Getting Dirty

Composting is a very biblical activity.  Adam, according to the second creation account in Genesis, was formed from the divinely created dirt.  Some scholars try to capture the word-play in that story by suggesting “human” was made from “humus,” but since that sounds like chickpea dip it may not help so much after all.  Besides, we now know that soil has a complex and fascinating history.  Erosion grinds up rocks.  Organic matter dies and decays, forming the loosely packed substrate in which plants can survive, slowly breaking up the more dense pieces through the transformative power of water.  It is, imprecisely speaking, a miracle.  When Adam drops dead, he becomes once more part of the soil from which he was formed.  It’s poetic.  Elegant.  Economical.

Now that we have a house we’ve decided to try our hand at composting.  We’d considered it many times over the years since, what with recycling and hoarding, we’d managed to get our weekly garbage down to one fairly small bag.  Besides, since our government won’t be nice to the planet, somebody has to.  Institutional people that we are, my wife and I had to read up on composting before giving this very natural decomposition a try.  Things have to be just so for the process to work perfectly.  It was in the process of this reading that the biblical aspect became clear to me.  

The trick is to make sure the neighbors don’t complain about the smell.  That, in part, determines what can or can’t go into the compost bin.  Meat and dairy can’t go into the mix.  Since I’m primarily vegan such things aren’t generally here to be disposed of in any case.  Even the drier lint can go there, for the clothes that we wear become part of who we are, right Henry David?  And here’s where there’s a danger of TMI, although it’s good theology—cast-offs from our selves can also be composted.  Hair, for example.  The composting literature we have seems to take Adam himself out of the equation by specifying pet hair, but hey, mammals are mammals.  The longer I thought about this, the more obvious it was that burial, ideally, is a form of composting.  Giving back to the earth from which we’ve sprung.  That simple wire bin out by the garage is in the process of making the substrate for new life.  We may not be farmers, or gardeners like Adam, but composting feels like giving back somehow.  It’s an act of creation.


It’s a poignant thing to hold a dying book in your hands.  What was once, straight, flat, and dry, now dissolves into a pulpy mess that, if it ever recovers, will be warped and distorted out of shape forever.  The loss of dozens of books hit me hard.  I think one of the many reasons for this is that books represent, for me, order.  They stand at attention all in a row, many on shelves I built lovingly for them.  I remember where I purchased them, the thoughts and feelings of that time.  In a world that’s far too bumpy and lumpy, books represented the ultimate in orderly array.  Now The Golden Bough is melting in my palm, smearing my fingers royal blue.  The forecast for the week—more rain.

The story of creation in the Bible—more properly, stories, for there are many—is not creation out of nothing.  Creation is the making of order out of chaos.  Ancient people, including the Israelites, believed that water was chaos, if not an actual dragon, that constantly worked against order.  You can’t build on water, it attacks the shoreline, it drowns those who fall in.  Never a seafaring people, Israel equated big water with evil.  God, then, fought constantly this unruly foe.  Whether it was with word or sword, the Almighty vanquished that sloshing, thrashing element that tries to tear apart everything we build.  Read Genesis 1 closely; the water is already there when the creating starts.

Life has a way of getting out of control.  It’s not without irony, however.  A person buys a house to store their books, and before the books can be moved in, they’re destroyed.  It’s rather like a parable, don’t you think?  If that person unfortunately thinks of him or herself as a summation of the books s/he’s read then the loss is like losing a limb or two in that endless battle against the forces of confusion that attempt to overcome our world.  When this happens some of us turn to books for comfort.  The books, however, are disintegrating in our hands.  My Amazon account, it seems, is mocking me at the moment with it’s mover’s discount.  Why buy something that will only hurt me when the water gets in once again?  The people of ancient times knew that the waters of chaos had to be held in check constantly.  They look for any opportunity to get in and destroy.  Ancient writers knew that in order to defeat them, only the most powerful gods will do.  

The Cost of Chaos

BathingTheLionJonathan Carroll’s novels are always thought-provoking. My reading patterns tend to be driven by book sales and secondhand stores since my reading vice is particularly aggressive. The Ghost in Love is now already years in my past, but I found a copy of Bathing the Lion that I could afford and I was soon dropped into a world of chaos and order. I won’t try to summarize the complex plot here, but I would note the story’s participation in one of the oldest themes of literature—the struggle of order against chaos. The characters called “mechanics” in this book are those who attempt to maintain order throughout the cosmos. Many retire to earth. There, or here, they continue to work against the ever-encroaching chaos.

According to Genesis 1—not the earliest literature, but still fairly ancient—creation is God making order out of chaos. The universe, prior to creation, consists of uncreated, chaotic raw material. Order is what makes our world recognizable. Elsewhere in the Bible creation takes the form of a struggle against a conscious monster that represents chaos. This motif is reflected elsewhere in the ancient world in texts such as the Enuma Elish. Actually, the theme is so common as to be classified as a standard trope of ancient religions with its own name—Chaoskampf. Chaos is always waiting in the wings, ready to break back in and make a mess of our nicely settled existence. The flood story, placed as it is just after creation, is an example of what happens when chaos regains the upper hand.

The battle to maintain order represents a kind of ancient awareness of entropy. If energy isn’t expended, that which is accomplished becomes a wet, stinking mess and anyone who survives has to start all over again. This story is deeply embedded in human consciousness. To our way of thinking, we’re integral to the running of this universe. Spending time in nature gives the lie to this thought. There aren’t that many predators left, but those that are here—cougars and grizzly bears especially—remind us that in the eyes of nature we can be just another meal. Our outlook cannot accept such a low position. As Carroll has the mechanics say, they are not gods. Like human beings, however, they take on a role next to that of divinity. Chaos is the enemy, even garbed in the colors of making us great again. There are still those who will bathe the lion.

Pillars of Science

I sometimes wonder if science would have the appeal that it does, if it didn’t have religion to shock and awe. I’m thinking of not only the fact that The Humanist magazine quite often has a focus on religion, but even websites, irreverently named to make the sensitive blush, frequently use it as a foil. My wife likes the site now more commonly known as “IFL Science!” Web acronyms have taught us what the second of those letters denotes, but perhaps because making the name more family friendly leads to more hits, it’s been muted a bit. In any case, the most recent post I’ve seen has to do with that marvelous Hubble image of interstellar gas and dust columns where stars are being born, know as “The Pillars of Creation.” Apart from the stunningly beautiful images, I’ve always been taken by the way that implicitly or even subliminally, concepts of deity lie behind this scene. When the image was first published, I remember staring at it in rapt fascination—here we had stolen a glimpse into the private chambers of the universe. We were seeing what, were we in the midst of, would surely prove fatal. It is like seeing, well, creation.


Creation is enfolded in the language of myth. Reading the description of this great, gaseous cloud, we are told of the tremendous winds in space (what I had been taught was an utter vacuum) where dust is so hot (I was taught space was frigid) that it ignites into stars, like a silo fire gone wild. It’s like witnessing the moment of conception, although Caroline Reid tells us the dust will be blown away in 3 million years. Perhaps ironically, scientists are scrambling to study it before that happens. Or before that will have happened. At 7000 light-years away, it will have been gone as long ago as Sumerians first put stylus to clay before we know of it. We still have a couple million years for a good gander. And the Sumerians, the first writers of which we know, were writing stories of creation.

It is really a shame that science has, in general, such an antipathy towards myth. As scholars of biblical languages, indeed, nearly any language, know, the language of myth and poetry is especially useful when standard prose breaks down. “Wow!” is not a scientific word. Nor is “eureka!” What other response, however, can there be to seeing the act of creation with our own eyes? Meanwhile there will be those who use science to belittle the worldview of the myth maker and and thinker of religion. Our world, it is widely known, is that of superstition and ignorance. We are those who think only in shallow pools and deny the very reality that is before our eyes. That reality can be full of stunning beauty, but were we to describe it in terms empirical, we might have to keep the interjections and useless adjectives to a minimum.

Creating Diversity

Informed opinion is a chimera. I write that as someone who has time to read only the news stories my wife or my friends pass on to me. Once in a while one of those stories makes me feel less bad about being uninformed. A recent piece by Slate author William Saletan looks at polls regarding Creationism. The piece, picked up in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on a recent Sunday, demonstrates that although the United States is a nation of Creationists, we don’t agree about what that means. What becomes clear to me when I read such stories is that people who believe in the Bible seldom read it. Or at least understand it. Creationism “is not a thing” in the Bible. Many accounts about how the world began are represented, and the main point seems to be that it’s important that it was the God of Israel who did it rather than the competition. The first couple of creation accounts are compelling with their insistence that people are special, and that we are in charge while the owner is away. In fact, however, creation is a minor point in the story. It just has to start somewhere.

Those who set out to read the Bible, I suspect, begin to stumble in parts of Exodus and generally give up once they reach Leviticus. Although the main point of the books of Moses is the rules, the modern Christian finds the story more engaging. And the creation accounts of early Genesis are among the stories people actually read. They do make for a great, if contradictory, tale. They have, however, little impact on what people are supposed to do. Ironically, those accounts have become failsafe political devices. We vote according to how old we think the earth might be. We are special, after all.

Saletan’s point in the article is that the finer we parse the questions, the more divergent opinion becomes. The Bible doesn’t say how old the earth is—it’s really not a point of any significance to the story—but if you’re going to take it literally, you can do the math. Few literalists truly take the Bible literally. Logic very quickly breaks down as Genesis 2 follows Genesis 1. Americans are told that the Bible is literally true, but such a view literally makes no sense. We are committed to it, however, as we somehow equate believing in stories to be more important than understanding what those tales are trying to say. The polls, according to the article, make the point abundantly clear. When it comes to understanding the Bible Americans are very committed, if very confused.

Just one Creationist museum.  Photo credit: Creashin, Wikimedia Commons

Just one Creationist museum. Photo credit: Creashin, Wikimedia Commons

Nothing Unusual

WhyDoestheWorldExist“Is this a world?” Ranger Tom asks seriously, “And if it is, am I in it?” On the lips—or fingertips—of some, this set of questions appears profound. Although I’m not technically a philosopher, I find it impossible to walk by a book with the title Why Does the World Exist? and not pick it up. I am not familiar with Jim Holt’s other work—I engage a little too heavily with books to spend much time with magazines—but the question of the title is one I’ve often pondered. It is right up there with “Why can some people get published and others can’t?” Holt is, however, on a serious quest. Not surprisingly, religion features prominently in the discussion. For the usual existential reasons, including a couple of significant deaths in the family, Holt asks perhaps the most basic of all questions and engages a number of prominent philosophers on the issue. Why is there something rather than nothing? For some in the western world such a question appears a non-starter, because our culture is biblically suffused. Whether we want to admit it or not, our social ocean veritably bobs with the basic belief that God created the world, end of story. We don’t need to ponder it, we just have to accept it. For those who look deeper, however, the answers aren’t that easy.

Holt goes through some serious computation in various forms of logic to try to arrive at a schematic demonstrating that the world is a surprising place. Not trained in such rigorous logic, I was interested to notice how the language occasionally slipped from “world” or “universe” to “reality.” Reality is perhaps the slipperiest concept of them all. Many simply accept their own experience as real, a position known as “naive realism.” Others probe somewhat deeper, seeking to verify reality. How do we know what is really real? It is, however, a different question than the existence of the world. Reality has the distinct ability to haunt with its half-answered questions and surfeit of ambiguity. Every time I wake from a dream I ask myself what is really real.

Once the divine is removed from the equation, why the world is here becomes a much more complex issue. Holt engages the new atheists as well as the neo-orthodox. It turns out that God may not help as much as we generally assume: whence God? Or, in its more childlike version, where did God come from? Once brute fact is ruled out, this becomes a tangled problem indeed. Faced with an endless regression, logic quails. Perhaps, however, we have reached the limits of rationality—even Einsteinian physics breaks down at the Big Bang. No matter what scientists or philosophers may tell us, we will always wonder, “and before that, what?” I put Holt’s book down with a sense that I’d spent a few pleasant hours considering the possibilities, but I still wonder, with Ranger Tom, if this is a world. And if it is, am I in it?

Human Show

TrumanshowAt least a decade had passed since I watched The Truman Show. Jim Carrey has gone on to achieve an over-the-top kind of fame, but Truman is a thoughtful movie that raises several troubling questions. It is also one of the films of the 1990s that shamelessly cast an uncaring god (the not so subtly named Christof) against the goofy, but serious Truman Burbank. The movie is old enough not to worry about spoilers, so a quick run-down might refresh other hazy memories. Truman is the star of a show where a massive set that includes an entire island has been built around him. The vision of Christof, an unwanted baby is recorded from birth in an artificial, “perfect” world that revolves around him. Until he begins to notice events that, in the real world, would be paranormal. Objects falling from a clear sky, dead people reappearing, fake sets under construction. Determined to learn the truth, he faces his fear to escape by literally walking through a door in the sky.

Christof is “the creator.” From his base in the sky, he looks down on Truman as his star “son” grows to a Christ-like 30 years of age. He is protected from all harm, yet terrified of anything that might aid his escape from the ante-world he inhabits. When he slips the cameras and begins to make his way across the water, Christof, still not wanting to relinquish the ruse, throws a storm at Truman’s sailboat, striking it repeatedly with lightning. “Hit him again,” he growls to his crew. “Again!” It is difficult to watch as the loving god is angered to the point of destroying his only son. When Truman literally reaches the end of his world, he walks on the water to reach the stairway to heaven. Metaphors are flying thick and fast. Christof breaks in as a voice from the sky to convince Truman that his life will be perfect if he continues to pretend that reality is only what it seems to be. His devoted fans cheer as Truman ascends and walks through that door into another reality.

Many books on the theology of film have appeared over the past decade as it has become clear that people are very much affected by what they see on the screen. Our brains resonate with what we are seeing to such a degree that movies participate in our perceptions of reality. In an increasingly secular world, we have come to distrust our gods. This truth has echoed through many movies in the past several years. Although not living up to the hype, The Clash of the Titans—the remake—had classical heroes disputing the power of the gods. Truman doesn’t go that far. We are never informed about what life after the delusion is like. The hole in the sky is black. We know that on the other side, our world, there will be terrible disappointments and tremendous sadness. It may be that there will be no gods at all on this side of the studio. Although showing its age a little, The Truman Show still speaks volumes about the religious experience.

How Great Thy Art

Celebrating the four hundredth birthday of the King James Bible, last month’s Harper’s magazine featured seven popular writers giving their take on various passages from the Bible. Noting the Bible more or less gave the English language its shape, this little exercise in eisegesis represents, in small measure, the power of the Bible even today. While many lament that America is no longer Bible-centered, with its misuse and abuse in the political arena the Bible still seems to be the heavyweight champion of the country, albeit altered through the eyes of certain key players. I was happy to note Harper’s chose novelists and poets to respond rather than theologians, biblical scholars, or—God help us—televangelists or politicians (frequently the same thing). What emerges is a tapestry that alike puts biblical scholars’ teeth on edge and makes fundamentalists wince.

Novelist Howard Jacobson looks at the creation story and takes the angle that God is a lonely artist. Writes Jacobson on the creation of light: “It’s good because it reveals an idea. The artist isn’t obligated to explain what that idea is.” Here, in the words of a non-specialist (can one say “amateur” of an accomplished novelist?) lies the heart of the matter. Art is creation and creation must be interpreted. Anyone who has undertaken a creative enterprise knows the feeling—the casual, disinterested glance at your work hurts. Any artist wants to be appreciated. Once the metaphor of God’s authorship of the Bible is recognized, there is a group of human artists hiding somewhere outside the annals of history. One of the great mysteries of the Bible is that we know very little about who wrote it (with the exception of Paul in the Christian Scriptures.)

The Bible is a work of art on a broad canvas. Today it is frequently criticized for the abuses it endures, but if we allow it its original purpose the view should become more sympathetic. The Bible was composed by individuals struggling with ideas. For millennia it served as a useful guide to the human experience until the church became politically powerful during the reign of the emperor Constantine. From that point on, deep knowledge of the Bible became power. For centuries the church guarded that power, keeping it in the hands of the clergy. Now that the Bible has become democratized, it threatens to take over democracy itself. Out there, somewhere unseen, the original artists are snickering as they chink their glasses and toast their accomplishment—they are writers who changed the world. But I suspect Paul is there too, warning them against partying too much.

Be Neith It All

Goddesses have lately been on my mind. Both an occupational hazard and an avocation, study of the divine feminine deflects the trajectory that traditional monotheism traced and places us in the realm of the empowered female. This week my mythology class considered Athena, perhaps the truest embodiment of divinity in classical Greece. I regularly mention that in the ancient world even Plato suggests a connection between Athena and the Egyptian goddess Neith, one of the most ancient of the gods of Lower Egypt. When a friend coincidentally emailed a question about Neith, I realized the goddess was calling out for a blog post.

Neith is difficult to define partially because of the nature of Egyptian religion and its evidence, but also because of her great antiquity. She is a predynastic goddess, dating from before the founding of a united Egypt (back in the days when Egypt was united). She is represented by symbols of both weaponry and weaving (thus associated with Athena), and since she is so ancient, she became a creator. She is occasionally regarded as the mother of the gods. A question that naturally arises for all creators is from whence did they come – the classic chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Mythology offers a number of options for self-generation, but most often creator gods simply bring themselves into being without many details being supplied. After all, no one was there to witness the miracle of the first birth.

Like most Egyptian creator gods, Neith represented preexistence and creation. She is occasionally androgynous – a necessary precondition for being an initial creator – and is said, by Proclus to have claimed, “I am all that has been and is and will be.” In short, nobody knows where she originated. Like many pre-biblical gods, Neith practices creation by speaking aspects of the world into existence, a technique called creation by divine fiat. This is something that Yahweh will later borrow in Israel. Although the Egyptian myths do not directly address the coming into being of Neith, she represents what every observer of nature knows: monotheism loses an essential element when it supplants one gender instead of embracing both.

Jehovah’s Eden

As a religious studies specialist, I inhabit a world where definitive answers are comparatively rare. It is clear that my assigned Jehovah’s Witnesses case-workers are not similarly constrained. While I was out earlier this week, they left a copy of the newest edition of the Watchtower for my edification. The cover shows an Edenic garden and bears the legend, “The Garden of Eden: Myth or Fact?” Now, I thought I knew the answer to that one. So I started to read. I learned that it was because of philosophers and their nonsense that people ceased to believe in Eden. Most people in world believe there was a paradisiacal garden, way back when, so it must be fact. I also learned that the reason we can’t find Eden today is that the Flood wiped it away. Seems a shame; with proper drainage it could be as dry as Aden and as rich as Dilmun.

The story in the magazine is set up as a series of objections raised as to why the Garden of Eden is rejected by skeptics. Literalist biblical answers to the objections are then offered. Ironically, one of the most obviously missing objections is that of geology. The article states that, prior to being destroyed by the flood, Eden would likely have suffered from the devastation of earthquakes. The area, it seems, is in the earthquake belt. Still, the garden was created “some 6,000 years ago,” despite what all those earthquake-toting geologists tell us. Somebody has forgotten to set their calendar back by a few billion years.

A more serious objection missing from the critique is that of mythology itself. Those who’ve studied the background to the story of Eden realize that most of the elements in the story are recycled myths known among the Mesopotamians. Special trees, crafty snakes, people being created from clay – all these are standard elements in Mesopotamian mythology that predates the Genesis creation accounts. If modern people understood that the point of mythology is to convey truths that are beyond the factual, perhaps we wouldn’t have such insistence that Eden is fact, despite the facts of science. The Garden of Eden: Myth or Fact? Clearly myth. And that rescues the story from the burden of bearing facts it was never intended to convey.


The Science Channel’s program, Through the Wormhole, hosted by Morgan Freeman, has a noble goal: help educate non-scientists with cutting-edge ideas. The series opens with an episode on God: “Is There a Creator?” Interestingly, in our society there are those who turn the question around. Religious folks ask the question: does science really have the answers? It is the classic ouroboros, the snake swallowing its own tail. Perhaps the best way to consider this entrenched issue is to consider its history. Gods emerged as explanatory figures. In the days when the Bible was the oldest known book, it was believable that God had dictated it and therefore the idea of God required no explanation: the ultimate tautology. When extra-biblical material predating the Bible was discovered, a warning bell rang. Most established religions in the western world simply pretended not to hear.

Snake, dragon, whatever.

Neuroscientist Michael Persinger of Laurentian University features in this Wormhole episode, demonstrating his “God helmet.” The principle is that stimulating the specific part of the right hemisphere of the brain that corresponds to the left hemisphere’s region of “selfhood,” a brain will fabricate a presence. While the experiment has promising results, it can’t fully explain God. Other neuroscientists are working on the issue as well. Historically we know that Yahweh was one among a polytheistic entourage of deities. With the stresses and mysteries of exilic existence, monotheism was born. Only one of those many gods survived. By studying the character of Yahweh’s departed compatriots, however, we can learn of the origins of gods as well.

Science entered the picture much later. By the time of truly empirical observation, God was an assumption as certain as ether. When science offered an alternative explanation, religion countered. “I see your Big Bang and raise you one Prime Mover.” And thus it will always go. With no witnesses, alas, no intelligence even yet evolved, our universe began. We can ask the physicist or we can ask the priest. Even if God is discovered and described in the laboratory, with or without a helmet, those standing outside will always believe, with Anselm, that there is an even bigger one somewhere out there.

Life in the Laboratory

Nancy Gibbs’ essay “Creation Myths” appears in this week’s Time. Leaping off from Craig Venter’s “creation of life” in the laboratory, Gibbs asks who the final arbiter might be in this world we’re creating in our own image. The more I ponder the question, the more I realize that no person really decides how far we will go and the implications will only grow more and more unanswerable. We all attempt to construct the world according to our idea of how it should look; it is not a question of if we create the world in our image as much as it is whose image will prevail. As I noted in a recent post, no one person has all the answers. What each of us does impacts all the others just as a wave influences everyone in the sea. We fear science taking the prerogative of creating life because we are fully capable of imagining where it might go, but we just don’t know.

As an individual who has often been on the receiving end of other people’s visions of how this or that institution or company should look, it is my humble assessment that we have already lost control. We never really had control in the first place. At the end of the day, who will really be able to prevent another Gulf oil spill from occurring? Make what laws we will, other creators will find ways around them. And as in Gibbs’ article, the rest of us will simply have to react. No one is really in control.

Perhaps this is the real reason that religion is so appealing. It is terribly, terribly convenient to have an omnipotent divine entity on whose anthropomorphic shoulders we might cast our worries and burdens. Whether we believe in predestination or not, it is comforting to suppose that when it is all over God will somehow sponge up all that oil (preferably squeezing that sponge back out into BP’s great, sturdy tankards of crude), or stop that evil clone we’ve engineered, or stomp out that hyper-aggressive virus we’ve unleashed. We may make laws against creating life or human clones in the laboratory, but it will happen nevertheless. Gibbs wonders if scientists are about to cross some moral Rubicon. My answer is simple: we crossed that Rubicon long before the river itself flowed, when we first put our webbed feet out onto dry ground and began our still uncertain journey to the future.

God exits, stage left

LOL Cat Bible Commentary, Part 1

It was bound to happen. Here is the first installment of the LOL Cat Bible Commentary.

Genesis 1.1 Oh hai! In teh beginning Ceiling Cat maded teh skys an teh Urfs, but he no eated them.

In teh beginnin
In teh beginnin ub teh dai — Ceiling Cat nawt wurk at nite, cuz datz wen
Basement Cat come owt to do ebil stuffz.
Ceiling Cat
Ceiling Cat writed da Bible. He’z the mos smartess an strongess kitteh ever. An him reely good — he no eat other kittehs fud, an he nebber jumpz on another kitteh in da middul ub teh nite (but for hoomuns dis ok).
maded teh skys
But first him taked a nap. Den Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez so him had place to liv. An den him putted a hole in da ceilin so him kood peep down on teh Urfs. Wait, him nawt maek teh Urfs yet! Ai sowwy, plz to furgive? Kthx.
an teh Urfs
K, nao Ceiling Cat maek teh Urfs. Urfs is where the hoomuns howse iz.
Ceiling Cat no maek teh udder Urfs, jus da wun wif da howse.
but he no eated them
Ceiling Cat can has a hunger after awl taht wurk, Aifinkso! But him no eated teh skiez, cuz den him fall owt, an den dere no moar kittehz to wurk on da Urfs. An him no eated teh Urfs howse, either. Him wanted to maek teh birdiez an teh moal an teh fishiez. An him also want to maek teh hoomuns for to maek his fud.

1.2 Teh Urfs has no shayps an has darwk fase, an Ceiling Cat roed invisible bike ovah teh wawters

Teh Urfs has no shayps
Cuz Ceiling Cat nawt evur maded a Urfs befoar. Him not no wut Urfs shayp iz!
an has darwk fase
Ceiling Cat can to seez in teh darwk, but dere nawt eny shayps to seez. The Urfs has dawrk fase liek teh howse wif no elec…elek…elekt…wif no lytes.
roed invisible bike
Liek him wuz dreemin. Invisible bike is hawrd to be finded in teh dawrk, but Ceiling Cat maded it an him finded it.
ovah teh wawters
Ceiling Cat nawt liek to get him feetz wet, so him no rided teh bike thru taht wawter. Wawters has see monsturs an stuffs.

1.3 At furst, has no lyte. An Ceiling Cat sez, “I can has lite?” An lite was.

At furst, has no lyte
Ceiling Cat nawt need lyte, but him noes taht hoomuns will to need lyte for to maek noms.
An Ceiling Cat sez
Ceiling Cat has to tawk to himself cuz of monokittehism. No udder kittehs arownd yet, not ebben Basement Cat.
I can has lite?
Ceiling Cat reely wanted a cheezburger. But him needed a hoomun for to maek cheezburger. So him has to maek teh lyte for to get noms.
An lite was.
Nao him can to see howse an da Urfs he maded. Den him maded lolz an udder stuffz, but first him taek moar napz.

(Translated into LOL Speek by the world’s greatest CATS! Fan Kthx)

How Flat is Your World?

I talk so much about lenses in class that some of my students must think I’m a closet optometrist. The lenses I refer to, however, are those that we all wear as part of our culture. We can’t help it – being born into a worldview is part of the human experience. From my youngest days I recall learning that the earth is twirling around at a dizzying rate and we are hurtling through space around the sun so fast that my thoughts can’t even keep up. These are lenses. Then we turn to the Bible (or other ancient texts for that matter) and read about the creation of their world. To understand their worldview we need to take our lenses off.

Last night I could see the understanding dawning on some faces in the classroom as I described ancient Israel’s worldview. They were flat-earthers, each and every one. The world that is described in Genesis 1 is flat with an invisible dome over it, a dome that holds back the cosmic waters and provides a living space for the sun, moon, and stars. The flat earth is upheld by pillars that erupt through the surface in the form of mountains, and there is water around all. Genesis 1 does not describe the creation of water; it is already there. You can tell there is water above the dome because it falls on us whenever it rains. Oh yes, and dead people are in Sheol, somewhere under our feet. This is the world that God creates in six days. It is not our world. It was their world.

One possible rendition of an extinct worldview

It is not that the physical world has changed, but perceptions of it have. When I stand outside (this was especially noticeable when I lived in central Illinois), I see the world is flat. I feel no motion – I get sick as a dog swinging my head around too fast, so I would know! The difference is that I understand apparent reality is not the same as physical reality. The writers of Genesis 1 did not anticipate our world, nor did they describe how it came to be. They described the world they knew, a world that does not actually exist. Fundamentalists today claim that the Bible is factual in its description of the creation, and that may be the case. But only if you take your lenses off and admit that the world God created is flat and is covered by a dome. And by the way, it looks like the windows of the sky were left open because it is beginning to snow again.

Eager for Eden

In a recent email from the Clergy Letter Project, Michael Zimmerman reports that the movie Creation is shortly scheduled to be released in the United States. To quote from the Project newsletter:

“You may have heard that the film, Creation, about Charles Darwin and his struggle with his faith after his daughter, Annie, died had trouble finding a US distributor because it was seen as being too controversial for the American public, particularly after being attacked on, an influential site which reviews films from a supposedly ‘Christian perspective’.”

It is disturbing that a non-fiction film has been blocked from American viewers because distributors found the content too controversial. The controversy has nothing to do with sex or violence, but an assault on the fantasy of a literal interpretation of Genesis. Disturbing fact challenges comfortable fantasy.

In a related story, an article on explores the sense of depression that several viewers of Avatar felt after the movie ended. While the reasons are deep and complex, the overall theme seems to be that these viewers can’t shake the image of a pristine world that seemed so real for two-and-a-half hours. They long for a paradise that doesn’t exist. A paradise that has never existed. I am not unsympathetic. Although I could not view the film, I left from the theater with a similar, if less intense, feeling. It is a similar emotion to that when a truly special event takes place and the mind plays it over and over like a new and significant song. Impressions and hazy images and euphoria wash over you, and a longing for a moment that can never be recaptured consumes your consciousness. These are some of the most bittersweet moments of life. They are the very heartbeat of fantasy.

There never was an Eden. Human existence has been brutal and harsh since we first stood upright and wondered why we could think. America is a nation in deep denial about this harsh reality. We would rather believe the biblical Eden is a literal paradise and that our aching imaginations are somehow giving us glimpses of a fabled utopia where life was perfect. Well, almost perfect. The movie Avatar presents a paradigm that many Americans can relate to: an electronic world of endless possibilities shielding us from the stark realities of illness, pollution, tragedy, and death. We are insulated in our surreal environment that we have created for ourselves.

The human capacity for wonder is perhaps the greatest asset that consciousness has deigned to bequeath us. We can imagine a world where all creatures live in harmony with their environment and love and peace flourish. But that is not our world. A good corrective to these tempting fantasies is to read some good old classic Greek tragedies. These imaginative explorations of the human condition are as true to life as dreams of utopian worlds are removed from it. It is all a matter of perspective. And the Greeks were writing B.C.E. — Before the Computer Era — when reality had not been hidden behind a haze of ephemeral electrons.