God the Father, by Ludovico Mazzolino, via Wikimedia Commons
In a previous post I wrote about the story of Noah and the Curse of Ham (which has nothing to do with the Old Testament prohibition against eating pork!). That a curse could determine a people’s fate for generations is part of the biblical notion that God shapes history. In fact, history shaped God to reflect the fears and political realities of ancient Israel. The result is the Bible’s “jealous” God… an idea that influences history to this day.
Noah’s curse fell on Ham’s son, Canaan, whose descendants had the misfortune of occupying the Promised Land without being God’s Chosen People, and were therefore slaughtered. It doesn’t change anything that this is mostly nationalistic fiction written centuries later. Simply read as a story, the tales of the conquest of Canaan are part of a sensibility that shapes the entire Old Testament and its portrayal of God. A few highlights show what I mean: Continue reading →
Must’ve been the hangover. Detail of “Noah Curses Ham and Canaan,” via Wikimedia Commons.
Reading one of the Bible’s oddest stories got me to thinking about the Bible’s “jealous god” and how this portrayal came to be. I’ll say more about that in an upcoming post. Right now I just want to tell the story and show how it’s been used to justify a surprising array of atrocities.
The story begins after the great flood has ended, and Noah and his family—including sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth—have come out of the ark to resume their lives. Here’s Genesis 9:20-27 (ESV): Continue reading →
As protests continue against “Innocence of Muslims” (which I wrote about in an earlier post, “On Blasphemy”), it’s worthwhile to remember an earlier Muslim attempt to stifle free speech through the threat of violence. Open Culture recently wrote about (and linked to) a 2010 BBC radio interview with Christopher Hitchens in which he talks about the 1989 Iranian fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie, who offended the delicate sensibilities of Muslims with his novel The Satanic Verses. Hitchens said: Continue reading →
It’s the twenty-first century and our planet still hasn’t outgrown the ancient concept of blasphemy, as demonstrated by the recent Mideast violence. The more I think about it, the bigger the topic seems, so I’ll restrict myself to a few observations:seven to be precise, a holy number. Therefore, if you disagree with any of them you are hereby damned to hell.
A blood-soaked Muhammad from “Innocence of Muslims.” For all the attention the video has gotten, it’s unwatchably bad.
1) Blasphemy is personal. I’m thinking specifically about strong blasphemy in the sense of insult and contempt. When you disrespect a devout person’s religion, you’re disrespecting their very identity, and they’ll react accordingly. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to blaspheme, but if you’re openly mocking or condemning someone’s religion to make a point, don’t expect to have a rational conversation with them afterwards. Strong blasphemy makes sense if your goal is to expose an ideology to ridicule by everyone who isn’t already a committed follower. But it isn’t a good conversation starter with the faithful. Continue reading →