Monday, June 12, 2006

G-d of Sameness

Religions believing in a subsequent Divine revelation by G-d (Christianity after Judaism, Islam after Christianity, etc...) believe in a G-d Who went through essential changes at particular points in human time. That is, He reacted to certain human circumstances by changing a particular Divine, or set of Divine ordinances, which He gave earlier.

I assume the best from people that they understand why and how G-d cannot be a changing G-d, but I find from conversing with many people of the Christian and Muslim faiths that they do not quite understand why a "changing G-d" is so anathema to His essential nature. I find this to be a disturbing fact in light of their calling themselves monotheists, and I find this attribute more common among Christians than I do Muslims.

When faced with my point that G-d does not change, I have found that both Christians and Muslims use the same argument, that G-d did not change but that this was the essence of His word all along but the people to whom He delivered it did not perceive it. This argument is clearly for justification purposes but does not hold up to real scrutiny when we actually look at the texts and try to understand what they mean. Many of the verses from the Tanakh (Jewish Bible, or Scriptures) that Christians use to demonstrate were fulfilled by occurrences with Jesus are selective. They take one verse out of a large section of text, perhaps a paragraph or an entire chapter, and attribute that verse as being a prophecy concerning Jesus. Most of the time, if we read just that verse apart from the rest of the text, it seems to be making a reference to Jesus.

But if we put the verse back in its text and view it that way, paying attention to the intonations and references found in the rest of that text, then it is very unseemly that the verse was referring to Jesus. It would be hard to understand why G-d would hide prophecies about Jesus in isolated verses strewn throughout the Tanakh rather than devote entire paragraphs, chapters, and hey, why not an entire book of prophecies about Jesus? It is far more likely that Christians looking to "prove" Christianity to be true looked back through the Tanakh and found verses that could be used to refer to Jesus. It is important to keep in mind that the Tanakh was written over a long period of time referring to many, many events. Keeping in mind that it is impossible to perfectly situate ourselves in those times and to be contemporary to the writers, we should not jump to conclusions that the verses refer to Jesus. There can be a load of other possibilities intended by the text and it helps to read the Talmud to get an understanding of how Jewish oral tradition views these things.

Christians, I find, are usually "braver" in taking verses out of context, because in the case that a certain Christian interpretation of a text does not make sense, they can fall on their belief that Jesus uprooted the Law and made a whole new system. Anything that does not jive can logically be deemed unimportant anyway because Jesus is "the truth, the light, and the way," freeing them from worrying about petty efforts to reconcile with the texts of the Tanakh.

Muslims, on the other hand, have to be more aware of what the texts of the Tanakh say because they do not necessarily believe that G-d uprooted the Law and replaced with a Law which He gave to Muhammad. Rather, they believe that the new Law, the Q'uran, is the Torah. In other words, they believe that the Jews corrupted the Torah and changed it, so G-d had to give it anew to Muhammad, who would teach it to the people, in the way that Moses did.

However, for some reason, there is a huge incongruence between the commandments given by G-d to Muhammad in the Q'uran from the commandments given by G-d to Moses in the Torah. The Q'uran seems a bit choppy when read, at least to me, and seems to be skipping about, touching on important concepts and explanations, discussing matters of relevance, but it is not the same as the Torah. If the Q'uran was the pure and true form of the Torah it should contain the same commandments, one by one, that the Torah contains. To explain this incongruence, Muslim scholarship explains that the commandments not present in the Q'uran are those examples of corruption that the Jews introduced into the text, which is why they do not appear in the Q'uran. The Torah contains six hundred and thirteen commandments told by G-d to Moses; the Q'uran contains, and I haven't counted them, only a handful of the same commands. Can we really say that, if the Q'uran contains the liberal estimate of thirty of the same commandments, that the Jews added five hundred and eighty three commandments to the Torah by their own volition? It is the simpler alternative and the more sensible one to say that Islam is simply a different religion than Judaism and that the Q'uran is simply a different book than the Torah; there is no need to say that Islam is the final Divine expression, subsuming its previous revelations. There needs to be no connection between the Torah and the Q'uran, they are different messages to different people - one of them is not the final version of the other.

Both religions have found an efficient way to validate their religions through, and by resting upon, Judaism. This was the only way that the religions could have found validity, or so they thought, because the pagan world surrounding them would have resisted a new religion if it had no connection to the past.

But G-d is a changing G-d, because looking at these religions with the knowledge that they are really different religions and not further expressions of an original Divine message, we see that G-d went through an essential transformation with the advent of Christianity and Islam. He actually went through two major metamorphoses that caused Him to utter those religions into existence; a monotheist should have a major problem with this idea. He, in essence, became a different G-d, He went through an entire personality change, He turned a new leaf, He showed that He was wrong. If He did that, then He showed that He was untrustable all along, but only if we believe that He is literally real and not a figment of our creation. If we believe in G-d, we cannot believe in "that version" of Him.

It does not end there, there are also Sikhism and B'hai, which respectively say that they completed and corrected all of the previous religions, with B'hai correcting Sikhism. It seems that G-d just keeps changing and changing and making new religions, despite His eternal wisdom and unchanging nature. The Tanakh seems to be the most consistent of the religious books; the prophets, whom all of these religious refer to, time and time again told the Jews that they must return to the proper adherence of the Law (given by G-d at Sinai). Even as Temples were being destroyed, G-d insisted on the Law. G-d never changed, but people became aware of Him.

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