Background Probability

The Agnostic Popular Front has moved to its new home at Skeptic Ink, and will henceforth be known as Background Probability. Despite the relocation and rebranding, we will continue to spew the same low-fidelity high-quality bullshit that you've come to expect.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Genesis 16-17: The Joy of Sects

In these passages we find the mythical origins of both Islam and Judaism, that is, the very first mentions of both Ishmael and Isaac. Both boys will be circumcised, but only one will be covenanted and featured throughout the rest of this particular holy book. This may cause some degree of animosity between those who claim the one and those who claim the other as their forefather, but we'll overlook that eventuality for now and focus on the creation myths of these two monotheistic sects.

The obvious question arising from the events of chapter 16 is this: If your wife had trouble conceiving, and she encouraged you to instead impregnate her personal assistant (who is on your payroll) would you go ahead with the plan? Even supposing polygyny was the norm, and even given that the first wife okays the plan, it seems more than a bit like sexual harassment to compel one's employees to bear one's children. I can already hear anthropologically trained moral relativists saying that we shouldn't project our modern norms against sexual slavery back to the ancient world, but we are talking about someone who is to this day considered morally exemplary by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Baha'i. If he were indeed so, surely he wouldn't have leveraged his position of power to get into his servant's pants. That's just the sort of abuse of power we'd expect from Bill Clinton or Newt Gringrich, but never Father Abraham. Contrary to our modern notions of personal liberty, however, we find that being the man on top makes it okay to sexually exploit one's servants, by Biblical standards. Not only acceptable, but actually worthy of angelic support in the wilderness crisis pregnancy center, where Hagar is told that her most important duties are to submit and obey. How uplifting is that, ladies? And unto this very day, the women of Islam are oft encouraged to emulate the wifely submissiveness of their putative forebear.

In chapter 17, we find that the God of Abraham has a bit of a sexual mutilation fetish. I can just imagine Abraham saying "we shall do *what* to the flesh of our foreskins? Didn't you put it there for a reason?" At this point, it is absolutely necessary to quote at some length from Rabbi Maimonides:

"As regards circumcision, I think that one of its objects is to limit sexual
intercourse, and to weaken the organ of generation as far as possible, and thus
cause man to be moderate. Some people believe that circumcision is to remove a
defect in man's formation; but everyone can easily reply: How can products of
nature be deficient so as to require external completion, especially as the use
of the fore-skin to that organ is evident. This commandment has not been
enjoined as a complement to a deficient physical creation, but as a means for
perfecting man's moral shortcomings. The bodily injury caused to that organ is
exactly that which is desired; it does not interrupt any vital function, nor
does it destroy the power of generation. Circumcision simply counteracts
excessive lust; for there is no doubt that circumcision weakens the power of
sexual excitement, and sometimes lessens the natural enjoyment: the organ
necessarily becomes weak when it loses blood and is deprived of its covering
from the beginning. Our Sages ... say distinctly: It is hard for a woman, with
whom an uncircumcised [man] had sexual intercourse, to separate from him."

For once, I am in complete agreement with the good Rabbi, and I would also note that my wife has shown no inclination to separate from me as of yet. At this point in the Bible, I am starting to notice that there is an awful lot of bizarre fetishizing and sex talk in this supposedly family-friendly book. Putting aside the aforementioned nakedness of Noah, here we have God is commanding a 99-year-old man to mutilate and cripple his own penis and go on to impregnate his 90-year-old wife. Really? I've heard that "with God all things are possible" but this seems like an arbitrarily difficult feat of sexual prowess. Why not go ahead and make them sleep in separate beds, too?

In any event, God establishes his covenant with the offspring of Isaac, and provides to them a readily identifiable means of telling their offspring apart from those of other sects, assuming of course that they are male, you catch them in the nude, and you aren't averse to a bit of impolite staring.

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