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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Costello Christians

I finally watched Bill Maher’s Religious. I wasn’t surprised. He’s a comedian and makes his living ridiculing whatever he sets his sights on. So does Rush Limbaugh, and most of the mouths that roar on radio or teevee. It seems poking fun at other people is what passes for legitimate debate today.

It was painful as someone of faith to watch the way he painted an entire belief system with the brush of fundamentalism or institutionalized religion. Believe it or not there are many believers that have not assassinated their intelligence to someone who rants and raves from a pulpit or considers themselves God’s elected mouthpiece and they enjoy a meaningful personal relationship with God.

It’s easy to make fun of fundies and the orthodox because they’ve taken reason out of their faith and delivered it into the hands of someone who does their thinking for them.

The mechanism used by charlatans to fleece the flock of all their money and gain political power is literalism. The Bible has to be interpreted literally, and only literally.

Today I’m coining the phrase “Costello Christians” to describe literalists. They are a laugh riot, just like Abbot and Costello’s routine Who’s On First. If you’re not familiar with this comedy classic you can google it. There are about a dozen or more U-tube versions of it.

Lou Costello tries and tries every way he can to find out who’s on first, but never makes the connection that the first baseman’s name is Who. He stays stuck in his literal understanding of the word and can’t make the leap from literal to symbolic. It’s funny because the audience knows the difference and enjoys listening or seeing someone who is that stupid.

Here’s my example of a Costello Christian:

Anyone who wants to argue or defend the idea that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish or whale. Bill Maher devotes quite a bit of his movie on the issue and both he and those he’s arguing with miss the point. The book is not about a fish anymore than Gulliver’s Travels is about Lilliputians or Yahoos. They’re allegories.

Jonah represents the Jews and Nineveh is symbolized as all the other people on the Earth. They are commanded to share their God and refuse. The symbol of the fish or whale would be the Babylonian captivity afterwards they are returned to their land. Jonah preaches and Nineveh repents and is spared destruction. The allegory here would be through Jesus the Gentiles become believers or Christians and are entitled to Heaven. At the end of the book Jonah goes up to the top of a hill to look down on the city. A large plant grows up giving him shade, but the plant dies and he is doubly miserable because the city has not been destroyed and he has no shade. This is a reference to Judaism’s refuting Christianity because they can’t stand the idea of the Goyim being in their Heaven.

The main points of Jonah are:

  1. The Jews are commanded to proclaim God to the whole world.
  2. They at first refuse and are punished until they consent.
  3. The World is spared destruction because of their belief.
  4. The Jews are upset and pout because they’ve lost their monopoly on God.

The central message of Jonah is:

God and Heaven are for everyone, not just a chosen few.

The Costello Christians want to make it about a fish and give fuel to the fire of skeptics and comedians who rightfully point out how stupid it is to interpret something written as allegory literally.

This is my interpretation of Jonah. I don’t claim it to be the official or only way to read the book. I don’t think anyone who understands it differently needs to be kicked out of the church or burned at the stake.

I wrote a post some time ago entitled “I’ve Been Fooled.” It’s still one of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written. It’s about an allegorical book and movie: The Princess Bride. I admit that while reading the book the author had me actually believing there were countries named Gilder and Florin, but I didn’t accept it at face value. I checked it out and discovered the deception. Kicked myself for being foolish enough to buy it in the first place, then marveled at how artfully the author had tricked me. It also made me realize the depth and power of the truth he was writing about in the story. As I explained how the story relates to economics to my wife she just fussed at me for ruining a good story. The beauty of a good allegory is that it can be understood on multiple levels. The power of allegory is that its theme and message can be understood without being preached at or to. You just have to exert more mental energy than most people are willing to spend today.


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Great post. I've listened to and read some dreary messages about how historically there have been people swallowed by whales and then live to tell about it. Who cares! I don't. It doesn't make any difference.

I love the Jonah story because of the many different truths it holds. I'd never heard your interpretation before and I'll add it to my collection.

To me the literalist are wanting to put God in a box and make him captive. I just don't get it.

P M Prescott said...

Not only do they want to put God in a box, they want to put everyone else in that box too.

Unknown said...

Interesting. I'm no fam of Rush or Bill. But I like to check out your posts, PM!

P M Prescott said...

Michael, nice of you to drop by.