‘Being Gay Is Disgusting’: A Clever, Irreverent Retelling of the Bible’s First 5 BooksBy Frederik Sisa @ 1:00 PM December 10, 2010
The book’s title, Being Gay is Disgusting, or, God Likes the Smell of Burning Fat, isn’t the controversy; it’s just a cheeky paraphrasing of actual Biblical content. In the very few instances in which homosexuality is addressed, as in Leviticus 18:22, God clearly thinks being gay is disgusting (an “abomination”). And in descriptions of animal sacrifices, God is happy to remind us that, mmm-mmm, he sure likes the smell of fat on a flame. (Leviticus 4:31 – “He shall remove all its fat, as fat is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offering; and the priest shall burn it on the altar for a sweet aroma to the LORD.”)
It’s in the sub-title, however — A Modern-Day Paraphrasing of an Otherwise Uninteresting Book — that author Edward Falzon pushes bright red buttons and hints at his agenda. “The issue that bothers me is that all these followers of the Bible seem to be blissfully ignorant of what’s in the Bible that they follow,” he writes in the introduction. The reason for that happy state of ignorance? The Bible is a long, tedious, redundant book to read. It’s easier for people to adopt what other people say about the Bible than read it for themselves. Given the number of disagreements about the Bible among various religions — disagreements that support the criticism that the Bible can be made to support any theological viewpoint — Falzon sets out to remedy Biblical ignorance by writing an entertaining, contemporary retelling of the Bible’s first five books using modern colloquial English, and jokes. The successful result, intended to enlighten and educate, is a hilariously faithful summary.
Exit to Exodus
As an example, we could consider the well-known and popular story of Exodus, which has inspired many films, plays and other artistic adaptations. The sinister implications of the story tend to be lost amidst the thrills – ho, ho – of a God who helps Moses free his people from enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians.
For example, after a description of the Israelites’ bondage in Egypt, Moses rise to prominence and eventual selection as God’s spokesman, and so on, we come to the beginning of God’s campaign of liberation through Moses.
So the LORD said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:1-3, New King James Version)
The bolded text is key: God deliberately makes Pharaoh unresponsive to Moses’ demands. The point is emphasized again in Exodus 10:
Now the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 10:1-2, New King James Version)
By doing this and, for some strange reason, not getting anywhere in freeing the Jews, God’s diplomatic negotiations eventually lead to this:
Then Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again. (Exodus 11: 4-6, New King James Version)
Let’s recap: God promises to slaughter innocent babies and, since human offspring aren’t enough, throws in animal offspring, too. Moving on, we get:
But the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” So Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh; and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the children of Israel go out of his land. (Exodus 11: 9-10, New King James Version)
So again, God makes Pharaoh refuse Moses’ request for freedom – then goes on to perform an act of horrific, gratuitous mass murder. Imagine what would have happened if God had instead softened Pharaoh’s heart, making the ruler of Egypt perfectly willing to let the Israelites go without invoking horrible plagues on crops, cattle, and people.
By contrast to the above, Falzon’s accessible and jokey paraphrasing, complete with footnotes that alternate between informative and comedic (though sometimes both) makes the inglorious parts impossible to ignore:
“So I’m still keeping Pharaoh’s heart hardened!” God giggled to Moses. “See, by putting him and his people through horrible s--t, you’ll have a great story to tell your kids about how mean and cool I was!”
God instructs Moses about the final play: “Okay, I’ve decided that the last plague will be the death of a bunch of kids. Then I’ll make Pharaoh let you go, but I just want to kill children first. In preparation for your departure, have everyone ask their Egyptian friends to give them money.” So Moses went for coffee at Pharaoh’s place one last time. “At midnight in a few days’ time, God’s going to come through town and kill the first-born of every human and animal, including your son, buddy. And everyone will cry. And to further prove how powerful He is, He’ll make it so dogs don’t bark at us, but they will bark at Egyptians. How d’you like that!”
The story of Exodus is not the only instance of God’s homicidal impulses, nor even necessarily the worst. From the infamous global flood and Babel incident to the demands for gory animal sacrifice and the killing (sometimes en masse) of anyone who breaks the rules or disobeys, the portrait of God that emerges in the first five books of the Old Testament — jealous, vindictive, murderous, authoritarian, capricious, a supporter of unbridled conquest and one who plays favourites, an abuser of animals — is one better suited to a horror movie than any religion purporting to be a force for good in the world. With Falzon’s paraphrasing, there’s no hiding the nastiness in narratives of dry, stilted language.
Bible Studies Made Funny
Whether new to the Bible or looking to refresh the ol’ memory, Edward Falzon’s book provides readers with a fun and accessible pathway to reading and understanding one of the world’ most influential texts. Much like Ben Akerley’s X-Rated Guide to the Bible shows us the Bible’s sexual side, Being Gay Is Disgusting serves as a guide to the Bible’s violence. Falzon’s irreverent, mocking tone, beside being funny and entertaining (if not for the easily offended), ultimately reflects a much-needed moral outrage and confronts Biblical apologists with the question of how a text can contain so much that is morally reprehensible and still be considered sacred. The broader question, of course, is theodicy — how can God be simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent and still allow evil in the world? — although the issue is upended by the Bible’s stories of God himself perpetrating acts we consider evil. It’s an important theological question, one of many that interests both believers and atheists, and with Falzon’s book there is no longer an excuse for anyone to ignore the Bible’s role in addressing them.
About Edward Falzon —Raised in a Catholic family, Edward Falzon recited the prayers and sang the hymns faithfully and went through his First Communion, Reconciliation and Confirmation during his primary-school years. As an adult, traveling all over the world for business, he met hundreds of people of all manner of faith. Spending most of his time in North America, Europe and Australia, most people were Christians, but with different positions on the Bible, God, Jesus, Mary and the other players in the Christian mythos. Falzon found it curious that one book can cause this much disagreement over its contents, so he started investigating. While reading the Bible himself, he sought out more Christians for their disparate Biblical and Christian views, and he discovered the vast majority hadn’t even read the Bible. It occurred to him there can be no discussion, no debate, no analysis of any kind, until people become familiar with the foundations of their own faith.
Mr. Sisa, Assistant Editor of the newspaper, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.