Dr. Jaco Gericke: "Christian philosophy of religion as nonsense on stilts"

In a previous post I responded to Thomas Nagel and Quentin Smith's claims that materialism isn't justified (Nagel), and/or A Vast Majority of Naturalists Hold To Naturalism Unreflectively (Smith). In it I mentioned Dr. Jaco Gericke's critique of Christian  philosophy of religion. I regard Gericke as having a singularly unique understanding of the relationship of biblical scholarship to the philosophy of religion, as he holds doctorates in both (see tag below). 
Of course, I'm honored Geicke recommended my book Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End, saying, “As an introduction to the ever-growing frustration with so-called Christian philosophy among many secular ex-Christian authors, Unapologetic is invaluable reading material for any reader interested in the wide variety of polemical issues it deals with.” My book is an extension of the same kind of arguments Dr. Hector Avalos used regarding Biblical studies in his masterful book, The End of Biblical Studies. Avalos also highly recommended my book Unapologetic.
I was similarly honored that both Gericke and Avalos wrote chapters in my aptly titled anthology, The End of Christianity. I've already posted an excerpt of Dr. Avalos' book, here. Since Dr. Gericke has recently posted his chapter online at academia.edu, below is that same chapter as published in The End of Christianity. Enjoy.
 Chapter 5: Can God Exist if Yahweh doesn’t?[i]

  Jaco Gericke

“In former times, one sought to prove that there is no God -- today one indicates how the belief that there is a God arose and how this belief acquired its weight and importance: a counter-proof that there is no God thereby becomes superfluous. -- When in former times one had refuted the “proofs of the existence of God” put forward, there always remained the doubt whether better proofs might not be adduced than those just refuted: in those days atheists did not know how to make a clean sweep.”

Friedrich Nietzsche[ii]


To this day, many atheist philosophers of religion still tend to try to disprove the alleged reality of the Christian god by pointing out the logical problems in divine attributes, or by trying to argue via science or philosophy why “God” as first cause or cosmic designer or benevolent providence does not or cannot exist. This is all fine and well, but what is often overlooked is the fact that there will be no end to apologists’ reinterpretations of the concept of “God”, no end to their error theories to account for why they seem irrational and others remain sceptical, and no end to their labours to make their pseudo-scientific speculations and ad hoc hypotheses appear intellectually respectable. This means that any disproof merits only a relative efficiency value at best when it tackles the God of the philosophers. In my view, there is a far more devastating way of showing why what most people call “God” does not and cannot exist. It involves philosophers of religion instead focussing on the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and actually taking the Bible seriously (more serious than the fundamentalists do). It involves exposing the fact that the clothes have no emperor in Christian philosophy of religion, by looking at the emperor with no clothes in the repressed history of Israelite religion from which it originated. Then one lets common sense do the rest – most people can add two and two without needing the answer spelled out for them. Eating from the tree of knowledge will always make one aware of one’s nakedness and is a guaranteed one way ticket out of the fool’s paradise.

Who is “God”?

What the western world means when it refers to fuzzily as “God” is not some untouchable ineffable ultimate reality beyond the grasp of human rational faculties that will one day catch up with unbelievers making them realize their cognitive blindness. Rather, the entity most readers refer to when they speak of “God” is actually an upgraded, mysteriously anonymous version of what actually used to be a relatively young, quite particular, and oddly hybrid middle-Eastern tribal deity called Yahweh. The trick was done when “God” got lost in translation – in the Bible the word “God” can in the Hebrew of the Old Testament be both a personal name and a generic term. A nice illusion of conceptual dignity is created in English Bible translations where the Hebrew word “god” in the generic sense is capitalized, even when it does not function as a personal name but as the name of a species or natural kind, i.e., a god. Of course, translators only do this when used of the god of Israel who promptly becomes the God of Israel.

In philosophical monotheism since Thomas Aquinas, God is considered as not belonging to a genus, despite the biblical assumption to the contrary, assuring us that we are dealing with a particular kind of god amongst others. Often other gods are also lost in translation when rendering the Hebrew plural term for divinity as “mighty ones”, “angels” or “heavenly beings”, etc.. Many people don’t know that the expression “sons of God/the gods” in Genesis 6:1-4 just means “male gods” (as the expression “daughters of man” just means “female humans”). References to a “divine council” like those in 1 Kings 22:19-22, Psalm 82, Isaiah 6; 14 also presupposes the reality of other “gods”. Only later in the history of Israelite religion are these “gods” turned into semi-divine “messengers”. Yet even the word “angel” is misleading since these beings were nothing like what Christians today popularly associate with them. In the Hebrew Bible they are fierce humanoid male demi-gods or animal-type functionaries (cherubs/seraphs). They are also to be distinguished from the divine beings in Yahweh’s divine council (and just for the record, there are no kind women or cute baby cupid angels in the Old Testament, except for the one reference to women in a late passage in Zachariah).

To be sure, many texts in the Old Testament do not assume polytheism. However, many others assume monolatrism rather than monotheism – i.e., the belief that one god should be worshipped, not that only one god exists. People who read the English Bibles seldom notice this. But one need not know Hebrew to recognize monolatrist assumptions. Take the Ten Commandments, for example. If there were no other gods assumed, readers never bother to ask why Yahweh was called a god (and not something else) in the first place, or of who he was supposed to be jealous of as the first command assumes. How is one – a god no less – jealous of something that does not exist?

I am not denying monotheistic beliefs in the Old Testament, but the beliefs of one biblical author on this matter often contradicted those of another. The translations obscure this and I offer a literal rendering of the Hebrew:

“…On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am Yahweh.” (Exod 12:12)

“When Elyon gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of El. But Yahweh’s portion is his people; Jacob his measured out inheritance.” (Deut 32:8-9, about which see Hector Avalos’s chapter)

“Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that Yahweh our god has dispossessed before us, we will possess” (Judg 11:24)

“God stands up in the council of the gods, he judges in the midst of the gods; I have said myself, you are all gods, and you are sons of the most high (god)” (Psalm 82:6)

“For who is like Yahweh among the sons of the gods” (Ps 89:7)

“For Yahweh is a great god and a great king over all the gods.” (Ps 95:3)

“All the gods bow down before him “(Ps 97:7)

“Then he will act, with the aid of a foreign god” (Dan 11:39)

These texts only make sense on the assumption that they (in contrast to other texts) assume there are other gods. It is no credit to Yahweh if he is fighting against, king of, jealous of, judging or greater than entities that do not exist. Of course many reinterpretations of these passages are available in apologetic literature but these are motivated by dogma more than the need to accept the Bible on its own terms.

In the Old Testament taken as a whole, not only Yahweh but other national gods are called gods. Also, spirits of the dead, heavenly messengers or counsellors, kings and even demons can be called a “gods” (see 1 Samuel 28; Deut 32; Ps 45; etc.). Add to the capitalization of the generic term the fact that the highly specific Hebrew(!) personal name for this god - “Yahweh” - is recast with the generic term “Lord” (following the Jewish tradition) and you avoid the scandal of peculiarity altogether. “The Lord your God” sounds somewhat more respectable and intimidating than “Yahweh your god.” So what is often overlooked in debating the existence of “God”, if by “God” is understood anything with any relation to biblical theism, is the fact that the entity as known today is in fact the product of a complex conceptual evolution from the variable conceptions of the god Yahweh to “God”, a panel-beaten hybrid that can be made into what can seem like philosophically respectable proportions.

So what? Well, this little bit of information is more atheologically potent and philosophically significant than it seems at first sight. For it means that, in trying to prove “God” does not exist, so long as “God” is in any way related to the entity worshipped in modern (or post-modern) biblically-derived forms of theism (no matter how sophisticated), the only thing needed is to show that representations of Yahweh in ancient Israelite religion do not refer to any ultimate reality outside the text. It’s not unlike trying to prove there is no Zeus. Not even Christians can do it, but you can demonstrate belief in Zeus to be absurd by pointing out the ridiculously superstitious nature of the representations of the entity in question, i.e., his human appearance, his less than scientifically informed mind, and his non-existent divine world, thus exposing his artificial origins. Well, the same can be done with “God,” a.k.a. Yahweh. 

Taking the nature of the Bible seriously

The Bible is a text, a literary artefact. The question is the relation between Yahweh as depicted therein and the world outside the text in which we live. On this matter, many biblical scholars are still theists of sorts.

First, there are still some fundamentalists (naïve realists). This is your average committed conservative (often “evangelical”) Christian scholar who thinks one is warranted to believe in a correspondence between representations of Yahweh in the biblical text and an alleged extra-textual reality to which they supposedly refer. The text and language are assumed to function like a window through which you see reality as it really is. The Bible is literally the Word of God.

            Second, the majority of mainstream biblical scholars are theists but critical realists. They believe the Old Testament contains Israel’s fallible human perspectives on God in their beliefs about Yahweh, who is assumed nevertheless as really existing. According to this view the biblical text is like a painting, an attempted semi-realist representation of the reality it seeks to describe. The text is God’s Word in human speech or human words about God.

Third, there are those of us who realize that what we have in the text is the character Yahweh who, as depicted, can for various reasons not possibly exist outside the stories in which he acts. Yahweh is like Donald Duck, who is real in some fictionalist sense. He does not exist outside the cartoons about his character (except people in costumes, I suppose). We are the non-realists who believe that the text is neither a window to some divine reality nor a painting of it. It is simply a house of concave and convex mirrors which in a warped manner reflects to us only human ideals, beliefs, desires, fears and values. For us the text is just human words, period. As Robert Carroll noted:

The biblical God is a character in Hebrew narrative and therefore is, in a very real sense, a figure of fiction. [iii]

            The same idea was reiterated by David Clines, ex-president of the Society of Biblical Literature who realized that a biblical scholar needs to believe as little in Yahweh as a classical scholar in Zeus or an Egyptologist in Ra. In his view, when it comes to the representation of God in the Pentateuch:

“God in the Pentateuch is a character in a novel. God in the Pentateuch is not a ‘person’; he is a character in a book. And there are no people in books, no real people, only fictions; for books are made, not procreated...”[iv]

Moreover, even a populist crypto-fundamentalist like the post-liberal Old Testament theologian, Walter Brueggemann, had no problem admitting this when he wrote in the fashion of what William Harwood[v] rightly implied is nothing but “faculty-of-mythology doubletalk”:

…even with reference to God, the imaginative generative power of rhetoric offers to the hearer of this text a God who is not otherwise known or available or even - dare one say - not otherwise ‘there’.”

            In general, these Old Testament scholars are reluctant to engage in philosophy of religion. As a result, they have not attempted to spell out why they believe that Yahweh as represented in the biblical texts does not really exist. But the Bible itself offers a mandate for challenging any claim to divinity. Thus we find that the god of the Old Testament could at times rant and rave and even challenge the reality of foreign gods, claiming them to be man-made idols, e.g., as in Isaiah 41:21-24 (NRSV):

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, so that we may consider them, and that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be afraid and terrified. You, indeed, are nothing and your work is nothing at all; whoever chooses you is an abomination.

One would like to put the same request to Yahweh, if only to be fair. If only the writers of this text applied the same criteria to themselves. But let us not tempt this god – we shall let his alleged divine revelation speak for itself. For of all the arguments that show why a claim to divinity is false, none seems as devastating as the argument from the projection of all-too-human qualities onto an alleged superhuman entity. What is ironic is that taking the Old Testament seriously will reveal that using the same line of reasoning against representations of Yahweh in that text has devastating consequences.

Before we begin, it should be noted that we are not trying to be difficult or blasphemous – there is no pleasure in destroying the beliefs of others. We just want to make known the truth about the Bible, to show why the Bible (which is just a book) is itself the most subtle of idolatrous agents. Our critical approach is demanded by the polemics of many a biblical prophet himself, and certainly seems prudent. After all, no god appeared to us to tell us that this book is true. No god will appear to you as you read this chapter to inform you that it is wrong. But humans calling themselves Christians will just keep quoting from the Bible or referring to their religious experience or some philosophical position to convince you it is. But even the character Yahweh himself taught us, one should not trust in humans – if there is a god, let him fend for himself (see Judges 6 on Ba’al). And we need to be critical, since biblical religion makes too important claims about reality not to have it scrutinized as though one’s life depended on it. The fact is that many of those writing in this book were committed “biblical” Christians ourselves. So was the author of this chapter. Yet in trying to be even more biblical we all discovered what the Bible actually says, and as a result lost our faith.

Taking the Bible seriously does that. If you read the Scriptures and are not shocked out of all your religious beliefs you have not understood it. If you don’t believe me (and you don’t have to), just keep reading. The novelty and fatality of the arguments lie in the way they will combine philosophy of religion with the history of Israelite religion – and we shall never have to appeal to anything but what is in the Bible itself. The focus will be on the Old Testament and if the discussion to follow does not open your eyes to the Bible as fantasy literature, and the god of the Bible as nothing more than a memorable old monster, nothing will. 

Yahweh’s body

Most believers might think of “God” as incorporeal and “spiritual”. But if this is the case they do not believe in Yahweh as depicted in many biblical texts. Many don’t, and do not appreciate the truth expressed in the popular joke suggesting that, in the beginning, God created man in his own image and that man, in response, promptly returned the favour. In this regard, theologians, both biblical and systematic, have endlessly debated what it could possibly mean when, for example, Genesis 1:26-27 speaks of man being created in “the image of God”. They have insisted that the obvious meaning of the words – that God was believed to look like a male human because it was thought that God created humans to look like himself (see Gen 5:1-3; 9:6) – cannot possibly be what was intended. Sophisticated apologetics notwithstanding, this is what Genesis 1 seems to be saying and I wish to take it seriously.[vi]

Most references to Yahweh' are not symbolic. It cannot be denied that there are a number of textual references to the body (and body parts) of Yahweh which, in the context of biblical narratives, seem to have functioned as non-metaphorical descriptions of what the deity supposedly actually looks like. Thus, in the book of Exodus, we find literal references to Yahweh’s face (cf. Ex 33:20); his backside (cf. Ex 33:23); his hands and fingers (cf. Ex 31:18); his feet (cf. Ex 24:10-11); etc. There are also other texts which appear to contain non-metaphorical references to Yahweh’s body, such as those implying that Yahweh literally has a nose with which to smell the pleasant aromas of sacrifices (cf. Gen 8:21; Lev 1:9,13,17; 26:31). The presence of some literalism in the Old Testament texts is therefore to be acknowledged: we all need to take the Bible seriously. When Christian scholars try to tone down the problem with the concept of anthropomorphism (i.e., speaking as if Yahweh appeared only in human form but does not look like a human) it’s because they too realize the absurdity in such a belief.

One justification for taking seriously the Old Testament’s religious language can be found in the recognition that non-metaphorical elements tend to spill over into those depictions of Yahweh that only make sense if the limitations of embodiment are assumed to be of constraining effect on him. Thus we find him needing to rest in order to be refreshed (cf. Gen 2:1; Ex 31:17); having to travel to obtain information and to verify reports (cf. Gen 3:8-11, 11:5-7, 18:17); needing to test people to discern their beliefs, intentions and motives (Gen 22; Deut 8:2; 2 Chron 32:31; etc.); being forced to act based on a fear of human potential (cf. Gen 3:22; 11:5-7); being of insufficient power so that his people could not defeat the enemy because it had iron chariots during the battle (cf. Judg 1:21) and desiring assistance in some matters (cf. Judg 5:23; 1 Kgs 22: 20-23; Isa 63:3-5); etc.[vii]

Having a male body Yahweh was believed to have male body parts. This also means sexual organs (i.e, “loins” Ezekiel 1:27-28). Texts such as Genesis 6:4 where the gods come to have intercourse with female humans assume as much, as does the New Testament discreet divine visitation of the teenage virgin Mary. In historical research and biblical archaeology it is commonly accepted that we have evidence that a goddess was worshipped in ancient Israel as Yahweh’s consort (Asherah).[viii] But the groups that were responsible for the final text of the Old Testament made sure few traces of the goddess remained, which resulted in a very sexist scenario in which heaven is an all-male world. The closest one gets to how Yahweh would relate to a goddess is when Yahweh calls Israel or the cities in the land his wife/bride (as in Ezekiel and Hosea). Looking at how he treats his spouse, however, shows an all-too-human mind prone to domestic violence and emotional abuse despite whatever more positive and affectionate character traits Yahweh as husband is depicted as displaying.[ix]

But there is more that reveals absurdity in the text, and it concerns something more pedantic but often overlooked in discussions of the body of Yahweh, i.e. God as a language user. God just happens to have a Hebrew name – Yahweh – a fact which seems peculiar to few believers who still pray in the name of their god without wondering why this is so important or why he needs one (one can just call him “God”). In addition, according to the text we have to take seriously the assumption that at the creation of the heavens and the earth (why does a god want to create stuff?) even before north-western Semitic Languages evolved (of which Hebrew is one), Yahweh spoke the world into being via a particular dialect of classical Hebrew that evolved among humans, stayed around only for a short time in a local bit of human history, and then vanished everywhere except from heaven. But think about it: at the moment God initially speaks at creation the story makes little sense at all. When God says “Let there be light!” in classical Hebrew there is nobody for whom what God utters is language, rather than just a wordless shout. There is no community of speakers for whom what God cries amounts to an imperative, a command that requires something to happen. So how does God know what to say and how can he be sure what he utters is a meaningful language, with a certain force? There could not have been any established social conventions at creation, there is only our own projection in order to describe a bit of divine behaviour as a certain type of action, as distinct from reflex twitches and meaningless gesticulations. The idea of a language user who is conscious as a speaker of classical Hebrew all by himself for all eternity makes no sense at all.[x]

Few readers through the ages have picked up this problem and those who did soon resorted to philosophical-theological reinterpretation. Many medieval Jewish authorities maintained that Hebrew was the language of God without ever being bothered by the question of why God should speak a particular, historically temporal and culturally specific dialect of classical Hebrew. Part of this dilemma for the logistics of creation by word was recognized in 1851 when German philologist Jacob Grimm argued that if God spoke language, indeed any language that involves dental consonants, God must have teeth, and since teeth were created not for speech but for eating, it would follow that he also eats, which led to so many other undesirable assumptions for those with theological preferences that the idea was abandoned altogether.[xi]

This worry is certainly anachronistic in as much as Genesis 1 assumes humans are theomorphic rather than God being anthropomorphic. The latter is surely naïve from an evolutionary perspective and nowadays mainstream biblical scholars do not read Genesis 1 as history or science so the question of credibility does not arise. Which is fine, but while such worries are pseudo-problems due to category mistakes in genre analysis, the trouble with not trying to relate the language to reality is that one misses out on coming to grips with the absurd folk-philosophy of language running through the myth.

For many biblical commentators and philosophers, God does not have any form and only appears in human form. Nice thought, but unfortunately this is not what the Bible teaches in texts where the humanoid form of Yahweh is assumed to be his true form, the one which he is assumed to have even in heaven. The Christian philosophical reinterpretation of this is nothing more than a strategy of evasion by people who cannot admit to themselves that they too no longer find it possible to believe in “God” (a.k.a. Yahweh), any more than they believe in Zeus. The Greek philosophers did the same thing with the Greek gods when they began to find their representations too crude. Believers will continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

Yahweh’s mind

The people who wrote the Old Testament also made the fatal mistake of constructing Yahweh with what today appears to be a rather unflattering psychological (cognitive, conative, and affective) profile.[xii]

First of all, the mind of the god of the Bible exhibits a library of provably errant knowledge. When Yahweh speaks in the first person in the texts of the Old Testament, the deity is often depicted as making statements that include references to historical, cosmographical, geographical, biological, and other types of phenomena that we today know are not factual. What betrays the all-too human origin of the divine mind is the simple fact that the ideas Yahweh entertains about reality are hardly better than the superstitions and misconceptions in the indigenous knowledge systems of the people who worshipped him.[xiii]

Thus Yahweh himself believes that the universe was literally created over a period of six days (cf. Ex 31:17) and that there is an ocean above the stars behind a firmament from where rainwater falls to the earth (cf. Gen 1:6; Job 38:34).[xiv] He also believes that the landmass of the earth floats on water (cf. Deut 5:8; cf. also Ps 24:2) and that there is literally a place underground where the dead live as shades according to their nationalities (cf. Num 16:23-33; Dt 32:22; Jb 38:16-17; Is 7:11; Ezek 26:19-20; 32:18-32; Am 9:2). Yahweh also believes in mythical creatures like the Leviathan, Rahab, Behemoth, sea monsters, flying dragons, demons of the field, malevolent spirits of the night, etc. (cf. Job 40-41; Is 30:6; Lev 17:7; Isa 34:14; Am 9:3; etc.). He even assumes that thought issues from the heart and emotions from the kidneys (cf. Jer 17:10, etc.).

Yahweh also believes in the historicity of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, all as depicted in the biblical traditions, at least according to the texts in which he speaks to them and in subsequent stories in which his character refers back to them as though they were real people (see for example Ezek 14). But if these people as they are depicted are fictions (as scholars have established), how can Yahweh-speaking-to-fictions and referring to them as reality not himself be fictitious? Surely such factually errant beliefs on the part of Yahweh prove this god cannot exist as depicted.[xv] Even if we insisted that what we encounter in these texts are simply the errant beliefs of humans and not a god’s own thoughts, we have lost any grounds for believing that the character of Yahweh has any extra-textual counterpart. Who would Yahweh be without Adam, Abraham or Moses as depicted in the texts anyway?

 But there is more about the divine mind that seems rather absurd. It is not just Yahweh’s beliefs about the world that sometimes seem all-too-human. The deity also exhibits all-too-human needs or desires that drive him obsessively in pursuit of their fulfillment. Thus few people ever stop to wonder why God, a.k.a. Yahweh, must have a people to rule over (cf. Ex 19:6; Deut 4:19; 32:8-9) and is quite anxious to maintain a formidable reputation based on ancient Near Eastern conceptions of the values of honour and shame (cf. Deut 32:26-27; Mal 1-3). Yahweh is very concerned about keeping his name secret (cf. Gen 32; Ex 6; Judg 16; etc.) and like some cosmic upper-class aristocrat prefers to have his abode far away and high above human society so as not to be disturbed by mortals (cf. Gen 11,18; Ex 24; etc.). Yahweh needs to limit his direct and personal contact with the general population and, for the most part, prefers to act through intermediaries, agents, messengers and armies. He enjoys and demands being feared (cf. Ex 20:19-20, Job 38-41). More than anything, Yahweh yearns to be worshipped and to have constant reminders of how wonderful, powerful and great he is (cf. Isa 6:2-3; etc.).

Take this last example, i.e. Yahweh’s desire to be worshipped. Many people take this need of God for granted but never bother to ask why God wants – no, demands – to be worshipped. It is one thing if creatures, in awe of their creator, erupt spontaneously in praise. It is quite another if the creator should be thought of as having premeditated the formation of creatures who exist solely for the purpose of perpetually reminding him how exalted and powerful and benign he is (cf. Isa 6). I mean, is it really credible to believe that the ultimate reality is a person who is so narcissistic and egotistic that he has to prescribe in minute detail exactly how he wants to be worshipped? Why do we take for granted the idea of a god as so self-absorbed that he even threatens to destroy anyone diverging in any way from his instructions? Look at the details in Exodus 25-40 with regard to the furnishings and construction of the tabernacle and the niceties of the rituals. Such controlling obsessiveness can only be accounted for if we postulate behind it all a projection of human desire for control and order. As Don Cupitt notes (referring to a remark by Harold Bloom):

The god of the Hebrew Bible is like a powerful and uncanny male child, a sublime mischief-maker, impish and difficult. He resembles Lear and the Freudian superego in being a demonic and persecuting Father, entirely lacking in self-knowledge and very reluctant ever to learn anything. Like the human characters he interacts with, he has a continually changing consciousness. He manifests the pure energy and force of Becoming. He is Nietzschean Will to Power, abrupt and uncontrollable, and subject to nothing and nobody.[xvi]

The fact that Yahweh’s own alleged needs seem suspiciously similar to the historically and culturally conditioned needs of “the-powers-that-be” known to his worshippers is best accounted for by viewing Yahweh’s mind as represented in the particular texts as the product of humans projecting the power-drunk autocrats familiar to them onto an imaginary cosmic monarch. Since paranoid human rulers displayed these traits, the ancients reasoned that, if the cosmos is itself a monarchy with a (super) human-like king at the top, he might just be as vain, despotic, and attention-seeking as any earthly monarch (yet with the same amount of savvy to maintain his popularity by occasional acts of charity and good-will) as his terrestrial counterparts. Who could afford to take chances? Better safe than sorry.

However, we know that – if we know anything – the universe is not a hierarchy where at the top of the pecking order sits a king with the psychological profile of a narcissistic, bipolar ancient Near Eastern ruler running the whole show. We can see the absurdity in imagining the existence of a god whose psychological profile displays culturally relative and historically contingent human desires. Note also, that none of these divine psychological characteristics were in their biblical contexts understood as being mere metaphorical depictions or the result of any supposed divine “accommodation”.[xvii] Nor can they be rationalised and explained away as the product of the deliberate and intentional “anthropopathic” representation of something that is in reality supposed to be ineffable. These ways of looking at it come only when we have to repress the fact that we no longer believe in God, a.k.a. the god of the Bible.

A third and final aspect of the representation of the mind of God seems equally absurd. We find in Yahweh’s psychological profile moral values that the god considers to be eternally and universally normative but which are obviously local cultural taboos. Analogous to the disconcerting manner in which Yahweh’s knowledge about the world never rises above that of his speechwriters, so too the divine ethics seem suspiciously similar to the projected morality of a people immersed in superstition. 

For example, consider the divine desire for sacrifices. When you think about it, it all boils down to the idea of a creator who expects some of his creatures (humans) to kill and burn certain of his other creatures (animals) in order to provide divine nourishment (Yahweh likes the smell of roasting meat, according to Leviticus 1:6) and to remove guilt (cf. Lev 1-7). Or how about the fact that Yahweh believes that giving birth to a girl leaves the mother unclean for a period, the duration of which is twice as long as compared to when she gives birth to a boy (cf. Lev 12:4-5)? And why does Yahweh consider it morally wrong should garments be made from two different materials or should fields be sown with two different varieties of seed (cf. Lev 19:19)? Why does Yahweh find human physiological processes objectively offensive, when he created them? (cf. Lev 12). Why are some animals held to be horrible abominations, even by their own creator? (cf. Lev 11; Deut 14).

Yahweh’s moral code appears all-too similar to what humans from ancient Near Eastern cultures already considered as being the case – long before the religion of Yahweh even got started. Yahwism and its taboos are latecomers in the history of religions and much of the moral beliefs contained in its value systems can be traced to other pagan religions predating its rise in Israel and Judah (circumcision and pork taboos were already established practices in Egypt, for example).[xviii] Thus “God” and divine-commands have a history that gives the game away. Many fundamentalist believers might not be too bothered by this because they consider the cultic laws outdated – even when Yahweh never envisaged their end. Such Christians are only repressing the fact that they themselves no longer believe in Yahweh, who has in the meantime been upgraded to something more intellectually credible. All Christian theology is actually Yahwistic atheism.

Yahweh’s world

A third and final absurd conception in the Old Testament was already hinted at above, i.e., the idea that the entire cosmos is a monarchy and that Yahweh’s eternal divine abode in the skies operates like a kingdom (cf. Deut 32:8-9; 1 Sam 8:7; Dan 6:27; etc.). Yahweh’s own abode was believed to be a palace in which the deity himself sits on a throne (cf. Ps 11:4; etc.). A favourite form of transportation for the god is horse-drawn chariots (cf. 2 Kgs 2:11-12, 6:17; Zech 6:1-8; etc.). Yahweh also needs an army whose weapon of choice is the sword (cf. Gen 3:22f.; 32:1-2; Josh 5:13-15; 2 Sam 24:16, 27; etc.). Yahweh is wise but not omniscient and makes use of councillors (cf. 1 Kgs 22:20-23; Is 6:3; Jer 23:18; Ps 82:1, 89:5; Job 1:6; etc.) and intelligence services that spy on the subjects in order to ascertain their loyalty (cf. Job 1-2; Zech 3; 1 Chron 21; etc.). The ram’s horn was a popular musical instrument in YHWH’s abode (cf. Ex 19:16) and the inhabitants of heaven eat bread and dress in pure white linen (cf. Ps 78:25; Ezek 9:2; Dan 10:5; etc.). Yahweh even engages in writing on scrolls (cf. the “book” [of life] in Ex 32:32; Pss 69:29, 139:16; Dan 7:10; 10:21; etc.).[xix]

To appreciate the impossibility of this state of affairs, the reader should take the time to reflect on the historically temporary and culturally relative nature of objects like scrolls, horse-drawn chariots, swords, dresses of linen and shofars. These are all-too-human, time-period artefacts. There was once a time in the past when they did not exist. Before such things were used by humans, people wrote on stone and clay, fought with clubs, bows and spears and ran on foot. Then humans themselves designed or invented these objects Yahweh uses and the objects themselves evolved through time. Some cultures never used these objects and have never even heard of them. Eventually, due to cultural and technological development and change, both the political institution of monarchy and many of these artefacts Yahweh makes use of fell into disuse and today are only kept for interest sake as antiques. Few people today write on scrolls, fight battles against enemies with swords, dress in linen, blow on rams’ horns or ride in horse-drawn chariots to reach a destination. Yet if the Old Testament texts are to be believed, ultimate reality is the god of Israel who forever uses Iron-Age artefacts. In Yahweh’s sky-palace, things like shofars, swords, scrolls and chariots, have been around forever and will be so ever more.

This state of affairs should not surprise us. There is a reason why Yahweh’s creation was assumed to be a monarchy rather than a chiefdom or a democracy. The Christian “God” is not simply the object of worship from all eternity past but the national deity “Yahweh” of an all-too-local and all-too-recent period religion. The oldest evidence of Yahwism dates faith in this god back no more than 3000-3500 years. This explains why “God”, a.k.a Yahweh, acts, speaks and behaves like a typical late Bronze and early Iron Age god and cannot but play the role of that type of character in the stories about him. He is a slave to the divine nature as conceived of in the theatrical roles available for godhood at the time. For all his idiosyncrasies, Yahweh instinctively acts like a god of his time.

On this point, witting and unwitting embarrassment at the culturally constructed nature of what is supposed to be objectively and eternally just “true”, has led apologists to the only obvious way of salvaging credibility: reinterpretation. Many contemporary theologians go out of their way to insist that all religious language referring to the divine and the supernatural world is to be understood as being metaphorical or symbolical. “God” was just “accommodating” himself (Calvin). But the theory that all language dealing with the divine world is to be understood as mythical or metaphorical so that humans can grasp it becomes a post-biblical generalisation when it is thought of as being applicable to all Old Testament texts. For while some references to human artefacts used by Yahweh are indeed of this type, a naïve literalism is also present in many instances. It is only those who cannot admit to themselves they no longer believe in Yahweh as depicted in the Bible who need to resort to such reinterpretation to make the deity seem less obviously impossible. Believers in God need to repress the fact that their deity used to be Yahweh whose entire reality is so obviously absurd that it needs continual revising to hide the fact that humans of a particular time have imagined that reality as such functions like the only cultural and political set-up they themselves are familiar with.

This need for reinterpretation of the divine world is nowhere as evident in the understanding of the biblical concept of “heaven”. The modern believer will insist that it is some sort of spiritual dimension, and laugh at people who claimed they could not find God in space. But the fact is, for the ancient Israelites and Yahweh himself heaven really was simply a divine palace in the sky. Moreover, the concept of “spirit” had nothing to do with something that was otherworldly, but in the Hebrew denotes a natural albeit immaterial substance like the wind. There was no natural-supernatural or physical-spiritual dualism in the modern sense – which is why Yahweh’s breath was equated with the wind and why he can breathe life into dust (Gen 2). That his abode was located in what we nowadays call the sky is evident in the movement from and towards heaven in biblical narrative. Yahweh comes down on Sinai (literally, Ex. 17-19) and Elijah goes up in a chariot (literally, 2 Kgs 2). Yahweh looks down from heaven at humans, and people looked up to heaven as they prayed (see Psalm 14). The reason why Yahweh rides the fast clouds (Isa 19), why thunder is literally the divine voice (Job 37), is because he and his worshippers believed he was literally up there. That is why Jesus allegedly went up with a cloud and will return on one – because heaven was literally up there. Believers who think of the earth as round and endorse a modern cosmology with an empty sky and who is not disorientated and shocked out of their faith when reading the Old Testament has not understood it.[xx]

To understand the idea behind this cosmography, again think of human society, or the lay-out of any large modern city. The divine abode was simply considered the “up-town” of the cosmos – the palace or fortress on the hill. The deity lives “up there” separate from humans because the religious system teaches a cosmic Apartheid between gods and humans – when you are a god you don’t mix with the riffraff too often and only appear among them rarely. That is the only reason why the divine appeared and spoke so seldom to humans (nothing more). And when he did come down he had accommodation ready and waiting – his seven-star private palace, i.e., the temple, the word for which in Hebrew is the same as the word for palace and which was the nice cool and quiet house of God where a large staff fed him with wine, animal fat, and oiled vegetables twice a day and lavished him with gifts (the real motive for sacrifices). The idea of Yahweh’s “food” is not uncommon in the text (see Ezek 44:7, and Leviticus).

On the last point, Christians tend to imply that the idea of human sacrifice as food for the divine is a primitive pagan practice and utterly abhorrent. Many like to point to the differences between the Bible and other ancient religions in that the Old Testament forbade such a practice. However, once again the celebrations and back-patting are immature. To be sure, many Old Testament texts do reject the idea of child sacrifices. However, pre-redacted sources in the Old Testament laws for the dedication of the first-born itself show that there was a time when it was believed that Yahweh approves of it (Exodus 13:2; Lev. 27:28-29). We also find remains of this practice in the story of Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22) where Yahweh has no problem with the burning of the body even if he stops his servant in the act in order to keep his promise. Possibly most overlooked however is that the idea that human sacrifice is necessary and acceptable returned in Christianity. Here we find a theological importance of the blood of a tortured and murdered man as an offering to remove sin. That Christians too can thus become lyrical about the killing of a human being (or a god) shows the re-paganization of Yahwism (which itself was never pure and has no essence) and reveals how easily one can become desensitized through brainwashing. This is clearly evident when Christians find nothing out of order when ritually consuming the flesh and blood of their god. Most versions of Yahweh would not have approved.

Another disconcerting truth and all-too-human need in Yahweh’s psyche comes to us in Yahweh’s motive for creating humans. In the world of Yahweh, the meaning of human life was to be slaves (euphemistically called “servants”) to the deity. According to one of the myths, humans were created in order to  rule in the place of the god, so that he does not have to do it (Gen 1:26-28). In another myth, quite incidentally in Genesis 2:5, it is implied that the meaning of human life is to toil the earth (Gen 1-2). Again Yahweh is shown to be averse to menial labour and want servants to do the work that is beneath him. Not exactly flattering, but at least humans were given  the pleasure of flattering the divine ego and in return at least getting minimum wage (food, health-plan, security, etc.).

Believers today simply have not taken seriously the absurdity in the Old Testament’s understanding of the cosmos as a kind of city-state ruled by a monarch in the sky whose every whim has to be catered to on the penalty of death. Christians are so brainwashed that the idea that humans are servants of a cosmic dictator still appears comforting to many. They speak about a personal relationship with the deity as a father not realizing that any father who treats his children in the way Yahweh allegedly did would surely have to go for psychological observation and probably get life in prison (although it may be admitted that eternal torture in hell is a New Testament belief; the god of the OT knows no such place). So those who consider the Bible as affirming human dignity do not seem to understand that it knows no human rights. But because Christians have for so long read a reinterpreted Bible they can no longer see what is in there. Critical biblical scholars who are simply trying to educate them about what is the case in the text are therefore ironically in danger of being considered “unbiblical”.

All of the above, however, makes no sense given the history of life on earth. The fact is that earth is now estimated to be roughly 4.5 billions of years old, and on a scale of a calendar year humans arrived on the scene during the last minutet before midnight on December 31. Humanoids and religious practices have been around for tens of thousands of years. Yet we are now told to believe that what is supposed to be the “real God” even though his Iron Age (1200-500 BCE) character and supernatural set-up appeared on the scene late in the history of religion at some point during the second half of the second millennium BCE – and just happens to eternally resemble the culture of this era. I’m sorry, but this is all very hard to swallow. It is no more believable than claiming any other god with an identifiable history of origin and reconstruction in myth just happens to be the ultimate reality. Does the word “absurd” still have any meaning in religious circles today?

Not only was Yahwism (now upgraded to Godism) a late-comer in the history of religions, it was also a very local affair. Yahweh and his worshippers were limited to a sacred space east of the Mediterranean. Ancient peoples from across the globe never knew this deity and neither, according to the Old Testament, did Yahweh know of them (e.g. Native Americans, the Khoi-San people of South Africa or the Aborigines of Australia, just compare to the list of nations in Genesis 10). The scandal of peculiarity is increased when one realizes that all Yahweh’s supposedly superhuman concerns and attributes of manifestation appear totally dependent on the region in which he was worshipped. According to the Old Testament he comes from the desert steppe in the south (the Arabian Peninsula, see Judg 5; Hab 3; Ps 68) as a storm-god, a tribal fetish of a once nomadic horde (according to hints in the Old Testament, perhaps possibly having first been worshipped by the Midianites or Kenites). The tropical parts of the earth know nothing of his cursing the creation with barren infertility while regions like the Alps mock his idea that the Promised Land is all that beautiful. The fact is that the environmental psychology and ecological anthropology of ancient Israelites so accounts for the nature and concerns of this particular god that it is impossible to even imagine Yahweh being worshipped by, say, the Eskimos.

Interestingly is that the concept of divine eternity in the Hebrew Bible is not always the same as the philosophical sense thereof. In one text, Isaiah 43:10 we even find presupposed that Yahweh has a limited life-span:

“You are my witnesses," says the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”

Look again closely and try to take the text seriously. It does not just say that there are no other gods. It introduces a temporal sequence which, if all the texts wanted to stress were monotheistic claims seem quite unnecessary. Yet most people can read this passage and never bother to ask how it is possible for Yahweh to refer to a time “before” and “after” him during which there are no other gods.  This text clearly implies that a) there is a temporal period before Yahweh existed when no other god existed either, and b) there will come a time after Yahweh during which no other god will exist either. Of course, this outrageous idea makes no sense in the context of philosophical monotheism, but there it is and against the backdrop of ancient Near Eastern theogony it is perfectly understandable. Gods too are born from and return to chaos and not even Genesis 1 says God created the darkness/waters. To be sure, this allusion is basically the only of its kind in the Bible (although the notion of the divine life or “nephesh,” as diminished in texts such as Exodus 31:18, implies the possibility of degeneration), but because scholars have wanted to see “second” Isaiah as theologically advanced they have ignored the more primitive elements in  his theology. 

Christian philosophy of religion as “nonsense on stilts”

Just as you cannot argue Zeus into existence via philosophical speculation and sophistication, so you cannot do it with God, a.k.a. Yahweh. Yet Christian philosophers of religion who no longer believe in Yahweh as depicted in the Old Testament can still bring themselves to believe in “God”, an updated version of the older tribal deity of manifold depictions. They use the latest technomorphic metaphors which they project onto reality and by way of sophisticated jargon and a generic approach make their ideas seem intimidating and almost respectable. But the fact is that all Christian philosophy of religion, be it fundamentalist analytic philosophy or the most post-modern version of continental a/theology, is just reconstructive mythology. It only seems to work because people forget that God used to be Yahweh. They might as well try to rehabilitate any old tribal god under the universal umbrella nowadays covered by the concept of divinity. Thus any philosophy of religion which assumes the god it talks about is in any way basically the same divine reality as that talked about in the Old Testament is in serious trouble.

First of all, conceptions of Yahweh by most Christian philosophers of religion tend to be radically anachronistic and conform more to the proverbial “God of the Philosophers” (Thomas Aquinas in particular) than to any version of Yahweh as depicted in ancient Israelite religion. This means that the pre-philosophical “biblical” conceptions of Yahweh, the belief in whom is supposed to be properly basic, are not even believed by Christian philosophers themselves. Their lofty notions of God in terms of “Divine Simplicity,” “Maximal Greatness” and “Perfect-Being Theology” are utterly alien with reference to many of the characterizations of Yahweh in biblical narrative (e.g. Gen. 18). This means that debates about God’s power and knowledge and his relation to evil (etc.), whatever its logical merits, conveniently ignore the fact that there are many biblical texts that contradict it (and which offer representations of divinity that Christian philosophers do not believe in).

The problem of evil is a pseudo-worry in many Old Testament texts, where Yahweh was neither omnipotent nor all-good. In addition, the ability to do evil in the sense of being destructive was in fact a great-making property in ancient theism. Yahweh is powerful precisely because he can do evil when he wants, whether natural, moral or metaphysical (see Ex 4:11; Lam 3:38; Isa 45:7; Am 3:6; Eccl 7:13-14; etc.). Ancient believers were not as spoiled as those today who consider a god has to be perfectly good (read “user-friendly”) before he deserves to be worshipped. What made a god divine was great power (which is not the same as omnipotence), not client-centered service, family values, or human rights.

            The second problem follows from the first: what kind of God is it that is warranted according to the Christian philosophy of religion? It is useless to say belief in God is justified, unless one can specify what the contents of the beliefs about God are supposed to be (and who this god is in whom one basically believes). But this Christian philosophy of religion is radically undermined by its failure to take cognizance of the fact that it is committing the fallacy of essentialism. It brackets the philosophical problems posed by theological pluralism in the Old Testament and the diachronic changes (read “revision”) in the beliefs about Yahweh in the history of Israelite religion. At many junctions in its arguments it seems blissfully unaware that there is no such thing as the “biblical” perspective on God. So if it is the “biblical” god which is supposed to be believed in, most Old Testament theologians would like to know “which version?” (or whose interpretation?)

            A third problem concerns another way in which Christian philosophy of religion fails to apply the Old Testament’s own forms of verification. Now aside from the possibility of pluralism that may once again rear its ugly head (e.g. in the incommensurable religious epistemologies of Daniel and Ecclesiastes), the fact is that it is wrong to assume the Old Testament is not evidentialist. On the contrary, there is ample reason to believe that a primitive type of evidentialism is in fact the default epistemology taken for granted in ancient Israelite religion, given the nature of the many pre-philosophical assumptions in the biblical narratives. Thus the whole point of “miracles” (signs) and revelation via theophany, audition, dreams, divination and history can be said to presuppose an evidentialism (see the oft-repeated formula, “so that they may know…”). Philosophers of religion will deny that one can verify the existence of God in this empirical sense, and yet according to the Old Testament, Yahweh himself assumed this to be possible.

After all, of all the religious epistemologies that come to mind, it is difficult to imagine that the prophet Elijah in the narrative where he takes on the Baal Prophets on Carmel was endorsing anything remotely similar to the Christian philosophy of religion’s claims that one need not prove anything empirically (see 1 Kgs. 18). If that is not an instance of evidentialism in the Old Testament, what is? Christians may have their own reasons why these things no longer happen and why no philosopher of religion will agree to a contest on Mount Carmel. But the fact is that Christian philosophers of religion, be they fundamentalist and analytic or post-modern and continental, all love dogmatic rationalization more than biblical epistemology. Again this shows that not even Christian philosophers of religion actually believe in Yahweh. They too are atheists in relation to the biblical divinity.

        From this we see why belief in Yahweh is for both atheists and Christians as impossible as belief in Zeus. One might as well be asked to “Just believe the Bible!” or any other ancient god. But few Christian philosophers ever ask why it is that a god’s main desire is that his creations agree that he exists. Of all the things one could in theory worry about – and then do so little to make possible? That a god needs to be hidden and that there needs to be faith to make a relationship possible is simply a ridiculous and unbiblical a notion. Moses allegedly both saw and believed in Yahweh and they had a great relationship. So what is the problem with one-on-one intimacy on a daily basis with every human being, in a time when atheism is more popular than ever? Like Voltaire said before Nietzsche, God’s only excuse is that he doesn’t exist.

In other words, it is historical consciousness that led believers to reinterpret the biblical beliefs to make them seem credible, and which leads atheists today to see why nobody can believe in Yahweh any more than they can believe in Zeus. We simply cannot imagine that reality is a planned set-up where one all-too-human. yet superior entity, has all the power where “might makes right” (God can do what he wants because he is God, exactly the same immorality believers accuse atheists of), and where the meaning of its existence is to create weak, frail and mortal beings to serve and tell it how wonderful it is for all eternity. Religious devotion is simply the kissing up to power. However, it is not that we are rebellious and a priori do not want to believe in a god, it’s just that the whole concept of divine reality as humans have constructed it in the biblical sense is so absurd and so obviously a projection of sincerely deluded humans who thought the cosmos worked the way an ancient human society does, that we couldn’t really believe it even if we tried!

That is why theology, and philosophy of religion, and arguments for God have become necessary – to hide the absurdity and make it all seem convincing. But since when did reality need to convince anybody? If the world was really like that, it would be just as unnecessary to argue for it being the case as we need to argue for the existence of the biological world. The appeal to epistemological malfunctioning in unbelievers is as unconvincing as saying that the reason why we find it difficult to believe in Zeus is because we lack spiritual insight.

After two-thousand years the Christian system has almost everything covered and apologetics might seem to some believers to have an answer to everything. To realize how the trick was done – to see the tain in the mirror and the strings of the puppets – just allow Christian philosophy of religion to be judged by the history of Israelite religion. The best argument against any modern Christian dogma is its own history back to and from within the Bible itself. Christians own reinterpretations show us that even the most fundamentalist “believer” is really an atheist when it comes to Yahweh, and the most “biblical” of believers are not as biblical as they think. In the end Christian theology was brought down by Christian ethics; belief was destroyed by its own morality which demanded we follow the truth.

Woe is the believer when in the end (s)he will come to realize that one has to choose between God and truth. It’s the kind of experience of “reality shock” one associates with movies like The Matrix or The Truman Show. But you have to see it for yourself to realize it was the perfect catch-22; the ultimate double-bind for any person growing up in a religious culture today. Unfortunately, like the famous biblical characters themselves, believers today do not spend their time in serious Bible study. Most popular books on the Old Testament are spiritual junk food, brain candy if you will. And when confronted with the question of why atheists bother with the Bible if they do not believe it, well, maybe it is for the same reason Christians worry about pagans: because one cares about what one believes to be the truth and about the fact that there are so many well-meaning people unwittingly bent on deluding both themselves and the rest of humanity. 


In a sense the entity called “God” is like an internet troll created in a public forum – once you become aware of the agent behind the character, such knowledge  changes everything about whether or not we can bring ourselves to believe “he” exists. There is nothing really to disprove, and we need not show that some “God” of whatever description possible does not exist. All we need do is to show that descriptions of Yahweh do not have any counterpart outside the biblical stories. For if Yahweh as depicted is not real, how can “Yahweh” as such still exist? If the god of the Old Testament – who is the god of Jesus – does not exist, how can the god of the New Testament still exist? And if the god of the New Testament is not real, is this not the end of Christianity as a claimant about reality?

So we need not be intimidated by Christian philosophers of religion who need to repress the fact that their sophisticated arguments about a supposedly respectable God ignore the history of Israelite religion. Their god’s own biography is an embarrassment to them. They themselves no longer believe in Yahweh, and today “God” is nothing more than an ideal idol, created in the image of the latest technological metaphors projected onto the cosmos. Since Yahweh was never the living god, “God” is dead indeed.

In the end, then, it seems that the history of Israelite religion has a sense of irony. The same ancient and modern people who so mercilessly ridiculed pagans for their myths and superstitions failed to recognise the same superstitious tendencies in themselves. The same believers who deplore products of the human imagination cannot see that a god created as a character in a story on paper is no less of an idol than silent gods of wood or stone.

[Endnotes are to be found in the book itself.]