God on Trial

Here is a concluding speech from the BBC movie “God on Trial” where a Rabbi finally speaks only to explain why God isn’t good.

It appears that the whole movie is available on Youtube and I highly recommend it.  “God on Trial” is probably the best movie I’ve seen about the Nazi concentration camps.  I think the reason is because the subject is suffering and doubt which are universal to all humans.  The script writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, wrote about this in The Guardian article Losing my Religion.

Although the subject of the guilt of God is universal, when it came to writing I confined myself to imagining this particular trial: the problems of setting up a court in a blockhouse, the kind of arguments that those men might have advanced. I focused on the Covenant, God’s special deal with the Jewish people. I thought I was doing this to keep faith with the story – but maybe I was also doing it to distance it from my own spiritual life. The magic of stories, though, is that the more specific you are, the more universal they seem to get. The Covenant turned out to be a really good way of talking about anyone who expects anything from God.

The script writer is a Christian and if you pay close attention you can notice some subtle apologetics.  This would’ve been a different speech if written by a Jew.  Even so, it’s very powerful and I think it applies to Christianity as much as to Judaism.  The script writer says that the research he did challenged his faith, but it became stronger in the end and he remains a Catholic.  I feel that he didn’t take his own speech seriously enough.  Here is what he wrote:

After they find God guilty, one of the rabbis says: “So what do we do now?” The reply is: “Let us pray.” Is this a wry story about Jewish stoicism? Is it about a failure of moral courage? Or what? For me, it’s about faith. Faith has had a bad press of late. It’s been used by politicians as a rationale for going to war without reason, because it “feels right”. That is not faith – that’s a hunch, plus vanity.

I’d argue that almost all organized religion is “a hunch, plus vanity.”  If faith is genuine, religion is superfluous.  Religion is fine as a social institution for comfort and reassurance, for companionship and sense of belonging, for reinforcement of cultural mores and social order… but those are only at best indirectly related to faith.  What I mean is that faith isn’t dependent on those factors, and organized religion is portentially a danger to faith.

Here is where the apologetics comes in.  The script writer talks about a Monotheistic God as being a good idea that the Jews came up with, but then the Christians came up with an even better idea.  Implicit in this argument is the fact that some group will always come along with another better idea that helps organize people in an even more effective manner.  But the goodness of such ideas doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with moral goodness.

Monotheism is good because it justifies the oppression of a large group of people by a centralized government.  As the Rabbi points out, this leads to atrocious results.  Power isn’t the same thing as goodness.  According to Jewish history, God made a covenant with the Jews and the Jews committed genocide against the people God deemed unworthy.  But if genocide is then being committed against the Jews, what became of the covenant?  By the logic of Jewish scripture, God has broken his covenant with the Jews and decided to side with the Nazis.

This is an ancient idea that claims that God sides with the victorious or that the side that won did so because they sided with the correct God (righteous morality and ruthless power being identified with eachother).  As a theological explanation, it’s a blatant form of self-righteous power-mongering.  As a moral justification, it’s just plain sad and pathetic.  It represents a deeply cynical view of life.  It’s basically a religious form of social darwinism.  Even so, it’s the very starting point of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition and represents the Judeo-Christian God’s most primal nature.  Many Jews and Christians today still believe in this tyrranical God.

As such, the supposedly better idea that the Christians had was at best only marginally better.  But, in actuality, it wasn’t all that different.  Anyone who wants to follow the rules, can become either a Jew or a Christian as neither are closed religions.  That is what a covenant means (replace the word covenant with whatever cultural term is appropriate such as “being saved” or whatever).  And God only likes those who follows his rules, but which are his rules?  Does it matter?  Any covenant is as bad as the next.  Covenants aren’t about belonging but about excluding.

It all comes down to my God is bigger than your god.  My God can kick your god’s ass.  Bow down to the meanest, toughest divine tyrant or else!  I’d love to have front row seats to watch these deities fight it out, but it doesn’t matter which one wins.  They’re all bullies who aren’t worthy of worship.  If your God doesn’t threaten you with punishment and torture, there is absolutely no reason to create an organized religion.  Without fear, all of the world would be a church and every church would be a blasphemy.  But if you want to worship a god of fear, then at least be honest about it.

Let me conclude with a response to the screen writers own conclusion of faith, of a faith that transcends reason.  I can accept that, but as I see it anyone who belongs to an organized religion doesn’t fully accept such a faith.  All organized religions are based on the claim that a specific group has God figured out.  They have the answer.  They hold the key to heaven.  I say bullshit.  They can’t have it both ways.  If they have God figured out, then they have to accept that God is a cruel tyrant.  If they wish to have faith in a God who is inscrutible to the human mind, then they can’t claim to have God figured out and they certainly can’t claim to have the market cornered.  Organized religion is a fraud.

So, if you want to follow the example of Jesus Christ, then do so.  But please realize that the main example Jesus set was that he came to challenge organized religion.  Jesus preached outside of all organized religions and he preached about kingdom being in heaven, not on earth.  For this reason, of all organized religions, Christianity is the most fraudulent of them all.

2 thoughts on “God on Trial

    • I don’t know. I’ve never looked for the screenplay. I’m sorry I’m not able to be of more help.

      I had forgotten about this post. I hardly remember what motivated me to write it. I apparently was in an ornery mood at the time. I’m not usually so critical of organized religion, mostly just indifferent. I’m not prone to being either religious or anti-religious. My general attitude is that of a broad agnosticism and skepticism based on a questioning and curious mind.

      Reading this post again, I’m not sure to what extent it remains an accurate expression of my present views. I’d write it differently now, that is for sure. I posted it about 8 years ago. I wonder what was going on at the time that put me in a foul mood. It might have had to do with conflict I was having with my parents who are religious. Or maybe there was something going on in the news involving the religious right.

      The part I would still agree with is this. Religion is too often used to rationalize immorality, injustice, oppression, cruelty, and suffering. There are some good people who are religious and I know some of them personally (including my parents who do have their faults like anyone else; yet they also strive to be good Christians and do so by how they live). But religion at its worse can be a dangerous thing, in how powerfully it can motivate people on a collective level. And there is something demoralizing about religion when it becomes a force of harm.

      Anyway, thanks for reminding me of this post. It’s always interesting to look back on what one has written.

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