Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Love and Cruelty
Here's the story: God loves everyone so much, that just after he created us he led us into temptation, like some divine practical joker, and we fell for it and ate an apple from the wrong tree. For this, he condemned us to a lifetime of torment on earth followed by eternal torment in the afterlife. Four or five thousand years later, he decided to give us a break, so he sent his only son, so that his son might be hounded and abused and tortured instead of us, at least, instead of some of us—but only those of us who believe that our Creator demands blood sacrifice for the eating of an apple.
There are many sad things about this story. One is that since bible worshipers have assumed a monopoly on religion in our country, people think they have to choose between the god of this story or no god at all. For most thoughtful, contemporary people the only choice they can make with integrity is no god at all. Who wants a nasty, torturing god? But, what a shame that with so many wonderful gods of love, people are being forced into atheism by this false choice.
The thing that concerns me most about this story, however, is the association of love and cruelty. The god who created us on purpose and saw that we were good is also the god who would make life on earth a vale of tears, filled with agony and suffering, demanding violence, setting nation against nation, and condemning us for the very things that make us human. It's a mind fuck, my friends.
When you love someone, you seek their pleasure and happiness. You do not hurt them. When you care, you are kind. You are filled with compassion. You seek to serve. But the bible is permeated with the contradiction of a god who both loves and hurts, and so is our culture.
Bible Christians proclaim the love of god for all of us, and say that they practice the love of Jesus Christ, a love so radical that it seeks even the welfare of one's enemies and oppressors. Yet in practice they show only disdain, not only to their enemies, but to anyone or any group that doesn't meet their standards of thought or behavior. They would withhold health care from the sick, food from the poor, and care from the fatherless children and do these things in the name of love. Theirs is a god who would send his only son to die in wretched agony and still would not be satisfied.
I see this contradiction expressed, in particular, in the association of sex and violence, not merely in the media concurrence of sexual with violent imagery, but in the rise of sharing sexual love in our own bedrooms by inflicting pain. The book Fifty Shades of Grey is, of course, the latest expression of this perversion, and it's made plenty of money for the author. There are now sequels, magazines, and related merchandise dedicated to the fantasy of repeated sexual assault in an intimate setting, which illustrates how deeply the association of love and violence has been integrated into our culture.
Underneath culture is religion, and a religion that associates love with cruelty, and whose god claims to be loving while inflicting pain, lies deep beneath our 21st century American culture.