Today I was pointed to a blog, by Dawn Eden (dawneden.com). In her August 16, 2005 entry she comments on my San Francisco Chronicle interview.
In the interview (which you can read on this site) I make a mistake when I recount the story from Mark where Jesus send the evil spirits into the pigs and they run off the mountain. I said he sent the people too. That was incorrect.
“Further proof that Christians need to continually remind the mainstream media of the most basic facts concerning their faith: San Francisco Chronicle religion writer David Ian Miller's failure to correct Julia Sweeney as she utterly mangles a story from the Gospels.”
“Apparently, it is too much to expect a San Francisco Chronicle religion writer to have the Bible knowledge of a 7-year-old Sunday-school student.”
This is what I wrote back to her today:
Yes. I misrepresented the Jesus-commands-evil spirits-to-go-into-pigs-and-run-them-off-a-cliff story in the bible. I suggested that that Jesus caused the people & pigs to run off the cliff. He didn’t. He just caused a COUPLE OF THOUSAND PIGS to run off the cliff.
The point I was trying to make is that Jesus does several things that aren't particularly charitable or compassionate or even logical. I mean, if Jesus is capable of anything, why doesn't he just kill the evil spirits right there? Why does he have to kill two thousand innocent pigs to do that? Regardless of the fact that Jews of the period thought that pigs were unclean, we know that this is not true. So if we know this, why didn't Jesus? Why would that action be acceptable to him?
Plus, evil spirits? COME ON. Are we to believe that there are "evil spirits" that can infect a person and then be driven out of a person? And then driven into an…animal?
You say my mistake is the reason that Christians have to remind the mainstream media of the most basic facts concerning their religion. I completely agree. I think you should remind everyone in the mainstream culture (which is predominantly Christian) that their God is someone who sends evil spirits into pigs and drives them off mountains. (Pigs owned by people, by the way. Even if the mainstream culture you are trying to remind the “most basic facts” to isn’t moved by the specter of two thousand pigs hurling themselves off a cliff by Jesus’ direction, they might be upset – in this most commercial & profits driven culture -- that those pigs were owned by someone. Even by today’s standards, two thousand lost pigs have to be counted as an economic loss.)
So yes. Jesus didn’t send some people and pigs off a cliff. He sent the “evil spirits” into two thousand pigs and they ran off a cliff. Is that so much better? Is this the story that you say any seven-year-old Church student knows?
Personally, I would find that defending Jesus’ killing off of a couple of thousand pigs after he infected them with evil spirits a “basic fact” of your faith not worth defending. But that’s just me.
Good luck to you. I hope your mother gets well.
This is the Gospel story: Mark 5:1-20 (New American Standard Bible)
The Gerasene Demoniac
1They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.
2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him,
3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain;
4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.
5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;
7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!"
8 For He had been saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"
9 And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Legion; for we are many."
10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.
12 The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them."
13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened.
15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened.
16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine.
17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region.
18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.
19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."
20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
More thoughts on this story:
Rereading this story, I find it even more upsetting. We know that people who behave in the way this man is behaving are psychologically traumatized and need help, maybe even medical help. If Jesus is the Son of an all-knowing God and they are also One, why wouldn’t Jesus know this? Why wouldn’t he prescribe a medication for the man, or offer to hear the man’s story and try to help him with some Talk-therapy? Clearly Jesus doesn’t know about these things. Clearly this was written in a time when no one knew about these things. Jesus was responding to this poor crazy man in a way that was consistent with the scientific information they had. They believed that mentally disabled people were possessed. And they believed that pigs were bad.
I mean, isn’t this obviously a story that would have wowed people two thousand years ago and isn’t relevant to us today? Why does anyone cling to these stories for spiritual sustenance? Why do they look at this story and find it meaningful? I don’t get it.