The Golden Calf And Divine Schizophrenia

Adequate substitutes for God: a golden calf, a pigs head and scrapings from the cat box.

Ah!  After long and fruitless searches through the deserts of Exodus, we have come upon our promised land.  No, it’s not the promised land of the Hebrews for that is a few books further along, but it is our promised land, a chapter in the Bible that is actually interesting.  I know!  I know!  After that long list of temple building and other excrement, I, too, thought we’d never get here, but Exodus 33 is a real story with a plot and everything.  Oh, never fear, it’s still quite ridiculous with fantastically twisted logic and plot holes we could throw Aaron through.  But as any long time reader of this blog knows, these are the parts I most enjoy, parts we can point at and laugh, parts in which it defies common sense to believe, parts that require one to only pull their head out of their ass a little way before they come to a WTF moment.  Damn, are we going to have fun.

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”  Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”

Allow me to paraphrase. Moses has been on the mountain for forty days making up shit and learning how to chisel  stone tablets… um, I mean, of course, talking with God.  Meanwhile his people, bored without him ask Aaron to make them another God for as every one knows that when your first imaginary friend proves inept, just make another out of what ever you have lying around. Aaron takes everybody’s gold and fashions a calf out of it.  Everyone gives offerings and a great time ensues. Sound about right?  Most of us have heard this story before, myself included, but have never really thought about what this honestly means.

So let’s think about this now. The Hebrews have worshipped Yahweh since their release from Egypt.  Great miracles were supposedly preformed by his priests and terrible plagues were laid upon Egypt proving his magnificence as a deity, yet as soon as Moses is gone for a few days, they all turn rapidly to another god to lead them from here on.  Yeah… Yahweh was so powerful and magnificent that as soon as they are alone for a few minutes, the Hebrews manufacture a different God out a few baubles and proceed to merrily worship it?  Even more interesting is that they seem quite as convinced of the divinity of this hand-made statue as they were with “real” Yahweh. WTF!   By left testicle of Christ, they supposedly just saw Yahweh in all is smoky glory on the mountain.  How in the hell were they convinced of this new god’s authority so easily.  Could they really see so little difference between the real Yahweh and the false Calf?  Allow me to say that judges of character, they were not.

Well, there is one perfectly plausible answer here, so let me state this bluntly.  The only reasonable way to look at this is that Yahweh’s actual majesty was so pathetically inadequate that without Moses, the demagogue, around to browbeat his cult into obedience, God himself could be replaced without a problem…  by a fucking statue!  Really?  The great and mighty lord God can convincingly be usurped by a rough carving of a young goddamned cow in a few days?  You’d think that if he had actually been baddass enough and truly proved to all the people that he was The God with all those miracles, they would be reluctant to piss him off, but… not so much. Obviously, he never made much of an impression on the Hebrews, and his “miracles” were even paltrier than we had first imagined.  Moses’ God was and is all smoke and mirrors piled with bullshit.  What a wanker!

But now he’s pissed!  How dare a people worship some other wanker God in place of his superior wankerosity.  For this slight, God, the ever merciful, tells Moses that he will destroy the Hebrews for their sin.

 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

If the Hebrews refuse to follow his every whim then he will annihilate them.  Yeah… Isn’t that how everyone raises their children?  Unfortunately, the old “Obey my every whim or you’re dead,” path to a righteous life is well trodden. But Moses doesn’t want the destruction of his people. Who in the hell is he going to push around if the Hebrews are no more?

 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? “Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”  So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

God changed his mind… What?  God, all-seeing, all-knowing and perfect, flies off the handle and is going to kill everyone, but then Moses puts him through a little anger management therapy and God changes his mind. Changes his mind?  Will someone please tell me how perfection changes its mind?  Was he out of control?  Can perfection fly into a rage? Did he actually forget his promise to Abraham?  Did he make a mistake in judgement?  My paltry moral compass would indicate that flying into a rage and wanting to kill all the people you professed to love just a few weeks before is certainly a mistake in judgement, but Perfection doesn’t make mistakes.  That’s the definition of perfection — never ever ever making a mistake!  So how did Moses, a mere human, persuade his God, the perfect, not to act out the genocide he had set his mind to?  It’s a puzzle to be sure.

Obviously, I suspect, nay, insist that down deep Moses and his God are the same person, a sort of divine schizophrenia.  As with all religions, the voices Moses hears in his head are simply his own.  Moses’ God is an echo of Moses himself. But isn’t this the basis of all religion, an internal and wholly invisible voice telling us what we want to hear.

Not always, I understand.  But those two voices, the angelic and the devilish, we tend to imagine on opposite shoulders are really just that, imagined.  The voices we ascribe to conscience or God are really just echos of us, wisps of ourselves trying to find our way through the situations in life.  The voice of God that all Christians think of as thunderous and deafening is really just the quiet depths of our own little brain whispering its subconscious desires.  The “angel” whispers of desire to protect those we love and to conform to our society to fit in.  The “Devil” whispers to us of ways to get ahead of the crowd, to take what we may not have earned, to lie and cheat and steal.  This is the product of our evolution, a games theory approach to passing on our genes.  We strive to fit in and obey the mores of the group to succeed in mating and have offspring, but at the same time we are always on the lookout for the easy path, the quick fix, a cheat code to life. Now, cheating is inherently destructive to the group and only so much of it can be selected for, but evolution will never eliminate it entirely for it can be a very successful shortcut.

These “voices” are a normal part of being human and can lead to both good and bad, but when you consider them to be the voice of God greater evil can result.  When you ascribe to God the moral wrestlings of your own conscience, you open the door to horrors and atrocities.  Instead of looking on these internal conversations as the flawed workings of their own mind trying to find the best path in life, people can now view them as the divine wisdom of a perfect God. This allows the justification of nearly any action, any crime. A look at history will show what outrages we are capable with God in mind.  Our past is littered with barbarities committed by people who thought they carried the will of one god or another.

God said it.  It must be true.

Only God didn’t say anything.  We did.  The words we hear urging us into one course of action or the other isn’t God and the Devil pushing us into the role of saint or sinner. All the good and evil, all the virtue and vice, all the saintliness and bastardy that flow through our brain in the course of our life are not God or the Satan.

It’s us, all us.  We are angels and we are devils, divine and demonic.   We are large.  We contain multitudes. For good and ill, we are legion. It’s time we started accepting our schizophrenic nature for what it is and take responsibility for our actions.

Faith is not doubting that voice in your head.  Faith is mistaking that voice, that echo of yourself, for the perfect wisdom of a nonexistent being.  Reason is understanding that we contain no perfection, that every thought and desire we have is suspect.

Faith is the way backward.  Reason is the way forward. It’s time to choose.

  1. Wow. I love it when you spin off at a tangent like that. I actually had to scroll back to spot the point of departure, ’twas so seamless. And I can’t think of a thing to add. You nailed it.

  2. Yay! KK has a new post! “…plot holes you could throw Aaron through.”–brilliant! That was actual *out-loud* : laughing :-))

    And, you know, Abraham had to go through that whole routine, too–just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Go check that story–it’s weird. Abraham gets down to “If there are 20 righteous men, will you destroy the city?”… and then the story ends and jumps to Lot. Hmmm. Does it feel to anybody else like the end of that Abraham story is cut off?). So we’re all the way to Moses, and Yahweh *still* hasn’t figured out that it’s not such a good idea to rush blindly around killing people, lest there be some innocents in the way? I might have known. Does it really never strike Christians as… *odd*, that it has to be patiently explained to God by a human that that’s not ok? The Creator of the Known Universe couldn’t figure that out by himself? Really? I would just point out here to those who think that all morality can *only* have come from God– where did Abraham (and to a lesser extent, Moses) get the idea that killing innocents along with the wicked was wrong? Clearly not from that selfsame God…

    (and… “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, your daughters…” –Hebrew boys wore earrings? Did not know that!)

    • Clare Milner
    • April 22nd, 2011

    “It’s us, all us. We are angels and we are devils, divine and demonic” … oh bravo!

    Reminds me of Good Omens (Pratchett & Gaiman) with the idea that nothing that heaven or hell can come up with can compete with humanity. The same human has the capacity to be downright evil but can also perform acts of supreme kindness.

    “It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”

    • rustiguzzi
    • April 22nd, 2011

    Notice that Moses, in order to change the Lord’s mind, appeals first to his vanity, pointing out that if he destroyed the Israelites it would be bad for his image back in Egypt, and then goes on to remind the deity of his earlier promises.

    Reading between the lines, it seems to me that what’s going on here is Moses using a bit of psychology on the Children of Israel. He comes down from the mountain, finds that the people have become bored (well, they would do, stuck in the desert for weeks) and are having some sort of impromptu rock festival. He decides to put the frighteners on them.

    “The Lord has seen what you’ve been up to!”
    [Gasps from the crowd]
    “He was determined to destroy you all . . .”
    [Groans of despair]
    “but I managed to talk him out of it.”
    [Sighs of relief]

    The way things are going in this book of the Bible, Jehovah is coming across as a rather spoilt being. All that vanity, the self-confessed jealousy and those frequent tantrums. And what are we to make of his obsession with the finer points of interior decoration, such as the curtains for his holy hut? Maybe he’s still learning his trade as a Deity, and will become more reasonable as time goes by. We shall see.

    • Nancy B
    • April 22nd, 2011

    Great post, KK. The psychological analysis of the voices in our heads should win an award.

    Amy wrote:
    “I would just point out here to those who think that all morality can *only* have come from God– where did Abraham (and to a lesser extent, Moses) get the idea that killing innocents along with the wicked was wrong? Clearly not from that selfsame God…”

    Ooh, good one! I gotta write that down. I live in a city with Focus on the Family headquarters and a New Life church. I’ll be plagiarizing this. Often.

    • Plagiarize away :-) You live in a city with Focus on the Family *and* a New Life church? Guys– think of more stuff! Nancy needs bolstering!

    • I don’t suppose this counts as constructive…

    • Nancy B
    • April 25th, 2011

    Amy, yes, Colorado Springs. The headquarters of FoF is here. IIRC, we have more churches than bars.

    Daz, I love that: “Three Hail Marys Does Not Forgive Child Abuse.”

    • donK
    • April 29th, 2011

    Even as a Christian I had trouble understanding why God had 3,000 people killed for worshiping the calf and Arron who made the thing got a promotion. He must have kissed some serious ass to pull that off.

      • Ron
      • May 1st, 2011

      Well, according to Deuteronomy 9:20 God was going to annihilate Aaron, but Moses pleaded long and hard till God changed his mind on that too.

      However, you might say that God got his comeuppance later on: Aaron’s sons were killed for “offering strange fire before the Lord.”

      • Oh yeah… forgot about that weird little episode. Always did wonder what the heck kind of fire they were using that would piss the Lord off like that… (propane tank?)

        • Ron
        • May 9th, 2011

        Alter briquettes — God accepts no substitutes! Also the fire & incense rite was to be performed only by Aaron… and even then under the strictest of guidelines, i.e., it was quite literally ‘do this or die’ and ‘don’t do this or die’ (see Deut. 16).

        More disturbing (to me, anyways) than the story itself however, are the religious apologists who are willing and able to steadfastly defend this cruel, vindictive. jealous, narcissistic, psychotic, vainglorious, maniacal, genocidal, and petty celestial dictator of the OT they believe in as the acts of a “just” God. (see http://members.net-tech.com.au/sggram/f077.htm)

        • Ben
        • December 5th, 2012

        Wow! I just checked out that link you posted bellow and I could have sworn it was a comedy. So they really it is justifiable for God to kill people because they “guess” how to worship him wrong. REALLY!

        And this sentence:

        The wrath of God is upon all who presume to worship him in a manner he has not commanded.

        Seriously how screwed up is that. The most loving, merciful being in the universe kills you because you worshiped him wrong.

    • Anonymous
    • May 2nd, 2011

    Totally OT. (Did we ever stay on topic on this site?)

    I know most of the regulars on this site are people who, if told they had 12 hours to live, would spend the first half-hour looking for a book they could read all of in the remaining 11&_#189; , so, as I’m looking for a little help with a ‘must-read’ book list, this seemed the appropriate place to ask for it.

    For anyone who feels like contributing, here’s the link.

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

    • Done it again! Sorry.

      • Awesome :-) *rushes off to…. think*

      • My husband and I give uetcpnxeed 20 s as often as we can. What a rush! We have given two at our favorite Mexican restaurant, two at our favorite place in Rockford, a couple at IHOP, one at Dave’s bar and Grill on East Sprague Sometimes the recipient gets a chance to yell a surprised thank you as we run out the door, but we do our best to scoot out before they notice. Their faces tell it all. I think the recognition means more than the money in most cases. We are addicted! Thanks Kevin![]

    • Sorry , triple-posting. For ’11&_#189; ,’ read 11½

    • Ron
    • May 9th, 2011

    amy o in yokohama :
    Oh yeah… forgot about that weird little episode. Always did wonder what the heck kind of fire they were using that would piss the Lord off like that… (propane tank?)

    Alter briquettes — God accepts no substitutes! Also the fire & incense rite was to be performed only by Aaron… and even then under the strictest of guidelines, i.e., it was quite literally ‘do this or die’ and ‘don’t do this or die’ (see Deut. 16).

    More disturbing (to me, anyways) than the story itself however, are the religious apologists who are willing and able to steadfastly defend this cruel, vindictive. jealous, narcissistic, psychotic, vainglorious, maniacal, genocidal, and petty celestial dictator of the OT they believe in as the acts of a “just” God. (see http://members.net-tech.com.au/sggram/f077.htm)

  3. KK, are you overworking again? Been very quiet lately…

    • That’s just what I came over here to say…

      • Well if past descriptions of KK’s manic working habits are anything to go by, the lad needs reminding to slow down now ‘n’ then.

    • Nancy B
    • May 11th, 2011

    What are the odds that KK will write something before the end of the world? ;-D

    • HA! I hope he sees that Nancy– he’ll post something just for that reason alone :-)) Then again, if he doesn’t post by Mayy 22–we’ll know he’s been Raptured… ;-)

  4. Yeah. Yeah Yeah. Sorry about not being around the last few weeks but well… ‘Tis the season for slaving away in the power plants selling my heart and soul and destroying the earth and its atmosphere just so everyone’s ipods and kindles lit up the instant they want them to. Like uncle Ben says, “With great power comes great responsibility!” But I’ll have you all know that I have the next five days off. Count them! Five! Imagine waking up for five morning IN A ROW and having to decide what to do for the entire day. Wow. I fear I may be like a deer in the headlights frozen in terror at the lights of the oncoming return to work. I will have something posted before Rapture Day. A few somethings if I can. When I do return to work it will be about ten 14-hour days in a row but then it should calm down a bit.

    And I seriously doubt my chances in the rapture. Then again we’ve seen time and time again how God make mistakes and regrets it later, so you never know. I just may slip through the back door of heaven when he’s not looking.

    And just let me tell you, the very first thing I’m going to do is make a huge mess on the kitchen rug. That’ll teach him! After all the shit he’s given us, the very least I could do to show my “gratitude” is give a little back.

    Here is my rough schedule.
    5 glorious days off spent writing, gardening and just laying in the sun,
    10 days of 14-15 hours including commutes.
    Some potential jury duty in there somewhere.
    Reilly (my son) and I leave for New jersey where I have a small vacation/training exercise for about another 10 days. It should be fun seeing Gettysburg and Philadelphia.
    Then teaching our apprenticeship for three weeks but with actual and real two-day weekends.

    After that the summer should consist of relatively light weeks of 40 hours of work mixed with some training trips to various cities including St. Paul and Las Vegas. And before anyone oohs and aahs over Vegas let me tell you that when my son was five, we lived in Vegas for three months and I assure you that if there is a city on Earth that I’d rather not return to, it would be that one. Not to mention the nature of the business there will be arguing the finer point of union constitutions and by-laws.

    Necessary? Yes. Riveting? No.

    Damn. It’s good to be back, but now, I must write.

    Thank you all for sticking with me. I can’t express how much this means.

    • Aww–you know we just get kinda worried about you, KK:-) We all understand about the crazy work hours you work–great to see a post up, though! (Yay!)

    • Benjamin (SonOfTheRightHand)
    • August 8th, 2011

    Execellent, brilliant, more kudos KKB.

  5. “Faith is the way backward. Reason is the way forward. It’s time to choose.”

    There is no need to choose. Both are necessary and useful. What is necessary is to always distinguish between the two. Imaginary friends are awesome. But coming to depend on them as really real entities is paranoid delusion.

  6. You could certainly see your skills within the work you write.
    The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how
    they believe. Always follow your heart.

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