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The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







The Jealousy of God

The three monotheistic religions are in bitter conflict. Jasper Griffin wonders whether the ancients were not wiser with their polytheism. Ten years ago, Soviet communism collapsed. The familiar Cold War came to an end. The West might have hoped that the world would no longer contain a powerful and implacable enemy. But Nature, once again, showed that she abhors a vacuum; and into the gap left by the end of secular ideology stepped the struggle between religions. Islam, Judaism and the Christian (or post-Christian) West found themselves everywhere involved in conflict, bitterness and bloodshed: Orthodox Christians versus Muslims in Yugoslavia; Protestants versus Catholics in Ulster; the rage of the Islamic world against Israel; terrorists, religiously inspired, destroying the World Trade Centre; good old-fashioned wars of religion in Sudan, in Nigeria, in Indonesia; the list is long, and it could be extended. And we cannot fail to notice that it is above all the great monotheistic religions whose followers behave in this way.

It is difficult, at this point in the history of the world, to remember that exclusive belief in one God is a plant of late and rare blooming. Monotheism is hammered home insistently by the religions with which we are familiar, those called by Muslims the Religions of the Book; those, that is to say, which grow from the root of the Old Testament. The very first commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai is 'Thou shalt have none other gods but me!' Christians and Muslims have inherited that exclusive claim, and they make it with the same fervour as the Jews; although the God whom each group proclaims does indeed look somewhat different.

The ancient Hebrews were surrounded by peoples with very different religious ideas. We hear most about the Philistines. We hear of Moloch, to whom the Canaanites 'made their children pass through the fire' in the grisly ritual of child sacrifice, evidenced on sites from Lebanon to Tunisia by the discovery of the jars that contain the childish bones. We hear of Dagon, whose image fell on its face when the Philistines were injudicious enough to place in his temple the temporarily captured Hebrew Ark of the Covenant; Dagon was found in the morning with his hands and head cut off. We hear of Baal, whom his prophets, challenged to a public trial by Elijah, vainly called upon to manifest himself Elijah made merry at their expense:

Either he is musing, or he is gone aside [i.e., to relieve himself], or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened. The end of the story is, of course, the discrediting of Baal and, equally of course, the massacre of his priests:

And Elijah said unto them, 'Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. 'And they took them; and Eljah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.

There could be no pussyfooting question of tolerating other religions. As Elijah shouted to the people at the start of the showdown, 'How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.' And the people, we read, 'answered not a word'. Many of them, we suspect, would have liked to have it both ways; but that option was not on the table. When you played it with Yahweh, this was a zero-sum game.

Later on, it was the Greek gods with whom the Hebrews had trouble. Judaea fell under the rule of a successor kingdom to Alexander the Great, like everybody else in that part of the world, and King Antiochus made a determined effort to get this tiresomely different community to practise the cult of the Greek deities like civilised people, and (while they were at it) to worship him, too; he declared himself a god manifest, epiphanes. Predictable result: the revolt of the Maccabees and an explosion of nationalism and monotheism. By and by the Romans tried something similar, with the same result. Refusal on the part of the Jews to tolerate worship either of Jupiter or of the emperor meant that Rome used repression and force, and that meant revolt; and that, in the end, meant the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, and the loss, for many centuries, of the national home.

We are so accustomed to monotheism that we take it for granted. Only Hinduism, in the modern West, seems to present a radically different aspect, and that, with its gods and goddesses, and even with animal forms, like elephant-headed Ganesh, seems exotic and rather quaint. That is the result of the astonishing ascendancy and supremacy of the three religions which derive from that of the Hebrews, which have defeated and replaced the religions of the heathen, and which now wage war on each other; sometimes without hostility, but often with great cruelty. It follows that we think it natural that a religion should be exclusive and intolerant of all others. It is perhaps well to be reminded that religions have flourished in the world which have been, in precisely this respect, very different. In Japan, for instance, Buddhist and Taoist temples stand side by side in harmony. 'And tell me,' I was asked at such a complex site, 'about those people in Northern Ireland: aren't they all Christians?'

Naim Dangoor writes:

This article is a bit superficial. The idea of monotheism – The One True God – which may have started with Adam, cannot allow other Gods at the same time.

However, I maintain that The One True God is the Sole God in His own creation.

In an environment of infinity and eternity, there may well be - in fact, there must be – other Gods – more or less capable, in their own creations.

The limitations of God of the creation in which we live is obvious in that this creation is short of being a paradise.

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