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I was giving some thought to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah the other day.

Most of you will be in broad terms familiar with this fairy tale, but let me sketch it out in brief terms anyways. In the ancient middle east, there were, according to this story, two cities named Sodom and Gomorrah which were exceptionally sexualized societies. The details are a little sketchy, but it seems that homosexuality was not frowned upon, and it is heavily implied that gang rape was a pretty socially accepted sort of thing as well. These were, in short, people who were pretty committed to this whole “sexing” thing. The christian (or, at the time, Hebrew) god, Yahweh, decides that he doesn’t care for the looks of this place too much, and, in one of his frequently not-actually-all-that-omniscient-after-all moments, decides he needs to investigate this town. He makes a deal with his sycophantic toady, Abraham, that if there’s so much as a single person in the city who conforms to his morality, then he’ll let the matter slide.

He sends a couple of his angels on a fact-finding expedition, where they lodge with Abraham’s nephew in town, Lot. While there, they make quite the impression upon the population, who mob Lot’s house in an attempt to get freaky with these angels. Lot, whose sense of family values seems to be about as shakey as that of his uncle, decides that he would rather see his daughters gang raped in the street than allow two angels who could plainly take care of themselves to be confronted by an unruly and evidently horny mob. The mob is having none of it, though, and the angels announce that, as a result, their god is going to have them murder every living thing in the cities. As such, Lot and his family are told to leave and not look back, which 75% of them manage to do (Lot’s wife bringing the family’s total grade down from a solid A+ to a merely respectable C by glancing over her shoulder as she ran and being killed by the angels for the act in a kind of puzzlingly vindictive dick move).

When they’re up in the hills, with the city being rendered a flaming and stinking ruin (the benefit that using fire AND brimstone rather than just fire is not made exactly clear, but one assumes that the unpleasant aroma is meant to be some sort of additional penalty), Lot and his two daughters settle down for the night, and his daughters demonstrate that they were not altogether untouched by the culture of their hometown, as their very first impulse is to drug and rape their father, which they do with gusto.

There’s something that occurs to me, when I think about all of this, though; even if we assume that each and every person in these cities were somehow irredeemably evil, and we assume that Yahweh has the moral prerogative to murder them all as a result (which is a central assumption within the story, so I won’t really get into it here and now beyond calling it “bullshit”), there’s still the sticky question of the children and babies which resided in town, especially vis a vis murdering them for the fact that they happened to have had the wrong parents.


These would be children born to parents whose propensity for sexual violence is well-documented, and who would have grown up without role models or cultural influences to the contrary. It stands to reason that the overwhelming majority would have been the victims of childhood sexual abuse, and that, as with many sufferers of childhood sexual abuse, they would grow up to perpetuate the very same acts of violence they were exposed to during their formative years. All of which is to say that these would be difficult kids to deal with. But did they deserve to die for having been born into the wrong culture? For having been the victims of unfortunate circumstances beyond their control?

This is especially problematic for modern-day christian fundamentalists, whose ethos in large part revolves around the prevention of the killing of anything they call a “baby”, even if the “baby” in question is an unthinking, unfeeling lump of undifferentiated cells floating senselessly in a woman’s womb. How then do they square away the fact that their god would so cavalierly murder such a large group of innocent children and babies? The fact is, this is not an isolated incident; Yahweh had previously murdered every child on Earth during Noah’s Flood, and set Moses and Joshua about a path of genocide which saw them exterminating every living member of not fewer than thirteen city states throughout the lands which would come to be known as Israel. The murder of the first-born of Egypt before the Exodus, and the bizarre story of Yahweh sending a pair of bears to slaughter a group of fourty-two children for having made fun of Elisha (Yahweh evidently never having learned the lesson “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”). This is, in short, a fairly genocide-happy god, whose willingness to slaughter innocent children for being in the wrong place at the wrong time is well-documented.

One explanation I’ve heard christians offer a few times for this sort of wanton baby-murdering behaviour on the part of their god runs somewhat along these lines : “Once their parents were dead, who would care for them? Who had the resources? There wasn’t the social infrastructure in place to take in that many orphans. Better that they should die quickly than starve to death slowly afterwards.” This line of thinking, it seems to me, is somewhat problematic for essentially the exact same reason, though: It seems to convey the message that if a child is unwanted, and would be a burden on society, then Yahweh says it’s totally cool to just kill them so as not to cause a fuss. I’m not certain this is exactly what these apologists are looking for here.

But more importantly, it overlooks the whole “miracle” angle! This is a god who is plainly not only totally cool with big, flashy displays of magical power, he actually WANTS people to take notice of his great big miracles. In light of this, it seems like a genuinely omnibenevolent god could have very easily have provided a happier ending to this story...

And Lot did look upon the ruins of the city, and there amidst the rubble did be behold a miraculous sight.
Though the destruction of the town was complete, and no living man or woman was there to be found, there were, among the ruins, a vast multitude of children, unharmed by the fire and brimstone unleashed upon them by the Lord.
And Lot did realize that the Lord was merciful, for he had spared the lives of those innocent children of his town. But still did he ask aloud, “Oh, Lord! Who shall care for so great a multitude of children, that they should not starve?”
And the angels of the Lord did descend to the ground before Lot, and thus did they speak unto him: “For thou were the most righteous of all of the men of this town, thou hast been spared. And as the Lord is just and good, he hath no unleashed his fury upon these children, for it is an evil act to visit the sins of the father upon the child. The Lord hath lain this charge upon you, his noble servant, that you should be as a father to these children, that they might be raised to be righteous, as you are righteous in the eyes of the Lord.”
And though Lot was grateful for this blessing, still did he wonder how he would carry out this charge. “I am but one man, without home or lands or servants. How am I to feed and house and clothe so many?” he asked of them.
“Fear not”, they did reply, “For the Lord is generous to those who serve him well as thou hast done. For all of thy days, thou shalt have no difficulties in raising these children, nor want for food nor clothing nor space for them. All that thou needest that thou might raise them well will be given unto you.”
And Lot was grateful, and praised the Lord for his great generosity. And so he went forth and gathered unto him the orphaned children of Sodom and Gomorrah.
And it came to pass as the angels has spoken. A great new home, like unto a palace was given unto Lot, with rich lands and many servants to till the soil. The children were raised as Lot’s own progeny, and when they came of age, Lot’s daughters took from among the finest of them two husbands, that their tribe might flourish and prosper.
And in the fullness of time, they did honour Lot, and honour the Lord who did spare them, and across the land, all marveled at his great blessings and at the generosity and kindness of the Lord he served.

You know how strong Superman is? I’ll tell you. He’s exactly as strong as the writer writing him decides that he needs to be for the purposes of the story at hand, because telling a good story is often more important than consistency. The writers of the bible got this; sometimes it was necessary for a good story to write their god as being all-knowing and all-powerful. Sometimes it was necessary to write him as bumbling and idiotic. It all depended upon what the story at hand called for. In this case, the needs of the story were such that they had to have a god who was kind of ignorant and needed to send some of his guys to find stuff out for him, and who lacked the ability and/or character and/or imagination to figure out how to deal with the situation in a just manner. The point of the story, after all, was to convey a moral message which was easily understood to the casual reader: “I’M GOD AND YOU WILL FUCKING OBEY ME OR I WILL FUCKING SMASH THE SHIT OUT OF YOU BECAUSE I’M GOD AND I FUCKING HATE EVERYBODY.” A scary story like that does not call for the sort of kind and loving god that later writers would decide would benefit their narrative.

Still, to a literalist who believes the bible to be a true and accurate account of events which actually happened, it’s got to be a little difficult to square away this sort of abhorrent behaviour on the part of their god with the notion of him which they try so desperately to maintain and project upon would-be converts. Especially if they also hold to the currently-popular and kind of science-fiction-y idea that, to their god, all of time is one moment, and he experiences the past present and future all at once from his omniscient point of view. Not only do they need all sorts of excuses and evasions to explain why he would ever need to send his guys to find something out for him, they also need to deal with the idea that, while they’re shouting about how killing fetuses is wrong because their god says so in the present day, from that god’s perspective, he is at that very same moment killing every fetus on Earth during the flood, killing every fetus in Sodom and Gomorrah, and ordering his dudes Moses and Joshua to murder every fetus in Canaan.

It seems like there has to be some kind of weird cognitive dissonance there.

Which is odd, because ordinarily, Christian fundamentalism leads to all kinds of clarity and consistency, right?

Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment or comments. )
(Deleted comment)
dave_littler
26th Nov, 2009 15:51 (UTC)
You're right, I should have specified "Christian fundamentalism" on that last line, since that's what I'd been talking about up to that point. I dropped the ball with that last line, and will amend it.

This having been said, I do have to ask: If those stories about divinely-mandated (or indeed executed) genocide are meant to be metaphor, then what in the world worthwhile thing are they meant to be metaphors FOR?
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(no subject) - dave_littler - 26th Nov, 2009 17:00 (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - dave_littler - 27th Nov, 2009 00:57 (UTC) - Expand
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meicdon13
26th Nov, 2009 15:48 (UTC)
This is why the Bible should never be taken literally. In the Old Testament, God did the smiting and stoning thing, and yet in the New Testament, he was all for peace and love and being benevolent.

The Bible thumpers don't realize is that even IF the Bible really were the word of God, it been passed down from human to human for hundreds of years; it's bound to have been changed from its original state to what it is now. People in power probably changed its content to fit what they deem as appropriate.
dave_littler
26th Nov, 2009 15:56 (UTC)
You're on the right track, in a sense, though it's a bit more complex than that. The very early books of the bible are an interesting case; schollars in the field have identified in the original language of the early books of the bible five separate writing styles. Interestingly enough, it's not even that, say, one book is in one style and another in another; different styles can be found even on the same page. The bible that we see today is the product of five separate sets of mythology which got chopped up and stitched back together, Frankenstein-style, some time after the Babylonian exile. This accounts for a lot of the bizarre inconsistencies which so riddle the early books (such as on the first page of Genesis where you see not one but TWO conflicting versions of the creation of Adam and Eve).
voodooskeleton
26th Nov, 2009 16:06 (UTC)
huzzah! another thing to debate with my mother about
dave_littler
27th Nov, 2009 08:29 (UTC)
And may it serve you at least as well as the last few have!
pheslaki
26th Nov, 2009 16:19 (UTC)
Christian apologists amuse me. "It was only a metaphor!" But then, how are we to distinguish between what is supposed to be taken literally, and what isn't? Admitted some of it is just stories seems only one cognitive step away from realizing it is all just stories.
dave_littler
26th Nov, 2009 16:29 (UTC)
I've often asked such people "can you show me the guide book to which parts of the bible are meant to mean what it says it means and which parts don't mean anything remotely like what it actually says?"

I have yet to see this guidebook, and this makes me fairly jealous, since they are plainly intimately acquainted with it.
(no subject) - zeddidragon - 26th Nov, 2009 17:16 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dave_littler - 26th Nov, 2009 17:30 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thepolishhammer - 26th Nov, 2009 18:13 (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - dave_littler - 27th Nov, 2009 08:23 (UTC) - Expand
skittish_derby
26th Nov, 2009 17:28 (UTC)
that was great writing on your part, for a few lines I was confused!

yes, the inconsistencies of god's character was enough to persuade me against believing as well: "Did he smile his work to see?/ Did he who made the lamb make thee?"

dave_littler
27th Nov, 2009 07:09 (UTC)
Which few lines were you confused by? I'd be glad to try to clear some stuff up.
hentaikid
26th Nov, 2009 19:20 (UTC)
old testament god is pretty metal
thepolishhammer
27th Nov, 2009 08:12 (UTC)
This is true. To be honest I have heard more metal bands take their imagery from satan when old testament god is just as badass or possibly more badass then satan.
(no subject) - dave_littler - 27th Nov, 2009 08:25 (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - thepolishhammer - 1st Dec, 2009 05:35 (UTC) - Expand
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superskimmilk
26th Nov, 2009 19:45 (UTC)
Sorry you're worked up on such a happy day.

I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving nonetheless!
dave_littler
26th Nov, 2009 23:33 (UTC)
Oh, that's right, I keep forgetting Americans have their version of Thanksgiving in November. That always strikes me as so odd.

But no, I had a good time writing this. This isn't the sort of thing I actually get worked up over, any more than I get worked up over discussing, say, Star Trek or Lord of the Rings. It's interesting, it's fun to discuss, but not of any great emotional importance.
johhnymayhem
26th Nov, 2009 19:54 (UTC)
heh Interesting read, but it seems your fundamental problem is that you're trying to introduce logic to people who, if anything, shun such a thing.

Good points, though. I'll have to keep Sodom and Gomorrah in mind if I'm ever confronted with some sap telling me all life is precious.
dave_littler
27th Nov, 2009 14:39 (UTC)
Yep. And those other stories I cited are great to bolster that point, too, I should think.
(Deleted comment)
falconwarrior
27th Nov, 2009 06:59 (UTC)
Good read, as always. :D
dave_littler
27th Nov, 2009 07:07 (UTC)
I aim to please. :)
hentaikid
27th Nov, 2009 13:28 (UTC)
Incidentally this is why Catholics were not allowed to read the bible, since it was "confusing" without proper interpretation. On a related note, there's a talk on youtube by Dan Dennet going into the theology studies priests take at seminars and how they frequently cause crises of faith, most of the talk is about religious people who have lost their faith
dave_littler
27th Nov, 2009 14:36 (UTC)
Yep yep. Just last night, I was watching the latest episode of The Atheist Experience, and the host, Matt Dillahunty (who is himself a former Christian fundamentalist who was training to be a priest when his studies of his religion forced him to realize it was all nonnsense), made a great point. He said (and I paraphrase him here), You can hand a christian a bible and a handful of highlighters and tell them, Okay, you say some of this is MEANT to be literal, and some of it is MEANT to be metaphor. Go ahead and highlight for me the literal stuff in blue, the metaphors in yellow, and the stuff you aren't sure about in green. No christian can ever do this, because it is all just guess-work and personal preference. There is no 'proper interpretation', whether they want to admit it or not.

I really like Matt's insights into these things.
(Anonymous)
28th Nov, 2009 03:14 (UTC)
sirreepicheep
'He makes a deal with his sycophantic toady, Abraham, that if there’s so much as a single person in the city who conforms to his morality, then he’ll let the matter slide.'

I just thought I'd be a nitpicker and point out that you got this part wrong: Abraham is the opposite of a sycophant and God doesn't agree to spare the city for one man. Actually, I think its the most worthy and interesting bit.

The way I recollect the story goes like this:

God says to Abraham, "I'm going to destroy these two cities and everyone in them for being wicked."

Abraham says "Seriously, don't you think that's a little insane? What if there are 50 good men in there?" Now, it is one thing for an atheist to bad mouth a God he holds to be fictional, but to question God's ethics right to his face requires serious guts.

God goes "Okay, if there are 50 good men, I'll spare the cities."

"What if there are 20? You're going to kill a city with 20 righteous men in it?"

Being father of all the Jews, he finally haggles him down to ten. Then he goes one step further: "What if there's just one guy?"

God says, "You're pushing your luck. I said 10 and I'll let is slide. If it's just one guy, I'll get him out, and then the fuckin' place burns."

...

I take it as a story about the necessity of wrestling with your conscience (Abraham is the guy who literally wrestles with angels) and deciding about what's right and wrong for yourself. Abraham doesn't let his morality be dictated by some book or some priest. Even when god comes out of the sky and starts speaking directly to him he doesn't take what he says for granted. He sure as hell wouldn't think it was good enough to point to some passage buried in the scripture and base your whole morality around that.

gracilejenn
29th Nov, 2009 01:46 (UTC)
I guess you could say I'm agnostic, veering towards being an atheist. I am married to a hardcore Christian fundamentalist. I call him "The doesn't believe in dinosaurs" type of Christian. ANYTIME I try to bring up the metaphorical vs. factual stories in the bible, it leads to heartbreak and harsh words. So I just don't, anymore. I've learned to pick my battles.

I get endless entertainment out of the fact he doesn't believe in dinosaurs though. I bought a T-Rex shirt on Black Friday, and I'll be wearing it when I pick him up from the airport. It amuses me in part because my main obsessions in life are Alan Rickman and dinosaurs.

I just think that having a belief in God should not replace critical thinking skills.
dave_littler
2nd Dec, 2009 10:21 (UTC)
(Sorry it's taken me a couple of days to respond to this; it's been hectic with the move and all)

Your husband belongs to a rare and dying breed of creationsits. While one they roamed far and wide, trumpeting their ignorant song into the air, selection pressures have driven them all but extinction. Soon, they will be gone from the world, and future generations will only be able to learn about "there's-no-such-thing-as-dinosaurs-and-there-never-was"-creationists in museums, and wonder that such strange creatures once roamed the very earth on which they now walk.

But though their tale is a sad one, it is not a final one: For even in this twilight of their age, a new breed of creationsits has evolved from these great, lumbering beasts, sporting the bright new plumage of "yes-dinosaurs-were-real-and-they-coexisted-with-humans-when-the-world-was-created-6000-years-ago", which allows them to thrive and take flight in this cold winter which their predecessors can find scarce refuge from.

It feels to me almost as though there might be some kind of irony innate in the gradual evolution which creationsim has gone through in order to adapt and survive.
thingie
30th Nov, 2009 06:53 (UTC)
Actually, technically, that wasn't the Christians' god, that was ours.

He was a real prick.

Lewis Black has a really great bit about how Xtians shouldn't be trying to interpret the old book, cause they interpret it wrong. All of us jews recognize that it was a bunch of made up shit to keep us in line because we were being assholes.

Ive heard some interesting alternate interpretations of the sodom and gomorrah story, the main one being that the sodom wasn't burned to the ground by a flaming fart because of their lack of sexual discretion, but rather, for their lack of hospitality.
dave_littler
2nd Dec, 2009 10:25 (UTC)
I have heard this as well, and it sounds credible to me. I mostly focused on the christian approach to the story because it was the slightly crazier of the two.

Mind you, if Yahweh decided to destroy those cities as punishment for their having been rude, this is a trifle ironic, considering the fact that most masters of etiquette agree that genocide is significantly ruder than a denial of hospitality.
(no subject) - thingie - 3rd Dec, 2009 01:50 (UTC) - Expand
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