Sunday, June 6, 2010

274: The Old Testament: In Review

Malachi 1-4
"When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" - Malachi 1:8

God is his usual whiny self today. He spends almost the entire first chapter complaining that the Israelites sacrifices aren't acceptable to him. God still hasn't explained why sacrifices are necessary, much less why it matters if the animals are blind or lame.

God asks in indignation whether a blind animal would be an acceptable offering to a governor. Probably not. But that's because the animal may be diseased, and it would hurt the governor if he ate it. God, on the other hand, isn't eating the sacrifice (as far as I know) and even if he did he would surely not get sick. Of course, a logical explanation would be that the priests (who are sometimes allowed to partake in the "sacrifice) don't want that shitty meat. But "God is pissed" sounds a little more convincing than "the priest is pissed".

In chapter 2, God says that if the priests don't set their hearts to honor God, he's going to curse their blessings. In fact, he says that he's already cursed their blessings. Isn't that an oxymoron? Maybe he means curse their sacrifices? In the latter half of the chapter God bemoans the fact that the Israelites have married outside of the faith.

God starts chapter 3 by saying that the Israelites have wearied him. The Israelites ask how they have wearied him. God says the Israelites have been going around saying "all who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord". I've said it before and I'll say it again, God needs to rethink his message delivery strategy. The Israelites' actions and words are a testament to God's failure to deliver his message.

For the rest of chapter 3 God accuses the Israelites of robbing him, because they aren't giving offerings any more. Isn't God robbing the Israelites? I don't think the act of creating humanity gives God the right to take our belongings for forever. That's like saying just because my parents created me they deserve a portion of my income for the rest of my life. Not to mention that God still doesn't tell the Israelites why he needs those offerings. Maybe they would do it if he gave them a decent reason.

The final chapter of Malachi, and the final chapter of the Old Testament, is a short one. God says that there will soon be a day when the wicked will be ashes under the feet of the righteous. He also says that if you don't follow the words of his prophets he will curse you. I guess God didn't want to end the book, or the Old Testament, on a happy note.

The Old Testament: In Review
As I alluded to in today's section, the Old Testament seems to be a testament (pun intended) to God's failure to communicate his wishes to the Israelites. For an entity that tries to paint himself as the father to humanity, he seems (at least based on the Old Testament) to be a bad one.

God doesn't seem to be able to "pick his battles". If he were a good parent, he would focus on the things that are truly important to keeping our society together (i.e. don't kill, don't steal, etc.). Instead, he focuses on not working on the sabbath day, and not being adulterous. In fact, "don't kill each other" (which I would argue is the most important rule of them all) seems to be mentioned very little. Not working on the sabbath and remembering to give offerings to God is mentioned much more.

God is bad at delivering messages. For a person that's supposed to be all powerful, and have unlimited resources, he's very bad at delivering his message/commandments. He picks one person (per generation), and makes them have visions (aka hallucinations) about God's message. This lone individual, in an age without the internet, is supposed to spread this message to the end of the earth. No wonder the Israelites are complete failures at following God's message, they probably don't even know what it is.

God is inconsistent with punishment. As much as I don't like to see people get killed, it would make more sense if God consistently did what he always threatens to do. Either that, or he should stop threatening to do it. If God says the punishment for adultery is death, then every adulterer should be killed (by God, don't make people do your dirty work). Either that, or no adulterers should be killed (the better solution). If God kills the occasional adulterer (or the occasional generation of Israelites), then who's to say that God even did it?

Which brings me to my next point, God doesn't make it clear who's being punished, and for what (or even that he's the one doing the punishment). For example, God has foreign nations invade Israel as punishment for their sins. Did the average Israelite know that God was punishing them? Or did they just think they were being invaded for their riches? I would venture to guess the latter, based on my previous complaint about God being a bad messenger. God also doesn't make it clear who precisely is being punished. Punishing the entire community for the sins of the few, or even the majority, doesn't make it clear who has followed God's word and who hasn't.

Enough about God, let's talk about Satan. From the bible so far, it seems like Satan is getting a bad rap. First of all, Satan doesn't seem to do anything that God doesn't patently approve of (see Job). His biggest "crime" so far is tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden. But wait, was that really Satan or was it just a talking snake? The bible just says it's a snake.

How many people does Satan kill in the Old Testament? The only people I can think of are Job's children, and however many servants Job had. Even this, to reiterate, was under direct permission from God. Other than that, Satan appears sometimes, but doesn't seem to kill or cause much trouble. Contrast that with God. Almost every time God appears he brings news of the upcoming destruction of Israel, or destroys Israel himself. In fact, contrast Satan with the other angels of God. Other angels are sent to assist in the destruction of entire cities, or to kill armies in their sleep. Satan almost seems mild in comparison.

Where is heaven? Where is hell? Is there even an afterlife? All of these questions are left completely unanswered in the Old Testament. Actually, if I only had the Old Testament as reading material, I would tell you that there is probably no afterlife. In all of God's talk of earthly punishment and torment, he never pulls the "hell" card. If his intent was to scare the pants off the Israelites (and surely it is) then why not mention that, oh by the way, you're also going to be tormented for eternity if you're bad in this life. After all, it worked for the Catholics (sort of).

Does God love me? You're going to have a very hard time convincing me that God loves the Israelites (who he occasionally mentions that he "loves" while killing them) but convincing me that God loves me personally seems to be an impossible task, just looking at the Old Testament. God has the occasional kind word to the Israelite, and says that they can achieve salvation if they would only be nicer to God. But I'm not an Israelite, and likely neither are you (unless I have a silent majority of Jewish readership). For us, the "alien", God rarely has a kind word. And rarely (if ever) does he mention our salvation. Of course, he doesn't mention the after life either, and I'm pretty happy with life right now. So I guess I've achieved all the salvation that there is. In summation, I've seen nothing thus far that would tell me God loves me (except maybe that I haven't yet met an early demise).

Overall, the Old Testament was not a good read. The content, which was usually not very entertaining to start with, was repeated over and over ad nauseum. I realize the bible isn't meant for entertainment, but you'd think if this was the most important message of all time the writer would go out of his way to make the book interesting, or at least readable. Of course, we've already seen how terrible God is at getting his message across.

Maybe God will step up his game for the New Testament. We'll find out tomorrow.

*News*
Comedy Central has a new show off the conveyor belt called "JC".

JC is going to be about, you guessed it, Jesus Christ. It centers around Jesus trying to live as a regular guy in New York City to get out of the shadow of his "apathetic" father. Needless to say, random Christians are pissed, especially while we're still in the aftermath of Comedy Central censoring Muhammad on South Park.

These Christians complain that there is a double standard at Comedy Central. Yes, congratulations, you are an expert at stating the obvious. Why is there a double standard? Because there is a rather large faction of Muslims that will kill you if you offend their prophet. Moral of the story: Sometimes life isn't fair and the bad guys win.

The righteously indignant are overlooking a few things. First, Comedy Central is joking. If you're not offending someone, you're probably not being very funny. People need to learn to take (or at least disregard) a joke, don't take yourself so seriously. Second, South Park has very regularly portrayed Jesus as a normal guy. In fact, they've had entire episodes that are essentially the same concept as this new show. Where is the indignant rage? Oh, that's right, they don't actually watch Comedy Central. Why would they start worrying about what's on Comedy Central now, even though they've never watched it before?

Christians on blogs all over the place are promising to boycott anybody that advertises on this show. Don't people have bigger things to worry about than a silly show that's probably going to fail (like most new shows on Comedy Central) after it's first couple of episodes?

(via Reuters [and a bunch of other places])

5 comments:

  1. Note that near the end of Malachi one finds this verse:

    Mal 4:5: See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.

    This is significant for the beginning of the NT.

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  2. Thanks for helping me get through the tedious, bizarre, and convoluted Old Testament. I couldn't have made it to the end without you.
    I too have found the Bible (so far) to be exceedingly underwhelming.
    Lead on, Bryan.

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  3. Just wanted to add my bits here and say congratulations.

    The next testament should offer a little more in terms of narrative, etc, although it can get repetitive as well.

    I'm a little curious to see here if you've had any change of mind or heart at all so far? Not in the sense of converting or anything silly like that. What I mean is all your conclusions or attitudes (so far, with the OT at least) don't seem modified much from the attitudes you started this adventure with.

    Are you any further along in understanding the religious mindset, even if obviously not convinced you should adopt it?

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  4. If anything my opinion of Christianity (and the bible in general) has gone down. The parts of the bible I'd heard before I started didn't necessarily inspire me, or make me want to become a Christian. But for the most part I didn't think the bible was that crazy. Then I read about people turning wood into snakes, and 4 headed angels covered in eyes.

    I wish I could understand the faith that allows you to believe in the supernatural. Every day I have more questions for the next person that tries to convert me. I guess that means I have less of an understanding of the religious mindset.

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  5. Sorry. It's been a week and I've been distracted.
    Your experience is really, really similar to a lot of Christians now, except that they've been a little more invested into it culturally, and so forth. That's where the drama and emotion comes from now in a lot of de-conversions. ("My parents told me to believe in every word of this???") And, to use the language, this is also where a lot of the hardened hearts come from on the more hardline sides of the camp.

    The Bible was essentially a very guarded sacred text for about 1500 years, right? And it's only really been under public examination for the last 60 years or so. Seriously. This is 20th C. history for the most part. Not to be too snide or anything, but it's a real case for the effects of a bumbling public education system. illiteracy vs literacy. etc...

    Get this -- in the 60s there was a push to change sunday school curriculum (in some Christian churches) away from "Bible lessons" to "how are we going to be good people?" lessons. It was a result of a lot of academics coming to conclusions similar to what you've found in going through the book. The changes didn't last. And the churches mostly reverted and lost about 50 years now of progressive thought on values and community-building.

    As to believing in the supernatural -- well people believe all sorts of things, but for the most part want so desperately to belong or be on the right side or be a part of order that we unfortunately latch onto a lot of things that seem greater than ourselves. I believe there is some value in striving for ideals, but in no way should that be considered a grasp at the supernatural. We can define that sort of thing in human terms, I hope. How about we give it another 60 years or so? Maybe then we will get some real headway against the supernatural rationalizations...

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