Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Doonesbury Does the Bible (But Not Very Well)

This past Sunday's Doonesbury strip comparing the Old and New Testaments has some Jewish leaders demanding an apology. Trudeau's take is oversimplified at best, offensive at worst, but to play devil's advocate: the 17-year-old in the comic strip isn't supposed to be a Biblical scholar. She certainly sounds like a real teenage kid, earnest and uninformed, talking about religion. The problem, as I see it, is that this is a Sunday strip, meaning that it's not in the context of story. There's no "before" and "after." Trudeau opens up a can of worms and tries to toss it off with a chuckle -- disappointing for a satirist with an admirable history of tackling cultural issues head-on.

Benjamin Weiner at Religion Dispatches suggests using this as a "teachable moment":

Christians, if you haven’t already, please take some time to recognize that the division of your scriptures into “old” and “new”, with a panting demiurge presiding over the first and a Guevarist lovegod community-organizing his way through the second is a false dichotomy, and a dangerous and frustrating one, at that, when it is used as a thumbnail sketch of Jewish-Christian difference. Your “old testament”, what we call the Tanakh, portrays a God of manifold characteristics—from the friend and confidant of Abraham and, yes, the ferocious goader of the wilderness, to the ironic moral conscience of Jonah and the mystical whirlwind of Job—that have served as the basis for kaleidoscopic articulations of Jewish theology.

1 comment:

thebaffledking said...

I seem to recall Jesus being pretty mean to a fig tree that obstinately refused to bear fruit out of season, but never mind. Artificial dichotomies aside, God does spend a fair amount of time in the Bible acting like an ass. What we call the New Testament is mostly bizarre, with some platitudes thrown in for good measure. Are we really saying that people can't work out it's better to be nice to each other unless they have it explained by a deity? As far as I'm concerned, arguing over the merits of the New and old testaments is no more relevant than arguing over the merits of elves and dwarves in The Lord of The Rings.
The strip isn't even about religion. It's a dig at bankers. The conceit being that even a divine pacifist would be tipped over the edge by these guys. A better comparison would be the way Henry I of England dealt with a similar crisis in 1125. He had the Bishop of Salisbury invite all the bankers (mint-men) that had caused a financial crisis (currency had collapsed) to Winchester Cathedral for a Christmas party. One by one their right hands and "testicles beneath" were then cut off - seen as a just punishment as 'man that had a pound could not lay out a penny at a market.' We didn't have another banking crisis like it for 800 years after that. Still, interesting the King had to turn to a cleric when things needed to get really brutal...