Monday, October 10, 2011
Yahwism: An Anachronistic Curiosity
Here's how people might summarize Christianity if it were an obscure and unfamiliar religion with no influence on its surrounding culture.
In our modern and enlightened world, an unusual but interesting group of religious sects still thrives in surprisingly large numbers. Research into this arcane order has revealed that its members appear to worship a heavily modified version of an ancient Near Eastern tribal war god known as YHWH (pronounced "Yahweh"). While followers of Yahweh will henceforth be referred to as "Yahwists," they are also sometimes called "Christians" or "Trinitarians," for reasons that will become clear shortly.
Yahwists believe that Yahweh is a perfectly benevolent, all-powerful, all-knowing entity who is timeless, unchanging and eternal. While Yahwists ostensibly worship a single god, they also claim that Yahweh exists in three distinct "persons"—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—collectively known as the Trinity. Because these persons have discrete personalities and functions, many researchers have classified Yahwism as a polytheistic religion involving the worship of three gods, despite vehement insistence from Yahwists that these beings are somehow one and the same.
In the Yahwist creation myth, Yahweh creates the universe and life on earth in six days. This includes the first two humans: the man is fashioned from dust, and the woman from a rib of the man. After a talking snake (sometimes said to be the embodiment of the powerful evil spirit Satan) convinces them to disobey Yahweh, the human race becomes cursed with an inherent tendency towards evil, or "sin." Once humanity has flourished, he judges the humanity's evil to be so great that he destroys almost all life in a worldwide flood.
Later, after the earth has been repopulated, Yahweh selects a tribal nation called the Israelites (or later "Jews") to be his "chosen people," and aids them in conquering and killing the neighboring tribes who worship other, competing gods. He also creates a strict system of laws that seem primitive by today's standards: homosexuality is punished with death, while the keeping and beating of slaves is merely regulated. After the Jews lose favor with Yahweh and fall into the captivity of rival nations, Jewish prophets predict that an anointed one (or "Messiah") will conquer their enemies and establish a new reign of peace and prosperity.
Yahwists believe that this Messiah is a Jewish carpenter-turned-preacher named Yeshua bar Yosef (often referred to as "Jesus Christ"). Yeshua claims to be both Yahweh's Son and Yahweh himself (see the "Trinity" explanation above). Although he is crucified by the Roman Empire, he then comes back from the dead and ascends into the sky. This act of death and resurrection is seen as a blood sacrifice that atones for all human sin. (Further research is needed to clarify this process, as Yahweh is seemingly obligated to sacrifice himself in order to appease himself.) Many Yahwists expect that Yeshua will soon descend from the clouds to take them up with him, ushering in the apocalypse and the final judgment of the world.
According to many Yahwists, one's place in the afterlife is determined by one's belief in the deity of Yeshua and acceptance of his act of vicarious atonement. Upon death, those who believe (who have been "born again" and "washed in the blood of the Lamb") are said to enter a state of endless, blissful Yahweh-worship known as "heaven." Those who do not will enter hell, an underworld where they will experience eternal suffering. Moral actions do not factor into this fate: Yahwists believe that their god considers any human who doesn't follow his laws perfectly to be unambiguously evil.
The above summary represents but one Yahwist view; the hundreds of individual sects disagree about nearly every conceivable issue. Most of these doctrines originate from the Yahwist holy book, called ta biblia or simply "the Bible." Interestingly, while adherents of Yahwism believe the Bible to be a vital source of divine authority, relatively few take the time to read it. Yahwists use a combination of prosyletizing and child inculcation to propagate their beliefs, while heaven and hell create a high-pressure reward and punishment system to motivate conversion and deter deconversion.
Yahwism as a whole is not considered a major, direct source of harm to society at this time. However, some extremist sects discriminate significantly against other groups, and have attempted to subvert scientific research and enact their moral views into law. As with other religious orders, Yahwism's emphasis on faith and personal revelation over reason and empirical evidence could also have a negative influence on the population at large.