Friday, March 8, 2013

If Earth was Gotham City, god would be the Joker

Four ways the Joker and the god of the Bible are the same character.

Sean Ewart

Why so serious?
I keep hearing how good god is and maybe that’s the case. I’m not willing to rule out a good god any more than I’m willing to say, categorically, that god is evil. This is easy for me because I’m entirely unimpressed with the evidence for god’s existence. Maybe god is real, maybe god isn’t. Maybe god is good, maybe god isn’t. 

But what I’m sure of is that the god of the Bible is not “good.” The Bible’s narrative traces the beginning of the world to its final, prophesied, destruction and, throughout, the will of god is recorded as acting according to the whims of the deity. The god of the Bible is a tyrant; the god of the Bible is not good. 

In fact the god of the Bible is so evil that I’ve found only one other fictional character that parallels that capricious deity: the Joker, as portrayed in the movie Batman: The Dark Knight.

1) Characters without beginnings.

The Joker and the god of the Bible share a critical trait: neither one has a backstory. They are forces of nature as much as anything. We are not supposed to feel empathy for either one because they are, entirely, removed from the landscape of human compassion - like a coin flip. Lacking a backstory, a reason why they are the way they are, the actions undertaken by the god of the Bible and the Joker cannot be explained as the result of anything.

When they kill and when they spare lives their decisions are nothing less than random, and therefore neither one is good. Why did god choose the Israelites? The Bible never says (Genesis17:1-2. Why Abraham? We don’t know). Why did the Joker spare the life of the bank manager? We will never know. 

2) Salvation through servility.

For god and the Joker there can only be salvation according to their whims. From the creation up until the death and resurrection of god in the form of Jesus, salvation, or something akin to it, was obtained only through the pious observation of ritualistic sacrifices. Why did god require blood sacrifices? It’s never explained. God just did (Hebrews 9:13-14).

And when god's commands are not followed to the letter mass slaughter is liable to ensue. Consider the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1 - 17:13). Following a rebellion in which 250 people rose up against god (and Moses), god personally murdered tens of thousands of people: god swallows three entire families into the earth, burns 250 people alive, and kills 14,700 people with a plague.

The question recorded at the end of this story, posed by a terrified people, is haunting: "Are we all going to die?"(Answer: yes, you are.)

The Joker acted in a similarly capricious manner, requiring potential followers fight to the death to join his ranks. Could he admit them another way? Sure. But he doesn’t. Serving god and serving the Joker requires unquestioning submission to the fleeting fancies of the tyrant. And even that isn't always enough.

3) An inexplicable love of pain.

Both god and the Joker demand pain. God proclaims, for no clear reason, that god’s crucifixion is the only way for humanity to be "redeemed" (Matthew 16:21). The Joker wants Batman to run over him with a motorcycle to prove Batman isn’t perfect. (Spoiler alert: Both god and the Joker are resurrected, in a sense, after being captured or killed.) In both cases pain is the only pathway towards their final goal…

4) Destruction.

God and the Joker are ultimately obsessed with the destruction of the world. For god it comes in the form of the apocalypse (Isaiah 24:1-3); for the Joker, in the form of a city’s decay. Both are willing to go to any lengths to achieve that end. The Joker is ready to blow up the ferries regardless of the choices of its passengers; god is ready to harden the hearts of anyone who gets in the way of god’s will (Exodus 4:21-23).  

As with the Joker, god's drive for ultimate destruction is explained only as the punishment for "sin." But "sin" can only exist within the parameters god set up. Why did god set in place those particular parameters? Why can't we eat pig or wear polyester or work on the Sabbath? We aren't privileged to that information. Indeed all we know, according to scripture, is that, thanks to the first humans violating the arbitrary laws of god, we are all doomed to die - some of us in a series of increasingly horrific tortures inflicted upon humanity in the last days (Revelations 8:6 - 11:19).

That is, unless we kill each other first.

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