Outdated Commandments

Recently, according to an ABC story a friend sent me, some self-righteous Catholics stole indigenous statues from the Amazon from a location in Rome.  The statues had been a gift to the Pope and placed outside the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina.  Like mass shooters these days, the Christians responsible filmed themselves doing this and shared it on social media.  I’ve experienced a lot of religious intolerance in my life.  I lost my job and my childhood to it, among other things.  Stories like this are beyond sad because religion really does have the capacity to bring people together rather than to tear them into warring factions.  Unfortunately it tends to draw in the hateful looking for excuses for their violence.

Not unrelatedly, I attended a church program on gun violence.  Before this gets immediately blown up into “anti-gun,” please note—the program was about violence, not guns.  During the Q&A after the presentation someone asked who the panelists were trying to reach, “preaching to the choir.”  After that he admitted to being a gun owner and felt that his position was unfairly represented.  Tension mounted.  One of the panelists, the one who’d witnessed his first murder at age 11, and who’d spent time in jail himself, broke in and said “This is about violence, let’s not make it about guns.”  I was struck by his focus and control.  He’d told us earlier that if a gang member could be convinced to wait 24 hours before getting his gun after an insult or injury a shooting almost never took place.  Violence is often a spur of the moment thing.

What’s so troubling about those who smirk as they film themselves doing violence, like stealing statues outside a church, is that this is not an impulse act.  This is planned, hateful violence.  It wears the mask of religion, often titled “orthodoxy” or “conservatism” but it is in reality simply a way of excusing your hatred.  Ironically, the Jesus they claim to be following said, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.”  I guess we’ve got quite a few sinless conservatives out there, although I have to wonder if filming yourself might not count as pride.  It used to be called a deadly sin, but who’s counting?  Self-righteousness isn’t quite the same thing as vanity, although they sleep in the same bed.  But let’s not get lust involved, once that happens there’ll be no telling one sin from another.

The Very Blustery Day

What is it with car service and religion? After a long drive to and from Montclair yesterday to teach my mythology classes, I realized the poor car was due for an oil change. I try to be religious about auto service since the gods of mechanics seem to have bypassed me when handing out their gifts. I am pretty good at taking things apart, but when it comes to reconstructing them, well, they seem to work in new and interesting ways when I’m done. I don’t trust too much auto repair to myself. At the same time, Jiffy Lube is not my favorite hangout. I always take a book along, but the waiting area always has a television going and stale coffee perking, and other people chatting. It is sometimes hard to concentrate. A Friday afternoon seemed like a good time to go since weekend warriors would not be spending their first free hours at the Lube.

I had a choice of seats. I sat behind a Plexiglass divider from the television, figuring it might muffle the sound a bit, and began trying to focus on my work. The TV was on ABC, an early news show was running. I hadn’t been reading ten minutes when I heard the Bible mentioned on the news. I scrunched forward to peer around the windshield wipers suspended from the rack on the other side of the Plexiglass. An official looking authority named Carl Druze of the National Center for Atmospheric Research was explaining to an unseen journalist how he’d discovered the miracle of the Exodus! The government scientist explained, with a fancy graphic illustration, how if the wind blew all night the Red Sea would part into a marshy bit of mostly dry land for up to four hours, giving the Israelites an opportunity to walk right out of Egypt. The woman tending the register was so curious about my bent-over posture that she came around to see what the story was about. When she saw, she gave me a doubtful smile. The story concluded by mentioning that Carl Druze is a devout Christian, but that had nothing to do with his research.

Scientists have long tried to explain mythological episodes. Over the years I have read many implausible conjectures of “perfect storm” conditions that could lead to a dried sea bed, a series of horrific plagues, a world-wide flood, or even the earth itself holding still on its axis for 24 hours. While clever, these scientific fictions miss the point. The Bible is presenting miracles as unaccountable acts of God. No formulas or figures can explain them. I was bemused since four hours would hardly be time enough for the (at least) three million Israelites cited by Exodus to have made it across marshy swampland with their considerable material goods. The fact remains that no archaeological evidence for the exodus exists, claims of chariot-wheel shaped coral in the Red Sea notwithstanding. If the Bible had been intending to be literal here, it would have been the end of Egypt since the army was completely wiped out. And this was on the eve of the invasion of the Sea Peoples. There is a reason I let automotive experts work on my car. It is always interesting when scientists tinker with the Bible, but I’m glad that such tinkering doesn’t involve a half-ton of metal that is capable of racing down the highway at speeds the fleeing Israelites would have been overjoyed to have achieved on the road out of Egypt.

Dive low, sweet chariot