IS THERE UNIVERSAL VALUE? OR IS IT A MERE MIRAGE?
I watch an old Marilyn Monroe movie recently and was surprised by her figures: she was voluptuous, unlike today’s’ Barbie doll anorexic standard. Another example in a similar vein: When I went to Africa in 1968, people were worried that I my wife was not happy and I was not treating her well because she was slim. African standard of a happy wife has a well endowed body, well fed and ready to bear many children. These examples tell us that people’s taste in values shifts constantly with time and place.
A Chinese colleague of mine in the United Church of Canada, who like me recently arrived to Canada from Hong Kong made a terrible faux pas at a women’s missionary event. When asked his impression of Canadian women, he answered, “They are wonderful people, they are fat and look old.” In China, like in Japan, old people were respected and considered to be wise. You always ask elders for their opinions. Also only successful people could afford to be fat. They congratulated fat people for their success in business. In Japanese you congratulate successful people saying, “Kappuku ga i-idesune” meaning, “You look filled up, you must be successful. Congratulations! Fat and old mean successful and wise. Things could have changed since I left Japan. But the point is: you must be careful not to read antiquity and understand it according to our norm.
The Bible describes Sarah, Abraham’s wife, as a very beautiful woman, who charmed Pharaoh instantly. When you run into a passage like this, question is: does this give an image of a person who can be understood as a beautiful woman according to our standard? Surely not. Our views change as times change.