Friday, February 06, 2009

Questioning the doxology

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,

Praise him all creatures here below.

Praise him above ye heavenly host,

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost .    Protestant Doxology, 1674, Reverend Thomas Ken



“You know what I don’t like about God ?” my wife asked me on the way home from a church service last night. I replied that I did not, but was anxious to hear. “It’s all this praising, why is that part of the religion, why does God need this constant praising ?”. She had a point , of course, God, by definition being omnipotent ought to be omnisecure, right ? Why does God need to be praised ? “What got you thinking  about this ?” I asked. “Oh”, she said to me,” I was looking at a book by Rick Warren today….”.  Whoa, this is one problem with Rayda working at a library. She is surrounded by books, many, if not most, of which contain dangerous ideas. “Warren turns everything into praising God.”  Well, Rick Warren I could deal with. I am like most liberal Christians. I have never read a word written by Reverend Warren, but I am positive that it is all nonsense. Narrow minded people may believe that this is abject prejudice (as Dylan said), but we liberals prefer to think of it as prescient.


When God first got started, at least as far as we are concerned, he was not all that interested in praise. After he made Adam and Eve, by the contradictory  methods of either of the two authors of Genesis you happen to believe, he did not say anything about praise. He had only one instruction (almost immediately disobeyed) which was not to eat the fruit from a certain tree. Even after he exiled the first couple, he did not mention anything about praising, and it would have been difficult for Adam and Eve to praise a being that they had actually seen walking around their garden in the cool of the evening.


Then a funny thing happened. Attempting to suck up to God, Cain brought an offering to him, and by doing so, invented religion. The first praiser. Of course, the offering was turned down, for reasons ever really explained, and this set in motion  another invention of Cain’s, jealousy. Cain went on to invent a third basic tool of humanity, murder, just a couple of verses later. For all of this, Cain was exiled, just as his mother and father had been exiled. This seemed to be the primary punishment God had come up with in those early days. That and pain during childbirth which was not so bad for half of the population.


By the time we reach the critical moment at Sinai, however, praise has pretty much become the focal point of what God is about. It is a quid pro quo arrangement. You praise me and I won’t smite you dead or have you carried into captivity. When God handed down the law, and I always thought that it was a good thing for humans that Moses was up on the mountain advocating for us, or the ten commandments would have been a lot longer and tougher, the first four, fully 40%, are aimed right at praising God. I don’t know what happened to God between Eden and Sinai, but whatever it was, a real degree of narcissism had crept into him.


It appears to me, a non-religious scholar, actually just a non-scholar period, that this unending praising from there on out began more from fear than from faith. I mean here is a God, who is fully capable of drowning almost everyone on the earth, raining down fire and brimstone on cities, turning people into salt and killing all but about two people that he had liberated from Egypt to go on to the promised land. You’d have to be pretty stupid to worship a Golden Calf with that guy around. If he wants praise, better give him praise or your next meal might be in Babylon.


As Karen Armstrong explained, God evolved over time. By the time that Jesus shows up, I really think that the focal point of the religion changed from praise to love. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus did not say to “praise” the Lord they God, he said  to “Love” the Lord thy God, and for good measure he threw in something about neighbors. Mainline Protestantism today now actually equates the two, just like the Recording Angel did in the poem, “Abu Ben Adhem”. Like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other. And loving God seems to be a whole lot more democratic than praising God, more useful too, especially when you can do it through loving your neighbor. Maybe Rayda is right. Maybe the Doxology needs to be changed to “Love God from whom all blessings flow.” My bet is that after all these years he/she (see how we have evolved?) would like that more anyway.




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