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Some Christians Afraid to Look at Robert Crumb’s Illustrated ‘Book of Genesis’

Robert Crumb’s illustrated version of the “Book of Genesis” is out, and it’s incredible, and guess who’s upset about it. Christians! The amazing part about this particular controversy is that instead of getting up in arms about comics with gay people in them or Japanese cartoons with comedic nudity, they’re actually upset with the Bible, and it is blowing my mind.

The problem isn’t that Crumb’s illustrations are upsetting, which is what they’re saying; the problem is that those stories in the Bible are upsetting, and many people — particularly Christians — would rather not have to look at them.

The book is this bizarre cultural nexus where the hyperactive moralism and whitewashed Scriptural cherry-picking of many Christians runs headlong into the reality of a) life and b) the book that they consider literally infallible, and it’s seriously incredible to sit here and watch them crash together.

First, let’s be clear about what’s actually in the book. The Telegraph article says that “it includes graphic illustrations of Bible characters having sexual intercourse, and other scenes depicting naked men and women as well as ‘gratuitous’ depictions of violence,” as though Crumb woke up one day and decided to illustrate original Bible slash fiction. In truth, all he’s really done is illustrate the stories that are in the book, which is why the following is complete and total B.S.:

“It is turning the Bible into titillation,” said Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, a religious think-tank. “…If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves… Faith is such an important part of people’s lives that one must remember to tread very carefully.”

Hey, Judge, do you know what that sounds like? I mean, exactly like? The response from many Danish Muslims over the cartoon depictions of Muhammed. Except that they were complaining about people mocking something sacred to them, while you’re actually complaining about someone faithfully depicting something sacred to you. Are you seriously that afraid of pictures of things? Things that come verbatim from your beloved religious text?

Also, if we’re going to talk about what is and is not “gratuitous,” did I really need to know — for example — that one time, after a man being pursued by an angry mob threw his concubine outside to be gang-raped all night long, in the morning when they were done he took her home and cut her into exactly twelve pieces? Because that’s one story from the Bible that I’m not sure I needed to hear in detail, or at all, but there it is.

Consider further the fact that parents have no problem handing their kids a Bible, which has numerous stories that involve rape, murder, dismemberment, incest, infanticide, and most notably, where the main character that everyone loves gets tortured to death in an incredibly horrible way — and even encourage kids to wear tiny replicas of the torture device that killed the hero around their neck — while simultaneously freaking out completely because a Japanese comic book in their local library may have included brief, comedic nudity depicted by several amorphous circles.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the morality police have gotten disproportionately upset with comics — as opposed to print books with often more titillating or controversial content — simply because you can see the events taking place directly on the page rather than reading a description of them.

But if you really want to deal with the Bible — or complicated, powerful stories in any medium — then you have to be ready to look them in eye, even when it isn’t pretty. The power of the “Book of Genesis” in comics form is that is forces you to do exactly that. And the idea that we’re not supposed to acknowledge the violence, sex, and even horror of many moments in the Bible because people like Judge want to ignore them in both Scripture and life offends me profoundly, not only because it is ridiculous, but because it is intellectually and spiritually corrupt.

This controversy has less to do with real faith of any kind and more to do with putting your hands over your ears and shouting LA LA LA LA LA LA. Many people turn to the Bible as a book that teaches them lessons about how to live, but no one ever got better at dealing with the hard, complicated realities of living by closing their eyes, or by trying to close them for other people. And in fairness, at least one Christian group interviewed for the article seemed to agree:

A spokeswoman for the Bible Society said she hadn’t seen the book but that reviews had suggested that Crumb had “really engaged” with the Book of Genesis. “It may surprise people but the Bible does contain nudity, sex and violence. That’s because it contains real stories about real people.”

How interesting — comics do too. I’ll have to remember that defense for the next time censors come for us.

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