La La How The Life Goes On

God is Dead; Long Live God

Posted on: April 24, 2011

Felices Pascuas, darlings, to those of you who celebrate.

Here at Chez Jones we have been enjoying the Jewish Atkins Diet for Passover (no leaven = no bread, pasta, cereal, everything carb that I like).  In many ways Passover is my favorite holiday because it really speaks to our time as slaves in The Land of Egypt, and therefore we should treat all strangers with respect; that we should work to make people in bondage free in modern times.  I completely love that message, especially for my girls.  It teaches humility and gratitude and social action in one big package.  Big Fan.  On the other hand, I detest Passover (not because I can’t eat Doritos, although that’s a tertiary reason).  I struggle with the holiday because it is such a horrible story to tell my kids.  I mean, how do you sugarcoat “Pharaoh ordered the death of all Israelite males” (which precipitated Moses in the bullrushes) and worse: “God killed all firstborn Egyptians” because he was pissed that Pharaoh was such a recidivist lying motherfucker.  I mean, where do I go with this for the Under 7 set?  Bambina and I started reading the story of Exodus and she proceeded to have nightmares!  She was completely freaked out that God would just send millions of frogs or lice or disease to kill your cattle should you need to get served.  She was equally terrified of Pharaoh who apparently owned humans and killed their firstborn children just in case they got too numerous.  I struggle with this every year, but none more so than this simply because Bambina can now read.  She knows we’re skipping stuff.  She can read, “kill” and “plague” and “children.”  And she’s not stupid to boot.  She is filling in all the details of the story that we have previously left out, and quite frankly is finding it straight-up horrifying.  Which it is.  Whenever I read the Bible I always find myself chuckling that religious people are always the first to freak out about “satanic” heavy metal music or someone saying a bad word on TV.  Hello? Have you READ this book?  Murder, mayhem, deception, rape, pillaging, family dysfunction and a whole lot of additional general nasty, nasty stuff.  None of which is at all appropriate for children.

So how did I handle it this year?  Well, I’ll let the BabyDaddy’s explanation to some friends sum it up:  “The highlight of our Seder this year was my wife telling our daughters that the story of Exodus, which we are commanded by God to read in order to have observed Passover, is ‘not real.’  Furthermore, that ‘God is not really real, either.'”

So my kid version of the Haggadah needs some work, you say?  I think not.

Here’s all I was trying to say to Bambina (and to BabySister but she couldn’t care less; she just wanted to throw the marshmallows when we said, “hail” during the listing of the plagues [which we did–for points. Dada won for his fastball]):  I was just trying to first, answer Bambina’s very concerned question about whether God really does “kill babies” of people who make him angry.  Were I of a different religion I might have answered, “You’re darn tootin’, young lady! So just remember that next time you sneak a listen to that rock and roll music!!”  But I’m not. So OF COURSE I said that was entirely not the case.  And secondly I was trying to simply say (as we do for stories or movies that might end up being a little bit intense for her), “This is just a story; this cannot happen in real life.”

So why did I say these things on this important holiday? Because, honestly folks, I don’t actually believe that any of that story happened.     [Ducks to avoid rotten tomatoes and pointy shards of matzo]

Honestly, truly, I really just don’t believe that anything in the Torah (and the larger Bible as a whole) actually happened literally.  In this case, I’m seriously doubting a bunch of Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years.  Not possible.  The seniors would have mutinied and set up a gated community on the spot and declared the entire wandering business to be fakakta.  The hippies would have created a kibbutz to grow flowering yarrow and other edible, sustainable  greens to sell with their handwoven clothes.  And, as the old joke goes, there would have been two synagogues built: one you attend, and the other you wouldn’t set foot in on a bet.  For my money, this Wandering did not occur.  Likewise, I cannot conceive that somehow Moses was able to time all these unfortunate agricultural situations known as plagues to coincide with his serial exhortations to Let My People Go.  It just defies explanation.

I can hear some of you saying, “What about faith? Why does it have to make sense to be true?”  I answer that with, ‘Why does it have to be true to make sense?”  Why does the story of the Exodus from Egypt have to be literally true for me to find it meaningful?  Why does the Torah and the larger Bible have to be considered literally true in order to be considered worthy of reading?  You yourself, I’m sure, have read stories–fictional stories, poems, sonnets–that nonetheless moved you, to tears, to joy, to action.  Were those feelings any less meaningful and real simply because the story was not literally true? So why do we ge all jacked up about our religious texts? Why do we get incensed when someone suggests that MAYBE someone was not turned to a pillar of salt or that a prostitute did not literally, actually wash Jesus’ feet?  Does the story offer anything less simply because it may not have happened?  I say No.  Which was what I was trying to convey to the girls at the Seder. That this story, these details, are not the point.  God didn’t kill any babies simply because I have no interest in associating with a God who does.  Who knows if locusts were visited upon the Egyptians by some supernatural/God-like means?  And the real point?  Who cares?

The point of this story is that Pharaoh did not keep his word and he paid a price.

The point of this story is that Moses had a stutter and thought himself unworthy to be God’s spokesperson (enter Aaron), but that God saw something in Moses, that Moses had much to offer and should not have sold himself short.

The point of this story is that people who used to be enslaved in the annals of history should never allow the enslavement of another people, and should work till their fingers bleed to end it.

The point of this story is that someone can take your freedom and liberty but they cannot take your will to be free or your pride or your peoplehood unless you relinquish it.

And, from a human relations and political perspective, the point of this story is that you can lead people from bondage to freedom and they will still turn into effing ingrates even after you have manna magically drop from the heavens to feed their complaining asses.

Every single one of these (non-exhaustive) points is meaningful and valuable and worthy of teaching and passing on to my children.  The story from which they came can be as inauthentic as my kleenex-filled training bra circa 1985.  It’s irrelevant.  These points still matter. Still resonate. Still inspire.  Still bring me to the Seder table every year, full of hope for the future, however much in the wilderness we seem to be.


3 Responses to "God is Dead; Long Live God"

Excellent essay on the flaws in the Passover story and the ultimate meaning of the holiday!

So it’s not true? Horrors! Great post, Mama, on the true meaning of Passover. There’s no archaeological or other historical evidence of the Exodus or the existence of Moses, but there’s great and lasting meaning in the mythical story.

Amen, sister. Amen.

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