Bible stories are boring

23 Sep 2009

I had a throwaway comment I wanted to add in regard to PZ Myers' post on a kook who's been "updating" Norse creation mythology. The Pharyngula site won't take comments now without registration, and currently won't let me register either, so here's the gist of my rejected comment with a little added padding:

It appears that a Norwegian musician named Varg Vikernes is "updating" Norse creation mythology with elaborate ties to modern cosmology. That makes for a blending of two awesome themes, and I'm all for their illicit coupling – assuming there's a proper sense of tongue-in-cheek goofiness behind it all, of course. Based on Pharyngula readers' comments about Vikernes' mental state and his apparent seriousness about his religion, though, I think I'll wait for someone else to meld Odin and the Big Bang before I jump aboard to play along.

Anyway, a commenter named Greg F took note of the relative mediocrity of the Abrahamic creation myth. That's so true; of all the wild and woolly origin myths out there, Genesis' tale is about the most boring I've come across. The rest of the Bible doesn't get much more exciting. That's why any kiddie Book of Bible Stories is always so dull too; it's working with pretty bland material, and all a bored kid can do is read the Ark story, and David & Goliath, over and over. The magic gets pretty thin after that.

That brings to mind another (similarly bland) tale from my youth as a Jehovah's Witness: the breathless announcement (in 1978 – thanks, Wikipedia!) of My Book of Bible Stories from the Watchtower Society. Yes, we kiddies finally had a book to call our own, a parent-approved diversion to leaf through during dull Sunday services. Granted, it was no tome of "wow!" – lots of color pictures, yes, but of not much besides one robed ancient after another. Still, until then there had been nothing story-centered aimed at the younger set besides the musty old From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained hardback. (I don't recall that book's content well, except for the unmistakable inclusion of dinosaurs among the robed people figures in its maps of the ancient world! Ken Ham, you've found friends!)

Compare that with competing mythologies – say, Norse. Also as a kid (sorry, I don't have good recall of what age was involved in these various little tidbits) I loved the excellent D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. Now there was a proper set of stories – trolls, Giants, monsters, and the way-cool mayhem of Ragnarok! I recall one early morning when I was reading its creation tales aloud to a younger sibling – an awfully nice thing for me to have been doing – when I was overheard by the parents. No, they weren't fundamentally screwed up enough to freak out over such a thing, but they did suggest that my audience was too young to understand what is and isn't myth, and might get the tall tales from mythology mixed up with the truths from Genesis. With that proclamation (and busting of irony meters for miles around), my live readings of the sagas came to an end. 

Ahem. Pardon my waxing nostalgic and pointless. I have no message here, other than to recall secretly wishing as a lad that My Book of Bible Stories held more than a handful of mildly arresting tales. As an adult, now able to appreciate prose that replaces Jotun battles with deeper societal and philosophical themes, I still find Bible tales dull as hell. I'll take Thor and his hammer over Jesus and a basket of fish any day

Comments

It was a child's bible story book that planted the first seeds of doubt for me.  I was raised Catholic and my parents bought us the illustrated Arch Books of Bible stories to keep us from getting antsy in church.  I saw one on people worshiping false idols while Moses was up rappin' with god on the mountain.

That made me think; "how do I know this golden calf isn't the real deal".

defaithed's picture

I've long been a little envious of people like you, who saw through the silliness of religion even as kids. I was just too lazy or timid or dumb to begin doubting until near-adulthood. Good on you!

(Never heard of the Arch Books; the JWs didn't encourage the reading of any publications but their own. Thanks to your comment and Google, I now know a wee bit about them. Hmm, God's Fire for Elijah might be good; that was one of the few Bible stories I liked. It's gruesome and hideous, but offers some nice literal toilet humor. And while I don't see it among the offerings, there must be an Arch book about the three guys who were tossed into the furnace, another fine potboiler tale to curl a kid's clip-on Sunday necktie. Alas, despite a couple of Old Testament page-turners, I still had to turn to proper Norse or Greek mythology for the good stuff, like real hero-on-monster action.)

I saw some inconsistencies early on.  I even asked Sister Mary Esther how we knew that our god was the real deal (Catholic school for a couple of years).  She further helped me doubt my faith by answering; "WE JUST KNOW".  Now I wonder if she had her own doubts.  A lot of other teachers would have snowballed a 3rd grader with all sorts of rhetoric.

I didn't totally let go of god until high school.  It was a journey.

I like hearing about the JW stuff.  My wife is a recovering Mormon.  Each faith has its own idiosyncrasies that are interesting to hear about.

defaithed's picture

Likewise, I have a mild interest in things Mormon; that sect has always seemed to have some points in common with the JWs, though I'm sure the similarities don't stand up to deep scrutiny. Still, the two share some niche overlap in the religion ecosystem.

I think a lot of "common knowledge" about Mormonism is wrong, which adds a wee bit to the interest. To pick a trivial example, the well-known commandments against coffee or cola turn out to be matters of individual choice, though there is some pressure from the Church. (If I have that right, that is; I might still be way off.)

Religion can be interesting stuff to observe, precisely in the way that people like Dawkins suggest: as a study of a major facet of society and culture. Not as a guide to reality or morality!

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