Just Ducky

An innocent trip to Kohl’s. I was really just along for the ride since buying clothes is not really my thing, but I’d been spending quite a bit of time at home alone, pondering my fate. We’d just changed the clocks, so we had an extra hour and my wife needed a few things. Once there popular religion gave me the old Joab-and-Abner treatment, if you know what I mean. I’m not completely naive about movie tie-ins—they are big money for all kinds of products, especially food (both fast and slow). As if eating that burger will somehow make you more like Captain America than will a few brisk minutes on the treadmill might. In any case, I’ve known Kohl’s to support charitable causes in the past: buying a children’s book or plush animal for a donation to a wildlife conservancy or some such socially conscious promotion. I was a bit perplexed to find a tremendous amount of Duck Dynasty gear in the store on my recent trip. Being outside New York City, we are hardly rural. I mean, Kohl’s sells clothes, right? But there were Duck Dynasty bauble-heads, Duck Dynasty fanny packs, and even a whole stand of Duck Dynasty books. From conserving animals to shooting them.

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I realize Duck Dynasty items are big money. At a local store just before Halloween I spied a Duck Dynasty costume—fairly simple; a ZZ Top beard and you’re good to go. While getting a haircut the other day the girl, young enough to be my daughter (literally), said “You gonna keep the beard?” I told her I hadn’t shaved since 1988. Her response? “Well, at least you don’t look like those Duck Dynasty guys.” Like Rip Van Winkle (whom I understand also sported an impressive beard), I feel like I’ve been asleep for quite a long time. When did facial hair come to equate home-grown evangelism and love of shotguns?

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To calm my nerves, I signed onto Amazon.com. Prior to becoming dramatically unemployed, I used to treat myself every once in a while to some reasonably priced reading material from our Seattle savior. Naturally, they want you to buy more, so they suggest other books, based on viewing patterns, and, more importantly, purchasing records. That’s where I saw the Duck Commander Devotional, complete with a duck-themed camouflage cover. Now I think I finally understand. Reading the Bible for yourself (like Phil Robertson does) is too much trouble. It is easier to have the hirsute heroes of Louisiana tell you what the good book says. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like religion might be going to the birds.

Avengers and Gods

The Marvel Comics Universe is a complex blend of juvenile and adult themes. At the suggestion of one of my readers (thanks, Erika!) and the urging of my family, we went to see The Avengers this weekend. Having grown up in my own complex circumstances (first of all, fundamentalist—therefore not prone to too much secular material, and secondly, of humble means—therefore not prone to too much material material), I was aware of only some of the group. I’d read Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor comics, and I knew who Captain America was, but I never realized they’d teamed up, along with Black Widow and Hawkeye, to form the Avengers. I guess I just missed that part. The amazing integration of gods, performance-enhanced humans, and technocrats, makes for a fascinating consideration of the boundaries of good and evil.

This became clear when Captain America first encounters Thor in the film and is told he is a god. His response, straight from Tea Party rhetoric, is “There’s only one God, ma’am, and he doesn’t dress like that.” Clearly a man from the early twentieth century would have expectations of Yahweh’s dress code. It would be a white robe, no doubt, but as the gods Thor and Loki duke it out, Yahweh is nowhere to be seen. The movie also toys with the concept of immortality. Dr. Banner, under the guise of the Hulk, is unkillable. In a poignant moment he admits having attempted suicide, but his alter-ego proved indestructible. The cheer of the audience was palpable when Loki tells the green guy, “I’m a god and I won’t be bullied by—” only to be divinely thrashed by the Hulk who responds with the word, “Demigod.”

Over the past several years I’ve noticed that hero movies have begun to declare Gotterdammerung, the twilight of the gods. No longer are supernatural beings the ones who rule humanity. Heroes are now in charge of their own destinies. And yet, that old time religion is still present. As Tony Stark is about to attack one of the wickedly cool flying leviathans he asks Jarvis “Are you familiar with the story of Jonah?” I wondered just how many in the theater got the reference—how many, like Captain America at the comment of flying monkeys, got the joke? When the movie was over, and I was convinced I wouldn’t have to go to work on Monday (I was sure my building was one of those destroyed in the mayhem), I pondered the resolution. The gods took their dispute to Asgard, out of the realm of humans. This was, after all, a dispute between deities. And humans, as so often happens in such scenarios, were simply caught in the middle.

Internet Asherah

Things represented on the Internet are not always what they seem. Removed to the back-bench of academia, I don’t have the opportunity for research that I once had. Every now and again, however, I still like to see what people are saying about Asherah. When I check the popular goddess books available off the shelf, my book on the subject is not often mentioned. At least on the Internet some researchers seem to have noticed it. A recent search for Asherah on Google, however, brought some surprising results. The first item of interest was a quinoa-based, organic veggie burger from Asherah’s Gourmet. The Asherah in question here, however, is simply a woman’s name. As a vegetarian I thought I would put a word in for the product, in any case. I found this brand at a health food store last week, but miles from home and with an air temperature of over 100 degrees, I was afraid the frozen products wouldn’t make it home without half baking in the car.

My next stop on the web was Sacred Suds. This New Age-themed site offers hand-made soaps, many of them associated with goddesses. The product entitled Asherah is named for “the Canaanite mother goddess” and is made with milk and honey. The website doesn’t actually state anything about washing away sins, but it seems difficult to go wrong by washing with a goddess. Another selling point—also not on the website—might be to point out that Asherah is known as the one who “walks upon the sea.” There is even a scene in the Baal Cycle from Ugarit where she is presented as doing her laundry in the sea. Asherah and soap, it seems, are a natural match.

One final product seems to be biding its time, although I suspect there is a market for it. The Asherah action-figure, privately made, does not appear to be commercially available yet. Garbed in an Egyptianizing cobra headdress, armed with a cobra staff, this heroine looks to be a suitable partner for Captain America, bringing the United States and Middle East together in an attempt to bring peace to a troubled region. Maybe heroes can accomplish what gods apparently can’t.

Not exactly big business yet, nevertheless Asherah appears to be on the move. Maybe once she breaks into the big time, those of us who’ve tried to make a living on her cape-tails might be dragged out of obscurity as well. In the meantime, it is about time for a veggie burger and a luxuriant bath.