With my newfound enthusiasm for ancient history, my hand soon fell upon the Bible. It was Rosely’s copy and I read it in a fury, from cover to cover. Of course, I skipped all those Deuteronomy—Numbers boring bits, but otherwise the Old Testament was a pack of great yarns, all held together by the tremendous wickedness of that most monstrous of all villains, God. It was because of that, I think, that I never quite got the hang of Sunday school—I thought they must have read a different bible to the one I gulped down so furiously.
Years later I would learn how the critic Dorothy Parker undertook the same enterprise and concluded with the comment: “Isn’t God a shit!” It was, for her, an uncharacteristically mild judgement. To me, God revealed himself as the most treacherous creature in all history—it was little wonder that a world created by such a homicidal lunatic is plagued with wars and murder and famines and crime and brutality and other such mayhem. God’s failings were manifold and continual. Right from the start, he offered no reason why the fruit of The Tree of Life was forbidden—it was just a dirty trick preying on basic human nature. And why was Cain’s offering so much less satisfactory than Abel’s, if not merely to play the brothers off against one another.
Here was a mass-murderer on a planetary scale, willing to happily drown the entire living population of the planet except Noah’s ark-borne survivors, just to teach them all to show a bit of respect. And the childish cruelty of the way he couldn’t stand a little competition from the builders of the Tower of Babel. There was the rotten trick played on Abraham, persuading the poor man to almost cut his toddler son Isaac’s throat before admitting that he was only joking. But at that stage, he was just warming up.
Right through Exodus, there are a long series of arguments between God and Moses. Time and again, the mad ranting God wants to slaughter all the children of Israel for no more than offences against his personal pride while the sensible placating Moses strives to calm him down and talk him out of it, usually by horse-trading thousands of heads of people. With the pacifist Moses dead and out of his hair, God promptly despatches Joshua on a reign of terror attempting the genocide of the entire indigenous population of the Land of Milk and Honey—not crimes committed in his name but planned ethnic cleansing knowingly orchestrated by him. This slaughter continues right down to the present day. Joshua is the true hero of the modern state of Israel.
On he goes through the subsequent books on his trail of blood and insanity. I was fascinated by the cruel way Saul was double-crossed whereby God told outright lies!; by the unnecessary outrages visited upon Jephthah and Job; by the way he made a complete idiot of Jonah with his false promises; and worst, at the end of it all, after promising Israel so much, happily changed his mind and sold them into slavery again, just to satisfy his egocentric principles. Later still, he was pleased to allow his only son and all those martyrs to die horribly when he could plainly have put a stop to it any time he liked. The only explanation is that he enjoyed the suffering. Caligula, simply, was not is God’s class when it came to excessive atrocities.
Night after night, I read on wide-eyed, just a few abominable chapters at a time, dispersed with other favourite books. I read Dracula but the sanguine count seemed pale indeed compared to that blood-crazed maniac God. I was getting toward the end of the adventures of Alain Quartermain and Sherlock Holmes and Biggles and getting into Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean and it was thinking along those lines of Good and Evil when my greatest enlightenment to date came to me.
There was something that Professor Moriarty and Eric von Stalheim and all those James Bond villains like Goldfinger and Dr No had in common. As Al Capone phrased it The Untouchables, what the mobs needed was a legitimate front. All the great criminal masterminds and mass-murderers had one, and so why not the greatest monster of them all. Once that idea sowed itself in my mind, it would not go away.
I would expose the villain for all to see—of that I became determined and I did so right away. That very next Sunday, right in the middle of Father Tunks’ sermon, I found I could contain my new enlightenment no longer. All of a sudden, I found that I was standing when everyone else remained seated and that booming bass voice that was the terror of St Martin’s Church of England roared and reverberated thunderingly in all ears.
“Don’t listen to him, you fools! It’s a trap. God is really the Devil!”