The Paramorality of Monolatry
Russell Gmirkin on Cosmic Monotheism and Terrestrial Polytheism
I finished reading Russell Gmirkin’s new book, Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts. Wow. He has published three books now on the origins and history of the Old Testament, and each one is better than the last. To keep this post on the subject of ponerology, I’ll leave a more general discussion of the book for when my co-hosts and I interview him for MindMatters (hopefully soon!). Rather, I want to comment only on a few points Russell makes in the final chapter.
While the authors the Hexateuch were heavily indebted to and inspired by the writings of Plato, that doesn’t mean they stayed on script. While Genesis toes the Platonic line on the nature of the Demiurge, his essential goodness and that of his children the gods, the harmony between these terrestrial gods, and their peoples’ peaceful coexistence, things take a turn starting in Exodus and continuing on through Joshua. Gmirkin writes:
Far from exonerating the gods from evil, the theology of Exodus-Joshua characterized all the gods as wicked, save for Yahweh alone, and portrayed Yahweh as mandating a war against all the rival gods and their universally abominable religious rites. Whereas Plato understood evil in terms of disruptive irrational human appetites and ambitions and their resulting acts of unjust violence, the books of Exodus-Joshua redefined non-Yahwism as the new standard of evil and attached virtue to zealous acts of violence directed against the other gods and their worshippers within the boundaries of the Promised Land (p. 281).
Through their conflation of a terrestrial god (Yahweh) with the monotheistic creator-God of Platonic philosophy and Genesis (Elohim), Gmirkin credits the originators of Judaism with creating the first “belief system” (p. 294, a statement about which I hope to ask him). It is fascinating to me that this novel system is founded on a paramoralism, and a striking one at that.
Lobaczewski writes this about paramoralisms:
The conviction that moral values exist and that some actions violate moral rules is so common and ancient a phenomenon that it seems not only to be the product of centuries of experience, culture, religion, and socialization, but also to have some foundation at the level of man’s phylogenetic instinctive endowment (although it is certainly not totally adequate for moral truth). Thus, any insinuation framed in moral slogans is always suggestive, even if the “moral” criteria used are just an ad hoc invention. By means of such paramoralisms, one can thus prove any act to be immoral or moral in a manner so actively suggestive that people whose minds will succumb to such reasoning can always be found. … Paramoralistic statements and suggestions so often accompany various kinds of evil that they seem to play an indispensable role. (Political Ponerology, pp. 138-139)
Paramorality is pseudo-morality, a morality parallel to but not actual morality. It has the “shape” of morality, but not the substance. It is how Lenin could demonize conscience and sanctify terror. And it is how the authors of Exodus-Joshua redefined the standard of evil and created virtue out of holy butchery. Gmirkin continues:
Plato’s theory of ethics held that goodness was a supreme ideal that existed in the world of Forms, a standard to which even the gods themselves were subject. By contrast, Exodus-Joshua epitomizes “command ethics” in which the gods were not subject to a superior ethical standard, but in which ethics consisted of whatever the gods subjectively commanded…, and in which acts of violence, if done with divine sanction and mandate, thus attained an acquired status of goodness. Goodness was, indeed, virtually equated with the monolatrous worship of Yahweh the patron god of the children of Israel in Exodus-Joshua, and the worship of another god as the defining act of evil (ex 34:11-17). Monolatry was thus introduced as the central criteria of ethics in the new national life established under Mosaic Law. (p. 281)
Thus framed, such command ethics easily facilitate the first criterion of ponerogenesis. Who is to say if a blood-drenched warrior reveling in the euphoria of having spilled the guts of his fallen foe is a bloodthirsty sadist or a divinely sanctioned agent of God’s will? Well, according to command ethics, the answer is simple: if he’s on our team, he’s God’s holy warrior, deserving of the highest praise. If he’s on their team, he’s a satanic butcher who will most certainly burn in hell.
But only if you’ve bought into the psychorium of a manufactured paramorality. If you haven’t, common sense will reveal a basic truth: whichever team he happens to be fighting for, he’s a sadist and probably a psychopath. We have pathocratic ideologies and perversions of religious systems to thank for losing the ability to recognize something so simple.
“And thus I clothe my naked villainy / With old odd ends stolen forth from holy writ/And seem a saint when most I play the devil.”—Richard III, Act I Scene 3
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