Ndumiso Ngcobo wouldn’t thrive in Biblical times
Richard Dawkins, biologist and author of many books, including The God Delusion, has one of the most brilliant brains I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting a glimpse of. It therefore took a lot of courage for me to question some of his logic on Twitter, about five years back. He disdainfully brushed me aside with a borderline remark before getting back to the arduous task of healing the world and making it a better place like Michael Jackson. I wasn’t so lucky with his apostles, though. A bunch of angry atheists descended upon me like AfriForum members on a land expropriation hearing.
The most vociferous angry atheist was an Aussie bloke who was incensed at my very audacity in questioning the deity that is Dawkins. The summary of his argument was: “Atheism is intellectually superior to religion by definition so how dare you?”
When I suggested that Dawkins’s ideas sounded more agnostic than atheist, he lost it completely and went all Red Beret on me. According to him, you could go to bed being of average intelligence and wake up the following morning disavowing God and voila! — you’re a genius! It’s a miracle!
I know a believer and theologian who makes significantly more sense than 99% of the atheists I’ve ever encountered. He is one Bishop John Shelby Spong, a retired clergyman of the Episcopal Church in the US. He, too, has authored several books, including Beyond Moralism: A modern view of the ten commandments, Liberating the Gospels: reading the Bible with Jewish eyes, and my favourite, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. This may seem odd coming from a lapsed
Catholic who recently had to sit his mother down and break this 20-yearold bad news.
My fascination with Spong probably stems from the fact that I’m a notorious fence-sitter and bet-hedger on matters of spirituality. At least this is what my hardcore atheist and fervently religious friends alike tell me. One of the reasons I love the good bishop, for example, is that he doesn’t believe hell exists.
In his words, “the church invented hell” because it “has always been in the control business”. This sort of talk appeals to me mostly because if hell really does exist, I’ll definitely end up in the place of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, being turned over with a fork by Satan for eternity.
I have this passionate and stubborn need for things to make sense to me before I do them. Let me give you an example. I have done a fair bit of reading the Holy Bible in my time, having been raised Catholic. Take the story in Genesis involving Abraham and his son Isaac.
The reason Abraham is so revered is that he possessed enough faith to heed an instruction to offer his only son,
Isaac, as a sacrifice. If I’d been in that story, in Abraham’s shoes, there wouldn’t even be a story. I could never saddle a donkey, put my son on it and tie him down to a pile of firewood with the intention of burning him. I’d be that guy busy back-chatting the Almighty, questioning His wisdom.
This is why Abraham is remembered thousands of years after he lived and no-one will remember me 10 years after I die.
My story would be like that of one of the least significant characters from the Bible, Onan. The fact that many will stop reading this and go searching for Onan on Google proves my point. Apparently when Onan’s elder brother Er passed on, his dad Judah instructed him to sleep with Er’s widow, Tamar, to produce an heir for their clan.
This is called a levirate marriage and used to be practised widely in these parts. Look, none of my brothers are married, but if they were — even though I have been generally impressed with their taste in women — I would not be able to accede to this request.
Onan’s response was a bit on the punkish side. He obeyed his dad’s instruction and lay with Tamar. But decided to practise coitus interruptus at the crucial moment, ostensibly to ensure that he inherited the lion’s share of his dad’s estate instead of sharing it with an heir. The Almighty apparently slew him for this practice of the rhythm method.
Quite frankly, I would have suffered the same fate. What I’m not too certain about is whether I would have even gone as far Onan. (Although it’s easy to judge poor Onan, but what if someone told you Tamar looked like Beyoncé? So, judge not lest ye be judged.)
And then there was the prophet Isaiah, instructed by God to preach in his birthday suit for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush. Again, I would have failed this test abysmally. I like to believe that I am confident about the state of my fleshy bits, but I could not possibly walk around in the nude for three years. Especially not on really cold days that don’t exactly flatter one. My weak faith would have let me down on this one as well.
My point is not that these biblical stories are absurd. Far from it. My point is that not everyone has had the gift of faith bestowed upon them.
It is not easy to put oneself in the shoes of someone whose faith leads them to the point where they eat grass, drink Jik and get sprayed with Doom in the name of faith. But also, a great responsibility rests upon the shoulders of those who lead folks who possess faith. With that said, until I receive the gift of faith, I will not listen to anyone who tells me to pay R1,500 for a bottle of miracle water to cure erectile dysfunction. You’ll find me at the DisChem counter with a prescription for blue pills.
I have this passionate need for things to make sense to me before I do them
I’m confident about my fleshy bits, but I could not walk around nude for three years