Absurdism and Appendix-itus in Ecclesiastes

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes merits high marks in my opinion for its philosophical perspective of Absurdism, and its antidotal remedy of apathetic moderation.

The author of the early portion of Ecclesiastes is a realist, one who accepts the finite nature of all life, and thus one who realizes the futility in getting too caught up in the frustrating experience of the human condition. His acceptance of Absurdism as expressed in terms of “emptiness, emptiness, all is emptiness” could not have been expressed any clearer than by Camus; whereas his advised remedy “to eat, drink, and be happy” is Dudeism 101 as portrayed in “The Big Lebowski”.

Sadly enough, the afterthoughts of the author of the Appendix are a real buzzkill to the actual summary of the original author. The whole “fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man” concept is the supplemental commentary of someone who read the text and realized that “alas, this ain’t theology”; and so with a few scratches of the pen, a wonderfully fulfilling humanist existential writing fell prey to your stereotypical theological indoctrinating humdrum.

If ever there was a case of literary homicide by Appendix-itus; then such is the case of the latter verses of the book of Ecclesiastes.

The original text of Ecclesiastes, as concluded in 12:8; offers such deep, real life existential insights, then only to be later diluted by the imaginative indoctrinating theology of a “text tamperer” in the verses that follow.

I suppose that such is only fitting when considered in the framework of the content and the message of the unknown, existential author of Ecclesiastes; “because sometimes a man who has toiled with wisdom, and knowledge, and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by a man who does not toil for it… and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?”.

What a pity.

“Emptiness, emptiness, all is emptiness”…..

Misogyny and Myth: Genesis 19

There is a Bible story that has always bothered me, and it was one of the stories that lead to my doubts regarding both the validity of the story itself (as fact; it works fine as a myth, though still a myth with lousy values), and regarding the values which the story teaches (reveals the sexist thinking of that day and time). The story I refer to is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Gen 19. Among my issues with this story:

1. As a father of a daughter, I have always found this story disturbing. Lot, who is later referred to as “righteous” in the NT; offers his daughters to be gang raped. That REALLY bothers me. How can any decent father offer his daughters to be gang raped; and to protect two perfect strangers at that? Horrible values taught here.

2. The very next day, “Lot’s wife” is murdered by God on the spot; for the sin of looking back. Okay, so firstly: Why is Lot’s wife not named? And secondly: Why kill her for merely looking back; and yet never say a word to Lot about offering his daughters to be gang raped? (Daughters also not named. Very bothersome).

3. THEN; after their mother is murdered by God, Lot’s two daughters are so concerned about their father’s progeny, that they get him drunk and have sex with him. Where is the grief for their mother? And why be so concerned about father’s progeny, when he had offered them to be gang raped?

Conclusion:

This story reveals itself to be mythical and misogynistic. I regard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot and his family; as a horrible story which totally disregards women as mere commodities; and is clearly patriarchal and sexist.

The lesson to be learned in my judgment from this story is that we should be cautious about forming our values based upon the writings of ancient Hebrew myths. Our natural sense of compassion, kindness, and fair play will guide us to be a better person than sexist material such as Genesis 19.

Dave Henderson
Denison, Texas

Of Gods and Myths

The discussion of deities addresses matters which are seemingly beyond human comprehension. Such discussions are communicated and related in terms of concepts and symbols as narrated in that which is known as the myth.

The myth itself has typically been culture based, hence there are a variety of concepts and symbols systematically depicted in such cultural narrative. The gods then have naturally been relative to any given specific culture, and the symbols so utilized would consequently reflect the values and everyday concerns of the people of each such society.

And so mythical tales have historically given people connection to matters seemingly beyond the grasp of comprehension, and have furthermore given people a sense of control where they otherwise feel somewhat helpless and hopeless.  The daily struggle to survive, ongoing battles between good and evil, the dread of bodily decay and death are among the primary concerns which relate to all peoples of all time.  Yet, the details are unique to each individual, and more specifically those details are case specific to one’s place and time of existence.

Though a common utility of antiquity, the myth is nonetheless an ongoing form of such communication.  The narratives evolve relative to each given culture and their respective time in history, yet the general struggles of humanity remain the same.  Hence, each culture seems to continue the exercise of the myth as individuals continue to attempt to connect with that which is incomprehensible and transcendent to real life. Furthermore, most everyone desperately aims to maintain a sense of control in the state of chaos known as human existence.

Though the yearning to connect with the incomprehensible continues even to this day, the discoveries of the natural sciences have somewhat altered the scope of inquiry.  Humanity is simply no longer in the same state of ignorance relative to the cosmos and our earth as were our social ancestors of two millenniums ago.  That said, even the most learned scientists readily admit limits to our knowledge on scales immeasurable. Even so, the discoveries of humanity as to the natural operation of our universe have rendered any concept of a creation god as lacking in historical value, hence all such creation accounts are most assuredly mythical in nature.

Nonetheless, there are those who continue to seek connection with the incomprehensible in terms of faith in a higher level of existence.  The nature of such is of course subjective to the perception of each individual believer.  Deities in this regard then are as various as is the volume of such respective subjective perspectives, and are only of value to those who are inclined to connect on the level of faith to a being who symbolically transcends the natural.

Mythical narratives have of course evolved from the days of the tales of supernatural gods to a more modernized form of the same. The heros of theatrical plays, dime novels, radio and television programs, movies, and most recently video games are all mythical displays of the ever present struggle between good and evil.  Be it the old West gunslinger in a Zane Grey novel, the hard boiled detective in a Raymond Chandler book, or a superhero in a modern day video game; each such literary figure continues the legacy of the symbolic hero entangled in a seemingly endless struggle with the forces of evil.  These figures, though fictional as to their nature, serve a practical purpose in depicting a sense of control on behalf of those who endure the conflicts of the struggles of everyday life in the context of the real world of the human predicament.

The substance of the myth then is its symbolic nature.  The characters themselves may be either historical or fictional, but in either case their role in the myth transcends reality.  The key question then relative to the myth is not “did this actually happen”, but rather “what concept does this narrative represent”.  The myth permits the characters, whether historical or fictional, to operate outside of or even beyond the laws of nature, for realism is not necessarily the point of any given such narrative.

Thus, the reader of the Zane Grey novel is by no means concerned with whether the gunslingers and outlaws of the old west reference therein actually lived. Nor are the readers of a Raymond Chandler thriller concerned with whether the hard boiled detective Philip Marlowe actually worked the dark and sinister streets of the inner city in search of villains and criminals. Rather, the characters illustrated within the western “shoot ‘em up” and the “who dun it” murder mystery symbolize concepts relative to the reader.

Granted, the middle aged man sitting in his easy chair on a Sunday afternoon reading a few pages of a novel between rounds of snoozing and snoring will never walk the streets of Tombstone or occupy a dirty, dingy Private Investigators office down on the waterfront or on the 4th floor of a poorly maintained office building.  Nor will he likely ever engage in a good old fashioned shoot out, or turn his latest love interest over to the cops for killing his partner.  Yet most everyone lives in a world with constant struggles between forces of good and evil, and thus when the hero saves the damsel in distress, or when the crime boss is brought to justice, then every person engaged in such a story experiences the thrill of the experience of right prevailing over wrong, even if such only be in a story.

Such is the power of the myth.

The substance of the myth then is by no means its historicity, but rather its symbolism.  The credibility of any given myth is not the point, but rather core concepts of the human experience as represented by the characters so depicted within the context of the plot itself.  Those concepts are thus the area of connection between the reader in the real world and the context of the characters who have been systematically mythologized to that very end.

And so it is with biblical interpretation.  For example, the question is not whether Adam and Eve were historical figures who lived in an actual Garden of Eden.  Nor is the question whether Jesus Christ was an actual person who lived and died in Palestine.  As with any other myth, the key to biblical interpretation is to ascertain the concepts which are symbolized in narratives involving these and other well known literary figures.

Without a doubt, the challenges faced by Adam and Eve, both from without and likewise from within, represent true to life struggles of everyday people. For most everyone works by the sweat of the brow in order to survive, suffers physical hardships throughout the natural course of the human experience, and is even tempted from time to time to test the potential consequences of sampling forbidden fruit.  Granted, everyday life is no Garden of Eden, but that is the very point being driven home by the myth of Adam and Eve.

The story of Adam and Eve is a myth which represents the struggles of everyday existence.  Once understood on the level of symbolism and representative narrative, the story of Adam and Eve is so true to life as to be accurately representative of the everyday lives of ordinary people. The concept so symbolized by their story is in fact much like Albert Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, in which the main character spends his entire life pushing a large stone to the top of a hill, only to have it roll to the bottom again so that Sisyphus can repeat the process. If ever there were a biblical story to which we can all relate, it is the tale of Adam and Eve, for such is a myth of the struggles of everyday existence in the real world.

A biblical myth of another sort is that of Jesus Christ.  Now, I say of another sort, for unlike the tale of Adam and Eve; which symbolized concepts common to most every person in the real world, Jesus Christ symbolized concepts which are above and beyond even the best and most powerful of all living beings.  None of us quite frankly can relate to a virgin birth, or to the ability to walk on water, or to being raised from the dead before our corpse began to decay and decompose.  Yet such claims attributed to Jesus Christ represent concepts most every one of us wishes were ours.

For deep down inside, most everyone wished they could be perfect and immortal; each qualities attributed to Jesus Christ in the gospels.  And such concepts are enveloped within the Christian doctrine; that the believer can be both perfect and immortal in Christ Jesus.  For the doctrine of personal sanctification and the general resurrection of the dead in the last day symbolizes concepts so very highly coveted by believers in Christ.

Now, the point is neither the historicity nor the divinity of Jesus Christ, for neither matter is relevant to the intent of the story of his life and deeds. It does not matter whether Jesus actually walked on water or arose from the dead, for these accounts merely symbolize concepts which are most significant to every person who has ever lived.  Jesus as a literary figure transcends natural laws which restrict even the most routine human activity, and furthermore goes beyond the border which restrict all human existence; that being life ending death.

Whether Jesus the literary figure actually did such, or actually was such, or even actually was, or even actually did anything at all is not the point.  The point of the myth of Jesus is that he symbolizes the concept of a perfect nature and eternal being, which are concepts which all people would willingly aspire to were it not for our frail and finite nature. Literary Jesus lived as no one had lived before, both in terms of his earthly experience and his post life presence.

And so unlike the biblical myth of Adam and Eve, which represents everyday struggles to which most everyone can relate, the biblical myth of Jesus Christ represents personhood and a state of being which most everyone would want, yet which no one can relate with due to our own shortcomings and finite state of existence.  In this regard, literary Jesus Christ represents a concept of human nature and being which most everyone wishes for, but can only be experienced through his symbolic being.

And so we return to the original topic:  The discussion of deities.

As mentioned from the outset, any discussion of deities is one which communicates through symbols and concepts, as narrated in the myth.  And as further discussed, the myths which narrate of gods and god like figures are for the most part culturally based. Thus, history is aplenty with gods, super heroes, and seemingly ordinary people who live larger than life within the annals of antiquity.  Consequently, the deities of the major monotheistic religions of the 21st Century have evolved from the spiritual and social superheroes of ancient cultures.  It might be said then, that today’s gods are yesteryears’ super heroes.

And so the lifeline of the gods is maintained through the medium of the myth, hence, such concepts are sustained through the symbolic actions and traditions so related. Therefore; the basic aspects associated with most religions; the rituals, the traditions, the ceremonial practices, and such like, for all practical purposes serve as the life support system of the literary figures known as the gods.

Thus the deities of antiquity; Beelzebub of the Canaanites, Yahweh of both the Canaanites and the Hebrews, Zeus of the Greeks, Orisis of the Egyptians, Mithra of the Persians, and even others, are the literary symbols of the concept of the divine as depicted by each of their respective cultures.  Quite frankly, these gods survival is dependent upon the faith of each individual believer who believes in the cultural myth so depicting each respective god.

For such is the way of gods and myths.

Dave Henderson

Denison, Texas

On A Personal Relationship With God

Recently I was asked by a friend:

“Dave, if God were actually real, wouldn’t you want to have a relationship with him?”

This is a most interesting question, Intriguing actually.

The question presupposes a PERSONAL God in that the question is founded upon the principle of “a relationship”.

In that regard, this question dismisses the concept of a strictly impersonal god.

Which is quite unfortunate, for the concept of god as an impersonal being with no feelings whatsoever as to effect or outcome, might at least be a plausible theory in the light of circumstances as they are.

Such a view of God might be classified as “Naturalism”, or “Pantheism” (I have a difficult time distinguishing the two), in that such would identify a deity in the context of our materialistic reality.

For regardless of one’s perspective, surely it is evident that we exist in a Universe which in and of itself is indifferent as to our well being in any given situation.

For example, if you are in the path of a tornado, the tornado will not “have a change of heart” and alter its course so as to not inflict bodily harm upon you or to prevent your untimely demise. Indeed not. If you are in the path of a tornado, it will either alter its course due to some action of natural physics, or else you and tornado will meet head on.

Similarly, the tree that falls in the direction of a baby will not alter its course to save the baby.

Such is the nature of our Universe.

The principle of physics as they are do not reveal evidence of anything other than an impersonal reality with no concerns whatsoever for effect or outcome. If one is inclined to envision this impersonal phenomena as a deity, then such a deity is non personal, and thus not given to being in a “relationship” with anyone as such.

On the other hand, if there is a god with whom someone can have a “relationship”, then we are talking a “personal” God.

Now, with that premise in mind, I revisit the question that my friend posed to me:

“Dave, if God were actually real, wouldn’t you want to have a relationship with him?”

Now, as the person who posed this question is a Christian, then I can safely assume (he confirmed this by the way), that he refers to Jehovah, the God of the Bible.

With that thought in mind, let us role play the conversation as though I had never even heard of or even knew anything about Jehovah:

Friend: Hey Dave, would you be interested in meeting someone?

Me: I don’t know. Who is it?

Friend: His name is Jehovah.

Me: Well, tell me a little about this Jehovah.

Friend: Well, once he drowned all the babies in the world, and most of the animals while in the process of drowning people whose lives he did not approve of. (Genesis 6-8)

Me: Well, that does not sound very nice. Anything else you can tell me about him?

Friend: Well, another time he commanded his army to kill all the men, women, and children of 60 cities so his people could possess their land. No survivors remaining was the goal. So they killed all the men, and all the women, and all the children in all 60 cities, just as instructed by Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 2:31-3:7)

Me: Wow. Sounds brutal. Anything else I should know about this Jehovah?

Friend: Well, another time he endorsed the killing of men, women, and children by the edge of the sword (Joshua 6:21)

Me: Hmmm…. I don’t know man. This guy is a baby killer and animal abuser, and you want me to meet him? I don’t think so.

Friend: Well… why not? I mean he has some other redeeming qualities that you should take into consideration.

Me: Look, nothing personal man. You have told me enough to know that I really do not want to meet this guy. Frankly, from what you have already told me about this Jehovah guy, it sounds like we do not belong to the same “karass”.

Friend: Huh?

Me: “Karass”. Its a slang term that I once read in a Kurt Vonnegut novel. I guess what I am saying is that based upon what you are telling me, this Jehovah guy and me simply do not have much in common.

Friend: So you don’t think you want a relationship with Him?

Me: Again, nothing personal. But.. no, not really.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–
In closing, let me say this:

I am by nature a gregarious person, who loves to meet and get to know other folks. However, were a person to move into my community who had done and endorsed the things that Jehovah is alleged to have done and endorsed, I honestly do not think I would be a part of any neighborhood welcoming committee.

I don’t mean to be negative. I don’t mean to be disrespectful.

But, frankly, after years of studying the Old Testament, and then finally visualizing what I have read and thought about the suffering and the brutal treatment of babies and animals alike recorded therein and openly attributed to Jehovah; I have come to a conclusion:

I really do not want a relationship with Jehovah.

Terrorism and Christianity

Terrorism and Christianity operate by the same principle.

“Do what I say, or else”.

The “I” in Christianity is God.

The “or else” is be tortured.

Like I said, Terrorism and Christianity operate by the same principle.

Now some might object that Terrorists are bloodthirsty tyrants with no regard for human life.

Those folks need to read the Old Testament.

A Tale of Two Brothers

Open up your Bibles with me today,

To Genesis Chapter 38.

Let’s talk about two unfortunate brothers,

And learn about their awful fate!

Today we shall learn;

Of the origin of planned parenthood.

And how if you want to live to enjoy the experience,

That at the deed of sex you’d best be very good!

And we shall furthermore learn,

That you boys best not be masturbatin’

‘Cause our lovin’ Heavenly Father,

Such perversion just ain’t toleratin’!

Now these two brothers,

Named Onan and Er,

Were each killed by God,

For they each did err.

Now, as to why God killed Er,

Is a complete mystery.

I guess God had his reasons,

Our Blessed Father of Misery.

To err is human,

To kill is divine.

Er was a human,

So God killed him in his prime.

Now Onan was told,

To have sex with his dead brother’s wife.

But Onan didn’t perform so well,

So naturally God took his life.

You see God killed Onan,

Because on the ground Onan did spill his seed.

Thereby breaking that well known commandment:

“THOU SHALT ALWAYS COMPLETE THE DEED”.

I truly do not know,

If God killed Onan for his “planned parenthood”,

Or whether it was just that his sexual performance,

Simply was not that good.

Or perhaps God killed Onan,

For the sin of masturbation.

As a means of controlling,

The world’s overpopulation.

All I know is,

When Onan’s sperm on the ground he did drop,

That God did kill perverted Onan,

Right there on the spot!

So here’s my advice fellows,

Be mighty careful with your seed.

If you’re havin’ sex with a woman,

Make sure you complete the deed!

Now I am dead serious boys,

If you are givin’ a woman a thrill.

Git ‘r done!  COMPLETELY done!

Or you might be the next one God does kill!