Lord of the Gadflies

Article excerpt

It's just like Sodom and Gomorrah," the letters to the editor exclaim. "And you know what the Lord did to those cities!"

As the clock ticks toward the new millennium, doomsayers across the nation are falling over themselves to point out alleged similarities between our modern age of relative tolerance and the earliest of biblical times. Forgetting the promise of the rapture and individual salvation, Mr. and Mrs. Cranky America doggedly insist the whole country is headed to hell in a handbasket if we don't clean up our act and demand our elected officials in Washington, D.C., do the same.

But hasn't humankind been through all this before? Twice, to be exact. Never mind. The third millennium's a charm, and this time ordinary believers know how to read and write. But what exactly is the moral of the Genesis 19 story these party-poopers say is supposed to magically prevent our destruction? Let's take a look.

It's a long time ago. The future father of a great nation, Abraham, and his nephew Lot have split up the family business after their herdsmen couldn't stop bitching at one another. Lot is settled in the city of Sodom. Then one day, the Lord pronounces that the outcry (read media hype) against the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to be so great that he's going to check it out for himself.

With this news, Abraham realizes Lot is up a creek without a paddle and suggests that God spare Sodom if, after some nosy angels take a look around, fifty righteous people are found to be living there. The two haggle a while, back and forth, until finally Abraham talks God down to just ten non-wicked inhabitants. Abraham, who already has an illegitimate son, wants to make sure he doesn't throw out the baby with the bathwater here (that, or he's making a little moral wiggle room for himself). So off the Lord's snoops go ... la la la.

In no time they meet Lot and his family, who invite the angels in for cookies. …