I have a story I want to tell, but I need to tell a few other stories so that one makes sense. If I were Garrison Keillor, I would just regress in to each one, and come back seamlessly to a humorous and witty ending. But I’m not him. Hopefully each is entertaining on its own. I will introduce a film, a couple books and a document from American history then bring them all together in the story of someone else’s blog. Here goes.
Julia Sweeny is a former character from Saturday Night Live. She was there in the years when the show was not doing so well. Her character, Pat, is fairly well known. For you non-SNL people, Pat was a person that no one could discern the sex of. The joke was that everyone danced around saying she or he and other gender issues. Anyway, after SNL, she did a couple one woman acts, one of which discussed her spiritual history and how she ended up an atheist. It was made into a movie titled, Letting Go of God.
In the movie, Julia completes a course that studies the entire Bible. She is appalled at some of the things she learned. There is a lot of violence in there. She recalls sitting at a stop light and seeing some young people walking toward a church, all in uniforms and carrying their Bibles. She wants to scream, “Have you read it!”
While I’m eating my cereal some mornings, I turn on the TV and watch a very low budget religious program. It’s just one guy, sitting at a desk, reading scripture and explaining Hebrew translations, giving historical context and spiritual interpretation as he goes. I have never watched it long enough to get his point, if he ever gets to one. Every now and then he pauses and says, “You see, you have to follow the law, that’s how you get to heaven, the answers are in here, have you read it?” and he tilts the Bible up toward the camera.
Both of these people can’t be right, and I don’t think both of them are all wrong, but I can’t completely agree with either of them. I have more trouble understanding the televangelist, because I have read “it”, and have not found all the answers or even a consistent set of rules with which to agree or disagree. I have had Julia’s experience of reading something, like the book of Joshua that seems to say God avenges the righteous by helping them kill women and children, and have spent many days and weeks considering radical turns in my spiritual path.
I can’t explain every violent act of God, but I have spent time researching specific passages and found interpretations that are valuable. This does not require explaining away the violence, but it does require understanding the context and purpose of the writing. These can be found in earlier blogs and I’m sure there will be more to come. I can say for sure that the books that come before Kings are bound by time. That Moses did smite the Levites in no way justifies any violence toward current occupants of those same lands.
I will leave you hanging with the “have you read it” question and return soon with part 2.