Friday, October 21, 2011

Conflict between God and his messenger

It is interesting to see Crumb make such a mild illustrated version of the Book of Genesis, knowing both his past work and his views on religion. While on the surface it seems as if he is strictly following the Bible, passage by passage, he is able to make some of his own comments and interpretations through his illustrations. Although subtly, Crumb is definitely choosing his images carefully to express his opinions about organized religion. Throughout the entire Bible, God is portrayed in many different lights. Whereas later in the New Testament, the stories focus more on him being a caring and loving being, the Old Testament displays a more deceptive and irrational God. Crumb plays off this in his illustrations of God, and it is particularly apparent when compared to God’s messenger in chapters 21 and 22 of the Book of Genesis. In both situations there is a stark contrast between God and his messenger, with the messenger always shown in a more pleasant and good-natured way. Crumb uses his illustrations to criticize the way the God rules, which is almost in a dictatorship fashion.

In both chapters 21 and 22, God asks Abraham to do some surprisingly immoral acts. After the birth of Isaac, Sarah becomes jealous of Hagar and her son, even though it was her idea for Hagar to have a child with Abraham. Because of this, she asks Abraham to cast Hagar out of their land to eliminate the competition of their sons. Although Abraham thinks this is unfair, God tells him to do it anyway. Crumb displays God here as a floating face, surrounded by his wildly flowing hair and stern look. It is almost as if he is warning Abraham to listen to him or he will be punished. By consistently illustrating God with an intense glare, Crumb is emphasizing the fact that God is able to rule the people on Earth based on their fear of him. Rather than wanting to be seen as a loving and righteous God, He is able to do whatever he wants and manipulate humans to follow His every wish.

In the next chapter, God repeats his demonstration of manipulative power by asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Crumb makes Abraham’s shock at such a horrible request clear through the close up illustration of his face, with mouth open in awe. Still, however, he follows God’s orders without question. The only reason I can think of that someone would offer up to murder their own son is deep fear for what would happen if he didn’t. God has been in Abraham’s life since birth and looking back at all of the illustrations, God never has a smile on his face, but always an intense look, even when delivering good news. Many times he even looks in utter rage. If these are the only interactions that Abraham has had with God, it makes sense that he’s scared out of his mind of him.

At the end of both of these chapters, however, the day is saved and the innocent lives are spared. What’s weird though is that it is God’s messenger, rather than himself, who comes to save Hagar and Isaac. The messenger looks almost identical to God, but instead of the intense glare and wild hair, he has very soft and kind features. I found it very interesting that Crumb illustrated him in such a way that he has so many similarities, yet such strong contrasts to God. While this fact could be taken as Crumb interpreting the text that God and his messenger are the same being, I think he is taking it the other way to degrade the idea of a single God who is all powerful. Knowing that Crumb has openly stated that he does not think the Bible is the word of God, it only makes sense that he would take this second path. The way Crumb illustrates God’s messenger makes it seem almost as if he has come to right the wrongs of God. While God was having fun playing terrible mind games on Abraham, his messenger is putting things back in order, assuring the good people on Earth that everything is okay. When looked at from this angle, it’s almost as if there are multiple higher powers that have control over the Earth. Whereas one (God) can rule by fear, another (the messenger) can rule by compassion, wanting to help humans. While staying true to the text, Crumb is able to use his illustrations to demean the single greatest belief in most organized religions—the idea of one powerful God to rule over the Earth.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure what your familiarity with ancient religions is, so sorry if I'm going over territory you know. An range of ancient Christian heresies, including Gnosticism and Catherism, held that there is not one God, but two - a good God and an evil one, with the evil(!) God generally being understood as the God of Genesis, and the good(!) God generally being associated with the Serpent (!). While it had never occurred to me before that Crumb might be working with this kind of tradition, and I don't think that he is *overall*, your careful exploration of the messenger vs. God role which exists in the text, but which Crumb works hard to elaborate, has me thinking along those lines.

    You pointed out a lot of things that I missed, but let me point out one thing you might have missed. At the beginning of Chapter 22, we don't get God's face, but only his voice. Why is that? I bet you have an answer to that question.

    Anyway, as these things I've mentioned indicated, I think this is fascinating and well executed. I do think the argument could have been pushed a little farther, maybe even in this version. If you revise, you might look at God's faceless voice at the beginning of 22, or you might extend the God vs. messenger theme through the rest of Genesis, or (most ambitiously) you might do some further research into what scholars of Genesis think about this issue.