Gaia and Saul

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Quote for the Day

2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.
3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”’

― 1 Samuael 15

“For me,
it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is
than to persist in delusion,
however satisfying and reassuring.”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Thoughts for the Day

As someone who can not accept Divine Command meta-ethics neither in its realist form nor its anit-realist form, I have a major problem with the biblical passage, 1 Samuel 15. In divine command theory, if God orders someone to do something, then the good and right thing to do is to obey without quesiton. In the realist form, obeying God is considered good because moral truths exist and God is the only one who has direct access to them. Therefore, it is his role to transmit them to us and because he is omnibenevolent, we can trust him to order us to only do good. In the anti-realist form, moral truths don't exist, they are only subjective opinions but it is the opinions of God that count, not your opinion or my opinion.

My problem with the realist form is largely epistomological. How do I know that moral truths exist? If they do, how do I know that God really has access to them, let alone exclusive access? If he does have access how can I be certain he is omnibenevolent what ever that really means in this context? And how can I trust that any order I receive that is purported to come from him, is really from him? I have never seen a satisfactory answer to any of these questions. As a naturalist, I doubt I ever will see a satisfactory answer to any of them. As a finite human being, I doubt that a satisfactory answer to most of them is even possible.

My problem with the anti-realist form is largely egotistical. How can you tell me that one being's opinion counts and mine doesn't? Why should I give up the agency I was born with in terms of forming moral opinions? How does the omnibenevolence of this supposed God, fit with the idea that he would create beings capable of forming moral opinions and in a universe where those moral opinions are irrelevant and only his count? And even if I did give up that agency, the trust issue that God is actually communicating to me without distortion is still there.

So lets talk about 1 Samuel 15. The story goes that God tells Samuel to tell Saul to go kill all of the Amalekites including (and the repetition of these 8 categories really gets a to be a bit much) the men, the women, the children, the infants, the cattle, the sheep, the camels and the donkeys. Samuel passes the message on to Saul and Saul gathers an army and does what he is told but he leave the King (a man) and some of the best cattle and sheep alive. For this God is pissed. God is not angry BECAUSE SAUL JUST HAD INFANTS PUT TO THE SWORD. No he is mostly angry about the cattle and the sheep!

So Samuel kills the King of the Amalekites and, in the next chapter, God tells Samuel to reject Saul as King and go annoint David as King of Israel and that eventually leads to David becoming King in 2 Samuel.

A divine command realist will tell you that the Amalekites were evil and the evil tainted even their livestock and God knew this absolutely and if Saul had just been obedient then everything would have been fine. A divine command anti-realist will tell you that God's opinion of the Amelekites was that they were evil and that even their livestock were evil and it is God's opinion that counts and so Saul should have obeyed Samuel. A divine command moralist of either type will tell you that it simply is not the place of the created to criticize or question the uncreated. It is not the place of the clay to question the potter. Some liberal Christians will tell you that it is just a story made up by priests and stuck in the Bible and that the Bible must be read with a critical mind in order to be understood. These liberal Christians may or may not have a divine command based morality but they trust in revelation not scripture. I can accurately give these responses because I have heard them personally from people with whom I have discussed this passage.

I do not have a divine command morality, so I don't accept the reasoning of the divine command realists or anti-realists. "It is not the place of you to" is a pharse that sounds familiar. It is the kind of thing a Brick-Wall parent will tell their kids. It is the kind of thing that a white supremacist will tell a member of another race. It is the kind of thing that an anti-suffragette would have told a suffragette. It is the kind of thing that a slave owner tells his slaves. It is a kind of thing that a theocratic high priest would tell his subjects. If someone created living beings from clay and then told one group of those clay beings to kill another group of them, I would totally support all of the clay beings, if they imprisoned their creator, tried him and sentenced him to a very harsh punishment. It is the place of beings capable of forming moral opinions to act on those moral opinions.

This is my belief because I am a moral anti-realist who believes that moral truths are subjective, like aesthetic truthes and who has been raised with democratic and scientific ideals where everyone has the responsibility to determine the truth themselves, not accept it from authority unquestioned. In science, the authority that you can accept is the consensus of the community of the competent, not the opinion of a single individual but the consensus, because any single individual will make mistakes no matter how competent. I accept this because I am an empiracle realist. I think that factual truth really exists separate from the observer. Even in a quantum universe, there is a reality that the observer can influence the truth about specific situations. That reality one must believe exists independant of the any particular observer. And most of the time quantum effects are irrelevant and reality is not observer dependent in any significant way. So there is a single objective reality that a community of the compentant can agree on the truth about. But I am not a moral realist and so the consensus of the community of the competent doesn't hold in answering moral questions. There is no community of the competent in moral situations.

Not having been a member of the Christian Church or any other old religion, I see no reason to work hard to try to understand scripture nor wait for revelation in order to be guided by it. My own pseudo-aesthetic reactions to moral situations are a good enough guide. That plus my ability to generalize my reactions in such a way that I can have a reasonably self-consistent moral view. Morality is hard after all. I think this is why so many are willing to accept authority when it comes to morality. Whether it is the authority of God, of a priesthood, of politicians or of artists, people are always looking for easy answers when it comes to morality. But morality doesn't boil down to a simple rule book. Morality is a continuous balancing act. Only instead of trying to balance in a single dimension like a tight-rope walker balancing on the line that is her tight-rope, morality requires us to balance in numerous dimensions at once. We must balance between consistency and reasonableness. We must balance between short term and long term consequences (and even that is not a single dimension seeing as there are as many "terms" as there are magnitudes of time between minutes and millenia; perhaps an act has acceptable consequences in the 10 minute term and the 10 year term but awful consequences in the 10 day and 10 thousand year terms.) And there are probably a dozen other dimensions which have to be balanced to come to a satisfying answer to hard moral questions. The hard moral choices are about choosing the lesser evil almost every time. And judging which is the lesser evil while the future is hidden from us in a fog of possibility is no easy task.

But Saul bemoans his choice. He believes Samuel when Samuel tells him that God has foresaken him because he did not obey. He believes Samuel when Samuel tells him that it is he who is wrong for having disobeyed God. He believes Samuel when Samuel tells him that killing the infants was the right thing to do but that he didn't do enough killing and that that is the problem (1 Samuel 15 24 "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command..." So Saul goes home to Gibeah and sulks and is still king of Israel for many years or months (it isn't exactly clear how much time passes: 1 Samuel 15 34 on) until he commits suicide when a battle with the Philistines goes badly (1 Samuel 31) and then David having been favoured by Samuel and having proven himself in battle becomes King (2 Samuel 2).

The story as it is teaches blind obedience and divine command morality. What if we had the courage to change the story? What if we had the courage to make the story into something that taught something better? Science Fiction and Bible have so much in common. The supernatural interventions of the Bible can be so similar to the techno-bable based magic of scienc fiction. As Arthur C. Clarke said, 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinquishable from magic.' We can imagine our new story being printed as a replacement for the existing Bible passages or we can imagine them being attached to pew Bibles to help guide readers who come in off the street away from awful interpretations of the passage. Perhaps similar stories can be written for other passages. So let us stop time on the battlefield of 1 Samuel 31 and let us talk to Saul as his life crashes down around him and let us see where such a flight of the imagination might lead we who are aesthetic moral anti-realists:

Contemplation for the Day

Let us imagine

Saul and his body guard are trying to retreat before the army of the Philistines. They are greatly outnumbered and it is clear that they are unlikely to live out the hour. Philistine archers appear on a hill nearby and rain arrows down on them (1 Samuel 31 3). His Israelite soldiers are falling all around Saul. (1 Samuel 31 1) He sees his three sons fall (1 Samuel 31 2) and then he himself is struck by an arrow (1 Samuel 15 3) in the thigh. Blood sprays forth from the wound and Saul knows he only has moments. "God has foresaken me!" he cries as the arrows continue to rain down from the sky. He turns to his armour-bearer who has stayed loyally with him through the long battle. But his armour-bearer has been replaced by a woman, a green and blue woman. She raises her hands palms appart and all becomes quiet. Time is stopped. Arrows hang in the air, soldiers pause in mid-cry and swords stop in mid-swing.

"Who are you?" Saul asks as the woman smiles at him.

"I am Gaia, Greek Goddess of the Earth, Metaphor for all Living things taken together as One Being." the woman replies smiling again.

"I am a follower of Yahweh, I will not foresake Him, leave me!" Saul yells.

"I am a follower of Yahweh also. The one you call Yahweh, I call UltraPyros[1], the God of Creation, the metaphor for the begining of all, the metaphor for the great outpouring of energy that was the begining of all, and the metaphor for all of the Thermodynamic information[2] in the universe; he is all knowing. And because thermodynamic information is the inverse of Entropy which is also the ability to do work, he is also the metaphor for all possible work that can be done in the universe; he is all powerful. He is the source of all possibilities[3], all creativity; he is the Cosmic creator. Also work is what causes change and so he is responsible for all change in the universe; UltraPyros is Change[4]." Gaia almost swoons as she speaks of UltraPyros, "You need not fear foresaking UltraPyros by following me, for I am a part of him just as you are a part of me.[5]"

"Has Yahweh sent you to save me?" Saul asks bowing uncertainly.

"Yes and no. The whole of UltraPyros isn't focused on saving you Saul." Gaia laughes, "Even the whole of the Body of All Life, my whole self, is not focused on saving you. The Philistines are part of me, part of UltraPyros, and they are focused on quite the oposite. But metaphorically, I am here to understand you and the stories about you and to pass that understanding on to those who are troubled by your story. By passing a deeper understanding of you on to those who will come many centuries in the future, I will create for you a kind of imortality or at least multi-millenial long life. That is all the saving I can give you, are you willing to accept that."

"I was turning to my armour-bearer to ask him to slay me that I might not be slayed by dirty heathens.(1 Samuel 31 4)" Saul replies, "I am ready to accept this."

Gaia reaches up and takes an arrow which is hanging in the air temporally stopped, "The Philistines have delivered to us the very thing I need to save you, an arrow made of pure metaphorium out of which I can make a backwards sundial." She holds the arrow pointing straight up but with its fletching just above the soil and green energy passes from her to the arrow. Little roots sprout from among the fletching and reach down into the soil and quickly grow hard and strong and so the arrow becomes a tiny tower pointing straight up and the roots spread out covering the surface of the soil with the markings of a sundial, all radial lines and hours. Gaia reaches down and takes hold of the shadow of the arrow tip where it points to mid afternoon and spins it backwards. It spins round and round the sundial and the sky flickers as the days unwind until is slows to a stop many months before.

Saul finds himself in his council chamber with Samuel. He recognizes the day, it is the day that Samuel told him of God's word that he lead an army against the Amalekites. The only difference is that this time there is a Sundial in the council chamber, a shadow showing the time, even though there is no Sun coming into the room to make the shadow, and also Gaia is standing by his side. And sure enough Samuel is speaking, "go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." (1 Samuel 15 3)

Saul thinks about all that followed from that day. He says, "And if I kill everything that breaths in that city of the Amalekites, then I will stay in the Lord's favour?"[6]

And Samuel says, "The Lord favours those who obey him."

And Saul nods thinking, "This time I will not fail and God will keep me in his favour."

But Gaia is there standing in his mind and she says, "Who is speaking to you?"

And Saul replies to her inside his mind, "God is speaking to me."

And Gaia questions him again, "The whole of UltraPyros or just a small part of him with separate interests?"

And Saul looks at Samuel again and doubt enters his mind.

Gaia continues, "Samuel is a shaman[7] and you are a Big Man [8] and shamans and Big Men have always faught even as they cooperated. The shaman has wisdom and his wisdom is important in guiding the tribe toward success and prosperity. The Big Man has strength and his strength is useful in carrying the tribe toward success and prosperity. But sometimes Big Men spend more time using their strength to maintain their position than to carry the tribe and sometimes shamans spend more time using their wisdom to maintain their own positions than to guide the tribe. The shamans of your tribe have long pretended to have special abilities that enable them to speak to UltraPyros directly. They use this pretence in order to ensure that their wisdom is listened to but it is only a pretence. Samuel fears you. He used his influence to make you King because he thought he could use you but he overdid it. He gave the people so strong an impression of UltraPyros's favouring you that they began to think of you as a prophet.[9] When Samuel understood that he had gone too far, he began to undermine you. He said to your people, 'You have rejected your God and asked for a king.'[10] And now he is setting you up for failure in the hope that he can replace you. If you try to kill everyone, every living thing, then something will escape and if nothing escapes then he will still say that something escaped and he will say that in your pride, you did not try hard enough to follow God's orders and nothing will change. He will say that God has rejected you and he will work to replace you with one he can control, a young nothing of a man, and David will still become King."

And Saul sees that what she says is true and he becomes angry and faces down Samuel, "You do not speak the word of God, God would never ask me to kill infants or children or pregnant women. You are making this up in order to control me. You are filled with an evil blood lust. You are a war hawk who would bring calamity upon Israel for his own gain! Guards, take him and chain him up in the deepest dungeon. He blasphemes against God." And the guards take Samuel away.

And Saul turns to Gaia and says, "Now I will be saved. What else must I do to save myself? How else can I ensure that my people prosper?"

And Gaia smiles sadly and says, "War impoverishes all. You could have made peace with your neighbours and outlawed hate against groups of people. You could have taught your people that no one is evil, but that everyone, if tempted by greed or led astray by ignorance, can commit evil acts. You could have taught your people to avoid evil acts by remaining conscious of the distinction between acts and people, to recognize that demonizing the other is just a way to manipulate people into commiting attrocities, to value Life above all else."

And Saul eagerly says, "I will do that!"

But Gaia looks sad and says, "It is what could have been. But this is merely an illusion brought about with metaphorium. History cannot be changed and what you did, you did. You died in battle at the hands of the Philistines with whom you had made war. But through this story you will live on in the minds of all who read it and through you some will learn to question rather than to obey blindly and some shamans will be blocked from using their roles for personal gain and some big men will kept in check and slowly peace will grow and war will become rarer. But now it is time to end the illusion."

And Saul says, "Thank you Gaia for showing me what could have been. It is a bitter lesson but it is always better to know than to be in ignorance."

And so the story of Saul ends. Please join me for 7 minutes of quiet meditation.

[1] UltraPyros means ultimate fire, and is a reference to the big bang, the hottest fire the universe ever saw. [2] Thermodynamic information is a reference to the work of Claude Shannon which showed that mathematically, the description of information and the way it is lost in transmission is identical to the way that the ability of energy to do work is lost in thermodynamic 'transactions' and so information is the inverse of entropy (see James Lovelock, The Ages of Gaia pp 24-5) [3] The source of all possibilities is a reference to the SolSeed Creed's words 'Life ... creates the conditions for more Life in an upward spiral of ever growing possibilites' (which is in turn a reference to "The Upward Spiral" by Paul Krafel. [4] 'UltraPyros is Change' is a reference to 'God is Change' one of the first principles of EarthSeed. Here it is described in a way that is a bit uncannon in that EarthSeed dogma states that God does not cause change, God is change. However change cascades; Change causes change and so if Change causes Change and God is Change then God also causes Change. [5] Gaia is the Personification of the Body of All Earthly Life. As living beings on Earth, humans are all part of Gaia. But life is that which stores and uses concentrated energy to do the work of creating yet more concentrations of energy. Concentrated pools of energy are the inverse of entropy and so they are part of all of the inverse entropy that appeared at the moment of the Big Bang and which has made everything that we know possible. In other words, Life by definition is part of UltraPyros and so Gaia is part of UltraPyros. [6] "that city of the Amalekites", It is clear from the story that Saul is supposed to have killed all of the Amalekites from Havilah to Shur (1 Samuel 15 7). No one complains that he didn't finish them off in every city so it mustn't have been part of the original orders which must be abbreviated in 1 Samuel 15 2-3. And it is obvious that he didn't finish them off in every city because they show up again in later chapters (David fights the remaining Amalekites in 1 Samuel 27 to 30). This has been used by some Christians whom I have discussed this passage with to excuse the whole thing; "it wasn't ever intended to be a complete genecide," they say as if attempting partial genecide is excusable. Others have taken the inconsistency between the order and the reported success and the reappearance in later chapters to say that this makes clear that the whole thing should be taken as fiction. As an atheist obviously I consider the whole thing to be fiction. But this does not remove my problem with the story. The story is reported as fact. The same people who tell me that obviously this part is fiction still believe in a personal interventionist god. They still talk about the importance of having faith and obeying god's will. How would someone know to believe this part is true and another part is fiction when they pick up a bible and leaf through it in the pew of their church. By having pew bibles with this passage in it and no disclaimer about it churches are presenting to people coming into their church literature which seems to say that they believe that if God tells you to commit 'partial' geneocide, then you should commit it. To me that is agregious. [7] Anthropologists call the religious guides of tribal religions all over the world shaman's even though that term more properly applies to North American First Nations religious guides. The hebrews were tribal and so their religious guides (seers or prophets) may be described by that more general term, shaman. Samuel describes himself as a seer (1 Samuel 9 19) [8] Big Man is a term used by anthropologists to describe the political leader of a tribe, often a position which is only recognized informally and maintained through constant persuasion. This may better describe Saul's position than King, given that he is threatened so much by others trying to take over his position and rules only through the approval of his people. It is also clear that he is closer to a King than the average Big Man and that the tribes of Israel are more settled and urbanized than would be usual for a tribal people led by Big Men. Still the point that Gaia is trying to make is that the positions of King and High Priest are homologuous with the positions of Big Man and Shaman and that the same political issues that existed between Big Men and Shamans would still exist between King and High Priest. [9] In 1 Samuel 10 11 'they asked each other, "... Is Saul also among the prophets".' Prophet, seer and shaman all mean religious guide. So Samuel had reason to fear that Saul might steal his position also and not only be king but also spiritual leader or theocrat. [10] In 1 Samuel 10 19 Samuel accuses the people of being in the wrong for demanding a king, just eight verses after the people start wondering if Saul is a prophet and still before Samuel even appoints Saul King at 1 Samuel 10 24.

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