[The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Greg Nooney and do not necessarily represent the opinions of this Church community.]
There is a character called “Five” in the Netflix series called “the Umbrella Academy.” He is an old man in an adolescent body. He doesn’t have an actual name because he wasn’t present when the naming took place, but the real reason, in my interpretation, is that he isn’t precisely a human being. He is in fact the quintessential time lord (apologies to Dr. Who).
There is a scene in season three when Five he has a talk with Victor, explaining that as a super hero, Victor must come to terms with his power, that there is no way he can hold on to the idea of being good. Due to his power, no matter how many humans he saves, it will never balance out those he kills. This is the deeper meaning of the Spider Man theme that with great power comes great responsibility: with great power comes great harm. No way around it. If you spare the worm, you will starve the robin. If you favor the robin, you will condemn the worm. This is yet another way to understand the adage: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
What, if anything, does this say about God? Prior to the spread of monotheism with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) we had many gods, so the power and the possibility of goodness is spread around. One god can favor one human or one group, another can favor a different human or a different group, and so, like humans, they can pretend a kind of we/they sort of ethics. I will protect mine, and if necessary, do violence toward the others. When all that responsibility falls on one Supreme Being, ethics and love is lost. Yahweh claimed to favor his people the Israelites, but he treated them only marginally better than everyone else. God doesn’t listen to us because he cannot listen to us.
If we turn to Carl Jung, (Answer to Job), we learn the lesson of Job, that Yahweh knows nothing about ethics, and that Job, the submissive, “Everyman” who never sins, who follows all the rules, is the only one qualified to teach ethics to Yahweh. Jung believed that the Incarnation was Yahweh’s way to make amends for his mistakes. I disagree. In Job, Yahweh gives not a centimeter and forces Job to bow down to him, that his redemption is contingent on him submitting. A monotheistic God, in the end, will not listen to us because he cannot listen to us. Like Victor, but magnified a million times, absolute power prevents goodness.
Some argue that the New Testament resolves any problem with God’s jealousy and anger and his cruelty toward his creatures, because Jesus of Nazareth transforms the psychopathic Yahweh into a loving father. I do not find the argument compelling. The night before his execution, Jesus celebrates Passover, thus giving Yahweh a pass on his slaughter of the innocents. By not condemning those deaths of first-born males, he becomes an apologist for Yahweh, making his claim that Yahweh is a loving father hard to swallow. Jesus accepts that it is God’s will for him to suffer and die as well. What kind of a loving father wills such a thing?
Jesus’ followers called him a savior, elevated him to the Godhead, and set in stage an elaborate method for him to judge humans at the end of time, to condemn and to reward. Who gets special consideration, the worm or the robin? Arbitrary rules don’t do it. It is a conundrum without a solution.
If there is a Supreme Being outside of time, untied to this universe we live in, then either it refuses to intervene, which makes it a guilty bystander, or it decides to intervene, which means it favors one and rejects another, all in an arbitrary and capricious manner. One prays for rain, another for the rain to stop. The tornado destroys one house and leaves another intact. A hundred die in a plane crash and three survive. One child is abused from birth, another is born to privilege. Today I will favor the worm, tomorrow the robin. In the face of such power, we humans have no say. In the end, Job had not the courage to turn his back on Yahweh, or to face him and accept condemnation. Lucifer had the courage, and was demonized for it. But he did not do it out of goodness or love, but out of anger and ambition for power, so he offers no help.
My conclusion is this: If we want there to be goodness in the world, if we want to live in a world where love rules, where the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice (to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), then we must do it alone, without the gods, without a Supreme Being holding the puppet strings. It is up to us. Unfortunately, it appears that lately we haven’t been doing a very good job. Those who adhere to one of the Abrahamic religions may say it’s because we have turned away from God, or the Lord, or Allah. I think it is the opposite. For example, the six members of the Supreme Court who are determined to take away any governmental protection of human rights all claim to be deeply religious. When we turn to a Supreme Being, we are turning to someone who doesn’t offer a decent ethical role model, and it becomes easier to avoid our responsibilities to find a way to be fair, to get along, to love one another. I say we cannot afford to stray from those responsibilities. If we make this planet uninhabitable for our species, we will have no one else to blame, and there won’t be a Deus ex machina. No Supreme Being will fly in on a cloud to judge us, or to fix everything. It will be on us.