What’s Good About Monotheism, Again? What Part Of It Is Worth Treasuring And Rooting For? And Why, Exactly, Is God Always Gendered Male?

Robbed, killed, raped, enslaved–all in the name of God. Ain’t monotheism grand?

ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.
NYTIMES.COM|BY ELIZA GRISWOLD [Article appeared in the NYT July 22, 2015]

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to What’s Good About Monotheism, Again? What Part Of It Is Worth Treasuring And Rooting For? And Why, Exactly, Is God Always Gendered Male?

  1. Alan says:

    Lawrence H. Keeley, in ‘War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage’ identifies young women among the most consistent prizes of war. Kidnap and rape has likely been a staple of marriage for millions of years. Anyone familiar with Greco/Roman mythology or history should be well aware of women as prizes of war and the prevalence of females as sex slaves. It continues to be absurd how you attribute social customs that predate religion itself to modern religions.
    Are you of some belief that abandoning religion made such as Stalin, Mayo or Pol Pot better leaders?
    How little must one know about religions to think gods are always male?

  2. Santi Tafarella says:

    Alan,

    The problem isn’t that religion preceded such things as rape and war. Anthropologically, rape and coalitional violence obviously precede even the evolution of language itself.

    The problem is that monotheism–including contemporary monotheism–sanctions such behaviors in certain circumstances (“God has given us this land and their women, etc.”). It gives people a free conscience for engaging in such behaviors (whether it be gay bashing, veiling women, practicing slavery, etc.). Southerners in the United States in the early 19th century slept at night because the Bible told them slavery was okay, and those Northerners who read the Bible differently were apostates and heretics.

    As for Stalin, you’re dealing with issues of modernism, and the vacuum left when religion exits the scene–and a new religion of the Father is needed and groped for. Somebody has to be at the wheel (so people feel in their anxiety). Somebody has to KNOW.

    More recent and secular mass atrocities have to do with modern technology, the advent of institutional bureaucracies, the growth of industrialization, contingencies of history in general, alpha male psychopathy reaching a pinnacle of power in a modern state, utopianism replacing religion, etc.

    Lots of factors went into Stalin, the Holocaust, etc., some of them including historic habits of Christian antisemitism, religious inertia of other forms, the grappling about for forms of religion akin to the old authoritarian forms of religion, etc.

    You want a wall blocking off monotheism’s culpability in generating the world we have today. It’s more complicated than that.

    • Alan says:

      Help me understand your argument here, Santi: Life under Stalin and his ilk was hell on earth, but that’s OK because people need to be kept in their place. People are, after all, pretty bad. Similarly true with secular industrialized society in general.

      Modern monotheism is bad because some of that badness inherit in people is occasionally allowed to get through.

      Have I missed anything?

  3. Santi Tafarella says:

    Alan,

    I don’t recognize my position in your caricature of it, so you must have missed a lot.

    So let me ask you a question that might bottom-line our disagreement: what is it, precisely, that you regard as good about monotheism? Put another way, what in monotheism do you think is worth retaining in the 21st century? I understand that nobody in Western culture likes the ISIS beheading version of monotheism, but what do you think is being lost if monotheism in the West is utterly lost?

    I think something is lost, and I’ll share what that is later. But I want to hear what you say is lost.

    And after the Holocaust, what’s worthy of being believed about monotheism? What’s it good for? What vital truths do we lose (or epistemic methods, or ethical ideas) if we let God go as we progress further into this century? Is monotheism ultimately about private immortality, giving people hope that there is something after death?

  4. Alan says:

    Let me try and answer this post by taking apart your earlier comments.
    Santi said: The problem isn’t that religion preceded such things as rape and war. Anthropologically, rape and coalitional violence obviously precede even the evolution of language itself.
    The problem is that monotheism–including contemporary monotheism–sanctions such behaviors in certain circumstances.

    Here you acknowledge that evolution has condemned to extinction proto-humans who did not share the behavior of rape and coalitional violence. You follow that with condemning monotheism for recognizing that evolutionary imperative. This general observation should also include slavery/indentured servitude which is a far newer development, but has been almost ubiquitous across civil societies.

    Santi said: As for Stalin, you’re dealing with issues of modernism, and the vacuum left when religion exits the scene.

    Here, I agree with the vacuum part, which is both why I brought Stalin up, and why I object to removing religion from the scene. As for ‘modern’, humans from my perspective cover over two million years, and ‘modern humans’ two hundred thousand years. Organized religion is ‘modern’ going back about ten thousand and monotheism about three thousand years.

    To me, Organized Religion represents civilization, the current evolutionary pinnacle of man. What I think is being lost if monotheism in the West is utterly lost is our competitive advantage. Western Monotheism has dominated the world economically, politically and militarily for five hundred years. The current atmosphere of abdication (of political leadership) and atheism under our self-brewed cloud of ‘White, Colonial Guilt’ will allow strong willed oligarchs to reclaim dominance.

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