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 Politics: Is Chaos a Friend or a Foe?

SpiritualityBy Howard Bess

Election season is upon us. On a local level we are electing mayors and members of city councils. On a state level we are electing a U.S. Senator, the Alaska member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a governor, and members of the Alaska State Senate and House of Representatives. A variety of bond issues appear on the ballot. The Tea Party has shown up in strength. There are a record number of road signs, almost all of which are certifiably placed illegally. Vying rhetoric completes a snapshot of chaos.

Chaos, and what to do with it, is one of the oldest known problems of human kind. In ancient Babylonian mythology the most powerful Babylonian God was named Marduk. Marduk was a warrior God. The obsession of Marduk was to defeat Tiamat, a god of chaos. They fought an annual war. Marduk always won, however not with finality. Tiamat revived each year and was ready for the next round. The battle lasted 14 days, but the result was always the same. Marduk just could not put Tiamat away.

Western civilization has never been able to escape the dynamic of the ancient Babylonian myth. Every political candidate wants to fight on my behalf whether I am interested in a fight or not. They are eager to fight against the forces of evil. They promise to bring order out of the chaos. There is always some evil that must be confronted every 2, 4 or 6 years. ...

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A small remnant of defeated Israelites lived in Babylon for about 70 years. They did not buy the Babylonian myth of Marduk and Tiamat. In response to the Babylonian myth, the band of Israelites wrote their own myth. Their response survived and is now found in Genesis 1:1. No passage from the Bible has been more poorly understood.

At the time of the Babylonian empire and the exile of a group of Israelites in Babylon (6th century B.C.E), the issue of beginning and ending was not yet a subject of speculation or interest with either Babylonians or Israelites. Both saw the earth as a given and there is no evidence that thinkers of that era were concerned about how it all began. Their obsession was with the phenomenon of chaos and what to do about it. The Babylonian myth proposed one understanding. The Israelites had a differing opinion.

In the Israelite myth, their God found chaos and confronted chaos with the doing of good. Everything that the Israelite God Elohim touched was turned into good. God established day and night, land and sea, lush growth, and a full range of animal life. His final act was the forming of a human being. All of the language of the story is the language of forming and shaping. Everything that the Israelite God formed was declared good.

Any attempt to insert the Genesis 1 creation myth into a scientific discussion is a travesty. Scientists who criticize the Bible creation story, are as ignorant of Bible mythology as Fundamentalist Christians are ignorant of science and its purposes.

The modern debate that is needed is not about how and when the world (and the universe) began. The debate that is needed is how to address destructive chaos. The arguments have not changed from then to now. The Babylonians and their heirs insist that chaos must be fought in an all out battle that never ends. The Israelite slaves and their heirs insist that the answer is the doing of good in the midst of the chaos.

There is a bit of the Babylonian in all of us. When confronted with the chaos of life, we want to fight to bring order. The Babylonian myth is correct. If we choose to fight chaos, there are times when it appears that a victory has been won; but Tiamat faithfully appears each year ready for another fight.

In this discussion where does Rabbi Jesus from Nazareth fit in? I see him as choosing to do the good in the chaos of life. His suggestion was that we make friends of our enemies. Can chaos become our friend? The discussion of chaos has been around for a long time. Some thinkers believe that chaos is needed to bring truly interesting life to us human beings. The Jesus who walks by my side and looks over my shoulder, sees the possibilities in the world’s chaos and urges me to do the good.

Three centuries ago Newtonian mechanics was triumphant in some intellectual circles. In the process God was reduced to a great clockmaker who put things together and then stepped back as Newton’s laws ran everything in a predictable fashion. We now recognize too many variables, unpredictables, and disorderly behaviors to leave Newton unchallenged. Serious discussion of chaos is back in vogue. One of the rules of chaos is that chaos increases the possibilities. It certainly does.

When I look at the world I see profound possibilities. Even in the seeming chaos of the present election cycle, I can envision life that is rich and abundant. From my vantage point, there is no reason to fear chaos. The Christian life is about the challenge of doing the good.



The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is [email protected]


07 October 2010

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