East of NORMAL

Getting right with God

I’m a preacher’s son; I grew up so deep in the Bible Belt, I didn’t know there was one. I thought everyone everywhere went to church three times a week and worried about going to hell. That was normal to me. But as I got older and traveled the world, and made the mistake of reading the Old Testament, I was beset with a host of troubling notions regarding a text my mother insisted was the infallible Word of God. Like in the Book of Joshua when God orders the Israelite army to sweep into a rival tribe’s valley and kill every man, woman, and child they found there. The God of Ethnic Cleansing. Nice. I stopped reading at that point and haven’t cracked the Old Testament since.
     There are other things. Things that made me think the first verse of Genesis ought to be: In the beginning, God was a jerk. He designs the Garden of Eden, installs two naked people, and fills the place with fruits and veggies — plus one tree from which they’re forbidden to eat. This begs the question: Why the hell did he put that tree there in the first place? He’s God! He knew they’d eat from it. If I put two kids in a room with a bowl of assorted nuts, platters of diced cantaloupe, grapes, and pineapple, and a bowl full of Skittles, tell them they can’t eat the Skittles and then leave the room, what do you think is going to happen? I know what’s going to happen, and I’m not even God! Yahweh just set the whole thing up so he’d have an excuse to punish his two naked guinea pigs. A God who looks for ways to punish people. Nice.
     It gets better. Later on, there was a guy named Abraham who had a son he loved. God spoke to Abraham and said, “You know that son you love? Kill him.” Abraham knuckles under, but he’s as broken up about it as you would expect him to be. He takes his son out to the boonies, makes him lay his head down on a rock (confirming his son to be one dumb son of a bitch) and Abraham whips out a sword to behead his son with. At just the last moment, God steps in and says, “Woah, Nellie! Hold on there. I was just kidding! Heh! Just testing you! Go home. Have some dinner!”
     Things like this made me come up with a fundamental tenet for my belief in God: If I’m going to venerate a higher being, it’s going to be one worth worshipping. Not some trickster treating his subjects with contempt. It’s going to be a God who responds to love with love.
     I still believe in God. Worse yet, for some readers, I believe in Jesus. But I have my own lopsided catechism I go by now. Some of it is a variation on a theme, and some of it is downright heresy. I call myself a Fuzzy Buddhist Methodist. The Methodist part is comfort food: hymns, sermons, organ music, all the stuff I grew up with; and I go to maybe the most left-of-center traditional denomination you can find in Nashville. You can have a traditional service, but be surrounded by gays, blacks, and Laotians. The Buddhist part comes from my having gained more comfort from Buddhist texts than I’ve ever gotten from the Bible. Now, Christianity is based on the existence of the soul, Buddhism is predicated on the absence of one. That’s the Fuzzy part.
     The next time someone comes at you about the Bible’s infallibility, remind him or her of this. According to the Bible, Jesus said, “It will be easier to put a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Greek word for “rope” is kamilos, and the Greek word for “camel” is kamelos. Some sleepy monk transcribing this document for posterity made one misspelling and now centuries later we have people quoting some loopy analogy of a sewing tool and cramming a massive single-humped dromedary through one.
     Better to remember this, a passage that’s much easier to translate. When asked to boil down the glut of laws to follow into something digestible, Jesus said, “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s about it. Hook that, and you’re in like Flynn.