Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Good Book by David Plotz

Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible (P.S.)Have I mentioned my profound contempt and loathing of religious fundamentalists?  Probably.  I was reminded today of the staggering loopiness of these right-wingnuts when Bobo Smyth-Bullard sent me a clipping concerning a fundamentalist's response to the late unpleasantness at Sea World, in which Shamu the "Killer Whale"  lived up to his description and iced one of his trainers.  

Said response was swift and merciless; according to scripture, Shamu must be killed forthwith - via stoning.  (How do you stone to death something that lives underwater?)  Also, his surviving trainers must likewise be stoned to death for good measure, says the Bible.  As often claimed, the Good Book has a solution for every problem, even if most of them involving throwing rocks at people (or aquatic mammals).
I mention this as an introduction to a delightful book by David Plotz, the editor of Slate, in which he describes, chapter by chapter, his experience reading the whole of the Old Testament.  (Like myself, Plotz is a mostly non-observant Jew - neither of us has much interest in the events that follow.)  The result is an informative, thoughtful, and very, very funny look at the Good Book's many contradictions, acts of violence, pornographic interludes, and refreshing bits of fine poetry.

Seriously, though - the Old Testament (which includes the five books of the Torah, plus a bunch of books about Prophets, Judges, Psalms, and a poor bastard named Job), is completely whacked.  Some of the more outlandish incidents involve: golden hemorrhoids, a mountain of foreskins, killing a thousand people with a donkey's jawbone, the genocide of a dozen or more societies, and an almost endless number of hookers.  Any fundie who claims to literally believe everything in here is unquestionably certifiable.

Its not all hookers and hemorrhoids, though.  Plotz's evaluation of the Bible, while frequently snarky, is also frequently thoughtful and respectful.  His chief problem seems to lie in reconciling the notion of a loving and merciful God with the psychotically jealous and angry deity that informs most of the Bible's events.  And it is a tough problem - frankly God's actions throughout tend to make lowly humans seem like paragons of virtue and sanity. 

Much of the wackiness of fundamentalism must come from trying to integrate the bitchy, vengeful God of the Old Testament with the cuddly, loving God of the Jesus era.  In my opinion, fundies would save themselves a lot of needless anxiety by simply stipulating that God had a stroke sometime around 50 BC, and afterward had a whole different personality. 
Anyway, Plotz is at his best when he tries to resolve the violence, misogyny, and chaos of the Bible by applying his own personal interpretations of the text - simultaneously perplexed, humorous and humane, he demonstrates that taking anything in the book literally is the worst possible move.  Ultimately, he advises his readers to do the work themselves - read the book, and work through the many contradictions on their own, and, as he did, find themselves deriving new inspiration from the process.   I plan to start soon, and will post a review of the Good Book in due course.

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