They Might Be

Last week I mentioned that a letter-writing friend had sent me two articles from the 1868 Prescott Journal newspaper. Some time ago I did some research into the history of newspapers since many of the stories from the early days of the medium seem difficult to accept. Perhaps it was a more credulous time, or perhaps newspapers were a form of entertainment as well as information, but the occasional hoax made its way into the pages of even reputable papers. I’m always surprised how many tales involve a kind of biblical literalism, whether stated or not. The second story from the aforementioned Wisconsin newspaper has to do with a giant skeleton unearthed at the Sauk Rapids. At ten-foot-nine, this veritable Goliath was estimated to have weighed some 900 pounds when alive. This prodigy sparked some piety in the writer, who concludes by stating, “We hope ‘642’ [the article doesn’t hint at the referent here] may learn humility from this dispensation of Providence, and that a view of the ‘femur’ and ‘fibula’ of this deceased stranger, may teach him the futility of all attempts at fleshy greatness in these degenerate days.”

Quite apart from the pious closing, the idea that giants once inhabited the earth is indeed biblical. Studies have been undertaken that speculate on why people of antiquity believed in giants, and one of the more plausible explanations has to do with the discovery of megafauna bones. Not having a conceptual world wherein dinosaurs or mammoths might fit, giant leg-bones and ribs, for example, look pretty much like those of people. Only much larger. Whatever the reason, people all over the ancient Mediterranean believed in an era of giants, and that belief made its way into the Bible as well as into Greek mythology. Only, if the Bible says it, it must be true, no? And so, finding giants in the earth is not to be unexpected.

Goliath_Bible

Interestingly enough, this craze of finding giants has not ceased. The internet keeps bogus photos of unearthed giant skeletons alive and the explanations we’re given amount to proof of the flood. After all, the Bible says giants came before the flood, and if Noah wasn’t a giant, well, they had to have been wiped out, right? But then they show up again later in the form of the Anakim or Goliath and his kin. The question of whence the giants 2.0 came is not answered, but if it’s literally true then there should be no surprise if one should turn up in Wisconsin. After all, other oddities have turned up in that same state, some of which still defy explanation in the rational world of the twenty-first century.

Literary Floods

Oryx and Crake ends with a cliffhanger. I read the book at the suggestion of a friend and found a dystopia that simply continues along present trends. Naturally I had to read the second part, Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. I had picked up this book first, not realizing that there was a previous novel, because I supposed the eponymous flood to be that of Noah. I was not disappointed on that score. In keeping with her strong biblical awareness, Atwood has given readers the creation in Oryx and Crake, and the deluge in The Year of the Flood. Set in the same forlorn future, those who survive the pandemic described in the first book seek to survive in a world where most of the people are gone. Many of the survivors, as we learn in the second installment, are former members of an alternative religion, God’s Gardeners. This quasi-cult, led by Adams and Eves, prepares for the waterless flood (pandemic) by caching Ararats—supply stores—around the broken-down city they inhabit. As in Genesis these Noahs and Mrs. Noahs are replications of Adam and Eve.

Not only is Atwood an engaging author, she supports the green causes advocated by her books. This is a more honest form of religion than most sharply chiseled theologies that do nothing to improve the lot of a suffering world. Academic religionists like to tell us exactly what God is like while shrugging shoulders over the destruction of everything he putatively made. In Atwood’s world, those who believe in God express it through care of their planet. As always, however, they are the modest voices easily drowned out by the unconscionable greed of the powerful. In the words of John Dickinson from the musical 1776, “Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.” Rare is the person willing to take the higher road and set aside his or her own wants for the benefit of others.

Ethics, at one time, meant seriously considering the implications of what we do. With the morals of our “leaders” it is pretty difficult to hold to that illusion any longer. Yesterday I sat through another round of ethics training and learned nothing that I hadn’t learned in Sunday School as a child. Be nice to others, don’t use them for your own advantage, help those who need assistance. It really isn’t that hard. Newt Gingrich with his highly unethical treatment of his ex-wife, Anthony Weiner’s peccadilloes, Sarah Palin’s revisionist reality—these scarcely inspire confidence. The flood is upon us. I think I might rather live in a world the Margaret Atwood would envision, as long as she was there too, to show us how to survive.