Like millions of Americans this past Sunday, I sat down to watch the much-hyped, The Bible miniseries on the History Channel. But you can only cover so much in ten hours, so viewers ended up watching the Bible’s greatest hits, a series of theme-park tableaus of one disaster after another. The stories played out like a Mel Gibson redux, where suffering dominates the religious landscape. The lyric and joy that gives life and hope to believers was lost in this turmoil of struggle and sacrifice.
Unfortunately, at least in the first week's presentation, the series overlooked the fact the Bible is a must read touchstone of Western civilization. As a layman who has spent a fair amount of time reading the Bible, I can tell you that there is some really good stuff to soak kin. Well yes, you have to overlook al those “begats.”
And maybe it’s not unanimously considered great literature, in the genre of Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoyevsky or Proust. But remember that unless you believe that everything in the Bible is the absolute word of God, then the Good Book is not one homogenous work by one author, but a collection of writers or oral historians passing down their interpretations from one generation to the next. Many would argue that each book must stand on its own. Psalms, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon offer beautiful, uplifting inspiration. Other books are, well, boring.
I write all this as background to a big problem I have with God, which is set out in the book of Genesis. Most biblical scholars consider the Book of Genesis to be the foundation for belief in the Biblical. Genesis is not just the first book of the Bible, it is the bedrock for the rest of the theological truths found in all the books of both the Old and New Testaments.
The miniseries uses the narrative from the Book of Genesis that portrays Abraham as the Biblical father of all mankind. God apparently felt he had to test the faith of his chosen one and commands Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice. In the mini-series last Sunday, it wasn’t pretty. Wailing and emotional pain by father, mother and son engulfed the whole episode. And for good reason. “Go kill your son to show me your faith and devotion?” My reaction has always been-What’s up with that? How could anyone kill their own blood? There was no “Sophie’s Choice” here. It was a command to commit murder.
Oh yes, many scholars would argue. It was a test. Maybe even an allegory. It was supposedly a challenge to see if Abraham had complete faith. But how cruel. How could a loving God even consider putting his pick for the father of all mankind to be put to such a test? Why would any being, God or man, force such a horrendous choice?
Bob Dylan poignantly and pointedly asked the same question on the title track of his “Highway 61 Revisited “album that came out in 1965. The song challenges the moral dilemma of killing one’s own son at the request of the Almighty. The lyrics lament:
“Oh, God said to Abraham, Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “you can do what you want Abe but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killing done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61.”
Oh, I’ll continue to watch the Biblical miniseries on Sunday nights in the weeks to come. No doubt it will be like a trip through a Christian theme park. As the New York Times television reviewer, Neil Genzlinger, writes, “Next stop on the tour, ladies and gentlemen: the Noah’s Ark tableau, followed by the Daniel in the lion’s den diorama.” For believers, the bible is a complex drama of hope, forgiveness, and salvation that simply cannot be done justice in 10 hours.
I happen to be one of those believers. But along my personal religious journey, whenever I consider God’s cruel testing of Abraham, I will have no qualms with telling Him that he either badly stumbled in putting Abraham to such a vile test, or with telling those who were chosen as his earthly interpreters, that they just didn’t get the message right.
Most of us understand that faith often needs to be strengthened and validated. Put to the test if you will. But I would rather believe in Proverbs (21:3) that challenges us: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
The ongoing gun debate had two new elements added to the mix this past week. Vice President Joe Biden suggested that a shotgun was all any individual needed for self-protection. And several states proposed legislation that would to require gun owner’s insurance for anyone possessing a firearm. Do either of these proposals make sense?
Here is what the Vice President suggested in a Town Hall meeting sponsored by Parents Magazine: “If there are bad guys on the property, walk out on the balcony and fire a couple blasts from their double-barrel shotgun. You don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself," he adds, “and a shotgun's easier to aim than an assault-style rifle. Plus, two shotgun blasts should scare off most intruders,” Biden says.
Is he right? Maybe, maybe not. Let me share a personal experience. Back in the 1970s, I lived out in the country on a long gravel road in a rural part of Northeast Louisiana. The closest law-enforcement station was 30 miles away, and there were no neighbors close by.
I was home alone, one evening, and it was little after midnight when I thought I saw a faint flickering of light the through the trees. I got out of bed, and went out on the porch (as the Vice President suggested) for better view, and a yes, I could see several lights on my property, about 100 yards away. I stood there, watching for a few minutes. Then the lights disappeared. I called the local sheriff’s office, knowing that it would be a good while before the deputy could be on the scene. Were they approaching the house? I had no idea. But not wanting to be on the defensive in my own home, I decided to go outside.
Armed with a rifle and a 10 round clip, a semi automatic 9mm pistol, and a spotlight, I slipped out the back door, made a wide circle from the back of my house, and made a rear approach to the area I thought the lights had come from. Two trucks were parked side by side, and I could hear low voices.
I anchored the spotlight on a tree limb, and reeled out the cord to a spot some twenty yards away. I didn’t want to be near the light if shots were fired. After a few deep breaths, I flipped on the light, fired four shots into the air, and yelled a stream of obscenities. The two trucks immediately backed up and hightailed off my property.
An hour later, local Sheriff Buddy Schiele made it to the house and told me that his deputies had stopped the two trucks with four hunters who were illegally hunting deer at night. They had parked on my property, apparently with plans to walk over an adjoining levee in hopes of finding a deer. No harm done, but until that moment, I had no way of knowing whether these were bungling trespassers, or bad guys with malicious intentions.
The point of my story? A shotgun with two shells would certainly not ward of four potential thugs who might have been after more than a deer. I would have been put at great personal risk with just the shotgun. No Mr. Vice President, you need more in a rural setting when you have only yourself to put up any defense.
How about the proposal to force every gun owner to buy liability insurance? After all, if you drive a car, you are required by every state in the U.S. to have liability insurance. So, if drivers have to have auto insurance, why shouldn’t gun owners have to have gun owner’s insurance?
First of all, courts nationwide have determined that driving is a privilege. And not a (second amendment) right as defended by gun owners. A driver is generally on a public highway, built with taxpayer funds, and the “rules of the road” require liability insurance. It should be pointed out that a driver is not required to have either a driver’s license or insurance if the vehicle is driven on private property. I taught my kids and assorted nieces and nephews to drive at our family camp in rural Louisiana, where they could practice on dirt roads. No license or insurance necessary.
Based on my experience as a former Louisiana insurance commissioner, I can also tell readers that the cost of such proposed gun liability insurance would not come cheap. New York is presently considering in their legislature a proposal to require every gun owner to have a minimum of $1 million in liability coverage. I have not sat down with insurance actuaries to figure out specifically what the premium would be, but I would estimate that a gun-owner is looking at a minimum of $2000 a year to pay for such insurance. The insurance premium could be significantly more for someone living in the inner city. Such a cost would price the ownership of a gun outside the reach of the average citizen.
Unless the activity to be insured is considered a privilege, then there is no requirement or a "right" to insure any object or undertaking. I did not have to insure my house, but it just makes good financial sense to do so. There is no requirement that an individual have life insurance. One makes such a choice to protect their loved ones when they die. Many people have general liability insurance coverage on any activity that might subject them to a lawsuit. That would include protection against a lawsuit involving a gun accident. But purchasing such insurance is not mandatory. It’s a choice.
In the months to come, numerous ideas will be floated in an effort to regulate gun ownership. Certainly there are some people who should not be in the possession of a gun. But allowing only two shotgun shells, and requiring mandatory gun insurance are not reasonable, much less practical, limitations that should be placed on law-abiding citizens. The issue is not about hunting. In the face of violent criminal threat, your weapon and your wits may be all you have to protect yourself.