Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Angels

I raised the issue of angels in Talk to Me about Life, the title of which is an obscure reference to Douglas Adams (via Marvin, the paranoid android).  Douglas Adams is also known as the originator of puddle theory.  You are all very welcome.

I did a bit of research while putting that article together because, as a non-theist, I am not that familiar with christian thinking vis-à-vis angels.  What I discovered could be described as "confusing", which is a euphemism papered over what appear to be inconsistencies in the bible.  Who would have guessed?

Much like Eve's apple, the possible first appearance of an angel, namely Satan, in the garden of Eden isn't quite what it appears.  Genesis only talks of a serpent, a serpent which, up until that point, didn't crawl about on its belly, and could talk.  The talking bit indicates that perhaps we aren't talking about a simple snake, but the punishment dished out by god doesn't make sense if it's something more.  While it's certainly possible for christian theists to regard the Genesis story as allegorical and thus not literally true, those who do think that Genesis is literally true seem to be united in thinking that either the serpent was Satan in disguise or it was being controlled by Satan.

When the angels were created is a little unclear, but some say it was on Day 4, meaning that they preceded humanity by a couple of days.  However, there are some that argue that angels would have been created "in the beginning", but "in the beginning" the Earth was created, along with the heavens - and the "Sons of God" were apparently already worshipping god when the foundations of the Earth were being laid down.  This would imply that the angels were created before the beginning.  But again, this is all based on taking the bible quite literally.

Personally, I think that christian theists have an issue as soon as they move away from their Genesis story because they move away from the Fall, which is the crucial to their beliefs.  With no fall, there is no original sin, no deliberate turning away from god, from which we need to be saved by the crucifixion of their christ.

But let's assume, for the purposes of the non-literalists, that there was some sort of flaw that we, as a species, introduced into god's carefully created universe, which is merely allegorically referred to in Genesis and which could be redeemed by the orchestrated and temporary death of Jesus.

Angels are still key to the story.  Mary was advised of her pregnancy by an archangel.  Matthew and Luke both refer explicitly to angels (as does Mark, but in what appears to be a later amendment to his gospel, written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator more suited to fiction than fact).  John doesn't, but his gospel is in a different category anyway, due to its inconsistency with the synoptic gospels.

Perhaps we could ditch the angels by ditching the synoptic gospels, leaving us with only John's testimony for the resurrection of Jesus.  This does seem a little like cherry-picking though, and if we buy into this, then we should also buy into a number of major miracles that aren’t described in the other gospels (raising of Lazarus, turning water into wine, appearing in a locked room with the stigmata to show to Thomas, etc).  And if we buy into John gospels, then we should buy into his Revelations as well.

I've always been mildly curious about where angels fit into the scheme of things in christian thinking.  When was this "war in heaven" which led to Satan being expelled along with a band of lesser angels?  Where is it described?  If it was prior to the creation of humans, why was Satan left lurking about in Eden (or wherever)?  Perhaps they rebelled in the 130 years or so prior to Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden, but there's no mention of the events - events that you would think were quite newsworthy - in Genesis.  Although, there were naughty angels around prior to the Great Flood, procreating with humans and causing trouble and this is recorded in Genesis - so it's almost like the upheaval took place before Adam and Eve.  Would that put it on Day 5, the day after some think angels were created?  Or perhaps early on Day 6, in the morning?

However, if you want to read about the war in heaven, you have to wait until the last book of the bible, John's Revelations.  The problem is that this war happens after the four horsemen of the apocalypse are loosed on the world.  Which hasn't happened.  Which indicates that Satan hasn't rebelled yet and hasn't been thrown down yet.

As I mentioned before … it's confusing.

My understanding after discussing this topic with someone who has experience inside the christian church is that various christians focus on different things and not many think deeply about the ramification of angel mythology on their faith.  Some pretty much ignore the whole thing, not focusing on the supernatural at all (up to and including an expectation that prayer isn't likely to work, but should be indulged in anyway because it has been requested of the faithful).

So, while it's entirely possible that I have been overthinking angels, especially as a non-theist, I live in hope that by doing so I am raising the average amount of thinking being done on the topic to make up for the apparent total lack of thinking being done by those who actually do believe in angels. 

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