Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book of Genesis: A Bedtime Story

In the introduction of R Crumbs illustrated adaptation, Crumb sums up his view on the Book of Genesis: “I, ironically, do not believe the Bible is ‘The Word of God. I believe it is the words of men. It is, nonetheless, a powerful text with layers of meanings that reach deep into our collective consciousness, our historical consciousness”. He interprets the Book of Genesis as a novel rather than the biblical truth. Crumbs literal, non-deified depiction of God is a tribute to his religious upbringing and a powerful demonstration of this atheist ideology.

Any depiction of God is a personal interpretation since the Bible itself is not a proven historically accurate account. God has been portrayed as diversely as a light, a man, a woman and a voice in our culture. Crumbs choice of God as an old man with white hair, beard and robe is rather “old school”. As the author himself acknowledges in the introduction, his choice is heavily influenced by “Hollywood Biblical epics” as “visual source material”. Throughout the book, God is depicted in human form without a halo whether he is materializing the earth, making miracles, or communicating with humans. In chapter one, Crumb opens his book with an illustration of God creating heaven and earth in human form. With his wrinkled face, unruly hair and freckled hand, God looks like a normal old human being, and not even a particularly dignified one of that. For such a grand and miraculous event, assuming it actually happened as followers believe, such representation disagree with the traditional representation of God, who is usually accompanied by an halo to emphasis his holiness. Similarly, God appears not much taller or different physically from Adam and Eve. He stands right next to Adam and Eve, speaking to them personally instead of imparting orders and judgments from above. Crumb's choice of interpreting God makes readers question: For a being who single handedly created the world as we know it, why does he look no different than us mortal beings?  Where does he get his powers from? And can we somehow assume that power as well? In chapter two, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy”, he is portrayed leaning back against a tree. His long white hair is rested on his shoulder as opposed to slightly floating in the air; his feet are relaxed and firmly planted on the dirt; his facial features are peaceful with a solemn smile. He looks similar to Adam and Eve who is doing the same thing in the background. The particular rendering of this scene makes readers question if God is actually different than us mortals as he enjoys the same pleasures and he needs rest as we do. Crumb’s human interpretation of God is coherent to his adopted atheist beliefs. He no longer believes the existence of God.

The author is brought up Catholic and is therefore familiar with the stories in the Bible. After its logic and plots fails to stand his rigorous questioning, he gave up his religious institution. But since he decides to do a literal adaptation of The Book of Genesis, where God possess powers beyond human abilities, he is bound to separate God from the mortals. He transcends God by concealing Gods physical movements as oppose to the literal and almost animal like depiction of humans. God’s body movements and emotions are kept discrete by his long white robe, hair, and beard. His floor length beard almost blends in with his robe, obscuring every bodily detail irrelevant to his pose. His eyes are usually closed or represented as black slits. These two modifications distinguish God from the mortals as he is less bound to the carnal, physical form of humans. By reducing his God to a design of few elements, Crumb brings to mind the image of God that is commonly evoked in popular culture, which is the culture he grew up in.

Crumb’s interpretation of the Book of Genesis is literary, not religious. From his depiction of God, the Book is shown to be explicitly a work of creative fiction. It is apparent that to Crumb, at the end of the day, Genesis is just the words of men, a bedtime story, and a Hollywood movie.

1 comment:

  1. A couple minor points about your introduction. “Crumb’s literal, non-deified depiction of God is a tribute to his religious upbringing and a powerful demonstration of this atheist ideology.” -- I’d argue that you don’t really mean that this is a non-deified God, but maybe a non-transcendent or non-omnipotent God. I’ll also point out that while this depiction is fully consistent with atheism, but doesn’t itself *prove* atheism.

    Your second paragraph is fine. I think you could have said most of this more compactly, and I would argue still that Crumb’s depiction of an almost absurdly old-school God isn’t proof of atheism. Would, for instance, someone with vaguely Buddhist sympathies hesitate to depict the Judeo-Christian God in this way? What I mean is that you need to push little harder to demonstrate his atheism as opposed to his skepticism vs. the Bible in particular.

    Overall: There’s not enough of an argument here. That Crumb has a degree of skepticism (and possibly is truly an atheist) is obvious. That he is playing with pop-culture views of God in an almost silly way is also obvious. So where’s your argument? I think actually demonstrating that this Crumb is actually *attacking* the idea of God would certainly be an argument. Similarly, if you can articulate *why* Crumb goes so old-school in his portrayal of God, what that move *means* (to him? to you?) that would be great. But as it stands, you stick way too close to just saying things that any reader already knows.