When theists pose “proofs” for God, such as the cosmological argument, the typical atheist taunt is, “Where did God come from?” Which is, of course, a justifiable response. If everything must have a cause, then God must also have a cause. And so on and so forth ad infinitum. The only way to avoid this infinite regress is to reason that there must be an “Uncaused Cause,” or “Prime Mover.” Here, Occam’s Razor (entities need not be multiplied beyond necessity) delivers a swift blow to the poor theist’s gambit: If God could exist uncaused, then why couldn’t the universe? Science is indeed pointing in that direction.
But, funny thing about that question, “Where did God come from?” We have a very good idea where he came from. And it wasn’t from Lex Luthor’s asshole.
Generally speaking, the idea of “gods” probably stems from our ancestors’ tendency to over-infer agency–a living entity, human or other, that acts in the world. So, when Neanderthal Joe was “breaking the seal” after 30 some-odd cold ones at Club Spearchuck, and he suddenly heard a rustling in the bushes behind him, his first reaction was to assume it was a giant, man-eating chicken, and light up with 1500 volts of pure adrenaline.
Obviously, this would have served an evolutionary advantage in being extra cautious about marauding predators, something with which we have much less concern today. Though, the remnant of that mechanism still has us believing all manner of stupid.
Of course, there’s also something to be said for the theory espoused by the 5th century BC Greek philosopher Prodicus of Ceos, who judged the gods to be representations of natural phenomena–the sun, moon, rivers, crops, etc. Thus, Apollo symbolized the sun, Demeter embodied the grain, and so on. If I had to guess, I’d say ol’ Prodicus was a godless bag o’ shit.
As it concerns the biblical god, we have, just like Jesus, a mosaic of elements from around the ancient Mediterranean. According to scholars such as Karen Armstrong and Mircea Eliade, there are traces in the Bible of a tribalistic “god of the father” cult, in which the deity was a figurehead of the tribe, passed down through the generations. Thus the expression, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). Frankly, this pisses me off. As a youngster, I received hand-me-down sweaters and pants, but never a fucking hand-me-down god.
The biblical god is also a mishmash of regional deities, including El Elyon of Canaan, Marduk of Babylon, and Yahweh, who was probably of Kenite origin (Judg. 1:16). The Israelites were simply Canaanites under a new name, the conquest of Canaan being a foundationary myth geared toward uplifting national morale during troubling times. Kind of like a literary cheerleader.
The Israelites were originally polytheistic, and only later streamlined the pantheon by merging various deities into one. As Marduk, God separates the waters above from the waters below, and creates man on the sixth day (Gen. 1). As El Elyon, he presides over the divine council and renders judgment among the gods (Ps. 82). As Yahweh, he is the irascible god of war and conquest, whose wrath is as dreadful as an incoming storm. In fact, Yahweh probably began as the personification of volcanic storm activity:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently … When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear (Ex. 19:16-18, 20:18).
This is descriptive of a natural phenomenon known as a “dirty storm,” in which thunder and lightning accompany the billowing smoke of an active volcano.
The biblical god also fits the psychological profile of a despotic and tyrannical, Ancient Near Eastern king, and he is likely a fictive projection of such. He sits atop a throne (Ps. 11:4), rules over his people (Ex. 19:6, Deut. 4:19), commands an army (Josh. 5:14), prefers to be feared (Ex. 20:19-20, Job 38-41), and he requires high praise and exaltation (Isa. 6:2-3). But, the best part? He loves the smell of burning meat (Gen. 8:21, Ex. 29:18, Lev. 1:17, Num. 15:13). His hatred of pork and apparent sense of smell go a long way toward explaining my weekend ritual.
During the Axial Age (c. 800 to 200 BC), God received a bit of toning down, as well as a loftier position in the heavens, with the influence of Greek philosophy. Plato envisioned a more spiritualized realm between heaven and earth, and Aristotle introduced a grand scheme of metaphysics, e.g, God as “Unmoved Mover,” “First Cause,” and self-subsistent “Being.” These are ideas about “God” that most people take for granted today, but in fact stem from classical ponderings of the world in antiquity. Sounds fancy and stuff, but still boils down to people making shit up.
The irony is this: Fundamentalist Christians vehemently deny evolution. Yet, the Bible, Jesus, and God himself are all prime examples of evolutionary development. The ideas attached to them are the product of change and adaptation, occurring throughout the course of human history. And these adaptations continue to take place even today, as the more rational among evangelicals embrace scientific truths, and interpret scripture in new ways to accommodate for them. In this way, Christianity is a chameleon. Should it survive another thousand years, there’s no telling what it will look like.