Ralf has been grumbling that I've digressed from writing interesting - albeit ignorant and misguided - social commentary to ‘Poor me, I’m so sick’ postings punctuated by German doctor bashing. So in recognition of his support for this essential social service I provide, today's challenge is to try to get my groove back.
Since I don't want to offend anyone, I thought I'd take on a nice, safe topic like Christianity.
Me and Christianity go way back. My grandmother, a Presbyterian minister’s wife, used to read me Bible stories by the hour. She got a lot of babysitting mileage out of the Holy Book - not only is it chock full of short, action-packed stories, you can also make a game out of reciting the chapters: ‘Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel. . . ‘ and so forth.
And we didn’t just study Christian literature together, she also read me hundreds of stories from Greek and Norse mythology, and I was engaged to a Jewish guy who converted from Catholicism before I married a religiously lax German Protestant, and we meditate with a Buddhist Sangha, so although there are a few gaps in my knowledge of mainstream religions I feel like I have a pretty good grounding in comparative religious studies.
I recently acquired a Young Reader’s Bible for my kids and was looking forward to sharing the same special memories with my girls but I just can’t seem to get started. As an adult I find that many of the Bible stories are difficult to tell children because they tend to ask all those why questions that are so inconvenient when you’re trying to find your faith.
There's still some magic - I mean, when Moses parts the Red Sea that totally rocks.
But I have issues with God, at least as He is depicted in the Bible. He is inconsistent, vengeful and not above wiping out entire cities or playing petty pranks on his most devoted worshippers. Not that he never comes through - I mean, he saved Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace and Daniel got a break with that lion but he didn’t lift a finger to save his son and don’t even get me started about Job.
And the Garden of Eden, what was that all about? ‘See this tree full of delicious looking apples right in the middle of the garden? Don't eat any or I will be eternally pissed. Just enjoy the garden, worship me and don’t look at the apples. Have an apricot or a grape instead…. Did you just eat that apple? I can’t BELIEVE you ate that apple!!! I will SMITE your sorry ass for this!!!!’ And so on.
I realize that many people have found a loving, merciful God in the Bible and that's the kind of God I want, too. I'm looking for the God the Harlem Gospel Singers sing about, the ‘Rock of My Salvation’. I just can't find him in the Bible.
And I don’t like how Eve got blamed for everything, either. Adam's a spineless yutz and this is Eve's fault?
I also don’t care for the author’s note at the back of the Young Reader’s Bible that God personally oversaw the writing of the Bible. Is it just me or does it seem unlikely that someone who doesn’t lift a finger to fight AIDS, war or famine has time for, or interest in, authoring a book? Even a spectacularly popular book like the Bible.
I sometimes wonder why the Bible is so popular. God isn’t a very sympathetic hero, with all his ranting and city destroying. It isn’t particularly well-written, either, all that boring Ezrah son of Abraham stuff at the beginning of each chapter and mediocre character development. I mean, the God in the Old Testement has a completely different personality than the God in the New Testament.
But like The Devil Wears Prada (another poorly written book with an unsympathetic, badly developed main character that was amazingly popular), it has a few things going for it:
It has a catchy title. ‘The Bible’ has gravitas, dignity, authority. If they called it ‘People and Deities Behaving Badly’ instead it would lose much of its mass appeal and moral authority. Ditto ‘The Devil Wears Prada’- I mean, say it was called ‘The Really Mean Boss’ instead, would you read it?
It’s available in English, thus making it instantly more accessible than other viable religious texts with equally cool names like the Torah and the Quran. Ditto TDWP.
It has an appealing concept: Super powerful being offers perfect after life if you go to church and do what the priests tell you in this life. Ditto TDWP: Mean boss bullies plain mousy girl until she develops a fashion sense and stops being such a total weanie. People like to read stuff like that because it's reassuringly easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
Church backing also hasn’t hurt the Bible's popularity, given that the Church has more money than God (heh heh heh).
Incidentally, it just has occured to me that blaspheming right after a bad bout of bronchitis might not be such a hot idea. . .
I still pray to God when my kids are sick or I can’t find my keys. And I say 'God bless' when someone sneezes or as a gesture of support. But it doesn’t feel like I'm calling on the God from the Bible, more like something greater and less… uptight middle-aged white guy.
I'd like to leave you with this thought: Most mainstream religions have been adapted to fit personal agendas over the years - usually for the sake of fomenting violence, sometimes just for money - and Christianity is no exception. But if we boil them all down to their most basic tenets I think they are all trying to tell us the same thing:
We are all connected.
Love is more empowering than hate.
There is a higher purpose.
Live in this moment.
Do no harm.