You don’t have to be disagreeable to disagree.

Sadly I sense that civility in our day-to-day conversations is diminishing recently. Is politeness no longer important? The hallmark of democracy, I believe, is to agree to disagree without being unpleasant. Dictators, tyrannical kings, and self-righteous religious leaders, all tend to be thin-skinned egomaniacs, persecuted and even killed those who disagreed with them. Those days are supposed to be over in democracy like ours. So why insult someone who doesn’t agree with you.

It is not only unpleasant to hear gratuitously disrespectful words but also it is an ineffective way to communicate if you want to influence others. If hurtful words are thrown at me, I get annoyed and will stop listening. Are you trying to persuade oppositions into your way of thinking, or do you just want to insult them? When insulted, the opponent only gets angry and thinks of a way to get back at you. It is a waste of time to engage in a debate where the participants are determined to tow the party line or are not ready to change mind.

When I was teaching at an university in Southern Africa, I doubled as Dean of Students for a while. I often had to be involved in the court cases when students appeared. One student stabbed a man in a fight causing a none-life threatening injury. The village chief who normally acts as the magistrate, gave him six lashes. On another occasion, a student verbally insulted a female server at the cafeteria. The offender was sentenced to prison for several months missing exams. In Basotho culture, they believe that a mere physical injury can heal but words can destroy a person profoundly therefore more serious offence.

I am not advocating respectful language just to show-off our civility. I believe a society functions better when people demonstrate respect to each other despite the difference in opinion. I prefer to live in a society where respect for each other is the norm.

Middle Class Left – Traitor to the class

Dilemma of Middle Class

When Donald Trump was elected President, I felt lost, was puzzled and upset. Megalomaniacs are always around. There have been some who caused terrible devastations and deaths, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. But I thought history gave us good lessons not to repeat it. “Those who can not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What scares me is not so much the President-elect but it is the fact that so many people voted for him. I am sure there are such people in Canada too. I wonder if we are too conceited to think we have right answers but only failed in communication. Maybe we don’t have answers and don’t want to acknowledge our blindness.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I was staying with a friend of mine who was teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. We were appalled by the prospect of the former actor’s presidency. My friend said, “the trouble of self-appointed intellectuals like us is we don’t know the language of people who are edged out of the mainstream society and are angry.”

Once I lived in Cabbage Town in Toronto. I took a street car to downtown. The tram runs between Cabbage Town and Regent Park. The former is a ghetto of the smug middle class living with gentrified early 20th Century brick houses: the latter is the first urban renewal housing project, a.k.a.”’slum.” Occasionally, I had to go to work early, like 6 a.m. Fellow passengers were mainly construction workers, cleaning ladies, and new immigrants. They read the Toronto Sun, a right-wing tabloid featuring crime, sex, and sports. At 8:30 a.m., my usual time, commuters were business people and professionals. They read the Globe and Mails or the New York Times.

The liberal/progressive camp occupied by the middle class has a problem. A friend of mine said, “the problem of the middle class left is: They are traitors to their class.” They claim they work for the cause of the poor but hopefully without sacrificing their comfortable life-style. We must stop talking disdainfully of the people who supported Donald Trump. We should try to understand their hopes and aspirations with respect agreeing to disagree. They must have good reasons to be angry. Come to think of it, back in the day, I was also against Sales Tax and Free Trade proposed by Conservatives.

Dilemma of Middle Class

Dilemma of Middle Class

When Donald Trump was elected President, I felt lost, was puzzled and upset. Megalomaniacs are always around. There have been some who caused terrible devastations and deaths, like Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. But I thought history gave us good lessons not to repeat it. “Those who can not remember history are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

What scares me is not so much the President-elect but it is the fact that so many people voted for him. I am sure there are such people in Canada too. I wonder if we are too conceited to think we have right answers but only failed in communication. Maybe we don’t have answers and don’t want to acknowledge our blindness.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President, I was staying with a friend of mine who was teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. We were appalled by the prospect of the former actor’s presidency. My friend said, “the trouble of self-appointed intellectuals like us is we don’t know the language of people who are edged out of the mainstream society and are angry.”

Once I lived in Cabbage Town in Toronto. I took a street car to downtown. The tram runs between Cabbage Town and Regent Park. The former is a ghetto of the smug middle class living with gentrified early 20th Century brick houses: the latter is the first urban renewal housing project, a.k.a.”’slum.” Occasionally, I had to go to work early, like 6 a.m. Fellow passengers were mainly construction workers, cleaning ladies, and new immigrants. They read the Toronto Sun, a right-wing tabloid featuring crime, sex, and sports. At 8:30 a.m., my usual time, commuters were business people and professionals. They read the Globe and Mails or the New York Times.

The liberal/progressive camp occupied by the middle class has a problem. A friend of mine said, “the problem of the middle class left is: They are traitors to their class.” They claim they work for the cause of the poor but hopefully without sacrificing their comfortable life-style. We must stop talking disdainfully of the people who supported Donald Trump. We should try to understand their hopes and aspirations with respect agreeing to disagree. They must have good reasons to be angry. Come to think of it, back in the day, I was also against Sales Tax and Free Trade proposed by Conservatives.

In search of good government

First ISAIAH – Chapters 1 – 39
In search of the good government

As you begin to read the Book of Isaiah, you can feel trapped in doom and gloom. You must understand that Isaiah was angry and afraid of the future of his nation of Hebrews. He condemned not only his own country but also many of the surrounding ones. He was fed up. It is rumoured that because of harshness of his criticism, he angered the king and was executed. You have to read it patiently to see beyond the angry rhetoric. You will find here and there his yearning for an ideal ruler – a good government. His dream is so alive that it looks like he was seeing a figure of Christ. This is why Isaiah became known as the prophecy of Jesus the Christ. “Christ” is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one”.

Isaiah condemns nations in many parts, (Chapters 1,2,3,13,15,17,18, 19, 22 – 39.) Isaiah criticised them for their bad governments (kings), corruption, and immorality. He predicts destruction and suffering as the consequence. He condemns not only Hebrew states but all nations in the Middle East. (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 22 – 39.) God is also non-discriminatory in choosing his agent. For example, he chose non-Hebrew Persian and Assyrian kings to be the messiahs. (chapter 10). I don’t think Isaiah intended to predict appearance of a person like Jesus. He just wished there was a government (or king) which was faire, just, merciful, and wise.

The book of Isaiah is an influential book in Christian faith. Frederic Handle wrote the beloved oratorio “Messiah” often quoting verses from the book of Isaiah to characterize Jesus the Messiah. In the entertainment world also, the recent Walt Disney cartoon movie, “Zootopia” is inspired by an ideal world (11: 2-9 & 65: 25) where preyed and predators live together without being harmed. The first sermon Jesus gave when he began his ministry at a synagogue in Galilee was a quotation from Isaiah. (Luke 4: 16 – 19) Isaiah greatly influenced Christian idea of social justice too.

The question is: Is Isaiah predicting what the life of Jesus would be like? Was Isaiah describing a man yet to come eight hundred years later? Or did Jesus tried to emulate his life according to the image dreamt by Isaiah? Or did the Church altered, or fabricated some parts of the oral tradition about the life of Jesus to fit Isaiah’s prophecy? In my way of thinking, it really does not matter. Faith does not necessarily have to be based on historical facts. Spiritual truths can be expressed in different literal forms; fictions, history, or poetry. “What is it trying to tell us?” is the question we should be asking. I think that debating facts or fiction of the Biblical passages is a meaningless exercise in our spiritual life. Faith is a conviction of things not seen nor known. (Hebrew 11:1)

For example, in search of a good government, Jesus was made to be a descendant of King David in order to qualify him as the ideal king; “the King of kings” – the best government. Matthew made Bethlehem as his birth place. The city was known as the city of David, his birth place. (Chapter 9) The difficulty of this notion is that if Jesus was a result of immaculate conception (virgin birth), he was not the son of Joseph therefore not the descendant of King David. Isaiah traced David back to Jesse as his ancestor. (11:1) Matthew traced Joseph’s ancestry to David. Mary the mother of Jesus was not an offspring of David. So, Matthew’s argument is a bit of a stretch. It isn’t history. Matthew tried to build up Jesus’s image of the Messiah by manipulating some facts. But we get the idea. The life of Jesus was the model of the best king (government).

A prophet in the Bible is not a fortune teller. He/she does foretell the future sometimes but that is only one aspect of his multiple mission. Like Moses, a prophet conveys the word of God: in other words, he/she was a preacher. Like Miriam, she celebrates the miraculous God’s action after crossing it on a dry sea floor with dance and music by the Red Sea: a worship leader. Like Samuel, he anoints kings, advises and often scolds kings like Nathan. He declares justice on the street like Amos. The prophetic function is one of today’s preachers’ dual mission, proclamation and teaching. A prophet is a messenger of God.

The Book of Isaiah was not written by one person Isaiah. It probably began as the document recording the original words of Prophet Isaiah of the 8th Century B.C. It looks like his autobiography in many parts, particularly in chapter 6. But other prophets added their writings. It is a compilation of many prophetic works written in three centuries. In ancient days, it was not unusual for people who admired a particular writer to add their own writings to the original text. You realize that before printing press was invented in the 16 Century, all documents were hand-copied onto a piece of parchment or of skin or chiselled on a piece of flat stone. Copiers added, edited, and omitted freely as there was no copy-right laws. The book of Isaiah is the work of many people who agreed and admired the original prophet. Imagine editing Jane Austen!

Scholars agree that it contains the writings of at least three major prophets. The first is Chapters 1 – 39 written by the original Isaiah written just before the defeat of kingdoms of Israel and Judah by the Babylonian empire – the eighth century B.C. The second is the chapters 40 – 55 written by a nameless prophet in Babylon (the present day Iraq) just before the liberation of the Jews from captivity in the seventh century B.C. And the third is the chapters 56 – 66 by yet another nameless person after the return of the Hebrews to Palestine, in the sixth century B.C..

The prophets in the Bible speak about three dimensions of life: the relationships with God, with people, and with the world. In today’s preaching, the first two are major common themes; first about the nature of God; secondly about personal moral ethics. But rarely do we hear the third dimension; politics, foreign relations, history, and society.

Today, politics is often off limit in religion. On the contrary in the prophetic tradition, as you can clearly see in Isaiah, politics and society are dominant themes. He spoke prominently about morality of kings (politicians and governments) and foreign relations. He spoke about historical events as the consequences of political actions and God’s responses. In fact, politics and history are the major themes of the first Isaiah: 1 – 39. Let me pick a few salient points the first Isaiah raises:

– God hates empty words and showy rituals – worship service. Building, clothes, and ornaments mean nothing to God. They are like wine left to become sour and waterily. (1:12)

– God’s rule is peaceful and just. Beat swords into ploughshares. (2:4)

– A young woman will bear a child, who will be a wise counsellor and Prince of Peace. (7:10) The word “young woman” was changed into a Greek word “virgin” when the Catholic Church translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It followed the traditions of other religions which often made the birth of their gods the result of immaculate conception.

– The poor will be protected and widows and orphans will be treated justly. (10)

– A non-believing foreign king, Syrian, can be an instrument of God. (10:5)

– The vision of the world under God’s rule. A David’s descendants will produce a new king who will rule with wisdom and treat the poor fairly and defend the rights of the helpless. Wolves and sheep will live in peace. (11: 2 – 9)

What is Christmas in a Multicultural Society?

MERRY CHRISTMAS OR HAPPY HOLIDAY

This year, we will go to Toronto and cook Christmas dinner for our extended family: our turn. Diners around the table will be more Jewish than Christian. No matter, everyone loves turkey dinner. It’s our family tradition. Except one time, my son-in-law had to go out to buy sundries to make sure all cousins, Christian and Jewish kids, get to open presents. Nobody care how we greet each other. We are family and enjoy each other’s company with good food. Isn’t that this is all about? Celebrating togetherness though we may live and believe differently.

Ostensibly, many Christmas customs come from pagan traditions anyway. So, strict Calvinists banned Christmas celebration at one time. For example, Christmas tree: Prince Albert introduced the German pagan tradition to enjoy colour and scent of evergreen trees. December 25 was a pre-Christian Roman winter holiday. A fat jolly bearded man in red costume is an invention of Coca Cola company. Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 6; Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany rather than Christmas; in England once a friend roasted a traditional goose for us. In Switzerland, we used to get together with friends on December 6 for an evening of conversation over spicy mulled red wine, oranges and walnuts.

In Japan, Christmas in the cities is an evening of serious drinking. At their favourite watering holes, they raise the glasses and shout, “Merry Christmas.” Most of them are not Christians. My father who was a United Church minister in Tokyo scandalized a barber cutting his hair when he said he was busy for Christmas preparation. “You? Christmas?” He thought my father was a sober clergyman. In Japan, Christians celebrate Christmas only at the church, not with family. It is because Christians are less than 1% of the population and most of them are only Christians at home. Christmas at the church is a special worship service, sometimes with meal afterwards. No turkey: when I ate turkey first time at an American missionary’s home, I though it was bland and tasteless. Gift-giving is not the custom. Inebriated husbands buy cakes to take home for the family; peace offering perhaps.

If you really want to bring Christ back into Christmas, in stead of wondering how you should greet, you should , “Feed the hungry, give a cup of water to the thirsty, and love your neighbour:” as Jesus said.

PEOPLE MUST BUILD THEIR OWN DEMOCRACY

Syria is a mess, so are many Middle Eastern and North African countries. The West including Russia, by their intervention, have to take much of responsibility for this mess.

I do believe in democracy. But it is a messy system. It requires informed citizens and their ability to live with difference. Founder of the Fifth French Republic, General de Gaul said, “How can you conceive of one party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheese!” It has taken centuries since Enlightenment for the West to achieve today’s democracy: it has taken millennia since the ancient democratic Athens. Building a democracy takes time. We can not expect it to be successful in a few years.

Even the United States, the most advanced democracy somehow managed to produce Donald Trump; Russian revolution begun by liberal democratic groups was quickly taken over by Bolshevik dictatorship in 1905; Germany. Italy, and Japan democratically elected fascist dictatorships during 1930’s. History is full of failed democracies. Democracy is still work-in-progress; often causing much suffering like the current Middle East.

The mistake the West keeps making is; we assume we can build a democracy for other people: “Just get rid of dictatorship and unleash people power.” It’s not that simple. Once stability is lost, the chaos ensues. Then it is very difficult to bring back order. Chaos produces bloody conflict. This is why China is trying to maintain order and stability at any price; even indulging North Korea. I don’t condone it, but I understand it. I am also critical of the West’s hubris which makes us think that outsiders can create a “people first” political system for them. That’s a delusion.

Democracy can not be imposed. It has to come from people who would build it in their own way and in their own time. The Western allies are proud of the Second World War’s success in creating democracy in Germany and Japan. You have to remember, however, that both countries had thriving democracies during the 1920’s. They were destroyed by right-wing nationalists. Democracy requires people to be informed and have ability to live respectfully with oppositions. It takes time .

It is frustrating to watch people struggle and suffer while working toward democratic society. But intervention from outside rarely help them. Often foreigners make the situation worse.

Is truth obsolete?

Post-Truth Era?

A recent article in The Economist laments the diminishing importance of truth (September 10, 2016). The most depressing thing about current American politics is not so much Donald Trump but the apparent demise of respect for facts. It does not seem to matter to Trump’s supporters how many times he fudges facts and tells lies. After the first debate with Hillary Clinton where he lied dozens of times, his percentage of support did not diminish. It’s a case of : ”My mind is made up, don’t bother me with facts.”

The Economist blames this on the loss of faith in institutions among people who used to enjoy their place in society; mostly white men. They lost influence and are angry. They feel they have been betrayed by institutions like banks, government, political parties, mainline media, and policies they implemented like globalization and free-trade. So they don’t trust anything coming from the traditional sources of information anymore. They think immigrants and women are taking over and undercutting America’s greatness. They explicitly deride “political correctness.” The Black President symbolizes all this. So they are fighting back.

The authority of mainline media has diminished because social media has become the primary information source. Social media has democratised the information sector. But there is no longer a fact checking mechanism hence no authoritative referee. Truth is determined by “who is saying it.” Anyone who says what you don’t like is unfriended and banished from your sight, so you see only what you like. Even scientific consensus is considered to be unbalanced if it is inconvenient.

As the result, there are few means to verify facts. Truth no longer depends on facts but on “who is saying it.” Truth is determined according to tribal loyalty, race, nationality, religion, or political ideology, leading to statements such as: “ I believe whatever he says, right or wrong; the NDP is leading us into a catastrophe because they are doing what NDP does (even though the Tories might have done the same thing.)” Even aesthetics can distort facts: Nicholos Sarkosy stated that “Bashar Al Assad can not be so bad because his wife is beautiful.” This is why Mr. Trump can get away with untruths.

We are in trouble even after American election is over, one way or another; we have to find a way to restore faith in truth based on facts.

LEVITICUS – OUTDATED RULES ? OR STILL VALID.

LEVITICUS – Book of Rules

– MOSTLY OUT DATED BUT SOME ARE STILL PRECIOUS –

Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” and called it as the most important law of our faith. It is a quotation from the Book of Leviticus. (19:34) But the abomination of homosexuality also comes from Leviticus. In fact, many of the rules in Leviticus are outdated and impractical. If all the commandments are strictly followed today, a large percentage of the world’s population, at least among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, will have to be put to death. How many people would survive if those who spoke against their parents and those who engaged in sex outside of marriage are to be stoned to death?

Leviticus was written as the manual for the priests who were known as Levites. They were custodians of the correct form of worship and the standard of moral ethics. The source of its content is known among the Biblical scholars as “P” for priest. Not only P is the main content of the Leviticus, it is also often quoted in other books of Torah – Law, the first five books of the Old Testament. However, in this paper I am not touching on the first 10 chapters for the sake of time, because it is all about rituals and contains an entirely different category of subject matters from what I decided to discuss.

The basic motif of Leviticus is that God is holy therefore we have to be clean to be acceptable to God. (19:2) What then do the words “holy” and “clean” mean? Simply put, holiness equals cleanness. To be clean determines our action towards God and towards fellow humans and other creatures. The notion of “holy” was actually nothing uniquely religious originally. It simply meant ‘special’, ‘different’, or ‘unique’ as oppose to ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’. It was in later years religious institutions made it a religious notion, hence adoption of the word like ‘holy’ or ‘sacred’ to distinguish it from secular sounding adjective.

It seems that the idea of ‘holiness equals cleanness’ has a lot to do with health and procreation. Basically it derives from a concern for our well being and secure future. But to determine what is clean seems to be dependent on subjective, aesthetic, and emotional reactions, no way objective or scientific. So there can be difference of opinions depending on different cultures, places, and even on climate. So we who live in different circumstances from the Middle East often don’t understand some peculiar rules. How can an animals with divided hooves and eat cud are clean, but that do not eat cud are unclean? We who live in different places and times have no idea why such distinctions were made. I suppose it is totally contextual and/or subjective judgement.

Granted some rules have survived the test of time and geography and are still valid; e.g. prohibition of mildew or incest. (13:47 & 18: 6 ff.) However, many ethical decisions were made according to cultural and/or aesthetic bias. Anything that looks yucky, disgusting, and slimy looks unclean, therefore is bad for your health and bad for your spirit. The logic is, “It looks disgusting and unhealthy so God must hate it.” Liquid and solid discharge from any orifice of the body is deemed to be disgusting according to the cultural bias therefore determined to be unclean. Of course, some rules stand the test of geography and time. But most passed expiry dates and are obsolete, such as rules against eating certain animals like shrimps and pigs.

As for the rules against male homosexuality (18 ff), it is interesting to note that lesbianism is not mentioned. It shows that the prohibition of male homosexuality has to do with the need for preservation of seeds for future offspring, hence abomination of male masturbation as well. Preservation of the blood-line in a harsh desert climate and in the hostile neighbourhood was the primary concern. In milder climate and/or more civilized less violent societies, like ancient Athens, male homosexuality was thought of as natural and positive. In fact, in ancient Athenian society attraction between men was considered to be the most beautiful emotion, and is an ubiquitous theme in literature.

We must not forget that in ancient times people died very young and in large numbers especially in the harsh condition of the Middle East. Tribal wars were common. Death was ubiquitous. Survival of species was of utmost importance. The rules against waste of blood and semen were very much in keeping with this spirit. Scholars speculate also that the reason why male homosexuality is particularly detested has also to do with sensation of disgust about anus, a source of uncleanness.

At the same time, you must discover and recognize the positive aspect of Leviticus. You will find many precious gems that last forever. “Love your neighbour” is one. Love should be a criterion to weed out obsolete rules. There are other gems also that should be more strongly emphasized such as the notion of Jubilee. ( Chapter 25 and following) I often wonder why we have ignored those wonderfully humane commandments.

What I particularly think precious is the idea of Sabbath – sacred seven; after seven days taking time off to restore health and sanity in your body and in your relationship. The notion of seven is extended to seven years, and seven times seven years (forty-nine years). On the seventh day, you stop working to bring physical strength back and get together with family and friends to restore relationship. After seven years, you stop planting in order to give soil rest allowing time to recover richness of soil, and do not charge interest on the loan so that the poor people have a break. After 49 years (7 x 7), all debts must be forgiven, and all slaves must be freed. If anyone was forced to sell the house or land in the past 50 years, it has to be returned to the original owner. In the year of Jubilee – the 50th year; all must be forgiven out of love and welfare of community, nature, as well as of yourself.

It is such a companionate and humane idea. It’s such a radical idea that human race never had courage to follow the commandments of “sacred seven.” Seven is God’s time therefore it should mean love, restoration and salvation. Human race never followed it because it is bad for business. Leviticus spends many pages how the concept of Sabbath (Sacred Seven) should be implemented compared to relatively minor requirements like taboo on male homosexuality.

No matter how we screen out some of the obsolete and outdated rules, Christ’s primary “love” command is supreme and forever lasting. All others must be judged according to the supreme commandment, and be preserved or be allowed to expire. In conclusion, Leviticus has to be examined carefully to be applied in our life and time.

Creation Myth

Preface: “The Bible is not…..”

The Bible is not a collection of the words of God. Humans wrote it. However, reading those human words, you will be led to the Word of God. It is a collection of the record of the search for God in their experiences. It is written in different literary forms. The Bible is not a history book neither is it scientific. There are too many mistakes as history or as science. It is not even the book of morality, though it shows you the way to find it. It is like finding a pearl in a pig sty; there is a lot of muck around it as Jesus put it in Matthew 13: 44. Martin Luther compared the Bible to the trough in the animal shed. There is so much dirty and smelly stuff but that’s where the Holy Child is laid. The way to read the Bible is not to take muck as the words of God. But find God among it. Do not throw that away ; if you do you may throw out the Baby with garbage. You must examine what’s around it to understand the context in which God revealed himself.

Let us find what the writers of creation stories tried to say to us:

Humans have to this day always wanted to know how we came into existence. By knowing how we began we think we will know the purpose of our lives a better. This desire to know the beginning is universal. Every race has its creation story. And all creation stories are about intentional actions; not accidental happening. People who wrote creation stories did not believe humans came into being by accident. It was not like a monkey sitting in front of a computer banging away on the key board and by sheer accident voila “Romeo and Juliet.” Humans saw themselves to be the beings with purpose. Someone wanted us to exist and brought us into existence for a reason. That someone we call God.

Wise men and women of old imagined how the world could have come into existense, passed the idea around by word of mouth by the fire. It was written down later. They are all fictions inspired spiritualy wanting know more than just superficial facts. However, though they were the result of imagination, they tell us the importance of the belief that what we see is not all that there is and there is something important beyond what we see.

However, even during those ancient days, there were people who did not believe that there was anything or anybody beyond the visible world. They think that what is here is the result of series of accidents. Greek philosopher Epicures for example, believed that we came into being by accident and our lives had no purpose: A monkey wrote Shakespear, a sheer accident. The writers of the Bible did not believe that. Which one to believe? Choice is ours.

The creation stories of the Bible contains at least two different, perhaps three, traditions. All of them come from the region which includes present day Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. Chapter 1 and 2 contain two distinctively different stories. Even God is different in Chapter one and in two. Chapter one has a god who is translated and called in English as “God.” But in chapter two, he is referred to as “Lord God.” The word in chapter 1 for god is “Elohim.” It is a generic word for god, could be any divine being, Islamic or Hindu. The second one is specifically Hebrew God and is spelt in Hebrew script as “YHWH.” Nobody knows for sure today how those four consonants should be pronounced. Jews see those four consonants today and always say “adonai.” It means “Lord.” It is not the pronunciation of YHWH. They had not pronounced it by obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt not mention God’s name.” So now they do not know how it should be pronounced anymore. Chapter one’s god means all gods. But the second one is distinctively Hebrew, the Jewish God of Abraham and Sarah.

Not only do they have different names, their characters are different like they are two persons. The god in Chapter one “commands” with words and creates out of nothing. God addresses himself in plural “us” as though there is a family of gods. In Chapter 2, God works with hands, takes a walk, gets angry, and knows loneliness; in other words more human. God in chapter 2 created human by moulding mud into human shape, not out of nothing. God created the world in seven days in Chapter one, whereas in two there is no such reference to the time God took to create the world.

As for 7 as the number of days it took for God to create the world, we must recognize that numbers have always carried specific meanings, even today, to mean something other than just numbers. Seven, for example in Hebrew tradition, meant perfection. The writer of Genesis chapter one did not actually mean “7 days.” It was meant to be perfect; could be several billion years from the time of Big Bang. Other examples: One means God, five means grace, 6 means sin, etc. In Japan. 4 means death and the total number of gods is 8 million, ten thousand means “never-ending.” The Great Wall of China is called “Wall of Bannri (Ten thousand miles):” the wall that never ends.”

Speaking of 8 million gods, the reason Japanese think there are that many gods is because they deify all elements and phenomena in the world: Mt. Fuji is a god, Tsunami is a show of anger of the god of sea, earthquake is caused by a god who looks like a dragon. The Sun is a godness. The Greek/Roman gods are the same: for example the god of love-Venus, etc. Here is a definite and importance difference of divinity. The God of creation is beyond our reach and totally other being from our experience, while the other traditions (Asian and Greek/Roman) is god as a part our visible world. This is an important difference. It is like our contemporaries think that money and wealth are most important thing in the world: money is god. Ancient Israelis were always tempted to worship the golden cow, a symbol of fertility and wealth. The Bible definitely insists that God is the totally Other, the existence beyond us.

There is one difference between chapters 1 and 2, which requires special attention. It is the view about man and woman. Chapter one says, human are made like “us” (note that god in plural), and made them male and female. There is equality between men and women, and share God’s likeness. (1:26 ff) However in chapter two, God made a man first then woman from a rib of the man. Man was here first. How should we read this?

Though there can be many other interesting questions in the creation stories, one thing that needs to be emphasized is what is created is good. God was pleased with what he saw. The point is also made by the use of the number “seven” for the number of days he took to create the world. The number seven means in Hebrew tradition completeness. That the world is perfect is the basic belief of the writers. Nature is good. If there is any problem, it is because someone or something is behaving against nature.

Don’t forget things that may not be cute

THE ENVIRONMENT AND CUTE-FACTOR

The recent few articles on environment in this newspaper have challenged me to respond.

First, cute-factor: When the annual seal hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence became an international furor during the ninety- seventies, we, the Canadians who lived in Europe, became pariahs and were made to feel uncomfortable. I think those cute big eyes of seal pups were the cause of so much passion. (Lethbridge Herald August 22 page A9) Cats are also cute; I admit that I am willfully blind when it comes to the cats’ devastating effect on wild birds. (Mclean’s, September 12, P 65)
Because they are cute, Chinese government spends so much efforts to the preservation of pandas . Welfare of majestic elephants, lions, and whales raise more interest than damage made by carbon dioxide. Worms and microbes don’t get much attention, though they are very important for the health of our planet. Survival of spices is closely related to the health of environment. We have to admit and take into account the fact that ideology, aesthetics, personal value, and self-interest prejudice the discourse. (e.g. the guest columns, August 25 and 30)

I am not trying to make frivolity of serious issues. Rather, I am trying to widen the scope of our conversation beyond familiar and recognizable icons. Even some things we think disgusting could be very important because sustainable environment has a lot to do with balance between elements, albeit they may be cute or ugly, big or small, visible or invisible, inconvenient or profitable.

Secondly, that Alberta produces a tiny amount of CO2 is not an excuse to do nothing. Its action is not insignificant though its footprint is small. Fraser Institute’s critique of Alberta NDP government’s environment policy indicates that compare to a devastating effect on economy, its CO2 emission in a global context is negligible. It sounds like an opposite of Charlie Chaplin’s argument. Chaplin ends one movie about a serial wife killer with a quotation from a philosopher Jean Rostand, “If you kill one person, you are a murderer. But if you kill millions, you are a conqueror. If you kill them all, you are god.”

Just like there’s no such condition as “a little bit pregnant,” a small amount of wrong still is wrong. Alberta should not ignore its environmental footprint though it may be relatively small.