“I, THE LORD THY GOD, AM A JEALOUS GOD.”

8 12 2019

 

Let’s start with a disclaimer. What I am about to say is not based on any position debated, adopted, or endorsed by The Green Party, which takes no position on the existence, let alone the disposition, of Jaweh or any other deity. The only statement the Green Party has made about religion, as far as I know, is in the Ten Key Values, under the heading of “diversity,” where you can find this sentence:

We believe it is important to value cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and spiritual diversity, and to promote the development of respectful relationships across the human spectrum.

It is my view that having “a respectful relationship” involves knowing not only how any given belief system, and its believers, view themselves, but also having an understanding of the context of that belief system. This essay/talk is part of my attempt to understand the full context of the three “Western” religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I call my blog “Deep Green Perspective” because I do my best to take the long view on the events of the moment. My intention has always been to focus on the deep roots of those events, rather than getting caught up in the push and pull of the short term. I don’t think it gets much deeper than looking at a culture’s conception of the divine. Even if you don’t think there is any such thing as “the divine,” it’s like Russiagate. Enough people believe in it so that our overall culture’s concept of Russiagate, or God, is a “real” thing.

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Yaweh, jealous

The phrase “I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God” occurs six times in The Old Testament, a book I read repeatedly as a child. I was not being “Bible-banged.” I was genuinely interested in knowing what that book had to say. The “jealous god” phrase has been floating around in my mind ever since. Yaweh’s warning has been a central meme in our culture for the nearly two thousand years since the Judeo-Christian/Muslim world view attained dominance over the earlier, more tolerant, pantheistic cultures of Greece, Rome, and  the Middle East.

In my forties, I encountered and formed a deep appreciation for Buddhist cosmology,

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jealous god, Buddhist style

which also refers to “jealous gods,” not in the singular, but as a whole class of beings who inhabit a realm of their own, which intersects with our human realm in many ways. Many “modern” Buddhists view “the Jealous God Realm” as merely a metaphor for a state of mind that humans fall into on a regular basis. That may well be the case, but it doesn’t matter–in those terms, Yaweh can be seen as an archetype who is part of the cultural transmission we have all received from being born into this world at this time.

Somehow, even though bothYaweh’s proclamation and Buddhist cosmology have both been in my consciousness for over thirty years, they never intersected until recently—and what a shock that meeting has been. I’ve found it a great help in making sense of the most recent two thousand years of world history–as I said, this is the deep Green perspective! First, I’m going to familiarize you with the world of the jealous gods,  according to Buddhism, and then I’m going to show the connections between this worldview/archetype/mythology and the world we live in.

To begin, here’s a brief overview of the “six realms” in Buddhist cosmology, with a few words on how those realms apply to human existence.

Beings in the Hell realm suffer the pain of being oppressed and unable to fulfill any of their basic needs (food, shelter, and love). For example, think of refugees, or people trapped in war zones, famines, slums, or other situations they would leave if only they could.

Beings in the animal realm are motivated only by their desires to fit in with their pack, hold territory, feed and mate.Maybe that’s why we call a common lifestyle “the rat race.”

Beings in the hungry ghost realm are trapped in an insatiable quest for happiness through material consumption and accumulation. “Attention, Walmart shoppers!”

Beings in the human realm have to work to stay alive in much the same way as beings in the hell, animal or hungry ghost realms, but have the possibility of attaining a certain level of temporary comfort and leisure, and that “slack,” as it were, enables them/us to understand that there is a way off the treadmill–enlightenment, also referred to as “Buddhahood.” Any Buddhas in your ‘hood? You might be surprised–plus, if you make a serious search, you’ll find a Buddha wearing your hoodie….but, I digress…..

Beings in the jealous god realm have great wealth and power, but are always hungry for more, jealous of all those they perceive as wealthier/more powerful than they are, and are willing to do whatever it takes to rise to the top (insert name of politician here).

Beings in the god realm are completely wrapped up in enjoying divine pleasures and powers (movie stars and other members of the top 10%). Because they think they have it made, they have no serious interest in spirituality.

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The wheel of the six realms…round and round we go!

Both jealous gods and superior gods can grant pretty much any thing to humans who worship them, but the operative word is “thing.” No thing can bring the ultimate satisfaction that comes from enlightenment, and enlightenment is not even part of these deities’ conceptual structure, let alone something they could grant a supplicant.

So, Yaweh is telling us he’s “a jealous god,” and  implicitly admitting, when he warns us against worshiping other gods, that there are other gods, with whom Yaweh contends. In the Buddhist view, as I said, neither “jealous gods” nor their superior counterparts, the gods who are the objects of the jealous gods’ jealousy, are worthy of our devotion. They are to be pitied, and The Buddha enjoins us to pray for their salvation, for His work of spreading enlightenment will not be done until both kinds of gods awake from the spiritual blindness induced by their powers and become enlightened. Meanwhile, the jealous gods, driven by their delusions of grandeur, use their powers to fight with each other and the superior gods.

The “superior gods” are characterized by great wealth, luxury, and blissful states of consciousness. Because they think they have it made, they don’t even entertain the notion of enlightenment. Because their powers are superior to those of the lesser, “jealous” gods, they are always able to repulse the assaults of their inferiors, even though the struggle may appear close at times.

One of the ways in which jealous gods struggle with each other and the superior gods is by attacking the humans who serve their rivals, either by afflicting them directly or by directing the humans who serve them to make war. Indeed, much of The Old Testament is a testament to the many times and ways in which Yaweh has used the Hebrews to perpetrate acts of inhumane slaughter against those who worship other deities.

As I’ve said, the Buddhist jealous gods are powerful beings. Could Yaweh, as he claims, be the creator of this world? Or did he just somehow find our planet and decide it would be a good place to set up shop? Or is he just a mental construct that has grown like a perverse pearl in the oyster of of the human mind? We can’t tell. Buddha is silent on the question of how our world, and indeed the entire Universe, came into being, so, while I cannot take the fully Manichean path of asserting that this world was created by a crazy lesser god, the rest of the Old Testament story—the Garden with its tempting tree, the punishment meted out for tasting its fruit, his cruel treatment of those who disobey him, worship other gods, or attempt to interfere with his will (for example, the story of Onan, the slaughter of the Canaanites, and the plagues and other tribulations visited on the Egyptians) all fit neatly into the powers and proclivities of a Buddhist jealous god.

Yaweh’s rivalries with other deities are alluded to in his “Bible,” but most of what we know about the deities he contended with, such as Ishtar and Baal, are his and his followers’ fulminations against them, which mostly seem to be complaints that they were more sexually permissive than Yaweh, and his followers, thought was proper. Perhaps the story of Lucifer, in which a being who had nearly the power of Yaweh attempted to supplant him, lost the struggle, and was cast into Hell as a result, is an example of rivalry between jealous gods. Many of the defeated deities seem to have been forms of The Great Mother–Isis, Astarte, Hecate, Demeter, Ishtar, Inana, Kali, Tara. They may have been overcome by Yaweh because they, and their followers, were not as warlike as he. Archaeologists have found that the earliest cities so far discovered–Catal Huyuk being the best known–did not have any kind of defenses or fortifications.

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Pachamama in Her Aspect as Gaia

If we think of Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, as a superior god, we could consider the possibility that Yaweh’s apparent success in prevailing over Her is simply the first wave of the struggle, and the climate chaos and cultural disruption we are now beginning to experience are Her counterattack. If humans go extinct, or our numbers are radically diminished, Yaweh will likely be forgotten, but Mother Earth will still be here.

We have had a literal example of this conflict in the recent coup in Bolivia, in which evangelical Christian, Europeans took over the country from a Native American government and declared that “The Bible is in, and Pachamama (that’s South American for Gaia) is out.”

How’s that for a smoking gun?

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Gaia in Her Aspect as Pachamama

We also see the typical jealous god attitude reflected in the behavior of the humans who, impressed by their power and ignorant of their shortcomings and limitations, worship a jealous god (Yaweh), and thus take on his qualities. Such religions are intolerant of and aggressive towards  other cultures. Within cultures inspired by jealous gods, repression and predatory behavior are the norm–slavery, feudalism, capitalism. Think of he slaughter of “witches” and of both the austere Cathars and the fun-loving Hussites, the persecutions of Meister Eckhart, Giordano Bruno,  and Galileo, to name just a few.

We can also see this  in the many ways in which first Judaism, at the local, Palestinian level, and then Christianity and Islam, across the greater palette of Europe and Western Asia, attacked other religions and each other, all the while racked by violent schisms within their own ranks, many of them simple power struggles that lacked the philosophical basis of the examples I’ve mentioned. Gee, come to think of it, we are once again in a time when Zionist Jews are persecuting the people of Canaan and doing all they can to supplant them.

The Chinese did not fan out across the world, creating an empire and forcing Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism on the people they conquered. The people of India, likewise, did nothing of the sort with Hinduism, and neither the Chinese, the Indians, or the people of Africa and Turtle Island raided Europe, slaughtered its rulers, enslaved its people, and replaced Jesus with Confucius, Lao-Tse, Brahma, Buddha, Odun or Quetzalcoatl. European. Christians and Arabian Muslims have been the aggressive, invasive branch of the human species.

All of this is not to deny that many people have been inspired by the compassion that these religions also teach, and have done wonderful things–all too often, however, wonderful things that attempted to ameliorate the horrors perpetrated by the other, wrathful, aspect of Yaweh.

In Buddhist cosmology, while jealous gods are long-lived, compared to us humans, they can be killed, or die from old age or a lack of worshipers. When they die, their jealous, treacherous, murderous ways karmically condemn them to a rebirth in Hell, where they remain, not for eternity, but until their sins have been expiated, and then they take some other, non-hellish, rebirth. Tibetan folklore holds that cats are the reincarnations of fallen gods. That makes sense to me.

It seems to me that our society fits well into the template of a culture ruled by a jealous god. We are consumed by national rivalries that divert energy from maintaining the common good into building armaments and conducting wars. Corporate capitalism sees the monetization of all activities and entities—childcare, trees, fish, water, petroleum—as the highest good, and willingly sacrifices stable human societies and the natural world in order to enrich the few. These selfish, predatory activities are destabilizing both our culture and our climate, threatening to propel us into a new world that will be far more hostile to the human experiment than the world in which we evolved. Our survival is at stake, including the survival of those who seem to think that they will be able to use their immense wealth to save themselves from the cataclysm they are creating. That new world, with its overheating, droughts, floods, famines, and hostilities, will almost certainly fit the Buddhist, and any other, definition of “hell.”

I have to admit that, in spite of my earlier protestations, this essay could easily be mistaken for a Manichean view of the world and one of its principal deities. However, Buddhist cosmology offers us an easier way out than the Manicheans did. Regardless of whom we revere, we are human beings, and, as humans, we also have access to the openable door of Buddhahood. Buddhahood is not escape from this world, but a wiser, more compassionate, more levelheaded perspective on it, accompanied by a willingness to hold the Buddhahood door open so that others may, only of their own free will, find and enter it.

Perhaps, through enough of us finding that door and, in our effort to hold it open, enlarging it, perhaps we can enable enough people to awaken from the spells Yaweh has cast on us to de-energize him, to shift the balance of power away from His Jealous Highness and into the recognition that we’re all in this together, that nobody gets saved unless everybody, or close to everybody, gets saved.

And, if enough of us don’t figure it out, and this planet continues its slide into the hungry ghost and hell realms?

Not to worry. Buddhist cosmology assures us that, even in those benighted places, there are Buddhas, available to those who have the eyes to see them. Being a Buddha in Hell is a tough job. The hours are long, the working environment is distinctly unpleasant, and, in the short run, it doesn’t pay well at all. The benefits, on the other hand, are infinite, as is the long-term payoff. Striving for enlightenment in Hell might be our future, but it is not yet the only option. There is still time to dump Yaweh in the dustbin of history and connect with a saner vision. The “real-deal Green New Deal,” the one that ends militarism and transforms our societal expectations and economic relations as well as our energy usage, is far more cosmic than most people realize–and there’s still time to adopt it.

Jackson Browne “Soldier of Plenty”

Neil Young, “Cortez the Killer

Burning Times, “Burning Times

 


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