‘If monotheism is a gift for science, it is likely to be poison for the art of narrative’


From New Humanist:

If a character born with every perfection is a poor premise for a story, then a God who is almighty, omniscient and eternal is even worse. You can make a case that monotheism was a historical precondition for the rise of modern science, since the idea that the universe is created and controlled by a totally intelligent supreme leader implies a rational order behind the rough and tumble of everyday experience. But if monotheism is a gift for science, it is likely to be poison for the art of narrative. Genesis got off to a bad start, narratologically speaking, with God creating one good thing after another and seeing that each of them was good: the device has the makings of a bedtime soporific rather than a page-turner. God, it would seem, is the death of narrative, and narrative the death of God.

Polytheists are of course spared all these problems. Olympus and Valhalla have always been dens of iniquity, seething with lust, incest, wrangling, agony, rivalry, luxury, deceit, scandal, wrath, violence, torment, murder and despair. Interesting themes, in short: and the Christians – despite their official commitment to endless good cheer – have not always managed to resist them. The story of suffering Jesus would lose a lot of its power without Matthew’s report of the last words on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Was the Messiah getting in touch with his inner Oedipus, one wonders, and imagining that he might have been better off with a different god as his father? On top of that, the doctrine of the Trinity has always looked like a lapse into polytheism, or at least a very serious flirtation.

In any case the God of the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament, as Christians call it) liked to present himself not as the absolute monarch of the universe but as one divine warlord amongst others – Jehovah egging on the Hebrews in their turf wars with other tribal gangs, each led by a god of their own. There are dozens of passages where Jehovah goes into a sulk and rails at his people for deserting him for his rivals. (If you want chapter and verse, try Judges 10:6, where he accuses them of defecting to Baalim or Ashtaroth, or the gods of Syria, Zidon, Moab, Ammon and Philistia.) How can believers be expected to put all their faith in a God who is not a monotheist?

“Dissing God”, Jonathan Rée, New Humanist