Thursday, October 27, 2011

But it's not that simple

“The idea that the ancients did not have a material ontology of course does not mean that they had no interest in or awareness of the physical world around them. That is, it is not as if they had a mystical view of the world rather than paying attention to the real world they experienced every day. The point is, however, that to them the 'real' world was a world of divine presence and activity. Their cosmological ontology reflects that it is the functioning of that ordered, real world that is of importance, not its physical makeup or the physical origins of the material objects.”Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, page 44


“In a material ontology, the world is full of objects. To us moderns, a cow or a tree can be nothing more than an object to be exploited for its material value (milk and meat in the case of the cow, wood or maybe shade or even beauty in the case of the tree). But in some cultures, where cows or trees have religious significance, they do not serve as objects that function only in terms of their material components or offer only material for exploitation. Although giving milk or shade are functions, the cow and tree are considered to have sacred functions that at times preclude the exploitation of their material functions. They have been personified (imbued with the divine) or at least sacralized. The personification or sacralization of material things was common in the ancient Near East. Israel’s theology moved away from the sacralization of the surrounding world. Isaiah the prophet argues that the wood used to make an idol is nothing more than wood and cannot attain the sacralized status that was attributed to the wood through the image-making process. But though the world around them was desacralized by Israel, this does not mean that the material of the world was objectified. The function performed by anything in the world is a result of its having been assigned this function by deity. The physical properties of the thing are designed to facilitate this function rather than to determine it. Israel’s movement toward desacralization may have been the first step toward a material ontology, but the functional perspective continued to dominate its understanding of the world.”Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, pages 44-45

<idle musing>
Take away sentence: "But though the world around them was desacralized by Israel, this does not mean that the material of the world was objectified." In a lot of ways, I wish that were still true. We see nature as something to be conquered and overcome instead of something to live in communion with. Look at the pesticides and herbicides that we use; look at the earth that we move to create subdivisions—to say nothing of all the trees that get chopped down in the process...
</idle musing>

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