If the first talking snake had kept shtum, we wouldn't be here. Eve wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. But she listened and was curious. So she fell into humanity, thank God. Good old snake, say I. I celebrate its independence of mind. Satan? Neh, that's a later interpretation. The snake was part of the divine purpose. God allowed it into the garden, aware of its linguistic abilities. He knew what would happen. Jesus commended dove-like innocence. AND the wisdom ... of the snake.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Your God is too nasty

Noah’s ark: a nice little story for children, right? Featuring lots of animals who would walk two by two onto this big boat, where a friendly old man with a beard would welcome them aboard and look after them while the earth got a bit wet.

Wrong. The Flood is a horror story, unpleasant enough as fiction and quite beyond the pale if taken as literal history (which creationists do, of course). The ending is nice - pretty rainbows and a promise by God never to commit such an atrocity again: from now on he would leave the atrocities to us, though he can hardly blame us for getting the idea from him in the first place. But this hardly excuses his earlier behaviour.

He gets cheesed off with human beings, whose wickedness seems to take him by surprise, and decides to wipe them all out, except for one special family. For reasons not explained, his anger extends to the rest of creation too. Nothing is to escape his campaign of watery obliteration. As everyone knows, selected "kinds" of animals and birds are invited onto the Ark so as to continue the story of life after the Flood subsides.

Never mind the utter implausibility of this for the moment. The objections are obvious, well known and shrugged off by creationists. Penguins, crocodiles, camels, kangaroos, elephants, polar bears all sharing the same space, despite the vast diversity of the environments in which they normally thrive? Predators cooped up with prey? Noah finding the right food for all the kinds on the Ark, many of which he would not have previously encountered? The seaworthiness of the boat, so huge that nothing of comparable size was launched until 1900, by which time steel was available (Noah had to make do with cypress wood)? A five-hundred year old man being commissioned to build the vessel in the first place? Well, God can do whatever he wants. But what sort of God is this?

A God who, having decided to wipe out humanity, does not avail himself of the quick and easy "smite" option. Does not call on the services of his Angel of Death, as in the Passover story. Does not turn all humans bar Noah and family into pillars of salt. Nothing so humane. Instead he organises a flood - revelling in anticipation over the decades while Noah builds his enormous ship. In time, all is ready. The animals and birds are on board, the best part of a year’s supply of food for every different "kind" is stored and preserved so that nothing will go off.

It starts to rain. It keeps on raining. The penny drops among Noah’s neighbours, (if it hadn’t done before, as they watched a whole queue of creatures plodding up the gangplank) who try to break into the Ark to escape the rising flood waters, but it is too late. They rush to higher ground and still the waters rise. Now they begin to die, some of starvation, others of exposure. Some anticipate the inevitable and throw themselves into the torrents. Animals are in a similar predicament, and across every range of high ground, herds of livestock and wild beasts are huddling together, terrified, attacking each other before every last one is engulfed. Birds fly around, panicking as the trees in which they formerly perched sink beneath the waters, eventually dying of exhuastion. And God approves, having planned this protracted onslaught down to the last elaborate detail. His "repentance", prompted it would seem not by any thoughts of remorse but by the pleasant odour of Noah’s sacrifice, only makes the original act of annihilation seem the more culpable.

Preachers who follow the Common Lectionary are no longer required to deliver sermons on Genesis 6 - 8, although 8.22 sneaks in at many a harvest festival, wrested from its context (I’ve done it myself). But you can see why this portion of Scripture has been liturgically archived. The God of the global flood is, frankly, a tyrannical bastard. Mercy, restraint, wisdom, a sense of responsibility for his actions - forget any of that. This is a fickle deity, who creates one moment and within a few generations decides to un-create, but in a particularly calculating and vindictive fashion. He should make us feel uncomfortable and not in a good way. It hardly seems to be in Christianity's, or Judaism's, interests to draw attention to this episode, but for creationists the story is central to their endeavour.

If this is their God, they are welcome to him. He isn’t mine, and if he were the only one on offer, give me atheism any time.


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