Aug 8, 2014

Reading Genesis by Andrew Anson

I've never had much exposure to the Bible. I was raised in a predominately atheist house-hold; although that word was never used. My mother went through a few phases of religion leaning, and would drag my father and us children to church on Sunday. These phases would last a couple months; up until she decided to submit to our pleas (my father included) that church was awful. I didn't enjoy it simply because it was boring. I had no rejection in principal. I think I could find that now; this essay won't go into those details though. My social circle was also very non-religious, expounding only those religious preachings that are so common place in society they have lost their direct link to religion. Like many social norms, the origin becomes irrelevant - we simply live with them and only contemplative people, or those with specific goals in mind, chose to challenge them to the chagrin of the passive folks who want to justify their behavior through appeal to the authority of time. The secular public school system also introduced to me no formal teachings of religion, only to the veiled, religious affected philosophies of certain school teachers. So as a rational man, steeped in a constant diet of a society affected by multiple ideologies, I now approach the first book of the Bible. Perhaps I should have taken the advice of St. Augustine, who claimed that the Bible should be read beyond its literal meaning, and sought the assistance of a professional.

It's interesting to read the source after being exposed to the effects of the Bible all of my life. It's not often we get the opportunity to approach the source of such an affection. Experiencing the stories that have been re-told and bastardized in various media in their accepted form is an elucidating experience. The various quotes lifted from the book, that we see everyday, are interesting to see in context - many of which are taken completely out of context, and thus distorted.

One such quote I saw recently in a church read, lovingly, "Walk about the land through its length and its breadth". In context though, God gave Abram (later renamed Abraham) the land (which was already inhabited, so God usurped the land) for him and his seed, God's chosen people. The irony is readily apparent. The pleasant church goer who plastered that quote on the wall didn't understand that if I'm not of Abraham's seed, I have no right to be on that land at all. I can't walk about the land because its all private property, and the last time I did that I got physically assaulted (in the Bible, God would probably get me killed). Ultimately, I'm stuck walking around my apartment, which is only mine temporarily and as long as I continue to make rent payments. I suppose this interpretation of the quote comes off as cynical, but it's hard not to be. The early followers of this new religion reveled in their being God's favorites. Judaism is exclusionary in nature. I speculate that this was a source of the contention that has brought them so much hatred over the centuries. Just as the teacher's favourite in the classroom is bullied by his classmates, the Jews were bullied by their religious opponents.

The Jews declared themselves different from the dirty desert dwellers (and on par with the clean Egyptians) by instituting a doctrine of circumcision. Circumcision, the practice of cutting off a piece of a child's penis, is given in Genesis as a commandment of God. If I don't become circumcised, God says I "shall be cut off from [my] people (but not the tip of my penis)". My parents, through the nonact of avoiding my circumcision, have condemned me to isolation. Perhaps this is why I am unable to walk the lands freely.

Genesis places a lot of significance on continuing your family line. There is, however, not much emphasis placed on the value of family in itself; rather the emphasis is that the family is a possession and the sons and daughters are your continuation. Abraham is extremely stressed over not having a son, and impregnates his slave girl at the risk of ruining his marriage. He ultimately pleas to God, whom grants Abraham's wife (who no longer has womanly flows at her 90 years of age) a pregnancy. Yes, the son, poor Isaac had to suckle 90 year old nipples. In another example of the importance of the continuation of the family line, the two daughter's of Lot, desperate to have children, get Lot drunk and have sex with him. This focus on the family is consistent with the Bible's religious focus on property. In order to maintain hold on property one must have a family to pass it down to. God isn't concerned with the incest and the sex with slave girls, but he is concerned with Abimelech taking a married woman, but only to the extent that a married woman is someone else's property. God also takes no issue with Abraham owning slaves, firmly suggesting that Abraham mutilate their penises.

The Abraham sacrificing his son story is possibly the most important story in Genesis. Faith occurs when you give resignation, absolute resignation, to God. Abraham is either a murderer or a hero of faith. Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling analyzes this story in an interesting and rewarding way. It gives a meta-commentary to the story that the Bible is sorely lacking. The Bible gives a very literal account of the stories; this supports St. Augustine's assertion that one must have outside help to understand the book. This outside help, however, would allow the ability for people to distort the 'truths' of the Bible.

God, as an abstract concept, is used numerous times by characters in Genesis to achieve their selfish ends. The name of God is used by Jacob to deceive his father Isaac into blessing him instead of the brother Esau. Later, the name of God is used to make sure Jacob doesn't "take any wives besides [Laban's] daughters". Laban states, "though no one else is present, remember, God is witness between you and me! May the Lord look out between you and me when we are out of each other's site". This is one of the reasons, I wager, religion was used by statesmen and property owners: it allows laws to perpetuate without surveillance (something that is not as relevant modern times, as statesmen have infrastructures like the NSA).

I remember when I was a teenager I fell into depression; the type of depression that most teenagers must go through, and I sought out help in a few places. One of the places that I was going to turn to was religion. I picked up the Bible, but was uninterested in the creation myth so I put it away. And I'm glad I did as I don't believe that reading this would have helped me see value in existence in any way. I learned that one must submit to a being more powerful than one's self; that I must be initiated through bodily mutilation; I must never question its authority; and that I must spread my seed in order to maintain and grow the kingdom of my possessions. The surface of the story of Genesis and my non-literal interpretations reveal nothing that is useful; it contains no moral guidance, no advice, and no justification for life. Perhaps, it is as St. Augustine asserts; we must seek guidance in experts to understand the significance of the stories; or, perhaps, I end up regretfully agreeing with Richard Dawkins who claimed of the Bible: "Why bother with it?". This statement, given during a TV show panel discussion, was responded with indignant cries from the other panel members and the studio audience. But, if one must seek assistance in interpretation, one must submit to the authority of antiquity and the genesis of knowledge will never be revealed. 

Andrew Anson
Still seeking a meaning to being in Kelowna, BC
June, 2014

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