Moved again, hence another hiatus. Not as long as the last one, but I didn’t move anywhere near as far – I’m about a 25-minute drive by highway from where I lived before, versus 12 hours by airplane coming back from Japan. Still, it’s a big step, because it’s my own apartment again, out of my parents’ house.
Things are pretty dead around my neighborhood right now because college is still on winter break. I’m hoping to get involved in at least the NonTrad Student group, since as a nearly-30-year-old with an MA going back for an AA, I am the very definition of non-traditional.
I also maybe needed this break to get myself some distance from the nausea of chapter 28. Chapter 30 is actually a pretty hopeful and uplifting chapter, but pairing it with the image of God that 28 gave, it’s hard to buy its claims of that God really loves Israel and will bring them back. Taking delight in causing someone else suffering bars you from getting to say you love them*.
But then again, given how it interrupts the flow of the discourse, my NOAB suspects this was yet another addition, one that was trying – maybe futilely – to tone down the extremely negative imagery of the previous chapters. There’s reassurance. Things will turn around, things will be even better than they were before!
And again, that’s lovely… if their punishment had been a matter of God leaving them to the natural consequences of their actions, as opposed to God initiating the torments in the first place. When preceded by chapters 28-29, God sounds more like the narrator of “Love the Way You Lie,” oscillating between threatening and conciliatory tones.
Which isn’t to say that, divorced from this image of God-as-Abuser, there aren’t some fantastic turns of phrases in this chapter: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live,” (v 6) for example, which seems to acknowledge that there is something left undone that God needs to do in order for people to love him. There’s a touch of grace in that, of God reaching out to take the first step, of divine intervention making good possible.
Unfortunately it’s followed immediately in the next verse by God promising to put these curses on their enemies after they repent… the same enemies that were agents of God’s curse in the first place.
You know, when Buddhists faced the quandary of who could perform the punishments mandated in Buddhist hells without being deserving of torment themselves for their cruelty, they resolved it by making the tormenters illusory, part of the environment, simulacra rather than sentient beings. You can’t use real people to inflict a punishment on people and then punish them for inflicting that punishment. It’s an endless cycle that nobody could get out of.
And that’s sort of what I’m getting out of these chapters of Deuteronomy, that this is all very bad theodicy, but that it seemed perfectly reasonable, somehow, to the author. It’s still perfectly reasonable to some people today – the Westboro Baptists, whose church is literally six minutes from where I live, are perfectly willing to believe that God used Muslim terrorists to punish America, while also sending those same terrorists to hell. Whether the Deuteronomist would appreciate being lumped in with the likes of Fred Phelps, I don’t know.
What I do know is this – when I got my first Bible, I didn’t initially start reading it from the start. That was later. The first thing I did was open it to the middle.
The first book I ever read in the Bible, all the way through, was Job.
That’s colored my reading of everything in the Bible. I can’t read these chapters in Deuteronomy and not hear Job decrying his so-called friends for their “advice.” The formula that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished is a vile one, a self-perpetuating one, whether within the span of a lifetime (as in the Bible) or over multiple lifetimes (karma). But at least within Indian religion, the system is seen as an evil, something you want to escape from. Too many who read the Bible see it as a good, even when the Bible itself, in books like Job, rejects the model.
I don’t have much else to say. This is the end of this discourse, and Moses starts up a different topic next chapter, so hopefully I can wash my hands of this monstrous theology, at least for a little while.
The Japanese: oiyaru “to drive away” (v 1), hotokosu “to administer” (v 6), hakugai suru “to persecute, to oppress” (v 7), han’ei “prosperity” (v 9), oyobanai “unattainable” (v 12), sengen suru “to declare” (v 18), masashiku “certainly, surely” (v 20).
*BDSM relationships are a little different… if your partner wants you to make them suffer and enjoys it, and part of what you enjoy is that they enjoy it, that’s a whole different story. The friend I have who’s into kink is also an adorably doting husband, so I’m well aware that not all “sadists” are abusers.