Thursday, April 18, 2013

"a god who condones greed and injustice"

The Old Testament record of the dramatic struggle between the worshipers of Yahweh and Baal is illustrative of the clash between a democratic people with a democratic idea of God and an aristocratic people with an exploiting God...The Israelites were born to the rugged freedom of the hill country, inheritors of a rich social idealism, worshipers of a God, Yahweh, who stood for justice.  The Amorites were a commercial people, with traditions of a slave class, worshipers, therefore, of Baal, who became the shekel raised to the nth power, a God who condoned greed and injustice...[The] victory of Yahweh worship by the Israelites over Baal worship by the Amorites [is rightly called] the first great victory of the common people, for it meant the establishment of the religious sanctions to democracy, brotherhood and freedom.
So the struggle has gone on through the course of history, a democratic people projecting onto their idea of the deity those social and spiritual qualities which were most highly developed...Each nobler and more just conception of God, therefore, becomes evidence of a new level of political life, and is in turn a magna carta of liberties yet to be won.
In the light of this undoubted law, the  problem of theology in the twentieth century becomes twofold.  First, the problem of imagining attributes of deity which are at least as democratic as the attributes of the most highly socialized [people], and second, creating an idea of God which shall bring [humanity] up to a newer and finer level of social experience.
The old idea of a God who created a spiritual aristocracy, who maintained partiality, whose sympathies were not as wide as the whole of humanity, are patently inadequate to meet the new needs...[The] democratic instinct in the new [people have a passion] after freedom and brotherhood...lays bare [their] heart and mind to the great human current and exult in the tides of feeling which pour upon [them], enriching and enlarging [them].  There is no mistaking the widening of sympathies, the greater sense of inclusiveness, the new solidarity of humanity...A democratic people demand a democratic God, a robust deity who likes his universe, who hungers for fellowship, who is in and of and for the whole of life...
--from The Social Implications of Universalism by Clarence Skinner, quoted in Universalism in America:  A Documentary History of a Liberal Faith, edited by Ernest Cassara (my emphasis)

What Skinner was trying to get at a century ago was the question "What becomes of Christianity when it has become what it triumphed over, when it becomes the religion of empire?"  Obviously, he says, it must change.  And change consistently or at least often to remain "robust."

By this point what had become the various forms of Christianity had been simultaneously hidebound and mutating for nearly two millenia, great attention paid to the words in the Bible but not to the spirit of the best of it, as if its modern world continued to be made up of nomadic people and Romans.  Contemporary peoples required a God who was at least as open to change and empathy as they were.

Skinner's resultant God was almost Whitmanesque as a God who "believes in the flesh and the appetites," who does "not ask the wounded person how he feels," but becomes "the wounded person."  In two years, Skinner's country would join the bloodshed the rest of Europe was already engulfed in, as destructive of life and complacency as Whitman's Civil War had been.  In a presaging of our contemporary dilemma, Skinner was trying to articulate a God who mattered when six year old children are gunned down.

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