The Divine Tragedy
In the notoriously esoteric book of Revelation, heaven is described as a place where god sits upon a throne of lightning and thunder. Around him are seven blazing lamps, symbolizing the seven spirits of god, a rainbow, and something that looks a lot like a sea of glass. In his general vicinity are four creatures—one like a lion, another like an ox, a third like the face of a man, and a fourth like a flying eagle. Blinded in god's presence, day and night they celebrate god's glory—“holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” Further out from this, twenty-four elders sit upon twenty-four thrones. Every time the creatures proclaim the glory of god, the elders fall down before him, take off their crowns, and declare that he is worthy to receive glory, honor, and power.
As recounted in the book of Acts, a man named Ananias sold his farm and gave the money to the apostles of Jesus. Unfortunately, he chose to keep a portion of the money for himself and his family in doing so. Bringing his gift before Peter and setting it at his feet, the apostle could somehow tell that not all of the money was there. Peter scolded Ananias for not being completely selfless with his gift. Ananias then fell down dead, killed by god.
At the end of a Communist party conference in the Moscow district, a tribute was called to Joseph Stalin. As expected, all in attendance rose to their feet and began applauding. The minutes of applause began to tick by. First two, then three, then four and five. Though' hands and arms were beginning to tire, no one wanted to be the first to stop and show disloyalty to Stalin. For that reason, the clapping simply continued—six, seven, eight, nine, and ten minutes. Finally, at the eleven-minute mark, a paper factory director was unable to continue and sat down. With palpable relief, so too did everyone else in the room. Arrested that night for extradition to gulags, the man’s interrogator reminded the poor man: one should never be the first to stop clapping.
If god created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.
They differ in their details, yet these stories should leave the same impression. The idea that god might strike someone dead for not being completely selfless, or that he might—metaphorically or otherwise—exist surrounded by a circle of kings eternally proclaiming his glory and affirming that he is worthy of great power, is to envision a god in the same light as some of the very worst examples of power and vanity humanity has produced.
To the extent that the concept of divinity calls for something immeasurably higher, these stories reveal a deep philosophical problem lurking behind religious depictions of god.