Genesis 11 — A bunch of Babel

Saturday, November 22, 2008

By The Police
O My God
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Genesis 11 — A bunch of Babel

It’s actually almost funny to read the story of the Tower of Babel now as an atheist. It seems so obviously fake that I wonder how many people truly believe it happened. I don’t know if I ever did or not, I don’t think I really thought about it a whole lot, although I do remember us going over it in Sunday School.

Now though, for some reason, it seems even more fake to me than the Noah and the Ark story, maybe because this one is so short and to the point. I just envision a kid asking his dad, "Why do people speak different languages?", and the dad just makes up a story on the spot. And then somehow it ended up getting in the Bible and being taken for real.

But let’s look at the story itself. People all speak the same language. They start moving east. They decide they want a tower to reach up to the heavens. They give two reasons for this: to be famous, and to not be all spread out from each other.

The first reason is what is normally emphasized, from my recollection and understanding. Those uppity humans got too proud and wanted to be like God, so God had to do something about it. But even if we pretend God exists for a moment, what is wrong with us humans trying to "make a name for ourselves" (NIV)? It doesn’t say humans were trying to be better than God, that we were trying to usurp him or outdo him. I don’t think it even implies it. If anything, they were trying to get closer to God. (Like The Police song "O My God") But even if they were trying to show up God, certainly God would know that they could never build a tower high enough to reach him.

Maybe humans were just trying to be like God, like a son follows his dad around and tries to be like him. God created the universe, so humans were trying to do something great, too. What’s wrong with that?

But I don’t think people focus on the second part of the story here. The folks building the Tower of Babel wanted "not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." (NIV) No Google Earth or Street View back then, so building a tower so they could see everyone apparently sounded like a good plan. So basically, humans were spreading out, but didn’t want to be isolated from each other. What’s so wrong with that?

God’s apparently mad and/or threatened that humans would dare to try building a tower that could reach up to him, and jealous and/or threatened that humans would want to stay as one big family instead of being scattered into little groups. So he destroys the tower, makes humans all speak different languages, and spreads them out over the planet. That’ll teach them.

This brings up an interesting thing I had never thought of before. Let’s again pretend we’re in a Christian world and the Bible is true (for the second time in this post; it’s getting scary!). The Bible says it was God’s doing that people are spread out and speaking different languages. So when all the people living in the Americas and other lands unknown to Christians were being sent to hell because they didn’t know Jesus, it was God’s fault. If he hadn’t have taken down the Tower and scattered humans, they would have all kept nearby and in touch. There would have been no American Indians and Chinese thousands of miles away that God would have had to send straight to hell. They would have quickly heard of Jesus’ death-defying feat and at least have been able to be saved!

In his infinite wisdom, God certainly could have chosen a different punishment than ensuring millions of people would be sent to hell for thousands of years just because he spread them around the planet. I wonder what response Christians would have to this, other than we all deserve to die anyway because of original and continuing sin, so the unsaved deserve to die anyway. I think if most Christians took the time like I’m doing to actually go through the Bible and see how everything fits together (or rather doesn’t fit together), there would be a lot more agnostics or atheists.

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 3 — You’ve come a long way, baby…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Genesis 3 — You’ve come a long way, baby…

I’ve decided, to keep the blog a little more manageable (and to keep me from posts that take hours to write!) I’m going to try to deal with one or two chapters of the Bible at a time. It looks like that should still keep me pretty busy.

So now we come to Genesis 3 . We’ve come a long way from the co-creation of men and women in the first chapter. Turns out, women are to blame for everything wrong on the planet! There’s an excellent song about this, Robert Hoyt ‘s "Genesis 3:6". I don’t get how any modern church can hold that the Bible is the true word of God when it is so clearly misogynistic.

This is the biggest set up of all time, both for women and for humanity as a whole. If God created everything, including the serpent, the infamous tree of knowledge, Adam, and Eve, then whose "fault" is it that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit? If I construct a building and it crumbles to the ground a week later, do I blame the building, or my design? Everything was exactly how God created it. Either he really screwed up royally in his creation and didn’t know his creations Adam and Eve would be imperfect and sin (meaning God isn’t so perfect and all-knowing after all), or else he cruelly set up Adam and Eve to fail by putting all the ingredients there for them to fail and then punishing them for the inevitable.

If he didn’t want Adam and Eve, and all of humanity afterwards, to suffer interminably on the Earth, there was plenty God could have done to prevent this.

1) God could have not created the serpent. Now, most Christians assume the talking serpent is the Devil. This is not stated in Genesis, and there are other examples of talking animals in the Bible (the donkey one is my favorite). But let’s assume it was the Devil. Where in the creation story did God create the Devil? If he’s a fallen angel, yet more proof of God’s fallibility. Or maybe the Devil existed prior to creation? Why wouldn’t an all-powerful God destroy the Devil, or at least warn Adam and Eve he’d be lurking around trying to trick them? It simply makes no sense. In any case, with no serpent, there’d be no Fall of Man (and Woman).

2) God could have not created the Tree of Knowledge, or not put it in the Garden of Eden. Why put a big tree in the middle of the garden that Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat from? If God really needed this tree for some reason (to help him remember not to create all the animals, plants, and humans a third time??), there’s plenty of real estate on earth he could have used besides that Garden. There was no reason for it to be in the Garden if he wanted Adam and Eve to leave it alone. Or better yet, God could have just not created the tree to begin with. Or…

3) God could have not forbidden Adam and Eve from eating the fruit. If this was a test, then what was the test for? Certainly God, who created everything, would already know that Adam and Eve would be tempted and would eat from the tree. Why go through the whole charade to begin with? Why forbid them from something that he knew they would do anyway: why not just damn humanity from the get-go?

Most importantly, which a lot of people don’t know or don’t think about, the full name of the tree that was forbidden was called the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil". The symbolism behind the whole thing is atrocious. Basically, God wanted to keep Adam and Eve stupid. Eve ate it in part because she wanted to be smart: "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof" (Genesis 3:6 ) The Bible even says that part of the reason Eve wanted to eat the fruit was because she thought it would make her wise. What’s wrong with wanting to be wise?!?!

Apparently, it was evil for Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of this true. But how were Adam and Eve to know this? It goes to reason that they didn’t fully understand good and evil until they ate of the tree, right? The lesson here appears to be that it’s best to blindly do what you’re told, whether it’s right or wrong. Humanity was condemned forever because, instead of just blindly doing God’s bidding, we were curious what it might be like to be wise. God’s so nice to us. The whole idea of book burning  makes a lot more sense…

4) God could have paid attention to his creation and intervened before they partook of the fruit . What’s up with God walking around the Garden when the fate of humanity was at stake?!? The Bible says after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit, "they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." So God apparently only cares to come visit Adam and Eve during the part of the day when it’s not too hot out (whose fault would that be, by the way?) . So God didn’t know the serpent was tempting Eve and couldn’t have come intervene? Even Spiderman has "Spidey sense". Apparently Spiderman is better than God is at telling when something wrong is happening.

5) God could have just forgiven Adam and Eve . This seems to be a recurrent problem for God. He just can’t find it in his Holy heart to forgive people. Obviously Adam and Eve didn’t know any better. Why couldn’t God just forgive them and, if he really felt someone had to pay, why not only punish the serpent, since it was his idea anyway? Instead, he condemns an entire species for all eternity based on one incident. Not very forgiving of him.

I’m sure I could think of other alternatives, but that’s plenty for now.

It’s also interesting to note that God didn’t want humans to live forever (3:22). There was a second magical tree in the Garden that would have let people live forever if Adam (and presumably Eve) would have eaten from it. If this was the case, and God didn’t want humans to live forever, why not warn humans not to eat of that tree, too? Or was it only after the fall, when  humans knew good and evil and had "become as one of us", that God didn’t want humans to live forever (if they stayed dumb he wouldn’t have cared)? Now that humans were smart, he didn’t want them around forever. Who knows?

Notice how the women gets punished in Genesis 3:16: God out-and-out says that Adam should "rule over" his wife (when did they get married, by the way??), and by extension all husbands over their wives. She will also have painful childbirth and bear children "in sorrow". People say childbirth is a beautiful thing. If they say that, they are missing the point apparently because God wants it to be painful and sorrowful. Adam in the next verse is punished not just for eating the fruit; the first thing he is chastised for is  choosing to listen to his wife. An important life lesson: God is more important than your wife or family. (By the way, Jesus thinks so, too .)

Some people argue that we chose to sin and disobey God, so it is our fault that we are not closer to God. The reasoning goes that God wanted to give us free will so we could choose to love him with all our heart. But we chose instead to disobey God and turn away from him, so we deserve to be punished. The sad part is, people actually believe this, even though it makes absolutely no sense. God created us so that we could sin against him,  put a tree there that we couldn’t eat from, and then had (or let) a talking serpent talk us into eating that fruit. And that’s why women have to listen to men and suffer or die in childbirth, why men have to work so hard, and this original sin is, according to many Christians, why we will burn in hell forever unless we love and accept God into our lives. Why would I love a being who set us up like this and after all this time still hasn’t forgiven us. (God will only consider letting us into heaven if we believe that he sent his only Son to be savagely killed by us, and if we eat his Son’s flesh and blood to celebrate this fact. Makes sense to me…)

So we went from Genesis 1, a fairly poetic way of looking at the start of the world, to a completely crazy story saying how women (and snakes) are to blame for people suffering forever because the first two humans ate some fruit that they thought would make them smart.

Time flies when you’re blogging the Bible. I’ll have to finish more on this another time. All this talk of fruit is making me hungry.

PS God was nice enough to make clothes for Adam and Eve after the fall. Was he regretting all the heinous punishment he just inflicted on his creations and decided to make it up to them by making them some clothes?