In the story of Noah, climate change is humans’ fault

The story of Noah in the book of Genesis does not invite a “literal” reading. It cannot even be made to tolerate such a reading.

This is not a historical story. It is not told to say, “Here is a thing that really happened and I am telling it to you, first of all, so that you will know that this was a thing that really happened.”

It is not that kind of story. The story itself tells us it is not that kind of story. And thus to read it that way is to fail to listen to what the story itself is telling us. To read the story of Noah as a historical account is to contradict the book of Genesis.

When we treat a story of one kind as if it were a story of another kind, we ruin the telling of it. We become exactly like That Guy who won’t let you finish a joke. (“Wait — you can’t bring a duck into a bar. The health code …”)

That Guy only comes in two varieties. He’s either so dim that he doesn’t understand how stories work and thus has completely failed to notice all the clear signals as to what kind of story is being told. Or else he’s just a jerk who’s trying to ruin the story on purpose so that we never get to the punchline.

“So this Southern Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, and an imam walk into a bar. Bartender looks up and says …”

“No way. A Catholic priest maybe, but a Southern Baptist minister and an imam would never go to a bar.”


“They’re teetotalers. They think drinking alcohol is a sin.”

“OK. Fine. Make it a Presbyterian minister, a Catholic priest, and a rabbi.* They walk into a bar. Bartender looks up and …”

“So which is it? A rabbi or an imam? I doubt this ever really happened at all! Just where is this bar supposed to be, anyway?”

That Guy is technically correct. But he’s also an idiot who doesn’t grasp the kind of story being told.

Entrance to the Museum of the Good Samaritan (photo by Josh Envin).

But there’s one thing more annoying than trying to tell a story over the clueless interruptions of a That Guy who misunderstands the kind of story being told — trying to hear a story told by a That Guy who misunderstands the kind of story he’s telling.

In both cases, the story will be ruined. Try to turn the one about the guy with the duck under his arm into a journalistic report and you’ll wreck the punchline. You’ll never convey the moral of the story about hard work and discipline if you wind up focusing, instead, on defending the notion that ants and grasshoppers are capable of speech.

So whether you’re reading, hearing or telling the story of Noah, you’re bound to make a mess of it if you don’t respect the story enough to treat it as the kind of story it presents itself to be. Treat it otherwise — treat it as a historical account — and you will inevitably miss what the story itself is saying.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas provided a neat illustration of this yesterday when he attempted to invoke the story of Noah as a historical account:

Republican Texas Rep. Joe Barton on Wednesday dismissed concerns that the Keystone XL pipeline could contribute to climate change, citing the biblical flood myth described in the book of Genesis as evidence that climate change was not man made.

… In contrast to Barton’s past insistence that global warming science is “pretty weak stuff,” the Texas Republican took a different tack in Wednesday’s hearing.

“I don’t deny that the climate is changing,” he said. “I think you can have an honest difference of opinion on what’s causing that change without automatically being either all-in that it’s all because of mankind or it’s all just natural. I think there’s a divergence of evidence.”

“I would point out if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change. And that certainly wasn’t because mankind overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.”

(What is it with Texans and the complete inability to understand the story of Noah’s Ark?)

Poor Barton reminds me of the American church group I met at the “Good Samaritan’s Inn” — a museum/gift shop for tourists and pilgrims along the Wadi Qelt in the West Bank. They were very excited to be at the “actual location” where the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ story took the man who had fallen among thieves. For them, it was a confirmation that the story “really happened.”

Except that the story did not “really happen.” The story never claims to have really happened. It was a parable. Parables are not fables, and we shouldn’t try to reduce them down to some “moral of the story” slogan, or to say “this and only this is the point of the story.” The story of the Good Samaritan is told to teach us several things, I think, but none of those things is that “this really happened.” It’s not that kind of story. And if the main thing you take away from the parable of the Good Samaritan is “this really happened,” then not only have you learned a false lesson, you’ve failed to learn any true ones.

You wind up, in other words, in the same illiterate, ignorant bind as Rep. Joe Barton.

Barton appeals to the story of Noah to argue that: 1) climate-change has nothing to do with human behavior; and 2) since humans are not responsible for causing climate change, we are not responsible for responding to it or mitigating its effects.

If “you’re a believer in the Bible,” or if you’ve ever read or heard the story of Noah, then you know that Barton is getting the story backwards and upside-down. The great flood in the story of Noah is a direct consequence of human behavior. Noah’s flood is, in that story, anthropogenic climate change. Genesis 6 does not say:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of ostriches was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made ostriches, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the ostriches I have created …”

Not ostriches. Humankind. (“Adam” is the actual word there.) The story is very clear that humans are to blame.

And because humans are to blame for bringing this destructive wrath down on the whole world, humans are also given the responsibility to rescue the rest of the creation.

This is not a minor point in the story. It is impossible to read this story or to hear this story or to tell this story without very clearly understanding that this story is saying that: 1) humans are uniquely capable of destroying all of creation; and 2) humans are uniquely responsible to care for all of creation.

Or, rather, it is almost impossible to read, hear or tell this story without understanding that. It’s possible to miss that point if you’re completely confused as to what kind of story you’re reading, hearing or telling. If you ignore or reject everything the story signals about what kind of story it is, then you can also ignore or reject everything the story has to say, focusing instead on what the story doesn’t say — that it is a historical account, the testimony of actual events from witnesses the story itself says cannot exist.

Focus on that and the story becomes something else — a tale of cubits, blueprints and cryptogeology. Read or told that way, the story no longer has anything to say about responsibility. That’s convenient for folks like Joe Barton, for whom avoiding responsibility is the whole point in quoting the Bible.

So which kind of That Guy is Rep. Barton? Is he the clueless idiot who doesn’t understand how stories work? Or is he the jerk who deliberately tries to ruin the punchline? I think probably it’s a little of both.

The good news for Joe Barton is that he’s from Texas. That means even after embarrassing himself with clueless statements like the one above, he still doesn’t ever have to worry about being the most embarrassing member of his congressional delegation. Heck, he doesn’t even have to worry about being the most embarrassing Barton from Texas.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* The punchline is “Bacon,” so really it works either way.

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  • Paul Delaney

    I’m kind of ashamed to admit it but I’ve not ever thought of the story of Noah in that way before. I can’t say that I ever thought about it much at all. I may have to give that one another read.

    Great post.

  • LoneWolf343

    What’s worse that Barton’s argument doesn’t even work even if it was true. Just because climate change happened in the past without anthropogenic pollution doesn’t mean that this current change is not due to anthropogenic pollution.

    The idiots we elect to congress…

  • AnonymousSam

    I’d be happy if they were just idiots. I’m still making screaming noises about Hagstrom.

  • James Farmer

    That was my first reaction too.

    My second was the sure, the Bible agrees the flood “wasn’t because mankind overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy” but it wasn’t “natural” either – God sent a _supernatural_ flood to wipe out humanity.

    The third was that I’m unable to read the name “Joe Barton” without thinking of the famously controversial footballer “Joey Barton”…

  • David Policar

    It’s been my experience that the sorts of people who treat “natural” as a moral stricture and who believe that God performs supernatural acts are usually pretty willing to treat Divine supernatural acts as “natural.”

    More generally, I find I can understand what they’re trying to say better if I assume for purposes of interpretation that the word “natural” refers to the way the system ought to be, rather than the way the system is without human intervention.

  • FearlessSon

    I find that so frustrating. I have always held that the paradigm should be that the natural state of things exists as purely amoral, and the only moral value it gets is what we attribute to it.

  • David Policar

    Yup, I share your preference.

    That said, people use language the way they use language, and if I want to communicate with them it helps to use language the way they do, rather than the way I would prefer to.

  • LoneWolf343

    I think of that “historian,” myself.

  • AnonaMiss

    Really? The Hebrew version of Noah’s Ark blames Adam for the flood?

    Oh I know that “adam” means “humankind”, but the “literalists”?

    “Blah blah Eve blah women are evil blah blah”

    “Oh yeah? Well Adam was so bad that God flooded the world just because Adam was such a dick!

  • AnonymousSam

    For all the harping on about women being evil, Romans 5 makes it pretty clear who’s to blame. ~_^

  • The_L1985

    You’re assuming that literalists know a damn thing about Hebrew.

  • SisterCoyote

    Yeah; everyone knows it’s the King James Bible that’s the consecrated Word of God – anything earlier is murky and imperfect and, since they’re not written in English, you can tell we weren’t meant to try to think too hard about them. ‘murica is the Chosen Land and we are the (other) Chosen People, duh.

  • JustoneK
  • The_L1985

    “If the originals were bound together, the common man couldn’t read them because they’re written in dead languages” sounds to me like “Most people are too stupid to learn a new language if you give them a chance when they’re young enough to learn it.”

    Nice to know they think so highly of humanity. Also, everybody apparently speaks 17th-century English.

  • JustoneK

    I have to wonder if any of them speak Saxon. HERITAGE, BUDDY! MERICAN HERITAGE!

  • Veylon

    Actually, the KJV is excessively formal by 17th century standards. The average writer wrote fragmented, misspelled prose in a hand that would make several of your teachers weep.

    Another interesting KJV bit is the foreword by the translators in which they express their hope that future generations will surpass their efforts at translation, much in contrast with their modern-day admirers who insist that such a thing would be impossible, if not blasphemous.

  • Turcano

    By the way, that last bit is a thing.

  • AnonymousSam

    The best part of that is the assurance that the KJB is authentic because the Bible says it is.

    Never mind that the KJB version is missing stories considered canon by different faiths…

  • SisterCoyote

    Yep. It’s how I was raised; the first time I said something to my dad about the original meaning of the Hebrew, I got a blank look, and a lecture about how that wasn’t really the way it was. There are massive amounts of Baptist churches out there who don’t accept the reality of original documents.

  • Matri
  • Mary

    Yeah you really have to admire people who are proud of their own ignorance..

  • misanthropy_jones

    yeah, that’s like 97% of the human race, right there…

  • Michael Albright

    You’ve never run into the “yom” argument for a six-day creation?

  • AnonymousSam

    Oh, I love that one. Especially when you ask them to quantify how much time is in a yom, because the Bible offers four explanations for that.

    Genesis 1:5 – A yom is the period of time it takes day to become night.

    Genesis1:14 – A yom is the period of time it takes day to become night and then day again.

    Genesis 2:4 – A yom is the period of time it took to create the entire world and heavens.

    Psalm 90:4 – A yom is a thousand years.

  • The_L1985

    Of course I have! I’ve read AiG’s books. But there are several overlapping kinds of stupid fundamentalism, and sometimes you have KJV-only creationists.

  • Michael Albright

    An entirely fair assessment.

  • ReverendRef

    I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. — Luke 17:34 KJV

    Tell me again why the KJV literalists are anti-gay?

  • PepperjackCandy

    Because, clearly, 50% of gay men are going to hell. That’s, like, nearly all of them.

  • Redwood Rhiadra

    No, no – that verse says that 50% of gay men are going to be Raptured

  • Space Marine Becka

    It is theoretically possible to make a religion dependent on a translation but you’d have to believe that the translators as well as the writers were inspired – which isn’t unfeasible I suppose. If you have a divine being who inspires writers wouldn’t they work on the translators as well …

    Ooh plot bunnies for scriptures in my fantasy novel – the main religion keeps control by claiming on ly their approved translations are inspired.

  • mroge

    That is what they have already done when it comes to the theology of hell. It literally does not exist in the original writings.

  • Ross

    “Adam” is the gender-neutral word for “mankind”.

  • JustoneK

    there really aren’t any gender-neutral words for mankind. :P

  • Space Marine Becka

    Man originally meant person wifman meant female human and wapman meant male human. Seriously in old english man is gender neutral. When English stripped most of its genders we somehow ended up with man = male person. I sometimes wonder what English would have looked like in 500 years time sans Sapir-Worf – I suspect (but can’t prove) that it would have lost “she” and “it” (and probably her and him) since it was nearly done becoming isolating.

    (source – among others – )

  • EllieMurasaki

    I know ‘man’ used to be gender-neutral. The problem is that the word no longer IS gender-neutral. It’s the ‘men are people, women are women’ problem.

  • Space Marine Becka

    I was just musing more than anything because it’s almost the exact opposite of what happened in the rest of the language where the female was lost (or at least made obsolete) and male became neutral. (When was the last time you went to visit a Doctrix after all?)

  • David S.

    Gender-neutral in the same way that mankind is, probably. It should be a lot harder to take Genesis 1,2 literally, when the main character is named Mankind.

  • AnonaMiss

    I said that I knew it meant humankind in the post you’re responding to.

    The point I was making is that the kind of people who insist on a “historical Adam” should have to deal with the consequences of treating “Adam” as some dude’s name.

  • Anton_Mates

    I don’t think that would be a problem for them. As I understand it, Adam is some dude’s name; it also means “mankind” because mankind was considered to descend from that particular dude. To put it another way, Genesis 1 identifies mankind as “Adamskind” or “the house of Adam.”

    “Adam” is not the standard Semitic root for “man,” apparently. (Or so saith Wikipedia, peace be upon it.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Well, yeah. ‘Adamah’ is ‘dirt’, isn’t it?

  • Anton_Mates

    Yep, but it’s not clear that “Adam” actually comes from “adamah.” There’s a family of Hebrew and other Semitic words (“adom,” “edom,” “‘dam”, “adamu”, etc.) that variously mean “red/ruddy”, “blood,” “red garment,” “nobleman,” and a few other things, all descended from the proto-Semitic root “‘dm” or “red.” “Adam” may well be part of this family. “Adamah” itself might be derived from “‘dm” through a meaning of “red earth,” but it might also have a totally independent origin; both words or word-families are too ancient for us to be sure.

    The connection of “Adam” with “adamah” in Genesis is probably a false etymology based on a pun. The Old Testament’s loaded with folk etymologies; e.g., it claims that the name “Moses” (which is probably Egyptian) comes from the Hebrew for “drawn out”.

    Whatever its true etymology, “Adam” was a personal name in
    Mesopotamia long before Genesis was written. Related names that appear earlier include “Adamu,” the second recorded Assyrian king; “Alulim,” the first recorded Sumerian king; and “Adapa”, another culture-hero with strong parallels to Adam.

  • Michael Albright

    I admit I’m a bit dubious as to whether the stories aren’t meant to be interpreted at all literally. I honestly don’t see how the technical details of the cubits and such be long in a story that is intended to teach about human behavior. Similarly, I’m not sure the Garden of Eden wasn’t also intended somewhat literally, what with the technical details about the animals’ diets. There is evidence of a great flood occurring in that region (although the literal truth of Noah is undermined by the existence of those stories, since they indicate very clearly Noah and his family were not the only survivors), and Noah was probably the protagonist of a tall tale more than anything else, but a tall tale intended to give explanation to a historical event. I wonder if historicity, if not literal accuracy, wasn’t part of the reason the story was originally written.

  • Mary

    “I wonder if historicity, if not literal accuracy, wasn’t part of the reason the story was originally written.”

    I don’t see why it can’t be both. Many stories have a grain of truth to them, but also as time goes by they take on metaphorical truth as well.

  • Michael Albright

    Right, that’s what I’m saying. Fred’s assertion that you’re missing the point of the story if you focus on its historicity is what I find dubious; I think it’s one of many reasons we have the story.

    Now, I agree that focusing on one aspect of the story to the detriment of noticing others is counterproductive; it’s why I feel deconstructive conversations are always productive. For example, when I tell people I hate “Bruce Almighty” because it has a toxic message, I’m often asked why I can’t just enjoy a movie, but I feel accepting the movie’s premise that Bruce was bad at being God because he was human, on which the lesson he learns is entirely contingent, misses the overwhelming evidence that he’s bad at it because he’s a selfish, short-sighted prick and allows your brain to be poisoned by a wrong, anti-human message.

  • Mary

    So what I think you are saying is that the story of the Flood has a negative message, regardless of whether it is historically true? I would have to agree with that because God is really depicted as an evil monster God. However I would be interested at looking at the story from a Jungian or Josepth Cambell point of view.

  • Michael Albright

    I’ve been saying this almost word for word for years, Mary. I don’t see a good angle to the flood story, or really much of the book of Genesis. God, especially if you assume he’s aware of what the future holds, is constantly failing the humans he created. Adam and Eve were innocents until they ate the fruit of knowledge of good and evil: they didn’t know what good and evil were, so how were they to know there was anything wrong with disobeying God? I maintain they were innocent even as they disobeyed Him; they loved God and the serpent told them they could be like Him. What reason did they have not to trust the serpent? Similarly, every instance in which God goes scorched earth on people he’s responding after the fact to events he knew would happen before anyone involved would even be born. How hard is it for an omnipotent being to send a prophet to Sodom and Gomorrah — maybe Jesus, born millennia earlier — to keep them from becoming a city of wandering gang rapists?

    The Old Testament contains story after story of God utterly failing at raising His children, and for some reason I’m supposed to read the Bible and come away from it with the impression that He is perfectly good, but people, who the book constantly reminds us don’t know better, are evil? Utter nonsense.

  • mroge

    Yes I do agree with you, if you take these stories literally then it leads straight to problems regarding the character of God. However if you take them symbolically then for instance you could simply see these stories as a psychological depiction of the evolution of consciousness. At some point in mankind’s distant past we were amoral creatures, just like other animals. We were one with nature-The Garden of Eden. When we at some point we developed a sense of right and wrong, then we noticed that we were naked-which is a common symbol of shame. The Tree itself is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, not the Tree of Evil. Having the knowledge of knowing when our actions hurt others sets us apart from the rest of the natural world and so it feels like we have been “evicted from Paradise.”

    You could also take this as a description of what happens in the individual consciousness, not just the evolution of mankind. A baby is born an innocent, but basically amoral nature. Not because he is “evil”, but just because his brain hasn’t finished growing. So as children we have to learn that everything is not about us,and that we need to think of others. As we learn to do that, then we lose our privileged existance, and again we feel like we have lost “Paradise”

    Of course I am sure to be labeled a “heretic” for having such thoughts, but frankly this makes a whole lot more sense to me than the idea of a trickster God who deliberately sets up his creation to fail. That would make him to be an evil God, not a morally superior God. He is reduced to the level of a child burning ants with a magnifying glass just to see them suffer. I personally think that view would be an insult to God. Why would God expect us to behave better than he does?

    In the end a lot of our concepts of God say more about us, than about him. We as a race are small and petty in our behavior, so we have created God in our own image to justify ourselves. It is as simple and as sad as that.

  • Anton_Mates

    The Old Testament contains story after story of God utterly failing at raising His children

    Yeah, in the J text of Genesis Yahweh isn’t exactly a confident or loving parent; it’s more like he created humanity and doesn’t know what to do with them. He’s constantly competing with humans, from Eden to the Nephilim episode to the Tower of Babel, trying to make sure they can’t match him in power or wisdom or lifespan. The flood story’s one of the few cases where he actually ends up conceding something to mankind, acknowledging our right to occupy the Earth even if we keep offending him with our behavior. (Of course, it kind of reads like he’s mostly okay with that because our sacrifices are so yummy.)

  • Guest

    That’s exactly what I’m saying, and I’ve been saying it for a long time. I get very frustrated with anyone who reads the endless series of God’s screw-ups that is the book of Genesis and comes away from it thinking God is in any way “perfect,” or that humans are at fault for everything.

  • Anton_Mates

    Fred’s assertion that you’re missing the point of the story if you focus on its historicity is what I find dubious; I think it’s one of many reasons we have the story.

    I agree. Fred compares the story to the parable of the Good Samaritan, but this isn’t a parable or a fable; it’s an etiological myth. It explains various facts about the world-as-it-is–the ancestry of various Near Eastern peoples, the transition between life in the mythical and historical eras, the Noahide laws–precisely because it is supposed to be a thing that actually happened. The Mishnah and the earliest Talmudic commentators treat the Noah story as factual. The Greeks treated the Deucalion story as factual, and the Sumerians and Babylonians certainly connected Utnapishtim to Gilgamesh, an actual historical figure.

    Of course it’s possible that someone involved in the construction of the story intended it as metaphor, and everyone later just got it wrong. There’s no way to disprove that hypothesis. But I don’t see much positive evidence supporting it either, and I wouldn’t say that being skeptical of it makes you a “clueless idiot.” (Though Barton may be an idiot or a jerk for plenty of other reasons.)

  • Ross

    I think that in characterizing the story of the flood as being akin to the parable of the Good Samaritan, the thing Fred is talking about is that although the people who recorded these stories thought of them as “factual”, that still isn’t the same as them thinking of it the same way that we think of history: we have a sense of “these things are history and actually happened, while those other things are myth and did not actually happen.” That’s actually a tremendously modern way of thinking. They didn’t have thought-buckets of “history” and “myth” that things got sorted into, and all of what was for them comparable to history was wrapped up inextricably with the understanding that there might be several mutually exclusive stories, each of which was equally “true”. These stories were “factual” in every sense that they would have understood. But they were also “myth” equally in every sense that they would have understood

  • Anton_Mates

    we have a sense of “these things are history and actually happened, while those other things are myth and did not actually happen.” That’s actually a tremendously modern way of thinking.

    That’s true, but the particularly modern aspect of it is the second half. Traditionally, myth was on the “actually happened” side. Hebrew authors and audiences were perfectly familiar with the idea of stories that were valuable and instructive but didn’t actually happen; the Old Testament contains fables and parables, as well as wisdom literature like Job where the rabbinic commentators were split on whether he was based on a real person. But myth and history had factual truth value. Insofar as there’s a distinction between mythical and historical texts from that period, it lies in the precision with which these events were localized in the past, and in the completeness of the causal chain leading from them to the present. (And in that sense, the Biblical story of Noah is actually highly historicized, being situated in time through the same genealogical lists that were used to situate the post-Flood patriarchs, judges and kings.)

    So while it’s true that these stories frequently don’t fall neatly into modern literary categories, I still don’t think it’s justified for Fred to say that they were obviously not intended to be read as having “actually happened.” They’re not exactly histories in the modern sense, but they’re more like histories than they are like jokes or parables.

    all of what was for them comparable to history was wrapped up inextricably with the understanding that there might be several mutually exclusive stories, each of which was equally “true”.

    I’d like to see the evidence that such an understanding was common. We know that this was not the case by Talmudic times; rabbis were extremely concerned with demonstrating that the Torah represented a single, logically consistent history, and that any apparent contradictions were a matter of misinterpretation or allegory. And it’s unlikely to have been the case for the Torah’s redactors, given the effort they put into harmonizing the different accounts they were combining (and this is particularly true with the Noah account).

    Of course we can’t ask the pre-redaction authors and audiences how they viewed the matter, but it certainly isn’t necessary to hypothesize that they believed in several factual-yet-mutually-exclusive accounts of the same myth or history. A culture may preserve multiple accounts because there’s internal disagreement about which account is the “true” one, or because all the accounts are understood as partially true and therefore valuable and instructive, even if none is perfectly accurate. Both forms of reasoning can be found among the classical-era Greek writers, for instance. Even Hesiod, before recounting his Theogony, states that the Muses can tell both truth and “lies resembling/equivalent to truth.”

  • The_L1985

    I can see technical details being something that was added over time. In fact, TO’s index of myths further backs that up–look at the Sumerian flood story, which was recorded long before the other Near Eastern flood stories. It’s almost like a rough draft of the Genesis story, as if more and more details were written in response to listeners’ questions over the intervening centuries. “Why did the gods (or YHWH) decide to destroy mankind?” “How big was the boat?” “How many animals were on it?” “You couldn’t preserve humanity by yourself–somebody would have to have the children.” The length of the flood also gets longer–from 7 days to 40.

    “what with the technical details about the animals’ diets.”

    The only detail about any animal’s diet in Gen 1-3, other than the forbidden-fruit part, is that after the Fall, the snake crawls on the ground “and dust shalt thou eat.”

  • Riastlin Lovecraft

    Out of curiosity, there are no snakes out there that literally eat dust, right?

  • AnonymousSam

    No, but Ken Ham explains this as “as a snake’s tongue darts out to sense its surroundings, sometimes it will lick up dust from the ground.”

  • SisterCoyote

    …well, that’s clearly the literal interpretation of eating dust.

  • AnonymousSam

    Just like the literal interpretation of God creating the world in seven days is to say the Earth was created 5000 years ago.

  • Riastlin Lovecraft

    *Facedesks* The stupid…it hurts…..why do people listen to that man?

  • FearlessSon

    Because they are authoritarian followers, and he tells them things which reaffirm their existing beliefs. Being authoritarian followers, they require more frequent external validation for their beliefs than a less authoritarian personality would.

  • Michael Albright

    That’s entirely believable; it’s easy to forget that these stories were once oral tradition and in a much greater state of flux than they have been for the last several millennia. It makes sense that the details would be added to appease people making the exact mistake Fred highlights in this post.

    You’re wrong about the animals’ diets, though; had to look this one up. I’m doing a MST3k-style riff of the Creation Adventure Team videos with a group, and we were all flummoxed when the bearded guy out of nowhere and apropos of nothing informed us that all animals were vegetarians before the Fall of Man. We found this:

    “1:30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give 62 every green plant for food.” It was so.”

  • mroge

    Re: Animal diets

    I see this as adding problems to the creationist arguments. God would have had to redesign the digestive systems of all carnivores to make this work, plus their teeth and claws. In fact we ourselves have canine teeth.

    Of course creationists don’t feel obligated to actually think these things through logically, so for them it is a non-issue.

  • Anton_Mates

    Keep in mind, though, that our Sumerian story is extremely fragmentary. We don’t know the entire written version (that some guy, whoever he was, marked down on a clay cylinder), let alone how it stacked up against the contemporary oral versions. I’d be very leery of judging it to be simple or streamlined or otherwise rough-drafty. It’s not that much earlier than the Old Babylonian version, too.

  • Bethany

    Dunno. You can buy all sorts of things like Star Trek technical manuals which lay out in great detail the specifications for things that everyone, including the people who wrote the manuals, know are completely fictional.

  • Michael Albright

    Maybe if instead of The Bible, it was The Bible™, it would be easier for people to tell.

  • hf

    There are no technical details in the J Text! Even the redacted Bible we have only mentions the animals’ diets, that I can see, in the Priestly-text-derived version that comes before “the Garden of Eden”.

    And in the J text, it really seems to this late-20th early-21st century reader that God starts out as a clever little boy deity. Noah ‘has to’ preserve the animals because God changes his mind about drowning his whole experiment (after the adult deities screw it up) and wants to fix his mistake.

    This does speak to your other point, perhaps. The author(s) of the J text could well have meant people to understand that we have a responsibility to act without help from God (who does not literally exist). But this seems like at most a hidden message from some human author, not a well thought-out command from the God character.

  • AnonymousSam

    J text? Assuming you mean the Torah, it appears on this version-

  • Space Marine Becka

    He means this It’s one of those hypothetical precusor texts (a bit like Q for the synoptic gospels). Probably real but we haven’t got a copy,

  • Michael Albright

    Well, your scholarly research certainly kicked mine’s butt. I’d not even run into this concept and need to study it more. You make a very good point here, though and I may no longer be dubious to Fred’s initial post; it certainly looks that way.

  • hf

    I’m using the online J text here.

  • Amaranth

    I dunno.

    Because in the Noah’s Ark story, *God* destroyed the world. Maybe he did it because he was pissed off at humanity, but in the end, he’s the one who turned on the floodgates. Humans did not do that, certainly not in the same way that humans burning too much oil could superheat the planet.

    When you stick God in the story as the mover and shaker, it’s really hard for me to take away a message of “humans are responsible for what happens to the earth”. Because what I see is God doing the wrecking and then, like a toddler having a tantrum, pointing at humanity and saying, “Look what you made me do!”

  • Jurgan

    That’s what I was thinking. I’d like to read an environmental message into this, but
    humans are at most indirectly responsible. God is the actor who destroys the world, supposedly because humans are irredeemable. But what about the children who don’t know their right from their left, and the many animals as well? Surely the platypi and camels didn’t deserve to drown for man’s sins. Isn’t this another version of the victim-blaming, friends of Job theology?
    I can, however, see something to take away in Noah’s actions. Noah makes a great effort to preserve creation and repopulate the now-endangered species. Still, it would be easier to take if the flood was just something that happened, rather than God taking direct action to kill everything on Earth.

  • ReverendRef

    Not ostriches. Humankind. (“Adam” is the actual word there.) The story is very clear that humans are to blame. — Fred

    Because what I see is God doing the wrecking and then, like a toddler
    having a tantrum, pointing at humanity and saying, “Look what you made
    me do!”
    — Amaranth

    I’m with you on this one, and I’m not sure I can go there either. God was certainly unhappy with humanity, but it was God’s choice to flood the world and kill all but eight people. Saying that humans were to blame for the flood is way to close to saying a wife is to blame for getting beating, a woman is to blame for being raped, or gays are to blame for hurricanes landing on cities.

  • FearlessSon

    When I was in middle school, I was sent to a small summer camp in eastern Oregon, the same one my grandmother went to when she was a child. It was an explicitly sectarian camp, though I was never sure which sect. I know it had a priest of a sort there, I think he was some kind of Bishop though not a catholic one. It was a while ago and I was fuzzy on that detail.

    However, one of the things he said there was that, as much as he loved God and revered the Bible, he did not believe in the story of Noah. He could not look at God in that story and reconcile it with the rest of what he saw of God in the Bible. “The God of Noah is not my god,” he would say.

    Given the likelihood that the story of Noah is a Hebrew adaptation of an older Mesopotamian story (with the details changed to fit into the Hebrew cosmology from the original Sumerian cosmology) he was probably more right than not. It was a different set of gods who brought about the flood, but the story changes with the teller.

  • Anton_Mates

    Because what I see is God doing the wrecking and then, like a toddler
    having a tantrum, pointing at humanity and saying, “Look what you made
    me do!”

    Well, the story does end with God promising never to do it again, even if humans keep pissing him off with their sinful ways. Humans don’t learn to treat the Earth with more respect; God learns to treat humans with more respect. There’s a similar theme of divine fallibility and ambivalence toward humans in the other Near Eastern flood myths. Some gods (e.g., Zeus and Enlil) get really pissed at humanity and send the flood; other gods (e.g., Prometheus and Ea/Enki) scheme to save humanity. Still other gods (e.g. Ishtar) are initially accusatory of humanity, but once they see the flood punishment in action, they’re like “holy crap, this is way too extreme!” Ultimately the pro-humanity side is both morally justified and triumphant. The Biblical version is monotheistic, of course, so Yahweh has to play all these roles at once, which makes him seem a little unstable. But he definitely comes down on the less-genocidal side in the end.

    If anything, the message I’d take away from the Noah story is that we can’t wreck the planet–only God can do that, and from now on he’s never going to. (Fundamentalist Christians like to claim that he only promised not to flood the Earth again, but he goes on to pretty clearly rule out global catastrophes of any sort; “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”) That leaves us free to exploit nature as much as we want. The P component of the story makes this very explicit. As part of the post-Flood covenant, God renews the command for humans to be fruitful and multiply, delivers all animals into our control and declares that they will look upon us with “fear and dread,” and authorizes us to eat animals, whereas before the flood humans were vegetarian.

    So, yeah…I’m not buying Fred’s argument that there’s a clear and undeniable message of environmental responsibility here.

  • hidden_urchin

    Yes, well, in Texas we like to elect our stupid people to public office. That way we can keep an eye on ’em.

  • reynard61

    So you execute mentally retarded people, but you have no problems whatsoever sending “stupid people” to Washington D.C. to represent you before the the whole United States where they can make utter fools of themselves — and *you?!* Do you Texans hate yourselves *so much* that you’re willing to put up with that kind of shitty behavior from your politicians?

  • ShifterCat

    …I’m pretty sure that was a joke. In the “we laugh because it hurts” way.

  • hidden_urchin

    Yup, it was a joke. I thought it was better than my standard apology.

    I can carry it further by saying that it’s not that we hate ourselves, it’s that we hate everyone else. Ever since we were forced to rejoin the Union we’ve been engaged in aform of warfare previously mastered only by teen girls: passive aggression.

    Too much? :-)

  • mroge

    Nope. Just right!

  • mroge

    Wow, you really need to take a chill-pill. How could you not know that was a joke? And a very good one I might add.

  • reynard61

    The problem is that this particular “joke” tends to have consequences far out of proportion to the district that he represents. Ghomert and his ilk (Michelle Bachmann, Rand Paul, etc.) wouldn’t be so bad if their influence were confined strictly to local affairs (i.e. a group of county officials railing against, say, bicycle paths in South Carolina because they think that they’re part of a U.N. plot won’t prevent bicycle paths from being designated and built in Indianapolis, Indiana); but when they bring their stupidity and paranoia into the National realm and *start actively interfering with the business of running the country*, then the “joke” starts getting pretty stale. So, no; I will not “take a chill pill” because the “joke” just *isn’t funny* anymore.

  • mroge

    Well it does not make sense to attack someone who agrees with you and who obviously is not responsible for this. There are idiot politcians everywhere and just because someone lives in Texas doesn’t mean that he agrees with what is going on. Rant at the people who are responsible, not innocent by-standers! Plus a little comic relief is a very healthy thing, otherwise you can drive youreslf crazy.

  • reynard61

    Well, you do have a bit of a point. But my point is that when Gohmert starts spouting off about “terror babies” and other such paranoid nonsense on the House floor or during nationally televised news stories, I’m not necessarily thinking “Wow! The people in this guy’s district sure are stupid for electing him!”; I’m usually thinking “Wow! The people of *Texas* sure are stupid for electing him!” True, it’s not really fair to paint a whole State with a brush dipped in only one district; but it happens. (I’ve had someone from Ohio take me to task for Richard Mourdock’s [a defeated Tea Party candidate] “Children of rape are a Gift from God” statement even though I voted for his Democratic opponent. I reminded him that the current obstructionist Speaker of the House is from that State and asked who *they* voted for last election.)

    Rightly or wrongly, innocent bystanders can sometimes get tarred with the same brush as the politicians who say and/or do stupid shit. So it’s up to those politician’s constituents to make sure that they elect people who *won’t embarrass them by saying and/or doing stupid shit(!)*

  • mroge

    I am not sure where my post went so I will try this again. You can be as pissed off as you want but make sure you direct it towards the right people! Picking a random Texan who actually agrees with you and making it sound like he is personally responsible for this mess is ridiculous! I am sure you can find forums where you can rant at the douchbag Texans who voted for him. They shouldn’t be hard to find. Frankly your behavior is completely inappropriate and uncivil. And yes a good chuckle helps a lot to keep a person sane. I get pissed off at the whole “Obama is the Antichrist” thing, but you know it also helps to laugh at the absurdity off it all.

  • P J Evans

    The only way that Barton should make a claim like that is if he thinks that pipelines are natural phenomena. In which case, he’s too stupid to be in *any* position of authority.

  • Eric James Lintz

    Man did cause God to send the Flood, it is called SIN. And you never mentioned it once.

  • AnonymousSam

    1) You’ve completely missed the point, which was that Genesis doesn’t substantiate an argument that mankind cannot be responsible for climate change.
    2) He quoted Genesis 6, which explicitly says that mankind’s wickedness caused it. And again, picking at “you didn’t specifically say sin caused it” completely misses the point that, in the story, mankind caused it.

  • JustoneK

    Well we did need a demonstration of Fred’s point, right?

  • AnonymousSam

    Just starting to wonder how often we’re going to have these conversations with members of the LCMS.

  • FearlessSon


  • AnonymousSam

    Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Mister Lintz is a member, specifically of the First Lutheran Church of Knoxville, which (like many of its kind) emphasizes “doctrinally pure” worship.

  • JustoneK

    lol pure. Purity seems to be worshiped a lot by people who don’t understand what it actually is.

  • Mary

    I can’t say I know what this particular version considers pure, but Martin Luther hated the Jews and spread lies about them. He is supposed to be the “hero” of the protestant reformation? I don’t think so. Anyway, we leave things behind for a reason…

  • The_L1985

    Never mentioned it once?

    Please explain how:

    1. “Human wickedness” and “human sin” are different.
    2. Pointing out specifically that mankind’s wickedness caused the flood is somehow “never mentioning” that it did.

  • Mr. Heartland

    Well, you see, it is of utmost importance that human imperfection be
    specifically labeled as sin because…. well, to call it anything else
    is to downplay or excuse our fallen nature because….. well, of course
    mans inhumanity to man is matter of conscious rebellion right? It can’t
    be a matter of doing evil things in the honest belief that we’re doing
    the right thing, because I believe that I’m doing the right thing.

  • JulianaSundry

    I don’t know about The_L1985, but I don’t understand a thing you just said. I really don’t see where in the word “wickedness,” which is generally agreed to be a term of condemnation, you could possibly find anything downplaying or excusing it? They’re synonyms, really, and if anything I’ve always heard “wickedness” used as a stronger word than “sin.” But then, I always heard that sinning by accident was perfectly possible.

  • FearlessSon

    I believe Mr. Heartland was being sarcastic.

  • JulianaSundry

    Ah, reading comprehension fail on my part then (that, and sarcasm is hard for me to detect). That makes MUCH more sense.

  • Mary

    Glad those speed-reading classes paid off, hombre. You totally got what Fred was saying…(shakes head).

  • The_L1985

    It’s always weird to me to find people, voluntarily reading things on the Internet, who display no signs of basic elementary-level reading comprehension whatsoever.

  • Mary

    You forget those who actually write blogs which display no signs of basic elementary-level reading or writing skills whatsoever.

  • Carstonio

    Amaranth is right that having the god in the story changes the nature of the parable. Or more correctly, having the cataclysm caused deliberately instead of being a simple reaction. But instead of portraying the god as wrecking the world and then saying, “Look what you made me do,” the message seems to be that humans deserve to be wiped out in a worldwide flood. Fred’s point about blame would be clearer if humans directly caused the flood through their irresponsibility or negligence.

  • Jamoche

    the “Good Samaritan’s Inn”

    I’m surprised there’s only one of them and that it’s an actual ancient site; tourist traps don’t usually work like that (pity, I was kind of hoping there were several competing ones, like you get with tourist traps here – just for the fun when the confused tourists hit their second one). It does look like an interesting place.

  • Mary

    the “Good Samaritan’s Inn”

    “I’m surprised there’s only one of them and that it’s an actual ancient site”

    If it is run by the Cathlolics then there would be your explanation. They love to make shrines out of everything. It doesn’t matter whether anything happened there at all.

    As far as those excited tourists, I wonder how many realized what the true message of this story is. It is not just a story about doing a good deed for someone else. It is a story about racism. The Samaritans were the “wrong sort of people” and were reviled by all “good” Jews. And yet Jesus used the Samaritan as an example of how someone should behave before God and man.

  • Jamoche

    Can’t find anything that says who runs it, and given that one site that mentions it points out that “history is political in Israel” I’m pretty sure no religious group is backing it or there’d be a *lot* of fuss over it. Looks like just a museum that’s got a good tourist-attracting hook.

  • The_L1985

    There were probably multiple “Good Samaritan’s Inns” at one point, just as there were 5 or 6 “hands of St. Peter” being circulated around as genuine during the Middle Ages.

  • Foreigner

    Peter was an avatar of Kali, obviously.

  • P J Evans

    and enough pieces of the ‘true cross’ for a forest, IIRC.

  • reynard61

    And enough “Foreskin(s) of Jesus” to make another Jesus. (Ewwwwww!)

  • Space Marine Becka

    It’s a 19th century Turkish caravanserai so I doubt it’s an ancient pilgrimage site. It’s also a mosaic museum so is probably run by the government.

    The idea that the Good Samaritan and other parables are true is rather new and seems to stem from the idea that anything that isn’t factually true is a lie so of course Jesus would never have used fiction as a teaching tool because fiction is evil. *facepalm*

  • Mr. Heartland

    I’d say that climate change denial is more about taking 20th century status symbols ‘literally’; (the idea of a big gas-guzzling car and big house on a big acerage as objectively true measures of virtue and virlity.) and that this particular citing of holy scriptures is a deliberate act of frothy bullshitting meant to shut up debate.

    In other words, I don’t think that Joe Barton is really the aww-shucks country simpleton he plays on TV. But he is very much a “a jerk who’s trying to ruin the story on purpose”

  • Citizen Alan

    Everything that Christians like Joe Barton say and do makes perfect sense once you realize that they worship Satan and actively desire the destruction of the entire human race. Crap like this is why I no longer acknowledge Republicans as being fundamentally human.

  • Marc Mielke

    What did Satan ever do to you to accuse him of being a Republican?

  • FearlessSon

    Well, it is like in Left Behind. The “good guys” and the “bad guy” ultimately have the exact same goal, the only difference is in who they root for.

    Somehow, the good guys think that doing bad things is still good, but only as long as you cluck your tongue in silent disapproval at the other people doing those world-ending things for the “wrong” reasons.

  • Becca Stareyes

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s useful to say a group isn’t ‘fundamentally human’. Part of humanity is that we do some damn shitty things, sometimes out of fear and sometimes out of selfishness and sometimes because we evolved as a tool-using plains ape that only had to worry about a small tribe of people, which is a lot easier to rely on direct observations and general knowledge. We also do kind and beautiful things.

    Saying that ‘those other people’ aren’t fundamentally human because they do some damn shitty things is dangerous, because all humans can be like that. ‘They’ (whoever ‘they’ are) do not have a monopoly on asshole behavior. And, while Rep. Barton may be an asshole, I’m willing to bet that at least some Republicans* are decent people, but scared and ignorant or occasionally thoughtless. They are still responsible for bad behavior, but being scared/ignorant/thoughtless but decent implies that they can change.

    * Since, hell, I know some Republicans. I’m related to Republicans.

  • Citizen Alan

    There is “doing some damn shitty things” and then there is “pursuing policies that could lead to the decimation of the human race within our lifetimes … just because a lobbyist paid you to do it.” Your grandchildren will likely die as starving peasants because of “people” like Joe Barton.

  • JustoneK

    I fail to see how that is not damned shitty.

  • Becca Stareyes

    My literal grandchildren are unlikely to exist, given my feelings on bearing and raising children.

    It’s a case of ‘no True Scotsman’. No real human could do monstrous things, so all the ones that do are fake humans. And, well, a terrible person or a dangerous person is still a person, with all the rights and responsibilities that implies.

    Besides, people can face my moral judgement. I’m not going to get mad at a polar bear for being a polar bear, even if it mistakes me for a seal (and thus a perfect meal for a polar bear). I’m not going to get mad at E. coli for trying to colonize my intestine and making me sick. (The situation might anger me, but why waste anger on something that doesn’t consider ethics, or much of all.)

    But I expect more from people.

  • AnonymousSam

    Bear in mind that “Republicans” doesn’t just refer to politicians. When you say “Republicans,” you’re also catching the countless people in the Fox News Republican Bubble in that net.

  • P J Evans

    They’re probably worse than the politicians. The politicians say things because they get paid for it; the people who aren’t politicians and say stuff like that don’t get paid for it, and their lives are made worse at the same time. (I have relatives like that, but not many…)

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m not excusing their poisonous beliefs, only the degree of responsibility and blame owed to them. People get like that by not understanding that the world outside their bubble isn’t what they’ve been told it’s like.

  • Space Marine Becka

    Writing off a good chunk of your country’s population as not human is shitty. Saying they are consciously out to destroy the world and worship Satan… What? You’re as paranoid as they are…

    It’s not like there aren’t republican’s who get Climate Change and just over half of all Republicans now believe in Climate Change (And I wonder if you think these democrats aren’t human? )

    But seriously you don’t get to decide who is and isn’t human. One you dehumanise a person in your head you can justify doing anything to them.

  • mroge


  • LL

    RE “What is it with Texans and the complete inability to understand the story of Noah’s Ark?”

    They’re stupid.

  • Orcmother

    *It is not that kind of story. The story itself tells us it is not that kind of story. And thus to read it that way is to fail to listen to what the story itself is telling us. To read the story of Noah as a historical account is to contradict the book of Genesis.*
    I dunno. My feeling is yeah, *some day* we’ll be able to talk about it like that. When a certain critical mass of human people accept that holy books are parables and not history, then yes, we’ll all be able to talk about them that way to each other–like jokes, like what they were intended to be.
    But right now? Today? No. No, right now in 2013, for people of good will and reason, the resistance to god-talk must be total.
    It’s like a wild horse that some day we’ll be able to ride. But right now it really needs breaking. So call me Team That Guy for now.

  • David Policar

    On your account, ought we evaluate this “critical mass” globally or locally?

    For example, if I’m at a party in which I’m confident 95% of the people in the room accept that holy books are parables and not history, is it permissable for us to talk about them that way to each other?

    Or does the fact that outside of the room there exist lots of people who treat holy books as history mean our resistance to god-talk inside the room must be total?

  • Ross

    Repeat after me: the US is not the world and the bad behavior of assholes is not a good reason to engage in bad behavior of your own.

  • mroge

    “When a certain critical mass of human people accept that holy books are parables and not history, then yes, we’ll all be able to talk about them that way to each other–like jokes, like what they were intended to be.”

    First of all, I can’t figure out how you got that out of what Fred wrote. He did not say to treat these parables as jokes. In fact the whole point of a parable would be missed if you did that!

    Second of all. congrats on confirming every paranoid fear of the religious right. While reasonable people allow others to have their beliefs, there is a subset of atheism that wants to completely destroy religion, which by the way, IS JUST AS WRONG AS FORCING RELIGION ON OTHERS.

    When atheists do this then they are perpetuating the same evil that they claim to be against.

    It is possible for people of faith and people of no-faith to get along just fine, but people like you don’t want that. You have your own “Holy War” going on and cling to it just as tightly as the fundamentalist Christians do to theirs.

    Maybe it will be like matter coming into contact with anti-matter, the resultant explosion will destroy you both.