Judas

It is hard to be too disgusted with the idea of a Judas.

But surely even Judas is not beyond forgiveness? Indeed, forgiving Judas is surely one of the great tasks every Christian faces. Not because, without his betrayal, Christianity would never have begun. That is merely a historical nicety. Far more than that, Judas’ betrayal both is the essence of sin and highlights the essentially desolate nature of sin. After all, what does Judas do once he has committed his act of betrayal? He hangs himself. Where better then to bring a philosophy of forgiveness it its historical archetype and logical conclusion?

Has the entire role of Jesus of Nazareth been misunderstood? If I may borrow a conundrum originating with Jorge Luis Borges, who is the real Son of God (Three Versions of Judas, in Labyrinths, Penguin Books, 1970)?

But the real problem for Christianity is not to forgive Judas but to forgive God. Who has betrayed humanity more completely than God?

More generally, I have long thought that the Bible was lacking in moral judgment. Of course, one has to sympathise with God’s predicament. It must be especially tough being divine in the face of modern technology. Imagine trying to manifest yourself over the phone, only to be put through to an answer machine. Imagine announcing the Second Coming by TV, only to have half the population video you instead and then record a soap opera over you without even bothering to watch.

Nor does Creation exactly reek of any deep concern with its inhabitants. At this very moment, a million children are crying with tooth ache. The state of the world, even on this small, quite non-cosmic level, would make Caligula blanch. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the Universe was surely designed by a committee of camels. (Actually, the idea of the universe as designed by a committee does solve one enduring theological conundrum – how the three persons of God can have a single substance.) Far from embodying divine wisdom, the universe is really the expression of perfect unwisdom, only made wise by humanity.

So now that he has built the universe, what does God do to fix the bugs. Not a lot. Even for those who believe in miracles, it’s hard to be impressed by the rate at which the problems are repaired, and like any badly repaired machine, it’s quite normal for the repairs to create new bugs.

But then it’s hard to think of any case where God has even tried. He reminds me the dreadful murder of Kitty Genovese. She was the victim of a vicious attack in New York in 1964, during which, although she was assaulted repeatedly over a period of half an hour, at least a dozen people who heard or saw parts of the murder failed to report it to the police. The Genovese case has become the paradigm of ‘bystander behaviour’.

But as with everything else, God has to go one up on mere mortals. God is the ultimate bystander. God never gets involved. If we can ignore the murder of a woman on a cold and ugly night, he can ignore the murder of millions. It was God who ignored the slaughter of children in Auschwitz. It is God who allows children to starve all around the world. Yes, I know, human beings did these things, but if I had had the power to undo Auschwitz with absolutely no effort or risk and did not do it, what would the world have thought of me? Well, that’s exactly what the world should think of God.

Next to forgiving God, forgiving Judas is a push over. And of course, if we are in God’s image, one can just as well reverse the relationship: he is in ours. As Voltaire put it,

If God created us in His image, we have more than reciprocated.

Or as an eminent American critic of religious institutions suggested:

Let’s get serious: God knows what he’s doing, he wrote this Book here, and the Book says he made us all to be just like him. So if we’re dumb, then God is dumb, and maybe even a little ugly on the side…

Chorus: Dumb all over… A little ugly on the side… Dumb all over…

(Frank Zappa, Dumb All Over, from the album, You Are What You Is)

It’s lucky that God no more has free will than the rest of us; heaven only knows what he might have got up to. Cataracts, indeed. Nor is he much more effective on the social and historical planes: any religion which has still only acquired a minority holding in humanity’s conscience after 2,000 years of sustained marketing by some of history’s finest fanatics and delivers human happiness with the efficiency of the Plague is surely due for an overhaul.

There is no reason to worship God just because He is omnipotent, because He is our creator, etc. It may be Calvin’s opinion that one cannot help but worship one’s creator –

How can the idea of God enter your mind without instantly giving rise to the
thought that since you are his workmanship, you are bound, by the very law of
creation, to submit to his authority? (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, p. 41, transl. H. Beveridge, 1949)

– but that is surely to deny our integrity as responsible beings. After all, that’s how God made us – if we were made in the image of God, surely it was in his moral image. (Or if it was in his physical image, did He have acne when He was a teenager like me?) But in that case, we are as responsible for our acts as God is for his. What then is there to worship? By the same token, how can our sins be taken from us? On the other hand, is God as morally responsible as [?]

God does not exist, but even if he did, there would be no reason to ‘believe’ in Him. And even if he were worthy of belief, that would be no reason to worship him. I believe in democracy but I don’t worship it. And even if he were worthy of worship, there is no reason to think he is a Christian. After all, no one else is. Finally, even if He did exist, were a Christian and were worthy of belief and worship, then the entirety of human history cries out that he really is an Almighty Shit.

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