Monday, October 20, 2008

The Trickster

I talked a little bit about the Bible in the last post, and that's certainly the collection that has influenced my thought about God and religion the most, but it's not the work that most appeals to me. The two writings that I relate to the most, the two things that speak to me personally, are the prophetic works of William Blake and the Winnebago Trickster Cycle. I'm going to talk about the second of those today (saving William Blake for a later post).

You can read a version of the trickster cycle here, though I recommend picking up a book by Paul Radin called The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology. It's got a better translation, is cleaner, and has commentaries and background by Radin as well as an essay by Carl Jung.

It was only a few years ago that I discovered this version of the trickster, when I decided to teach Native American myth in my world literature class. I knew about other tricksters, of course (even if I didn't call them that). Any character who breaks rules, plays jokes, shifts shapes, and turns things on their heads can be considered tricksters, including Brer Rabbit, Woody Woodpecker, and Bugs Bunny. I also knew about some of the more purely mythological tricksters like the ones found in Gilgamesh and Popul Vuh (another work that really appeals to me that I may talk about in a future post). Tricksters in general appeal to me, but none as much as the Winnebago (or Hotcâk) version, the one they call Wakdjunkaga ("the tricky one" or, more mysteriously and appropriately circular, "the one who acts like Wakdjunkaga").

The Trickster is a character who is sent by the Earthmaker to help humans, but he ends up going off on his own to do what he wants. The Christian tradition would probably call a character like this a devil, someone who rebels against the one who created him, usually because he wants to be independent. But the Winnebago didn't think of him that way. They thought of him as being foolish, but loveable, and also worthy of a certain kind of respect (he is a god, after all) and certainly important to their stories and their lives.

Here are just a few of the Trickster's adventures:

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Bible

Part One: Historical Disclaimer

Just as the question "Do you believe in God?" leads to the question "Which God?," the question "Do you believe in the Bible?" leads to the question "Which Bible?" There is no such thing as The Bible.

There's the Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Joshua, Judges, etc.), and the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and some of the other more poetic stuff) which gets lumped into the somewhat offensively-named "Old Testament" (which I admit to offensively calling it). Then there's the "New Testament" which contains the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles, and the Revelation. The Catholic Church recognizes nine books that the Protestants don't. There are a dozen or so recognized by other Christian churches. These are the "canonical" works, but only depending on who you ask (which calls the word canon into question in this context).

Then of course are the books you don't get to read in Sunday School. There's a great collection called The Other Bible (edited by Willis Barnstone) that contains Gnostic Gospels, Dead Sea Scrolls, and more: other versions of the creation of the world, the further adventures of Adam and Eve, additional psalms (including a few by Solomon), a "secret" gospel of Mark, the acts of Pilate, and tons more goodies.

There's another great book called Lost Scriptures (edited by Bart D. Ehrman) that focuses on additional New Testament era works, including the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Mary (a woman!), the acts of Paul, additional epistles, and more than one apocalypse. Lately, they've even discovered the gospel of Judas.

So there's quite a bit to work with and no one collection of all of these together. Even the word bible translates to something like "little books," so it's these individual little books from different writers over different periods of time we should be talking about, not some arbitrary collection of these books put together by people who want to trick us into thinking it's a unified vision.

Some will argue otherwise: that the Gnostics and the rest are non-canonical for a reason, a reason stemming from God himself, that they weren't inspired, that they are "fakes." Only the "real" Bible is the Word of God. Anyone can write scripture, but what gives it power? Good question! And it's a question that actually has an answer, and the answer has little to do with God and more to do with human power struggles, but that's beyond the scope of what I'm wanting to talk about here (and I've already gone too far).

I can tell you one thing, however, that gives the current version(s) of the Bible power: laziness. The one we grew up with in Sunday School is the "real" one and everything else can go lay an egg. Lots of us haven't actually gotten around to reading the real one yet, so we certainly can't be bothered with these imposters. (Forget the fact that our real Bible actually refers to these "other" books from time to time.)

Don't get me started on translations. Perhaps you've met someone who truly believes that Jesus spoke in Victorian English.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Introduction to Rusty's God Blog

The first thing you might want to know is whether or not I believe in God. It's a silly question to ask someone unless you have lots of time to listen to any kind of real answer. A simple "yes" or "no" won't do. Imagine I say "yes." Now you have to wonder "Which God?" What you're really asking is "Do you believe what I believe concerning God?"

A better question is "What are your thoughts on God?" This question doesn't imply that I should necessarily believe in anything, which is good because the idea of believing in something is also a little silly if what you're really wanting to know is concrete facts.

But we can all agree that God at least exists as a concept (whether he exists in any other way or not), and the concept is about the best any of us have, so that's all we can really talk about. So that's what I'm going to talk about.