Monday, July 24, 2006

You Are My Sunshine

I've just started reading The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis by University of Chicago Professor Leon R. Kass. Kass is a professor largely of ethics and especially how it pertains to biology (two previous books - that I'll probably never be the least interested in - are Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics and (with James Q. Wilson) The Ethics of Human Cloning. But, being a well-rounded learner/educator - he regularly teaches classes on Plato and other foundational Western philosophy classes - he decided to tackle the biblical beginnings of Genesis to uncover the truths therein.

Now, despite the obvious flaws with which he would undertake such a task (most noticeably, once again using a Western [or, Euro-Centric] way-of-thinking to frame a religion that is largely dressed in Eastern - certainly Middle Eastern - garb), his - largely unskeptical and wondrous - approach and frame of reference gives casual and pious readers of the Bible (specifically, the Mosaic Law) reason to deliberately pause. Not out of doubt or cynicism, but as a way of re-approaching Genesis with a fresh perspective.

One such perspective came while Kass is setting up the creation story not as a chronological set but as a hierarchical setting. Kass argues that the further in the story gets, the more loco-motive the creations are (from light itself [which merely occupies space], to plants [which apparently don't move but only grow], to the sun [which moves among a track], to birds and fish [which largely move in rhythms of back & forth - i.e., migrations], to land animals [which move back & forth, left and right, etc. but are largely leashed to their natural ways of moving], to human beings [who can set and re-order their own paths and, largely, limits]), the higher-up they are in the natural order of superiority. In so arguing, he notes that most myths/religions place the superiority on the sun, which most clearly gives light and heat and life and so is first in priority of that which we can see (for without it, we could not see, right?). As a result, they worship the sun as the or a major god. Many cosmological explanations, Kass points out, involve sexual relations between celestial beings, usually including the sun.

What I get out of this is not the mere fact of the supremacy of man (although among all creation we are, based on any reading of Genesis because we alone are created in the image of God), but the supremacy of God's creative powers. God - in his authoritative take on the creation of the cosmos - does not need the sun - or any heavenly powers - to create light or warmth or life. My understanding is that, 1) he devalues the importance of the sun or any seeming other 'god' - which the Hebrews would come into contact with both in Egypt, in the wilderness and in the Promised Land - in order to emphasize his own abilities, his own God-ness; 2) he can actually do such amazing things, creating a temporary light ex nihilo (out of nothing) and then setting up a more substantial light source later, if for no other reason than to prove point 1.

Praise God, our ultimate source for everything that is good and life-giving. Praise God, who is so much more than the Other. Praise God, for he is mysterious and above us, but he allows us to see him and his ways.

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