Steve Cuno

The African leopard is not part of the cat family.

I beg the indulgence of the taxonomically anal-retentive. I am well aware that Panthera pardus pardus falls under Felidae, and that felidae has meant cat ever since Julius Caesar asked Cicero to think up a shorter way to say “those pointy-eared creatures the Egyptians are always putting in their murals.”

For your information, the cat family to which I refer is a litter of kittens recently brought into the world by my cat, Gertrude. Not one of Gertrude’s kittens is an African leopard, so, as you can see, I wasn’t wrong. And never mind that I don’t have a cat. I have dogs, and surely some language somewhere uses one word for both. So I wasn’t wrong there, either.

By now you have doubtless noticed and quite possibly stand dazzled by my uncanny ability to defend the indefensible. It’s a skill I picked up from religious apologetics, defined in most dictionaries as the art of making two plus two equal nine when an answer of four would mean your leaders or your holy book got something wrong.

I discovered apologetics thanks to a dead tree. Perhaps you know the story. It seems that when a hungry Jesus came upon a leafy but figless fig tree, he stretched forth his hand, and, presto, the tree instantly sprouted ripe, juicy figs.

Just kidding. That’s what I would have expected of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being. After all, Jesus was no slouch when it came to food miracles. He’d already turned water to wine, and he was but a few chapters from feeding 5,000 people with only a pair of fish and five loaves of bread. There were even leftovers.

But instead, Jesus cursed the fig tree. And the fig tree died.

The slaughter of the feckless ficus might have blown away my faith had not religious apologists set me straight. It turns out that: (1) The lying sonnuvva plant was asking for it. Any fig tree knows not to grow leaves without figs. (2) It was needful that Jesus demonstrate his power to curse as well as bless. Killing a tree instead of a human being about to be justifiably pummeled to death with stones for ordering Shrimp Scampi showed Christ-like mercy at its best. (3) The incident serves as a reminder of Jesus’s divinity. Nothing promotes faith like knowing your savior can kill a tree. (4) The incident is not without its metaphorical value. As one apologist put it, “Think about your own figs.” I’m not sure what that means, but I’m having second thoughts about that vasectomy.

Speaking of the proper use of one’s figs, many smaller-minded persons express horror upon learning that Muhammad added a five-year-old girl to his not-insignificant collection of wives. You will be relieved to know that Muhammad did right by her. Ever the gentleman, as Islamic apologists point out, Muhammad delayed consummating the marriage until the girl had safely attained the age of nine. Makes all the difference in the world.

Tree murder and child rape aren’t the cheeriest topics, so let’s lighten up with a look at genocide. Here, the god of the Old Testament excelled. Consider his instructions regarding the Midianites, whom Israel had just defeated in battle. He told them to kill off the entire population, except female virgins, whom they were to spare and keep for themselves.

Now, before you whine that no deity worthy of worship would command such a thing, I urge you to hear out the apologists. First, virgin probably didn’t mean virgin so much as unmarried woman, so the Israelites weren’t running around doing pelvic exams, if that’s what you’re upset about. Even apologists admit that doing pelvic exams to sort those to be murdered from those to be abducted would have taken things too far. Second, the book is silent as to the fate of the virgins. For all we know, Israel gave them equal rights and sent them to the best schools—you know, the way most conquerors treat their conquered. Third, the Midianites had it coming, and not for some measly, fig-tree level offense, either. God was mad at them because of “… the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.” Come on. If you were God, you’d be mad, too.

I could understand some—some—outrage over the Midianite genocide if there were no Peor affair, if the virgins were treated like less than royalty, and if the Israelites conducted pelvic exams. But there were no pelvic exams, it’s not established that the virgins weren’t given every privilege, and there’s no denying the Peor thing. You don’t need a degree in criminal justice to see that this genocide falls near the end marked “perfectly acceptable” on the Genocide Continuum as found in The Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols—Basic Rules. Besides, after the killing and virgin-abducting, Israel’s army camped outdoors for a whole week doing purification rituals, thus emerging from the killing spree untainted and with a clear conscience.

If you haven’t studied apologetics, I encourage you to dig in. In no time, you’ll be explaining with the best of them how “lock kids in cages” follows from “love thy neighbor as thyself.” You will never again have to admit you were wrong, about anything, unless you want to.

Speaking of which, I want to admit I was wrong on one small point. That cat I don’t own? Her name isn’t really Gertrude.

Steve Cuno

A veteran marketing writer, Steve Cuno has authored three books and written articles for Skeptical Inquirer, BookBusiness, Deliver, and other periodicals. In his spare time, Steve enjoys playing his piano and forcing people to look at photos of his grandchildren.