Magical Belief Tour: Noah’s Big Boat

Continuing through my old magical faith beliefs, my next stop is Noah and the great flood. I used to think it happened. Worse, I used to think that most of humanity had been drowned. It didn’t bother me that this was an alleged act of genocide. Strangely, my views on this biblical myth never changed much.

The great flood was an important myth in my overall framework of Christian beliefs. As a story, it puts the more nonsensical parts of Genesis behind a convenient excuse. That is, evidence for anything before the flood had to have been destroyed, which made it easier to not look for physical evidence related to anything before it.

And yeah, I even thought I was clever in making excuses to just take the flood myth at face value. As with other beliefs regarding creation and Eden, my interest was only in the specific parts that had to do with my understanding of the New Testament. Noah was necessary for me to entertain the notion of an unbroken connection between Adam’s sin, Jesus’s crucifixion, and the modern need of salvation.

I couldn’t treat this as a metaphor.

My understanding of what I needed to believe required me to maintain as literal an acceptance of magical claims as possible. Equal parts willful blindness and ignorance came together to let me believe a tale that humanity had been murdered, and a dude on a boat could save the entire population of terrestrial animals.

The main focus of my belief was on the flood itself. Everything else were details I didn’t bother to investigate in the least. It didn’t matter that ancient building tools couldn’t have constructed an ark. Or that every plant and animal species couldn’t have made it to the ark to avoid a flood. Or that genetic defects from inbreeding would have doomed humanity to extinction even if the rest of the story was true.

And I’m just hitting the highlights of the problems with the great flood.

The closest I ever came to realizing everything was a myth was in my Western Civilization class in college. At the time, my professor mentioned how the flood myth in Gilgamesh predated and influenced the later myth published in the Old Testament. Like an idiot, I had to mentally come up with an excuse to believe that maybe it was a universal truth or that it secretly supported the existence of a real flood. None of it was based on fact. All of it was to soothe the discomfort I felt at having to consider the notion that my beliefs were flawed.

I wish I could apologize to that professor for the awkward response he got from his class. He handled the collective cognitive dissonance of his students quite charitably. If I was in his position today, I probably wouldn’t have left the point alone like he did. Then again, he probably didn’t suffer from the same religious constraints as his class.

Is there anything of value left of Noah and the Big Rainbow Genocide Boat*?

As a story, the flood myth shows how moral thinking has developed from the Bronze Age to now. In its original forms, the great flood seems to hit all the wrong notes. It spins divinely ordained murder into this weird positive thing. The biblical version goes further to imply people should be thankful for not getting drowned again.

I don’t think these original versions are useful. They’re like bad jokes that emphasize the wrong parts of the punchline. To me, Noah and the others like him signify the futility of blind obedience. The story is a reminder that people can spin anything, no matter how horrific, into a soothing narrative.

*I understand that this would make an awesome name for a Death Metal band. It would also be a great title for an honest children’s book about the flood story.