The Testament, My Testament

Of the several hundred (mostly congratulatory!) emails I’ve received since my post on Faith=Illness, below, about 40 of them so far come from people who call themselves religious, asking for “evidence” of my seemingly outrageous claims about the Bible. The most vexing of my assertions is that the Bible has two creation stories.

The fact that the Bible has two versions of creation should not be a surprise to anyone who takes the time to read the first page or two of any standard Bible text. This is not some convoluted DaVinci Code fictional deconstruction of non-existent material. I’m talking normal, look-at-the-words-and-glean-their-most-basic-meaning stuff, here.

Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 27, says that God created Man and Woman together, after making all the animals.

Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 7, has God creating Man before the plants and the animals. Adam walks around a while, lonely. Then Woman is created out of Adam’s rib in verse 22.

That’s right: two different creation stories. If you want some simple explanation of this from a mainstream, completely accepted and uncontroversial source, here’s HarperCollins Bible Dictionary on the subject:

“The first half of the Garden story (Gen. 2) presents another, probably older, view of creation. The order of creation is here reversed: man appears first (2:7), plants and animals later (19-20). Woman is created separately (2:22), instead of simultaneously with the male as in 1:26-27. Whereas 1:26-28 places humans as rulers over earthly creation (cf. Ps. 8:5-9), 2:15-17 makes man a cloistered servant of divinity, assigned menial labors and token responsibilities—though the underlying story is probably one of royal investiture.”

This very basic reading of Bible text is challenging – sacriligious – to those I’ve been calling “True Believers,” because they need Bible mythology to conform to actual history. They need to believe on a literal level – that same literal level that allows their ministers to convince them that doomsday is around the corner so we don’t need to worry about the economy or the oil shortage. The Bible doesn’t support them in this effort, so they can’t actual read it. And don’t.

From an aesthetic and spiritual perspective, the sad part is that they miss out on the Bible’s power as myth and literature. It’s these seeming gaps in logic or sequence where the best part of the stories rests. While Harper’s explains the contradiction as the incomplete reconciliation of two different creation stories, we can also look at the two versions as utterly intentional: as the authors speaking to an audience who already knew both competing mythological traditions. Maybe one is replacing the other – the same way goddess worship is to be replaced by a patriarchy? And that’s just one of hundreds of possible readings.

In my comic book Testament (now in a first collected edition!), I look at the same passages as a first and second draft of creation. My “god” characters try it one way, don’t like how it turns out, and then start over. I’m hoping by re-introducing readers to the Bible as it was actually written and understood at the time (to the best of my ability) while showing how its stories apply to our current military, technological and economic fiascos, I can bring its power to a new generation. All while dispelling the hardened belief sets of True Believers. I’m going to show how the Bible was intended not to give people religion, but to get people over their obsessions with religion and the fictional character, God. (Obviously, the Bible hasn’t worked out as planned. At least not yet.)

Some of you have asked, “Why take people’s God away from them?” These confirmed atheists and agnostics wonder if it’s not better to let childlike people enjoy a childlike relationship to their mythology. What harm does it do?

Way too much. People manipulated by stories in this way are more susceptible to misinformation through narrative trickery. Just as 92% of Americans believe in God and 71% believe in the devil, 90% of American soldiers serving in Iraq think war is retaliation for Saddam’s role in 9-11 (Zogby). They can’t distinguish between metaphor and reality. Bush speaks to the Republican Convention from behind a podium with a big cross on it, designed to look like a minister’s lecturn. He is a minister. He jumps onto an aircraft carrier in an airforce jumpsuit. He is a military hero.

No, like I said below, it’s time to get tough with the people who have been seduced into believing in ideas and stories that were never meant to function as a factual basis for reality. It’s time to stop even entertaining the notion that Creationism be taught in school as anything but a foundation mythology. It’s time to accept the fact that there’s nobody out there to save us from ourselves – we really do have to take care of one another. It’s time to realize that there’s no parent in the sky named God – least of all one rooting for one side or the other – in our war against Iraq, or terror, or those who stand in the way of our oil.

It’s just too dangerous an era to allow people to maintain an infantile approach to what’s going on around them. A functioning democracy requires its citizens to have some connection to reality.