Her eyes were shining as she reiterated the correlation between the animal sacrifices the Hebrews made and the ultimate blood sacrifice Christ paid as the ransom.
"See? It's so wonderful how God's plan worked out eh?"
"I guess," I shrugged
"Don't you feel love for Jehovah for doing this?"
Oh oh. There it was. The dreaded question! I knew it was coming eventually. Before I could stop myself, my big mouth opened up and said:
"Sister Mac Clean, I am trying but... I don't really feel anything,"
She tried to hide her shock, took a deep breath and impressed upon me how grateful I ought to be. But I felt like a Victoria-era virgin having a suitor I did not fancy being forced upon me and now I was feeling pressured to act happy about it. This anti-climax began long before I started the Bible study regime for baptism. Sister Mac Clean, who I will always remember as an elegant, gentle-woman, was the second person (a previous sister had already given up) to attempt taking me through this process.
Jehovah's Witnesses are different from other Christian sects who sugar coat the Old Testament with vegetable characters and super hero cartoons when trying to introduce it to children. From the "My First Book Of Bible Stories" to the weekly meetings and Bible study, to the audio drama cassettes (the spine-tingling screams of the voice-actress playing Miriam getting struck with leprosy I will never forget), children get it raw and real, all the blood, gore and sordid tales. Of course, great pains were taken to ensure I understood the people being slaughtered in the Bible deserved it. This was not genocide but Divine Judgment. Yet I felt sickened and it sometimes gave me nightmares.
It could be my overactive imagination (which served me well as a script writer) or my experience with abuse, but watching scenes of violence was unbearable. To this day, unless the violence is clearly fantasy involving non-human characters in an alternate universe like "Lord of The Rings" or obviously farcical like "Mr. Bean," I cannot stomach it. Reading violent literature immersed me in dreadful imagery. And the Bible, which was the most predominant form of literature in my life, began to have a very different impact on me especially since I was taught it all really happened. Yes, every last Balaam's talking donkey part of it!
So naturally, I began empathizing with the people being slaughtered or forced into slavery by the Hebrews following God's command. I saw that little Midianite boy cowering in the corner of his house as his parents were butchered before his eyes. His wide eyes frozen in terror and confusion as he is gouged with an Israelite sword. I saw his virgin sister screaming as she is dragged off to be a slave or forcibly married to a man she does not love who can have his way with her (Numbers 31: 1-54).
These Old Testament accounts of smitings and routings would be related during worship and Bible study with such passionate relish and everyone seemed just a-OK with it. My late father was a great lover of the action packed Joshua to Job portion of the Bible. The Ashdod getting struck down with hemorrhoids would make him laugh until tears sprung in his eyes. Tears of tremendous reverence would also spring in his eyes when his heartfelt baritone voice rose up in songs of praise. I marveled at how he straddled the dichotomy because it actually depressed me to believe that this deity was THE Alpha and Omega.
It would not be long before Sister Mac Clean had enough of me. I was subsequently handed over to more experienced elders. That was when the tough love began.
"If you don't humble yourself, remember what happened to the grumblers and questioners like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram! Continue to be obstinate and you will get a similar answer. If you cannot love God then at least OBEY until you learn how to love God!" (I told you it felt like an arranged marriage.)
Truth was, I was well aware of how insignificant I was.
Cosmology fascinated me since elementary school level. I would enthusiastically tell my friends, "Some of those stars you are seeing up in the sky aren't stars at all, but entire galaxies and there are trillions upon trillions of them! Isn't that AWESOME?"
It was actually because of this I expected "MORE" of the One responsible for all of it. I could not put into words what "MORE" was but I felt that taking sides in primitive tribal feuds, picking grudge matches with humans and finding blood sacrifices and roasted flesh soothing was not it. But every response to my queries boiled down to the counterintuitive equation Might = Goodness. The God of the Bible is good because he is GOD. Killing, plunder, genocide, cruelty became good when God command the Israelite to do it because they were his people. Of course, this justification would challenge many Jews during the Holocaust as captured in the play "God On Trial," later made into a movie.
World History 101 would show that every civilization or nation thought just as highly of itself as the Jews did and believed the true God was on their side. Skipping titrations and biochemistry lectures during my first year at UWI (University of The West Indies) to browse through books that I knew would be considered "dangerous" and "apostate" by the Watchtower organization, I would learn how religion and deity concepts are not sacrosanct or unique. They are passed on from culture to culture, evolving in the process and the ancient Hebrews were no different.(For further reading please try "Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel," Harvard University Press by Frank Cross.)
By a chain reaction of events, their saga, superstitions, spirituality and sectarian split (creating Christianity) would end up being assimilated (just as they formerly assimilated the Gods of older civilizations) into a sun-worshipping Roman empire that would define and dominate the Western world. Once the veil of exclusivity and presupposition lifted, my question soon became, "Is there any objective proof this saga is more significant, valid or enlightened than that of any other race or culture of people?"
This became abundantly clear while accompanying my grandfather, preaching door to door, and we called upon a Hindu farmer in South Trinidad. Finding a willing audience, my grandfather laid on the sermonizing pretty thick and the man, lounging barefoot in a hammock under his wooden shack, politely listened, even when it was hinted several times that his religion was false. After almost an hour, the skinny, old man raised his hand and asked, "So tell meh sometin man, why my flying monkeys and four armed Gods not true and your talking snakes and four faced cherubs true, eh?"
Today, as a Universalist deist, I believe that regardless of the claims by various religious apologists, it is HUMANS who are looking up at the sky, exploring, reaching out, imagining and conceiving of what this Divine First Cause might be. We can no more understand its scope than plankton can understand the ocean. All we have is the space immediately around us, within us and as far as we can project our vision. The more we understand the space immediately around us and within us, the further that vision goes.
No human has ever been able to prove it is not their environment and experiences that influenced their perceptions and projections of what this Divine First Cause might be.
When you look at the harsh, arid landscape between two fearsome military empires -- Egypt to the south and Assyria (later Babylon) to the north; inhabited by a mixed multitude from fallen Canaanite cities who were constantly embattled, in-fighting, seeking internal homogenization and later differentiation from other nations through monotheism and constantly being conquered -- the concept of Yahweh makes perfect sense as their way of filling what Christopher Hitchens, whose unflappable debating style I will always miss, in the final exchange of a debate with John Lennox, hosted by the Socratic Club in Birmingham Alabama (a must watch), called the very human need for the "transcendent" (skip to 1:33:09 for that reference).
I believe our need for the "transcendent" does not have to descend into superstitious cultism and imperialistic behavior, concerned more with viral expansion and dominion. But only if we (1) are honest and rational about it's subjectivity (2) use it only in the pursuit of self-mastery, not mastery over others, (3) as we evolve so too must our projection of a Higher Intelligence.
Today we know genocide and slavery are never justified. The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, ethically outshines the Old Testament. We are at a stage where gods who send she-bears to maul children (2 Kings 2:23-24) for acting just like stupid children are prone to do just does not inspire love and respect in the vast majority of us. Why? Because we are not like people were 4,000 years ago, which is why such Bible stories (save in a few fringe sects) are hardly ever the subject of Sunday sermons.