Visualizing Religion

Today is the release date for R. Crumb’s massive, fleshy, and strangely literal adaptation of the book of Genesis. It will make some people happy, other people mad, and still other people shrug, but from a purely comics perspective, all you really need to know is that it’s 224 pages of new Crumb artwork (Hell, I’d buy it if it was the official R. Crumb adaptation of the Boise, Idaho Yellow Pages).

Coincidentally, on NPR this morning, I heard this depressing story about “feuding” Atheists. Apparently, even though I’m a sometimes “angry” atheist myself, I would actually be classified as “old school” according to this story. The idea of going out of one’s way to offend believers seems pointless and self-defeating to me—a resounding demonstration of how religion can dominate a person’s life instead of a good case for a compelling alternative.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought the alternative to blind faith was knowledge. If some people insist on ignoring scientific evidence (150 years of research on evolution for example) maybe it’s because we’ve done such a bad job of teaching that science. There are no quick fixes, but I can’t help thinking that simply getting knowledge out the door by any means necessary is our only way out of the swamp.

In a way, Crumb’s Genesis is a step in that direction, because it makes visible a document that even the faithful are sometimes a bit sketchy on as they cherry-pick the lessons that sound warm and fuzzy and conveniently forget all that weird, crazy, ancient gibberish. I can think of one instance where actually reading the Bible finally convinced one Catholic to give it all up.

Note that I have no idea if that was Crumb’s intent or not.  All I know is that I’d be much happier if everybody had a fuller understanding of all religions and all sciences and could simply make up their minds based on information instead of merely taking sides among warring tribes of fanatics.

I’ve said it about art, but I guess it applies here too:

We can’t define ourselves by what we’re not.

Discussion (33)¬

  1. jarred says:

    well said!

    Much more eloquent than I could have ever put it…

  2. Well said. I’m troubled by the “new” Atheism, which seems just as annoying as religion in many ways. Especially when said Atheists have got their facts just as wrong as the religious camp (ie. confusing a Christmas tree for a religious symbol).

  3. Will Schar says:

    To Both Scotts,

    You describe my reaction to the film Religulous and to most of Richard Dawkins’ material. They seem to take a high ground, similar to that of a religious zealot, and use the same apocalyptic arguments to convince people to follow their path. Atheism has become a religion unto itself.

    Human nature to separate ourselves into factions of the Righteous and the Others I suppose.

    I look forward to reading Crumb’s new book.

  4. DavidMcG says:

    Yeah, for a while I’ve had trouble distinguishing the difference as to why misguided atheism-based hatred is supposed to be any better than misguided religious-based hatred.

  5. Church says:

    Thank you. I’m an unbeliever myself, but the ‘evangelical atheists’ annoy me far more than evangelical theists.

    That said, from what I understand of Crumb’s work here, it’s just the kind of thing to get the kind of Christians who haven’t read their Bible to pay attention.

  6. Ionhelen says:

    Man, I agree with you from either side. I’m a Christian, but sometimes I feel like I’ve got more in common with athiests because I have a level freakin’ head. Athiest or believer, I don’t think it’s anyone’s duty to throw our beliefs into other people’s faces and just be plain assholes. Dogmatic actions on either side are just not the right way to get someone to think about and look at your point of view.
    What I, and the church I go to, ask is – since when did belief systems become more important than people and their hearts? Anything that can make someone consider this is awesome in my book.
    Thanks for sharing this, Scott.

  7. Mike Leung says:

    It seems common sense that atheism is the religion of the absence of a god, in what seems to be the same way that someone who buries himself up to his neck for 3 years, 3 days, and 3 months is indulging in the desire to divest himself of desire. It isn’t that only religion is folly, but that folly is omnipresent.

  8. Shane says:

    Yeah, I’ve met some aetheists of the new school around campus and I don’t really agree for what they stand for. While it’s true that you might be able to convince somebody not to be religious by bombarding them with it (it works in the reverse for cult religions), it doesn’t make it right. People need to come to their own conclusions, but they need to have the proper amount of equal information and respect for both the sacred and secular points of view and THAT’S what atheists (nay, humanity) should be focusing on.

  9. theSEM says:

    I don’t see how atheism can have a schism, since it’s not a religion. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods, that’s really the only unifying factor among atheists. What dogma have we, what tenets? What or whom do we worship? It just seems silly to me to have atheism of any stripe compared to religion. As for “new” vs. “old” atheism, I think there’s a time and a place for insults, and that I prefer not to use them but I have (I’m a bad person, I know, but when one disregards the entirety of modern science whilst majoring in it I am going to call that one an idiot).

    All that said, when I first heard about this book a little while back I was looking forward to it. I still consider myself trying to “break into” comics (I’ve read Bone, all of the Sandman, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Understanding Comics, Making Comics, Dog and Robot, Laika, in the middle of From Hell, Girl Genius, a host of webcomics, etc), but the sheer volume of it all makes it hard for me to have a good grasp on, well, everything. I’ve seen some of Crumb’s work and am fascinated by it, and I’d like to see if I can get a copy of this to read, though if there are suggestions on other Crumb works, or heck, any good comics that you like that you think I should read, just tell me. 😀

    • It just seems silly to me to have atheism of any stripe compared to religion.

      Much like how creationists try to claim what they do is science, the religious try to muddy up the pond a bit more by claiming atheism is a religion.

      That many in this thread hold the same incorrect opinion shows how effective they’ve been.

      • theSEM says:

        Yes, exactly! It’s a sort of, “Well, fine, atheism is a religion and you’re no better than us!” idea that strikes me as incredibly bizarre, a backwards version of “If you can’t beat ’em join ’em.”

  10. Jesse Haller says:

    Drawing from different theologies, philosophies and sciences is the way I look at the world. With skepticism, but also an open mind.

    This is known as Eclecticism.

    It’s how I come at comics as well. Drawing inspiration from the whole range styles and sub-groups.

  11. Alexx Kay says:

    “We can’t define ourselves by what we’re not.”

    Of course we can, and many people do. I used to myself.

    Somewhere around age 20, however, I had the epiphany that defining myself as the inverse of [hated group] still left [hated group] in control of my life. I realized that to truly overcome their dominance of me, I had to define myself in my *own* terms. If you let someone else choose the field of battle, then you’ve already surrendered the most important part of the war.

    • Scott says:

      My point exactly (and I really like that last line, btw).

      The reason I say “can’t” is that the control of that negatively-defined persona is out of our hands. “They” do the defining, not we.

      I suppose it would have been more precise to say we “shouldn’t” define ourselves by what we’re not, but that doesn’t scan as well. 🙂

  12. FPTI says:

    Mr. McCloud is an atheist, too!?! So he couldn’t just be incredibly smart, he had to be that incredibly awe-inspiring? Mr. McCloud, I think you might have just replaced Douglas Adams as my role model. At the very least you’re tied.

  13. Kyle Latino says:

    I think forgetting or ignoring that “weird ancient jibberish” is what causes so many problems. It’s when religious people (myself included) fail to recognize the evolution and refinement of our belief system that we become closed off and hostile towards others. It’s also particularly embarrassing to have people try to employ that “weird ancient jibberish” as scientific fact.

  14. Greg says:

    It’s interesting that the news story is attempting to put atheists into differing camps, such as “old” or “new,” as if it was somehow similar to the Protestant Reformation. It really seems like an angle in search of journalistic integrity. Organizing atheists is like herding cats. Certainly there will always be various groups of people who disagree with other groups of people, but trying to categorize atheists so that you can trump up some division among them just seems like a non-starter.

  15. Mark Young says:

    Seems like atheists should skip theological discussions – what’s the point?

  16. MaryLynne says:

    About the article about the feuding atheists – I saw a blog of someone whom she interviewed (PZ Myers), and he claims she did some major quote-mining – he didn’t say that. I don’t think there is this big schism among atheists, whatever that would even mean. I hang out on some of the most outspoken “new” atheist blogs, and though they don’t worry about or shy away from offending believers, it’s not about going out of the way to offend them. But – the people of faith who are hollering about this are used to a culture that gives them a pass. People who didn’t believe just mostly kept quiet. They see it as “going out of the way to be offensive” when we simply don’t accept their dogma anymore and say so.

    Most of us don’t care at all what someone else believes. They can believe in Jesus, Santa and anything else for all I care. We feel we need to speak up when we see them using a set of variably-interpreted writings of shepherds from 2000 years ago to effect our education, medical care, civil rights, science funding, government and military decisions, etc. (Is anyone else bothered that Bush met with Christian leaders to get advice on our policy towards Israel?) If religion and faith were personal instead of injected into every aspect of our society, there would be no “new” or militant atheists. We aren’t the ones knocking on your door Saturday morning to argue with you!

    And no, atheism is not a religion. It is a religion the way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.

  17. John says:

    I’ve gone through an interesting journey through my faith. I was raised Roman Catholic. Stopped going to church until about six months ago. Living in South Carolina, in the so-called Bible Belt, is daunting. Charleston alone has…what?…about seventeen million different churches? I started going to a Baptist Church on advice of a few friends from my dance circles. I stopped going because I felt the experience was becoming insulting. I felt like I was attending a political rally thinly disguised as a sermon with the pastor himself saying stuff like, “There is no forgiveness in Islam” and “Homosexuals should not be allowed to serve as church leaders”, “Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons are misguided morons”, “Episcopalians are misguided because they allow homosexuals to teach the gospel” and so on. What really grates me is how they defend Gov. Mark Sanford after he admitted to having extramarital affairs. That really got me mad. The following week I started going to an Episcopalian Church and felt a lot better. The message about human justice hit home to me.

    By the way, no, I’m not about to become all militant and damn people to hell for being atheist, agnostic or nihilistic. People choose their own paths and that’s fine by me. It’s better to have an open mind and take all opinions into consideration than force feed beliefs down people’s throats.

    I did want to say this…my favorite part of the faith are the untold stories. “The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden”. Stories, such as the Gospel of Mary, Letters of Herod and Pilate, The Story of Adam and Eve Books I and II, the books of Enoch and Solomon. Great stuff that was left out of the Bible for one reason or another. It makes me wish other Christians could look into the “lost” history of the book, rather than re-write the thing:


    (that part makes me shudder)

  18. Will Curwin says:

    I actally am in the process of reading Crumb’s Genesis. And in the intro, he explains why he did write it (illustered it?). He said basically that one he didn’t like how comics have tried to handle the topic before and that two that, in his mind, this was one of the greatest stories ever told by mankind. Now Crumb is an atheist but respects others belifs as well. People can learn something from that examlpe.

    On topic of the book its self, I heard about a year ago and thought it would be a satire. But it shows one of his more understated skills, his skills as a historian. So I highly recommend it.

  19. Michael says:

    Well Scott, as a former atheist ( although I was probably closer to agnostic to be honest) who is now an old fashioned hellfire and brimstone preacher, I have been on both sides of the fence and I have friends on both sides, and am often amazed at the lack of civility on both sides.
    Having said that, I always thought Crumb was highly highly overrated. But to each his own.

  20. Carlos says:

    I am both a Catholic apologist and a long-time comics fan. I bought Crumb’s Genesis as soon as it was released, and it is absolutely wonderful. There are a few things he could have represented better, but it is, all things considered, a wonderful work of art, and I am proud of owning a copy.
    The morons who criticize it would probably be against 99% of medieval art, too. Bowdlerized religious texts are one of the saddest side-effects of Puritanism, a denial of human nature that would never have been considered before the invention of Protestantism.
    The book of Genesis – as the whole Bible – is a book about the relationship of a personal God and human beings, not a fairy tale about a fluffy non-descript Deity preaching PC self-help for doe-eyed angels. Human nature is what makes us capable of rising above the angels or falling much lower than dogs, and refusing to see it as it is would never lead anyone closer to the truth.
    Now I just hope Crumb goes on to the book of Exodus, which would also provide him some wonderful material.

  21. olive booger says:

    I guess you’re right.. But the angry Crumb was so much funnier to read.

  22. I think it’s very interesting that atheism is showing the darker sides of false religion. i think we can all agree that any beliefs not tempered with respect and love for others are dangerous things.

    Also it’s not necessarily ignorance for people to have differing interpretations of scientific fact. For instance i see a great parallel between the fossil record and my own creative progression, not that ink on paper comes close to creating flesh and blood.

  23. tater tot says:

    I know atheists who are more christian than some christians i know. my former best friend became so obsessed with turning me christian that we gew apart, just because she kept insisting “I don’t want you to go to hell” Of course, her telling me bible stories every monday at lunch break made me want to strangle her too… but I think that religion causes just a couple more problems than it solves. Also, if part of being Christian is(as she told me) bugging people who have made a descision they are happy with to be like you, than you can count me out.

  24. Julia S. says:

    The moment I heard Crumb was doing Genesis I lost it laughing! He is the PERFECT artist for bringing that horror story to life in black and white! Honestly I’m almost afraid to read it because he such a DETAIL oriented fellow…

    Oh and reading the bible front to back cures Protestants too… I love telling people I’m a failed Presbyterian…

  25. […] McCloud had this to say about Crumb’s piece–which is pretty much what the “consensical” […]