by Ronald A. Lindsay
Early humans believed in gods that could become angry and that bestowed or withheld favors based on the deference they were shown by humans. Humans needed to propitiate these gods, usually by sacrificing something valuable: depending on the culture, a prized heifer, a prisoner of war or one’s own child.
One can understand why early humans held such beliefs. They were ignorant of the causes of natural disasters or of disease outbreaks. If an earthquake or epidemic occurred, someone, some agent, had to be responsible, and as these events were beyond human powers, the gods had to be responsible. And just as we can sometimes soothe the anger of a fellow human by offering a gift and asking for forgiveness, so too one could placate an angry god by the appropriate show of deference and submission.
In more recent times, other forms of deference have replaced ritual sacrifice (for the most part). Instead of cutting the throat of an animal, people take part in worship services, engage in prolonged prayer, or otherwise manifest their deference to a deity. But the root idea that there is a god or gods who bestow favor based on the respect or honor we show them has persisted, at least in the minds of some.
And one mind in which this idea has persisted is the mind of Justice Antonin Scalia.In an address to a Catholic high school in New Orleans on Saturday, Justice Scalia stated that Americans needed to “honor” God because doing so was the way to ensure that God would continue to be good to the United States. Scalia specifically attributed American victories in the Revolutionary War and at the Battle of Midway to God’s favor, which Americans achieved by honoring him.
Justice Scalia is certainly not unique among Americans, and clearly not unique among humans in general, in holding that God responds with favor to those who show him deference — and with disfavor to those who do not. Of course, this is not to say that such a belief is rational or justified. To the contrary, it seems to me that any deity who demands worship and attention doesn’t deserve to be worshiped. But if some people think that supplicating a deity will increase their chances of getting what they want — fine. This doesn’t particularly concern me.
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