Monday, July 16, 2007
Afterword on "The Impeachment of Jehovah"
This essay relates to my infamous and much misunderstood post of July 2, ”The Impeachment of Jehovah”.
Among the things I’ve learned through blogging – in addition to the fact that it actually is cold in Brazil and Australia when it’s hot in the US, and that more people have multiple personalities than I realized – is that I know a lot less about national differences in attitudes toward religion than I thought I did.
Obviously I have no real feel for what it is like to be brought up in a Chinese or Japanese or Hindu or Islamic milieu, but I did have the simplistic idea that in the English-speaking nations (among which I hesitantly include the United States) the religious indoctrination was probably quite similar. I’ve noticed, however, that my friends who were offended by “The Impeachment of Jehovah” were separated from me by the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, while those who agreed with me were not. Coincidence? Probably, but it made me wonder.
My reason for publishing my opinions about “Jehovah” was not to offend those who believe that the Old Testament is the word of God and that the Jehovah described and quoted there is the one true God, but instead to help lift a burden from myself and others who do not share those beliefs and feel oppressed by much that is in the Old Testament, although uplifted by some of the beautiful passages, as from “Psalms” and “Song of Solomon”.
My purpose now is to improve intercultural understanding with these personal, impressionistic notes on Jehovah and the Bible in America.
I was born and raised in the southeastern United States, where most people I knew were Protestants – although the Florida town where I was born, St. Augustine, was predominately Roman Catholic because it is the earliest surviving Spanish settlement in America, and there remain many people of Minorcan descent. It’s the only area in Florida I know where the little country churches are mostly Catholic rather than Baptist.
My mother’s family was Methodist, my father’s Baptist. My father’s mother prevailed, and so I was taken to the First Baptist Church to learn about God and the Bible. In a sign of things to come, I put up such a loud protest when I was first dragged to the Age 5-6 Sunday School that my father had to carry me down the stairs over his shoulder, vowing, “Never again.”
But that was not the end of it, and most Sunday mornings of my formative years were spent at the church with crayons and a Bible coloring book, where I was supposed to render in brilliant color such scenes Moses in the bulrushes, Moses carrying the Ten Commandments down the mountain, Jesus gathering the little children to him, Noah completing the loading of his Ark as his neighbors began to drown, Jesus walking on water, and David killing Goliath with a much better shot from his sling than I ever got with my slingshot made from a tree fork and a heavy rubber band.
The walls of the rooms in which we children created our art works were populated by old bearded men in bathrobes and sandals -- some holding shepherd’s crooks, some with their eyes rolled heavenward, some cowering before a burning bush or a glowing cloud or an angel – many with circles of light above their heads. I have never been able to remove those alien old men from the inner walls of my skull, and so I’m condemned to carry around, in lithographic splendor, characters dreamed up by Jews thousands of years ago.
We learned that Jesus was our Savior, the son of the Old Testament Jehovah, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and that if we loved Jesus and behaved ourselves we would go to heaven instead of what my mother called, “The Bad Place”.
We had only a vague understanding of the different Protestant denominations to which we variously belonged and which we sometimes visited. We didn’t think there was really much difference, and most of our parents were not that interested in the theological distinctions either. All the congregations dressed up in best clothes on Sunday mornings and looked the same; all the congregations smelled of bath powder and perfume; the sermons and prayers and hymns sounded about the same. We knew the Baptists believed in total immersion and the Presbyterians were supposed to believe in predestination, while nobody was sure what the Methodists or the Episcopalians believed. I was nervous about visiting the Episcopal Church because I got confused about when to stand up and when to sit down. In the Baptist Church we sat down most of the time except when ordered to stand and sing (or in my case, mouth) endless verses of hymns.
As for the Roman Catholic Church, it was small, mysterious, and unsuitable for informal visiting except on Christmas Eve, when the Catholic and Episcopal churches became popular with sneak-ins, because of their midnight services. We Protestants were told that Catholics didn’t read the Bible and so were missing the whole point of religion. My father, with ill conceived envy, complained that the Catholic secretaries in his office in St. Augustine went out and did “immoral things” on the weekends because they could always be forgiven at confession, and my mother remembered that her best friend would walk with her to school carrying on a conversation while saying her rosary. In other words, Catholics went through more motions than we did, but with less meaning. That was the myth.
There were only three or four Jewish children in school, all from old local families, and we looked on them just as people who went to another church, although they never invited us to visit it. I learned almost nothing about modern day Jews until I was in college. They were almost never mentioned. When I asked my mother about them she said only that they were “clannish” and kept to themselves, and my father, a County Agricultural Agent, complained that “Jews from Jacksonville” had rented all the government-subsidized farmer’s market booths (meant to help farmers survive the Depression) and then rented them at higher rates to the actual farmers.
If I learned nothing about contemporary Jews, I learned plenty about biblical Jews. And remember, the whole Bible was the word of God, absolutely and literally true. All those Bible stories we learned were about real people and events: Noah and his ark, Moses, Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors, the Red Sea parting for the Jews and drowning their enemies, David and Goliath, Lot’s wife turning to salt, Samson and Delilah, Balaam and his talking donkey, Job and his boils, Joshua trumpeting down the walls of Jericho. My wife says she was especially frightened by the story of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego in the fiery furnace. I was frightened by the plagues Jehovah visited on Egypt, but I liked the Moses’ magic tricks for the Pharaoh, and the spectacles which led him toward the Promised Land, and the idea of manna falling from the sky to feed the Children of Israel.
'6 1/2" x 10" Foam Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Craft Kit. (makes 12) Item Number: IN-48/2526
Those stories, and all the contents of the Old Testament, are alive and energetic in America today. Children still get gold stars in Sunday School for memorizing the names of the books of the Old Testament and reciting them in order. You’ll find references to those ancient Hebrew tales in everything from sermons and Sunday School lessons to cartoons, and documentaries such as the perennial “Search for Noah’s Ark”. It interests me how often a children’s animated film about Noah and the animals, or a movie like “The Ten Commandments”, will turn up on television on the unlikely occasion of a Christian holy day like Easter or Christmas.
The Old Testament is especially problematic in America today because it is used as the justification for the Zionist colonization of Palestine, and the United States has contributed much more than any other country to financing and politically protecting Israel, as well as a lot to its leadership and population too. Any alleged moral right of Israel to the property which it occupies or keeps under military control is based solely on the words of Jehovah in the Old Testament. If you are not an American, you would be amazed at the number of “I Love Israel” bumper stickers on the roads. Those are usually Christian bumper stickers – and the rationale is the Old Testament.
From Christianshirts.net: “The Land of Israel Necklace - Designed by Israeli Soldiers and handmade by Israeli artisans; The Land of Israel Necklace displays beautifully layered earth from her holiest sites and is truly a way to keep Israel close to your heart.”
As an adult, I feel it is bizarre that we in the United States learn Jewish myth rather than the myths of our European heritage. The Norse, Teutons, Celts, Romans and Greeks left us a wealth of myths, with gods and tales at least as colorful as those of the Old Testament, and more relevant to people descended from European stock than ancient Hebrew myths.
Why more relevant? This passage helps explain:
‘Unlike the gods of the Greeks and Romans, a major function for Israelite theology was not to interpret the workings of nature or to bring good fortune in various endeavors, but rather to represent the kinship group through historical time. . . Israelite theology is intimately bound up with Israelite history. . . . There is a general lack of interest in cosmogony and anthropogeny, but “the history of man serves as a background for the still more significant history of Israel.” . . . In a very real sense one may say that the Jewish god is really neither more nor less than Ezra’s “holy seed” [Ezra 9] – the genetic material of the upper-class Israelites. . . “It is not Creation that is the most important event in early Hebrew history, but rather the Exodus, in which the Israelites successfully flee from Egypt after a successful sojourn as a minority in a foreign land.”' A PEOPLE THAT SHALL DWELL ALONE, Prof. Kevin MacDonald (Praeger 1994), p. 45.