Stanley Kubrick’s landmark film, A Clockwork Orange (based on Anthony Burgess’ novella of the same name) is a very tough movie to watch. There is so much violence and sex unsparingly on view it originally received an “X” rating. But it’s also a movie that is not really about violence and sex: a zesty soundtrack filled with bright Rossini Overtures, a sparkling rendition of Singing in the Rain and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony accompanies the rapes, mutilations, and torture – making all of it so grisly and weird as to become ridiculous. In fact, everyone in this story acts in an all sorts of over-the-top ridiculous manner. We come to realize we are not being shown a tale of "true life crime" but rather a satire about modern “civilization” and how it is unwittingly breeds young people to become wholly uncivilized. The pitch black comic tone gives this dangerous message much more punch (pun totally intended) than if it were delivered as straightforward diatribe.
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There are stories in our scriptures as disturbing – and darkly funny -- as A Clockwork Orange. However, because we’re not encouraged to wonder if they're actually satirizing something, we not only miss out on their extra-sharp messages (and accompanying entertainment value), we also leave ourselves prone to assume the Bible is telling us these tales of terror actually happened and God allowed some of the worst behavior imaginable to make His point.
Take for example the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, found in Genesis 19. Here we have an account of gang-violence, homosexual rape, despoliation of virgins, incest…to name just a few of the grotesqueries that take place or are at least unhesitatingly suggested in these 37 short verses.
When taken at face-value, the Sodom and Gomorrah story is used to justify the notion that God virulently and thoroughly condemns homosexuality. It’s also caused more than one friend to reject Judeo-Christian tradition and the whole of organized religion entirely. With “sacred stories” like this, who needs “faith”?
Oh, if only we would read the gory details of Genesis 19 to The William Tell Overture!
What a difference it might make!
The good news is, even if we don’t have a sprightly soundtrack to help us appreciate Genesis 19's irony and burlesque spirit, there is, nevertheless, context that helps makes this all darkly funny.
For starters, we can remember what happened back in Genesis 13, when Lot and his uncle Abram (later Abraham) were journeying together to a new home. They weren’t getting along, so Uncle Abe suggested they split up. Lot was allowed to pick where he’d like to live and Abram agreed to live in the opposite direction. What a guy.
We’re told at Genesis 13:10 that “Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like that garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar” (a nearby town to Sodom and Gomorrah)….
Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to live in such paradise, a land that brings the great Empire of Egypt to mind?
If you got to pick between this...
What would you choose?
One of the prominent ironic messages of the Bible is that life on what looks to be Easy Street is always just about the opposite. This message couldn’t be anymore pronounced than in the chronicle of what poor old Lot and his family had to deal with once they chose for their home the land and cities of Shangri-La.
True to his word, Abram went the other way, settling in land that was even less inviting than the real estate around Barstow. (That’s a joke probably most appreciated by my friends in California….)
However, in that barren land, three angels came, as reported in Genesis 18. And, after a most-hospitable meal they announced that Abram's wife Sarai (later "Sarah") would finally have a child. This of course was a crazy promise, since she and her husband were old and way beyond child-bearing years. It is also a crazy-happy promise, the kind of blessing God is possible of bestowing; however maybe it's only possible when you’re in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to rely on. Forget about it if you're a Shangri-Laian.
Sort of like Genesis 18, in Genesis 19, a couple of these angels then pay a visit on Lot. After a lovely hospitable meal Lot's home is stormed by all the men of Sodom both young and old -- we’re not to leave one single y chromosome out – who want to rape the guests.
Whaat? Within the context of what just happened in chapter 18, this beyond-unwelcoming behavior becomes ridiculous. And then the story gets even weirder.
“Um,” says Lot, scrambling to show he remains hospitable to his visitors. How can he possibly do that, and in a pinch (as it were)? What comes a close second?
He’s got it! “How about if you rape my virgin daughters instead???”
Again, this is crazy! But again, it's not about the violence and sex. It’s over-the-top dark goofiness to show just how downhill life on Easy Street had become. And how blind it turns all of its residents. (It’s not just the Sodomite men who storm Lot’s house in an orgiastic frenzy who lose their sight).
When told to flee to the hills outside the city, Lot balks. Instead, he asks the angels if he can go to another city…maybe Zoar, a smaller city so maybe it wouldn’t be that bad?? The angels seem resigned to let Lot have his way (after all, Abraham earlier comically dickered with God for Lot’s protection). Unfortunately, as fire and sulfur begins to rain from the heavens and Lot and his lot been told to go go go and never look back, Lot’s wife just can’t help herself. She stops, inviting horrible glop to potentially fall on her. And, defying God’s order, she has to take one more look. Why? That’s the place where her daughters were almost gang-raped, and at her husband’s bequest! How crazy can she be? But maybe she still loves “the city” just that much…. No wonder she’s turned into a mineral. That’s clearly about all she has for brains.
We’re told that Lot and his now-motherless daughters don’t fare well in their new-but-littler city of Zoar, either. They find their lives threatened. (It is because gangs now do want to rape the daughters? Or is it that they’re all suffering from PTSD? We don’t know.) In any case, Lot and daughters now (finally) head to the hills, where they become convinced the world has become completely devoid of men. (Maybe the only kind of males they recognize anymore are the vicious molesting kind, and maybe God has been able to destroy them all, at least for now. Maybe that’s why this dippy assumption makes some sense.)
In any case, in such assumed straits, what are a couple of well-meaning and plucky young virgins to do? They have a duty to society to bear children. As I mentioned in my previous blog about Sex in the Bible, it’s all about doing whatever is necessary to insure a next generation of God’s people.
Sooo, they get their dad drunk and rape him! Wise choice!
That’s because there’s a happy ending to this story. (It's a comedy after all!) Each daughter bears a son. One of those sons becomes the first of the Ammonites, one of Israel’s neighbors. The other son becomes the first Moabite, the tribe from which Ruth comes, the woman who ends up being King David’s grandmother and even a great-great-grandmother to Jesus.
(Ah yes, God always, somehow, does see to it that life, and His Project, go on....)
Oh, to hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” swell in volume at about this time!