Just say "No!" to oversimplification!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

And What More Is the Bible Saying?
Redemption I

Something goes amiss in Eden, whether that's the invention of "Sin" or our gaining the "Knowledge of Good and Evil." However you interpret the story, it results in painful childbirth, harsh labor, and death, not to mention God not wanting us loose in Hsr garden anymore. It is also clearly symbolic.

The way the story is told suggests that this 'Knowledge of Good and Evil' is to a very great extent illusory. This first couple discovers that they are naked -- Is that 'evil'? Is the difficulty, as some people have imagined, the discovery of sexuality? -- or vulnerability? Or distrust? Shame? Certainly both people are looking for someone to blame.

And now they're afraid to feel God's presence. Whether you consider knowledge of 'Good and Evil' to be wisdom, or sin -- People still find it difficult to encounter God; and there looks to be a tie-in. At least as Anthony Bloom describes the situation [in Beginning to Pray] -- God mercifully hides Hsrself because "a meeting face to face with God is always a moment of judgment for us. We cannot meet God in prayer or in meditation or in contemplation and not be either saved or condemned." 

Is that a conclusion basely merely on Christian Guilt, on the disease the missionaries spread so they can peddle a cure for it? 

I think it's based more on the fact that religions have two basic aspects, the ethical and what might be termed 'magical.' That is, they include practices intended to change a person's consciousness, which will (whether or not a teacher says so) also affect their situation, whether in this world or higher ones. 

But ethical practices -- what Buddhists call 'The Precepts', what yogis call 'yamas and niyamas' -- aren't just included for sociological reasons. Without those, you won't be 'right with God'; your practices could be hampered or even have destructive results. The I Ching quotes Confucius: "If one departs from innocence... Heaven's will and blessing do not go with his deeds." Discussing the hexagram for 'Innocence', it says: "If one is not as he should be, he has misfortune; and nothing he does serves to further." 

Isn't that what this story implies about our beginnings and subsequent doings?

So it's quite plausible that we're talking about a near-universal human problem. The story implies it's a problem that God set us up for, presumably for a purpose. What purpose? 

Human development as we know it seems to require experiments in disobedience. Though we might conceivably have been created perfectly obedient, we wouldn't have been the people we are; and this simply isn't how it was done.

Throughout the Bible we see people assuming that God intends us to be perfectly obedient... because most of it models God as a despotic monarch. 

Is that the way God views Hsr relation to human beings? -- or was it simply the kind of metaphor God could use to transmit the Israelite traditions through an age of despotic empires? 

To maintain a coherent world, God needs must work through human beings and through physical causation fairly consistently. 

That is: Each thing that happens could potentially be seen as an act of God, but for any one event to be a meaningful part of the world as a consistent narrative, that event needs to affect what comes after. If a divine act represents a discontinuity with what was there before, there still must remain enough of the previous setting, enough of our past experience, for us to recognize that intervention as happening within one otherwise-consistent world. An animator could make the next panel of his film show anything whatsoever -- yet without some continuity in the observer, change in his film would mean nothing.

Human spiritual maturation -- as a historical process as well as an individual one -- works as a development, like the sprouting and growth of a seed. [Several of Jesus' parables use the same metaphor.] People are born into a world with particular loyalties, with particular forms of leadership and government, particular traditions. Monarchy was a common, stable institution -- not because it was Divinely ordained, as the story of Samuel makes clear -- but because Fallen humanity is continually at war with itself, and a unified command is an effective structure for waging war. Spiritual traditions, to flourish under such governments, have made their accommodations -- not from servility, but because their leaders felt the same loyalties as the nations they belonged to.

Likewise God seems to have taken an interest in the survival of the Israelite people -- certainly in the survival of many nations, as works of Divine creativity -- but particularly in the case of Israel -- because this people have made themselves exemplars of dedication to God, of both the virtues of devotion and the pitfalls of living as a Chosen people.

Self-identification as a nation of former slaves must be a unique claim to ethnic identity. It also serves to show God in the role of redeemer, specifically as redeemer from the curse of toil laid on Adam. It gives the escaped nation a Divinely-granted home, a home sacred to God -- symbolizing Eden. Once there, this people attempts to govern themselves, united by a covenant -- not necessarily in the form given by modern Bibles, but as described in the Book of Judges: rule by custom, with God as their king.

Given a popular and competent national leader, the tribes can fight off their enemies -- though with a certain amount of friction, rivalry, and slacking among themselves. 

On the surface of the story, they succeed only when the tribes are united around their national god -- but either monotheism is not yet the norm; or that god may be known by different names. Gideon is called 'Jerubbaal son of Joash' and 'Gideon son of Joash' in the same paragraph, where that first alternative [despite the story of why he was called that] is most appropriate for a worshipper of Ba'al. Later on, in the time of Elijah 'Baal' is considered to be the name of a foreign deity -- but Joshua's covenant uniting the tribes of Israel took place in Shechem, where the local Canaanite god is called 'Baal-berith', 'the Lord of the Covenant'. Toward the end of Judges, a group from the tribe of Dan pick up a Levite -- an hereditary priest -- along with his master's images and other religious equipment -- to serve them as priest at Liash, where they set up the images after they conquer the place and rename it 'Dan'. The major national shrine, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept at the time, was at Shiloh.

The Israelites ask Gideon to be their king: "Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also; for you have delivered us out of the hand of Midian." Gideon is already their 'Judge' -- their war leader and settler of disputes -- but refuses: "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you." Of Gideon's many sons, Abimelech's name does mean "My father is King!" and this son allegedly slaughters "seventy" brothers to make himself King, whereupon he rules oppressively and is in turn killed when the people of Sechem revolt. The story seems designed as a cautionary tale, that could aptly be called: 'Why We Don't Have Kings.' 

We don't know why Judges repeatedly has the Israelites "turning again and playing the harlot after other gods." It may be that they simply keep on worshipping the gods they'd had all along -- or that they're using the names of Canaanite deities as names of God (as the Hebrew Bible itself often does.) Perhaps the Temple priests in Jerusalem, who later write these stories down, think of the Israelite kingdom to their north as heathens, or don't think much of their rivals at other shrines up there, believing they must have sinned or they wouldn't have been losing wars to foreigners. But it happens over and over, whenever the old leader dies and there's no one to replace him.
Eventually, in the story we're given, the priesthood at Shiloh itself becomes corrupt, a typical enough phenomenon. The old priest's sons take to wolfing down the best parts of the sacrifices and groping the female worshippers. Samuel, a young apprentice there at the time, begins to hear the voice of God... and is told that those sons will die, that their whole priestly dynasty, which God once promised would last 'forever', is now to effectively die out. The next time the tribes go out to fight the Philistines, the battle goes badly for the Israelites -- and so they ask to have the Ark carried to the battlefield. 

The Philistines, hearing the uproar in the Israelite forces, conclude that "a god has come into their camp," and hence resolve to fight harder! The old priest's sons are killed and the Philistines capture the Ark. [They soon return it, plus a gift of golden rats and buboes, after plague strikes the cities where they put it on display.] Samuel, because of his successful prophecy, becomes the new leader, and judges Israel until he becomes old, then makes his sons judges over Israel. "Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice." This is why all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah: "Now appoint for us a king to govern us like other nations."

Samuel warns the people that their request will put them under the same oppressive institutions as those 'other nations.' God tells him: "They are rebelling against Me, not you," and tells him to do as they ask. In the task of Redemption, evidently, mistakes are part of the process.

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