Baaling out


There's a chap who lives a few streets away from me and whom I sometimes bump into whilst walking the hounds. He is always very pleasant and seems well informed on many issues. He's also a devout Christian (not sure which denomination), and often talks about religious matters. Recently he spoke to me about the destruction of antiquities by Daesh in what is now Islamic State territory. He sympathised about how horrified I must be by their historical loss, but then suddenly said that - as some of the temples were associated with "Baal worship" - maybe their loss was a good thing as it would save people from being tempted into devoting themselves to Baal.
It was an awkward moment where I wondered whether to laugh, cry, or rage. By the time I'd made up my mind, he'd already gone on his way. I don't even know where to really begin with this sentiment - it is horrifying when members of one religion crow about the destruction of the sites sacred to another, more so in a sense when those places are largely fallen out of use as places of worship (is it not enough that another religion has been shunted almost completely off the pages of history, without needing to feel smug that their historical contributions are also obliterated? It says something to how much that older religion must be feared, that even when it is reduced to a tiny of handful of devotees it's edging towards extinction is still craved).
By synchronicity, I happen to be listening to the audio version of James Herbert's 'Sepulchre', which also portrays Baal worship as a malevolent force. Ba'al, of course, just means Lord and is even used to refer to YHWH in the Old Testament - one needn't get all Manichean to see alternate ways of reading the title as referring to a dangerous, malign entity (though not necessarily the one writers of horror novels envisage).
The Baal which the chap in the street referred to is the shadowy demonic presence described in the Bible, which serves as a rather generic "scary pagan deity" that does such shocking things as demanding child sacrifice, which of course YHWH would never do....
Primarily it is the Canaanite Baal that the Bible writers found so fearful, and who has provided literary inspiration for writers of film scripts and penny dreadfuls. Despite his unfortunate PR, Baal of the Syrian city Ugarit was regarded as a vanquisher of evil who battled assorted giant serpents and monsters. It was only under the emerging conflict with the Hebrew tribes that he became seen as the basis of Baal Zebub, or Beelzebub.
It is disturbing to see how deeply rooted the conditioning is in even the nicest of people, that the fantasy of devilish cults scares people enough to be glad to see exquisite ancient buildings reduced to rubble by people whom they would otherwise despise - yet with whom they share the same basic dread. Obviously there are horrible religious sects in the world who engage in deeply unsavoury practices, but they are few and far between. Let's face it, if a person were to fall prey to brutality at the hands of an unhinged religious extremist, it is hundreds of times more likely to be a Christian, Muslim or other conventional devotee abusing them than a worshipper of an ancient Canaanite deity.

Comments

  1. That's a little ironic considering that Baal was one of the titles of the Judaic God!

    “And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’
    Hosea 2:16

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