Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Governance & Lifestyle Lessons from Genesis 1

1. The creative word is superior to the violent action in establishing order and clarity especially in a situation or state of meaningless chaos.
2. Creative governance is both consultative and decisive.
3. As image of God, human beings, male and female, have inalienable responsibilities and rights such as the responsibility to govern wildlife & other fellow creatures on earth and the right to rest and recreation.
4. Vegetarianism is ideal for the attainment of great harmony between humankind and the earth.

The 1st creation story (Gen 1:1 - 2:4) was written during the Exile period (587-537 BCE) after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple on Mount Zion, and deported the most talented persons and families of Judah to become exiles in Babylon. The exiles felt that their world had been swept away into meaningless chaos, as expressed in Psalm 137:

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither…”

In a foreign land, the exiles did not simply surrender to their captors but continued their resistance in peaceful and creative ways even though from the depths of their grief some prayed: “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Ps 137:8-9).

Many of the exiles must have wondered whether or not their captivity showed that Babylonian culture and religion was superior to their faith in Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, and David. Was Marduk, the god of their captors, superior? In the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma Elish, the universe is created from the fiery battle between Marduk and Tiamat, the dragon of watery chaos. Was a violent event the beginning of the world? If violence were the original principle of the world, would it not imply that “might makes right” in social life?

The faith of the exiles resisted and insisted that, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” out of a meaningless and formless chaos through clear and effective words: “Let there be light…Let there be an expanse between the waters…Let dry ground appear…” (Gen 1:1-26). Creation is a movement from chaos to order and harmony.

Unlike the pagan gods, the biblical God creates without any mythological struggle. God does so through the creative word, which is superior to the violent action in establishing order and clarity.

“Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness” (1:26). The Creator of heaven and earth consults the divine council of angels and other heavenly beings. God shows humility in consulting the divine council.

“God created humankind in the divine image, in the image of God they were created; male and female God created them” (1:27). As image of God, humankind possesses inalienable dignity as a co-creator, God’s partner and representative in exercising governance on earth and its wildlife. The Creator governs the universe wisely and benevolently, and humankind ought to govern fellow creatures on earth in like manner.

God blessed the creatures of the sea and air, and directed them to “be fruitful and increase in number” (1:22). Thus, where humankind acts cruelly toward other species or exterminates them by destroying their habitats owing to greed and gluttony, our humanity as image of God is degraded or disgraced.

Just as God is a wise worker who rests on the 7th day (2:2-3), all creatures need periodic rest. Thus, among the inalienable rights of humankind is the right to rest and recreation, and upright people permit adequate rest for their workers and work animals.

The creation story in Genesis 1 expresses an ideal that God wanted from the beginning: great harmony of God, humankind, and the rest of creation.

In this story’s vision of harmony, no human or animal should have to destroy life for food, as God gives to people and beasts “every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it…every green plant for food” (1:29-30). Vegetation was seen as being part of the earth and thus with no life of its own.

Vegetarianism is ideal for the attainment of great harmony between humankind and the earth. Excessive meat consumption is unhealthy and unsustainable, and contributes to climate change, as more wildlife habitats are destroyed and more parcels of land are used for the industrial raising of swine, cattle, and poultry. The industrial ways of raising livestock can even be cruel to the animals, and the unnaturally cramped conditions in such farms plus greater human exposure to these densely packed animals make it easier for viruses to jump the species barrier.

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