Monday 14 March 2016

Gen 1:1 gods, Polytheism, and how Richard Dawkins became a god

In Genesis 1:1 and elsewhere, God is "elohim", actually a plural. gods. Our Bible Goggles tell us that the Bible is about one supernatural God. But the text says different, and agrees with our modern experience.

Polytheism today

God is logic (Greek logos), but that is a very high level of abstraction. So in practice we talk of a logical mind, or the logos of a field of study. For example, we have the logos of the biome (bio-logy), the logos of society (socio-logy), the logos of the physical body (physio-logy) and so on. It was no different in ancient times, except they personified each logos to make it easier to remember.

Polytheism in ancient Greece

The Greeks had many logics (or logoi). For example the Greeks had the logos of the endless oceans embodied in the Titan Oceanus, and the logos of nearby seas embodied in the god Poseidon, then various nymphs to represent the different characteristics of local waterways. Oceanus was unfathomable and distant and eternal, Poseidon was unpredictable and to be treated with great respect, and the nymphs were helpful or treacherous depending on the waters. Thus the Greeks simplified complex topics through personification.

The council of the gods

For ancient Greeks the council of gods was the Olympians. When they wished to refer to something that was generally agreed they could refer to "the gods" rather than a particular god. For most peoples of the near east the council of gods was called "il" or "el". The ancient Hebrews also had a council of gods, or divine council, called "Elohim" (the ending "-him" means plural).

Polytheism in the Bible

The Hebrews decided that only logic mattered, so in their divine council the other gods to be just messengers (angels), but they are still referred to as "Elohim", e.g. in Psalms:
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels [Elohim, literally "gods"], and hast crowned him with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:4-5)
So whereas the Greeks had Zeus (head of the gods), Ares (god of war) and Hermes (messenger god), the Hebrews had Yahweh (the one god), Michael (angel of war: see Daniel 12:1, Revelation 12:7), and Gabriel (for the most important messages). And today we have logic (the head of all sciences), and a pantheon of bio-logy, physics, etc.

Todays gods

Today we have mass technology, so we no longer need to invent fictional people to help us remember concepts. Now we have flesh and blood celebrities to worship. We talk about their lives and debate their morality just like the ancient Greeks spoke of their gods.

Often a celebrity will come to represent a particular field, and it is no different with science. For me, Stephen Hawking represents theoretical physics, Neil DeGrasse Tyson represents cosmology, and Richard Dawkins represents biology. Though I am not sure how Dawkins feels about being a god.

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