Suicidal Demon Pigs and the Myth of Free Will
January 10, 2012 5 Comments
I’m going to go ahead and warn you right now: if you are one of the 450 people (!!!!) who showed up yesterday to hear about Santorum’s Gay Sex Riot Nightmare, you’re probably going to be disappointed by whatever shit comes out of my head today. Because let’s be real, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of the most exciting parts of the otherwise molassesesque Book of Genesis. But I really hope you’ll stick around and keep checking in because I’m sure things will get sexy again soon!
OT: Genesis 20-21
After watching the fireworks/divine hate crime, Abraham and Sarah pack up camp and go live as immigrants in Gerar. And then, because it worked so well last time, Abraham decides to pretend that Sarah is his sister instead of his wife. Apparently King Abimelech’s type is postmenopausal women, because he promptly adds Sarah to his “household”/harem (Genesis 20:2). God, never one to get hung up on distinguishing the wicked from the gullible, appears to Abimelech in a dream and says, “You are as good as dead because of this woman you have taken. She is a married woman” (Genesis 20:3).
Side note: why is it that Abraham gets to mess around with his wife’s servant and Lot gets to have multiple wives and Abimelech gets to have a harem, but somebody always gets in trouble when Sarah goes to bed with anybody besides Abraham? If a married man sleeps around, he just gets to have more wives. If a married woman sleeps around, it’s adultery. Have not we affections, desires for sport, as men have?
Abimelech is like, “Wait, WTF? First of all, I haven’t even touched her yet. Second, they both told me they were siblings!” God backtracks real quick. “Uhhh…yeah, that’s what I meant. I know all that. Obviously. Because I’m God, so I know everything. Duh.” And then here’s his actual excuse, verbatim: “In fact, I kept you from sinning against me. That’s why I didn’t allow you to touch her” (Genesis 20:2).
I don’t know about you, but this screams “the free will solution to the problem of evil is a pile of steaming bullshit” to me. I’ve heard variations of the following conversation too many times to count:
Christian: “God is omniscient and omnipotent and perfectly benevolent!”
Skeptic: “Oh. Then why does murder happen? Why did the Holocaust happen? Why did My Lai happen? Why is there rape, and child abuse, and poverty, and war, and theft, and so much misery?”
Christian: “Because of free will, duh. God doesn’t want these things to happen, but because he gave us free will and we are naturally sinful, we get ourselves into a lot of messes that wouldn’t happen if we just obeyed God.”
There are a lot of other issues with the free will argument that I won’t get into right now because I want to stay vaguely on topic, but it’s a really interesting discussion that I will likely come back to in the future. Anyway, the point here is that, according to a lot of Christians, free will is so supremely important that God will never trample on it, even to prevent crimes and sins and suffering, because he knows in his ultimate wisdom that it’s more benevolent to give us perfect free will than to intervene to stop a murder here and a rape there. But right here in Genesis, we have God himself explicitly saying that’s not how it works. He claims to have prevented Abimelech from getting frisky with his new favorite MILF. So what’s stopping him from similarly intervening to prevent waaaaaay more serious crimes like, say, the fucking Holocaust? He couldn’t have pulled some strings to get Hitler admitted to art school, or appeared to him in a dream to tell him his Final Solution was the worst idea ever, or just made a preemptive strike with a well-placed blood clot or something? Lot’s wife gets transfigured into a condiment for looking over her shoulder, but God can’t be bothered to stop Hitler from murdering six million people?
This is why I sometimes want to punch a wall when people get their panties in a twist wondering whether it’s possible to have morals without getting them from a millennia-old book.
So God warns Abimelech that if he doesn’t give Sarah back, he and everyone he knows will die. But if he does give her back, he might be spared, because Abraham is a prophet and “will pray for you so you may live” (Genesis 20:7). Why should anybody have to pray for Abimelech’s life – least of all Abraham, who caused the problem in the first place? And why does God need Abraham’s prayers at all? Can’t he just decide to spare Abimelech because he’s God?!
Abimelech wakes up in a panic, understandably, and tells all his servants about his dream, and they freak out. He summons Abraham and is like “OH MY GOD DUDE WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME? WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU?!”
Abraham, setting a precedent for thousands of years of totally bigoted and stupid ideas about atheists, explains: “I thought to myself, No one reveres God here and they will kill me to get my wife” (Genesis 20:11).
Abimelech give Abraham back his wife, plus a bunch of servants and livestock and money as interest, and tells Abraham he’s welcome to live wherever he wants on Abimelech’s land. He tells Sarah that “neither you nor anyone with you has done anything wrong. Everything has been set right” (Genesis 20:16). What?! Why does Abimelech have to pay off the people who got him into this situation in the first place in order to convince them to keep God from killing him? Abraham prays to God, who “restores Abimelech, his wife, and his women servants to health” (Genesis 20:17), because, as we are retroactively informed in the last sentence of the chapter, God had kept them all from having children.
WHY DOES ANYBODY LISTEN TO ANYTHING IN THIS BOOK?!
Sarah squeezes out a baby and Abraham, who’s 100 now, names him Isaac and circumcises him after eight days. Sarah announces that “God has given me laughter” (Genesis 21:6), even though God shamed her earlier for laughing about this exact thing. A bit later, Abraham throws a big party to celebration Isaac’s being weaned, because he’s a total stage parent. At the party, Sarah catches a glimpse of Ishmael laughing, and suddenly gets crazy jealous. She puts her bitch face on and tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away because she doesn’t want Ishmael sharing Isaac’s inheritance, even though that whole debacle was Sarah’s idea in the first place. Abraham gets sad because Ishmael and Isaac are equally his sons, after all, but God tells Abraham to calm down and do what Sarah says, and promises to take care of Hagar and Ishmael. So Abraham straps Ishmael onto Hagar and sends them away with “some bread and a flask of water” (Genesis 21:14), because those are the only supplies you need to wander through the desert with a toddler!
When Hagar predictably runs out of water, she sets Ishmael down under a bush and walks away until he’s out of her sight because she can’t stand to watch him die, and then she sits down and cries. God’s messenger yells down from heaven to Hagar and is all, “Relax! God’s got this locked down. Go get your son.” So she does, and then “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well” (Genesis 21:19) – because she was too dumb to notice it before? Or it only existed in some alternate spirit dimension that God just allowed her to see? Or God just made it appear, but then why did that require opening her eyes? Anyway, they get some water, and from then on God keeps an eye on Ishmael, who grows up in the desert and becomes “an expert archer” (Genesis 21:20) and eventually “his mother found him an Egyptian wife” (Genesis 21:21) because he couldn’t find one himself, I guess.
Abimelech, whose land Abraham is still living in, asks Abraham to promise to treat him fairly since he’s treated Abraham fairly. Abraham agrees, and then starts bitching “about a well that Abimelech’s servants had seized” (Genesis 21:25), although I’m not sure how it counts as “seizing” if it was Abimelech’s well in the first place. But Abimelech says he hasn’t heard about it before and doesn’t know who did it. Then Abraham gives Abimelech some livestock, for some reason, and they make a treaty. Abraham sets aside seven female lambs and explains that “These seven lambs that you take from me will attest that I dug this well” (Genesis 21:30). So…they’re like a receipt, I guess. Anyway, after the whole treaty-livestock-exchange-meeting, Abimelech and his army commander (who was around for some reason) go back to “the land of the Philistines” (Genesis 21:32), and Abraham plants a tamarisk tree, which Wikipedia tells me is not, as I thought, the same as a tamarind tree, but this ugly sort of shrubby thing pictured to the right. Abraham worships at the ugly organic altar he just made and lives in the Philistines’ land for years.
Abimelech seems like a really nice (if unnecessarily self-effacing) guy.
God is actually entirely capable of preventing people from sinning, but he just destroyed an entire city of sinners instead of stopping them from sinning, and has sat back and watched countless times as sinners inflicted unimaginable suffering on their fellow humans. Maybe he just gets off on violence.
NT: Matthew 8
Jesus climbs back down the mount after sermoning on it, and a man with “a skin disease” (I’m assuming leprosy) kneels before him and says, “Lord, if you want, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Jesus is in a good mood, so he touches the guy and says, “I do want to. Become clean” (Matthew 8:3), and the guy is instantly cured. Jesus tells the man to go to the priest and “offer the gift that Moses commanded” (Matthew 8:4). I’m not sure what gift that is, but it’s probably some kind of gross animal sacrifice. Curiously, Jesus also instructs the man not to tell anyone about his magical cure. I wonder if this is meant to be an act of humility on Jesus’s part. If you have an idea, leave a comment!
Jesus goes to Capernaum, which I know from
extensive research and careful analysis googling was on the coast of Israel. A centurion comes and tells him that his servant is paralyzed, so Jesus offers to come and heal him, but the centurion protests: “Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). I don’t know why, but he goes on to talk about how he is in charge of a bunch of soldiers and servants who are very obedient to him – again, any ideas on this are welcome in the comments. For whatever reason, Jesus is impressed, and tells everyone that “even in Israel [but aren't they in Israel now?] I haven’t found faith like this” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus tells everyone that many people will get to hang out with Abraham and Isaac in the kingdom of heaven, but that others “will be thrown outside into the darkness” where people “will be weeping and grinding their teeth” (Matthew 8:12), which disproves the myth that Jesus never mentions hell. Jesus tells the centurion, “Go; it will be done for you just as you have believed” (Matthew 8:13), and sure enough, the servant is healed right then.
Jesus goes home with Peter to find Peter’s mother-in-law sick, so Jesus heals her. “Then she got up and served them” (Matthew 8:15) because that’s what women are for, right? People bring sick and possessed people to Jesus all evening and he heals them all, which fulfills a prophecy. Then there’s a whole discussion I don’t understand at all, but maybe you lovely people can help make sense of it:
Now when Jesus saw the crowd, he ordered his disciples to go over to the other side of the lake. A legal expert came and said to him, “Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One [the CEB's version of the KJV's "Son of Man"] has no place to lay his head.”
Another man, one of his disciples, said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:18-22)
It just sounds like chunks of connecting text were lost, or something.
Anyway, Jesus and his disciples get into a boat and falls asleep; a storm comes and the disciples get scared and wake Jesus up and ask him to rescue them. Jesus is crabby because his nap was interrupted – “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?” (Matthew 8:26) – but he gets up and makes the storm stop. All the disciples are suitably impressed.
When Jesus gets to the other side of the lake, two men possessed by demons, who have been thrashing around and preventing people from using the road, come rushing at him “from among the tombs” (Matthew 8:28). The demons ask him what they’re going to do to them, and request that, if he must exorcise them, he send them into a nearby herd of pigs. So he does, and then the pigs run into the lake and drown. The pig-herders run and tell everyone in the city what happened, and all the citizens come beg Jesus to leave, which is a pretty reasonable request considering that he’s ruining their economy by possessing their livestock with demons.
Healing the sick is pretty much always a highlight.
Also, I have to admit that today’s readings were more exciting than I expected.
Jesus is generally much less comprehensible in this chapter than in previous ones.
Also, suicidal demon pigs.