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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Edwin Drood's Column > November 2011
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22 November 2011
The oddness of God
In which Edwin, in an “epilogium” to his previous alpine encounter (see Drood,
“Ants around my ankles”, 3 August 2010), further probes the peculiarities of
the Creator and discovers that there is a certain rhyme to His essential strangeness.

  The oddness of God at the Mysterious Edwin Drood's Column
“How odd of God / to choose the Jews”, wrote the left-leaning but right-writing journalist “Trilby” in the thirties. This little piece of doggerel would spawn a series of ripostes from various sources (“Not odd of God / Goyim annoy ‘im”; “Not really odd / the Jews chose God”; or this, possibly from Ogden Nash: “But not so odd / as those who choose / a Jewish God / yet spurn the Jews”), all of which develop one question, while begging another: if you think this behaviour was odd, what other strange things has the Creator of the Universe done lately? By “lately”, I mean in the last few thousand years, or at least since we started trying to second guess Him.

With regard to the initial oddness, we may be grateful to the Almighty for choosing the Jews, as it has had the useful side effect of letting the rest of us off the hook. It’s not easy being a favoured one, the bar is either set indulgently low – nothing, however mediocre, will disappoint your adoring dad – or unrealistically high – nothing, however brilliant, will fully satisfy your ambitious mum. For the children of Israel the mixed blessings of favour came thick and fast. They were bombarded by major and minor prophets (anything between 17 and 69 of them, depending on where you start counting and what your frame of reference is), continually exhorting them to be either warlike or meek or more forgiving or more vengeful by turns until they were thoroughly confused and required the collected marginalia of a hundred thousand Talmud scholars to explain just what it was God actually wanted (somewhere along the line that list apparently included strange headgear and separate refrigerators for meat and dairy).

One of these prophets, whose considerable inspiration was not equalled by a sound sense of geography, led them for forty years on a rambling route through 2000 kilometres of hostile territory. Yes, that’s an average of about 150 metres per day, a bit more than a football pitch, hardly exhausting, and I’m assuming they rested on the Sabbath. They were finally allowed to settle by divine affirmation in a rather small country with its back to the inhospitable desert, its face to the threatening sea [1] and a substrate which turned out to be singularly lacking in fossilized hydrocarbons. Add to this the various persecutions and pogroms they have had to endure, dating from earliest times up to the, hopefully final, holocaust of the last century and you quickly begin to realize what favouritism has cost the tribes of Judah. 

As concerns the other oddness, part of it can be found in the Creator’s readiness to back at least two horses. By making a promise to the offspring of Abraham’s rejected concubine that his descendants would be numerous as the sands of the desert, which has already come to pass, and by granting these descendants all the fossilized hydrocarbons in all the surrounding territories, God effectively set up the end-game we are now living through. But the peculiarity of the Almighty did not stop there.

Between the Israelites, confused as to whether they should be virile and warlike in their statecraft or peaceful and consensual, and the children of Ishmael, who traditionally have no such inhibitions and whose sacred book clearly exhorts them to rid holy places of the infidel, God had already very cleverly placed the Christians. These follow an ethical frame which includes loving their enemies (although they have historically demonstrated some rather strange ways of showing this profound affection) and their neighbours as themselves. One way of loving their neighbours has been to get involved in all their affairs in order to nudge them in a propitious direction. This has effectively placed Christian mediators and/or powerbrokers at the axis of all confrontations between the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac.

It is entirely reasonable to ask at this point: what exactly is God up to? Between those who, like Einstein (an agnostic in any conventional sense), cannot believe in a God who plays dice with the universe, and those who insist He has been doing exactly that from the very start, there lies a broad field of interpretation. If God backs several horses in the same race, might His aim, for example, be to observe the normative and determinant capabilities of individual cultures, testing their resilience to changing situations? In other words, are we a research project? If the answer to this question were “yes”, then why is apostasy punishable by death in Zoroastrianism, Islam and Judaism? Deuteronomy, chapter 13, is manifestly clear as to what awaits any prophet who would lead Jews away from their essential ‘Jewishness’, as indeed it awaits anyone (even your best friend or your eldest son) who might follow that “prophet or dreamer of dreams”, namely stoning to death and destruction by fire of all that pertains to them. Surely such a policy considerably weakens any serious comparative research, if the participants are not even permitted to opt out when another offer looks tempting. That you may let your faith lapse, like a library membership, but that you may on no account change it does not seem to be a very good way of testing the validity of any one model over another ... unless the object of the test is to discover just what people are prepared to die for!

At this point God changes the game plan by introducing yet another major faith into the mix. Arriving in the Holy Land from Persia, by way of successive banishments, the Bahá’í Faith is the bright bird of paradise among religions. It seems too good to be true. As far as I know it doesn’t want to stone you for anything. It recognizes the unity of the human race and the equality of the sexes, even if it curiously fails to extend that equality to its own top institution. It eschews war and violence altogether as viable solutions to human problems except as an absolute last recourse if all combined means of international statecraft should fail. It promotes justice as being the highest good, the light of civilization and the inalienable right of all people everywhere. It envisages the spiritual, political, economic and social cohesion of the entire planet. It accepts the divine foundations and original teachings of the other great faiths (although it does seem to be trying rather hard when it moves outside the Fertile Crescent to engage with the very different mind-set of Buddhism and Hinduism). It neither claims its own truths as preeminent or absolute, nor does it deny you your legitimate right to make use of the exit if you so wish. So where’s the catch? We know God by now, there has to be a catch.

Well, of course, part of the catch is that you might be risking your life to enrol if your background is Islamic. As far as I know, neither Zoroastrianism nor Judaism have enacted the modern equivalent of a fatwa for many decades now, so you are unlikely to incur much beyond a cold shoulder from them in the 21st century, but it’s worth noting that Christian baptism is doctrinally considered as being for all eternity, which means that your local church will not even recognize that you have left, no matter how often you choose to tell them. It’s all part of a numbers game that in many countries carries a premium in state funding.

The other faiths are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to so much good news in one packet. The Christians will try to smother it in condescension and faint praise. After all, the last time God tried something this conciliatory and constructive, before you could genuflect three times, half of it had turned into the Roman Catholic Church. Yet at the same time, the Bahá’í Faith appears to be quite the oddest example of odd behaviour by the Divinity. It appeals vividly to Jews and Christians, agnostics and people of no previous adherence, yet it springs from an Islamic root, though distinctly out of character with much of that faith. It is not austere except in its lack of ritual, it is not vengeful nor especially on the defensive, it is not expansionist in a territorial sense (although its kingdom is of this world, it is only accessible through another, distinctly unworldly one), it encourages some very modern values, abrogates the laws of slavery and polygamy, sets a respectable minimum age for marriage, is careful about the distribution of power and property ... You might be forgiven for asking: “If this was the plan all along, why did we have to wade through Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Jeremiah and the tougher passages of the Quran to get here?”

The Bahá’í Faith’s answer to this question is that you have to eat your greens if you want to get your just desserts. Revelation, we are told is progressive: drowning the whole earth, destroying entire civilian populations with fire and brimstone, killing the firstborn of Egypt, inflicting the indignities of slavery, institutionalized paedophilia [2] and polygamy, death by stoning, the lash or by fire was apparently exactly what humanity needed at other times in its history but can do without now. I would find this VERY hard to swallow if I chose to believe in a God who was essentially something close to a rational human being but on an entirely different scale. As it is, I do not believe in a rational God, but rather in an extraordinarily arbitrary and whimsical one who, like many creative spirits, is capable of just about anything. Right now He seems to want to tie up all the loose ends of His previous socio-religious sorties and set us on a new trajectory. He appears, at least for the next thousand years or so, to be getting with the programme and taking His medication.

This is very good news and I sincerely hope the Ancient of Days continues on this positive curve. But you can be sure that His new paradigm isn’t playing very well with the followers of the last volume. Islam has almost universally risen up to reject the Bahá’í Faith and sees nothing wrong in persecuting its adherents. That’s not going to be an easy row to hoe when you consider that they are numerically superior to just about anyone else and have placed themselves effectively above all criticism. And how is this new faith going to go down with the ultra-conservative fringe of Judah, the curious headgear and two fridges fraternity? They must either reject it out of hand or accept it in its entirety as the fulfilment of all the promises of past prophets [3]. Yet either way, accepted or rejected, it will be most odd for God ... because He will effectively lose the Jews.

© Edwin Drood, November 2011

1. Something no true son of Abraham has ever been over-fond of, to the point that within the description of St John the Revelator’s heavenly city we find the triumphant statement: “And there was no more sea!”

2. Mohammad’s second wife Aisha was just six when taken in marriage by a Prophet who was her senior by a half century. It was by all accounts a most loving and complicit relationship and it’s certainly not my place to criticize (autres temps, autres mœurs), but it did set a rather awkward precedent that has been followed by princes and paupers from the Caliphate to the Taliban.

3. These are, after all, the very people who have trouble accepting the modern state of Israel as being Erez Israel (the Biblical Promised Land) due to the lack of a returned Messiah, and thus regularly block the international rabbinical council from meeting in Jerusalem, pending that eschatological event.

Illustration: "The umbrageous umbrella-maker" by Edward Lear.
Edwin Drood's Column, the blog by The Mysterious Edwin Drood,

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