The Bible! I’m one of the relatively few that’s actually read this sucker (well, most of it) and my rants could fill a thousand unreadable pages. My parents made an honest attempt at raising me Lutheran – they actually succeeded in getting me confirmed – but I never believed a word that came out of the Good Book or the pulpit. I could never tell the difference between Zeus and Jehovah, the contradictions were obvious and not all that mysterious, and the whole affair seemed more like a compulsory display of social obedience than a thoughtful contemplation of the unknown. And the fact that some of the people around me actually believed this stuff – it scared me. Either they were crazy, or I was, and there was only one of me.
I’ll limit myself here to my favorite tale. It comes right out of the gate, early on in Genesis. I’ve forgotten the chapter and the names, but the story doesn’t need them. God’s chosen people, the Abraham Jews, were out wandering in the desert, and they saw a town that needed sacking. In this town lived a bunch of nice people who had never met the Abraham Jews much less wronged them. So God’s chosen tribe gives the town a fair deal, saying to the townspeople, “Oh ye people who dwell in this down, God is generous and will spare you. Provided, of course, that you cut off the tips of your penises.” And strangely, instead of telling these fetishistic Semites to eat dirt, the townspeople accept the offer without much ado. They accept the God of Abraham, proving their sincerity by mutilating every penis they can find. And stranger still, the following day the children of God go back on their word and sack the town anyway, murdering with ease the laid up men, and probably raping the women and children.
When I think of this story, I like to imagine that it’s one of the few Biblical stories that actually happened. I picture the little town, which given the time and place is little more than strategic piles of stone and dirt, sitting on a hill in the sweltering desert sun. It’s pocked with hovels, maybe a modest marketplace near the center, some oxen and sheep meandering about. Up marches this stinking, travel-weary hoard from the depths of the desert, and they send forth a single envoy. The town is on pins and needles, wondering if these are marauders or honest wayfarers. The envoy reaches the gate and delivers his message: “We have recently acquired the ability to talk to God, and he says you should all snip the folded little bits of skin off your dicks. If you don’t, he’ll be very angry.” The envoy leaves in a dirt cloud of dignity, and the townspeople are equal parts baffled, frightened, and amused. They decide to hold a meeting.
“This is obviously a joke,” the wheelwright says. “They’re having a go at us. If we do this, they’ll spread the word from here to Babylon, we’ll be a laughing stock.”
“But what if they speak true?” comes the inevitable doubt from the wheat-puncher. “Where have they come from? Surely, if God is anywhere, he lives in a cave in the desert.”
“If we do this, I think the duty should fall to each man’s wife,” a woman dares. She, like every other woman, is often misused, and relishes the idea of cutting just a bit too deep.
“Perhaps, if we cut the tips from the fingers of the women, and present them to these men . . .” the dirt-watcher trails off.
“Yes,” utters a wise old lecher, “but if I were them I’d ask to see our cocks.”
“Maybe we could peel the skin back when we show them?”
“Why would God make cock decrees?”
Eventually it is settled. The risk of God outweighs the risk of embarrassment. The shears are sharpened, the deed is done. And the next day they all get slaughtered regardless.
It was in my second semester at the university that I read this and other Biblical Tales in a class called The Bible as Literature. More or less agnostic at the outset I was full gallop atheist before we ever got to Solomon. For though I had never believed it, I had always taken it for granted the Bible was at the very least a collection of fables and morals which in summation had a genuine message to convey. It ain’t anything of the kind. In fact, there are a multitude of atrocities committed on the name of God that are so bizarre and creative that I never could have dreamed them up on my own. The Bible is much better described as a depiction of the tribalism, brutality, and insanity of humankind sans knowledge, and it is useful only as far as it warns us against the pitfalls of ignorance. An honest Bible comes with this preface – “Here lie the paths of ruin. Know them to shun them."
By the way, if you ever have the opportunity and the unction, read the Book of Revelations in a dimly lit sauna while listening to experimental jazz. It’s a trip.