The Reality Behind “Noah”

“Drowning itself is quick and silent, although it may be preceded by distress which is more visible. A person drowning is unable to shout or call for help, or seek attention, as they cannot obtain enough air. The instinctive drowning response is the final set of autonomic reactions in the 20 – 60 seconds before sinking underwater, and to the untrained eye can look similar to calm safe behavior.  Lifeguards and other persons trained in rescue learn to recognize drowning people by watching for these instinctive movements.”

—Wikipedia, “Drowning”

Judging by all the criticism coming from conservative Christians regarding the latest superhero movie, Noah, anything short of a Children’s Bible version of the story of Noah and the Ark would be unacceptable.

Locally, a man named Ronald Cansler, a conservative Christian who used to pastor the First United Methodist Church in Joplin but now shepherds students through Missouri Southern State University’s English department, said the following in the local newspaper the other day:

Some guy named Noah, a lot of water and a bunch of animals on a boat are the only similarities between the movie “Noah” and the account in Genesis 6:9.

Pastor/Professor Cansler is worried that “one aspect of the movie greatly offends against the biblical account.” He is referring to the movie supposedly misrepresenting “God’s plan,” which, according to Bible believers, involved Noah’s three sons and their wives dutifully bonking each other in order to “replenish the earth” after the flood.

As the makers of Noah are finding out, there simply is no pleasing biblical fundamentalists, although the attempts to try—the worst example being the attempt to appease Glenn Beck—indicate that this movie, for all the high-brow claims of its creators, is at least partially designed to get Bible-believing Christians interested enough to spend their money on the film ($44 million opening weekend in America, but no numbers on how many were true believers).

That is why, despite the fact that livelier Babylonian accounts of a destructive flood by vindictive gods are available for movie-making, the biblical version of the Noah-flood story is the basis of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I suppose there just aren’t enough Babylonians around these days from whom a big-time movie studio can extract a buck or two.

Now, let me declare that I haven’t seen the movie and have no plans to do so. I know there are reportedly some so-called progressive themes running through it, especially involving how we treat our environment and the other creatures we share it with, but this piece of criticism you are reading isn’t about the movie per se.

Nor is this about the absurdly unscientific story upon which Noah is based—come on, people, the Genesis account says that Noah was “six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth” and that “and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” with water for nearly a year and that the implausible ark housed “two of all living creatures” and that after Noah and his family and the animals were all safely inside the large vessel, the “the Lord” closed the doors!

No, this piece isn’t about all that. It is about the lack of attention that movie reviewers are paying to the apparently acceptable premise of the movie: that it was okay for an angry and disappointed God to destroy the face of the earth and everything living on it—babies and young children, included—save for Noah and a few family members that the Bible quite arbitrarily considered “righteous.” Such a stunningly immoral premise needs examination, if only because some people take all this quite seriously and most of those who do would never raise a moral objection to the purported actions of God, a being they claim is unquestionably good and just. We cringe today at any display of murderous human rage, so why isn’t everyone cringing at the disturbing display of murderous divine rage that serves as the background for the movie Noah?

Our local movie reviewer, Mr. Cansler, who despite his theological objections found the movie “a fun two-plus hours,” said that its presentation of God’s purpose for the flood—“that only the innocent animals are to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ while the family of zookeepers will be a dead end for humankind”—made the God of the Bible “appear bloodily anti-human, a misanthropic hyper-Malthusian.” Those of us familiar with the Old Testament know that the God of the Bible doesn’t need any help from filmmakers in order to make him appear like a human-hating brute. Just read the book, especially the entire biblical account of the flood.

Just before we are introduced to the non-Hollywood Noah in the Book of Genesis, we find this declaration:

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.

That is a reaffirmation of Genesis 1:27:

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

But just what is that image? Is it an image of one seeking ultimate vengeance? Of one using violence to squash perceived enemies or rectify one’s mistakes?

After strangely informing us in Genesis Chapter 6 that humans were increasing in population and that divine beings called “the sons of God” were having sex with “the daughters of humans,” (and after introducing the Nephilim, a race of “giants” who may have been the offspring of fallen angels and humans!), the Bible tells us:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.

Ignoring the theologically untenable claim that an all-knowing God had “regrets,” or the morally untenable assertion that a just God took his unlovely wrath out on all living things, guilty or not, here we see that God’s anger with mankind was stirred by “the thoughts of the human heart,” which were “only evil all the time.” Did little babies, who also perished in the flood, have evil thoughts in their hearts? All the time? How about four-year-olds? Teenagers? Shriveled-up old folks?

And even if one granted that all humans in Noah’s days, no matter their age or station, did have such evil thoughts in their hearts all the time, from where could they have obtained such thoughts? Or,  from whom could they have obtained them? Is it true that all of those whom God decided to murder with a mountain-topping deluge were created in his image, too? Yes. Of course. The Bible says so. But not in the way I was taught in Sunday school. The clues that reveal the nature of that imaging are in the reason given in the Bible for God’s drowning his image-bearers and the subsequent record of behavior of those post-flood folks God would bless with his army-conquering presence.

I suggest to you that, to the extent one takes the Bible’s claims seriously, those evil thoughts that God found so offensive were frequently manifested in much of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, substantiating that well-known “God created mankind in his own image” claim in Genesis. In other words, those evil human beings whom God regretted making and then whom he murdered by drowning, actually reflected, quite accurately, the image of God we find in the Old Testament and, to some degree, in the New. That is why some critics claim that it appears the God of the Bible was actually created in man’s image.

Just read Joshua 6, for instance, where the conquering Israelites not only knocked down the walls of Jericho with trumpet blasts, but,

They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Like father, like son. That matches nicely with 1 Samuel 15, where God tells Saul and the Israelites to, “kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” 

And it matches with other events recorded in the Old Testament. Long after the great flood in which God left no human survivors, except for Noah and his family, an Amorite king named Sihon would not let the ancient Israelites, who after escaping Egypt were on their wilderness-wandering way to the Promised Land, pass through his territory. Too bad for the king. God wasn’t in the mood to negotiate. According to Deuteronomy:

When Sihon and all his army came out to meet us in battle at Jahaz, the Lord our God delivered him over to us and we struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army. At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors. 

We left no survivors. The Israelites even murdered the children. Sort of like God did in the flood. Created in his image, indeed.

All of this is not to deny the existence of God. I have no idea whether there is a God or whether we are winging it as human beings. But I do say that those who claim that the God presented to us in the Bible is a good and decent and moral being whom we should emulate have to explain why he cold-bloodedly slaughters the innocent people he creates and encourages or supports others who cold-bloodedly slaughter them. And if the movie Noah has any redeeming value, it will be found not in providing us “a fun two-plus hours,” but in forcing some people to come to terms with the ugly and disturbing picture of divinity imprinted on the pages of their holy book.

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The Bishop and Mrs. Beasley

Paul Greenberg, who is a man of the Right and an excellent writer, contradicted the Bible in his column this morning. He wrote:

There is something more than irreverence in the rationalist’s demand that the believer explain why he believes; there is something of the voyeur. To insist on an explanation of another’s belief amounts to an invasion of privacy, an intrusion into an intimate relationship—the one between worshipper and Worshipped, the created and the Creator, the loved and the Lover.

Rarely do I find myself in agreement with Mr. Greenberg these days, but I agree with the last line of his piece: “The heart owes no one an explanation.

The problem is the Bible doesn’t agree with us:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. (1 Peter 3:15).

Mr. Greenberg , who spent most of the column criticizing a liberal Episcopal bishop for daring to flout the teachings of his church with rather unchristianly interpretations of the Bible, may want to rethink his own flouting of a clear admonition in Scripture.

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Speaking of unchristianly interpretations, Marilyn Beasley was back in the paper today. Ms. Beasley is a fundamentalist Christian who has been extremely critical of fellow-believer Barack Obama.

She has determined that President Obama, despite his claims, is not a “true” Christian.

Last September in a letter to the Globe and last April in a publication called “The Beacon,” she openly questioned his Christianity in various ways, based on this reasoning:

A Christian is one who loves the Lord Jesus, tries to live their life to please the Lord, and with the Lord’s help stands up for what is right and speaks out against the wrong.

I don’t think most believers would have a problem with her first two requirements. A reasonable person would agree that a person claiming to be a Christian ought to love Jesus and try to follow his example.

But the third requirement in her fealty triad is the one that could get her in hot water with God. Standing up “for what is right” and speaking out “against the wrong” obviously involves subjective judgments, about which good people can differ. But not to Mrs. Beasley. She, and she alone, gets to determine what is “right” and what is “wrong,” and if Obama or any other professing believer disagrees with her, they are not true Christians. She has passed judgment on them in defiance of the scriptural admonition not to.

Sure, in her indictment of Obama in the article in “The Beacon,” she defends her judgmentalism by appealing to the “by their fruits you will know them” argument, also sanctioned by the Bible. But other than revealing a contradiction in biblical advice, this appeal does not advance her case. Who gets to determine what fruits are good and what fruits are bad? Ms. Beasley believes that supporting abortion rights is a bad fruit. Does she feel the same way about supporting Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid or the WIC program? Or is supporting those programs a good fruit?

Does the Lord love the welfare state?

In her letter today, Mrs. Beasley classifies waterboarding, which nearly everyone this side of Dick Cheney believes is torture, as a good fruit. She “thanks” the CIA for using it. Now, could President Obama petition the Lord for a reconsideration of her Christianity based on the fact that she supports torture? Or does the Lord himself approve of torture?

There’s nothing wrong with Mrs. Beasley or any other Christian criticizing Barack Obama and his administration. But she has historically done so by claiming that his Christianity is false, that he is lying about what is fundamentally a publicly unknowable claim, his relationship with the Creator. How can he defend himself?

Enter Paul Greenberg:

The heart owes no one an explanation.

Amen.

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COMMENTS:

Friday, May 15, 2009, 05:17 PM

Pff! Everyone knows that the Bible has a liberal left wing bias! Much like the mainstream media, academia, Europe, Big Gubmint, reality…anything besides Fox News and talk radio honestly.

(you may want to get rid of the “d” in “the heart owes no one and explanation”)

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Friday, May 15, 2009, 05:45 PM

Thanks. I have a poor editor.

Duane

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Nathan Jones

Friday, May 15, 2009, 06:13 PM

Do these Joplin Globe Blogs get any volume of traffic? I had never even heard of it ’til Mardell introduced us at Columbia Trader’s.

I’m not a big fan of newspapers, why in the world would somebody ever think it was a good idea to print on such large paper. What a pain in the butt to read. Why do they not just print on normal size paper?

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Saturday, May 16, 2009, 10:58 AM

Nathan,

Why am I not surprised that you–a conservative–are not a big fan of newspapers?

By the way, why in the world would someone think it was a good idea to jot down the Ten Commandments on stone tablets?

They make terrible cage liners.

Duane

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Nathan Jones

Saturday, May 16, 2009, 12:34 PM

Duane,

Newspapers are the least practical medium in the market today is all I was pointing out, and wondered, honestly, what was the original purpose of such big paper, whose refolding would be such an enigma.

God didn’t think stone was the best medium, shortly thereafter, He told the people that one day He would write His words on their heart. He said He would take out their heart of stone, which always rejects Him and turns away from Him; and give them a heart of flesh (or a tender heart) which He would reveal His love to them and draw them to Him. The ten commandments on stone was a metaphor for the everlasting nature of God’s words. Which in contrast to the newspapers are so quickly forgotten and fade away. How many billions of words have been printed and forgotten, how many writers poured out the heart of paper in black and white, and how few of those words are still remembered. But God writes ten sentences and they are remembered (if the story is true) for 4,000 years. That’s efficiency. Now if we could get newspapers to print something worth remembering, and we’d give them a couple of stone tablets also.

I have no idea what “cage liners” are, sorry.:)

nate jones

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