The Abrahamic God

An excerpt from Michel Danino’s book “Indian Culture and India’s Future”. Our first task therefore…

An excerpt from Michel Danino’s book “Indian Culture and India’s Future”.

Our first task therefore is to examine the Abrahamic concept of God at the root of the three monotheistic religions: Yahweh (later Jehovah) or Allah. I do not refer here to more ancient Greek, Norse or Celtic gods since, as we know, they lost the war against God with a capital “G”. (Some of them are now striving to revive, but even if they partly succeed, they will be little more than pale replicas of their original selves.)

Jehovah Gives the Ten Commandments to Moses by Diane L. Mangum

The first thing that strikes the discerning Indian reader of the Old Testament, especially the Exodus, in which Jehovah first introduces himself to Moses under that name, is his ungodlike character. Jehovah is admittedly jealous: the second of the Ten Commandments reads, “You shall have no other gods before me,” while the third explicitly forbids the making and worship of any idols, “for I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers”. Jehovah does speak as often of punishment as he does of sin, and periodically goes into a state of ‘fierce anger’, promising the most complete devastation of the Hebrews who reject him. Not content with cursing his reluctant followers, he also curses nation after nation, and finally the earth itself, which, as I pointed out earlier, he holds responsible for man’s sins: “The day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it”. (Isaiah, 13:9). In fact, he is so obsessed with sin that one looks in vain in his oppressive berating and legislating for any hint of a higher spirituality, such as we find in the Upanishads or the Gita. Contrast his jealousy with Krshna’s insistence on spiritual freedom: “Whatever form of me any devotee with faith desires to worship, I make that faith of his firm and undeviating’ (Gita, 7.21), or again: “Others… worship me in my oneness and in every separate being and in all my million universal faces” (9:15). But the god of the Bible and the Koran will have none of this catholicity.

If Jehovah had stopped there we might have found him to be simply a foul-tempered and libidinous god; after all, some Puranic gods too have such defects, although they usually retain a sense of their limits and compassion of which Jehovah is spotlessly guiltless. But he has a plan, he means business and knows that coercion alone can establish his rule: when the Hebrews over whom he is so keen to hold sway go back to their former worship of a ‘golden calf’, he orders through Moses that each of the faithful should “kill his brother and friend and neighbor” (Exodus 32:37). Instructions which were promptly complied with, for we are informed that 3,000 were killed on that fateful day; to crown his punishment, Jehovah “struck the people with a plague.”

I find it highly symbolic that Judaism should have been born in blood and fear, not out of love for its founding deity. As Sri Aurobindo put it, “The Jew invented the God-fearing man; India the God-knower and God-lover.” It probably took centuries for the old cults to disappear altogether, and a stream of prophets who sought to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites. It was a radical, unprecedented departure from the ancient world cultures. Naturally, it did not stop there and went ontu find more fertile soils in Christianity and Islam: earlier, Jehovah was content with being the god of the Hebrews alone; now, reborn in the new creeds, his ambition extended to the whole earth.

Increasingly aware of this cruel, irritable, egocentric and exclusivist character of Jehovah, many Western thinkers, specially from the eighteenth century onwards, rejected his claim to be the supreme and only god. Voltaire, one of the first to expose the countless inconsistencies in the Bible, could hardly disguise how it filled him with “horror and indignation at every page”. In particular, he found the plethora of laws dictated by Jehovah “barbaric and ridiculous”. The U.S. revolutionary leader and thinker Thomas Paine wrote of the Old Testament in this Age of Reason:

Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served  to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.

Voltaire

With the growth of materialistic science, in particular Darwinian evolution, such views which were revolutionary at the time of Voltaire, became widespread. Bernard Shaw, for example, described the Bible god as “a thundering, earthquaking, famine striking, pestilence launching, blinding, deafening, killing, destructively omnipotent Bogey Man.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the courageous U.S. pioneer of woman rights movement, wrote in 1898, “Surely the writers [of the Old Testament] had a very low idea of the nature of their God. They make Him not only anthropomorphic , but of the very lowest type, jealous and revengeful, loving violence rather than mercy. I know of no other books which so fully teach the subjection and degradation of woman.”  Mark Twain put it in his own way: “Our Bible reveals to us the character of our god with minute and remorseless exactness. The portrait is substantially that of a man – if one can imagine a man charged and overcharged with evil impulses far beyond the human limit… It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere. It makes Nero an angel of light and leading by contrast.”  On another occasion he added, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Freud, seeing in Jehovah an all too human creation, subjected him to psychoanalysis – a dream of a subject for a psychoanalyst. Aldous Huxley called the Old Testament “a treasure trove of barbarous stupidity [full of] justifications for every crime and folly. “ In fact,  Huxley traced the “wholesale massacres” perpetrated by Christianity to Jehovah’s “wrathful, jealous, vindictive character, just as he attributed “the wholesale slaughter” of Buddhists and Hindus by invading Muslims to their devotion for a “despotic person”. Albert Einstein said, “I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own – a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty.”

Because a few intellectuals had the courage to state the obvious, the power of Christianity was greatly reduced in the West. Yet I have always marveled that Indians should learn about Christianity neither from those bold Western thinkers nor from their own inquiry, but from bigots who continue to pretend that the Age of Enlightenment never happened.

But is that all there is to the Abrahamic god? Are we simply faced with a man-made demon or the product of some fevered brain?  If you look at Jehovah in the light of Indian experience, it is striking that he has all the characteristic of an Asura. Recall for a moment a being such as Hiranyakashipu: did he not, too, forbid all other cults? Did he not order that he alone should be worshiped as the supreme god? Did he not use fear and violence to try and coerce Prahlada? That he was stopped by a Divine manifestation, like many other Asuras eager to possess this world, is another story; the point is that we find here the same seed of pride and cruelty as in Jehovah.

Narasimha Avatara destroying Hiranyakashipu

Now, to pinpoint Jehovah’s identity we must remember that he himself explains how “Yahweh” is a new name to the Hebrews: “By that name I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 3:14 – 15, 6:3). But in the old Testament Jehovah does not reveal his earlier name; it is only the early Christian Gnostic tradition, which was brutally suppressed by the growing orthodox school, that provides us with an answer – or rather two. In the Gnostic Gospels which survived centuries of persecution Jehovah is named either Samael, which means (appropriately) “the god of the blind”, or laldabaoth, “the son of chaos”. Thus one of the texts contain this revealing passage:

Laldabaoth became arrogant in spirit, boasted himself over all those who were below him, and explained, “I am father, and God, and above me there is no one.”  His mother, hearing him speak thus, cried out against him, “Do not lie, laldabaoth; for the father of all, the primal anthropos, is above you.

So not only was Jehovah not the Supreme God, but he also had a mother! For the Gnostics, like the Indians, refused to portray God as male only; God has to be equally female – and ultimately everything.

Another text , in the Secret Book of John, asks pertinently:

By announcing [that he is a jealous God] he indicated that another God does exist; for if there were no other one, of whom he be jealous?

Infact Jehovah is viewed in the Gnostic Gospels as no more than a demiurge or a subordinate deity – exactly and asuras are in Indian tradition. The French novelist Anatole France made use of apocryphal Gospels (rather the new fragments known in his time, for he wrote a few decades before the Nag Hammidi finds). In his perceptive novel The Revolt of the Angels, one of the rebellious angels depicts Jehovah thus:

I no longer think he is the one and only God; for a long time he himself did not believe so: he was a polytheist at first. Later on; his pride and flattery of his followers turned him into a monotheist… And in fact, rather than a god he is a vain and ignorant demiurge. Those who, like me, know his true nature, call him “Laldabaoth”… Having seized a miniscule fragment of the universe, he has sown it with pain and death.

Now contrast this notion of God as tyrannical ruler wholly separate from his creation with the Indian notion of an all-encompassing, all-pervasive, all-loving Divine essence. In the language of the Upanishads:

He is the secret Self in all existence…. Eternal, pervading in all things and impalpable, that which is Imperishable …. the Truth of things… All this is Brahman alone, all this magnificent Universe.

If Jehovah depicts a radical departure from the ancient worships, it is in that he is “wholly other”, as Huxley puts it. Because of the unbridgeable gulf between him and his creation, no Jew or Christian would dare to declare, “I am Jehovah”, no  Muslim would dream of saying, “I am Allah.” But to the Hindu, so’ham asmi, “He am I”, or tat twam asi, “You are That”, is the most natural thing in the world – it is, in truth, the very first fact of the world. Again, can Christian parents christen their son “Jehovah” or Muslim parents name theirs “Allah” in the way a Hindu child can be called “Maheshwari”, “Purushottama” or “Parameshwara”?

Clearly, thus, if we use a single word – “God” – for such widely dissimilar concepts, we will land ourselves in total confusion. “God is one”, is perhaps, in the Vedantic sense that all is ultimately one, because all is ultimately Divine, and yet Hindu inquiry always discerned a whole hierarchy of beings, not all equally true or luminous:  a rakshasa, for instance, cannot be equated with a Krishna. Some may object to calling the Biblical or Koranic god an asura, but I use the word in the original sense of a mighty god who comes to his fall owing to ambition or pride. Moreover, the Indian approach has always claimed absolute freedom to inquire into every aspect of Divinity, from the most personal to the most transcendental: if the Abrahamic god happens to have the attributes of an asura rather than those of a supreme Reality, why should be look away from that essential difference?

Michel Danino is a writer, researcher and a founder member of International Forum for India’s Heritage. He’s also the author of the much acclaimed “The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati.”
  • Shubhangi Raykar

    And many converts feel superior when they convert to Christianity or Islam

  • Hipo

    Awesome. I think persecuted Hindus of Islam era start reincarnate in West as Danino, Frawley, F.Gautier etc who are doing best to fight for Hindus, and we are getting entangled in secularism, marxism.

  • Dr. MS

    I like the fact that some in, or from, the West or even the Middle East are willing to talk about these issues. Congrats to Mr. Danino for doing what he is doing. But have Indians started talking about “their own internalized colonialism”? After nearly 30 years of overseas living I am back in India…and I see a lot of coconuts: “Brown on the outside and White on the inside”. And it is not even “modern White, intellectual white or enlightened progressive white”. It is “Victorian British White ; Medieval European Anglo ; Feudal Middle Eastern Caucasian or some Redneck Missionary White”. When are we going to talk about this at every level…including at the level of our psyche? Even the spirituality that I could experience and feel in India, that kept me rooted to this country through thick and thin for it was truly unique, is disappearing among our youth. It scares me silly…that they are becoming footsolidiers, knowingly or unknowingly, for the extremists within the Abrahamic faiths whose politics, constant warring, usurped spirituality within their own faith.

    Years ago an American progressive nun said to me (sadly), “Jesus does not live in Jerusalem. If he could return he will never return there. He got crucified there, and they continue to fight in his name there over and over and over again. There is no forgiveness, compassion, peace or love. And these guys are fighting for God or on behalf of God or Godly people? Give it break. Hindus got it right. Reincarnation is a process. If any great soul has to return we have to be ready and evolved to receive it. When the student is ready the teacher arrives. We are regressing, and we are going back to that muck over and over again. I have come to the conclusion hell, that we Abrahamic religions talk about, is what we Abrahamic religions created through our institutions. That is hell enough. There are beautiful spiritual places elsewhere…it is not in the Middle East and it is not in Abrahamic religions”.

    That is an astounding statement from a nun.

    Side note: She left her convent, married a very nice Catholic priest who also left the church. They are living happily ever after, and doing some wonderful social work. I wish them joy, happiness and a long life.

  • AGASTYA SHARMA

    interesting n thought -provoking article!

  • Brabantian

    A female perspective on the Abrahamic religions –

  • Dr. MS

    I was on a funny website, that I am actually trying to unsubscribe from, called “Quora”. It seems to be made up of monotheistic converters and communists. Nothing wrong with the latter…but one wonders if one is trying to convert the other. But they all seem to target some groups. I find that dangerous on the internet.

    Because I am a highly educated, intelligent, secure above 40 woman…I am not easily persuaded by selective or skewed arguments. I can quickly discern some of their lack of logic, lack of facts, inconsistency, and/or the selective or skewed information used to persuade, pressure or convert. There is even a section where White women, looking very attractive, are set up to talk about their conversion in a very romantic and positive way. One talks about how “Islam and Judaism are the only true monotheistic religions in the world, and how pure it is”. And there are religious guys who show up and add to this “salvation, save yourself, one true God, one true great God…” stuff

    Some make blanket statements like “Christian nations are the most peaceful and safe places in the world”, that educated Christians would find embarrassing and awfully one sided. Consider how many gun homicides, including mass shootings, there have been in the US just this year alone.

    On the other side, one guy says (paraphrased), “Islam will prevail because people are voluntarily converting to this great religion, and if they are converting for money that too is a good thing.” He mocked me for saying that “conversion from poverty, need or neediness is not voluntary or real conversion”. Even in the US Evangelicals show more sense, decency and restraint than some of the guys on this website.

    I am wondering how many Americans, Canadians and Europeans are converting through these websites. It is very sophisticated. I think Jihadism, through slow and sophisticated conversions to Islam first, is certainly going on. And it is happening in very sophisticated ways on the internet. Jihadists are learning from the Evangelicals. While Evangelicals are arrogantly converting poor atheists, pagans, Buddhists, etc. many of their own Christian brothers and sisters are converting to Islam. What is going on?

    One young woman, with an Indian name, mockingly talks about the Chennai weather-based fiasco, some say was partly caused by geo-engeineering, where the entire Southern city was crippled, “How does it feel when nothing works?” in a mocking condescending tone. These are the fools that cannot convert their elites or rich people or entertainers or rich nations…so they target poor and middle class people caught in a terrible weather based disaster. How cruel. The women are worse than the men.

    One woman said to me sarcastically, “Go to MIDS, which has not even bothered to change its name from Madras Institute to Chennai institute, and see how many so called communists, who drive around in fancy cars, it has. They are all Christian converts who are now communists. And if you attend these shows there are monkey women who accuse Hindus of incest and persecution while they practice the very thing they accuse people of.” I was shocked at what the person told me. I attended a few meetings and I actually heard some of this from a female faculty thug.

    In India minority women, in many walks of life, are not feminists…but thugs who perpetuate their male agenda: be it Jihadism, Christian fundamentalism, Communist ideology, Capitalist ideology, etc. it is scary. Go look at Quora and see how they prey on innocent people, not so educated people, disenfranchised people, confused people, young people and outright stupid people. Stupid people are the largest. They are given space to share or talk and suddenly they say stupid things. Smart and cunning guys step in to convert them.

    An African American political science female faculty has converted to Islam and was laid off from her work at a university. How does an educated faculty convert? I used to think sleeper cells were a joke. But now am convinced that many places in Europe and the US already have inside sleeper cells, and many are converts.

    Scary dude!

    Do let me know how I can unsubscribe out of the website Quora. And there are people writing with my name which I deplore and find unethical.

    Thank you…

    • Romi

      MS, please do not unsubscribe. Why leave when you are one of increasingly fewer people who can actually help make a situation better? For peace of mind? But if all of us did that, who is going to counter them?

  • Krispy K

    Someone is a Judas Priest fan.