Wednesday, February 21, 2007

lord of the cornfield

I had a realization last night about the Twilight Zone episode that featured Billy Mumy as a boy who terrorized the people of his community and send them to the "cornfield" whenever they displeased him: It's about God.

The boy, whose name eludes me, has absolute power and can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any consequence to himself. The people live in terror of him, but constantly praise him and say what a good boy he is so they can avoid his displeasure, even when he does something as horrible as turning his father into a giant jack-in-the-box.
I don't know who wrote that particular episode, but Rod Serling was a Unitarian Universalist, and the episode does seem to take issue with the apparent cruelty of God, whom the Bible describes as drowning the entire planet, save eight people and a boatful of animals; killing the firstborn son of every family in Egypt; and threatening repeatedly through his prophets to bring one disaster after another onto Israel. And of course the New Testament declares that those who reject Christ will be cast into hell for all eternity -- similar, I suppose, to being sent to the cornfield. And like the townfolk who can't say enough things about the holy terror in their midst, believers never stop singing the praises of the God they believe did all these things.
Maybe I'm mistaken, but I think a lot of evangelicals get upset by that sort of story, which they see as an affront to the dignity of God and the gospel that Jesus preached. I know that I did, back in my evangelical days. (Although I must admit that evangelicals seem to get even more incensed about negative portrayals of the church and Christians than of God.)
To an extent, I suppose a negative reaction is understandable, because the writer of this episode is misportraying (and misunderstanding) the nature and personality of God, and no one likes to see their beliefs misunderstood or misrepresented. But I think the strong visceral reaction that we Christians often have to disagreement isn't fair to the people or viewpoints we disagree with, and it does a poor job of representing Christ.
Isn't everyone better served by asking where the critics are coming from, and seeing if they have a point? Because if God really were as sunshiney-day-in-the-park as Christians market him as, I doubt anyone would write stories depicting God as a capricious monster. Biblical stories such as the Deluge, the plagues on Egypt and the conquest of Canaan are troubling, or they should be. We try to sanitize them into pleasant little Sunday school lessons about how evil will perish and God will provide for his people, but if the thought of men, women and children scrambling for a foothold and looking for dry land in a world where torrential rain just doesn't stop coming, doesn't bother you; if the thought of a nation full of parents, suddenly bereft of their eldest children, some infants, some toddlers, and some adolescents, doesn't give you pause; if none of the stories from the Tanakh make you stop and think about how God can be the author of such things and still be called "good," then you're not reading your Bible as an adult.
The people who write and tell stories like the "Twilight Zone" episode about the cornfield have legitimate perspectives on the gospel, the Bible, and God as the church has presented them. As people who have received Christ, we believe we have a sacred Truth to share with the rest of the world. But that doesn't mean, nor should it, that they don't have important truths to share with us as well.


Anonymous said...

Well, you know not long ago, before mankind raised the earth and beat every plowshare into rifles, and every bacterium into serums, and every atom into endless supplies of energy and pollution. And before all men were created equal (some a bit more equal than others), and considered using mosquitoes as vaccination vectors, and reproduced so rapidly that they worried about eating the few remaining species they hadn't already driven to the brink of extinction, as well as transforming the incredible quantities of fuel into equally incredible amounts of pollutants; people knew that their time here was brief, painful, and completely at the whim of forces well beyond their control. God wasn't a nice, loving, gentle guy/gal/hermaphrodite/alien; God was a ruthless, mysterious, unforgiving being, who when got right down to, it was just not very nice.

Now I'm not saying that I'm taking sides, but when you are born to parents who don't want you, in an area under constant siege by disease, human warfare, natural catastrophe, famine, none of which you can fully predict or understand - you must really be doubtful of the benevolent nature of the divine. Of course, if you are born to loving, secure parents in a fairly stable self-supporting community whose major goals involve becoming more tolerant and understanding, there's no question - God is Love! (with a capital L & G). Consider for a moment the lengths to which men have gone to hurt and humiliate one another; consider the lengths of torture & humiliation that God allowed his "only begotten son" to be put through to "save" everyone else's souls; consider the starting point for all humans, which is best described as "mine!" and what a short degree to which most of us are able to mature in the short period of time we are here. And then consider how they have helped to shape our view of the universe around us.


marauder said...

Well, yeah. that's exactly what I'm saying. Different perspectives and arguments on whether God is just or unjust really shouldn't be that upsetting to people who claim to have such a rock-solid faith in the Almighty. There are many legitimate criticisms of the Christian depiction of God and his love, and I think it's actually a beautiful thing to see them written about.

Must talk with you some time about the biblical understanding of God and how it develops from the time of Moses up through Christ. It's a stunning progression, and yet at the same time, it's not as out-of-the-blue as it sometimes appears. It's something I'll probably write about myself at some length later.

Also there's the nature of the Cross and what happened there. I've come to the conclusion that the evangelical take on it -- i.e., God was really angry and his sense of justice couldn't be satisfied until somebody's blood was spilt -- doesn't do Good Friday justice. But that's also something I need to write about more later.