Sunday, January 17, 2010

No Bible review, but a general review of biblical things

Yeah, big disappointment, but as soon as I get back to that copy of the Bible I have on campus I'll resume tearing it apart (metaphorically) starting from Chapter 3 of Genesis. In case you've forgotten I ever did that sort of thing, here's Part 1 and here's Part 2. I might, might do Part 3 next week, but that's unlikely. So the week after, definitely.

Really. For sure.

In the meantime, I have to comment on that particular bit of literature and its impact on humanity. No, not the Necronomicon, that'd be too interesting. Maybe you've heard of this new movie The Book of Eli, the story of a man on a quest in a post-apocalyptic world, at odds with a despotic villain who knows of the power Eli has, with the hope of humanity hanging in the balance. I'm going to ruin this for you: it's a Bible. The guy owns a King James Bible, supposedly the only one left in existence. Yeah, because in the future suddenly the most stubborn faith America's ever known is totally abandoned because... the plot demands it. And where the hell did all the Bibles go? Isn't it supposed to be the most published book in existence? And isn't this a "Christian nation"? Really, do they expect us to buy this? America's population is far more religious than just about any other first world country, and you notice ours isn't doing quite as well in terms of economic stability, equality, freedom, democracy, health, happiness... okay, you get the idea. So yeah, we're least likely to survive Armageddon, but whoever's left is bound to be reinterpreting the Bible to explain why the end of the world isn't quite the end of the world.

After all, you can reinterpret the Bible to explain the earthquake in Haiti, because absolutely everything must be explained from a biblical perspective if you own a Bible and can't get your nose out of it. Yeah, as far as I can tell most of the news coverage of the earthquake is decidedly secular, but some of our religious residents feel the need to comment on how this fits into their particular worldview. Which is perfectly alright, as long as I have the chance to logically dismantle their arguments. For instance, I've been personally (repeatedly) confronted with the interpretation of the Haitian people as being "good people" because of their religious conviction. I don't doubt that they're good people - whatever the hell that's supposed to mean - but I don't much fancy folks being defined by their beliefs. I don't deem people to be "good" just because they're atheists, just that they have more realistic religious views than theists. It has no more moral bearing on people than if they preferred stuffing to potatoes. Hearing about Haitians singing hymns amidst the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake does not exactly warm my heart, regardless of comparisons to the Whos of Whoville.

Did that sound inappropriate to you? Sounded that way to me when I first heard it, spoken as if it were bemusedly insightful. For Christ's sake, their capital city is in ruins. Cute little tidbits about their deeply-held convictions have no place in serious conversations, especially not at a time like this.

I gotta get out of Jersey.

But leaving the state will not save me from the ramblings of Pat Robertson. If you haven't heard his latest babbling nonsense about Haiti, you've been missing all the good television. He's claiming that the Haitians did a deal with the devil back when they were slaves rebelling against "Napoleon the Third or whatever". I love the way he quotes the devil himself. "Okay, it's a deal." Apparently the devil is a used car salesman. That's a decidedly shortsighted deal on the part of the Haitian slaves, don't you think? "Oh yeah, he's the master of lies, but he's also the master of great savings." Okay, what exactly did the devil do to help the Haitians get freed? Near as I can tell the Haitian rebels did a fine job of defeating the French on their own. Could it be that Napoleon (the Third or whatever) had no interest in maintaining his American territories? Nooo, I'm sure it was our awesome Americanness that made him sell the Louisiana territory to the United States. And how exactly does a deal with the devil entail economic poverty and political instability? I'm pretty sure those events that led to Haiti's sufferings unfolded by themselves without some magic imp with a pitchfork egging people on.

This brings up another interesting problem with the whole "deal with the devil" idea. What does the devil get out of it? Haiti is in ruins and suffers continuously and... then what? What good does that do the foul deceiver? Okay, Dick Cheney probably has some interests in human suffering, but what about Satan? What benefit or profit is there in this deal? Power? I'm pretty sure the devil would have all the power he could want. Hell, if direct possession of a human being's body is within his power, what isn't? God doesn't seem to care about keeping him in check that much. Sure, the guy in the sky saves a soul here and there, but that's just for PR (which is doing remarkably well, I might add). Once you're on this earth, you're in Hades territory. All the holy water and biblical babbling in the world can't keep cancer at bay, so what good does it do against the devil? So if the deal isn't for power, what else could a supernatural entity want? Just watching human suffering? Hell, I can do that for free. I could watch myself watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to do that. Or does the devil want souls? If he wants the souls, I think he can get them himself. For fuck's sake, if he can possess a person, why doesn't he just make the guy curse God's name and kill himself? I have to doubt God would really care whether a person intends to do what he does. It's the action and not the intent, you know what I mean? If not, then I'm sure God would be perfectly alright with two people of the same gender being sexually involved with each other, right?

So what does that leave us with? There's not really any other reason why a demigod - in effect if not in name would be interested in freeing some slaves in return for making their descendants miserable. Ohhh it's because he's EVIL, right? That's the hallmark of bad writing, in my opinion. So he has no personal reasons for doing what he does, he just does it, because... the plot demands it. Great. We're right back where we started. Basically we've restated what Socrates said way back in the dialogue Euthyphro, that there's really no way to serve anyone with godlike powers.

Can you hear me in the back, Herr Holiness?

So what does all this have to do with the Bible? An excellent question. How many objections to these issues would include anything to do with the Bible? I've heard the complaint that the view Pat Robertson presents on his show is not a biblical one, but I have to point out that the Bible has no one single perspective, and any perspectives in there are bound to be ones that no living human being still retains without believing themselves to be a biblical character. Have you read the Bible lately? Man, I try to get through it from beginning to end and I'm already sidetracked on the third chapter by the monumental quantities of stupid that precede it. There's a lot of things in that there Bible that most self-proclaimed Christians tend to ignore, for reasons fairly obvious. So, who's biblical now? I'm guessing sociopaths and inbred mountain folk. Doesn't that give you so much confidence, knowing our leaders are such pillars of virtue with a biblical perspective on life?

My whole point with this is that the Bible is really irrelevant. Totally and completely, with the exception of a few nutters. Even Christian fundamentalism is a religion that's only about one hundred years old, part of a revival movement in the Western world concerned totally with contemporary issues that matter only to social conservatives: sexually promiscuity and deviance, irreverence, and questioning the way the world works. It's just very handy that the writers of the Bible were as ignorant and bigoted as the leaders of the conservative movement.

The Bible's not a guide you see, it's a reference.

And as for the Bible's impact on people who have never read it before: if they're impressed, it's because they want to ignore all the awful bits in favor of the more "Christian" parts. If there was only one Bible left on earth, its contents would not remake the world. There's far more important ideas to preserve, and human beings are far more important than any of those ideas. That makes the people of Haiti worth more than all the Bibles on earth, so what good would "turning to faith" (as if they didn't have enough) do for them now? When a nation is in a state of ruin and people are in despair, belief in oneself and in other human beings does far more than anything contained in any one tome.

If only someone could tell the makers of The Book of Eli that. It'd save a whole lot of moviegoers money.

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