I realize it has been quite some time since I have posted the writings of David G., my former college roomate.
The delay has been completely my fault, because I truly find this chapter of David’s writing distasteful and out-of-line. My own feelings aside about the repugnancy of the words below, a promise is a promise and I intend to keep my word.
As I have written before about David’s style of writing, he wrote in a somewhat haphazardly and often left parts of the manuscript incomplete or with notes to himself on how to possibly improve his choice of words. I will try to recreate this mode of his by using brackets and the bold font [Like this]. I have also attempted to correct some of his spelling errors, but not all.
Again, I will remind you that David’s opinions are strictly his and not those of the author of this blog.
Form Your Troika – Chapter 02
THE DEVIL CAN CITE SCRIPTURE
In the Acknowledgements section of A Brief History of Time, physicist Stephen Hawking writes that he was warned that each equation he included in his book would halve his sales. I will go one step further and lose seventy-five percent of you right here and now with the following five words: Organized religion is for children.
Oh, let me be perfectly clear about this. I am in no way stating that only humans under the age of sixteen should be practicing a faith. What I mean with my quintet of words is that organized religion is for those people (of any age) who have not grown up and have not matured intellectually.
I did not come to this conclusion quickly or easily. Growing up as I did in a Jewish household, attending services, and having a Bar Mitzvah, I have struggled between what I have observed in the world and what my faith taught me.
At the battle’s end, rational, logical observation won out.
I completely understand the position that faith cannot be analyzed logically. Religious belief, so the argument goes, is felt and is therefore immune from any rational critique. I just think that scrap of reasoning is garbage. Telephone psychics, astrologers, peddlers of pseudoscience, and other con men [do I really want to use that phrase?] use the same hand-waving rationale also.
Because of my lack of worldliness, I must exclude the Eastern philosophies (Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, etc.) from my blanket statement regarding organized religions [Does this sentence need further elaboration or a better position in this chapter?]. I simply do not know enough about those faiths to throw them in the same medium-sized bin as folk who say they can talk with the dead.
I am not arguing for the abolition of organized religion as scared little children need fairy tales to let them sleep through the night also. I simply see mass-marketed faiths for what they are. All religions are a franchise that attempt to offer a balm for a scary, unpredictable world.
If I may distill millennia of dogma into some pithy statements, folks of the cloth like to say that bad stuff happens because the Devil caused it or because the Almighty was upset with you. Evil people may escape punishment in this life, but they will suffer eternal consequences in the afterlife. The pious and good may suffer inequalities and injustice, but their reward will come later after they’re dead. These are simply justifications made by the higher-ups to placate and mollify those on the lower (and poorer) end of the ladder.
In addition to attempting to explain why life is the way it is, the four major Western [how about “Eurasian”?] religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)) share two other qualities:
Alpha) They are based on illogical premises.
Omega) They are adverse to criticism.
Let’s start with how the Big Four all arose from fables that strain credulity. Judaism is rooted in the belief that the people of Israel are chosen by the Lord. As proof of this relationship, the Almighty gave the tribes of Israel the land of Canaan after they were freed from bondage in Egypt. The Exodus, as the departure from Pharaoh’s slavery is called, is such an important part of the Jewish identity that it has its own book in the Torah. The next three books (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) are all set during the time when the Israelites were wandering out of Egypt on their forty-year trek to find the Promised Land. The Passover holiday feast which commemorates the Exodus is actually a commandment given by the Lord for Jews to follow so that they will always remember their release from slavery (as found in Leviticus 23:5-7 for those of you with the King James Version at home).
The leap of faith comes when you discover the fact that there is no evidence for the Israelites or any other gigantic mass of slaves being freed from Egypt. Nowhere in the historical records of the ancient Egyptians is such an event recorded and it’s not as if they didn’t leave behind a voluminous system of writing to document what their life was like. The most incriminating evidence, however, comes from the text itself. In the Book of Exodus, there is no mention of pyramids at all. At over [how many?] feet high, these monuments in stone [granite? What are the Pyramids made of?] would have been tough to miss.
The core concept of what it means to be a Jew (to be chosen by the Lord to accept and live by His commandments) crumbles if the Exodus never existed. If there was no long march through the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land, then Moses never went to Mt. Sinai and received the Ten Commandments. Furthermore, if there was no large migration of Israelite slaves from Egypt, this means that they were never in Egypt to begin with. If they were never in Egypt to begin with, this means that the whole story told near the end of the Book of Genesis that details how Joseph, his brothers, and their father, Jacob, make their way into the Land of the Pharaohs didn’t happen. So, if that story in Genesis is in doubt, then other tales from that first section of the Torah (such as Abraham receiving the Covenant from the Lord) become suspicious. The conclusion I draw is that since there was no Exodus, this means that the group of nomads who show up on the borders of Canaan were not freed by a Supreme Deity who they had a Covenant with. Therefore, these wanderers from wherever did not possess two stone tablets with the law from on high, but were, in fact, only land-grabbers using religion to stake their claim on a piece of hot real estate.
Since I’ve only managed to piss off fourteen million people worldwide with what I have written so far, let’s go for the big fish.
Christianity, in all of its denominations, has at its center the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and the Son of God. The proof of the divinity of Jesus was his virgin birth. No man, only God, entered Mary to conceive Jesus.
How many fathers would buy this excuse from their daughters?
Like Judaism, if you take away the central tenet of the virgin birth of Jesus, and therefore his divinity, the foundation of the religion crumbles like a statue with feet of clay.
Oh, why stop now when I can piss off another billion people?
The Koran is the holiest book in all of Islam. Children learn this book by reciting its verses over and over. Moslem [Muslim?] children brought up this way probably know the Koran better than most Jews and Christians know their respective Testaments. The Koran, like the Ten Commandments, was given to Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah. However, unlike the tablets delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Koran was revealed to the Prophet who wrote it all down.
The catch here is that the Prophet was illiterate (check out line 157 of Chapter 7, “The Heights”). The paradox of a man who could not write being able to act as the scribe for Allah, much like the paradox of the virgin birth, only proves, in the mind of the believer, that the Koran is divinely inspired. Once again, knock away the divine origin of the Koran and one is left with the conclusion that Prophet was indeed literate and wrote the holy book himself. With that, the pillars holding up Islam collapse. How dangerous is it to even articulate such a thought? In The Satanic Verses, author Salman Rushdie has a fictional version of the Prophet create verses of the Koran. For this, Rushdie’s life was threatened over what, in reality, was a mediocre novel. [Perhaps these sentences on Rushdie could go into the section about religious criticism]
As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the LDS Church was also formed on the basis of divine words being presented to a mere mortal. Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni. Given such a gift, a person can do one of two things. He can share it openly with the world and let any and all eyes gaze upon the wonder. Option number two is to shut the gift away from the sunlight and only allow certain, special individuals the privilege of viewing the heavenly grant, but only under certain conditions.
Guess which option Joseph Smith took?
Did Joseph Smith actually receive a set of golden tables from a celestial being in 1820? Could be yes – could be no. It sure would be a tad easier to answer that question if one could view the tablets. Smith said that Moroni had forbidden Smith to let anyone else view the plates. I could claim I have a dragon in my garage and how could you prove me wrong if I wouldn’t let you near my house. Subtract the divine origin of the golden plates and Joseph Smith becomes merely a pitchman for seer stones.
There are cults and sects now and in the future that will create their foundations on such similar murky beginnings. The only difference between them and the Big Four is time and a bit of luck.
Let’s do a quick recap. In the last twenty-five paragraphs, I have probably managed to offend over two billion people. If I had the inclination, I could probably figure out how many people I ticked off on a per-word basis. This offensiveness leads to my second common quality of the Big Four in that they are adverse to criticism. If you think I am off the mark on this generalization, just ask yourself if you had a gut visceral reaction to my words above about your particular holy faith. I can wager that if you count yourself as one of the devout that you currently have the desire to throw this book into a bonfire, sweep up its ashes, seal them in a tin can, and entomb said can in a concrete block. I certainly can’t blame you for having those feelings because look at how Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the LDS Church deal with any critical review.
Any criticism of Judaism is equated with anti-Semitism [need examples here].
Any differing view of Christianity brings cries of intolerance [discuss the protests over the movies The Last Temptation of Christ, Hail Mary, and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian].
Any straying from Islam orthodoxy brings a death penalty [move the Salman Rushdie example here?].
Any questioning of the LDS Church brings excommunication [expand on the examples of David P. Wright, Janice Allred, Margaret Toscano, and Shane LeGrande Whelan – all thrown out of the Church for daring to ask].
As it was one of the quotes that would have me thrown off the air in Utah, I’ll finish this section with it, “Any group that cannot tolerate dissent is suspect and not worthy of your time.”
So when did I exit the cave of organized religion? The answer is once I started developing thought that was independent, rational, logical, and capable of skepticism. For that, you can blame the University of Wisconsin. It was there that I started to doubt the tenets of my faith. It was there, after really reading the Torah and Bible all the way through for the first time, that I saw that a leaky pail holds more water than those texts.
Starting with the Book of Genesis, the story goes that when Cain slew Abel, Cain was sent away, dwelt in the land of Nod, and knew (in the Biblical sense) his wife (Genesis 4:16-17). Where did this wife come from? According to the first book of the Torah, the Lord created Adam (Genesis 2:7) and Eve (Genesis 2:22) and they begat Abel, Cain, Seth, and other nameless “sons and daughters” (Genesis 4:1, 4:2, 4:25, and 5:4 respectively). That’s it for the human-creation department.
So, where did Cain’s wife come from?
A younger, cuter, and still religious version of me once asked my local rabbi that same question as I was puzzled about Cain’s spouse. His ready-made answer (since I was not the first, nor the last, lad to make this inquiry) was that Cain’s wife was one of those other sons and daughters. Nice answer, but it doesn’t make sense chronologically. It is only after the world’s first murder when Cain kills Abel (Genesis 4:8) that Seth is born. It is only after Seth is born that all the other nameless progeny are conceived (again, Genesis 5:4). If all the other “sons and daughters” don’t appear until well after Cain has left for Nod, then my question still stands as to the origin of Cain’s wife.
Oh, and if the timeline doesn’t matter, then my rabbi’s answer means that Cain married his sister. That may not be a lesson the rabbis want to pass on to the kiddies, but you ain’t read nothing yet.
Let’s fast-forward to the nineteenth chapter of Genesis where Lot offers up his daughters for rape to a mob outside his house. In this touching tale, two angels came to Lot to let him know that the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be annihilated and that it might be a good time to vacate the premises. Word spreads that there are two beautiful men visiting Lot and so a mob appears because they would like to “know them” (Genesis 19:5) again using that Biblical version of the word (read: have sex with). Lot, in a brilliant move of distraction, instead offers his virgin daughters as a consolation prize to the mob and suggests the rabble “…do to them as you please…” (Genesis 19:8).
Remember that Lot was the good man found by Abraham to be spared from the destruction of the cities. Now there’s a role model I want to pass on to the little ones.
Then there is this extremely revealing quote that is part of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 20:5, it is stated by the Almighty that “I am a jealous god”. Yeppers, this is the type of All-Knowing Omni-Father that I want to base my life on.
All through this questioning, however, was a firm belief that while I did not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or that of the Trinity, or of Allah, I still did firmly believe in a guiding presence.
That all flew out the window on Friday, September 14, 2001. Yes, you read that right. My faith did not collapse on the preceding Tuesday. Honestly, if I could accept a deity that could allow thousands to be killed in a poison gas leak in Bhopal, India, and if I could allow for a supreme being that would look the other way while hundreds of thousands were snuffed out in an earthquake and if I could fathom an all-seeing Father that wouldn’t bat an eye while a million souls were extinguished in a state-sponsored genocide, then a mere three thousand folk slaughtered in three office buildings and four planes would be a mere mote in His eye.
While listening to the 9/11 service held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on that Friday, I heard Reverend Billy Graham speak. It was during his speech that he said the following:
I have been asked hundreds of times why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I do not know the answer. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and that He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering.
I know it has been bandied about ad nauseam that we humans cannot know the mind of God, but Graham’s implicit acceptance of pain and suffering reminded me of something else. It called to mind domestic abuse. How many stories have you read where the bruised wife or the girlfriend with the knocked-out teeth goes back to the abuser because she knows in her heart that he is good and kind and really, really, really loves her? That speech and that moment is when I decided I wanted out of this abusive relationship. I walked away from God, a Supreme Being, a higher force, and every other fairy tale people have invented to act as a night light for their fears.
In short, I grew up.
Given my knowledge that a higher power does not exist, the final item I placed on my To Death List may seem rather odd. However, unlike any true believer of the Big Four, I am willing to admit that I may be wrong. If I am mistaken, then I will have lost Pascal’s Wager, but I will have won my bet that, just like Exodus 20:5 states, the man upstairs is a “jealous god” and not worthy of my worship. If Yahweh does exist and His rules of conduct are set down for all to see and follow then I can think of no better way to piss Him off than by executing the following Step:
Break ten Biblical rules
I had originally thought of breaking all of the Ten Commandments, but I couldn’t find a consistent set of these seemingly basic rules. It is not that well known, but there are two versions of these heaven-sent laws.
According to page 615 of The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004, Protestants, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians follow the Jewish tradition which splits up the first two commandments (I: Thou shalt have no other gods before me; II: Thou shalt not make any graven images). Roman Catholic and Lutheran tradition combine the first two and split up the last two (IX: Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods; X: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife).
Even if I could figure out what set of commandments to use, there is the problem of translation. Yes, I know it may come as a shock to some people, but the Torah and Bible were not originally written in English. Translating anything involves some loss of meaning and apparently the Good Book suffers the same affliction. An example is the Sixth Commandment (using the Jewish method of counting) which in my King James version states, “Thou shalt not kill”. However, the Torah [who was the publisher?] I received on my Bar Mitzvah lists this edict as “Thou shalt not murder”. If translators can’t even agree on this basic rule from the Lord, what hope is there for the rest of the words?
As a side note, I also abandoned the notion of breaking the Big Ten because the goddess Originality must be appeased. [There is a film with this as its main idea…what is the title? When did it come out? Who starred?]
Since someone else had already taken that idea, I ditched the Decalogue and decided to break ten other rules mentioned in the Torah. When I attended a Jewish summer camp, I had a counselor state to me and my fellow twelve-year-old campers that there were 365 “thou shalt not” commandments in the Torah – one for every day of the year. Our counselor imparted onto us that if a person attempted to break a different rule for every day of the year, that person would be dead before the year was up. I guess our young impressionable minds were supposed to take this as proof of the Lord’s vengeance. Our counselor helpfully informed us that the rule-breaker would die because one of the commandments to be broken is the canon ‘gainst self-slaughter [Where does Torah have the rule against suicide?]
It was at that camp that I was introduced to J.R.R. Tolkien. One of the nighttime routines was to have a counselor or administrator go to a different cabin and perform some activity. Some people sang or played the guitar. Scott Binder, the activities coordinator and the number four guy at the camp, came in one night and read the first chapter of The Hobbit. It was so mesmerizing to be lying in a sleeping bag on the top rung of a bunk bed in a room lit only by a sole flickering candle and hear about the strange new world of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit-hole he lived in, the wizard who puts a strange mark on the hobbit’s door, and the dwarves who come for dinner. After that camp session, I begged my parents relentlessly for them to help me find this book so I could discover how it all turned out.
I also recall Mr. Binder because he was the first adult, other than my parents, to grant me a sense of responsibility. As a fun camp activity, one day was scheduled as Camper-Counselor Switcheroo Day. Counselors selected one of their charges to head the cabin for the day. I was upset that my counselor chose someone else, but I soon found out why I was passed over. Mr. Binder had selected me to be the activities coordinator that day. This meant that I had to plan the morning assembly, make sure all the activity locations were prepared, ensure that all the counselors knew their schedule, and even mediate disputes. It was the least fun I had at camp, the hardest I ever worked at camp, and, overall, the most rewarding day I ever had in my six years at that camp. That day showed me that all of the effortless fun I enjoyed as a camper was actually the result of endless hard work and planning. Mr. Binder trusted me enough that he thought I could do a good job and I did not disappoint him.
Mr. Binder is also fondly remembered on these pages for his Bar Mitzvah gift to me. He gave me three books. One was an encyclopedia of Jewish humor. The second was The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal, the story of how a Jew in a German concentration camp meets an injured SS officer in a hospital. The officer, near death, asks the Jew for forgiveness. The last book was a collection of science fiction stories that revolved around the theme of Judaism. His note that came with the gift explained that these works represented the past, present, and future. He wrote that one must recall the past to live in the present and it is that present that paves the way for the future.
More than twenty years later, it is the only Bar Mitzvah gift I still have.
Well, that was quite a digression. I’ll try and keep those to a minimum but since we’re early in our conversation together, I hope you’ll forgive my trespasses. Speaking of straying from the path (were we?), it turns out that it is not overly difficult to violate ten rules of the Torah, but I did have to be selective.
There was no way I was going to go against the prohibition in Leviticus 18:23 (“Neither shalt thou lie with any beast…”). I may be depressed and planning my own death, but I do have my standards.
Some rules were news to me. According to the Holy of Holies, who told Moses, who then passed it along to his brother Aaron (in a game of divine telephone), it is forbidden to eat camel (Leviticus 11:4). Fortunately, that’s a menu item I don’t see often.
While reading through the Five Books of Moses, I realized I had already, inadvertently, broken ten Biblical rules.
Leviticus 11:5 prohibits the eating of a coney.
A quick check of my dictionary shows me that a ‘coney’ is a rabbit. This rule was broken at a swanky restaurant in Los Angeles. [Do I want to add for grins & giggles, “This is not the eatery where I saw Jamie Lee Curtis”?]
Leviticus 11:6 prohibits the eating of a hare.
What is the difference between a rabbit and a hare? About twenty miles per hour. I enjoyed hare at a New Orleans restaurant when I visited Charlotte.
Leviticus 11:7 prohibits the eating of swine.
I’ve eaten pork too many times to count.
Leviticus 11:30 lists snails as a forbidden food item.
I ate snails with Ophelia at an extremely uptight French (isn’t that redundant?) establishment in Madison, Wisconsin, that we dubbed Café Pretentious.
Leviticus 17:12 forbids the drinking of blood.
Suffice it to say that this occurred during an extremely intense game of Truth Or Dare during college.
Leviticus 19:35 requests that there be no “unrighteousness in judgment…in weight, or in measure.”
I lied about my weight on my driver’s license.
Leviticus 23:7 is the commandment against working during Passover.
Much to my grandmother’s dismay, I have worked during Passover when I was in high school, college, and later.
Deuteronomy 6:14 is the line “Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you”.
In my search for the purpose of life and other spiritual questions, before I abandoned it altogether, I studied Islam and Buddhism.
Deuteronomy 14:21 is the classic Jewish taboo of mixing a kid in its mother’s milk [aka “combining meat and dairy”].
Who knew that every time I ate a cheeseburger I was breaking the Lord’s law?
Deuteronomy 16:3 prohibits eating bread during Passover.
Not only have I worked during Passover, I’ve eaten bread also. Matzah, the unleavened bread used during the Passover Seder, has a unique, bland taste, and I can really only take it in short bursts [or “, and it is useless to make a Reuben sandwich with.”]. The Passover holiday lasts over a week and I cannot live on unleavened bread alone.
By the ninth month of 2001, with ten Biblical rules broken and a sweat not, I could officially say of my To Death List, “Halfway there”.
Back to me and again, I apologize for the above for any and all offense taken. However, the next chapters improve as David moves away from offending a majority of the planet.