The Gods Aren’t Angry

To all you lovely friends of mine in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area:

You are invited to Eve’s paperback launch party at The Bookcase in Wayzata, tomorrow night (Tuesday night, Feb. 2nd), at 7 pm.  I will do a short reading, then you can ask all your burning questions.  Anything goes.  Yep.  I know.  You can hardly believe your luck, right?  A chance of a lifetime.

Would love to see you!  Please come!  [You can find more information on my News & Events page.]

Now on to “The Gods Aren’t Angry…”

Last week, I signed copies of Eve at Rochester’s downtown Barnes & Noble, and while I was there, I chatted with Kevin, their community manager.  I was telling him about the difficulty of telling accurate Biblical stories, since there are rampant problems with Biblical (and other) ancient texts.  We got to talking about the history of religion, and Rob Bell’s name came up.  If you’ve never heard of Rob Bell, he’s the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He’s also the author of several books, most notably Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality and Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith.

It seems Bell did a tour called “The Gods Aren’t Angry” last year, raising these very issues.  So, of course, I went home and bought it online…and watched it this past weekend!  [Thanks, Kevin, for the heads-up!]

This comes from the back of the DVD cover: “Where did the first caveman or cavewoman get the idea that somebody, somewhere existed who needed to be worshiped, appeased, and followed?  And how did the idea evolve that if you didn’t say, do, or offer the right things, this being would be upset, agitated, or even angry with you?  Where did religion come from?”

If you’re interested in knowing where your religion comes from, how hodgepodge it really is–because certainly, we’ve stolen from many religious sects–then this is the DVD for you.  Beware, it doesn’t answer all questions.  I had so many leftover questions I wanted to ask Bell, even as he was winding down his talk.

A short synopsis to whet your appetite:

Way back when, a cavewoman might have noticed how the plant outside her cave continued to grow, even after she and her family used it for sustenance.  She may have noticed that rain and sunlight seemed to help it along.  She may have eavesdropped on her husband’s stories of THE HUNT–how sometimes, he came back in a day, triumphant!  Other times he would come back after days of trying, empty-handed.

Then, there were these two lights in the sky–that crossed from one end of the dome to the other.  One of them, the one at night, had a cycle of 30 days.  The cavewoman may have noticed that she, too, had an inner body cycle of about 30 days, where something dark and mysterious was brooding in her belly.

On a certain night, when the light in the sky was in just the right place, the man and woman might feel a little frisky and get on with doing what couples do at such a time.  A short time later, she feels something inside of her, growing, expanding her belly, and soon “it” comes out, looking a little like the both of them.

Things seem a little magical, a little ordained by higher powers, most probably from the sky, since that’s where the rain comes from and that’s where the sun and moon are.  These are forces that are beyond their control.  The people decide that there are beings ruling these things, and that they need to be satisfied, appeased.

Enter: the altar…a slippery slope.  The first year, you give a part of your crops, your earnings.  You’re successful!  So, the following year, you’ll want to give more to the appropriate god, because giving the same amount would never do.  And what if the situation were reversed?  What if there were a drought?  For months on end?  And no matter what you did–how much you offered–made any difference at all?  Well, then, of course, you haven’t given enough, and you’d better give morequick!  So, the cycle goes.  This not-knowing-where-you-stand creates extreme anxiety.

Sacrifices become more personal, because what are the people to do?  They begin cutting themselves (offering their own blood to Ba’al).  They begin offering their firstborn child.

It is here I think Bell makes a huge leap.  He says that into such a world came a divine being who talked with Abraham.  Talked with him.  No other divine being was known to do this.  [In my research, Mesopotamian gods talked to man frequently, mostly through the priests, but in Noah’s case, directly to Noah.  And what about Adam and Eve?  Grave oversight, in my opinion.  At least for Bell’s argument to hold up.]

God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, the one whom He’d promised to Abraham and Sarah for years.  Now, if you’re reading this text for the first time, you’re going to whip your head up and exclaim, “Say what?  God asked him to do what?  What kind of God would do that?”

Bell insists that the reason Abraham didn’t flinch (or question) was that, in that day and age, that was what gods asked for.  In Abraham’s case, the scene went down a little differently.  Instead of Abraham sacrificing his son, he hears God, at the last moment, say, “Stop.  This God provides.”  And Abraham sees a ram in the thicket and sacrifices it instead.

Here was something extraordinary.  One God who cared.  One God who would lead Abraham’s progeny to the promised land.

I can’t explain all of my research (for Eve and Noah’s Flood) here, but let me just say that although this is an accurate portrayal of the Bible, how does Bell know that the Biblical account is true, and the others are not?  You can’t just say that one god is radically different; therefore, people, let’s follow him.  No.  You have to come up with valid reasons why following this One True God is truth–above all the other religions that existed at the beginning of time–and you can’t skim over all the uncomfortable facts that you find.

I’ll list several (uncomfortable facts), and you can judge for yourself.

Bell quotes passages from Psalms, Micah, and Hebrews–which all indicate that God doesn’t, nor did He ever need any sacrifices.  Instead, Bell surmises, the sacrifices were “ordered” (in Leviticus) because people would have never believed that they were forgiven until they could do something.  That’s true, but another reason I’d like to put out there is that the Hebrew scribes would have wanted their religion to seem right and proper, and the only way to do that is to mimic the ones surrounding it.  The Israelites weren’t the only ones making sacrifices to their god/gods.

Bell does not mention that following facts.  These are my own.

One reason early Christians insisted on including the Old Testament is that it lent their “new” religion credence.  So many cults and sects existed at the time of Jesus…and after…that it was necessary to come up with convincing arguments why your religion was the truth.  Age (the longevity of the religion)helped.

Virgin births, divine/human matings, and resurrections were key elements in the devising of a new religion, because they were some of the components that held together all the older religions–think Greek and Roman mythology, Mesopotamian gods, Babylonian gods.  Hence, if writers could convince the people that these key elements were the same, then they’d done their job.  So, you have to tease these strands out from Jesus’ story.  Are they real, or have they been placed there for a reason?

Do you see how hard this gets?

And still, I’ve not been able to find anyone who can answer all those questions…

Still searching…

You have to admit, though.  It is fascinating, is it not?

[Post image: Partial of The Gods Aren’t Angry by Rob Bell cover]

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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