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Richard Frankfurt

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Blogs by Richard Frankfurt

A Heretic's Devotional
7/16/2008 4:15:58 PM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

Religion has always been big business. Nowadays, in particular, we are inundated with customized Bibles and "devotionals"---daily inspirational words, typically based on a relatively small set of well-worn, especially comforting biblical passages. What you can't help but notice (if you've actually read it) is that large parts of the Bible are neglected by the authors of these devotionals, and by the orthodox religious establishment that nurtures them. With this in mind, I have decided to open up my tattered old KJV and see what sort of cranky, unorthodox devotional I can cook up.

July 16

And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.--Deuteronomy 23:13

This bit of homespun wisdom has never been more apropos. To put it bluntly, it ain't just the Lord thy Jehovah that walketh in the midst of thy camp nowadays, buddy. The world is getting more overcrowded all the time, and proportionately messier and messier. Blessed are they that clean up their own messes. They shall have the satisfaction of knowing that anything they step in was left behind by some other filthy slob. If that isn't enough, they can smugly (and altogether unhypocritically) declare that they don't leave their messes lying around for other people to step in, which might be even more fun than leaving messes lying around for other people to step in. But seriously, folks, wouldn't it be nice if everyone had the courtesy NOT to leave messes lying around for other people to step in? Wouldn't it have been nice if all the previous generations of humanity had had that simple courtesy? What sort of a world might we have inherited from such people? At the very least, it probably would have been a tad cleaner than what we've got. And at the very least, we can try to leave it a tad cleaner than we found it, can't we?


July 19

Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small.--Deuteronomy 25:13

Another golden one from Deuteronomy, and the same sentiment is expressed in Leviticus 19:36, Proverbs 16:11, Proverbs 20:10, Proverbs 20:23, and Micah 6:11. Whether by divine fiat or their own native good sense, some of the Israelites apparently understood the importance of having clearly defined and recognizable standards of value, however illusory those standards might actually be. They are the only conceivable basis for even a halfway stable economy in a world such as this. The sad alternative is what we have now, which is a sort of economic swamp with no standards of any kind and no clearly discernible points of reference. It is still usually possible to know, at any given moment, how much of one commodity may be obtained in exchange for another, but the rate of exchange is written on the wind and rushing water, and bandied endlessly about by the elite core of high-stakes crapshooters that populate the arcane casinos laughably referred to as "markets." Perhaps even more laughable is that the prices set by these venerable institutions are measured in terms of currencies that no longer have any more intrinsic worth than Monopoly money. Not surprisingly, the buying power of these currencies has been declining steadily for the past fifty years. Equally unsurprising is the proportionate increase in the climate of fear that has pervaded our colorful little planet ever since the first unicellular predator and prey faced off in the primordial soup. Naturally I don't profess to have a solution to so elemental a problem, short of giving the entire human race a collective consciousness transplant, or a 500 liter enema, or both. However, while you're waiting for your favorite divinity to come and rescue us, or trying to figure out why he's so pissed off at us that he won't, cast your eyes over the comings and goings at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (or any other such place). Here people who have probably never been really hungry in their entire lives may add to their vast network of holdings (however illusory) by speculating on the price of other people's daily bread, to the point that some of those other people are obliged to eat cookies made from dirt just to ease the ache in their empty bellies. If that isn't an abomination, I don't know what is.


July 24


And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.— Leviticus 25:10


It is difficult to imagine how such a principle could have ever been put into practice anywhere outside of a nursery school playground, or how it could have been enforced by anything short of divine thunderbolts. No matter how loosely one interprets the verses that follow the one cited above, what is being mandated is nothing less than a periodic redistribution of wealth, and possibly even a primitive form of socialism. The apparent intent is to prevent anyone from becoming too wealthy, and consequently the whole idea is positively inimical to our modern system of corrupt, oligarchical capitalism. All the same, it might be refreshing to experience the effect the jubilee trumpet would have on the American economy, large portions of which are nowadays driven by debt slavery and real estate fraud. What might be left after all the loan portfolios are wiped out, and all the payday lenders and subprime mortgage brokers sent packing, is another matter. Not to mention the question of where the multitude of squatters might be shipped off to after the land is returned to its original owners. But it will never happen, of course, so not to worry.


August 4


And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.— Deuteronomy 6:5


People generally tend to fashion their gods in the image of the world they are assumed to have created. Presumably this is why most divinities are so fundamentally unlovable. No matter how picturesque some parts of this world may be (when viewed from a safe distance), the majority of its living things (human beings included) seem to have no higher purpose than to feed the bellies of other living things. And this detestable principle bears its bitter fruit in the midst of a formidable array of destructive natural forces that often strike without warning and without mercy—not to mention the icy cold nothingness that surrounds our isolated little speck of misery and deception, and holds us all prisoner here with its sheer impenetrable enormity. It is reasonable to expect that the creator of such a cosmos would be no more endearing than his/her/its creation. In this respect, the Jehovah of the Old Testament does not disappoint. He is presented as the very mirror image of his own supposed creation. The question is, whether any deity could possibly be obtuse enough to think that love can be extracted from people by command—even an arrogant, petty, small-minded, mean-spirited, micromanaging desert demiurge. That is what the author(s) of Deuteronomy would like us to believe, and centuries later all three synoptic gospels have the good Jesus declaring this pompous nonsense to be the greatest of all commandments. So how exactly does one love a god, assuming that one feels so inclined? Presumably the conclusion we are meant to arrive at is just the usual sort of higgledy-piggledy one expects to hear from orthodox sources: that one loves a god by loving his church and giving generously to support his holy priesthood in the style to which they have become accustomed. Very likely this is all there really is to it, after all. But if so, I would much rather dedicate myself to Aphrodite than Jehovah. At least she knew how to show a worshipper a good time.


October 5


Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.— 2 Corinthians 5:16


This verse seems to be at the heart of the Christian religion, as well as many of the colorful effects it has had on human comings and goings over the past two millennia. Both Jesus and his primal eldest spin doctor, Paul the Apostle, apparently believed in the imminent end of the world, and preached an other-worldly religion consistent with such a belief. Nothing that we do here matters very much, because all of this crap is shortly going to disappear and be replaced with something better. Nice dream, I suppose, but both of them were wrong. The crap is still here, and the dream as elusive as ever. Undoubtedly this has led to much disappointment over the long count of weary, bloodstained years, and also much confusion. If flesh is soon to pass away, naturally there is not much point in knowing anyone “after the flesh.” But if not, how else are you going to know anyone? Hence we are left with what is probably Christianity’s most enduring legacy: a society based on mutual misapprehension and a profound misunderstanding of some of the most fundamental aspects of human nature. Indeed, it is not unfair to say that Christianity sometimes even misunderstands itself. Little wonder, then, that mental illness is so rampant in this part of the world. In the meantime, what nowadays remains of the faith is often little more than a tool used by cynical right-wing politicians to manipulate the faithful. The churches look to their own survival, larger flocks and richer tithes, and one can only wonder what might happen if the real Jesus were to wander into one of them on a busy Sunday morning. Most likely he would have no clue what was going on, or who the hell they were all shouting about. And it is doubtful whether any of them would recognize him, or like the way he smelled.


November 2


Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.— Romans 13:1


If we take this pronouncement literally, there is no point and no real hope in singing “God Bless America,” since our mighty nation was originally formed as an act of rebellion against a divinely anointed king, and according to this view, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and the other Founding Fathers were nothing more than a gang of blasphemous reprobates who refused to be subject unto the higher powers, instead taking it upon themselves to create their own higher powers, in obstinate contrariance to God’s holy ordinance. Moreover, verse 2 of the same chapter clearly implies that these selfsame loathsome villains are now writhing and shrieking in eternal perdition for their abominable act of defiance, and that any that follow their lead are certain to share their fate. Presumably, then, the rest of us God-fearing Americans can only hope to escape damnation if we renounce the evil apostate government in Washington, D.C., turn our tear-stained, repentant faces toward Buckingham Palace, pay the bloody tea tax, and declare ourselves the Queen’s true subjects. However, one has only to consider that the current British Royal Family are members of a house that originally overthrew another house, which in turn supplanted a previous house, etc., and the morality of the situation becomes a bit murkier. Not to mention the thornier conundrum of why God allowed this wickedness to flourish for over 200 years, instead of immediately smiting the whole thing with the thunderbolts it so richly deserved. So all in all, this is not one of Paul’s more carefully thought-out utterances. On the other hand, we must remember that Paul lived and died in a world where successful revolutions were altogether unheard-of, and for aught we know, there might have been a Roman centurion holding a knife to his throat and dictating the entire chapter.


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More Blogs by Richard Frankfurt
• A Little Extra Credit - Friday, August 08, 2008
•  A Heretic's Devotional - Wednesday, July 16, 2008  

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