Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Disciplining The Bad Puppy That is Man and Why The Internet is Doomed -- Bible Study, Night Four

Reading My Late Mother's Bible


I think I'm finally getting a handle on Genesis: God, when He created the human race,  saddled himself and the world with the equivalent of a very intelligent, very defiant puppy. It ate stuff it shouldn't have in the Garden of Eden and was banished to the backyard. In the backyard, it bit and killed a litter mate, fouled the grass, and generally ran wild until it was sprayed with a garden hose as punishment. Then it shaped up for awhile. But just awhile. And then, because it was a puppy with hands, not paws, and because it wasn't really a puppy at all but a tool-using hominid endowed with language, it erected the Tower of Babel.

The Tower was bad, one sinful stack of bricks, but why it was bad, the reason, I find surprising. I used to think I knew the reason. Before last week, when I started reading the Bible instead of just quoting from it and alluding to it and smugly assuming I'd absorbed it merely by sleeping at night in its vicinity and having several friends who vote Republican, my sense of what made the Tower of Babel abominable was the excessive pride that it expressed, the narcissism behind it, the arrogance. Wrong, it turns out. What made the Tower offensive -- or not offensive, but deeply threatening -- was the amazing teamwork of its builders.
For those who believe that capitalism and corporatism are systems beloved of God, I have bad news: except for those that He personally authorizes such as the assembly of the ark, He dislikes big projects, especially big, costly ones, and particularly ones whose execution depend on complicated communications. He dislikes them because, for a being of such vast powers and undisputed cosmic alpha status, He's ridiculously insecure. He may even fear for his job, to hear Him talk:

"And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they all have one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."

There is palpable panic in this verse. It's almost as though, as the Tower rose and rose and the sound of its architects, engineers, and laborers conferring and conversing reached His ears, God could feel human beings coming for Him, could begin to imagine them turning on their master. He seems not to have to have foreseen such competition, but once it materializes, He acts immediately; acts in the frustrated manner of an eight year-old who suddenly finds himself losing at a board game. He demolishes everything from the building itself to the universally-shared language that permitted its construction.

We all saw what happened in New York City ten years ago. Now I fear that the Internet is on borrowed time.

[To catch up with this project, see prior posts]

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jehovah Swallows his Pride -- Bible Study, Night Three

Reading The Bible My Late Mother Left Me


It's the big do-over, this part of Genesis, and all that goes before it is a false start, proving that God isn't perfect, after all, and that His creation passed through a first-draft stage before being disposed of and revised. I like God for this; He's a writer too, it seems. I admire His willingness to swallow his pride. To gaze down upon all the characters He'd made and deem only one of them worth keeping must not have been easy. I sympathize.

O, lucky Noah! But his sons were luckier. Simply by virtue of being the descendants of the only man in  history who'd managed to win approval from Boss God  (other than Enoch, who God was so in love with that He snatched him straight up into heaven before the fellow even died), they were spared from the world's first genocide. Along with their mother and their wives, of course, who were the luckiest ones of all. They sure married well, those women. By accident? Or did they see something in the Noah men that told them to ignore all other suitors? I'd love to know, but I guess I never will. At this point in the Bible wives and daughters are basically just anonymous wombs for boys. (Is there a counter-Genesis somewhere, still buried in a desert cave, perhaps,  in which all these women actually have names? If not, some clever feminist should write one -- or what are Women's Studies departments for?)

The ark is built, is filled, the rains arrive, and Noah, his family, and the beasts float off for what must have been the wildest adventure ever, as well as the most claustrophobic domestic drama in the annals of the genre. Strangely, we're told very little about this interlude, which must have been marred by endless shouting matches and, if human nature was human nature then, numerous threats by Noah to park the ark and let one or more of his kin get off and swim. But instead of this unimaginably rich material we get a lot of dry and technical details about the precise duration of the deluge, the depth of the waters, and the rate at which the flood subsided after the storm had ceased. God may be a great writer, but not his scribes. The greatest melodrama of all time they left unexplored in favor of meteorology.

The best part of the narrative is the epilogue, which gives one a sense of all the crazy business that must have gone on during the cruise. Noah, having survived his awful voyage, understandably goes into business growing wine grapes. He promptly gets drunk on his own product, only to fall asleep naked in his tent. Shem and Japheth, two of his three sons, alerted by their brother Ham, find him in this condition and cover him up, and when he awakens he does something God-like: he destroys someone's life for a minor lapse of conduct. This would be Canaan, Noah's grandson by Ham, who didn't assist him during his cold night of slovenly, forgetful intoxication and gets made a slave or servant to Uncle Shem. All for the crime of not being co-dependent.

Thus did dysfunction come into the world.

[For more about this project, see prior posts]

Sunday, November 27, 2011

God Rages On -- Bible Study, Night Two

[My mother Millie, who died three months ago, left me her King James Study Bible, annotated in red ink and in her eccentric all-caps script. I have decided to read the the book straight through in the hope of consoling myself for my deep loss. I'll let you all know what I think of what I find. I'm attempting to do this with a wiped-clean mind, although I must admit I have my prejudices. I don't, for example, believe the scriptures to be the perfect, literal Word of God, but I'm willing -- indeed I'm eager -- to be surprised.]


If the first few chapters of Genesis were the anatomy of a drug bust (see prior post), the chapters concerning Cain and Abel appear to describe a bad spell on a plantation ruled by a capricious, ill-tempered master who reserves the right to treat his slaves with irrational favoritism -- because He feels like it. Cain, the farmer, Adam's clueless firstborn who's operating on no real knowledge at all (it's not like there's a Bible for him to read yet), presents to God an offering of produce that, for no reason that God sees fit to mention, fails to please Him as much as Abel's offering, which consists of a sacrificed live animal. I can only imagine Cain's confusion: why should his gift, whose harvest required no violence, be deemed so roundly inferior to one that necessitated the shedding of blood and the destruction of one of God's own creatures?

Cain seems to conclude from this episode, quite logically, that God prefers offerings involving carnage, and so he, quite logically, kills his little brother. God, the supremely inconsistent one, frowns. Slaughtering a lamb or a goat is good, Cain learns, but slaughtering the slaughterer of a lamb or goat is some sort of unforgivable atrocity.

God punishes Cain in the same manner that he recently rebuked his parents: by kicking the poor offender off his land. Then, in an act of punitive piling on that shows God to be not just wrathful but horrible, not merely firm but borderline sadistic, He takes away Cain's power to grow crops anywhere. Finally, in a seeming act mercy that comes off as more of a boast about His power to do anything He damn well pleases, God scars or brands Cain in a fashion that will cause anyone who sees the mark to realize he's God's private property and not hurt him.

Events grow unintelligible now and we enter the hard part of the Bible, the part that requires an atlas, a genealogy, and a notebook for writing down all the rules. Cain drifts to the land of Nod, where other people live, and takes a wife, whose existence is unaccounted for. Soon afterward, Eve has a son, replacing Abel. His name is Seth and he also has a son.

So far, in the line of Adam, there have been only sons, no daughters.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

My First Night of Bible Study -- A Brief Report

At last I understand: the Eden story in Genesis is about a drug bust and its aftermath. It begins by discussing the prohibition of a potent psychedelic substance: a plant or a fruit that grants those who ingest it personal access to divine capacities. Most damningly to those who wrote the story (with the goal, I suppose, of consolidating their hold on law-giving and other 'holy' prerogatives), this prohibited substance sensitizes the mind to the presence of 'good' and 'evil, essentially making priests of those who take it. (And making other, conventional priests redundant.)

Then the people take the stuff. As it happens, the creature who assists them dwells as close to nature, to the soil, and as far from hierarchies and sky gods as it is possible to get. The serpent, by virtue of living on its belly, is a most earthy, egalitarian animal.

The rest of the story concerns the people's punishment for unlocking their latent godliness through commerce with the psychoactive plant.  Banishment and hard labor are some of their punishments. And shame, of course, which is the fiercest lashing of all because the people give it to themselves.

How weird, how unexpected and how weird, that the establishing myth or narrative of Jewish and Christian morality deals not with murder, deceit, or theft but with altered consciousness, with tripping. How strange to learn that our Original Sin -- at least in the minds of those who wrote the Bible -- was closer to taking mushrooms than taking a life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

BREAKING SAD (My Own Problems And The World's Are Starting To Merge)

I'm quitting smoking again. I'm quitting everything. I'm not so sure this can be done. But today a San Francisco venture capitalist told me: "All games have to end now. No more shortcuts." He was referring to the global economy, to China and the Euro and the Budget, but I've become confused these past few months: my own problems and the world's are starting to merge. It feels like the septic mid-70s to me, with Nixon and junkies and movies about murderers and everyone getting divorced in my small town, a time that only stopped scaring me ten years ago, a time when adults felt free and kids felt sick.

And last night I watched the second episode of season one of Breaking Bad, that series about how American dads and husbands are secretly savage, narcissistic gangsters -- or would be if they were allowed some fantasy running room. Walt, the hero-villain, same name as me, that monster of non-metropolitan masculinity, the only man on TV who actually looks like one, was holding a drug killer hostage in a basement, bike-locked by the neck to a stout pole. The killer had inhaled acid in Walt's meth lab and was this far from dead but then came back to life, groaning and heaving the way my mother did when she expired in the hospital three months ago from a freak infection of the brain. Watching the guy brought me back to that hard moment, making me want to smoke, but I held fast.

My mouth tastes metallic from the departing chemicals. It feels like I inhaled acid in Walt's lab.

And then, just this morning, they failed to cut a budget deal, crashing the stock market, a weekly occurrence now. I care about the stock market these days. When my mother died, she left me a few shares of companies she believed in. 3M. Apple. It wasn't like her to believe in things, but after a while, if you have an extra few bucks, it's pretty much mandatory that you try, especially if you want your money to grow. It hasn't grown, though. It's faltered faltered and it's fallen. That she's not around to absorb this fact consoles me. It also saddens me. She died so faithful. When you occupy Wall Street, remember them: the suckers.

And on Twitter today the comedian Albert Brooks asked if the news was bleaker than it's ever been or was it that he'd bookmarked depressing Websites? I have an answer for him: it's both, of course.

When I don't smoke, I can't write. Not well. Not smoothly. That's evident here. But I'm starting not to care. Coherence is not a thing I've noticed much of bike-locked to my pole and losing money the toxins departing the wars the jobs all gone the freak infections the violent TV shows. It feels like when I was a kid and had my mother but knew in my heart there was nothing she could do. Or maybe it's history passing through the body, and not just mine, perhaps.

Yours as well?

Don't smoke.