Perfidious Proverbs and Other Poems: A Satirical Look at the Bible, by Philip Appleman (130 pp., paperback, Humanity Books, 2011)
Toss the Gideon bibles out of ho¬tel rooms and replace them with this book.
Imagine if Mary, the mother of Je¬sus, could speak for herself. Unless we find a trove of ancient affidavits, the only way we can do that today is through fiction. It’s all fiction anyway. The biblical authors were, after all, au¬thors. If their compositions count as truth, then so do Phil Appleman’s, but his are infinitely more fun to read.
And when they are not intended to be fun, they are powerful. (I actu¬ally read “Gertrude” out loud during a public debate. It is that powerful.) Like the biblical authors, Phil has a point of view, but he is admitting it openly by deliberately yanking our perspective to the side — a point of view with a point of view.
“Mary” is one of the most incred¬ible poems I have ever read. “Not ex¬actly what you’d want for your son, is it?” Between the lines, behind the lines and the lines themselves all shift the camera angle from the sham orthodox cry for miracles to focus on the human story behind the scenes.
I long ago lost the gift of prophecy, but I will make a secular prediction here: Many of the lines in this book are destined for the quote books. You will find your own, but here are some of my favorites (and I hope I am not giving away too many punch lines):
• “Maybe we’re all exactly like gods. And maybe that’s our really original sin.”
• “This is the only real revelation — that God is only a trick with mirrors, our dark reflection in a glass.”
• “God must have a weird sense of values, and if there’s a Judgment Day, as some folks think, He’s going to have a lot to answer for.”
• “JUDAS: Well, with or without those thirty pieces of silver, it’s a won¬der that none of the others crossed him first.”
• “Why can’t pious people just be moral?”
• “HEAVEN: The big apartheid in the sky.”
I can’t end without singing high¬est praise for my favorite, “Gathering at the River.” I have no trouble at all seeing that this is great poetry. It is so good that it should not be set to music, just as it would be a huge mistake to put lyrics to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” I read this one twice in a row, and keep going back to it, like a song you want to hear again and again:
“. . . Imagine,
not eons of boredom or pain,
but honest earth-to-earth;
and when our bodies rise again,
they will be wildflowers, then rabbits,
then wolves, singing a perfect love
to the beautiful, meaningless
I agree with Phil that there is no meaning of life, and that is what makes it so precious. Life is its own reward: a song that doesn’t need words. But the fact that there is no meaning of life does not mean there is no meaning in life.
As long as there is such beauty to create and admire — as long as we have Phil Appleman’s wonderful words — there is immense meaning in life.
Perfidious Proverbs is available for $20 ppd. online at ffrf/shop.org/ or by mail to FFRF, Sales, Box 750, Madison, WI 53701.
Dan Barker, author of Godless, is co¬president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.