Sunday, August 23, 2009

Doodlemastery Bible School: Part 2: God's Image = dirt

"If you're descended from monkeys, does that make you think you can act like one?"

No, the truth is much more hopeful. You see, our Lord God saw fit to craft us from dirt. Which means we should act like... dirt... human... things... with ghosts...

Yeah, I'm not sure how anyone can go through their whole lives and not notice that loop in logic. And also never care to learn the difference between monkeys and apes. Just to make it simple: monkey -> tail; ape -> no tail. Not to mention the denial of our nature as apes. Being an animal biologically does not imply anything about our behavior, no more than a cheetah can be expected to be a house cat.

Now with that little bit of ignorance out of the way, let's resume our reading with Genesis, Chapter 2.

So the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the furniture in them. (Genesis 2:1)

God's done some remodeling. The last time we saw creation it was an empty world that was somehow full of water at the same time.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had done.

And he blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (2:2-3)

This is the only time I've ever seen anyone create a holiday for not doing anything. How exactly can a celestial being "rest"? Does that just mean he refrained from doing anything? What about sustaining existence through his willpower? If that's not considered an action, then neither is creating anything since it's all done the same way, with God willing it to happen. And by that same token everything that ever happens is a direct result of God's will, so he's responsible for everything. That will be important to remember for later. Very, very important.

These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth: (2:4)

Right off the bat we have a contradiction with Chapter 1. Right there, clear as daylight, it says that God created the heavens and the earth in a day. A single day. And it's on that day that he does all the things that follow in this chapter. Even though just a few verses ago we had this whole spiel about the six days of creation. Chapter 2 even begins by saying that God finished creation on the seventh day. This sounds a lot like two creations myths smashed together with a few verses left in the second chapter. Seamless transition, isn't it? Maybe I'm being too harsh. Let's see what else the chapter has to add to the account of our creation.

And every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, and every herb of the ground before it grew: for the Lord God had not rained upon the earth and there was not a man to till the earth. (2:5)

Apparently this is before God invented rain. He just held the water vapor up in our atmosphere with his magical firmament. I suppose that's easy for a theist to accept. The guy is God, after all. And good job pointing out that humankind predates agriculture. Even though agriculture also predates this creation myth, by a couple dozen thousand years.

But a spring rose out of the earth, and watering all the surface of the earth. (2:6)

In a more interesting creation myth, this is where the earth's water would break and the earth would have birth pangs before giving birth to the first life or a god warrior or some crazy shit like that. Amazingly what we get instead is even more distasteful than birth metaphors.

And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (2:7)

Ewww. Our first ancestors were made from slime? Say what you will about the human body and its reproductive system, making human beings out of slime from the riverside is pretty damn disgusting. Why did God see fit to craft us out of this naturally occurring smegma? He could have just, you know, conjured us up out of nothing. He did the same thing for the rest of creation, so why the all-natural sculpting all of a sudden? Why did he reserve this treatment for a species supposedly created in his image, complete with an immortal soul? You could say that this is God's way of making something partially divine out of something as simple as clay, but if God were said to have made us out of stardust would the interpretation have any different result? It's like the Barnum Effect. You could say anything about the way we were created and interpret it into something beautiful if you really want it to be.

Or you could interpret it into something that views humanity as being the equivalent of dirt, which some guilt-driven individuals would have no problem with.

And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed. (2:8)

Oooo, a paradise of pleasure? Ah not so fast, hedonists, no such luck in a story like this. There's nothing in this text that suggests pleasure includes anything, um... pleasurable. Apparently pleasure in this context entails having enough to eat and not dying. As much of an improvement as that would be for the many, many starving and dying people all around the world, that actually sounds pretty boring. How did God decide on this as being paradise? He couldn't even let us... you know... have fun? Eh? Know what I mean, know what I mean? Nudge nudge, nudge nudge, say no more.

And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2:9)

I'd be an ass and say that trees were created before humankind, but it's probably just a way of saying that the trees were created beforehand. What's notable here is the addition of the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The footnotes at the bottom of the page describe the tree of life as giving anyone who ate of its fruit perfect health and continuous life. It's the biblical philosopher's stone. The tree of knowledge is simply described as being the one "To which the deceitful serpent falsely attributed the power of imparting a superior kind of knowledge, beyond that which God was pleased to give." If you've never heard of this creation myth before, you're going to be confused as hell when you first read that. "The deceitful serpent"? What deceitful serpent? In a few moments we'll get into the details of this particular tree and the nature of all the trees mentioned in this chapter.

This is just riveting stuff, isn't it? EPIC BOTANY.

And a river went out of the place of pleasure to water paradise, which from thence is divided into four heads.
The name of the one is Phison: that is it which compasseth all the land of Hevilath, where gold groweth.
And the gold of that land is very good: there is found bdellium, and the onyx stone. (2:10-12)

Gold doesn't groweth, my Lord God. It's not physically possible. Gold just sits there. It's probably a figure of speech describing plentiful reserves of wealth, but it's still a primitive way of putting it. Very precise point of gold being very good, too, because indeed, gold is awesome. Although it's next to useless in the hands of people who look on it as nothing more than a rare and shiny metal.

And I have no idea what bdellium is.

And the name of the second river is Gehon: the same is it that compasseth all the land of Ethiopia.
And the name of the third river is Tigris: the same passeth along by the Assyrians. And the fourth river is Euphrates. (2:13-14)

It's amazing that I still remember where these rivers are. At least the Tigris and Euphrates. These rivers run through what is now Iraq, formerly the site of the earliest civilizations. It was even called the "cradle of life" for its historical significance to humankind. A natural starting point for a creation myth centered on the Middle East. This does however tether this story to actual locations that can be traced geographically. And in case you hadn't noticed, the Garden of Eden, the paradise we're reading about here, simply doesn't exist. God's inspired authors said paradise lies somewhere in the Mesopotamian, and such a place doesn't and never has existed. If it did it would have left a trace. Or maybe God is being ever-so-sneaky again, obliterating earthly paradise to dust before we can inspect it. Ah well. On with the reading.

And the Lord God took man, and put him into paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it. (2:15)

Keep it how? It's paradise. It's supposed to be perfect. And you know men, they're just going to turn the whole place into a mess. But God will take care of that in a few moments.

And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat:
But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, though shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. (2:16-17)

Now, my mortal advice might not be worth much, but I think this might be God's first honest mistake here. There's a certain tree which causes those who eat of it to become mortal and die. Why put it there in the first place? It's not doing anything constructive. It's just sitting there, soaking up sun and water, producing fruit no one can eat, and just generally being evil. Does this tree serve any purpose other than to fuck with people? I've heard people trying to reinterpret this passage to refer to free will itself, and even then that's a really steep and unfair scenario to put someone in, especially if that person has existed for just a few minutes. It's like building a house in a nice neighborhood, selling it to decent law-abiding people, telling them how to live in it and make it their home, with one condition: that there is a button - in easy reach, in the living room - which they may not under any circumstances push or tamper with, since it activates a nuclear bomb built into the basement of the house. You can't say that's entirely the owners' responsibility. Any sane individual would move out immediately, call the authorities, and have those responsible for the death machine in the basement arrested.

Although in this situation, no one can prosecute God. With great power comes great responsibility, but with infinite power comes the ability to screw with people.

And what's with these magical trees? Are there only two of them? Is there a genetic sequence associated with the Tree of Life so that one could replicate its amazing health benefits? Or is the whole issue of trees just an extended metaphor for human actions? What were the other trees supposed to be if not ordinary plants that one could eat fruit from?

I think the Bible's message is clear. The sooner we realize that trees are all probably evil traps and just destroy every last one of them, the better off we'll be, really.

And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself. (2:18)

I didn't screw that up, it's in the edition I have. This was approved by the Catholic Church, by the Archbishop of New York in 1941. "Let us make him a help like unto himself." Speaks for itself, doesn't it?

And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name. (2:19)

So all the other animals were made out of dirt too, huh? Does that put us on par with the animals, my neighborly biblical literalists? No, on second thought, I retract that question, since if I ask it then I'll get caught in a vacuous discussion about the difference between spiritual souls and non-spiritual souls. I'll bet you didn't even know of such a thing. Yeah, apparently animals have souls, but not immortal souls. So souls can die... Huh. Makes you want to just sit down and take biology again.

Oh by the way, the Adam in question is the first man we read about earlier. Didn't we mention that? No? Eh, fuck it.

And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself. (2:20)

A helper? Oh, you mean a help! Keep your grammar consistent, my biblical friend. So Adam named all of the animals that live on the land? Zoologists are still busy doing that today, so nice job, you ancestral ass-hat. Also, it's strange that God would think that animals would be suitable partners for the first human being. Very strange considering that bestiality will be explicitly forbidden later on, but we'll get into that another time. Better than nothing, I suppose. ... What? I don't... you know, I'm just saying that... someone, in that situation, might... Christ, nevermind. We can't talk hypothetically anymore, can we?

Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. (2:21)


And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. (2:22)


This is a weird book.

And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. (2:23)

Okay, forgiving the skeletal reconstruction earlier, this is horseshit. Nothing other than patriarchal myths like this suggests that the human species can be derived naturally from full-blooded males. It's biologically impossible. Human beings and most other mammals have two chromosomes, one from each parent. About half inherit two "X" chromosomes, which generally makes that half of the population female; the other approximate half inherits one X chromosome and one Y chromosome, making that half male. The Y chromosome is a special genetic sequence only about half the population has. You can't get an XX pair entirely from an XY chromosome. That would be a hell of a mutation. Nearly everyone has an X chromosome, and having that chromosome paired alone technically makes one female. If anything, we are all derived from women. I say "technically" since God apparently fucked up in a minority of cases. An XX chromosome may still make one male, and an XY chromosome female. And there are still other chromosome pairs with various effects on one's gender. Sexuality and gender are very complicated matters. Many Christians would do well to remember that.

And the asserted origin of the word "women" is just as idiotic. I don't know about the original ancient Hebrew vocabulary, but English is a Germanic language. The German word for man or person, "Mann", comes from the gender-independent word for a human being, male or female, in an earlier form of German. The modern word "woman" comes from this older German, the original term being "Wiffmann"; for a man, the word was "Weremann". You know, as in "werewolf".

This is absolutely fascinating.

Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh. (2:24)

Yes! Haha! I knew there would be "pleasure"! Oh wait, this isn't talking about now instead of back then, is it? So being "one flesh" is still forbidden in paradise? Dammit! You know, if this was how it was going to be, I'd look forward to the Fall. What's living forever if you can't ever get it on?

I can't stand how this passage alone is considered enough for people to be convinced that only heterosexual sex should be allowed. You know, sex does more than one thing. It doesn't only make babies. It can be for pleasure, for health, or you could just do it out of sheer boredom. And if you're looking for a divine sanction for something you should be able to work out on your own, it'd better be in a far more impressive display than this bizarre ancient tale.

And they were both naked, to wit, Adam and his wife: and were not ashamed. (2:25)

Is that good or bad? I ask because in the next chapter ignorance and knowledge become key parts of the destiny of humankind. I'd say that being content and not at all repulsed by the human body is a good thing, but often you'll find Christians saying that you can't be going around strutting your stuff. Is that only because we're in the age after the Fall? Shouldn't we be striving toward better appreciation of ourselves? Or is ignorance a virtue, and knowledge something that makes our bodies unclean?

That's an interesting message: being ignorant of the world's workings will make the shame go away.

That explains why abstinence never brought me any closer to God.

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