Monday, 15 February 2016
Is your God a devil?
It is one of the most familiar and reassuring lines in scripture: “The Lord is my shepherd.” But when you think about it, the metaphor is a disturbing one.
It’s true that a shepherd looks after his sheep. But he also shears them and kills them and eats them. Does the God we adore act totally with our best interests at heart, or are we a species of livestock that he uses for his own ends?
Voices have occasionally uttered doubt, not about the existence of the gods, but about their beneficence. The ancient Gnostics said that the real god of this world was the Demiurge, a second-order being who mistook himself for the true God. The spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff told a parable about a lazy shepherd who got tired of having his sheep run off, so he hypnotised them into thinking they were men or lions. Then they no longer ran off but stayed around so that he could shear or kill them as he liked. (Again we encounter a shepherd, this one more explicitly malevolent.)
Gurdjieff does not say who this shepherd is. His main point is that man, in his state of waking sleep, is at the mercy of forces that may well not have his best interests at heart – forces that will extract energy from him regardless of his wishes.
This parable is from an early period of Gurdjieff’s teaching; in his later period, epitomised in his magnum opus All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, he portrayed the universe in a more beneficent light. But there are plenty of others who have cast doubts on the motives of the spiritual powers that control our lives.