Rock of Ageism

Hanging on my refrigerator door is a quote attributed to Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha): “Do not put your faith in traditions only because they have been honored my many generations.” Not being a Buddhist scholar, I am not sure if the words originated with Siddhartha Gautama or not. Whatever their origin, however, these words are worth serious consideration. Do we believe what we do simply because of its age? Are older ideas more difficult to dismiss than more recent ones?

During a recent conversation I was interested to hear a member of the clergy say, “We need to move away from thinking of new religions as cults.” That was like a slap from the Buddha — the proverbial sound of one hand slapping. Do members of an ancient religion feel a kind of entitlement to the status earned with the inexorable passing of time? The idea goes back at least to the Romans. Wanting to stop the endless splintering of religions into new sects and potentially divisive rivals, they tended only to allow outside religions within their empire if they could demonstrate a remote antiquity (Judaism was the textbook example). Age of religion constitutes a kind of seniority; who hasn’t had a run-in with a Roman Catholic who believes their form of Christianity trumps all others on the basis of a supposed apostolic antiquity? If it has survived that long, there must be something to it — right?

I wonder if such a criterion is sound for systems of belief. We readily accept change in perspective in most other aspects of our lives. Religion is where many people draw the line. One of the funny scenes in Religulous is where the imam, in traditional garb, receives a text message on his cell phone in the middle of his interview with Bill Maher. The problem with allowing change in most aspects of life and thinking, but not one fundamental area, should become immediately apparent. Unless religion can be severely circumscribed and kept apart from all other facets of life, it has to fit into an entire system of thought. If one region of thought stops at the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze, or Iron Age without being reinforced by the other areas of human thought and experience that have transpired since then, can the system survive? I’m not suggesting that religions should be rejected because of age, but that they should be allowed to grow up. If that were to happen I would happily remove the Buddhist quote from my refrigerator door.

Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Edoc Elbib Eht

A number of 40-year commemorations of the Manson Family murders have brought these gruesome events of my childhood years back to memory. I was really too young to understand what all the fuss was about then, and now that I am old enough, I’m not sure I want to. Nevertheless, I have committed myself to exploring sects and violence in a religious setting, and the Manson murders have prongs of both phenomena. While recently refreshing my memory on these horrific events on a gray and rainy day, I noticed something I had not seen before.

Looks like someone's been on the yellow submarine a little too long

Looks like someone's been on the yellow submarine a little too long

Charles Manson was (probably still is) a believer in hidden codes. He allegedly cracked a code in the Beatles’ White Album that led him to the belief in an apocalyptic battle that he was determined to begin. I wondered why the Manson Family tends not to be listed among other apocalyptic groups such as the Branch Davidians or Heaven’s Gate. They all share several traits, and although Manson’s revelations came from the Fab Four rather than the Holy Trinity, a revelation from on high spurred him into actions that had a tragic outcome, just as David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite.

The whole Helter Skelter code also reminded me of another, equally bogus pawning of randomness as divine messages: Michael Drosnin’s The Bible Code. When I read this bestselling bit of intellectual dry rot a few years ago, I was amazed that anyone could possibly take it seriously. God writing hidden messages in a holy book like some hormone enraged high schooler? And figuring out that a singular genius would figure it out just before the apocalyptic end without realizing that it is possible to read messages back into any media after they occur? It seemed all too much for a rational mind to take. In one of my courses at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh I gave students the option of reading it for a secondary project. To my chagrin, when I had the papers in one particularly tear-stained paper wailed (seriously) that the writer wished she had been warned sooner! This book changed her life! Everyone must know! Unfortunately I left Oshkosh without finding out what became of her.

God may not play dice, but apparently he likes crosswords!

God may not play dice, but apparently he likes crosswords!

I felt bad for introducing an undergrad to such “academic” sleight of hand; some college students just haven’t developed the critical facilities to see through the remarks of Balaam’s various sidekicks. Come to think of it, Manson’s followers accepted his revelations uncritically as well. Maybe the real lesson in all of this is that we must examine very closely those who claim special revelation, whether it be from Lenin, McCarthy, Starr, and Harrington, or just from God Almighty.

Six-Word Memoirs

The story is told of Ernest Hemingway who once wrote a six-word novel “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” The beauty of this anecdote, whether factual or fictional, is that the mind fills in the rest, blooming full of ideas either tragic or hopeful, supposing what led to this circumstance or what might have happened after. The idea of extreme conciseness has caught on in many aspects of our society; in advertising and marketing it is called a hook, on television it is a sit-com, and in my classes it is a term paper. There is now an industry developing in six-word biographies — publishers print books full of them — and it seems there will be no end to conciseness. (My favorite is Larry Smith’s Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, now available in a revised and expanded edition! Exponential conciseness!) My problem is there are too many six-word biographies that suggest themselves. Life seems to be made up of them. A while back my wife challenged me to come up with one. Slightly missing the concept, I came up with six:

Missed the first day of school.

Spit that out of your mouth!

The B-I-B-L-E.

The position has already been filled.

Please help; will work for books.

Can’t count either.

Shades of Asherah

When my book on Asherah was first published in 1993, some reviewers criticized my humble effort to sort out the identity of this goddess without resorting to iconography. As I had anticipated this, in the text itself I provided what I thought was a reasonable rationale for my decision. It is a sad fact that ancient polytheists seldom captioned their imagery. Some images so clearly resemble the character of deities described in the myths that correlations are almost certain. Asherah, alas, lacks that privilege.

Could be anybody's mommy

Could be anybody's mommy

No item from ancient West Asia has yet been recovered that bears an inscription identifying the portrait as Asherah. We simply do not know what the ancients believed she looked like. This hasn’t prevented modern scholars from assigning an Aserah value to certain favored artifacts with a great deal of certainty. So much certainty, in fact, that we don’t know which certainties to trust. If iconic emblems for Asherah existed, that might provide a way of connecting images to the goddess. Unfortunately, snakes, lions, and “twigs” — the usual suspects — could fit just about any goddess with a little twisting. So we are forever left with iconic ambivalence.

May be Asherah, but what's with the goats?

May be Asherah, but what's with the goats?

Of all the artifacts recovered from the Levant, where Asherah was actively worshipped, only one, it seems to me, is a potentially clear match. Not as alluring as the Asherahs of popular imagination, she is actually described as a matronly figure, the consort of patrician El. The El images that seem beyond question illustrated him comfortably seated on his throne of state, hand raised in a sign of blessing (or waving good-bye). One image found at Ugarit presents a feminine counterpart in posture and pose. This is likely the image of Asherah. Younger, sexier goddesses need not apply. This one instance reminds us of just how little we know of the immense divine world of Ugarit. If we are careful in our explorations, however, there is much to be learned.

Like hubby like wifie

Like hubby like wifie

Animal Alarm

Where was Moses when the lights went out?

Where was Moses when the lights went out?

After undergoing a bout of oral surgery earlier this week, even before the nitrous oxide wore completely off, I pulled George Orwell’s Animal Farm off the shelf for a re-read. I hadn’t read it since at least 1984. It was even more disturbing reading it this time just off the Bush-Cheney years, and I realized that the Napoleons and Squealers are still with us. As a prophet Orwell may not have always got the dates right, but he was clever at spotting trends.

In this reading of Animal Farm a minor character leaped out at me. Among the tame, but non-domesticated animals was the raven Moses. Moses is the special favorite of farmer Jones and tells the animals of Sugarcandy Mountain vaguely up in the sky, where conformist animals go when they die. When the rebellion takes place, Moses flies off and remains absent until near the end of the story when the situation has deteriorated. Once again he is back to tell the others about Sugarcandy Mountain. The connection between Moses and Mount Sinai is transparent, although the heavenly connection is slightly misplaced.

The Hebrew Bible (certainly in the period of Moses) does not recognize what will become the Christian concept of Heaven. Like many ancient West Asians, they supposed that Yahweh lived “up there” at times (at other times he lived in the temple, or on the world at large, or atop some mountain). The “heaven” they knew of had no place for dead humans; the afterlife was a concept that developed very slowly. Moses’ motivation for the ancient Israelites, however, also resonates in Animal Farm, even as it does in the startlingly similar film Chicken Run — freedom. Freedom is the pipe-dream of many religions, but even as early as Moses those dreams run into regulations. Religions have laws long before they have heavens. Perhaps Orwell was onto something after all.

For the Love of Aqhat

It seems that a new season of The Simpsons is upon us. With the release of season twelve on DVD last week, recession-ridden families everywhere are piling up on their couches to be entertained. Initially I had a hard time accepting The Simpsons; I had seen too many failed adult cartoons to give me much encouragement that this would be something worth wasting my time on. Surprisingly, it became clear after just a couple of seasons that The Simpsons was witty, smart, and surprisingly ethical. This final point was so pronounced that Mark Pinsky wrote a book focusing on it entitled The Gospel According to The Simpsons (Westminster John Knox, 2001). As to be expected in a book with a foreword by Tony Campolo, it was a little devious, but still retained a kind of sugar coating. Nevertheless, I found the book worth reading.

Bart after the birds?

Bart after the birds?

The Simpsons frequently pokes fun at all of us who take ourselves too seriously. Most of the time it is evident that the writers have done their homework as well, pulling in sometimes obscure references to classical or biblical literature. Recently while watching the episode entitled “Bart the Mother” I was struck by an ancient theme which was surely accidental. In the episode, Bart, trying to prove himself to the neighborhood bully, shoots a mother bird with a b-b gun. Guilt immediately sets in and Bart is haunted by his cold-blooded act. In a dream he sees a bird tribunal doling out the punishment for his crime — having his face pecked off. I’m sure this owes more to Hitchcock than to Ugarit, but I can’t help shaking the idea that the scene is somehow informed by the Epic of Aqhat. In one of Ugarit’s classic stories, Aqhat is given a divine bow that is coveted by the goddess Anat. When he won’t relinquish it, Anat has Aqhat pecked to death by raptors, “twice upon the noggin, thrice upon the ear!” Ugarit remains shrouded in cultural obscurity, so no easy cultural reference can point to it. Everyone has seen Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The story of Aqhat, although sadly broken, is a classic of ancient literature. So much more to pity is that it remains nearly as unknown today as it was while buried under the ground for three and a half thousand years. A colleague of mine approached Penguin a few years back trying to pitch the idea that they sell a translation of the Ugaritic texts in their classics series. They flatly turned him down on the basis of “no public interest.” If the publishers won’t put these world heritage classics out there, how will there ever be interest generated? Perhaps those of us bitten by the Ugaritic bug simply circulate in circles too small to have any impact on what the world thinks. Beyond a few souvenir-hawking vendors in Syria and a few crusty scholars sheltered away in dusty academic libraries, nobody knows the story. It seems that Aqhat’s fate is equally grim — pecked to death by birds and completely forgotten because the story just doesn’t possess sales potential.

What the Devil

Podcast number seven is now available. The topic of this cast is the origin of the concept and imagery of the devil as it developed in the western world.

Praying for Rain

Stomping the mud of another county fair off my shoes and doing yet another load of laundry with enough dirt on it to begin my own excavation, I ponder the weather. Although we are daily reminded that we have no effective control of the weather, one of the most common prayers I hear uttered is for “good weather.” I could have done with a little less rain and a bit of broken sunshine with a temperature of 78 and humidity of 20 percent, but I didn’t bother to ask for it. Once at Nashotah House we the faculty (and the student body) were asked to pray for good weather for an outdoor liturgy. I was both bemused and alarmed that a high-ranking priest made that request of us in all seriousness. Perhaps the biggest problem is that, as much as we like to deny it, we are like other creatures considering our immediate environments. We lack the big picture.

Our neglected atmosphere is the key to life on Earth. So immense that it coats our entire planet with the gases we all need to breathe, as well as some gases that have little apparent function in our particular setting, it is a simple matter to take our atmosphere for granted. And yet the weather affects every aspect of our lives. When we ask the Weatherman for an adjustment in our region, we are requesting a graduate-level course of calculations in fluid dynamics to be undertaken just so we can get the right mix of weather conditions for our picnic or day at the beach. Hackneyed to the point of caricature is the rain dance — that ritual that is expected to end a drought.

In the twenty-first century, people who rely on science to keep them safe from severe weather by predicting hurricanes and tornadoes with accuracy still pray for the weather they want in their little corner of the globe. If watching Jurassic Park taught me anything, it was that a butterfly flapping its wings in China might cause rain in New York. Chaos theory has demonstrated the intricate connections between all components of a complex system. The atmosphere is one of the most complex systems on earth (well, around the earth, actually). Rev. Chuck’s church picnic weather is integrally tied up with typhoons that may be drowning thousands of people in low-lying coastal regions of Asia. And yet we just can’t resist asking for the weather to tip in our favor. In the Bible it worked for Elijah, so why shouldn’t it still work for us?

Biblical Black Lagoon

During my summer-term courses I feel it is only fair to break the lecture time up a bit. Rutgers summer courses can run four hours at a stretch, and no matter how valiant the student, no one can pay attention to me for that long. I have long had an interest in the Bible in popular media, so for each class session I show a brief clip of a movie that features the Bible, often in a pivotal role. We then discuss how it is presented. As a personal pork barrel I give the students a multiple choice question on their exams as to which movies we have watched (it also gives them incentive to be in class, I hope). One summer, after sending the exam off to the print office, I realized I’d made a mistake. As usual, my interest in 1950s sci-fi flicks led to trouble. One film I hadn’t shown a clip from, and which I thought was Bible free (I hadn’t seen it in a long time) was The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a perennial favorite for both camp and kitsch.

Of course, The Creature from the Black Lagoon does have the Bible in it. The movie begins with a narrator reading Genesis 1.1. Well, I had to give all the students credit for that question, because there was no wrong answer. Nevertheless, the easy association between beginning the film with the Bible and its evolutionary plot-starter seemed worthy of comment. Back in the 1950s evolution was already a hot-button issue (so I’ve read). Forces lined up on the scientific and biblical fronts faced off like angry hockey players as they swung at that hard black puck of the truth. It does seem odd in a country so heavily reliant on science that the foundation of biology and its benefits (if scientists hadn’t recognized and reacted to the swift evolution among microbes I’d likely not be here typing this sentence) that one particular interpretation of a very small section of the Bible should have the power that it does. I’ve seen carnivorous, chrome-plated bumper Jesus fish eating the peacefully walking Darwin fish! Old metaphorical Moses would be scratching his head, I’m sure.

The Creature was, of course, also a metaphor (if I’m not shoveling out too much credit where it isn’t really due). The sequels to the original film grew progressively worse, but those who have the patience to sit through The Creature Walks Among Us discover that the gill-man is a man after all, under all that green rubber. The beast is us. Not too weighty of a revelation to be sure, but it isn’t too weighty a movie. Like any discriminating Bible reader I choose what to accept and what to explain away. When I watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon, it ruins the story for me to think ahead to the denouement of the gill-man being a real man. It is a passage I simply choose not to accept. (This is, of course, a metaphor.)

What might this be a metaphor for?

What might this be a metaphor for?

Memento Mori

This is the end, my friend, my only friend, the end

This is the end, my friend, my only friend, the end

Those of you who’ve listened to my podcasts have no doubt noticed my reference to George Pendle’s, Death: A Life (Three Rivers Press, 2008). This fictitious account of Death’s memoir, all things considered, is a fun read and a wild romp through various ancient religions. Postulating a loveable, if somewhat obtuse, God (no more obtuse, however, than the supreme being in Harold Bloom’s Book of J) Pendle populates his mythological world with a vast array of embodiments, personifications and supernatural beings, all slightly neurotic, and more or less on an equal playing field. Although the book is intended as fun, it does offer some serious consideration to the phenomenon of death.

One of the earliest intimations that Homo sapiens had begun to consider religious sensibilities is burial, the concomitant state to death. Burial serves an important biological function of preventing the diseases borne of putrefaction from infecting others, but it also serves as a condensed statement of a fledgling belief in an afterlife in some form. Even Neanderthal burials have been discovered with rudimentary grave goods. Concern for the wellbeing of the departed is surely a religious sentiment. Death and religion are never far from each other. Even the early Mesopotamians trembled at the etemmu, their version of a ghost, and marked it with the divine determinative on their clay tablets. Religion has been a fine-turned handle that humans have used to get a grip on death.

That is not to say, of course, that death is religion’s only concern, but there is some wisdom in that old saying that people seek out their religious leaders when they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched.” Mesopotamian (and Hebrew Bible, for that matter) afterlife was a gloomy prospect, yet it was certainly brighter than the alternative of the simple cessation of biological functions. Death as a concept inserts meaning into the all-too-natural act of dying. Not a religion exists that does not address itself to this great leveler of all human aspirations. If at times it seems that my posts tend toward the macabre, peopled with vampires, werewolves, zombies and Republicans, bear in mind that such creatures of the night are expressions of the essentially human and indisputably religious preoccupation with death. Its unbeating heart transfuses life to religion.

This Fair’s for the Goats

“County fair, county fair, Everybody in town’ll be there, So come on, hey we’re goin’ down there …” Thus begins the chorus of Bruce Springsteen’s little-known song “County Fair.” (It is one of the bonus tracks on The Essential Bruce Springsteen.) The haunting melody of what might otherwise be a carefree summer song is enhanced by the fact that my wife has been staffing a couple of 4-H County Fair booths over the past weeks and I don’t get to see much of her with the long hours. While at a recent fair she pointed something out to me that, not having much experience on a farm, I had never known. Abattoirs employ goats in a specialized animal herding role. The animals in a stockyard, usually sheep or cattle, get familiar with the goat and learn to follow it. The goat is trained to lead them to their deaths while it is spared. The industry term for this animal is a Judas Goat.

It's a goat's life

Slaughter House Rock

Although the origin of the name is obvious, the practice strikes me as insidious, if justifiably biblical. Training an ignorant animal to lead more gullible animals to their premature demise — it sounds a little too much like Pat Robertson to me! Is this sending in a goat to do a man’s job? Then to saddle the poor creature with the title of Judas, as if the poor thing planned it! Yet another reason to be glad I’m a vegetarian!

The Bible is pervasive in and paradigmatic for our culture. I might even term it endemic. As many children grow up without the biblical force-feeding that many of those in my generation had, these images and metaphors may eventually go extinct. Or perhaps there will always be a goat to lead them back to a Bibliophile culture. The county fair itself might be instructive. Originally instituted in Roman times as periods of relaxation from labor (rather pointless for those of us not gainfully employed), fairs evolved into opportunities for individuals and companies to display their wares and goods. From a practical point of view there is little you can see at the fair that you can’t find quicker or cleaner on the internet. But the internet lacks that human element. Perhaps we are really all just glad to go with the crowd sometimes without even asking where the goat is leading us.

The Divine Finger

As the thunderstorms break out overhead yet once again, I am naturally reminded of tornadoes. I grew up in a part of the country relatively free from natural disasters. In my little corner of western Pennsylvania we felt secure from the earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires, mudslides, and hurricanes that seemed to plague other parts of the continent. Then one night a tornado came. I happened to be a few hundred miles from home working a summer job when the cheery newscaster announced that a tornado had swept through my hometown during the severe thunderstorms we’d had the night before. I had always believed our unrelenting hills made us somewhat resistant to the tornadoes that plagued our next-door neighbor Ohio. It was probably then that my fascination with severe weather, especially the tornado, began.

Pulling the divine plug?

Pulling the divine plug?

One of the reasons for the entirely understandable fear accompanying tornadoes is that they have all the hallmarks of an ideal divine weapon. In an article soon coming out in Maarav, I argue that an obscure Hebrew word should probably be associated with whirlwinds rather than tumbleweeds. Although violent tornadoes are rare in Israel, the story of Elijah seems to imply that a weighty prophet may be hefted skyward by a whirlwind, and that sounds tornadic to me! There are passages where whirling winds are referenced as harbingers of divine wrath, an association that clings to tornadoes even today. I ended up writing an entire book on weather terminology in the Bible that had been fueled on by this ambiguous fascination. Publishers, it seems, alas, do not share my enthusiasm for the topic.

Classic F-5

Classic F-5

The popular media, however, shows a glimmer of understanding. The second half of the 1990s (when I finished my draft of my book/doorstop) was a bonanza of American storm fascination; Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm (1997) was shortly followed by Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm (1999) and both tailed the much-touted movie Twister (1996). Being somewhat of a connoisseur of tornadoes, I was disappointed by Twister, but one scene remained scoured into my memory. A layman asks one of our overly-folksy, lovable storm-chasers what an F-5 tornado (the F-, or Fujita-scale is the measure of a tornado’s intensity based on the level of damage it leaves behind — 5 is the highest number on the scale) would be like. One of our jocular heroes becomes suddenly serious and replies, “The finger of God!” Despite the cornball, this is an accurate explanation of the awe that surrounds a storm as random as a tornado. Adjacent houses can suffer entirely different fates in a tornado, or, in a poignant story I’ve never forgotten, a Wisconsin tornado killed one of a set of young twins in the same house during the storm. Finger of God, indeed. If Moses had lived in Iowa I’m sure he would have made liberal use of the tornado for precisely that image.

The Devil in the Deep Blue Sea

The latest podcast is now up and running. This is a discussion of Leviathan and the ambivalent outlook on water in the ancient world.

Surfs up!

Thy Will Bee Done

Today I had to do battle against the bees. That’s the way I must steel myself for the task of mass specieocide. Watching those little tiny creatures struggling, kicking their six legs and antennae into the air, trying to get the poison off is heartrending to me. They are, after all, only trying to do whatever it is that yellow-jackets do. But it is a heat wave right now, and without central air we need to open windows as much as possible, and today they tried to invade people air space. I had to do something. So standing over the carnage of an Ezekielian valley of damp exoskeletons, I recalled the bees of the Bible. (May their entomological souls rest in peace.)

Bees are one of the more innovative weapons in the divine arsenal. They are used to chase people away, like God’s little army of armored stinger missiles. And as in any arms race, it is numbers that count. Hundreds of them to the one human being holding a putrid can of chemicals trying to defend home against their incursions. In the book of Judges, the one prominent female judge is Deborah. Her name translates to “bee.” She is the bane of the Canaanites. So much so that general Barak (“lightning”) refuses to go to war without her. Bees were a potent curse in ancient times as well, strong enough to drive a family from their home.

Bee careful around this one, because love hurts!

Bee careful around this one, because love hurts!

A Sumerian cylinder seal depicts what appears to be a divine scene with a killer bee goddess (not an Africanized killer bee, but a slang killer bee). One wonders what the worshippers must be thinking. Perhaps they too had watched Phase IV when they were kids! Bees could also be benevolent. Honeybees provided a rare treat before sugarcane had been discovered, and even Israel’s “promised land” flowed with milk and honey. So like most of life, bees were ambiguous. They bore all the markings of the divine: a wonderful sweet residue, nice trendy color scheme, but a painful sting that could even be fatal. Gifts of the gods are like that. So no matter how humane my temporary solution may be, I still feel like I’m taking on the gods.

Sea Dagon

The Dagon of the Hebrew Bible is a fishy character. As I mentioned in my podcast on the subject (Puff the Magic Dagon), the biblical writers seem to have considered him a sort of merman (i.e., ugly mermaid), and since nobody really had an idea what lived in the depths of the ocean in those days that was a fairly safe bet. As we continue the deep-water exploration of our very wet planet, we constantly come across fantastic creatures. Keep an eye out for Jonah’s great fish, and we can explore this watery conundrum.

Not Dagon

Not Dagon

Water is the most divine natural substance. Life evolved in water and cannot exist without it. Ancient peoples were so fascinated by it that it was supposed to be the primordial element. In the beginning there was water. Genesis 1 does not narrate the creation of water; it is already present at the beginning. Water was perceived as chaotic, indeed, monstrous even. Some have suggested that the fierce waves breaking on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean spawned tales of water’s relentless battle against the land.

Tiamat, eh, ur, Yamm? Or is it Poseidon?

Tiamat, eh, ur, Yamm? Or is it Poseidon?

Whatever the reasons may have been, the ancient sea was divinized. The Sumerians may have perceived a deity named Kur as the god of the deeps, a role held more famously by Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. Enki and Apsu were also Mesopotamian deities with aqueous associations. When the Ugaritic myths were stylused, Yamm was a sea monster while Asherah was nick-named Lady Asherah of the Sea.

She's also a yellow submarine

She's also a yellow submarine

In all of this we find no Dagon in the water. When we add Rahab, Leviathan, and Poseidon into the mix maybe it is better that way; it would be a pity should there be more gods than fish in the seas.