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Abraham, Sodom and the Gospel of Jack Black

15 July 2011

“liberalism,” def.: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, disapproves of your sexual proclivities.

It was no minor miracle.  Last night I persuaded my wife to watch Year One, a comedy starring Jack Black and Michael Cera.  In it two primitive tribesmen leave their village only to find themselves in the midst of biblical salvation history.   The poop jokes abounding throughout the film were, predictably, hilarious.  My wife’s reaction to the humor was, predictably, cool.  What the two of us could agree on in any case was Year One‘s utter disregard for the Genesis narrative.

In the movie the two protagonists run into Abraham, who is in the process of sacrificing Isaac.  Isaac is a mouthy, sex-crazed profligate, so it’s understandable why the father of all nations wants to slay the youngster.  When Black and Cera break up the would-be sacrifice, Abraham believes it to be divine intervention, and the two men are taken into the Hebrew clan.  Of course, the people of Abraham practice all manner of deviant behavior: his daughter is a lesbian, another son practices buggery.  A few scenes later Abraham gets it in his mind that he must circumcise every male among him, not so much for covenantal purposes as for a quasi-religious way to address sexual lust.  Throughout the visit to the proto-Israelite camp, Black and Cera endure Abraham’s diatribes against the people of Sodom.  The sexually depraved Sodomites are a people hideous to the prudish Abraham, and loathing for them drips from his mouth.

Casting the biblical patriarch as a sexually repressed sadist makes sense only in the gospel of Jack Black.  Denial of any personal liberty represents sin.  Numerous freaks lie along the path to wholeness, but the real problem are the puritanical.   Deliverance comes in the form of antiauthoritarian expression and the genuine friendship of those who condone one’s animalistic passions (which turns out to be the overtly didactic conclusion of Year One). 

The flick got me thinking about Abraham’s masculine identity, in any case.  If he didn’t establish his gendered self-identity as a pathologically aggressive killjoy, then how did he?  Of course, there is something to be said about his slippery personality when it came to interacting with pharoahs (Gen 12) and kings (Gen 20), not to mention his passive but self-serving attentiveness to his own wife (Gen 16).  More positively, he lives into his calling to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:2-3).  In stark contradition to Year One, Abraham is wholly on the side of Sodom.  He saves their people from wholesale defeat and slavery (Gen 14).  When the LORD intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, it is Abraham who comes to their rescue, interceding on their behalf (Gen 18).  That is to say, Abraham’s posture is not one of self-righteous condescension at all, but one of deep and abiding hospitality.

In the end, Abraham does far better than tolerate the Sodomites.  He intervenes for them who are so remote from the divine covenant.  That is a form of friendship quite impossible for Year One, caught in its haze of blasphemy and methane, to comprehend.

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