The Modern Damage of Romans 1:18-21

More than anything in the Gospels, more than anything in the Old Testament, more than any other passage quoted in the Epistles of Paul, Romans 1:18-21 is quoted by the Young Earth Creationists in defending their… Science? Opinion? Stance? Ignorance? I don’t even know what to call it; I don’t want to call it ignorance, but when it is said in the same breath as speaking historical science, or in the same article as calling evolution “anti-science”, it is tough to call it anything else. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but if they didn’t have this talisman I think we’d be in a very different world (or, at the very least, they’d have to pull different tools out of their tickle trunk).

I tripped down the hole that is Answers in Genesis, and was forging through the brush of their articles before coming across these two pieces of wonderful literature that I simply could not ignore. The first of my links is possibly the most broadly egregious, for it basically says that the scientific advances of the great Greek culture were only because of God. I mean, obviously they weren’t Christian or Jewish, but thanks to their MIGHTY TALISMAN (Romans 1:18-21), we can be certain that they knew God. Obviously. And because they knew God, and rejected God, then God gets all the credit for their science in absentia. I mean, it’s not like they can fight back, right?

Never mind the fact that when Eratosthenes discovered the circumference of the spherical Earth, the Jews were being passed between Egypt and Greek masters like some kind of feud over a borrowed lawn mower (The third century BC). I am sure the Jews of the day were closer to the right of it, though, and the Greeks knew about the Christian God (then again… Jesus hadn’t been around yet, and Romans 1:18-21 didn’t exist. So the Jewish God was universally a territorial, xenophobic, murderous asshole of a tribal god at the time. Oh, that isn’t true, you say? Tell me where in the Old Testament God showed his love for all peoples. Oh, I know God said he loved the Israelites, but that was generally right before he wanted to kill them all. It’s OK, though, Moses talked him out of it. Anyway, take your time. I’ll wait.).

Regardless, the spurious logic presented in the second linked article is almost laughable to anyone who even … Sorry, that was going to go to an insulting place, and I’d rather we stay civil. Anyway, the author states that because the Bible states there is uniformity in the universe that there would be no such uniformity without God. I don’t even know which of the thousand threads to pull on. I mean, the first would be what was the world like before God struck his covenant with Abraham? And even if we accept your Creator God, why does He have such a small, historically insignificant people as His chosen, despite the fact that he frequently mentions his hatred of them? Why have a chosen people at all when all people are descended of your creation? And what’s with the other gods in the old testament? The Old Testament contextually speaks of Ba’al as a rival god to YWH, and historically it seems that even the early Jews accepted Ba’al as existing, though there’s an entire body of research that goes into how that argument got settled.

If God wanted to kill the Israelites so badly after the Exodus, why didn’t He just choose another, better chosen people? To that end, why did he ACTIVELY harden the heart of Pharaoh against believing in Him? I don’t even, what is this?

But then this all goes to the damage caused by Romans 1:18-21 in the modern world. The weird thing I want to know is how does this manifest? How do I know the truth of God and reject it? How is it so plainly obvious? And I don’t just mean in my case, what of the case of a child born and raised pagan? If the child learns of the Hindu pantheon from birth to death, how was that child meant to know God clearly? The passage reads that all things are clearly seen, but what makes these miracles “clearly seen” to be of the God you were raised to believe in, as opposed to Zeus? Or Odin? Or Vishnu? What makes it so clear that these aren’t scientific processes? These aren’t rhetorical questions, they are question about the very root of the arrogance of hard line creationists who cite it as defense of their view. You are asking me to take a statement from a first century religious zealot at face value, without even a hint of explanation. Hell, with the way that this set of verses is bandied about, it seems you want me to accept it without even the slightest trace of context.

I think that very passage is at the root of the arrogance of many modern creationists, and I think it has stymied the conversation between the Christian Church in the United States and science worldwide. Usually, this would not really concern me, but as the United States is a major world power, it is a major issue worldwide. The Christian Right has certainly put a massive stopper on many very promising lines of stem cell research. That should concern the entire world, and that does concern me. When your religious dogma promotes love and tolerance, I will stand by it — but if I have to let your anti-scientific rhetoric through with it, I have serious reservations — and I think any empathetic, merciful human should have similar reservations.

It is the arrogance of belief that lets so many people stand confidently beside the idea that, to use Sam Harris’ example, a 7 year old with third degree burns over 80% of her body should suffer because the treatment for this illness lies in the destruction of a blastocyst that has no nervous system. That a soul is granted immediately upon conception. I would like to see the evidence that this is the case, in any case.

There are many who believe that life is an absolute, and destroying even a blastocyst constitutes killing, regardless of whether the being has a soul — but to assume that the blastocyst could suffer in any real way, without a nervous system, without any organs, without any identifiable features that could make it human, we must not destroy it even if in the hope of saving the above mentioned girl.

These beliefs contribute perhaps to a higher population of humans, but definitely to increased suffering in the world. But hey, 9 billion people suffering is better than 7 billion healthy people, right? Right?

Exodus: Gods and Kings Biblical review

This is not the Charlton Heston movie you may remember…  In fact, if you are a regular reader and remember my recent “Exodus Abridged” series, you will have a clearer idea of what this movie is about than most walking into that theater. It is not romantic, and at times it is not pleasant; this movie, while handling the story of Exodus, does not shy away from the human cost of God’s freeing of the Hebrew slaves.

You may recall that in the story of Exodus, God’s plagues are not targeted; He would plague the Hebrew people as easily and often as He would plague the Egyptians. The curse of the blood was said to make the whole of Egypt smell of rot, and that happened. The mountains of dead frogs and plague of gnats and flies are portrayed in suitably horrifying ways, the plague of disease has a massive cost, and Ridley Scott does not shy away from showing the suffering of the Egyptian people as a result, and the curse of the firstborn, for which the passover feast is celebrated is–difficult to watch, for anyone with a strong sense of empathy. It is often said no parent should have to watch their child pass before them, but here we watch an entire nation mourn.

It is from this point of view that it is difficult to really question Pharaoh’s decision to follow the Israelites and attempt to kill them; his was a nation in mourning, a soul crushing sadness, a grief that would affect even the most hardened soul.

Theological criticism has been levied towards the fact that a question is raised by the movie as to whether Moses hallucinated his conversations with God, though no question as to the intervention of God is left open. I think this should certainly count for something. I… Could it be said to be called enjoyment? In any case, the method by which the Nile is turned to blood is what I would expect to see of an all powerful God who wanted to strike the fear of God into a nation. I won’t spoil the method, as that is the joy of watching the movie. You know the plot, I should think, so my description should hardly come as a spoiler.

While Christian Bale may have said Moses was a terrorist, Moses is portrayed mostly as a moral man, a good man. When the first of the plagues strikes, it is Moses that criticises God; “Why do you send the plagues on Egypt and on Israel together? Your own people suffer!” This becomes something of a theme in the latter half of the movie, as God tells Moses “I like you, for you are willing to disagree with me.” This thought comes directly from the Bible, and I am glad that Ridley had the cajones to include it; many Christians that I know and are friends with certainly did not know that people routinely talked back to God in the Old Testament, and I am afraid they will consider this a Hollywood choice rather than something that comes from the Bible.

Ultimately, this is a movie about three things; humans doing human things, suffering, and the power of God. What it says about the personality of God is left up to the watcher, as in the Bible it is left for the reader to decide. In my personal opinion, this movie says the same thing about God that the Bible does, and I certainly don’t think it is a romantic message in any case.

For whatever reason, much has been said by those around me as to the presence (rather, the lack of presence) of the Staff of God. The staff from the Bible that Moses used to win battles, cast miracles, and turn into a snake. There is no snake scene in this; the first plague is that of the bloody Nile. All of the subsequent plagues are in full display, too, and if you are squeamish you may not like some of the following. Mountains of dead frogs, as I mentioned, as well as gnats, flies, diseased cattle, plagued people, locusts, even the curse of darkness is displayed momentarily, and the plague of great hail is seen to crush Egyptians and any Hebrews unlucky enough to be outside when it begins (and in this tale, there was no advance warning as was given in the original book of Exodus).

Moses does not approach Pharaoh between the plagues. He approaches Ramses once, and basically says God is going to wreck his day until he releases the Hebrew slaves, and the message is left at that. Once God starts with the plagues, Moses asked “What do you want me to do?”

God replies succinctly: “Watch.”

There are no brakes on the plague train.

In the end, we see Moses crafting the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant. If you are of the Biblical mind, you know where the ending leads… If you are there to watch a Hollywood movie, there are lots of unresolved plot threads, though you are left with a somewhat positive outlook. You don’t know that Moses was about to have several of his own people killed by the Levites, for example. There is also no mention of the subsequent 40 year desert journey.

As far as the movie goes, I very much enjoyed it. While a more human take on the whole tale than many would want, it truly captures the tale in a powerful and emotional way.

If you are open minded about your own religion, I definitely recommend it. If you want a modern retelling of The Ten Commandments, you are probably in the wrong theater.

If you are looking for a more objective review of the movie, I wrote another review over at Guardians of Geek. Take a read, or just browse the site if you are into nerdier fare!

The Real Ten Commandments

This will be a short post, and I will have something of full length forthcoming for the day, but I just thought I would mention it. In Exodus chapter 34, God writes ten commandments on stone tablets. Hurray, right? There is something that popular culture got right!

NOPE!

According to Exodus 34 (and I will cite verse to make sure no one calls me dishonest), the below are the ten commandments. The punishment for breaking any one of the following commandments is that you, your kids, your grandkids, and your great grandkids go to hell (Exodus 34:7)

Commandment One: Thou shalt kill the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and do not forge any contracts or alliances with them. You will destroy their altars to their gods. Only worship me. (Exodus 34:10-14)

Alright, commandment one is somewhat familiar, if a little wordier. Since all of the peoples God commands killed are extinct, the only part left is “Thou shalt have no gods before me,” which is the familiar first commandment.

Commandment Two: Thou shalt not make any idols of worship. (Exodus 34:17)

Again, we are still on familiar ground.

Commandment Three: Celebrate the Passover feast, and make really sure the bread is unlevened. SERIOUSLY! NO YEAST! (Exodus 34:18)

Commandment Four: The first offspring of every womb belongs to me. For the firstborn of every donkey, sacrifice a lamb. If you don’t sacrifice a lamb, break the donkey’s neck (for some reason). For the firstborn son, sacrifice a lamb. (Exodus 34:19-20)

Don’t know why God hates donkeys, but there you go. There is no provision for what happens if you don’t sacrifice a lamb for your firstborn son, but if we use extrapolation…

Commandment Five: No one is to appear before God without a sacrifice prepared. (Exodus 34:20)

Well, that does seem consistent with the personality of the Old Testament God.

Commandment Six: Keep holy the Sabbath. Do no work, light no light, do not start any fires. (Exodus 34:21)

We’ve moved a commandment, but you might recognize this from the original ten you learned.

Commandment Seven: There is to be a festival of the harvest, and you are to sacrifice your first harvest of wheat to God.  (Exodus 34:22-25)

Commandment Eight: When you make a sacrifice to me, make REALLY SURE none of it has any yeast. Or looks at yeast. Or has been in the presence of yeast. Did I mention I hate yeast? Because yeah, I hate yeast. (Exodus 34:25)

Commandment Nine: Sacrifice the first fruits of any soil to God. (Exodus 34:26)

This one seems a duplicate, but it seems God really had a point to make here, and He was going to get it across.

Commandment Ten: Thou shalt not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. (Exodus 34:26)

Yup, that is commandment ten.

Exodus 34:27:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.

So there you go. These are the Ten Commandments that were chiseled in stone.

These are the moral teachings of the covenant of God.

Just thought you should know.

Do as I… What Was I Talking About Again? Part 6

As we walk towards the finale of the epic tale of Exodus, Moses is dragging gigantic slabs of rock down a mountain, the tablets having been inscribed by the Finger of God Himself with every rule He could think of.

Meanwhile, at base camp:

“Hey Aaron, we were all just wondering,” a nervous looking Israelite was fidgeting as he spoke. “Moses has been gone for like… Weeks. Do you suppose he just made all of that God stuff up? And I mean… Like… Now, I am just spitballing here… We need to have gods. We can’t live without them. Now, since he made that God up, we don’t want to believe in Him any more. What say you make up a god for us?”

Aaron looked thoughtful. “You know what? You’re right, he probably made it all up and isn’t coming back. Gather up all that gold we stole from the Egyptians, let’s melt it down and make us a god.”

Aaron collected all of the gold and jewelery from the Israelites and melted it into a cast he apparently had handy of a calf. From it he made a golden calf.

“There you go, Israelites! Against all evidence, and ignoring the fact that I obviously just made this calf in front of you a few minutes ago, this is the god that rescued us from Egypt!” Aaron flung his arms wide in a gesture indicating the glory of the golden calf.  (Seriously, Exodus 32:1-4)

“And since this is our new god, let’s offer it some burnt sacrifices! Since we aren’t following Moses’ stupid God that he totally made up any more, these bulls aren’t doing anything useful anyway!” So they made an altar in front of the calf and sacrificed some stuff to it, because why not?

Then, for the first time in 40 days, the omniscient God looked down the mountain that Moses was slowly descending. “Oh what the hell! You’ve been up here for what? A few weeks? They said they’d worship me forever out of fear! How could they turn so quickly? I am going to smite them so hard”

Moses let the gigantic slabs fall to the ground, and spun on God. “Oh no you don’t. No. You don’t get to ruin my life, then mess with my family and me for over forty years then just smite them. You put so much effort into saving them, why would you waste that? And you promised Abraham that his descendants would number as the stars, and what would everyone say if God just went around breaking promises?”

“Uuuuuugggghhhhhhhhhh. Fine. But you just wait until I tell you the new rules. Those slabs you are carrying down the mountain? Those will practically be invisible beside the paper it will take to write out my new rules.” God crossed His arms in a huff and wandered off to smite something that Moses wouldn’t complain about. He mumbled as He turned “Stupid people don’t realize the amount of awesome they are constantly rejecting.”

Moses turned around and dragged the slabs to near the bottom of the Mountain when he saw that everyone was celebrating in front of a golden calf, just like God had said. Realizing that the Israelites were completely undermining all of his effort, he got so angry that he threw the tablets down the mountain, shattering them that God Himself had written. “Oh, oh, oh hohoho. You know what? I am going to smite some of these idiots myself. I am tired of this crap!”

Moses ran the rest of the way down the mountain, through the people, and poured oil all over the golden calf. He then started the calf on fire, and kicked it over and it smashed (as gold is wont to do) then made the Israelites powder the statue and he shouted “You drink it! YOU DRINK YOUR SHAME! IDIOTS! And you, Aaron! What the hell, man? YOU’VE TALKED TO GOD YOURSELF! You know how He is! What did they do to you, that you actually made this god for them?!”

“Well,” Aaron was staring at his shoes and drinking his burning gold-oil water. “They asked me to make a god, so like… What was I gonna do? Say no? So I made them a god. Well, really, it made itself. You know. With magic. It’s kind of hard to explain.” (Exodus 32:22-24)

Moses was struck dumb momentarily, and Aaron thought he could actually see something break in Moses. Moses turned around and walked to the altar of the Golden Calf. He turned and looked at the people, all in rapt silence looking at him.

“Whoever believes in God, come over here.” Only one group followed him, the Levites.

“Ok, so God wanted to smite everyone, and I thought, you know… How bad could it be? But you know what? This is stupid. This is all stupid. So grab some swords, and kill all of the Israelites in the valley except the Levites. Just… Smite them. As hard as you can. Maybe seeing some wanton destruction in His name will keep God from smiting some random tribe.” The Levites grabbed swords from the armory, and like a giant living lawnmower they killed everyone, their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers who were not of the tribe of Levi.

As this wanton destruction happened, Moses climbed back up Mount Sinai to talk to God.

“Hey Moses, saw what you did back there. I like it. I like your style. Hey, though, just for good measure I am going to strike all of the Israelites with a plague, so they remember how awesome and merciful I am. Should put the fear back into them, too. It worked so well last time!”

Moses just shrugged and said “Sounds good.”

Good looked at Moses with something that could have been concern, but probably wasn’t. “Hey buddy, you ok?”

“M’fine. Go plague some stuff. I have to go rethink my life.”

“Cool, cool. Oh, by the way, you may be my chosen people, or whatever, but I’m done helping you directly. Seriously, I have almost killed all of you so many times, I’ve just decided to be hands off going forward. You guys don’t deserve to be in my awesome presence anyway.” And for the first time in forty years, Moses felt a sliver of hope that he may yet know something like happiness in his life.

“Oh, but before I go, we have to remake those slabs you broke. I mean, I could put them back together… But I’d prefer if you came back up Mount Sinai. Don’t worry, I’ll still do the writing, but you have to make the slabs. Bring them up the mountain with you tomorrow! That’ll cheer you up!”

Moses had regrets about ever having been optimistic, but the next day chiseled out some slabs of stone and dragged them up the mountain.

When Moses got to the top, God was waiting. “Heeey buddy! Have I mentioned how awesome and merciful and compassionate and slow to anger I am lately? Because I am all of those things. But if you break even one of my rules, I swear upon my own name, I will send you to hell, and your kids to hell, and their kids to hell, and their kids’ kids to hell. COMPASSION! Am I doing this right?” (Seriously. Exodus 34:6. In fact, I think I made it make God sound even more merciful than the Bible version does.)

“Anyway, as part of how merciful and compassionate I am, I feel like now is the time to remind you to go to the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and kill them. Kill them so dead. Like… Turbo dead. Is that a thing? Turbo death? I feel like I should make that a thing. Man, I’m awesome. Turbo-death. So awesome. Hey, I just remembered. When was the last time you had a seven day long party in my name? You should do that. Do that each time you annihilate an entire people in my name. Just so I know you know how awesome I am. AND NO YEAST (Yup, came up again, Exodus 34:25). I hate yeast. It is so… So not awesome. Also, don’t know if I mentioned this recently, but make sure not to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. That’s important. (Exodus 34:26)

“Anyway, stone slabs are ready. Get dragging. Also, I turned you into a nightlight; isn’t that hilarious? You should probably wear a veil for the rest of your life, or people will make fun of you for glowing. (Exodus 34:33) Have fun, you rascals!”

Moses dragged the slabs down the mountain, and showed them to the Israelites. He also made sure that the Israelites built the box God wanted, and set up a tent with the patterns exactly how God wanted them, because even though God is slow to anger, Moses knew that God would smite them all if the patterns weren’t exactly right. After all of the work was right, Moses made sure to inspect every inch of every piece of the box and of the tent and of the furniture in the tent, before even telling God that it was done. And when he was done inspecting, he inspected again, because he was not going to bargain for the lives of 2 million people again, especially when they didn’t deserve it, and when he himself had ordered thousands of them smited.

For the rest of eternity, the Israelites were blessed with the opportunity to carry a box weighing thousands of pounds with them wherever they went.

The End

What a nice story, am I right?!

Do as I… What Was I Talking About Again? Part 5

When we last left Moses, he was writing down strange and onerous rules pertaining to justice, mercy, and the moral way of living (as punishment for backtalk to God). I won’t list all of the rules in this summary (you can find them in my previous blog posting, The Laws of Morality), but suffice it to say, God was probably just messing with Moses just to see what happens. After Moses had delivered the laws to the Israelites, they said they would happily follow them to avoid pissing God off because they saw what he did to Egypt and they are not as stupid as Pharaoh.

God was just giddy to see the look of fear and terror in His beloved playthings… I mean people. He came down onto Mount Sinai again, and called out to Moses, “Hey buddy, come back up here. Bring Aaron with you, I like him, and bring like… Seventy elders or whatever. I want witnesses. But only Moses comes close, the rest get to watch from a distance.”

“Are you asking me to pick out 70 elders to come up the mountain but still not come close to them just so you can watch 70 elders climb a mountain?” Moses asked sardonically.

“… No. Shut up. Bring the elders. Oh, but before you come up, I need you to be cleansed. So here’s how you are going to cleanse yourselves; you are going to sacrifice twelve bulls, one for each of the tribes with you, and collect all their blood, then take half of it and pour it on yourselves. Then you’ll be clean! Then you can come up the mountain.”

Moses heaved a heavy breath and went to gather twelve bulls, built twelve altars, and made sure he had twelve very large bowls to collect all the blood. He then engaged in the slaughter according to what God had said, because at this point this was probably one of the least frustrating things God had asked them to do, aside from the fact that there was a lot of meat there, and they weren’t allowed to eat it.

Then Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders climbed Mount Sinai and saw God sitting at the top. Moses was frankly surprised they the elders weren’t killed by God for some reason (no, seriously, Exodus 24:11). Once they got to the top, God told Moses to come up further, away from the elders, and He’d write the Laws of the Covenant on stone tablets for Moses to take down to the Israelites.

When Moses arrived at the foot of the throne of God, he really wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Maybe that he’d get stone tablets quickly? But he wasn’t so lucky.

“Heeey Moses! How’s things with you? Having fun being the caretaker? Hey, I’m gonna spend some time writing these tablets, why don’t you make yourself comfortable?” God cheerfully began carving stones at about the same speed Moses could have.

“I’m… Well,” Moses replied unsurely. “How long are we talking here? How long will I be sitting alone with you?”

“Oh,” God said, then looked at the stones around him thoughtfully. “I should be done in about forty days. But hey, we get to hang out for forty days! I arranged it like this, because I am awesome, and I knew you’d want to hang out with me after being stuck with all those other boring people for so long!”

“I can’t even describe how I feel right now, God. You have no idea.” And so began forty days and forty nights of Moses hanging out with God.

After the forty days, before God sent Moses down Mount Sinai, He decided to drop the bombshell. “Hey buddy, these forty days have been awesome! Thanks for hanging out. But hey, I feel like the Israelites haven’t been sacrificing to me all that much since you came up here, so here’s what you’ll tell them to sacrifice to me when you get down there: I like gold, silver, and bronze, so those are good. Ummmm… Blue, purple, and scarlet string.”

“What?”

“I like those colors. So yeah. Blue, purple, and scarlet. That’s important. Some goat hair would be nice. Make sure you burn it, though.”

“But that will smell awful!”

“Hahahaha! It sure will! Where was I? Goat hair. Right. Ram leather, but only the stuff that has been dyed red. I’d like some acacia wood, too. That stuff is great for medicine.”

“But if you burn it, you lose all of the medicinal parts…”

“I KNOW! It’ll be hilarious. Stop interrupting. Spice-scented olive oil, and any gems you have. Then you’re gonna build an insulated box for me to stay in so I can ride along with you guys.”

“An insulated box? Insulated against what?”

“I have this bad habit of accidentally killing people whenever my mind wanders. If you build the box according to these plans, there is only a minimal chance you’ll all be killed for being too close to me! Aren’t I awesome?!

“Uhhh… Why does the box have to be made almost entirely out of gold?”

“It will be SUPER SHINY! It’ll blind anyone who looks at it! Won’t that be hilarious? And gold is like super heavy. I wanna watch you guys carry it around, everywhere, for the rest of forever. I mean, you guys would never lose something as important as this, right?”

Moses decided to keep all of the future questions to himself.

God looked thoughtful for a second. “Here, have some more plans. One for a bitchin’ tent that you are to put the box in. I don’t want a standard tent, and remember how I mentioned blue, purple, and scarlet? The tent had better be those colors! And I’ll need priests! Can’t have a solid worshiping without priests, right? But how will they know that these priests serve the most bitchin’ God of all time? Hmmm…” There was a brief pause before God continued. “Make the robes out of blue, purple, and scarlet, of course. But the best priest will need a bejeweled breastplate. We don’t want people thinking I am worshiped by peasants, right? How will they know how awesome I am if my priests are boring assholes?

“I think that about covers how they look. But how will I know they are serious about the position? Well, how about this. Have them sacrifice a bull to me, but remove its internal organs and burn those as sacrifice to me, and haul the rest of the body out and burn it in the wilderness. Eheheheh, that corpse is gonna be so hard to carry.

“Also, we’re just warming up. Take two rams and sacrifice them to me. Cut up the first one and cook it, but you can’t eat it. It is mine. The second one, take its blood and mix it with oil, then smear it on Aaron. Actually, you know what? Cover Aaron’s sons with it, too. Yeah, gotta know Aaron is serious about being a priest.”

Moses looked up at God for a moment, setting down the plans for the box. “You haven’t asked him to be a priest yet. How do you know he will even be sort of serious about it?”

God looked at Moses quizzically, “Wouldn’t anyone want to be a priest for such a bitchin’ religion? Wait, I get it! You’re jealous! You wanna be my High Priest. But you don’t have to be, you’re my boi! That’s like… Way better! The High Priest will barely ever get to talk to me! Haven’t we had such awesome conversations?! That’s what I thought.”

Moses again sighed heavily and looked back at the plans for the box.

“Also, bread. Lots of bread. But NO YEAST. You’ll make two different kinds of bread for this. One of the breads will be baked with olive oil mixed in. BUT NO YEAST. The other one will just be brushed with olive oil. ALSO NO YEAST! Did I mention I don’t like yeast? Because yeast is awful. Hell, I’d go as far as to say yeast is me-damned. Me-damned yeast. Hate that stuff.

“Anyway, once you have the bread, give it to Aaron and his sons, and have them wave the bread at me. (Author’s note: What? Seriously, what? Exodus 29:24-26) Then, burn it. Burn all that bread. I want to taste it in the air.

“Now, this is just on day one. For the next six days, sacrifice a bull each day.”

Moses didn’t even look up this time. “How many bulls do you think we have?”

“Psh, you think I care? I like burned bull, and that’s what you are going to keep burning. It’ll be awesome. Also, you think you are going to run out of bulls? Wait for this next one!

Every day for the rest of eternity I want you to sacrifice two lambs. They have to be exactly one year old, so you’d better be calving those sheep every day. Also, wine. Lambs love wine. Sacrifice the lamb with wine.

“Anyway, I think that about covers it. As long as you do this stuff, I will be your God. But if you ever stop these sacrifices, you bitches are on your own. (Exodus 29:45-46)

“Now, this next part is important. I don’t know how many of you there are, so take a census. Also, for every person, take a ransom to ensure their good health (seriously, God blackmails them with plague threats in Exodus 30:12, and asks for protection money). The ransom price is one half a shekel. Also, I want to know how much the people like me, so no one is allowed to pay for anyone else. The poor have to provide their own ransom money! (Exodus 30:15) Use this money for the upkeep of my bitchin’ box. See? I’ve thought of everything. Aren’t I awesome?!

“Now, you guys smell a little funny, so I need you to make a huuuuuuuuuge basin of perfume. Literally enough to last for the rest of eternity, because anyone who makes any more of the perfume as per the recipe I am giving you will be SMOTE. Seriously, dead and sent to hell. This perfume is serious business. Also, only use it on the priests, because they are the only ones who can come even close to me. The rest of the smelly peasants just aren’t allowed nearby.

“And now the most important commandment I will ever give you. No work allowed on Saturday. If you, or anyone, or any of their animals, work on Saturday, even to lift a finger, wash, or whatever, kill them, and I’ll make sure their stay in hell is eternal and horrible.

God then handed Moses the stone tablets that contained not just the ten commandments, but all of the Jewish rules, because it would be hilarious to watch a 90 year old man drag around gigantic slabs of rock.

—-

I think Part 6 will be the last part of Exodus, then I can return to my regularly scheduled updates.

But seriously, this section was ten straight chapters of God making rules. I tried to capture the highlights, but seriously. The specificity is amazing in there for just the smallest things. There’s bread recipes, and rules for the patterns in the tent where they are supposed to store the ark, and rules for the smallest details in the lid of the ark. I am sorry, I really didn’t know how to capture any of this section but also make it funny. There’s just nothing interesting there, for ten straight chapters, except for the fact that the reason that God hasn’t talked to anyone since Jesus was around is because we stopped sacrificing the lambs (probably). So I guess that makes sense.

The Laws of Morality

So you may recall, if you are a regular reader, that I am writing a sort of “The Bible Abridged” kind of thing (I plan to vastly expand this project, as I’ve mentioned) and that means I am rereading the Bible so I can do it right. Well, I just came upon the Ten Commandments section, which contains far more than just the Ten Commandments; it contains the rules for all people in being just and moral. What does it take to be just and moral in the eyes of God? Let’s start in Exodus 21.

First, male slaves (if they are Hebrew, of course) are to be set free after 6 years of slavery. If you give him a wife from among your slaves, though, the wife is yours forever to do with as you please, and the only way he get to stay with his wife (and any children he had, which are also the lifelong property of you, his owner) is for the slave to dedicate himself as a slave for life, serving one master until he dies (or you force him to leave, and keep his wife and kids, which you can totally do).

Alright, dickish and kind of sexist, but as far as rules for slaves, it could get worse. Right? Well, hold on to your belt, suspenders, or waist band, friends. It does.

Let’s go over the good news, first, though. If you kill someone on purpose? Death penalty. If you kill one of your slaves by accident (and we are talking beating them to death here), you are exiled but are to face no other punishment.

Now, here’s the fun part; if you beat your slave with a rod but the slave recovers from their injuries, there will be no punishment. It goes on more explicitly to say “Because they are your property.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

It is also in Exodus 21 that we find the extended version of “An Eye for an Eye,” which reads, in full: “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” (Exodus 21:24-25) But don’t worry, this doesn’t apply in full for slaves; the above caveat (if they recover) still applies. Go nuts! But things like knocking out their tooth, or blinding them? Well, you don’t get punished, but you have to let the slave go free. JUSTICE! Thank God for such merciful justice and strong moral leadership, right?

Also, if your slave is killed not by you, but by say… Your livestock? You have to pay the owner of the bull (you) 30 pieces of silver. LOOPHOLES ARE THE BEST HOLES, AM I RIGHT?! Now, if your bull gores another owner’s property (slave), you have to pay that person 30 pieces of silver, and your bull is put to death, and that is way less fun that putting disobedient slaves in a bull pen for sport, right?

For some reason, though, Exodus 21 focuses as much on cattle (Bulls and Oxen, mostly) as on slaves (logic: they are both livestock). Now, I am not sure how often this kind of thing happens, but apparently bulls killed so many people that verses 28-36 (more than one fifth of the chapter) are completely dedicated to how one handles bull-related violence. Huh. Weird.

Exodus chapter 22 has some weird rules, too. If someone breaks into your house at night, you can kill them, no questions asked. If he breaks in during the day and you kill him, you are to be put to death. One would imagine that hiding bodies would make good sport back in the day. Then, when night rolls round, you throw them in the kitchen and cry bloody murder and call the watch! For this body, stiff with rigor mortis, clearly JUST BROKE IN! MORALITY!

The legendary point of contention, if a man sleeps with a virgin who is not married, he must pay the father restitution and marry the woman. What say does the woman have in all of this? SHUT UP AND DON’T ASK QUESTIONS! You’re married now. Go make some babies and a sandwich! (At least, one presumes that was the thought process that went into Exodus 22:16-17)

We go through a few of the more mundane rules; kill witches, kill people who have sex with animals, kill anyone who offers any sacrifice to any gods but God) but then we get to what I am going to call the “Insurance Salesman Clause”. It reads, as per Exodus 22:22-24, “Do not take advantage of a widow or the elderly. If you do, and they tell me you took advantage of them, I will kill you myself!”

There are some basic rules about banking (you are to charge no interest on money you have lent, but you are allowed to take collateral, except their coat. You can have anything except their coat. It expands this thought: If you take their coat, what will they sleep in? So leave them your coat, for I am a God of compassion. Wat. (Exodus 22:25-27)), then the basic rules of religion (kill blasphemers instantly), etc, etc.

Another slightly weird rule is that you are never to eat meat if the animal was killed by any wild animal, no matter how fresh it was (there are, listed I believe in Leviticus, extensive rules for kosher slaughter, but I can’t recall the exact chapter because I try to avoid reading Leviticus as the rules in it are so… Ugh… Well, I am working on a project that involves rereading the whole Bible, so I’m sure I will talk about the weird rules there eventually on this blog). Why does slaughter have to be done in a very specific (and, frankly, no more humane than many other methods of slaughter) way? BECAUSE SHUT UP, GOD SAID SO.

I like the opening parts of Exodus 23, this one is the lawyer cause. You shall never help a guilty person by lying on their behalf. Welp, there goes the entire idea of law as we understand it today (take that, lawyers). Also, if you are the prosecutor and you get a false conviction, and the person is put to death as a result of your prosecution, even if no one knows, and you didn’t know he was innocent, God does. And better know he will judge the everliving shit out of you. Again, take that, lawyers (in Texas)!

Now, these are quick mentions, but again go to how odd the rules in the Bible are… Exoodus 23:18-19. If you are making a sacrifice to me, it must not be made with, in, around, containing, or generally mentioned in the same sentence as, yeast. NO YEAST. This is said at least 15 times in Exodus, NO YEAST. God hates, hates, hates, hates, hates, hates anything to do with yeast, or yeast byproducts. When it rained bread from heaven (manna), it was flat bread, because even God can’t leaven bread without yeast, and NO YEAST! Mentioned in the same breath as that yeasty tirade (hehehe. That sounds gross) is “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” One presumes other milk is ok, but how common was it to cook it in its mother’s milk that God put a rule in there, the penalty for breaking being… Well, that isn’t spelled out, but generally smiting is the go-to punishment.

Now, things start to get a little darker. Go to the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and kill them. This commandment is not optional. And as long as I am happy enough with how dead they are, I will make sure no one among you gets sick, hungry, thirsty, or even has a miscarriage, because I want to see those people dead SO BAD. (Exodus 23:20-30) In fact, there are three he wants dead worse than others; I will send swarms of hornets ahead of the Jews (who, you must remember, are marching to kill these nations anyway) to just… Ruin their day. Before they die. Seriously! “OH GOD! PLAGUE OF HORNETS! THERE IS NO GOD!” Then you get stabbed in the face by someone on the orders of the same God who just plagued you with hornets? Shiiiiiiiiiiiit, that’s not right, bro…

And the common rebuttal of the harsh laws of the Bible (mostly contained in Deuteronomy and Leviticus) is that “Well, those laws were for the priests.” But this is Exodus. You can’t have “The Ten Commandments”, because God never said “Here are ten specific things.” The Ten Commandments are lumped in with all of these others rules, the rules about beating the everliving hell out of your slaves, but only bad enough that they can still walk.(The actual provision is that they have to be able to walk with the aid of a walking stick within two days of the beating, WHICH ACTUALLY MAKES IT WORSE TO ME!) Also, the killing thing being not optional? Yeah, that gets reiterated over and over in Exodus 23, just make sure NONE OF THEM ARE LEFT ALIVE, NOT EVEN ONCE.

Well there you go, friends. There are your rules for morality, and these are mentioned in chapters shared by the so called ten commandments. (And, it should be said, there are numerous caveats to the commandments, like “You can kill at night, if the person was breaking into your house. But not at day.”)

Boy, I sure am glad the rules for being a good person are so clear in the Bible, and it’s no wonder Southern Christians think people without belief in God are the worst people (even worse than rapists according to Pew and Gallup)! Why, all of us who have alternate laws for morality? We might want to have mercy on those around us, but it’s a good thing God was there in Exodus to tell us that MERCY IS FOR SUCKERS. In fact, the Stand Your Ground law that was at the very forefront of public discourse in the Trayvon Martin case? Justified by God Almighty, and reiterated by Jesus, for as is stated in Matthew chapter 5: “17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.””

Time to go buy some slaves and make them marry each other. For science.

Do as I… What Was I Talking About Again? Part 4

As we enter into the final chapters in the saga of the Ten Commandments, the Israelites have left the desert they were wandering around in for forty years. God is juuuust about ready to give them the land He promised them, but He needs to play one last joke.

The caravan of Israelites was attacked by the nation of Amalek (God didn’t let the Israelites take the shortcut because they might get into a fight with the Philistines, but after they’d been wandering for forty years and a few months, what were they gonna do? Go back to Egypt? Psh, no one would even have been alive there at this point except whatever it is that has a very strict diet of frog corpses.). Moses, caretaker of the Israelites, told Joshua to grab all the men in fighting shape he could find and take them to face the enemy army. God… God will help us defeat the Amalekites!

So Moses carried the staff that had worked the miracles of God to the top of a hill, and looked over the battle, and God said “Hey, Moses. I’ll help Joshua win the fight, but you gotta do something for me.”

“Ok,” Moses replied with a heavy tone of trepidation. “What can I do to earn your help?”

Moses thought he heard a chuckle. “You gotta… Here’s what you gotta do. You gotta hold that staff over your head! See? Not so bad!”

So Moses raised the Staff of God over his head, and the tides of the battle began to turn in the favor of the Israelites, but the battle was long and hard fought.

“Hey Moses… You’ve got to be… What? Almost 90 now? You gettin’ tired? Maybe you should ask for help holding that staff up! Better not let it drop! You’ll lose the fight if you drop your staff!” (Seriously. Exodus 17:11. I wanted to write God as a character who was a teenager, but I feel like the original author of the Bible wrote him as a child far better than I could. Again, what do I learn from this? That they win the fight as long as Moses holds the staff up? WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING? Why did anyone even want that in the Bible?)

Moses, elderly and worn down by the harsh years in the desert living only on rain-bread, felt his arms tire and the staff slipped below the crown of his head, and instantly the battle surged in favor of the Amalekites. Moses called for the help of Aaron and Hur, who held his arms up, knowing that if he dropped his arms too far they would all surely perish.

“Psh. That’s no fun. Since you are asking for help, I’ll make sure this battle lasts all the way until night. You’ll be stuck that way for hours.”  And so it was that the battle ran until sunset, Aaron and Hur holding the Staff of God, in Moses’ hands, over the head of Moses. When they had won, God said “Man, aren’t I awesome? I am so awesome, you have to write down how you won that fight, and make sure it is mostly just about how awesome I am. In fact, as soon as you write it down, go show it to Joshua, makes sure he knows he only won the fight because I helped.”

Before he even voiced the question, he began to regret it. “But God,” Moses intoned, “Joshua was out there fighting for at least 36 hours (Exodus 17:9, 12), thousands of our men are dead. Don’t you think they could have some credit?”

“Again with the whining! You know what? Fine. Mention his name. He can have some glory, but make sure everyone knows he only won because I was helping. MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THAT!” (Exodus 17:14. I don’t… I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I think it stands on its own. Hell, go read Exodus 17, SUPER short chapter, and tell me if I have in any way mistaken God’s personality in this summary.)

After the battle, Moses got to see his family. Jethro, his father in law, ran up to him, “Hey man! I heard about everything God did, with the plagues on Egypt, and rescuing you, and feeding you, and giving you water! Those are some amazing miracles, man! And then I heard you were going to get wiped out by the Amelekites, and God totally won that battle for you! Man, God is so amazing, hey! I’ve got a bunch of really young, unblemished lambs. Let’s go sacrifice some lambs and have a party in God’s honor, eh? Man, our God is an awesome God, isn’t He?!”

Moses stood staring, dumbstruck. “You know what? Sure. Sure, God is awesome. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go sit and judge some Israelites for being dicks. You go sacrifice some lambs. He’ll like that.” Moses turned and walked away, and returned to his duties of being caretaker for the Israelites. From dawn until dusk, people brought cases in front of him, and he sat in judgment, making sure to fill the role of caretaker so that God was happy.

After Jethro was done throwing a bitchin’ party for God, he came back to Moses. “Hey man, why are you sitting here alone, doing like ten people’s worth of work?”

Moses mumbled “S’long as I’m talking to people, God leaves me alone.”

“Hm? Sorry Moses, didn’t catch that…”

“Oh, sorry. God has appointed me as the agent of His will. All these people come to me asking what God wants. For some reason, God will talk to me whenever (and as soon as) I am alone, but He won’t share a single word with any of the rest of the Israelites.”

“Ah,” Jethro replied. “Look, I get that God has made you very important, but what about this. What say you teach the people what God wants, then appoint others to judge the simple cases?”

Then that happened, because it seemed like a smart thing to do.

Then God said to Moses, “Hey Moses. I know you’re having a tough time, and the people don’t like you, so here’s what I’mma do for you. I am going to come down to Earth and talk to you in front of everyone, then they’ll know that you’re my boi! So before they see me, here’s what you gotta tell them. First, tell them they are my chosen people, and because they are chosen I am going to put just a ridiculous amount of incredibly cumbersome rules on them that I don’t put on anyone else. I wanna see their face when you tell them that! Then, tell them they aren’t allowed to have sex or masturbate for three whole days before they see me talking to you. That part is important. Then bring them to Mount Sinai, but they aren’t allowed to come up the mountain. If they try to come up the mountain, kill them. Kill them so hard.”

Moses said nothing, but turned and gathered the people and delivered the message. When three days had passed, God came down in a cloud on the top of Mount Sinai, and called Moses to him.

“Heeeey buddy. Go back down and tell the people that they aren’t allowed to come up the mountain.”

“But I’ve already told them that.”

“What, you think I care? You’re 90, I’m like infinity years old. Get down that mountain and tell them they aren’t allowed on the mountain. Then come back up here. Oh, and bring Aaron. I wanna talk to him, too. But anyone else who comes up? I will smite them so hard.

(Now, I would like to think the above conversation was my idea, but it comes directly from Exodus 19 16-25. God tells Moses to come up, then go back down to deliver the same message, God tells Moses to do it anyway. In verse 25, you can almost hear the … Disappointment? Exasperation?… of the original writer. Verse 25, in its entirety, reads “So Moses went down and told them.”

I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!)

And so God came down on the mountain to give Moses the Ten Commandments, with the people of Israel watching, and God looked like a giant storm. Everyone was like “Oh man, no wonder Moses is the only one who talks to God directly. Man, God is scary. Hey, Moses! We don’t want to talk to God directly any more. You can be the caretaker, you’ve got our vote now!”

So Moses walked up to God, and God said “Hah! I gave them a good show, didn’t I? I figure if they fear me, instead of love or respect me, that will definitely make them loyal. That’s how that works, right?! Anyway, now that they are good and afraid of me, make sure they never, ever stray from worshiping me or I’ll…”

“Smite the hell out of them,” Moses interrupted. “Yeah, got it.”

“Hey, no. No finishing my sentences for me!”

“Oh, so you weren’t going to say ‘smite the hell out of them’?”

“Well… I was… But just for that, I am going to increase the amount of sacrificing you have to do to me. So that I know you know how awesome I am. And when you build sacrificial altars, don’t use good supplies. If you use any materials that have been tooled, I’ll make sure you get… Tooled… I don’t really know where I was going with that, but just make sure you only use crappy, round rocks when building an altar. That is important to me for some reason. I don’t have to explain myself to you!” (Exodus 20:24-25)

“Also, make sure the altar is on a hill, but that there are no steps leading up to it. When you are walking up the steps, people could see up your robes, and nobody wants to see 90 year old junk.”

“Won’t they be able to see up my robe if I am walking up a hill anyway?”

“Shut up! No steps! Now get ready to write, I’ve got some of those onerous rules that I was talking about earlier all ready to go. And no complaining.”

Some parts of the Bible just stand on their own as … Weird? Without my even having to inject my own characterizations into it. I still have no idea what to make of Moses holding his hands over his head for the duration of a 36 hour battle. Seriously.