Still searching for a reason to return to my youth-religion, Roman Catholicism, I undertook to study the Bible, trying to assess what really was said about such items as the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus, hoping, too, to find references to such Church teachings as the Assumption of Mary. What I found was that Mother Church had constructed a whole wardrobe of yarns from its own cloth. No Assumption; no substantiation, in fact, for the whole Blessed Virgin Mary cult. Perhaps I was not surprised, as I had doubted features of the Holy Family story since I was young.
Having made a start on the Bible, I decided to read it from cover to cover, an exercise I now suggest to anyone who wants to further his/her atheistic bent. That the Pentateuch was a collection of tales to justify the political and military exploits of the Hebrew nation soon became obvious. The promotion of savage rules for living supposedly emanating from a kindly God was justification enough to cut my ties with any religion based on the Old Testament. That Paul continued the attack on women also energized my distaste for the New Testament.
Among the stories which annoy and disgust, is something lighter, the foolish yarn about Noah who purportedly built an ark (Genesis 6) which prevented every species on earth (except the unicorn) from perishing in an universal flood. The number of animals on board would vary, depending on which of the two versions, you want to accept; and, on how fast dinosaurs multiply (fundamentalists of many stripes believe that man and dinosaur co-existed). Totally impossible. Entirely misleading. But, excrementally funny, if you think about it.
On to the juicy stuff. So many stories teaching or approving of indecency, treachery, rape and murder. How to choose the more glaring examples? Lot (Genesis 11-14; 19 … particularly 19), being Abraham’s nephew, should be a good fellow to start the parade. His happy offer to let the mob at his door do whatever they want with his two virgin daughters, so long as they will not touch his two male guests, stands as one of the most vile examples of twisted thinking in the whole bible. It is comforting that the daughters lived to escape Sodom with their parents, though Lot’s wife didn’t make it, having looked back to see what was happening to her friends … which served her right, because Yahweh had warned her! But, back to the tale … Lot is now an old man (still virile … it ran in the family) living in a cave in the hills with his two now-adult daughters who want to become pregnant. There are no men around, and they are too lame-brained to take their love to town, so they get their father drunk (this happens two nights in a row) and take turns sleeping with him to get pregnant. And it happens! So drunk that he could not remember, he can still do the thing! I guess that the girls told the historians of the time later on, when they discovered which way was downhill.
But, on to the gore and sex. The much-told, much-deplored, awful legend (Genesis 22) of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, because he heard a voice (this was God?) telling him to do so was a corker which terrified me as a child, which fear soon gave way to disgust. Perhaps the novel tale of Jacob’s chicanery in breeding “striped or spotted or piebald cattle” (Genesis 31) would serve to illustrate acceptable behaviour among the Israelites (Jacob having just been re-named as Israel, because he wrestled God, saw him face to face and lived, though he came away limping due to God’s having struck him on the sciatic nerve). Not overly dramatic, watching cattle humping, but illustrative of what you can get away with when Yahweh is on your side.
Treachery, as approved only for the Chosen People, surfaces again in the adult-only story of Shechem’s rape of Diana (Genesis 34). Diana’s brothers are not content that Shechem’s desire to marry Diana will satisfy custom and the law — they want revenge. They pretend to accept Shechem as a future brother-in-law, with the stipulation that Shechem must first consent to the circumcision of himself and his men, which would somehow make them people of God and thus acceptable to Israel. Shechem wants more of Diana, so he agrees, but once he and all his men are lying about in scabs (it being the third day) and awful pain, Diane’s brothers (not to forget, these are the sons of Jacob, who has already proved his own lack of integrity) and their men, kill all of the Hivite males, including Shechem — and his father, for God’s sake! Treachery, when performed by the Chosen People is evidently acceptable.
The story of Onan (Genesis, 38) has, for me, long figured among the most objectionable tales, not for the content, but for the mis-teaching for which it is used. Here we have a young man, Onan, who defies the instruction of his father, Judah, to impregnate Tamar, the widow of his elder brother, Er (God having killed Er, because Er displeased him). The Jerusalem Bible is clear … anxious not to spoil a good thing, Onan had sex with Tamar night after night, but withdrew before impregnating her, as any child produced would not be his. So, God killed him, too. Talk about quid pro quo! How Mother Church could use that story to frighten young fellows away from masturbation is a total puzzle … not that it mattered, for it didn’t work, anyway — not even with the priests.
Genesis is so full of good stories, that I hate to leave it. The complex, sometimes contradictory, always vicious (some might say “stern”) commandments set forth in “Numbers” and in the Deuteronomic Code speak are tributes to male chauvinism, religious extremism and stupidity. They are the product of leaders with a very precarious hold on their people, of priests who felt compelled to restrain a people whose sense of decency and fair play were still significantly underdeveloped. For most of us, they are dated and objectionable. They are, however, useful to consider because almost every fundamentalist who claims to believe and follow every word of God’s bible is either lying or is ignorant of what is contained in those books.
Let us, before closing, marvel at one more. See, God is sitting around with Satan (not really the devil as we “know” him – the Christians gave us that one, later), arguing about the quality of the faith of this poor sod, Job. “No one like him on the earth,” says Yahweh (Book of Job 1). “Well, yeah, I guess,” says Satan … you give him all the goodies. Take away his possessions and see what happens, see if he’ll still bless you.” Well, the bet is on! Yahweh arranges for the theft or death of cattle and camels, shepherds and all his children. Not satisfied, he treats Job to a dose of “malignant ulcers” which, along with the “treatment” in the ash pit, leave him unrecognizable. There then ensues a long, series of arguments, pro and con, dealing with the wisdom, mercy and justice of “God” … interesting, as Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained” are interesting, but fatuous beyond belief. Of course, Job’s having proved true and faithful results in his being granted incredible replacement riches and a whole new family, his daughters being known as the fairest in all the land. The introduction to The Book of Job in The Jerusalem Bible says: “The Book of Job is the literary masterpiece of the wisdom movement.” Usually dated as of the early part of the fifth century, B.C.E., it is, indeed a literary work worth reading if one can ignore the destruction of life and property by a god who wants only to make a point to his troublesome alter-ego, Satan; and, if one can countenance the smugness and arrogance of this same god in his last arguments establishing his might and power.
Ah, the bible is so full of it.