Saturday, 26 April 2008

Exodus

By Author(s) Unknown



KJV = King James Version of the Holy Bible, the only version anybody should read. The rest are shit.

PQT = Perseus Q Translation of the KJV

I went to a wedding yesterday and the Celebrant opened with, “We are gathered here today in the presence of God...” and I turned to a mate and said, “Run, God’s here! We’re in danger!” and he said, “What are you talking about?” and I said, “Well, I ate un-leavened bread with my roast lamb so he’s likely to put frogs into my kneading-troughs.” He stared at me like I was insane. “Trust me, I’ve read Exodus. And, I’ve been to Wendy Rule gigs and didn’t kill her. That’s also a crime in the eyes of God. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’.” He told me to be quiet, but a little later on we started going, “Meep! Meep! Meep!” which is the sound of the chocolate ├ęclair truck backing back for the bride.

Because they all get fat after they get married.

**

It’s the story of a man, unaware of his noble parentage that is adopted out as a young baby and grows up to be an epic hero who liberates his people. If you thought of my namesake Perseus you’re right. If you thought of Luke Skywalker you’re also right. But Exodus is of course Part One of the story of a dim-witted murdering thug called Moses who, just because he was the direct descendant of the tent-dwelling liar Jacob, is chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and to their promised land.

Unless Richard Dawkins is your Dad you probably know the basics. The Pharaoh orders all male Hebrews born in Egypt to be killed because he’s worried there’s too many of them (Jew hatin’ goes back a long, long way). Young baby Moses is sent down the Nile in a casket and just happens to be found by the daughter of the Pharaoh and even though she knows it’s a dirty Hebrew child, she adopts young Moses and in a very convenient plot-development, she asks Moses’ mum to nurse and raise him.

One day, all grown up now, Moses sees an Egyptian hassling a Hebrew so he kills the Egyptian in cold blood and buries him in a shallow grave, then, like a common crim, runs off to hide in the desert. While hiding from the cops in the desert, God pays him a visit in the form of a burning bush and tells him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to the promised land. With God’s help, he does this and of course there’s the classic scene where the pursuing Egyptians get drowned after Moses parts the Red Sea and also Moses gets given his Ten Commandments up on the mountain (but breaks them on the way down).

That’s pretty much it for Exodus, but, as I mentioned in my initial Genesis review, I’m going to read the Bible so you don’t have to. And so, for this review, I’m going to amass a series of ‘Things You May Not Know About Exodus’ , which are the things left out of the kids’ comic versions and summaries of Exodus most often published in regular media.

Things You May Not Know About Exodus

There’s a great line by God, and in the KJV it’s all in capital letters. God tells Moses he has to lead his people out of Egypt and Moses isn’t convinced. Like a spastic Kierkegaard, he’s asking, (PQT) “Who am I to lead the people, and who the Hell are you to ask me? Tell me what your name is so I can tell the Hebrews who sent me!” and God responds, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14). On the one hand, arrogant cunt. On the other hand, he’s God, so it’s a good comeback. I’m going to use the line next time I can’t get into a nightclub. “Do you know who I am? I AM THAT I AM!”

**

It is one thing that God wants Moses to liberate the Israelites, but it is another thing for God to also want the Egyptian overlords to be punished so violently. If there’s any doubt that God is a psychopathic lunatic with the moral fibre of a cigarette butt, your doubt may be put to rest in Exodus. God, for some reason, decides to harden the Pharaoh’s heart so that when Moses tells him that he will lead his people away, the Pharaoh will say ‘no’. This then gives God perfect excuse to do the following:

“I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders...”(3:20),

“...the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink, and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water...” (7:18),

“...their steams... their rivers... ponds... pools of water... (will) become blood, and (there will be) blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone.” (7:19),

“I will smite all thy borders with frogs. And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly which shall go up and come into thy house and into thy bedchamber...” (8:2-3),

“...lice throughout the land of Egypt” (8:16),

“...sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel...” (9:4),

“...dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast...” (9:9),

“...plagues upon thy heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people” (9:13),

“...smite thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou shalt be cut off from the Earth” (9:15),

“...hail in all the land of Egypt, upon man, and upon beast, and upon every herb of the field...” (9:22),

“...locusts into thy coast. And they shall cover the face of the Earth, that one cannot be able to see the Earth, and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped...” (10: 4-5),

“...darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.” (10:21)

And finally, just for good measure:

“...all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill, and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more.” (11: 5-6).

These are not idle threats. He did them ALL because HE IS THAT HE IS... a genocidal, bitter, corrupt maniac. We acknowledge that Saddam Hussein was a sadist who killed his own people, but God actually made these people that he tortures.

Ivan Milat is a more superior moral guide than The Lord.

It brings up much, and not just my dinner. All those zealots who claim every tsunami, earthquake, flood, fire and plague to be the work of God have, in a way, justification, for if you're a mentally ill religious fanatic who believes that the Bible is indeed the word of God, then, well, you would think the Boxing Day tsunami was God’s way of punishing Sri Lankans for whatever.

God, as presented here, is perfectly capable of this havoc if he doesn’t like your kind, and just like your common garden-variety psychopath, he’s easily provoked. In Exodus, at least seven times God emphasises that nobody should work on the Sabbath. He hammers the point home, repeatedly, to the point that I was yelling, “Alright, alright – shut the fuck up about the Sabbath”.

Point is: If you’re an uncircumcised Sabbath-day worker then watch out for frogs in your bedchamber.

But keep in mind, it isn’t just that he punished the Egyptians for making servants of his beloved Israelites, it’s that he deliberately hardened the heart of the Phaoraoh so that the Pharaoh would defy him and thus give him cause to destroy the country. This is akin to hypnotising someone into believing they are a chicken then killing them on the grounds that they thought they were a chicken.

God is not love. God is hate.

On to some more trivial fun stuff...

**

Moses is a self-confessed dumb-arse. “O my lord, I am not eloquent... I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (4:11), so God also recruits Moses’ brother Aaron as the ‘talker’. Aaron actually plays a very big part in the story as Moses’ 2IC, like Robin to Moses’ Batman.

**

Interestingly, God claims credit for making people the way they are, regardless of their physical and mental afflictions. He says, “Who hath made man’s mouths? Or who hath maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the LORD?” (4:11).

You know what this means for anyone born with a disability. God made you that way. Remember that. He chose to make you that way.

**

For some reason, just before Moses goes into Egypt to confront the Pharaoh, God decides to kill him. In a pub. Yes, a pub. Moses is sitting there with his missus probably having a beer, getting ready for the big day, and God turns up and “..sought to kill him.” (4:24). Luckily, Moses’ missus quickly circumcises their son with a sharp stone and throws the bloody foreskin about and God lets him be.

No, I don’t get it.

**





After Moses parts the Red Sea and gets the Israelites through, he un-parts it as the pursuing Egyptians are coming through and they all die. We all know this bit, but what you may not know is that all it did was make the Israelites fear God... because of his violence, and fair enough. But, they decide to write a song about it and they all sing it, and it’s a real cheery song. Here's some of the poesy:

“I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously:
The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea...”
“Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power:
They right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.”
“Thou stretched out thy right hand, the earth swallowed them.
Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou has redeemed.”


...and here is a particularly poignant line in the song

“The people shall hear, and be afraid:
Sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina.”


**

All the Israelites are in the desert, hungry. So God makes it rain bread.

**

There are many references to God being better than all the other Gods. Even God claims he’s better than the others – he admits he is a jealous God. Which infers... there’s other Gods.

**

If you hate God, God will hate you back for four generations. So even if your daughter becomes a nun, bad luck. If Mother Theresa’s great-grandfather was an atheist, God will hate her. He is very clear on this.

**

There’s the ten main commandments (the first draft of which Moses smashes in a hissy fit), but there’s many other laws God comes up with. Here’s a random selection. If you buy a Hebrew servant you have to let him go free after seven years. If you swear at your parents you will die. If you beat up your servant and he dies you will be punished, but if he’s just battered and bruised and can keep working then that’s okay because he is yours to beat up. You can sell your daughter to a good house. If an ox kills someone, you kill the ox and whoever owns the ox. If you dig a hole and an ox falls in it whoever dug the hole has to pay the ox owner compensation of more than the value of the ox. You can’t have sex with animals. Whoever sacrifices to another God, “...shall be utterly destroyed.” (22:20)

The only nice one is to not oppress strangers. That’s sweet.

**

It is Exodus that introduces us to the concept of, “...if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (21:23-24)

**

God doesn’t particularly care about bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. When it comes to offerings, “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel.” (30:15)

**

Just like in Genesis when Abraham haggles with God about how many Sodomites to kill, Moses also haggles with God about the proposed death-count of non-believers. At one stage, God decides he wants all the Israelites killed as well, because they’re annoying him, but Moses haggles him down. God may be bargained with, which backs up something my grandfather used to say: “I don’t believe in God, but if I’m wrong and I die and face Him, I’m going to have a few words to say to that bastard.” The Bible clearly shows us that you probably can have a few harsh words with ‘that bastard’.

**

There is an orgy scene. Moses goes up into the mountain for a bit of one on one nattering with God – for forty days - and a lot of those waiting down in the desert get restless and so they make their own God out of melted jewels and they dance around it naked. Moses finds out and with God’s blessing he has most of them killed. “Thus saith the Lord of God of Israel. “Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.” And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” (32:27-28)

**

Priests (or Rabbis, I suppose) are first invented / defined in Exodus.

**

Nick Cave has read Exodus. “...that they may make all that I have commanded thee: the tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy-seat that is thereupon...” (31: 6-7). So have the makers of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, “...a cloud covered the tent of the congregation and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (40:35-36)

**

Moses is 80 years old. At least they made Luke Skywalker young and virile.

**

Exodus is 40 chapters, but nine of them concern themselves with interior decoration, fashion design and architecture. They are the most boring chapters I have ever read of any book, and there’s nine of them. In fact, the whole book is ruined by these chapters. They should have just stopped at about Chapter 22, but no, I had to endure passages like this: (28: 4-8)

And these are the garments which they shall make; a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle: and they shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen. And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. It shall have the two shoulderpieces thereof joined at the two edges thereof; and so it shall be joined together. And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen.

It goes on like this for nine chapters. It’s a shame, because the next exciting instalment (Leviticus) promises to be just as violent as this one. We know the Israelites are going to rock up to their promised land and God promises he’ll inflict some carnage on to the people living there already. Can’t wait. Still, it would have been better if some canny editor 2,500 years ago deleted these chapters, or maybe included them as footnotes and combined Exodus with Leviticus.

**

Thoughts

As a stand-alone book, Exodus is a let down. It starts brilliantly – gore, bloodshed, war – and finishes with eleven chapters of design that Vogue Living would reject, word of God or not.

Still no Heaven or Hell. Just death when you die.

The line: “...darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.” (10:21) creeps me out. It’s one of the most intensely evil lines I’ve read, and it comes from the mouth of our loving creator. It is, I guess, open to interpretation, but what I’m reading is that he will put Egypt into darkness both physically and emotionally. He is saying that he will creep everyone out, make them scared, jumpy, mentally ill perhaps, blind in sight and blind in reason. I find it a more violent punishment than the frogs, the locusts and even the killing of the first-borns. He is saying, “I will give them mental disease.” God is truly wicked.




His punishments far outweigh the crimes committed. It’s like Hiroshima. Yes, the Japanese were a threat, and we were at war, but the A-bombs dropped outweighed the circumstance. Maybe we could say the same of Dresden. Maybe. The Nazis were pretty fucked. Likewise, God’s treatment of the Egyptians for keeping the Hebrews in servitude (and mind you, there’s no mention of them being treated horribly) far exceeds the weight of their apparent crime. And why, why I ask, why would he do this to his own creation? In times of war, we can sort of understand carpet-bombing and annihilation, but senseless slaughter by the creator of the Universe? It defies logic. Why would anyone choose to be religious, even if it is proven that God exists? Why should we do anything this mongrel wants us to?

There are answers, for sure. We are his creation so we have to play by his rules whether they make sense or not. But, I am sure that we, as an enlightened people, should very easily get over this childlike subservience to a freakazoid that doesn’t even exist.

You know how to turn a religious person into an atheist?

Make ‘em read The Holy Bible.

**

I’d like to say one more thing: In another blog, under another name, I have written essays about anti-Semitism in Australia. It’s one of those things that shits me up the fucking wall, particularly because much of it comes from my alleged ‘comrades’ on the left-leaning end of the political spectrum. I cry Orwellian tears when fellows who I admire throw their support behind psychos like Hezbollah and Hamas and are forever going on about Israel-this and Israel-that and Jews-this and Jews-that. In their eagerness to label George W Bush ‘evil’ they inexplicably make their enemy’s enemy their friend. “Sunni insurgents hate the US so, umm, we support Sunni insurgents.” Yeah, you, Socialist Alliance. And you too, 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Never mind that these same insurgents are Jew-hating automatons with apocalyptic tendencies and are just middle-eastern half-witted knobs with deplorable attitudes to women, gays, children, Jews and democracy.

Exodus is a highly interesting document in the history of the Middle-Eastern conflict. Here we have the Jews, hated even back then, being told that they are the ‘chosen’ and being lead to their ‘promised land’ and the battle is still raging. As an atheist I can say, “This is land is not promised and therefore you can’t have it,” but as a humanist I say, “For fuck’s sake, please have it because no matter where you seem to go you are hated. Please, have this safe home we call Israel and every fanatic Muslim around them there parts... just fucking deal with it." And please don’t think this is an attack on Muslims either – I’m directing my attack solely at those Muslims who are apocalyptic and are calling for the total destruction of Israel. Unfortunately though, there’s a lot of them.

**

Exodus, despite getting off to a good start, is not nearly as interesting or as entertaining as Genesis. It is, however, marginally more evil. Although I recommend reading Genesis, I don't recommend reading Exodus, not because of the action, but rather, the lack of it once The Lord gets into his home renovation phase.

Friday, 18 April 2008

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy



I watched that stupid horror movie The Ring late at night, in the dark, by myself. I was sitting there in my flanny PJ's going, “Oh this is stupid... that’s not scary!... Oh there’s more plot-holes here than in a cheese-grater” and when it finished I thought, “Well, that was dumb as.”

Then I got into bed. My heart was racing. I was petrified. I turned on all the lights and put on The Young Ones.

I had a similar reaction to The Road. It hit me a day later.

I read it in one sitting. I’d read 10 pages of it the week before, lost it, found it under my car seat and so started again after tea one night and with the help of coffee, cigarettes, bachelordom and the occasional stretch, I was done my midnight.

I slept like a log, worked the next day, then after tea the following night I saw it laying about and suddenly found myself reacting to everything I’d read the night before. I became glum! I was moved by the characters’ plight! I got the shakes for a few minutes (though I did have a cold and those Codrals, man, they rock).

It’s a harrowing book, and if you give yourself time and space to think it all out, it’s fucking nerve-wracking.

It’s a micro-cosmic version of Saramago’s Blindness or Camus’ The Plague, and it’s a novel version of Lord Byron’s terrific poem Darkness which I will link to here.

The Road is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth and it’s about a man and his son, never named, who wander about trying to find food. That’s it. But that’s all McCarthy needs. He doesn’t go into boring explanations as to why the Earth is covered in ash which blocks out the sun and darkens the waterways, or why there are no animals or vegetation left. It just is that way, and the humans that are left wandering about are either cannibals or not cannibals. That’s the human division that remains.

There is the odd ‘flashback’ but he spares us the intricacies and instead serves us all the horror.

“... all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land... blackened looters who tunnelled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell.”

The planet is black and the dead are everywhere. It’s so bleak, like an Einsturzende Neubauten album. Everywhere they go is charred, desolate and freezing cold and it never lets up.

They come into a city: “The long concrete sweeps of the interstate exchanges like the ruins of a vast funhouse against the distant murk... The mummied dead everywhere. The fresh cloven along the bones, the ligaments dried to tug and taut as wires. Shriveled and drawn like latterday bogfolk, their faces of boiled sheeting, the yellowed palings of their teeth.”

The man tells the boy that they are ‘carrying the fire’ – of humanity, is the inference. They are not cannibals.

The man’s only motivation is the well-being of his son. “... he tousled his hair before the fire to dry it. All of this like some ancient anointing. So be it. Evoke the forms. Where you’ve nothing else construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.”

History, names, art, science... none of it matters any more.

Speaking of Saramago, one of his lines also came to me while reading The Road: “...for in places of damnation we’re almost certain to find men and women with the animals that keep them company until the moment comes to slaughter them in order to live.” McCarthy takes this one step further, and one planet further.

What’s great about the book is that at every turn we find ourselves emotionally investing in the man and his son. We want them to find food. We want them to get away when they’re chased. We want them to be safe at night and to hide their camp-fires so none of those dirty cannibals can find them. Meanwhile, we can smell/see the landscape that McCarthy describes so we’re right in the thick of the action (the landscape itself is as strong a 'character' as the man and the boy are).

The world McCarthy has given us is exactly as Byron says in his poem: "All earth was but one thought--and that was death."

And to quote Saramago again, “...but, when all is said and done, whoever goes, goes, whoever remains, remains.”

It’s such a simple notion, but from it, writers, good writers, can launch tremendous works of art.

My review of No Country For Old Men was just, “Can’t wait for the movie”, and I have the same review to make of The Road. But maybe I cheapened No Country For Old Men. Two books in, maybe I’m just starting to work out this McCarthy fellow. I bought Blood Meridian so I’ll see how that goes.

There’s been a lot written of McCarthy in recent years, and my contribution is just to say that he’s a ‘very entertaining writer’. I'm sure Lord Byron would dig him. I’ll leave it to others more inquisitive and perceptive than I to examine his motivations and his subtexts and his contributions and relevance to literature. I’ll just enjoy his books, I reckon, wallow in his misery and recommend The Road to anyone and everyone.

I give it an A-.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

God Is Not Great

by Christopher Hitchens




I was reading an Attwood but I left it in a cafe. Alice with the beautiful eyes who ran the cafe tried to drop it in that night but I wasn’t home. Then she moved to Adelaide. But, she left it with a bloke called Phil who kept forgetting to bring it to me and in the end it took three weeks to finally get my hands back on it (from a German backpacker called Mika who took Phil’s room when he moved to Cairns). In the meantime I had started reading a Saramago but I went into Melbourne for a weekend and forgot to take it with me so in Melbourne I started reading The Road by McCarthy but then I lost that book (found it under the car seat a week later) and in the meantime had started reading this book which I now review. I try to do one thing at a time but I consistently do four things at a time and do them all terribly.

This is a terrific book but it was totally wasted on me because I’m already an atheist. It’s the religious that need to read it, not me. I spent most of the book saying, “Yeah, that’s right!” and, “You tell ‘em Hitchy!” But he was preaching to the converted...

It did make me reflect on my own atheism though. Hitchy was able to pin-point the moment he became an atheist. I can’t. I grew up on Greek mythology and Enid Blyton and looking back, even at a very young age, say, 7 or 8, I couldn’t differentiate between myth, fiction and religion. It was all just good yarns in my child’s mind. I still remember the bloke coming to teach us Religious Instruction at Generic High in the suburbs of Melbourne. He was kind, and told some terrific stories about Jesus and I was fascinated with the crucifixion but never at any point did I consider the resurrection, for example, to be fact. I enjoyed the story, period.

To this day I don’t understand why religion persists to exist. I want the stories to remain – Genesis alone is a ripper (see my earlier review) – but I want them filed in the ‘mythology’ sections of Readings. It’s what they are. As Hitchens says rather simply and powerfully, (paraphrasing)‘Philosophy has replaced religion, just as astronomy has replaced astrology’.

It is a very even book. It covers every possible argument against the notion that God is not great, and he presents his argument intelligently and patiently. The patience itself is commendable.

Hitchens also provided two fine anecdotes which help me to explain my own atheism.

The first concerns the astronomer Laplace (1749-1827) who made a working model of the solar system, known as an ortery. The Emperor studied the ortery and asked Laplace why God was not represented, to which Laplace replied, “It works well enough without God.”

I liked this anecdote because it sums up my life. I work fine without God, without the belief in God, without a belief in any omnipotent force whether that be a deity or the Gluten Gods* that the new-age wankers present to me, like ‘the cosmos’. My life is fine without belief in an after-life or a previous life, star-signs, judgement, colour-therapy, psychics, tarot, heaven, hell, priests, fate, destiny, creation and souls. I get my transcendental states out of great art, great rooting and great all-round living. I like life. I love it. God, if he existed, would muddy my experience, as would the thought that there may be a heaven. If there was a heaven I would kill myself to get there and if there was a hell awaiting me because I killed myself, even though I’ve lived on just about every measurable level a pious life, then religion is a sham.

Nope, this it it. This life, it’s all I’ve got. Just one shot at it. The resurrection is waking up in the morning and immortality is having babies (mental note: cut hole in condom next time I get a root).

But it’s not just that I don’t believe in God, it’s that I know he doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s why I’m at peace with my life.

Hitchens also brings up a thought that I have often brought up to lapsed-religious people. I can’t find it in the book (I should remember to put markers in) but paraphrasing: Do religious people actually believe? He conceded they may believe in their belief, but do they actually believe there is a God?

If pushed, if cornered, if forced to answer honestly, I reckon 99% would say ‘no’, and they they need to read this book. I give it a B.

*Gluten God, also known as 'I Can't Believe It's Not God!' I've had countless arguments with hippies and new-agers about their beliefs in star signs and fate - fate, in particular. "It was meant to happen," they say, and I accuse them of being Christians in disguise which angers them greatly because they don't identify with any religious movement, and yet all their new-age beliefs are religious. Just like their gluten-steaks, they have a Gluten God. I made that term up. You may use it.