Monday, December 18, 2006

God's Nose

Happy holidays to all, and a Merry Christmas to you, Bill-O: may your Who-ville moment of enlightenment be not far off.

One of the primary signs of a good blog is not necessarily its content or its writers as much as the quality of the audience it attracts. Daily Kos, Altercation, and the HuffPost (for example) are great blogs mainly because smart and perceptive people read them and post comments. So I'm always grateful when we have comments such as we received from Hugh7 to Thursday's post, where we considered the news of the supposed benefits of circumcision. Hugh7 is another of our readers who questions authority and penetrates appearances, and that's what we're about here at DR.

Now Terry McKenna is taking a well-deserved break from blogging. This week, we'll focus on the holidays and their various symbols and practices—starting with a small essay on God's Nose. First, a few news items from the weekend deserve our attention.

What does it take to make a Bush see the faintest light of reality? How about 35 minutes of torture in what is supposed to be a non-cruel and thoroughly human punishment? I suppose we should give Jeb credit for ordering the practice stopped, at least temporarily. Let's hope he has a talk with bro about the same principle: for now that the casualty count in that cruel and inhuman war for "our" side has reached 25,000 and another half million or so for "them," it would appear as if the moment has long passed to finally do what two-thirds of the American electorate is asking be done.

BBC is doing a special report on an issue that our mass media wouldn't dare touch, because it would adversely impact a cornerstone of the Washington economy, especially when Congress is in session. It's about prostitution, and is told from the perspective of the ladies themselves, and it is compelling reading. Check it out, and by all means pass the link around.


God's Nose

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God knows all (mind, intellect); sees all (the omni-eye); and hears all (the cosmic NSA wiretapper). But He doesn't smell a thing; and this, I submit, is a problem, a failing of God.

The Greeks and other ancient cultures knew better. They understood that man was not created in God's image, but that it was really quite the other way around. Therefore, they gave God a very sharp sense of smell. This sense is a part of the many stories (usually of the big guy, Zeus), that involve attraction, deception, and even seduction. Read the tales of Homer, Ovid, or Pindar: if you wanted to get a god's attention in those days, you laid out a feast that would usually feature a juicy, burning, smoking sacrificial barbecue. The fumes from the roast would waft toward Olympus and next thing you know you'd have a god at the picnic table.

The only remnant of such stories in the Judeo-Christian Bible that I could find is Gen. 8:21, where Noah, having survived the famous flood, has smoked some sacrificial animals in the BBQ pit and the smell attracts God, who as a result swears never to destroy the Earth again. Otherwise, in both the Old and New Testaments, God's nose has been removed.

Maybe the authors of these texts wanted us to believe that God couldn't possibly be an animal like us, so they made a point of taking away or at least minimizing the most primordially animal sense—smell—from the attributes of God. Once again, in these texts God knows, sees, hears, and certainly acts a lot; but he rarely smells (though he often stinks).

The problem with a God who can't smell is that this deficiency severely weakens the teaching potential of the myth; it saps the metaphor of a crucial strain of pragmatism, since God is suddenly so fundamentally unlike us that His experience is no guide for our lived experience.

And if you think the sense of smell is overrated, check out the animal kingdom: what do two dogs do when they first meet? How do animals in the wild detect enemies or food? Then consider your own experience, and think of how often you've relied on your sense of smell to choose the right food, the best living space, even the right mate. For us, smell means so much that it has become embodied in our language as a symbolic or inner sense that's applied to situations metaphorically: we smell a rat, we sniff for meaning, we smell trouble, we will even say that we can smell a lie (and, in fact, we can).

So how can a God of the Universe teach us anything meaningful about ourselves—our lives, our bodies, our relationships—if He has been effectively deprived of the most basic and essential of our animal senses? For when we make God insensate to odor, then we in turn become the same, and we build a culture of sanitized, genetically modified foods that neither nourish nor entice us with a delightful odor. We also spew poisons into the air and can pretend they're not there, because we have denied, through our Creator stories, our own sense of smell.

This seems to be a problem we need to work on. My first suggestion would be that we simply drop God altogether—flush Him out of our consciousness, individually and culturally. This, however, may meet with a certain resistance in most parts of the world; so my second-best alternative is this: let's give God back His sense of smell. Give Him back his nose.

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