Sunday, June 12, 2005

Great "This American Life" Episode about God

Last week, NPR's "This American Life," was titled "Godless America." (Free online, scroll down to "Godless America.") The whole show is worth listening to, but the final act is brilliant. It's an excerpt from Julia Sweeney's one-woman show "Letting Go of God," and it tells the story of how she began to question her faith when she actually sat down and read the Bible. She hadn't really read it before and she was troubled by the contradictions (like the two stories of Genesis) and immorality (e.g. Lot offering his daughters to an angry mob; God telling Abraham to kill his son, and Abraham agreeing; a bunch of Jesus stuff my readers probably won't be interested in.) It's a touching story about how she questioned her faith, wanting sincerely to believe, before finally coming to terms with the idea that she can no longer believe in God. I highly recommend it.

If you've been brought up with Jewish schooling, try to read the Torah with a fresh eye. Don't see Rashi and your seventh grade Rabbi; see the cruelty and absurdity of text itself. If your education was anything like mine, the bad or crazy parts of the Torah were glossed over when you were young because "you aren't old enough" and later on, you were too busy studying Talmud to notice how downright crazy some of the Torah is. I'll include a short list of troubling parts of the Torah. Please don't respond with a pat answer from some Rabbi or from the Talmud about how the Torah doesn't mean what it says. No logical somersaults, no saying that the letter 'hay' negates the meaning of the sentence. If God wrote the Torah it should be able to stand on its own without seeming totally insane. I don't mind a little scholarly clarification, but don't try to tell me a verse means something totally different than it flat-out says.

1) Genesis 1:6-8. The firmament. "Heaven." It's between the waters below and the waters above. Genesis 1:14-18. The sun, the moon, and the stars (God doesn't know that the sun is a star) are created IN the firmament. In other words, the whole universe outside of earth is embedded in some sort of sphere, which has water below (okay, the atmosphere) and water above (huh?) If you want to read Genesis as a metaphor or a pretty story, I don't have a problem with it.

2) God commits the biggest multi-genocide (not to mention the killing of billions of innocent animals) in the history of the world. Promises not to do it again.

3) God asks Abraham to kill his son. Okay, it was just a test. But Abraham agrees! Doesn't that mean he failed the test? Obviously, the correct answer is, "No, voice from the sky, I will not murder my son to please you!"

4) Lot and his daughters. (Gen. 19)

5) An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. (It doesn't say and doesn't imply that an "eye" is "the amount of money an eye is worth.")

6) Slavery, fine with God. Seriously. Slavery.

7) Fathers selling young daughters into marriage or servitude. Also fine with God.

For hundreds more, please see The Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Please don't point out the weakest argument from the whole series and say, "Look, the SAB is just being nitpicky."

The Truth is just staring you in the face. It's a book written by a mostly preliterate people who lived thousands of years ago full of legends explaining how the world began, how their people began, how their enemies began, why the land of Israel is rightfully theirs, and why their Kings and laws are Divinely justified. Do you really believe that Arabs and Jews each come from a son of Abraham? How could that possibly not be a myth? And then Jacob and Esau the next generation?! Wow! What a coincidence! And then Jacob/Israel had 12 sons and each became its own tribe which remained distinct tens and hundreds of generations later? Get out.

Finally, think about this: if the Torah is true, is God someone you'd want to worship? How do you know He's good? To my eye, He does a lot of evil stuff.


Orthoprax said...

I'm getting closer and closer to the view that critiquing the Bible is a lot like critiquing Star Wars.

People take Star Wars seriously too, but I'm not going to spend my time explaining to them why a light saber is impossible.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't able to watch TV on Shabbos because my family had some of town guests staying by us and I didn't have the chance. I still feel like I got to make a change. My faith in G-d is basically gone. I am going to try some treif pizza today for lunch. I am not ready for a cheeseburger. Why does this make me feel like a criminal?

Anonymous said...

I am so out of it that I am using the computer on Shavuos. I woke up forgetting it was the second day of Yom Tov. I checked my email. I watched a little TV. I am truly becoming an apikoros. I am so nervous and excited. I'll have to save the cheeseburger until another time.

Anonymous said...

May I recommend a bacon cheeseburger with a chocolate milkshake (or vanilla if that's your thing)? You should go all out for your first go-round. In fact, do it at the Hard Rock Cafe and buy yourself a souvenir shot glass to commemorate the occasion! Eat it all while reading "Beware of God" by Shalom
Auslander. And then marvel at how lightning doesn't strike you. You'll probably also want some Tums handy...

Conservative Apikoris said...

You forgot about the God-ordered genocide against the Midianites recorded in Numbers.

But the former director of Yad Vashem, Yehuda Bauer, did not. He specifically mentions it in several of his books about the history of genocide and the Holocaust.

Jewish Atheist said...

My list was far from exhaustive; I was just giving some examples. Thanks for your addition, though.

Possum said...

In regards to your questions...

#2:The flood. Ok, let me ask you if you can't agree that God is the creator than how can you believe that he has the authority to do with his creation as he wishes? Bill Cosby said it best: "I made you and I can take you out then make another one just like you."

#3:Questioning a test of faith, I would ask you if you cheated on your tests? Did you want easy tests? The correct answer to this test was given by Abraham and God was in control to stop him from killing his son. Clearly you do not understand the very essence of what faith is and why Abraham would have followed through.

#4: Are you asserting that God made Lot's daughters commit incest?

#5 Harsh, I agree, but the new testament clears that up in Matthew 5:38-39 under the NEW LAW. However being Jewish taught you would not have seen that part

#6 Where EXACTLY is Slavery "fine with God"?? What I see regarding slavery are under three topics: fufilment of prophecy (Joseph & brothers), the Exodus, and the Law. Keep in mind that the law made concessions to the ways of man under headings such as divorce and slavery without having a direct divine endorsement of either institution. So where is God's endorsement of slavery?

#7 Marriage and servitude: clearly you must not have a great marriage there...LOL! Understanding the fundamental function of a marriage is to unite two people to serve each other versus thinking of it as a slavery to the husband. I do agree that arranged marriage is God approved but that's about the extent of the logic in your extremely weak argument.

Now to address the first one:
#1:This is the weird one, some think there was a "water barrier" since rain was never mentioned... anyway, there is a great deal of Genesis that we still do not fully comprehend. The question of the location of Heaven... what exactly is the merit of arguing this point?

The absence of logic on your other 6 points leaves this one as moot. There are no Biblical references that I can find that support your assertions against God. Would you care to quote and clarify some versus that support these assertions?

Jewish Atheist said...

I'll answer. :)

#2: I don't understand your point. If you are saying it's His world and He can do what He wants with it, I would say that's correct EXCEPT that He is supposedly moral and just. If you are talking about an immoral God, than there's no problem with the flood. In your example, would Bill Cosby be morally permitted to actually kill his kids? :)

#3: Again, if God is immoral, it makes sense. If Abraham feared (in the literal sense) God more than he loved his son, it makes sense. If God and Abraham are supposed to be moral, the story makes no sense.

#4: I'm not talking about the incest (you're thinking of Noah), I'm talking about when Lot sent his daughters out to the mob in Sodom to be raped. Lot who seems to be considered by the Torah to be a basically decent guy.

5#: The New Testament is outside the scope of this discussion. The Talmud "clears that up" as well, but neither changes the fact that the Torah (OT) says what it says.

6#: God's endorsement of slavery is when he allows it. Sure, maybe the Torah is more strict on it than previous codes, but it doesn't go so far as to forbid it. Instead, God explicitly permits it.

7#: I meant two separate things, not marriage as servitude, but some girls sold into marriage, some into slavery. Either way, they're way below any reasonable age of consent, and their consent is not required by the Torah anyway.

Back to #1: Maybe we "don't comprehend it" because it doesn't make any sense knowing what we know now. It does make sense if we believed what the authors believed then, though, which is telling. (Flat earth, Earth the center of the universe, etc.)

As far as quoting verses, I pointed out which verses a couple of my points refer to and the others are pretty clear. I don't feel like searching for the references to the others right now.

Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

Once again, I am puzzled by the indignation people have against the Torah’s morality. I don’t mean to defend it’s truth; its science and history are deeply troubling to me. But from which reservoir of Truth do you draw your morality? Clearly not that same as those of your own country only a hundred years ago. Morality is such a difficult thing to be certain about, I rather think that for most non-religious people morality means “what makes me go awww inside.” (I don’t mean to claim that there is objective morality, only that I’m amazed at how all the non-religious know exactly what it is.)

1) Scientific. Metaphor. I don’t know; whatever.
2) A) The whole death argument doesn’t work for me. People die. Get over it. If you think that people dying at 80 is reasonable but at twenty isn’t, that’s only because you’re human and used to an eighty year life span. I hardly think that God should be committed to life spans of which you approve. B) The people he killed were bad. (Elegant, no?)
3) Again, you think that there’s an easily verified objective morality. Perhaps I’ll come to the post where you explain it. Until then, if a religious person knows that God is speaking to him, it seems reasonable to conclude that what God directs is moral. See “A” above; perhaps Isaac’s time had come. (Also, read Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, two thumbs up!)
4) Lot and his daughters had sex. What’s the question? The Talmud actually praises them because they thought that human life would have ended otherwise.
5) Well, you might be liberal, but an eye for an eye probably worked fairly well. What’s wrong? Someone who poked out your eye shouldn’t get his poked out? God should have mandated rehabilitation?
6) What’s wrong with slavery? Someone can’t pay a debt, he works it off, big deal? I guess it offends your modern sensibilities. (Perhaps your feelings about slavery are a reaction to the excesses of your country’s recent history? Ahh, there are those changing morals.)
7) Right. Fathers used to marry off daughters. It’s how things worked, especially when fathers couldn’t afford to support the child until they were older. We’re not used to children getting married so young, but I know if my daughter were to marry young, I’d rather marry her off myself than have her pick herself. Whether fathers cared for their daughter is, I think, a separate issue. I hope so.

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