March 3, 2009

The Not-So-Good Good Book

David Plotz, an editor at Slate, blogged about the whole of the Old Testament for his online magazine in 2006 and 2007. Today, over at Slate, they announced that Plotz has put out a book about his experience, titled "Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible."

In the Slate article about the book about the blog, Plotz tells us a bit about his amazing experience: "After spending a year with the good book, I've become a full-on Bible thumper. Everyone should read it—all of it! In fact, the less you believe, the more you should read." A pretty keen, if not wildeyed, endorsement, eh? Probably should stamp those words on the cover of the Good Book to assure that heathens like me pick it up and give it a careful, judicious read.

But Plotz isn't all-out enthusiastic as his words above imply. Indeed, he doesn't really come away thinking all that much of God by the time he finishes the Old Testament. The viddie, below gives you four minutes of Plotz talking about the Bible -- most specifically, about the story of Dinah [pronounced Deena] from the book of Genesis.

Further, here is Plotz's conclusion about his reading experience,
I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn't really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I'm brokenhearted about God.

After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting—every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God—I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty—such sublime beauty and grace!—but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.

When I complain to religious friends about how much He dismays me, I usually get one of two responses. Christians say: Well, yes, but this is all setup for the New Testament. Reading only the Old Testament is like leaving halfway through the movie. I'm missing all the redemption. If I want to find the grace and forgiveness and wonder, I have to read and believe in the story of Jesus Christ, which explains and redeems all.

But that doesn't work for me. I'm a Jew. I don't, and can't, believe that Christ died for my sins. And even if he did, I still don't think that would wash away God's crimes in the Old Testament.

The second response tends to come from Jews, who razz me for missing the chief lesson of the Hebrew Bible, which is that we can't hope to understand the ways of God. If He seems cruel or petty, that's because we can't fathom His plan for us. But I'm not buying that, either.

If God made me, He made me rational and quizzical. He has given me the tools to think about Him. So I must submit Him to rational and moral inquiry. And He fails that examination. Why would anyone want to be ruled by a God who's so unmerciful, unjust, unforgiving, and unloving?


Mumon said...

Hope you get to see "Religulous."

chalip said...

This was not on my radar so thanks for sharing it.