‘That sanctimonious, Bible-spouting mountebank’

John C. Holbert writes of “A Prophet Gone Bad” and offers a fine summary of one of my favorite books of the Bible.

And now we can see just who Jonah is: he is that sanctimonious, Bible-spouting mountebank who hates anyone who is not just like him. I fear that he too often is us — those of us who just know we have all the right answers, while “they” (fill in the blank of your particular “they”) just as certainly do not. Jonah is the prophet gone bad. He is at once hilarious and monstrous. He is Vulture, the Son of Wretchedness, and every religious community has him among them. Yea, his name is Legion.

Read this story at your peril and laugh at the antics of its main character, but know that your laughter is at yourself. Go then and do not do likewise.

Which is why the Bank of Israel’s cool-looking design for its new 2-New Sheqalim coin is an odd choice.

For Israel to put Jonah on a coin is like if New Jersey were to put Tony Soprano on its state flag. Not that HBO’s The Sopranos and the book of Jonah are exactly the same. The one is a viciously satirical fictional story centering on a selfish brute of an anti-hero. The other is an Emmy-winning show about gangsters.

* * * * * * * * *

Leslie Keeney: “Why are People Afraid to Admit that the Bible is a Story?

The modern evangelical’s worldview does not allow for the possibility that a story (gasp!) could be authoritative. And authoritative is the one thing the Bible has to be.

The bad news for many evangelicals is that no amount of whining, rationalizing, or closing our eyes and wishing really, really hard will change the fact that Christianity’s authoritative document — the document that God intended us to have — looks more like The Lord of the Rings than The Collected Sayings of Gandalf. It is what it is — and what it is is a narrative.

Natalie Burris: “Problems with the theory of inspiration

The theory of inspiration aggrandizes the perspective of those who have the loudest voices when interpreting Scripture within North American evangelicalism. When the Bible is read in its “plainest” sense, and thus communicates binding theological and moral truth, this truth often ends up reflecting the viewpoint of the most influential and loud interpreters, who are usually middle- to upper-class, white, straight males. And a purportedly “plain” reading of Scripture disregards the cultures in which both the text and the reader are rooted.

* * * * * * * * *

Some wise words from Christian Piatt on another option for shrinking churches:

I know religious institutions are collectively flipping out about the decreasing number of attendees and increased number of church closures. The fact is that some churches will do the world more good once closed than they’re doing today. This is not to say they’re doing active harm (though I’m sure some are), but rather that the tireless, copious use of resources — both human and financial — to prop up dying institutions is to point to one’s self rather than toward God. We get hung up on the idea that the former is a necessary means to the latter end, but not necessarily. Like a fallow field, sometimes it’s best to take what is left, turn it into the ground and allow it to be reborn into something entirely new.

Alan Scherstuhl: “Salem Kirban’s 1970 Photos of the Apocalypse Include a Giant Christbot.” Kirban’s Bible prophecy novel makes Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins seem like rational people.

Stuff Fundies Like: “Sunday School Catechism.” (Warning: If, like me, you grew up in evangelical American Sunday school and VBS, then don’t follow that link unless you want one or more of those songs stuck in your head for the rest of the day.)

Terry Jones: “Life of Brian would be risky now

I’m amazed we’re still discussing it, and I don’t know why. There’s lots of other good stuff around. I suspect it’s overrated although it’s pretty good. Our aim was to make a funny film, but there’s nothing wrong with giving a bit of offence as well.

I’ve seen it a couple of times and probably enjoy it more now because of its celebrity. Personally, though, I prefer Buster Keaton.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Wonder if the Jonah coin is because [stop me before I sound antisemetic]

  • Anonymous

    From the Life of Brian article:

    Life of Brian would be risky now, says Terry Jones

    Monty Python star claims making satire now would be too risky following resurgence in religious belief

    Terry Jones, who directed and starred in the Monty Python film Life of
    Brian, says the feature would be unlikely today due to a resurgence of
    religious beliefs. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

    Monty Python’s Terry Jones has revealed that he would shy away from making the comedy Life Of Brian today, because of a resurgence in religious belief.

    So…would it be fair to say that Terry Jones thinks Life of Brian would be risky today, due to a resurgence in religious belief?

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Though I wish I had seen the simple beauty in Piatt’s proposal throughout my 20′s. But then I was a young fundamentalist, trying to breathe some new life into an inner city IFCA-affiliated church (yeah, the non-denomination fundies that really showed that it didn’t care about the inner city). And because I was a fundamentalist, I figured that we alone could do the work there.

    But I also loved (and still do, really) our old church building…

  • Eamon Knight

    Alan Scherstuhl: “Salem Kirban’s 1970 Photos of the Apocalypse Include a Giant Christbot.” Kirban’s Bible prophecy novel makes Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins seem like rational people.

    Oh gods, that review brings back memories (in the “bad acid trip flashback” sense). I actually read this book c. 1973 (probably don’t have it any more, which is a pity in a perverse sort of way). Even my fundy teenage Hal Lindsey-influenced self could tell this was a Really Stupid Book. As I recall, it switches between first and third person narrative at one point, with no reason or warning. And the photos are mega-cheesy. But what do you expect from a writer who condemned Billy Graham for being too liberal?

  • eyelessgame

    “The modern evangelical’s worldview does not allow for the possibility that a story (gasp!) could be authoritative.” While true, it just stuns me every single time I hear it. All Jesus *did* was tell stories.

    “This is all *true*! It never happened, yet it is *true*! What magic art is this?”
        – The faeries, attending the first-ever performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as related by Neil Gaiman

  • Kiba

    “Oh, but it is true. Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”
    Sandman-Dream Country: A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Dream to Auberon

    Oddly enough, I just finished rereading Dream Country the other day.

  • Andrea

    …I should have heeded Fred’s warning about the link to Stuff Fundies Like!

  • Matri

    Kirban’s Bible prophecy novel makes Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins seem like rational people.

    *boggles* How is that even possible?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RAPF5V3YPOUWAZGAJ2VCQM76Q Alicia

    Maybe, but I still have no idea what this “Terry Jones” guy is or what he’s famous for. I hate ambiguously worded articles.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Terry Jones was in Monty Python. He was one of the guys in The Life Of Brian.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Terry Jones (Monty Python version) unfortunately shares a name with Terry Jones (US paster barred from entering the UK.)

    In The Life of Brian Terry Jones played several roles, including Mandy the Mother of Brian. He co-wrote the film and was the director.

  • http://mmycomments.blogspot.com/ mmy

    Maybe, but I still have no idea what this “Terry Jones” guy is or what he’s famous for

    When Life of Brian was released in 1979 it was promptly banned in Ireland and Norway and the Catholic Film Monitoring Office announced that simply to see the film was a sin. According to the Lutheran Film Council it was profane and the Rabbinical Alliance announced it blasphemous. 

    It was attacked by various religious leaders/organizations around the world and yet it was financially successful in the UK and in the United States. Most of the people who inveighed against it seem not to have actually seen it (in fact some boasted that they had not.)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2RAPF5V3YPOUWAZGAJ2VCQM76Q Alicia

    Wow, really?

    (I mean, I was kidding about not knowing who Jones was — his role in the movie and as a member of Monty Python is repeated hilariously often in the article — but I didn’t know all of that!)

    Thanks!

  • Sludge

    Whenever Jonah’s story is mentioned I think of Jay Pinkerton’s synopsis.

    http://www.jaypinkerton.com/jonah01.html

  • Cowboy Diva

    “one or more of those songs stuck in your head”
    oh. One of THOSE songs. 

  • Anonymous

    Me too–now I have “Rise and Shine” quite firmly lodged in my heady, heady…

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ironically, 15 years later I was introduced to the movie in a Catholic school. By one of my teachers, who said “this is hilarious, and makes some good points. You’ll love it”.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Alan Scherstuhl: “Salem Kirban’s 1970 Photos of the Apocalypse Include a Giant Christbot.” Kirban’s Bible prophecy novel makes Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins seem like rational people.

    Wow. TurboBotJesus. (O_O)

    As for the Life of Brian thing?

    I find that interesting, because I was watching the Dirty Harry movies and there’s a definite difference between the ones made in the 1970s and ones made in the 1980s.

    Things were definitely looser in some ways in the 1970s; a 1980s movie would never dared to have showed two lesbians entering an apartment and kissing, but I guarantee you I saw with my own two eyes that very scene in one of the 1970s-era Dirty Harry movies.

    Anyone who claims there wasn’t a “moral resurgence” hasn’t really compared some of the gonzo shit that went down in the 1970s versus the 1980s and 1990s. I’ve heard it said Playboy nearly went under thanks to Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan pontificating about “a renewal of American values”, and in fact I would venture to say that for all the complaints that teenagers are sexually loose, my generation that came of age in the 1990s was probably more sexually conservative than in the 1970s, because of the awareness of AIDS and the insistence on more widespread condom usage, and also probably because of the homophobia that accompanied the AIDS epidemic.

    So for all that people like Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Oral* Roberts and their conservative poltical hangers-on wail about the ‘Christianity under siege’ thing, the fact is that they’ve scored a major victory in effectively reintroducing religious language into the political landscape and making Not Offending Christians a guiding principle in making movies.

    * yes, I snicker at his name.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    IMO, a giant Christbot should only improve a work. 

    To the point about truth not needing to be real, I’m an atheist and take much of my moral compass from Superman. Anyone who’s seen Iron Giant knows how that works. 

  • Cathy W

    I didn’t even click the link – even the mere mention of VBS was enough to make my brain sing to me about how Noah built an arky-arky out of hickory-barky.

  • P J Evans

     Well, more from the people who take their personal religious views so seriously that they have to attack the views of everyone else.

    But then I met ‘The Life of Brian’ as the introductory week of a medieval history class.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    <"The modern evangelical’s worldview does not allow for the possibility that a story (gasp!) could be authoritative."

    That’s especially hilarious because evangelicals love C.S. Lewis and that’s arguably why he converted from being an atheist. Basically, after many, many conversations back and forth, Tolkien convinced him that the set of stories in the Bible, and particularly Jesus’s story, had the deepest mythic truth of any story he had ever heard.  Interesting, despite the fact that Lewis’s books are far more obviously “Christian,” Tolkien’s books illustrate this idea much better.

  • Anonymous

    I remember Jonah being covered in similar terms in my Old Testament Survey class back at Biola; I considered remarking that Jonah was the first Israeli, but thought better of it.

  • friendly reader

    …because the current ruling party in Israel seems to have forgotten the lessons of Jonah? It’s not anti-Semetic if your beef is with a specific party of specific country. Just don’t paint the same brush over all Israeli or all Jews.

    Indeed, one of the elements people forget in Jonah is that he’s going to Ninevah, the city that literally “wiped Israel off the map” (as in, the northern tribes; Judah survived for a century or so longer). If you were to retell the story in the present day you’d have to use Hamas or Iran to preserve the shock value to its initial audience.

  • Anonymous

    Have another look at the Space Trilogy.  [i]Perelandra[/i] beats you over the head with its Christian-ness, sure, but the other two are downright Pagan in a lot of places.  Also, the Bacchus scenes from [i]Prince Caspian[/i].

    Lewis’s non-fiction and [i]The Screwtape Letters[/i] may have been more Christian than Tolkien’s writings, but his fiction isn’t as obvious as you think.  I read the Narnia series so many times as a kid that I’ve got half the thing memorized, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw anything explicitly Christian in [i]Prince Caspian, Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair,[/i] or [i]The Horse and his Boy.[/i]

  • Mackrimin

    For Israel to put Jonah on a coin is like if New Jersey were to put Tony Soprano on its state flag.

    Which would be a smart move if New Jersey was dependent on the support of Sopranos fans.

    Besides, who _should_ people who fire missiles into apartment buildings put on their money – Abraham?

  • http://scyllacat.livejournal.com Scylla Kat

    I actually went to the Stuff Fundies Like and managed to stay out of trouble until I remembered a tape recording of my three-year-old self (fwee-yee-ah-owe) singing “The B-I-B-L-E.”  Which I sang just like you sing some pop song whose lyrics you don’t understand–mimicking what I’d heard like a parrot.  Melancholy thoughts drown out persistent earworms.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Remember that deja vu is that strange feeling we sometimes get that we’ve lived through something before.

  • Porlock Junior

    And if you want not-overtly-Christian and even pagan (and you greatly like C. S. Lewis in a serious mood), try Till We Have Faces. It was his favorite of his fictional works, though not the public’s, and there’s no real Christian allegory of any obvious sort in the story of Eros and Psyche.

    The Evangelicals (or that’s what I assume they are) who anathematize Halloween surely don’t think much of this book. But then, they don’t approve of Narnia, with its witches and stuff.

  • Porlock Junior

    There’s a very sound retelling of Jonah by Anne Herbert at http://www.wholeearth.com/issue/2020/article/307/five.minute.speeches.-.anne.herbert. Perhaps the 1970s Northern California quality of the rhetoric won’t please everyone, but I think it’s an extremely accurate rendering of what the story is about, with full attention to the humor of it.

  • cyllan

    I actually went to the Stuff Fundies Like and managed to stay out of
    trouble until I remembered a tape recording of my three-year-old self
    (fwee-yee-ah-owe) singing “The B-I-B-L-E.”  Which I sang just like you
    sing some pop song whose lyrics you don’t understand–mimicking what I’d
    heard like a parrot.  Melancholy thoughts drown out persistent
    earworms.

    A few weeks ago, at our local UU, the pastor (minister? What is the right term for the guy in the UU church who gets up and speaks for 20 minutes or so each week?) was discussing his Vacation Bible School class. He sang about 10 seconds of that particular earworm, and my ex-Catholic husband looked at me with this horrified expression as I hummed along.  Apparently Catholics have better musical tastes; he was astonished that such a thing even existed.

  • hapax

    there’s no real Christian allegory of any obvious sort in the story of Eros and Psyche.

    Whuh-whuh-what?

    I mean, the *original* Cupid-and-Psyche myth (as we know it from Lucius Apuleius ) was about as blatant a neo-Platonic allegory as anything in Plotinus.  Lewis’s Christian gloss is about as subtle as the frosting on a grocery-store cupcake.

    Okay, I’ve *really* got to do that critical re-read…

  • hapax

    If you were to retell the story in the present day you’d have to use Hamas or Iran to preserve the shock value to its initial audience.

    Back when I was teaching Sunday school to teens, I spent one morning re-telling the Jonah story fairly word for word, except I substituted “Moscow” for “Ninevah”.  (This was during the Reagan ‘eighties.”)

    Received a lot of complaints from parents, too.  But not as many as when I retold the story of David and Bathsheba the week the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.

  • cyllan

    Received a lot of complaints from parents, too.  But not as many as when
    I retold the story of David and Bathsheba the week the Monica Lewinsky
    scandal broke.

    Oh, well played.  Very well played.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Gee, I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the Veggie Tales movie version of Jonah yet.  Aside from the rather silly ‘fish slapping’ version of why he went to Nineveh, it was actually accurate… down to Jonah sitting and waiting for the city to be smited at the end, and getting disappointed.

    Of course, tying that in to ‘earworms’… ‘Our God is the God of second chances!’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf6f-8Kd50Y
    (The moment the angels appeared in that and started speaking in lyrical southern accents, my immediate thought was ‘They’re going to do a Gospel number, aren’t they?’)

  • Anonymous

    I dunno.  I like the rocket packs and laser rings!  At least 
    Kirban’s book tries to imagine a future!  I don’t know what the rest is like, but from that description at least he put some thought into it and cared about what he was writing more than just a quick way to cash in on millennial fever.

  • Anonymous

    I dunno.  I like the rocket packs and laser rings!  At least 
    Kirban’s book tries to imagine a future!  I don’t know what the rest is like, but from that description at least he put some thought into it and cared about what he was writing more than just a quick way to cash in on millennial fever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tomas-Inguanzo/100001687903945 Tomas Inguanzo

    The real reason that LoB couldn’t be remade today is that Brian was the member of a terrorist group.  Yes, I know that the whole point of those scenes was to make all terrorists look like idiots.  It won’t matter.


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