The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vengeful God

In the book of Numbers there's a story about the rebellion of Korah, which particularly shows the vengeful side of God. It begins when Korah and a number of his followers question the authority of Moses, asking why it is that he gets to be raised up above all the people. Now Moses says it's because he speaks directly with God, and to prove that he really speaks on behalf of God, Moses asks Korah and 250 of his followers to take censers filled with incense and stand with them in front of the tabernacle. Then God sent down fire and engulfed in flames all those 250 followers of Korah. For the rest of Korah's followers and all those associated with him, the earth opened up and swallowed them whole and they directly descended into Sheol, the land of the dead. The lesson: if you disobey God, He'll take vengeance, and it won't be nice.

This may not be your view of God. You might think of God as forgiving. Dawkins even says that this type of frightening portrait of divine vengeance is a form of emotional abuse foisted on children. On the other hand, at least according to some preliminary research, it might make you more honest. At least that's what psychologist Azim F. Shariff says, according to one study he's conducted. He says that if you believe in a vengeful God instead of a forgiving God, it will make you less likely to cheat. That doesn't mean that believing in a forgiving God (or no God at all) makes you prone to unrestrained turpitude and immorality, but it might make you a bit more moral in cases of minor moral temptation.

This might lend at least some credence to that whole Ring of Gyges story from Plato's Republic (Book II, sections 359a-360d). The story goes that Gyges found a ring, that when he turned it, made him completely invisible. He used this power to then seduce the queen and murder the king. Glaucon used the story, for one, to argue that people are moral because they fear the reproof of others. H. G. Wells picked up this story and turned it into his Invisible Man. Wells concluded the same thing that Glaucon did, that a person unrestrained by the gaze of others would degenerate into a corrupt person without any moral mooring. But, if a person believes that they are always under the gaze of a god, and particularly a god that seriously disapproves and might not forgive a moral misdeed, then it might keep one more in line.

The parallel is inexact, since the Ring of Gyges and The Invisible Man are also about the corrupting influence of the power conferred by invisibility. And I don't think most of us are even tempted to commit majorly horrible things like murder, rape or major theft, even if we could guarantee no one would know about it because we don't want to hurt others. In the end, being a good person is about developing good habits, but it can be the case that the fear of the reproof of others, perhaps even divine vengeance, can help us along, especially with relatively minor moral lapses like lying or cheating that we might be prone to sometimes let slip.

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