So today is the first day of ‘Passover’, and while it’s not enormously mature, I felt impelled to point out what a horrible affair the whole thing is, like almost all religious ceremonies.
Let’s set aside all the lambs who have been sacrificed on this day across history, and focus on the story that’s here commemorated. It begins with a confluence of class and tribal oppression; the Israelites in Egypt were enslaved, and specifically were enslaved as Israelites. But the majority of egyptians were also enslaved (my knowledge of Ancient Egyptian politics is sketchy, so I’m using ‘enslaved’ in a broad sense).
So how would the most sensible, ethical, and compassionate being in the universe deal with this intersection of oppressions? Maybe by encouraging unity and co-operation between oppressed Egyptians and oppressed Israelites? Maybe by shining Divine Light into their hearts so that they could live together peacefully and overthrow their common oppressors?
Nope. The morally perfect creator of the universe manifested Itself through vicious assaults on one section of the oppressed, in order to put pressure on their rulers to grant freedom to another section.
Or rather, not freedom, but separateness, permitting the Israelites to be ‘free’ in the sense that they were under the command of Israelite rulers and slave-owners and men and priests. Leaders who will happily massacre those who disobey their commands indiscriminately, even if that means 3,000 in one day (Exodus 32:27).
Who does this remind you of? One spitting image is the LTTE or Tamil Tigers. Oppressed ethnic group? Yup. Response by massacring and suicide bombing the oppressed civilian members of the dominant ethnic group? Yup. Goal merely of getting Tamils their own state, to be ruled and exploited by other Tamils? Yup. Proven willingness to murder members of their own group to keep power? Yup. Essentially a bunch of gangsters? Yup.
The divine God of Exodus is on the same moral level as the most corrupt and murderous “national liberation movements” of our time – the Shining Path, the Khmer Rouge, the generals and guerrillas of Algeria or Angola or Zimbabwe. Hamas.
This, of course, is not surprising if you think about who this divine being is. ‘Adonai’, ‘Dominus’, ‘Lord’. Lord of hosts, king of kings. These words are so old and familiar that it’s easy to neglect what concrete things they refer to. A ‘dominus’ is an owner of slaves, a ‘lord’ a parasitic warmonger. ‘Hosts’ are armies, i.e. large groups of men who divide their time between killing other groups of men and raping, looting, and burning once victorious.
And yet we worship them, we speak these words with reverence. More appropriate words for such people, I would suggest, are ‘criminal’, ‘parasite’, ‘cannibal’, though that’s unfair to most criminals, parasitic organisms, and cannibalistic species.
This God is not remotely transcendent – He is banal, mundane, even vulgar. He represents the response to oppression that says ‘let us murder, maim, and burn sufficient people that we pass from being the oppressed to being ourselves the new oppressors’ – or, for the majority of people, ‘let us replace oppressors we feel different from with oppressors we identify with’.
Similarly, consider how the Israelites escape the tenth plague (the slaying of the oldest children) – they have to kill something, and the blood of that death protects them. It is quite literally kill or be killed. That this the law which Divine Justice lays down – the only survivors will be the muderers, no-one can be neither killer nor killed.
He says to those locked into the system of bloodshed and hierarchy to stay within it, scrabbling for a place nearer the top. The average human being has the potential to be more transcendent than that, to actually conceive of breaking out of the hierarchy mindset altogether.
The God of the old testament is an object worthy only of contempt, and the ‘liberation’ of the Israelites from Egypt (at the expense of Egyptian people, children, and animals) is not something worth celebrating.
P.S. on the other fast-approaching religious celebration, I can think of no better summing up than this (the bit in italics).