Genesis 23 — Sarah dies
There’s really not very much to this chapter, as far as I can tell. Sarah dies (the Bible doesn’t say how. I wonder if any of those leaders she slept with has an alibi? Or Hagar, for that matter?) Abraham insists on paying the Hittites for some land to bury her on, they sell it to him and he buries her.
The Bible doesn’t say why Abraham wanted to bury her there, nor why burial would be necessary at all. It’s something genetic in humans I suppose to want to bury dead ones. It also serves as a way of getting "closure" and (in the case of some belief systems) sending them off into the next realm.
But in any case, there’s nothing really shocking in this chapter, for a change. This might be viewed as a good chapter since Abraham did mourn his wife’s loss, which is respectful of her and her memory.
Not only that, but God doesn’t meddle in this chapter! A godless chapter. No wonder there’s nothing totally messed up for once.
Archive for January, 2009
Obama throws us a bone
I really wish I had more time!! I wanted to post about Obama’s inauguration when it happened, but life got in the way. Anyway, here are some of my thoughts.
I was frankly shocked when Obama said "non-believers" during the inaugural address. Here is the passage in context, from the Associate Press (via Yahoo News )
We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
When Obama started "we are a nation of Christians and Muslims…", I thought, oh great, he we go again with the religion bit. When he said "non-believers", my initial reaction was one of shock, then disbelief (no pun intended), then I got this huge smile on my face. I was watching the inauguration with a colleague at work, and I don’t know if he saw my reaction or not. I’m still not "out" in real life, but I couldn’t help my facial expression at such a surprising event. A president of the United States not only mentioning non-believers, but not immediately saying something nasty about them à la George H. W. Bush.
There was a lot of God during the inaugural events, not to mention the word "God" showing up 5 times during the speech itself. I won’t rehash the whole debate over whether or not there should be benedictions or inuagural prayers, and Obama’s disappointing picks for these (in particular Rick Warren , who hilariously thinks being open-minded means being able to say Jesus in several languages). There was too much God for a secular occasion.
But Obama did not have to mention non-believers. In fact, he has many reasons not to in the current climate of hyper-religiosity in the country. But he reportedly wrote the speech himself, and decided to include it. Not only include it, but put it in a section of the speech that says "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness." This would seem to be a reference to his own mixed heritage. So I don’t think he would have chosen the words in the next sentence lightly.
There have been rumors that, like his dad, Obama may have agnostic or even atheistic leanings. We’ll probably never know, but what this speech proves I think is that he accepts it as a valid viewpoint. For Obama to include nonbelievers in a paragraph about our diversity being our strength puts nonbelievers in a positive light. We’re a long way from being seen as equals by most Americans, but with Obama’s address I feel that we are one step closer.
Genesis 22 — If you love me, kill your son
If you really love me, prove it by killing your son! That’s what God says to Abraham in this chapter.
God doesn’t make Abraham go through with it, though, so all’s well that ends well, right? There is so much wrong with this story that it’s hard to know what to say.
Let’s say God never intended for Abraham to kill his son, he just wanted to see if he would. To which I say, Doesn’t God know everything already? This is a perfect example of the sort of mind control that cults try to have over people, getting them to the point that they would do anything for you, including kill your own son.
Maybe God wanted to prove that Abraham would do anything for him. To which I say, why does God always have to prove how great he is? Did some other god give him an inferiority complex? Certainly he must already know how great he is, and such a great God could find a better way to prove it other than having his biggest fan almost sacrifice his son to him.
What about Isaac in all this? I would think it would be rather life-changingly scary to have your dad try to burn you alive. That’s the sort of abuse you don’t outgrow. It doesn’t say here how old Isaac was, but even if he was an adult, I think it is inexcusable torture to be tied up by your dad on an altar, knife in hand ready to kill you and burn you up.
I remember vaguely this story being taught to me as a kid, either in Sunday School or in church. Some explanation about showing that Abraham was willing to give up what mattered to him most. I think it is dangerous and sick that churches teach that this story is a model to look up to. No one should be willing to kill their son, or anyone else for that matter, just to prove how much you love someone. You shouldn’t have to prove love, not to God or anyone. That isn’t real love. Anyone who actually demands you do something to prove that you love them doesn’t deserve your love.
Here are a couple other reflections on this chapter:
* God makes a huge deal out of calling Isaac Abraham’s only son. What happened to Ishmael becoming a great nation? Why is he now completely disowned, and after worrying so much about him, Abraham seems not to care any more? Did God and Sarah wear him down? I guess if he’s willing to kill Isaac for crazy God, he’d be willing to forget his firstborn son as well.
* God has Abraham kill a ram instead of his son Isaac. What’s with the sheep? God could’ve just said that after all that almost killing your son stuff, you’ve done enough Abraham to prove you love me. But no, Abraham also has to sacrifice a ram. God loves the smell of burning sheep!
* The little ending about Nahor, whoever that is, includes a mention of a concubine. So God seems to be okay with having more than one sexual partner, since it’s not condemned here and I know even great kings later on have tons of concubines and wives.
Disowning your firstborn son, trying to commit a human sacrifice on your other son, having sex with whoever you want. True love, God style.
Genesis 21 — EweTube
Some more great family fun here, with some ewes thrown in at the end for fun!
Sarah the 90+ year old has a boy, Isaac. She thinks it’s hilarious that she would have a son at her age, as does everyone else. That rascal God, he really knows how to make people laugh.
But Ishmael laughed at his new brother, and Sarah is outraged. Laughing at what God does, okay. Laughing at your younger brother, not okay. Sarah wants rid of Ishmael and his mom. Abraham doesn’t want to kick out his son, but God sides with Sarah on this. God tells Abraham not to worry though, because Ishmael will also become a great nation after you kick him and his mom out.
After their meager supply of water run out (how nice of Abraham to abandon his son and the woman he slept with in the desert without enough water!), Hagar the mom tries to abandon her son to die, but just can’t go through with it. Turns out though that there was actually a well of water there, Hagar just couldn’t see it until God "opened her eyes" (21:19). From then on, God followed Ishmael wherever he’d go, kind of like the My Buddy doll from the 80s, I guess. Ishmael got to be an archer!
The story of Ishmael, Isaac, and the gang, along with some other related anecdotes from the Bible, is related in Roy Zimmerman’s song Two Brothers , which you can see on YouTube.
Speaking of you/ewe, the last part of this chapter is some more business between Abraham and Abimelech, the leader Sarah and Abraham duped in the last chapter. Abimelech makes Abraham promise God won’t pull any more shenanigans on him or his ancestors. There was this dispute about a well of water, but it was nothing that seven female sheep couldn’t clear up. I would have thought five ewe would have sufficed for such a minor matter!
Genesis seems to be obsessed with saying why places and people were named as they were. Beersheba is apparently named because of the oath between Abraham and Abimelech there. To me, it kind of sounds like they had the names for these places and people and then they just made up the stories, kind of like how parents make up stories for little kids when they don’t know why something is the way it is, or how kids just make things up when they don’t understand something.
Nah, that couldn’t be the case!
Update: The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible gives a possible explanation of why Ishmael was kicked out. Maybe it was more than just laughing at his brother…
Genesis 20 — She ain’t married, she’s my sister
So here we have Abraham passing off Sarah as his sister again (how tantalizing a woman she must have been, even approaching 100 years old, that the local leaders just couldn’t keep themselves from marrying her!). But this time, we find out Abraham wasn’t totally lying about Sarah being his sister.
" Yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father , but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife." (Gen 20:12, KJV)
So apparently, Sarah is only Abraham’s half-sister. Which apparently makes it okay? Sounds pretty sick to me, but God doesn’t say anything against this in these verses. Nor does he appear to get mad at Abraham and Sarah for lying again.
Instead, God threatens the local leader (Abimelech) with destruction because he married Sarah, who’s already married to Abraham. After the local leader points out that they haven’t consummated the relationship, and that he had been lied to about Sarah’s identity, then God lets him off the hook. The local chieftain even tells Abraham to make himself at home, and to make up for everything gives Abraham a thousand shekles.
And the moral is?? Who knows. My guess is the leader saw how completely screwy the whole situation and figured he’d better make nice with Abraham and his god to avoid punishment. A wise move, I’d say.
I have to take a few days off from my blog, but here’s an artist I recently discovered thanks to an American Freethought interview. If you haven’t heard of Roy Zimmerman, I highly recommend you hear of him! He writes "funny songs about ignorance, war, and greed", as his website says. He also includes a lot of religion in there, too.
You can check him out on YouTube , or here’s his website . I used some of my holiday money (well, the person who gave it to me thought it was Christmas money) to buy a couple of his albums. My favorites so far are Creation Science 101, Christmas is Pain, Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa, and Buy War Toys for Christmas. No, all of his songs aren’t about Christmas. I bought one of his Christmas albums, so there’s a sampling bias. But anyway, hope you like it and I’ll post back in a few days.
Genesis 19 — The Bible should be rated NC-17
I was aware of the two stories in this chapter, but it was still somewhat shocking and sickening reading them. It’s hard to keep this blog family-friendly with a book like the Bible, so be forewarned that what follows is just plain sick and shouldn’t be read or believed by anyone, much less children.
God sends two angels to prepare for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot insists that these angels of death stay over at his place. But the angels are so irresistible, the crowd wants to have sex with them. Lot is against this, as he should be. But his solution is to offer up his two daughter to the crowd instead. I quote Lot, from the NIV (Gen 19:8),
"Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
There is no way to misinterpret this: Lot offers his own daughters to a sex-crazed crowd and tells them to have at them. There is no excuse for this. Even the author of the Annotated Skeptic’s Annotated Bible says
"There are a few things that can be said in his defense, but in the end, this is one of those things I have to admit I just can’t quite comprehend. [...] Apparently just leaving the door locked wouldn’t be enough, as after he spoke with them, they tried to break his door down. In my opinion, that doesn’t justify him, but I’d take a plea of "temporary insanity" on his part, so to speak."
In any case, the crowd doesn’t take him up on his offer to gang-rape his virgin daughters though because the angels are just too sexy apparently. The angels work some hocus-pocus and the crowd is dazzled long enough for Lot, his wife, and his daughters to escape.
Now here’s something that I don’t remember being mentioned, although I’m sure I’m not the first to notice it. The next morning, Lot and family are to leave, but in verse 16, it says Lot "hesitated" (NIV) (ASV) or "lingered" (KJV), so the angels have to convince him again to skedaddle. Lot talks them into saving a nearby town for them to escape to. As you probably know, Lot does eventually leave, and God rains fire and brimstone to kill everyone who’s left in town, but his wife looks behind and is punished by turning into a pillar of salt. The Bible doesn’t say much at all, just matter-of-factly says that she’s turned into salt and then goes on with the story.
This is simply not fair. Lot not only hesitated, he actually argued with the angels until he got something out of them. Lot’s wife merely looks back for a moment and is turned into a pillar of salt. What’s the moral of this: it’s fine to argue with angels to get them to change God’s plans, but if you look back, you’re dead? Do Lot and his daughters even mourn the death? The Bible doesn’t tell us.
Later on, Lot and his daughters are living in a cave (he was too afraid to stay in the town God had spared him) and they both decide to get him drunk and have sex with him. Not one night, but two nights in a row. (Don’t you think after the first night, Lot might have been suspicious that something was up?!?) They say that it’s to keep up the family line. Mission accomplished: they both have sons.
Besides saying that Lot was unaware of what was going on, the Bible doesn’t offer any other condemnation (we’ll see if there’s one later on, but based on the SAB and a couple other sites I quickly looked at, it doesn’t look like it).
So we have, in one chapter
Julia Sweeney, of SNL fame, thought this story was disturbing enough to mention as part of her "Letting Go of God " one-person-show-turned-book-turned-audiobook-turned-movie. I listened to her audiobook, and she somehow manages to make telling her deconversion from being a Christian into an inspiring and laugh-out-loud story. Otherwise, this would have been an even more depressing chapter to cover.
If there is any book that should be banned from libraries, it should be the Bible with stories like this. But I don’t believe in censorship, and maybe it’s better the book isn’t banned anyway. I don’t know how my deconversion would have went, if at all, if I hadn’t have had access to the Bible (and the SAB’s comments in a number of cases) to look at and actually think about. If someone reads the Bible from a library and it opens their eyes a little, that would be a good things.
Why would these stories be in the Holy Word of God? I would like to see how my soon-to-be-ordained relative, that I mentioned in a previous post, would wiggle out of this story. I honestly don’t see how.
PS Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.
Genesis 18 — Please Yahweh, don’t hurt ‘em
We have two different episodes in this chapter. First, God and Abraham have dinner together with Sarah (and a few men?), then Abraham tries to plead with God not to kill an entire city.
In the first part, God appears by Abraham’s tent with three men. It’s unclear to me, even after consulting several versions of this chapter, who is who at some points due to unclear pronouns and references to who is speaking to whom. But the general idea is God stop by, Abraham invites him in, Sarah prepares bread, milk, and beef (the SAB points out this isn’t kosher , but I’m sure some would argue that’s because God hadn’t arbitrarily decided what was and wasn’t kosher yet) and they chat.
God says that Sarah will have a son, but she laughs. Abraham and Sarah like laughing at God apparently (since Abraham did the same in the last chapter on this subject), but this time the Lord calls her on it. She lies and says she didn’t laugh, but shouldn’t she know you can’t lie to an all-knowing being? She isn’t punished here, I guess we’ll see if it comes up later or not.
In the second part, God’s deciding whether or not to tell Abraham about his upcoming mass murder of Sodom and Gomorrah. Since Abraham is so great, God decides to go ahead and tell him his upcoming project. Abraham is taken aback and says (Gen 18:23-25, New King James version: NKJV)
Abraham must not know Yahweh very well if he thinks God will have any problem whatsoever killing whomever he pleases. So anyway, Abraham starts to plead with God, asking God if he can find 50 righteous people there, will God still kill the whole city? God says no, he will spare "all the place" for the sake of the 50. He’ll mosey on down to Sodom and Gomorrah to see what they’re up to. (So much for an omniscient God!) Abraham haggles with God all the way down to 10 people. If even 10 people are righteous, S & G will be spared. After this, the Lord goes on his merry way.
Isn’t there something wrong with a God when his creation is more just and compassionate than he is? I’m sure some would argue God is just testing Abraham, or proving a point that not even 10 people were righteous there.
Instead, one could argue that this is a sign that people should not just blindly follow what God says. God left on his own apparently would have just killed an entire people without even looking into whether or not he’d killing innocents, too. Acceptable losses, I guess. Guess we know now who many military leaders look up to…
PS Here is the copyright notice for the New King James Version . "Bible text from the New King James Version® is not to be reproduced in copies or otherwise by any means except as permitted in writing by Thomas Nelson, Inc., Attn: Bible Rights and Permissions, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214-1000." I am putting this here on my own initiative even though I do not believe such a lengthy copyright notice should be necessary, especially since according to their guidelines, if I were a church I wouldn’t have to put this here…
Genesis 17 — God likes genital mutilation
God created us so perfectly (in his image, right?), that he decides in Genesis 17 that genital mutilation is mandatory for all his male believers.
Yes, billions of baby boys (and adults, too) everywhere have suffered this pain at God’s command. I guess when we go to the Pearly Gates, God asks us to drop ‘em and checks to see if we’re circumcised. No shirt, no circumcision, no salvation.
Sure, some will argue that was the Old Testament. Some New Testament verses speak out against it (e.g. Galatians 5:2). But Jesus himself was allegedly circumcised (many churches even have this glorious day on their calendar, including Catholics) and he did not speak out against it, even though he had a good opportunity to (John 7:21-24).
Not only do all male babies have to be circumcised to keep God’s covenant, but one’s slaves/servants as well. Talk about adding insult to injury: you’re bought as a God-sanctioned slave, and then you have to have private parts mutilated. And the babies can’t even talk yet to protest.
I guess this is one case where women can praise the Lord for being sexist, since women are not told they need to be circumcised (unlike some other cultures and religions, including some forms of Islam).
God praises Abram (yet again) and gives him and his wife new names, Abraham and Sarah. Then God tells Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son. Telling from his reaction, Abraham apparently forgot about this (God promised this in the last chapter, but apparently over a decade has passed based on comparing his age in the two chapters). Even Abraham laughs at God for suggesting that two near-centenarians can have a baby. Fortunately God’s apparently in a good mood that day and doesn’t seem to mind being laughed at.
Abraham is able to squeeze out a little mercy for his other son, Ishmael, who had been cursed in the previous chapter. God promises Ishmael fertility and fathering 12 rulers. Why did God have a change of heart about Ishmael? I guess because Abraham circumcised him! (Even though God comes out and indicates in verse 21 that he’s establishing his covenant with Abraham’s upcoming son instead. Doesn’t make sense Ishmael would have to pay the price for the covenant but not be included!)
It seems silly that God would want people to mutilate themselves (or worse yet, their babies) for him. But that’s what God wants, and billions of babies have suffered the consequences of it. Some people think it’s necessary and even cleaner for boys to be circumcised. Besides the fact that there’s apparently no consensus that this is true and that circumcision has other negative side effects (google it if you want; I want to keep my blog more family-friendly than the Bible is)—even if it were true that it’s better to be circumcised, why couldn’t God just get it right the first time then when he created us?
Why does God like to see people suffer?
The entries from Dwindling in Unbelief that I referred to in my previous post made its way into a couple other sites on the web (good.is , Cynical-C Blog ) and spurred some discussion. The good.is post even included my reference to Kokomo in it!
Sometimes, with so many people I know and so many people in the world believing in the Bible, being a non-believer does seem a little hopeless. But it gives me some hope that there are people out there who are discussing things like this, and that it’s even reaching some people who are strong believers in God. It’s pretty amazing that someone can post something on a blog, and in a matter of hours people from all over are reading and discussing it.
Even if people reject the idea that the murderous God of the Bible may not be so good after all, they’ve at least read and considered it now. And I hope that people who at least consider that the Bible isn’t all good, even if they don’t reject it completely, will become a little more open-minded about things and more understanding towards people who don’t believe. That’s a step in the right direction, I think.