Nuns, Bears, and Divine Swear Jars: God is Disappointed in You at NYCC

Have you ever tried reading the Bible? It can present a bit of a challenge to the modern reader. Some of the difficulty comes from the structure: Leviticus and Deuteronomy are simply lists of rules, and there are more detailed genealogies in on book of the Hebrew Bible than in the entire Silmarillion. Even in what should be the most exciting sequences, the tale of Jonah, for instance, or the Book of Revelation, the prose style can bog the reading experience down.

Luckily for this faithless generation, the “well-oiled bibilical comedy machine” of Mark Russell and Too Much Coffee Man’s Shannon Wheeler have teamed up to give us a more reader-friendly version, God is Disappointed in You. Top Shelf presented the book at a raucous NYCC panel, which featured Russell, Wheeler, and a fantastic Powerpoint presentation to introduce the new audiobook version, read by James Urbaniak, and announce that they’re at work on a sequel!

Russell and Wheeler told us all about the book’s er, genesis: “like most good things, the book started in a bar.” Apparently Wheeler was meditating on the unfairness of the Book of Job, asked Russell to explain it to him, and was so impressed by his friend’s exegesis that he suggested they turn it into a book. And with that, they swung straight into “everyone’s two favorite things, religion and Powerpoint!”

The Powerpoint presentation condensed the entire Hebrew Bible and New Testament into an astonishingly economical ten minutes. The images were all perfectly chosen, with Anton Chigurh standing in for the Hebrew Bible, and hippie Jesus displaying a heart-shaped “Father” tattoo on his bicep.

After the presentation itself, they immediately went into a Q&A, and here’s where I have to do some slight exegesis of my own…I’ve been going to Comic-Con for a long time now, and this was, verily, one of the liveliest rooms I’ve ever been in. The mood was practically jubilant during the presentation, with people not just laughing, but yelling emphatically in response to Russell and Wheeler, sort of like a nerdy call-and-response Sunday Service. Most interestingly, when Russell explained that he was raised a “fundamentalist Pentecostal,” things got quiet for a moment, and there were murmurs and nodding heads throughout the crowd. My guess from that is that there were a lot of people in attendance who identified with Russell’s journey from fundamentalism to satire.

Another important thing to note, however, is that while the book can be darkly funny, it is always loving. Russell and Wheeler aren’t out to destroy anyone’s faith, and actually there were several comments made by divinity students in the crowd, who all thanked the pair for writing an understandable, stripped-down Bible. Without further ado, I’ll give you the highlights. My advice is to pretend that all the following text is in red to denote its importance.

Hebrew Bible:

“Since human beings were new to [God], he figured he could just leave them alone with the Tree of Knowledge, tell them not to fuck with it, and then they’d actually leave it alone.”

“Later God saw that he had a full-blown human infestation on his hands, so he sent a flood.”

“God ‘discovered’ the Promised Land in much the same way that my mom ‘discovered’ the Olive Garden: there were plenty of people already there.”

“When Saul sent soldiers to kill David, David’s wife hid a dummy in his bed to confuse them. That makes that literally the oldest trick in the book.”

“The Temple of Solomon is sort of like God’s swear jar.”

[After the Israelites keep worshipping other gods] “…unable to deal with the demands of an open marriage, God decided he was done with Israel.”

“The Babylonians passed the Israelites around like a joint at a drum circle.”

New Testament:

“The Romans didn’t really get that you can’t kill someone who can raise the dead.”

“The early followers of Jesus used Judaism as a gateway religion.”

[Paul decreed that circumcision was not necessary for conversion to Christianity, and unsurprisingly, conversion skyrocketed.] “Christian civilization is not based on the sanctity of marriage, it is based on the sanctity of dicks.”

Q: How much hate mail have you gotten?
Russell: Surprisingly little!  It’s not a mean-spirited book, but we steeled ourselves for it… but shockingly we’ve been accepted a lot more than we thought we’d be.
Shannon: We had a group of nuns buy them. A gaggle, a flock?
Russell: A murder!

Q: What other gods are disappointed in me?
Russell: Well, there’s Ahura-Mazda
Shannon: He’s got a great line of cars, though…
Russell: We got a lot of mileage out of that god.

Q: Are you going to do books on other religions, to make this a series?
Russell: We are actually working on second book! It’ll be about all the non-canonical books and gnostic texts.
Shannon: It’s called Apocrypha Now.

Q: What was the biggest thing you had to unlearn in order to write this book?
Russell: That it’s a single book. It isn’t. It’s—it’s 66 different books, with different ideas…which is what makes it profound. It’s an argument between 66 people about what their place in the universe is.

Q: Did you have a specific copy or translation that you used?
Russell: I used the New International, just cause it was written for dummies.

Q: What was your favorite book?
Russell: The hardest was the Psalms, because they’re a collection of songs, so how do you condense that? But then I realized, what it really was was a box set. So I wrote it like a late night ad for an Eagles box set.
Shannon: The Book of Hosea. I also really liked the illustration I did for that one, it’s just a guy at a bar, saying “My wife may be a whore, but she makes for a great metaphor!”

Q: What was the most ridiculous thing you found?
[Both answer in unison]: Elisha!
Russell: OK, so some kids made fun of Elisha for being bald, so he summoned bears to kill forty children. And it’s not that he’d want to kill forty children—we’ve all been there—but if he has that power, why not just summon a full head of hair?

Q: Are you writing this book from irony or appreciation?
Russell: You can’t really appreciate something unless your willing to see the humor in it. If you’re too reverent that means you’re afraid of it, right? But if you treat something like it’s part of your family, you’re going to see its faults, but it shows that you love it.

Leah Schnelbach considers the day wasted if she hasn’t disappointed at least three gods by breakfast. Follow her on Twitter!


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