Thursday, March 11, 2010

Collateral damage

I have been reading Job in the Bible lately.  This section is very differently written than the rest of the Bible so far because it is primarily a dialogue between several people discussing faith in God.  The story in short is that Job is a devout follower of God who is very prosperous and has many children.  God and Satan are talking and God talks about how great Job is.  Satan challenges God and says that Job's faith would be broken if his good fortune were taken away.  God disagrees and tells Satan to do whatever he wants to Job aside from kill him to prove his point.  Satan then proceeds to kill Job's children, massacre his servants, steal his property and destroy his livestock.  Job is despondent and has a long dialogue with several of his friends about the nature of faith and how he can keep believing through all this tragedy.  Eventually he does keep the faith and God gives him many more children and doubles his worldly possessions compared to what he had before to make up for it.

Aside from being a ridiculous bit of fantasy this story is very disturbing.  In particular I find it powerful that Job is the only one focused on.  God apparently is completely fine with Job's children and servants being murdered as part of this test and is only concerned that Job himself is not killed.  The story is written as if Job having a bunch more children at the end completely makes up for all the ones that died at the beginning and that it is fine for God to take possessions away from other people to make sure Job gets doubled up.  It is apparently key that God reimburse Job himself for the suffering he has gone through, but it is not important to deal with the others that had to die or suffer for this test to be completed.

The normal interpretation of this story as I understand it is that it is important to keep the faith and that God rewards those who continue to worship even through hardship.  My interpretation of this story goes more along the lines of "God only cares about you if you are male and the eldest member of a rich family."  That theme of only being concerned about the rich and powerful is not unique to this story.  Throughout the Old Testament God pays much attention to the actions of those in positions of power and is almost totally dismissive of the rights and lives or those who are not.  When a king commits a sin it is normal for God to slaughter tens of thousands of Israelites in retribution while sparing the king himself any sort of direct repercussion.

It reminds me much of fairy tales.  In fairy tales we hear about the princes and princesses, kings and queens.  Whole kingdoms become despondent at the thought of the suffering of a ruler and yet the disasters that befall the common people are largely ignored.  Thankfully our society does not turn to Cinderella or Beowulf for guidance and use their stories as a excuse for amoral behaviour.

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