the "Bible Belt" where people claim to be more Christian than the rest of the country. Mainstream America is according equal rights to all citizens at a reasonable clip lately, with court cases being filed and decided more often than ever. Those cases establish precedent and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution is looking better these days.
And what major American institution is standing in the way? The Christian Church, in almost all its denominations, still will not accord even spiritual equality to all its members. We could at least espouse spiritual equality as Christians, don’t you think? Well, Pope Francis doesn't think so. The LDS Church doesn't think so, not to mention the FLDS, where you can see the bullying attitude of the FLDS-escapee boys towards the escapee girls every week on their reality show. It looks to me like those boys took some of their privilege with them when they packed their bags.
The Episcopal Church has fractured a second time over the LGBT issue, if there is an issue (there is for some Episcopalians, I guess). The Methodists are figuring it out. The Baptists don't even suspect that there is an issue. The Pentecostals still don't get the idea that people other than Pentecostals could be important.
So don't get testy with Dawkins and the atheists--if anything, why doesn't the truly Christian element of the American Church get testy with the bigots?