Posted by: Dan | October 23, 2005

Personalising Creation: Marduk and Citigroup

Within Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, Christopher Wright argues that ancient Israel's approach to creation was fundamentally different than the nations that existed around Israel. The Canaanite fertility cults were rejected because Israel had been taught that the LORD was the source of nature's abundance; and the astral deities of Babylon were rejected because the astral bodies were revealed to be objects created by the LORD's power.

What is especially interesting in Wright's discussion around this topic is the distinction he makes between personalising and personifying nature. Within the Old Testament nature is regularly personified — i.e. nature is spoken about “as if it were a person.” Yet this is a rhetorical device that does not ascribe personhood or personal capacity to nature or natural forces in themselves. In fact, Wright argues, to personalise nature (“to attribute ontological personal status to nature itself”), results in both depersonalising God and demoralising the relationship between humanity and God. Wright argues that this is so because to give creation a status due only to God and (derivatively) to humans who bear God's image is actually a form of idolatry.

I find Wright's comments to be especially intriguing in light of fairly recent developments within American law (cf. “The Ultimate Weapon” in Profit Over People: neoliberalism and the global order by Noam Chomsky). Gradually corporations and businesses have been granted human rights (speech, freedom from search and seizure, the right to buy elections, etc.). To use Christopher Wright's language, corporations have been legally personalised. Consequently, these corporate entities have attained the rights of immortal persons — the rights they have now go far beyond what real persons are granted. This is not only because corporations have become so powerful but also because (post-NAFTA) corporations have been able to do such things as sue governments and have thereby been granted the rights of nation-states. Once creation is personalised it does not take long for that personalised creation to become a god in possession of a kingdom. Although we may not have been aware of the implications American law has given birth to idolatry. The corporate divinities are the gods of the Western nation-states. The Canaanites had Baal. We have General Electric and Talisman Energy. The Babylonians had Marduk. We have Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Canada.

One of the great tragedies in all of this is the fact that Western Christians are oblivious to the fact that they have been worshiping idols. But, as Christopher Wright argues in his section on the land, “the economic sphere is like a thermometer that reveals both the temperature of the theological relationship between God and Israel… and also the extent to which Israel was conforming to the social shape required of them in consistency with their status as God's redeemed people.” The LORD is not content to merely be a God of history and festivals. The LORD is God of the land and everything that goes with it. And when the people of God succumb to the same economic evils as the people around them, they have ceased to function as a “light to the nations” — no matter how faithfully the can expound upon the four spiritual laws (of course, the fact that these “laws” are the ones labeled “spiritual” reveals how oblivious we are of our own idolatry).

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