Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Balk of Genesis

For this blog, what I’d like us to do is take account of the Bible from a new perspective. What we’re going to do – as a thought experiment – is read the Book of Genesis from the perspective of a person who has never been told anything whatsoever about the Bible or the god therein. We’re going to pretend that as a reasonably conscious adult, we’ve been given this book and told that we should read it because it is the word of God, with no further guidance or instruction. Why pursue this perspective? To illustrate that the Bible being the word of God brings with it a need to suspend disbelief, if not morality. I’m going to show that if the Bible were truly the word of a deity, we might not be so interested in what this god has to say.

For the purpose of this venture, we’re going to use the King James Version of the Bible. I know…version? Yes, remarkably there are different versions of God’s infallible word, not that we know that God is infallible because we’re supposing we haven’t read the Bible yet. But we’re going to open this book to its first chapter, Genesis, and focus our attention there. Remember that we have no preconceived notions about what we’re about to read.

Chapter 1 verse 1 reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

For the next 23 verses the Bible laments about how God is forming the earth over a period of 5 ½ days. Now, we might suppose that this is very incredible. God is forming our planet over the course of days, which happens to fly in the face of everything scientists have figured out about planet formation. Now perhaps the scientists are wrong. After all, earth was formed by God, a supernatural being…we think. Unfortunately the Bible is not very clear about who or what ‘God’ is, which would seem like a likely place the author should start considering everything we’re about to read. Heck, we’re not even given a reason why God created the earth. We may be mistaken about how long a day is anyway. Truth be told, the Bible was written well before the establishment of 24 hour days and 7 day weeks. Perhaps then we should forgive this oversight. There’s more trouble afoot.

Chapter 1 verse 26: “And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness, etc, etc. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female He created them.”

Forgive me if this verse seems a bit peculiar. God clearly says the words ‘in our image.’ Our. So, is it reasonable to assume, without anyone else’s input, that there are other gods besides the creator? The verse also states that we were created in His image yet it is clear that God is male. Perhaps he modeled a female upon one of His peers though perhaps He was just being creative. We don’t know. Maybe the next chapter will clear things up.

Chapter 2 gives us a separate account of the creation of man and woman, again for no apparent reason, except to clarify that the woman was created from the rib of the man. This is perhaps to infer that women are inferior to men because man came first and/or that man was needed first in order to create women. But there is no direct implication that women are unequal to men, yet. Meanwhile, chapter 2 goes on to tell us where Eden is – the land in which this Adam and Eve live – and that in this land or Garden of Eden, there exists two unique trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. At this point we’re not sure what the point of God setting up things like this is but as we’ll see in the next chapter, this scenario will play out as being a sort of set-up.

Chapter 3 begins with a serpent, another of God’s creatures, talking with the woman, Eve. Eve tells the serpent about the fruit from the unique trees and that God has forbidden the couple from eating the fruit from these trees or else they will die. The serpent (which keep in mind is just a serpent because nothing here tells us otherwise) lies to the woman and says that she will not die if she eats the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The serpent does however tell the truth that if she eats the fruit she will have knowledge of good and evil. Verse 6 says, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave unto her husband with her and he did eat.”

Adam and Eve now know the difference between good and evil. They have become like gods yet hide from God the next time He comes around because they now know they are naked. Thus we conclude being naked is a bad thing, though, if that were true why had God not clothed them from the beginning? Just a question. So, in His anger, God smites the serpent for lying (about dying), making him crawl on his belly forevermore, intensifies the pain of labor for the woman and subjugates her to the husband, while the man gets off relatively easy having to now work the land in order to eat. God finally forces the couple from the Garden of Eden, “least (man) put forth his hand and take from the Tree of Life, and eat and live forever.”

Let’s think about this a minute. Before eating the fruit Eve has no knowledge of good and evil. She has no reason to suspect the serpent is lying much less know that lying is bad because she has no knowledge of such things before she eats the fruit. This may have led her to become conflicted with what God said, not to eat of that particular tree. Still, she cannot fully understand the undesirable consequences of her actions until after she eats the fruit regardless of God’s warning. It may be that Eve understood something – that knowledge is desirable, though it seems God would prefer that mankind be ignorant. Perhaps the acquisition of knowledge outweighed the possibility of punishment in Eve’s mind. Her dilemma may have been this: Is it better to live comfortably though remain ignorant or be wise and potentially know uncomfortable truths? You can ask yourself that question too but remember, there’s no guarantee that ignorance leads to a life of bliss.

Closing the door on Chapter 3, what conclusions might we draw from the first three books of the Bible? We have learned that God made the heavens and the earth but not why. We see that God made the earth in 6 days and needed to rest when he was done; an indication that God is not all-powerful. We know of course that a literal six day creation of the Earth doesn’t mesh with what science currently understands, raising the question of how long a day is in the Bible. [Btw, the 24 hour day did not come into use until 4000 years ago, courtesy of the Egyptians and Babylonians. And that is younger than the 6000 years old Bible literalists say the earth is. We’re not supposed to know that at this point in our reading of the Bible, but let’s say we intended on doing some research.]

We have learned as well that there are other gods besides God, though it was a particular god who created us. We are unable to conclude whether of not this god is good or evil when we consider the circumstances in which his creations fail Him by eating forbidden fruit. After all, God if nothing else set the stage for this failure in numerous ways, least of all by creating a serpent that not only talks, but lies to people as well. We cannot conclude that God is perfect. His creations are imperfect. Adam and Eve disobey their creator. Do perfect creations disobey their creator? Also, if we are curious enough to cross reference other mythologies, we’ll see that the first few lines of the Bible are strikingly similar to Babylonian, Sumerian, and even African creation myths. These regions are (by no coincidence one would think) directly related to the areas in which texts of the Bible were written. Odd?

The least we learn from these first three chapters is that God frowns upon the acquisition of knowledge. He doesn’t want you to know as much as he does. He’d rather you prance around the Garden of Eden naked as a jay bird. That’s very disturbing in light of the fact that there is no compelling reason given why having knowledge of good and evil is so bad other than to spare God’s ego.

Moving on to Chapter 4 is the story of Cain and Able, the first two children of Adam and Eve. We read and discover that Cain kills Abel in a fit of jealousy because Cain’s ritual offering to God is not as pleasing to God as is Abel’s offering. We can conclude that God is vain being that he requires or at least does not refuse worship and offerings. We also see that knowledge of good and evil and the consequences thereof do not stop Cain from slaying Abel. When God comes along He asks Cain where his brother is, to which Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Until Abel’s blood calls out to God in the next verse, God doesn’t know where Abel is which is in contradiction to God saying that he knows all things elsewhere in the Bible (although we haven’t gotten there yet, but we must assume we would). So, we’re not sure if God is all-knowing or not. Having learned of Abel’s murder, God sends Cain away with a mark upon his head so that anyone who runs into Cain will know not to take vengeance upon him, because...? Where these other people would come from is not clear being that until now, only four people have been named in the Bible. I guess Adam and Eve were actually made more in the likeness of rabbits.

The moral of the story is threefold. Work hard to please the Lord, do not be jealous of your brother, and moreover do not commit to murder. That’s all well and good I suppose, but as an author, this God whoever He is, is remarkably unclear in important places. While it’s not entirely unreasonable to go searching through the Bible for clarity, it does make it remarkably difficult to understand exactly what’s going on at times. Though, I suppose there’s no reason our creator (according to the Bible) should make understanding easy for us. Especially if they’re a dick.

Moving onto Chapter 5 we read with a fair amount of skepticism that men routinely live in excess of 900 years. It’s just that as far as modern records have shown, at best humans can only live to about 120. Hmm, just keep that in mind for now. Chapter 6 Verse 3 goes on to say, for no reason other than men being made of flesh, that their days shall now be limited to 120 years. But if we are to read as far as Psalms, that chapter says the days of men are limited to 70 years. Furthermore, many people in the Bible live to exceed these limits, least of all right here in the Book of Genesis following this announcement. Well c’mon now, which is it? God keeps changing his mind. Here’s a god who is really on top of things. Further on in this chapter we read that there were giants back in these days. Strangely enough, the fossilized bones of giants have never been found. I don’t know about you but I’m starting not to believe any of this.

Also in Verse 5 God suddenly turns on mankind immediately after speaking of ‘men of renown.’ Okay, sure. In fact God repents (that is regrets) having made men upon the earth. This is important, for it shows God to be awfully human; in a word, fallible. Forgive me if I expect any god of mine to refrain from making such mistakes.

For the rest of Chapter 6 and continuing in Chapter 7 we savor the story of Noah and his arc. Because we’re fair minded people we’re going to gloss over what could be considered some absurdities. A 450 foot long boat that houses two of every animal on earth? Sure, why not. All the animals boarding the boat in one day (7:13-14)? Why naturally. A worldwide flood that at one point lasts 40 days while a few verses later it lasts 150 days? I’m a believer. How about you?

On a side note, let me ask my readers a question. Do you like the smell of burning animals? No? I didn’t think so. But God sure does, for at the end of Chapter 8 Noah makes an offering that is quite pleasing to God’s nose. It smells so sweet God revisits his sense of regret, this time for flooding the earth. Oh creator thou art very confused and primitive. Make a decision and stand by it, please.

In Chapter 9 Verse 20-21 there are some peculiar family affairs afoot. “And Noah began to be a husband-man and he planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and was drunken, and he was uncovered in his tent.” Noah, God’s perfect and righteous man as previously described, is a drunkard. Well, Noah’s son Ham sees his father passes out and naked, tells his older brothers about it, who then go in (being careful not to see their father naked) and cover Noah up. Upon wakening, Noah curses his son Ham’s son Canaan to be a servant unto Shem and Japheth’s sons, for nothing more than Ham happening to see his father naked! Perhaps it would be one thing if Ham had intentions of seeing his father naked, but that is not made clear here or even implied. There certainly seems to be a code of justice in the Bible that frankly I’m glad we do not currently live by. Also please note that at the end of Chapter 9 Noah is said to have lived until he was 950 years old. But I thought…

Skipping ahead to Chapter 11 is the story of the Tower of Babel. In this story, God is worried that mankind may be capable of too much. As the story goes, men are erecting a building to reach the heavens and if they succeed, nothing will be able to stop them from any further accomplishments. Well God can’t have that. To thwart mankind, God confuses their language so they cannot understand each other and then spreads these men around the globe. To me, this is as if a parent were trying to thwart the achievements of their own child. It’s as if you as a parent were to intentional confuse your child so that they’ll never be as smart or as accomplished as you. If I didn’t already, I’d say I were starting not to like this god.

Believe it or not, the word of God, this Bible here, gets more outrageous. You see, Chapter 12 tells the story of Abram, a man God is sending off into the world and upon whom God will bestow a great nation…for absolutely no reason we know of. In his travels, Abram enters Egypt and lies to the locals that his wife is in fact his sister. Abram fears he would be killed because his wife is so beautiful the Egyptians would eliminate him to take her for themselves. Soon thereafter, Abram’s wife is taken into Pharaoh’s court. The Pharaoh compensates Abram by giving him sheep, oxen, camels, even servants, for the sake of his new concubine. God responds in Abrams favor by reigning plagues on the Pharaoh’s house. Mind you, the Pharaoh didn’t know Sarai was Abram’s wife. As Pharaoh’s house is stricken, he learns of the deception and wisely sends Abram and his wife away. Amazingly all of this is perfectly okay with God. He sided with the liar. Exactly who is the bad guy in this story? We don’t know. We don’t know what wisdom this story is meant to impart. One thing we can be sure of, the morality of God is dubious.

In Chapter 17 God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and establishes a certain painful covenant; again for reasons we’re not privy to. In Chapter 18-19 we witness the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities whose sins are not made clear so we today might avoid their mistakes and avoid all that fire and brimstone that will inevitably reign down from the heavens. Perhaps Sodom and Gomorrah could’ve helped themselves had it been a little more clear what is and what is not a sin. Here we are reading the word of God, the Bible that up to this point has been remarkably unclear on the issue. Although we can be sure, thanks to Chapter 19, that offering your virgin daughters (who aren’t really virgins read the story) to an angry mob for the protection of angels is not offensive to God.

In Chapter 22 God tests Abraham by telling him to offer up his only son as a sacrifice to his Lord. Abraham prepares to do so only to have God rescind the order at the last moment. I suppose the lesson here is never to question God and you’ll be rewarded. Yet what if God hadn’t rescinded the order? Couldn’t God find a less morbid way to test his faithful servant? What kind of twisted deity are we dealing with here ladies and gentlemen?

Now folks, I’m not even going to mention the incestuous story of Lot and his daughters that God seemingly has no problem with. Nor am I going to mention the fable in which Jacob blackmails his brother Esau into giving up his birthright; also okay with God. And I can’t even begin to mention the rape of Dinah in Chapter 34, in which God allows the slaughter and slavery of an entire city as retribution for one man’s crime.

Now here we are having read the Book of Genesis. What conclusions can we come to on our own so far? What can we infer being reasonable people with no preconceived notions about what we read? After all, we don’t need anyone else’s input on the matter. The word of God should be able to speak for itself.

From the first chapter to the last we have read about a god that is at times thoughtless, careless, confused, jealous, primitive and savage. On the other hand God is powerful enough to have created us, the heavens and the earth. According to the Bible we should be thankful for as much and worship God, though, does that necessarily mean we should care? God comes off as being something of a shallow, capricious character. Is that worth honoring? While God may show favor towards those who do worship him, we might be inclined to think there are other gods worth worshipping. Remember that nowhere in Genesis does God ever claim to be the only god.

We’ve read some fantastic stories and most of those stories do not cast God in a positive light. Genesis has a bias against women. Whereas few women are mentioned, even the most trivial male is called by name. You would think that women, being the vessels of life, would play a more savory role. Only, the most savory female role in Genesis goes to Lot’s wife, who gets turned into a pillar of salt for her disobedience.

Being of reasonable mind, I don’t see the point of reading any further. Thus far, we’ve read many a tale that any sensible person alive today would consider immoral, that’s if you can get past the wholesale absurdities lurking around every corner. Yet the Bible has survived 1700 years and is a sacred text to millions of people today. I don’t know what’s more frightening, how silly this book is or the fact that so many people take it seriously.

That concludes today’s look at the Bible. Please, remember never to simply take my word for it. Read Genesis objectively and draw your own conclusions. Have a nice day. And God less.

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