Bringing a revolutionary communist voice to the current discourse about god, atheism, and morality, this treatise demystifies religious belief and examines how, even in its most progressive interpretations, religion stands in the way of the emancipation of humanity. Addressing numerous questionssuch as Is believing in gods actually harmful? How has Christianity served for centuries as an ideology of conquest and subjugation? Why is the "Bible Belt" in the U.S. also the "lynching belt?" and Why is patriarchy and the oppression of women foundational to so many religions?this critique takes issue with long-established traditions and suggests the necessity to fully rupture with all forms of superstition and embrace a truly scientific approach to understanding and transforming reality.
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Away with All Gods!
Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World
By Bob Avakian
Insight PressCopyright © 2008 Bob Avakian
All rights reserved.
WHERE DID GOD COME FROM ...
AND WHO SAYS WE NEED GOD?
"God Works in Mysterious Ways"
Day after day we learn of terrible tragedies that would make no sense if there were an all-knowing, all-powerful and loving god looking over and looking out for human beings. Here are just a few stories taken from the news in recent years:
A family loses five children and two other relatives in a terrible bus crash, and then a grandfather of the children dies of a heart attack after hearing the news of this terrible accident.
But — we are told — God works in mysterious ways.
In a plane crash in Nigeria, 60 Jesuit college students are killed.
But, God works in mysterious ways.
A fiery auto accident and explosion takes the lives of six children of devoutly Christian parents.
Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.
A woman works long and patiently to help her husband in need of a lung transplant to get in physical condition to qualify for the transplant, and, finally, he does. And then, after receiving the good news, they are involved in an auto accident in which the woman is killed and the man is injured.
But, again, God works in mysterious ways.
People suffer all kinds of tragedies and atrocities, big and small, more personal and society-wide or even world-wide — car crashes, bus crashes, train crashes, plane crashes, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis — wiping out thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands.
Generation after generation, down through the centuries, millions of people were sold into slavery, often worked to death in inhuman conditions (and in some places this continues today). Genocide after genocide is carried out, wiping out or nearly wiping out whole peoples.
Wars are waged in which tens of millions of people have been massacred through the use of weapons of massive slaughter and destruction, all the way to nuclear atrocities, such as the U.S. devastation of two Japanese cities with atomic bombs in the second world war.
Thirty to forty thousand children die every day in the Third World from starvation and preventable disease.
Epidemics throughout history strike down large sections of humanity.
Women are raped in huge numbers throughout the world, and then often they are subjected to shaming and even literally murdered by members of their own family because they — in being the victims of rape — have not only been devalued, but have supposedly soiled the honor of the family.
But, through all this, always there is the refrain: "God works in mysterious ways."
A Cruel and Truly Monstrous God
How much of this has to go on, and how long does it take, before it becomes clear that if such a god existed, it would indeed be a cruel, vicious, sick, twisted, and truly monstrous god? That no sane and decent person would want to bow down to or follow such a god. And that it is very fortunate that no such god exists — and very liberating to finally come to that realization.
In case this is not enough, to see yet another dimension to the murderous nature of God as presented in the major monotheistic (one-god) religions — to see how this God is capricious, volatile and seemingly even schizophrenic in his cruelty — let's turn to the "Judeo-Christian" scriptures. Let's begin with the story in the Bible, in the book of Second Samuel (chapter 24), of how it came about that King David brought the wrath of this God down on his people. David, we are told in Second Samuel, ordered a census of the people of Israel and Judah, his kingdom, and (as a footnote in one version of the Bible offers as a possible explanation) it seems that David did this particularly to get a count of men eligible for military service. But, in conducting the census in the way he did, David made a big mistake, because, as this footnote explains, soldiers on active duty were subject to a strict regimen of ritual procedures in ancient Israel, and were especially vulnerable therefore to cultic dangers. (See The HarperCollins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, A New Annotated Edition by the Society of Biblical Literature, pp. 506–07, annotation to 2 Samuel 24:3. All citations in this text in reference to the Bible [except where they are contained in a quote from another author] are from this HarperCollins Study Bible edition.)
And what results from all this? Readers of the Bible may be able to anticipate: a terrible plague is sent by God. 70,000 people died, we are told. But then, finally, the loving God relented and declared, "It is enough," and the plague was ended when David, following God's instructions, built an altar "and offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being." (See 2 Samuel 24: especially verses 15–25.)
But that is not all there is to the story. According to the author of Samuel, it was God who ordered David to carry out this census in the first place. As it says in Second Samuel 24, verse 1: "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.'" Then, infuriated with David for carrying out the census that God ordered him to carry out (or perhaps angry at how David carried it out), God turns around and sends a plague to slaughter 70,000 of his "chosen people" who, by any logical reckoning, had no fault in the matter of the census.
Now, apparently, this was too much for the author of another book in the Bible, Chronicles. For, in First Chronicles, chapter 21, in speaking of the very same census, we are informed that it was not God but the devil who made David do it: "Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel." (1 Chronicles 21:1) Now, this is hardly a minor matter. Which was it — God or the devil? [Laughter] Here, again, we see an illustration of the not-so-inerrant word of the lunatic, maniacal and murderous god of the Bible.
And this — it is important to note — is not one of those much-invoked "isolated incidents." As one sees in reading the Bible, and as I will come back to shortly, a plague is one of God's most frequent means of bringing down devastation and suffering on human beings, on vast numbers of people, not least his own "chosen people," including many whom any reasonable person would have to regard as completely innocent. And some people, including religious people — and even many religious people who are generally progressive — have the nerve to talk about the alleged horrors of communism?! Whatever you want to say about the errors that have been made in the experience of socialist societies and by communist leaders, no leader of the international communist movement, or of a socialist state, has ever even advocated the things that this God repeatedly insists must be done.
But ... God works in mysterious ways.
Once again, if all this — and much, much more in the way of cruelty, agony, devastation and atrocity — is "God working in mysterious ways," who needs such a god?
Stepping back for a minute, just to inject a little reality into this, insofar as there was any historical and factual basis for this plague, the reality was not as the Bible presents it; the reality was that a plague happened and then somehow it had to be explained and rationalized. All these people are dying — why, what's the reason? In order to hold the society together, it was no doubt necessary to provide some explanation for why this was happening, why there was this terrible suffering. As long as you believe in God, the explanation can't put the ultimate blame on this God, so it has to be found in some human action. And the explanation that is given in the Bible reflects the social and economic-production relations — and the corresponding institutions, ideas, customs and values — that characterized and predominated in the society in which the authors of this part of the Bible lived and of which they were advocates.
Now, this was not necessarily, and may well not have been, a matter of conscious invention and deception. Those who wrote this part of the Bible may have actually believed the explanation they gave for this plague. Or it may have been a combination of actual belief and conscious calculation on their part, in line with and to serve the prevailing and predominant social forces, institutions and relations of their own time and place. But, in any case, the time has long since passed when humanity has to be enslaved by those kinds of relations, institutions, customs, values, ideas and beliefs, and the ignorance, fear and oppression that they embody, advocate and reinforce.
Along with what is pointed to here, as well as in previous talks and writings of mine, in regard to the murderous nature and acts of the biblical God, not long ago there was an important series of articles, "God the Original Fascist," by A. Brooks, which appeared in our Party's newspaper, Revolution. This series provides further glaring examples of the absolutely ruthless and viciously demented nature of the God of the Bible, and the particular fixation this God seems to have on the use of plagues as a weapon of mass retribution and destruction. So (with the permission of the author) I would like to include here some of the more striking passages found in "God the Original Fascist."
First, in reference to the ordeal of the ancient Israelites in Egypt, Brooks writes:
Instead of subjecting his own "chosen" people to horrible suffering and enslavement for centuries and then freeing them, why not just prevent them from being enslaved in the first damn place?
Well, reading on in Exodus, we get our answer. God hints to Moses that this whole process by which the Israelites become slaves to the Egyptians and then are freed is to him nothing more than a sick game — an opportunity to "shock and awe" everyone with his power: "You shall repeat all that I command you. ... But I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that I may multiply my signs and marvels in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 6) The "you shall repeat all I command you" portion of this passage refers to the instructions God provides to Moses where he tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity or else God will punish Egypt. The next few passages of Exodus follow a basic pattern: Moses threatens the Pharaoh that unless he releases the Israelites from captivity, God will unleash plagues on the Egyptians — including blood, lice, frogs, locusts, swarms of insects, and inflammation of the skin, among other things. The Pharaoh witnesses one of these plagues, and immediately agrees to free the Israelites if the plagues are stopped. God halts the plagues, but then also hardens Pharaoh's heart so that he recants on his promise to free the slaves, and thus God "has no choice" but to inflict more plagues on the Egyptians. ("God the Original Fascist," Part 3A, Revolution #017, October 9, 2005. In relation to the above, see especially chapters 3 through 14 in Exodus. This entire series, "God the Original Fascist," is also available online as one document at revcom.us)
Brooks writes further:
What does it say about this "God" that, even though he is "all-powerful" and could easily have prevented the Israelites from being enslaved in the first place, and then subsequently could have freed them once they were enslaved, he would instead choose to intentionally prolong the suffering of both the Israelites and the Egyptians merely so that he could show off his — powers? Is that God any kind of God to uphold or believe in? ("God the Original Fascist," Part 3A, Revolution #017, October 9, 2005)
Then, from another passage in this series, "God the Original Fascist":
The book of Numbers describes how the armies of God's people begin assembling and then marching towards Canaan, prepared to battle and annihilate those who are already dwelling on the land.
But at a certain point, hard times fall upon the armies and troop morale becomes low. The troops begin lamenting to Moses that their conditions are dire, that they do not have enough food to eat. So what is God's response? Well, being the "compassionate God, slow to anger" that is mentioned in Exodus 34, the Lord undoubtedly responds by blessing the Israelites with food so that they are no longer starving, right? WRONG! God instead responds by initially giving his people food, but then, "The meat was still between their teeth, nor yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a severe plague." (Numbers 11) All this perpetrated on a people who did nothing more than simply complain that they were starving! ("God the Original Fascist," Part 3B, Revolution #018, October 16, 2005. Notice that when God promises this land to his "chosen people," there are already other people living there, so something has to be done about them. As we shall see, they have to be slaughtered and driven off the land, and those — or in particular those virgin women — who escape the slaughter must be taken as slaves.)
Brooks also observes that
Eventually, some of the Israelites became so exasperated with the tyrannical rule of Moses that they launch a rebellion against his tyranny. God responds to this rebellion by annihilating the rebels — he opens the earth and swallows them whole, consuming 250 men in a great fire. (Numbers 16) The next day, the entire Israelite community is up in arms about what God, acting through Moses and Aaron, has done to them. So God, being "a compassionate God, slow to anger," naturally responds by profusely apologizing, recognizing his brutality, and promising never to repeat it, right? WRONG AGAIN! God responds with more brutality: He kills 14,700 Israelites in (you guessed it) a plague! ("God the Original Fascist," Part 3B, Revolution #018, October 16, 2005)
As Brooks points out: "Apparently, God has some kind of fetish for plagues." Brooks notes that
In Leviticus, God refers again to one of his favorite practices — inflicting plagues as a punishment on those who do not follow him: "When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess," God begins, before outlining the proper procedure for cleaning a house that God Himself infected with the plague! (Leviticus 14) In Leviticus 20, God again offers his supposed justification for the brutality he is inflicting upon the inhabitants of Canaan: That justification, once again, is that the inhabitants of the land deviated from or resisted his ways: "You shall faithfully observe all my laws and all my regulations, lest the land to which I bring you in to settle spew you out. You shall not follow the principles of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because they did all these things that I abhorred them and said to you: 'You shall possess their land, for I will give it to you to possess.'" (Leviticus 20) ("God the Original Fascist," Part 4A, Revolution #019, October 23, 2005. In relation to the conquest of Canaan see, in addition to Leviticus: Numbers, chapters 13 and 14; Exodus, chapter 23; Deuteronomy, chapter 9; and Genesis, chapter 15.)
Excerpted from Away with All Gods! by Bob Avakian. Copyright © 2008 Bob Avakian. Excerpted by permission of Insight Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Where Did God Come From ... And Who Says We Need God?,
"God Works in Mysterious Ways",
A Cruel and Truly Monstrous God,
The Bible, Taken Literally, Is a Horror,
Christian Fundamentalists, Christian Fascists,
Seeing Jesus in a True Light,
What About the Ten Commandments?,
No New Testament Without the Old,
Fundamentalist and "Salad Bar" Christianity,
Religion and Oppressive Ruling Classes,
Evolution, the Scientific Method — and Religious Obscurantism,
If Gods Do Not Exist, Why Do People Believe in Them?,
Why Do People Believe in Different Gods?,
Part Two: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — Rooted In The Past, Standing In the Way of the Future,
The Historical Development and Role of Christianity: Doctrines and Power Politics,
Christianity as a New Religion: The Pivotal Role and Influence of Paul,
Demystifying Jesus and Christianity,
Islam Is No Better (and No Worse) Than Christianity,
Religious Fundamentalism, Imperialism and the "War on Terror",
Why Is Religious Fundamentalism Growing in Today's World?,
Rejecting the "Smug Arrogance of the Enlightened",
The Growth of Religion and Religious Fundamentalism: A Peculiar Expression of a Fundamental Contradiction,
Part Three: Religion — a Heavy, Heavy Chain,
Religion, Patriarchy, Male Supremacy and Sexual Repression,
The Bible Belt Is the Lynching Belt: Slavery, White Supremacy and Religion in America,
Christian Fascism and Genocide,
Religion, Fundamentalism, and the Slave Mentality,
Part Four: God Does Not Exist — We Need Liberation Without Gods,
The "Left Hand of God" — And the Right Way to Go About Winning Liberation,
The Myth of the Truthfulness and Positive Role of Religious Myth,
Reason Has Not "Failed Us" — Reason Is Absolutely Necessary — Though, In Itself, It Is Not Enough,
Religious "Faith" — Let's Call It What It Is: Irrational,
God Does Not Exist — And There Is No Good Reason to Believe In God,
Religion as an Opiate of the People — And an Obstacle to Emancipation,
There Is No Such Thing As Unchanging, and Unchangeable, Human Nature,
Liberation Without Gods,
About The Author,