Yahweh stabbing your brain

After Salem has brushed his teeth and we have read him bedtime stories he gets a little bit of quiet time in his room to play before bed. Salem is a very active and talkative child but during this time he is settled and plays quietly. He also appears to be reflective during this time as he will occasionally shout out a question or comment that he has been pondering.

Last night from out of his room he says,

You know when you do something bad and haven’t told anyone and you feel like you need to tell someone? I call that ‘Yahweh stabbing your brain.’

Salem was looking at the Brick Bible at the time. We had started reading him stories from it until we realized very quickly that the stories skewed heavily towards the more violent images of the Hebrew Bible. The hook then is to see the child-like and nostalgic materials of Lego being taken up in some of the most horrific scenes in the Bible.

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Concubine dismembered in Judges 19

And because Yahweh is an active agent in many biblical stories there is a depiction of Yahweh as an old bearded man in white. And when it says that Yahweh does something, well Yahweh does something.

yahweh_the_killer

Now of course on one level this is terrible and entirely inappropriate for Salem to be reading. But it gave me real pause to pay attention to tension I feel between this simply being blasphemous transgressing the prohibition of making an image of God on one hand and having to face and see the material imagery of stories that are intentionally sanitized and excluded from graphic representations of the Bible (i.e. children’s Bibles).

So when Salem tells me this experience is like Yahweh stabbing his brain I assume that he is somehow trying to articulate how our conscience (or super ego) can afflict us and perhaps in this way it actually becomes easier to talk about the limitations, changes, and need for revising how God has been understood over time and how that continues to affect us in the present. And in many ways the representation of Yahweh as an old white man is appropriate as it is many of these stories that have formed the patriarchal structure of our faith that need to be dismantled. Though the Brick Bible may actually contribute to a more textured and meaningful engagement with our faith tradition, for now I think I will slip into his room as the unseen all-knowing hand from above removing it from him.

God, Idols and Atheism: Discussing what matters most – Part II

In my second session in this series I outlined the Ancient Near Eastern context for what it meant to use the language of gods and idols. I began with the question, Can we assume that the people of the Old Testament were not complete idiots? I asked this question because I always wondered why the people of the Old Testament seemed unable to stop worshipping idols. Didn’t they know those little figures were idols? What was so special about them? What was wrong with these people? Idols were not simply objects of personal value, they were integrated into the legal, political, and economic fabric of life.

Continue reading “God, Idols and Atheism: Discussing what matters most – Part II”

God, Idols and Atheism: Discussing what matters most – Part I

I can’t remember a time when I was interested in the debate about the existence of God. I was first exposed to what was commonly called ‘apologetics’ which typically took the form of debates or ‘reasoned’ arguments regarding the existence of God. I suppose I found some of the conversations interesting but lacked any traction for how I experienced life. Later I resonated with Dostoevsky’s fictional account in The Idiot of an encounter with an atheist saying “it was as if that was not at all what he was talking about all the while, and it struck me precisely because before, too . . . however many books I’ve read on the subject, it has always seemed to me that they were talking or writing books that were not all about that, though it looked as if it was about that.”

I sensed that in these debates and declarations people were more interested in defending Reason or attacking an enemy then considering the mess of the biblical tradition and the way we experience faith and life. In the last few years I have begun to more fully articulate what I only sensed years ago. And this last January we spent three Sundays in Adult Education to reflect on our experience and understanding of atheism. What follows is a summary of the first session I shared.

Continue reading “God, Idols and Atheism: Discussing what matters most – Part I”