“God” is not Yahweh

Christine Hayes clears up some common misconceptions about the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in an insightful, pithy article at Huffington Post.

I recommend reading all of it, but this part caught my attention:

The character “Yahweh” in the Hebrew Bible should not be confused with the god of western theological speculation (generally referred to as “God”). The attributes assigned to “God” by post-biblical theologians — such as omniscience and immutability — are simply not attributes possessed by the character Yahweh as drawn in biblical narratives. Indeed, on several occasions Yahweh is explicitly described as changing his mind, because when it comes to human beings his learning curve is steep. Humans have free will; they act in ways that surprise him and he must change tack and respond. One of the greatest challenges for modern readers of the Hebrew Bible is to allow the text to mean what it says, when what is says flies in the face of doctrines that emerged centuries later from philosophical debates about the abstract category “God.”

One point of commonality between Christian Fundamentalists and militant atheists is that both camps collapse the character of Yahweh and the theological notion of God into a single category. The result is that an abstract notion of God as all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, etc. comes to possess the qualities of Yahweh, some of which are not at all suitable for a Western philosophical God abstraction. This is a largely unproductive cluster of ideas. Religious people who hold this set of views get preoccupied trying to reconcile the attributes of an abstract God concept with the behaviors of Yahweh. And militant atheists use this perspective to arm themselves with anti-religion cheap shots. “The Christian God is a genocidal monster” and the like.

I’ve written before that theism vs. atheism is a silly debate. My real issue with disembodied, abstracted arguments about God, though, is that they’re boring. And If there’s one grand statement I’m willing to make about the purpose of human life it’s that humanity does not exist for boredom.


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