What do Ricky Gervais and the Assyrian King Sennacherib Have in Common?
|November 24, 2017||Posted by Barry Arrington under Off Topic|
They make the same category error.
In 701 BC the Assyrian King Sennacherib invaded the Kingdom of Judah. The Assyrian army besieged Jerusalem and employed what today we would call psychological warfare tactics to undermine the defense of the city. II Chronicles 32:16-19 records their tactic:
His servants spoke further against the Lord God and against His servant Hezekiah. He also wrote letters to insult the Lord God of Israel, and to speak against Him, saying, ‘As the gods of the nations of the lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand.’ They called this out with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, so that they might take the city. They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men’s hands.
Consider the last sentence. “They spoke of the God of Jerusalem as of the gods of the peoples of the earth, the work of men’s hands.”
Sennacherib made the same mistake modern atheists make 2,700 years later with their “I am just atheistic about one more god than you are” argument.
Ricky Gervais makes the argument this way:
So next time someone tells me they believe in God, I’ll say “Oh which one? Zeus? Hades? Jupiter? Mars? Odin? Thor? Krishna? Vishnu? Ra? . . .” If they say “Just God. I only believe in the one God,” I’ll point out that they are nearly as atheistic as me. I don’t believe in 2,870 gods, and they don’t believe in 2,869.
As I explained in a prior post, the argument has a kind of first blush plausibility until, upon reflection, one realizes Gervais has made a colossal category error. David Bentley Hart describes the God of the monotheistic faiths in The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss as follows:
God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God “exists” in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.
Properly understood, the God of the monotheistic faiths is not in the same category as the gods in the Canaanite, Greek, Norse or Indian pantheons – contingent creatures all. He is pure being that is the source of all being. He is the necessary being that grounds all being, and by definition there can be only one necessary being that grounds all being. Therefore, it is a category error to compare this necessary being to contingent beings. To lump the God of the monotheistic faiths in with Ba’al demonstrates that you understand neither God nor Ba’al.
Think of it this way. Gervais says in essence: “There are a bunch of oranges, and I disbelieve in all of the oranges without exception. You are little different from me because you admit that you also disbelieve in all of the oranges, except for that last little orange you irrationally insist on clinging to.” No, Ricky, just like you I disbelieve in all of the oranges without exception. But I do believe in an apple. Why should I stop believing in an apple just because I don’t believe in oranges?
Back to the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. The Chronicler understood that Sennacherib had made the same category error Gervais would make millennia later. The gods of the other peoples defeated by the Assyrians were contingent beings – “the work of men’s hands.” As such they were nothing like the God of Israel, who, according to the Jewish scriptures, was pure spirit and the ground of all being. The people of Jerusalem did not lose heart and the Assyrian siege failed.