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-a
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?