Judaism aka Low-Self Esteem Club (Job 23-24)

The Book of Job is basically a long, protracted rant by Job, a man who God has battered like a 50s housewife. In these particular chapters, Job talks about how terrifying God is. God IS terrifying; his actions have never squared with the supposed loving and compassionate persona later Christians perpetuated. Love and compassion are Jesus’ bag but most definitely not God’s. Here’s what Job has to say about God: “…I am terrified at his presence;/when I consider, I am in dread of him./God has made my heart faint;/the Almighty has terrified me;/for I am hemmed in darkness,/and thick darkness covers my face.” (Job 23:15-17).

None too uplifting. I think it says something about the Israelites collective self-worth that they’re willing to settle for a god who’s so shitty. At the time there was a veritable cornucopia of gods to choose from. Remember Baal? He was so bad-ass. In Carthaginian worship of Baal, people grooved together in orgies, in celebration of reproduction (as far as rituals go, that one was prett literal – not a lot of symbolism there). In another ritual – and this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – people would sacrifice their own children. After taking in “We Need to Talk About Kevin” this past weekend, this seems like a sensible way for society to get rid of bad seeds. I’m for it.

Baal fist-pumping.

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Published in: on February 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Who Sartred? (Job 10-14)

Every now and again I like to brag that I have a Masters degree in Philosophy. I figure I ought to allow myself this pretentious pleasure since I get a lot of flack for succumbing to the philosophy student stereotype: winding up doing something totally unrelated with my life (times were tough… they weren’t hiring down at ye old philosophy factory). Anyways, I found these last few chapters of Job particularly existential, which is great because I can now throw around some terminology I haven’t used in a while.

Job is quickly becoming one of my favourite figures in the Bible. He calls God out on his shit. First of all, he clearly points out that God is responsible for all the good and the bad in the world. He questions why God has chosen to make bad stuff happend to him, a man who previously had played by all the rules: “Are thy days as the days of man,/ or thy years as man’s years/that thou dost seek out my iniquity/and search for my sin/although thou knowest that I am not guilty,/ and there is none to deliver out/of thy hand?/Thy hands fashioned and made me; and now thou dost turn about/and destroy me” (Job 10:5-8).

Then Job starts depressing everyone by talking about how there’s no hope in this world because we’re all going to die one day. I imagine that his audience probably got a little uncomfortable and fidgety. No one likes to talk about death and when we manage to do so, we talk about it in generalities. Heidegger thought that death was cool and special because it’s one of the only things that is truly unique (“non-relational”). Only you can experience your own death. The scariest thing about death for me is that, despite what I map out, I won’t have total control over the funeral arrangements and the quality of the deli meats and coffee served at the reception.

Here’s what Job has to say on death: “For there is hope for a tree,/if it be cut down, that it will/sprout again,/and that its shoots will not cease… But man dies, and is laid low;/man breathes his last, and where/is he?” (Job 14:7-10). This is the first time the question of what happens when we die is raised in the Old Testament (the New Testament is all about the afterlife and its rewards). It’s about time. I think a lot of people cling to religion and vague notions of life after death not necessarily out of fear, but from ego (“how can the world just keep on turning without me?). It’s sort of like those friends you have that don’t want you to have a party on a night they can’t make because they don’t want to miss anything.

Notification from Match.com: existenceprecedesessence1944 has winked at you!

 

Published in: on January 14, 2012 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hi, My Name Is… And I’m an Existentialist (Chronicles 16-18)

King David is pleased with himself for bringing the ark of the Lord into Jerusalem and housing in a tent and making offerings and appointing a whole bunch of people to watch it. Division of labour isn’t David’s strong suit since he appoints about a million gatekeepers and he probably needs only one. They probably stand around talking about their relationships most of the time. And he appoints one guy to clash some cymbals together while another guy plays the trumpet in order to create “atmosphere” around the ark.

Kissing ass, however, is David’s strong suit. He sings a long, boring song about how wonderful God is. Nothing is ever said about such songs being prepared beforehand so I imagine that it’s all improvised, kind of like religious scatting. I had to go to church every week until I was sixteen (and unruly); it would have made it so much more entertaining if the priests had to make up the hymns on the spot. I bet there’s some really cool priest out there somewhere named “Father J” who does just that. Maybe he even raps.

It dawns on David that he lives in a nice, fancy house and the ark – a very important symbol of the enduring relationship between God and the Israelites – is in some crummy tent. So David sidles up to God and says things like, “You’ve been too good to me” and “I’m not worthy” and other nonsense. He really doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut – he’s got a good thing going. Nothing really seems to come of this. Maybe it’s simply a lesson in how to be a groveller, which is a baseline expectation of Judaism and Christianity. Various existentialists have pointed out over the centuries how the overriding motif in these religions is “God is everything. You’re nothing. Deal.” I remember reading something from the second year course I took in existentialism that asked something to the effect of, “Why can’t we be our own ‘little gods,’ empowered and in control of our own morals, values, choices, etc.”. The phrase “little gods” really hit home with me but then again, I’m an only child.

If the existentialism doesn't get ya, the syphilis will.

 

Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 2:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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What to Get the Man of God Who Has Everything (Kings 2 8)

In chapter 8 of Kings 2 Elisha, the man of god about town (godabout as opposed to gadabout?), has got his work cut out for him. The king of the Philistines is afflicted with some sort of sickness (likely syphilis) and wants Elisha to tell him whether he’ll live or die. To butter him up, he sends a little gift. Or, rather, forty camel loads of goods from Damascus (this is something I write on my Christmas list every year hoping to encourage my family members to get me something other the plethora of bath products I usually receive). Smooth.

Elisha relays his prophecy to Hazael, the king’s servant. He says, “Go say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover’; but the Lord has shown me that you shall certainly die” (Kin 2 8:10). Does he mean the king is going to die soon or in the way in which we all do, that is, eventually, at some point so far in the future that it’s not worth thinking about right now lest we all descend into an intractable existential paroxysm?

At a recent wedding (at which I was flying solo) a gentleman approached me and asked if I was alone. My reply? It was: “Aren’t we all alone? I mean, like, really”. That was the end of that conversation. Existential buzzkill. Bad move, KG.

Turns out, what Elisha was prophesizing was that the king would indeed recover from his sickness but Hazael would kill him and take over as king. It’s kind of funny: Hazael kills the king in the only way a trained servant could – murdering him but also trying to make him comfortable, oddly enough. “But on the morrow he took the coverlet and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died” (Kin 2 8:15). That sounds nice. It was probably a hot, steamy day and the cool water would have been much appreciated, despite the circumstances.

Two gadabouts.

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 1:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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