The God of Abraham

By Sam Harris, The End Of Faith

The God of Abraham is a ridiculous fellow capricious, petulant, and cruel and one with whom a covenant is little guarantee of health or happiness. If these are the characteristics of God, then the worst among us have been created far more in his image than we ever could have hoped.

The God of Abraham is not only unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

The God of Abraham wants heresy expunged. One look at the book of Deuteronomy reveals that he has something very specific in mind should your son or daughter return from yoga class advocating the worship of Krishna:

"If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods," unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God. . . ."

(Deuteronomy 13:7-11)

While the stoning of children for heresy has fallen out of fashion in our country, you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a "symbolic" reading of passages of this sort. In fact, one seems to be explicitly blocked by God himself in Deuteronomy 13:1

"Whatever I am now commanding you, you must keep and observe, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away"

The above passage is as canonical as any in the Bible, and it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world. This is a problem for "moderation" in religion: it has nothing underwriting it other than the unacknowledged neglect of the letter of the divine law.

The only reason anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought (democratic politics,6 scientific advancement on every front, concern for human rights, an end to cultural and geographic isolation, etc). The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among non-fundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt. Not the least among these developments has been the emergence of our tendency to value evidence and to be convinced by a proposition to the degree that there is evidence for it. Even most fundamentalists live by the lights of reason in this regard; it is just that their minds seem to have been partitioned to accommodate the profligate truth claims of their faith. Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.


Seth Eben Shapiro

With all due respect, and with my complete acceptance of your right to believe anything you wish to believe, Harris' comment about "The God of Abraham" is totally out of context. Whatever ethnocentrism promoted by Deuteronomy, it is completely understood as a commandment to a people charged with civilizing an area they believed was their birthright. Not only that, as any person who has studied Judaism for any reason other than to denigrate its adherents, there are specific principles of due process that accompany every sanction imposed.

If you wish to deny the existence of a self conscious power greater than the greatest of human intelligence, that is your right. Jewish law, an evolving common law with its roots in what is commonly known as Torah, allows for any expression of any faith outside the confines of its established nation, Judaism and the Torah is  no different than any constitutional system; the fact that it includes worship of a unapproachable superior intelligence may not be to your liking, but no one is asking you to accept it unless you are a citizen of the nation which lives under the Abrahamic constitution. It is not a world religion, nor is it evangelistic or imperialistic. It is meant to apply only to one small group of people in one small area of the world. And those who oppose the primacy of Judaism in that small area of the world are not atheists or even followers of a faith that raises a different superior being to primacy; they are simply siblings who claim that "Daddy likes me better".

The one claim that  Jews can make to a superior weltanschauung is that, of the three religions springing from Abraham's vision, it is we who have promoted most consistently the universal directive that "what is hateful unto you, do not unto others". If Mr. Harris, and you, were to start being pro- rather than re- active, and were to moderate your anger toward those who are not intelligent or secure enough to accept your faith (you don't deny that atheism is as much a faith as any other in an unprovable principle, do you?)  as an equal to theirs, you would go a lot further in your quest to end the acrimony and promote true harmony among all those sharing this sad, sick and needy little speck in the greater universe.

5/15/2011 11:54:30

Additional information