Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Crumb on God's Power - (revision)

Religion is an area that is always open for interpretation because often there are so many versions and different ways of thinking about the same thing.  The existence of many different kinds of Christianity for example is a great way to prove how different interpretations can be on this matter.  In Crumb’s The Book of Genesis, Crumb uses comic strip style images to illustrate his words and these images show how he is interpreting the words from the original book of Genesis which he is using as his source.  Some of his images are satirical or contradictory, and I think he is doing this to share his view on religion. 
                In particular, the images of God at parts when he making decisions about the future of humans are ones that I find very interesting because they might point to Crumb’s feeling about God and religion.  Crumb seems to look down on God’s supposed ability to judge humanity, or at least questions his logic for his actions.  When God makes a huge decision Crumb depicts him as having one mind set with no room for debate but the conviction could be manipulated by the right hands.  There are several situations in which this idea can be analyzed.  Firstly, the picture of God in chapter seven, when he realizes that he regrets creating man, shows him angry and vengeful, with his face darkened and cast downward.  He is viewing his creation with disappointment akin to an artist towards a sculpture, and acts with according power because he is in control.  Crumb seems to want to put God in the place of being all-powerful and having the right to destroy humanity just because he wishes it, and even though this is certainly how the original book of Genesis meant for God to look I believe Crumb is ridiculing it. Crumb makes God look over the top with his power because he interprets that as unrealistic and disagrees with it.  He doesn’t really believe that this how God should be and is putting this view in more of a satirical light.  In the second frame of chapter seven in particular, Crumb shows God from a lower angle looking up into his terrible face with Noah as almost a small child in the corner, being overpowered by God.  This is important because it actively shows God as apart from man and his motives are above questioning.  Within two frames, Noah is seen nearly complete carrying out the orders, which Crumb makes obvious because he is trying to point out that Noah is not questioning God but quickly following commands.  If man thought for himself just slightly then the conversation might take a different turn, and Crumb uses this line of thinking in later chapters.  In this section, Crumb is focused on showing God as powerful but also narrow-minded.
                Later in chapter eleven, God is unhappy that humans all speak the same language because he thinks they will become too powerful or progressive.  So God makes it so that everyone speaks a different language and no one can understand anyone else.  It is meant that if humans can all understand each other they might once again become corrupt and pull each other down into degradation.  Crumb seems to interpret it as God merely being jealous of the humans’ capabilities for building a city and uses his power to keep them under his thumb.  Again Crumb chooses to represent God as vengeful and ominous and uncompromising.  Two pictures specifically show how Crumb wants to represent this idea.  The three frames beginning with God coming down and viewing the tower and commenting, “now nothing they scheme to do will elude them,” through the scene where all the people are screaming in different languages.  In the two frames with God as the focus piece he is shown again as large and imposing, and clearly special or other-worldly with the long flowing hair and clothes.  Crumb is using this image to put God apart from humanity, and in the first picture of the set he is even shown standing on ground above the city and above humanity itself as its master.  The next image repeats the image of God’s terrible and foreboding face that speaks to his wrath and power.  As before, Crumb wants God to appear as all-powerful and there can be no resisting his will.  In the third frame, the humans are shown as confused, babbling simpletons with slack jaws and wide open eyes to also represent the distance between them and God and to show his ultimate power over them.  Crumb chooses to repeatedly show God in this light because he does not see God this way himself and putting God in this perspective is to point to the fallacies that exist in the book of Genesis and in faith.  He does not think that God has such power and even if he does Crumb sees the action of changing human language as petty and ridiculous.  So he makes God’s image into an exaggerated form of what Genesis presents, depicting him not so much as powerful as power-hungry and wanting to protect his status as alpha.
                Crumb spends this time portraying God as a self-centered ruler because he is setting up a timeline of a sort to show the change in God’s power.  In chapter seven Noah does not question God but obediently follows his commands.  In the scene with the tower and scrambling of speech, humans are beginning to put themselves in a position of power to challenge God, but are still too simple to recognize it and so God’s narrow focus of control brings them down again.  But in chapter eighteen, there is finally a change in the relationship between man and God.  The sequence of pictures where Abraham is arguing to whittle down Sodom’s innocent count shows that Crumb wants to point out that God doesn’t really have all this power and influence, or in another way he doesn’t have control of the power as he thinks he does.   Abraham knows that God has the power, but can it be swayed in one direction or the other?  In this sequence of the debate about Sodom’s fate, God takes the form of three men to meet with Abraham, but Crumb takes care in how he draws these men, and the one that speaks the most with Abraham in particular.  The man is very normal looking, with a typical length cloak and hood and a beard even shorter than Abraham’s.  This is important as Crumb up until this point showed God with long flowing hair, beard, and clothing.  God’s sandaled feet are also obvious and Crumb before rarely showed God’s feet as a way to make God appear above the earth.  All of this is to show how God’s relationship with humanity is equalizing in a way, and God is not so high up as he was before.  But Crumb’s point about God’s power and influence comes out most pointedly in how he draws Abraham in these frames.
Abraham is asking God to show more mercy, which God wants to do, but Crumb’s illustrations make Abraham look like he is scheming and trying to work towards a different purpose besides helping Sodom.  Crumb wants it to look less like Abraham simply easing Sodom’s plight and more like Abraham challenging God’s power and trying to see which way the influence can go.  Crumb still uses the same representation for God’s face and keeps his eyes darkened and foreboding, but it is clear that God’s power and influence is more of an illusion than reality because Abraham is able to manipulate him.  In several of the frames God looks as if he is thinking hard and each time he lowers the total and in several shots he is shown with his face taking up the whole frame or putting his hand on Abraham’s shoulder as if he is making a grand gesture by lowering the total.  But in reality each time Abraham is just showing that he can subtly twist God’s arm and get away with it.  In a commentary book written by Victor P. Hamilton, the position that Abraham is in is examined in terms of his motives.  Hamilton presents an interesting viewpoint because even though he shows how Abraham is manipulating God’s purpose, Hamilton proposes that it is with more innocent motives than Crumb does.  Hamilton explains, “Nowhere does Abraham challenge God’s evaluation of Sodom’s moral turpitude.  That judgment is not up for debate…Rather, he turns to God to ask for divine mercy, and in doing so he becomes the pattern for other intercessors. (Hamilton, 25)”  What Hamilton is saying is that Abraham does not go against God’s wishes because God is all-powerful, but does question in an appropriate way as to change God’s focus and thus sets up a pattern for future men.  While Hamilton uses the phrase “asking for divine mercy”, this view correlates to Crumb because it still shows how Abraham managed to manipulate God into following what Abraham really wanted by making the number of innocent required to save Sodom smaller and smaller.  Through this manipulation and the way Crumb illustrates Abraham, we now see what Crumb has been building to: that man can have influence on God and so God is not as powerful as supposed.  Hamilton also provides more support on this by pointing out that God says, “Surely Yahweh God does nothing, without revealing his secrets to his servants the prophets,” and that this exchange about Sodom is not the first time that God has confided in Abraham (Hamilton, 17).  With Abraham we see the leveling of power between God and man now that he knows about and can in theory counsel God on his actions, which he does.  Crumb uses this same point to help show Abraham’s ploy to influence God.  The details of the illustrations themselves prove how Crumb is putting this new influence to work through Abraham.  He is mostly shown as an imploring servant, looking upwards into the face of God with spread hands and wide eyes shouting things like, “will not the judge of all the Earth deal justly?”  This fits the perspective of Hamilton as Abraham is not questioning whether God should act, but simply for mercy on the innocent because if God does not give this then Abraham as another innocent might suffer in the future for something he is innocent of (Hamilton 17).  But as God acquiesces, Abraham continues to push and Crumb illustrates him to represent this.  Looking at the frame where Abraham asks for twenty to be spared, Crumb completes the change from the imploring confidant to the manipulator.  Abraham’s eyes are now narrow and darkened, his head cocked to the side and scratching his beard as if pondering how far he can take this issue.  His look is calculating and it no longer seems like he is doing it for the sake of Sodom but more to see how much influence he now has.  Finally, in the frame where God accepts ten innocents, Crumb still gives God the look of height and power as he looks down upon Abraham and grants his request.  But now it is apparent that Crumb is saying that God has only been led to believe he is making this decision because he has the power to, and in reality Abraham has directed God’s power to suit his desires.  This ties back in to Crumb’s belief that God does not control the power as he thinks and that man has more influence on him than he realizes, meaning God is not the all-powerful being Genesis makes him out to be.
                Crumb chooses to portray God like this because although the words make God appear as the overarching being he really lacks the influence he thinks he has and Crumb wants to show that through the illustrations of his book.  He does not think God has that power and so mocks the idea of it by making God seem hypocritical or na├»ve while humans grow intellectually and learn to influence God.  With these illustrations Crumb satirizes Genesis by making God seem blind to man’s manipulation of him and gives it a critique that could question its validity.

Source: Hamilton, Victor P. 1995. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. Wm. B. Eerdmans             Publishing Co.  Print.  Retrieved from web November 11,2014.

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