In a recently published article, Gilad Atzmon wondered where the concepts of ‘chosenness’ and a ‘vengeful god’ come from. Here below, I posit a plausible answer to his poignant questions.
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Imagine it’s four thousand years ago and you are the chief elder of a small pagan tribe living in what is now known as Yemen. You have chosen to pitch your tribe’s tents near an oasis that’s also shared by, say, half a dozen small Arab pagan tribes. Paganism, with its orgiastic sexual promiscuity, its lawless blood-sacrifices and hyper-irrational superstitions is the zeitgeist of the day – and you, as tribe leader are becoming more concerned for the safety of your tribe because the new four-horned pagan god of your nearest neighbor’s tribe is an aggressive god who instructs his worshipers to raid and kill what they can by night to appease him. You stoically start to wonder how best you can insure your tribe’s safety: you spend all day performing pagan protection rituals and prayers; and your nights you spend sleepless in nerve-knotting anxiety: over-thinking everything and hitting one mental wall after the other in search of a solution to your security crisis.
Soon, you’re worn down emotionally and mentally and crippled by anguish and despair.
Soon, the fears within you multiply causing you bouts of melancholia and paranoia and loss of appetite. You look everywhere but you can find no reprieve from your laden mental agony and exhaustion. So profound, intense and unbearable is your solitary anguish that you begin to doubt the protective powers of the very pagan gods you yourself worship. Doubting your gods thus day and night, you soon enough therefore decide that you are no longer a pagan: that worshiping effigies and natural phenomenon and inane objects has never produced any reliable results anyway; and has certainly not guaranteed you safety, especially when as a wandering tribe in the past, you had been repeatedly ambushed and your animals and half your women were dragged off away by brutal raiders. Yes, you fully realize that paganism is futility itself. You feel strange but brilliantly liberated to shed the mantle of paganism. You look around you and you start to see pagan folks as inferior, as physically uninhibited but mentally enslaved. You are thrilled by your internal discoveries, but this euphoria is soon shot down when you realize that you now have a much bigger problem: what do you next worship?
You’ve killed off your old pagan gods and you need to fill the void with something… something?… yes, something… something that would be… even… better – even bigger and scarier than anyone can ever imagine! Well, you have to think super big so you can sell why you dumped the old gods to your cynical brother and to others in the tribe. Domestically, your tribe folk absolutely need ‘stuff’ to worship; and foreign policy wise, your neighboring tribes are always curious to know what ritual you performed, whether it worked or not, and you have to be able to convincingly accommodate this normal pagan curiosity, otherwise they would view your tribe as unconventional and shrouded in dark secrecy; they will accuse you of nefarious and antisocial activities; they will spread ugly rumors about you and your tribe; they will disown all previous trade deals with you; exclude you from important regional social events, and humiliate you by calling you a godless crackpot and a feeble tribal chief: which in turn would invite violent raids and unwanted hostility – the very thing you’re desperate to avoid.
You sit under stars alone outside your tent and wonder what kind of new gods you can kneel to, impressive gods unlike any other in the pagan world around you. But… where, where on earth does one find such a mighty and hidden collection of gods, you ask yourself. You find no answer to this question, hard as you try, and so you think to yourself: perhaps I can start by finding the first god and when that’s done, I can be looking for the next one and so on and so forth. It seems like an awful lot of mental work is ahead of you and you despair at the impossible challenges you’ve entangled yourself in. Then it hits you! All you really need is ONE GOD! ONE GOD! Only one! A god who is so imbibed with mystery and magic and might that he works from a grand and fantastic invisible realm – a god who is absolutely everywhere, yet unseen by the human eye as his face is too powerful for a human to behold without causing injury and even death to the beholder: for you, there’s no more praying to multiple silly effigies anymore (yet ironically, you still believe in paganistic magic).
You start to think that this conjured ONE GOD of yours is so very powerful, by far more powerful than any and all pagan gods in this desert and the next – more than that, your god is the very creator of everything, creator of the dead and the living, creator of even every single pagan god on earth! Yes, these are the foundational qualities of your new god. Yes, you will now mentally toil to tailor-make this hybrid ONE GOD of yours: adding to him, polishing here, trimming there, exaggerating where you can, even plagiarizing from other pagan gods’ cloth and promises that please worshipers – hoping also that this preoccupation with god-making that now has you completely occupied will help mentally distract you and reduce your random bouts of paranoia. But it doesn’t. You spend half your time fine-tuning your ONE GOD model and the other half wrestling with terrible sun-stroked mirages of blood and visions of perpetual demonic genocide. Yet despite all this, you finish the task of creating your ONE GOD.
You tell yourself that your ONE GOD is the best idea you’ve ever had in your long life – you’re blown away by your own creative endeavors – you’re giddy with joy that you’ve finally solved your religious problem. But… you still need to figure out a way to get this ONE GOD to provide you with security for your tribe, especially that some of your neighbors might be skeptical and worse: offended that you’re declaring their gods are nothing more than the small children of your ONE GOD, that their gods are merely created and not powerful creators themselves; that your ONE GOD can snuff them out any time he pleases: being their creator and all. You know that this kind of religious offense will attract unrelenting brutal violence towards you and your tribe from pagan zealots – maybe your offended neighbor tribes will conspire against you and together set your tents on fire while you sleep: burning you and your tribe into a pile of charred bones and ending your rogue bloodline for once and for all: genociding you completely with no mercy and no remorse. You shudder at the thought of a torturous death and the savage annihilation of your tribe. You cannot bear the thought of causing and helplessly witnessing such an event. This becomes your darkest pathological fear and very quickly you become deeply haunted and terrorized by hellish scenarios of gruesome mass murder. Killing the pagan gods seems to have now led you to the dark night of soul itself, but you know with absolute certainty that there is no returning to the failed pagan gods. There is nowhere else to go to except forward with the ONE GOD concept, despite its dangers and its predatory shadows that torment you.
Under a scorching sun, you walk alone burdened and still looking for the answer to your impossible security problem. There are so few of your tribesmen and you cannot raise an army large enough to defend your new ONE GOD concept against a whole region of pagans, numbered in the hundreds of thousands. No, no human army can help, you tell yourself, but… a supernatural bag of curses will certainly work wonders on the superstitious pagan mind. Yes! You know this for a fact because you are an ex pagan. Threats of colossal and deadly retribution from your ONE GOD will stop any pagan in their tracks and make them think twice before attacking you. Yes, this is it: your invisible ONE GOD’s wrath will be your valiant shield, your indestructible army! And you have just the perfect sales pitch for it!
First, you will assemble the neighboring tribes and yours too. You will tell them all that at great risk to your own life, you would like to share with them a most unusual religious experience you’ve recently had. You will tell them a beautiful story about how a new god visited you when you were walking the desert alone; that this god is the most wondrous and kind and helpful of all gods; that this god claims sole reign over all existing pagan gods; and that those who follow him will each be given a true heaven all to themselves as reward. You will spin and exaggerate all the positive aspects of this ONE GOD, you will wax lyrical about his beauty and his astonishing divine powers. You will say that this new messianic god has arrived to save mankind from illness and poverty and suffering, that if men followed this ONE GOD, they too will live in eternal wealth, security and physical and spiritual fulfillment.
Immediately after you’ve disarmed your skeptical listeners through the power of poetry and promises of utopia, after you’ve buttered them up nicely with rare sweet honey, you will then proceed to tell them, with soulful tears in your eyes, that this new ONE GOD has chosen you and your bloodline to be the very first followers: divinely privileged above all others and favored till eternity. With earnest conviction you announce to your riveted audience that the ONE GOD has promised to generously reward and bless all those who help you. You watch your listeners’ eyes now widen with wonderment before you quickly dim the light in your speech. You clench a fist and crease your brows in sudden anger and forewarn them that your ONE GOD has also darkly vowed to utterly smite all those who injure you! You will firmly and bleakly caution your listeners: you will tell them your ONE GOD works in such mysterious and powerful ways that anyone resisting your message from him tonight will go to sleep and never wake again – that your ONE GOD is capable of killing whole tribes in the same second by merely thinking it. You basically put the fear of god into the hearts of pagan men.
This threat of imminent death will play havoc with any riddled-with-superstition pagan mind – nobody now would dare threaten or question you. But you know that you still need to do more convincing – long term persuasion is necessary. So, to re-enforce your ONE GOD declaration and warnings, to back up your fantastical claims, you will wait a couple of days after your confessional then pick a petty public fight with your drunken, deadbeat nephew. He will insult you in public and you will later poison his drink in secret under the cloak of moon; and when he is found all contorted and dead the following morning, you will point at his pitiful corpse and in horror cry: my God did this! My ONE GOD did this! You will raise your head and arms to the sky and declare thus divine proof of your vengeful god’s existence. You will do this again several times over: you will nefariously incite then murder a couple of travelers, and also poison the doubting wife of the tribal chief whose pagan god has four horns. And so the word about your ONE GOD and his astoundingly devastating powers will henceforth spread among other tribes, who will either subsequently follow you, or else leave you alone in peace: fearing your ONE GOD’s deadly vengeance.
And so it was that you would have created for yourself a way out of failed paganism and its religious wasteland; you would have created the most powerful god in the history of mankind and made yourself high priest; created the first mental weapon of mass destruction; and also you would have created definitive tribal security, provided by no less than, God, himself.
Next, being a nomadic trader at heart, you will seek ways to acquire gold and riches using your very own and successful ONE GOD brand name. You will declare that all your blessings are personal gifts from the ONE GOD – that he enriches you because you were chosen by him to be his very first follower – that whoever becomes a faithful follower like you, he too will receive the title of ‘chosen’ with all its divine and extravagant advantages. New followers from other tribes are seduced and begin to join your ONE GOD world order. You tax them for teaching them hundreds of new prayers and other religious rituals – you make yourself a fortune as high priest.
Your tribe becomes wealthy and feared – you and every single member of your tribe soon become rich elites in ancient pagan Arabia. Your grandiose scam you would eventually share on your deathbed with your closest family members; but after you die, they will swear to secrecy and never utter a word of it to anyone. Your fabricated ONE GOD story would thus continue and evolve and soon enough become a rooted religious system: all based on your self-appointed claims of being chosen by the ONE GOD who will mercilessly and brutally punish your enemies and protect you, and only you, the chosen, for eternity.