Conflicting creation storiesBy Marty Troyer
From 1989 to 1990, 1.7 billion people (32 percent of humanity at the time) were touched by nonviolent revolution in 13 nations. Each revolution was completely nonviolent, except Romania. Every one was successful, except China. They were the capstone years of a century that saw 3 billion people (64 percent of the world’s population), touched by major nonviolent campaigns in the 20th century (including India, South Africa, European countries in the face of Nazism and again in the face of communism).
Of course the landscape and spirit of the United States has been completely rewritten by the nonviolence of the civil rights movement. As now have nonviolent demonstrations in many Islamic countries. Let’s also not forget the countless stories of personal nonviolence that have worked to disarm violence, ensure safety and promote life.
So why is nonviolence so successful?
To answer let’s visit ancient Babylon in the 6th century BCE. In the darkness of Babylon, where God’s people were taken into exile 600 years before Jesus was born, one story of creation was prevalent in the Ancient Near East. The story is the Enuma Elish, told and retold in nearly every civilization from Egypt and Ireland to Babylon and India.
In this story the world and everything you can see is the product of excessive violence. The parent gods Apsu and Tiamat are rebelled against by their children. And Marduk, the youngest and most powerful son, slaughters dad and then turns his sword to mom. As he cuts Tiamat in half, her body is stretched out to form the cosmos. With her top forming the heavens, and her bottom half the Earth.
Creation, in this story, is an act of violence. The gods themselves are violent. Marduk slaughters one of Tiamat’s supporters to create humanity. Notice the role of the feminine in this bloody story: her role is to be defeated, her gored body forming the fallen, lesser material world. The real action and goodness is in the spiritual world, the masculine world of the gods. And notice how human beings are created out of the blood of a god. As Walter Wink says in reference to this story, “Our very origin is violence! Killing is in our genes … Human beings are naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence.”
But that’s not our creation story, is it? But it was here, in this precise context, where this story predominated — that our story was formed. Genesis 1 was written and publicized here, as a subversion of Babylon’s violent myth.
Our creation story is diametrically opposed to the myth that violence begets peace. “In the beginning” God created a good creation to be very good. And he does so without violence. He does so not through slaughter, but through speech. Let there be light … let there be life … let us make humankind in our image. Creation is not fallen. Creation is good! The feminine is not a weaker, lesser, deteriorated or worthless aspect of humanity. “For God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” God looked at humanity and said, “It is very good.” Indeed, we are created in God’s very image, not the death of weak defeated gods.
How does our story of creation function? Not to justify war and murder as being essential components of life in the “real world.” It’s not “the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence” (Wink). No! Nor does it support the doctrine of creation-ism. Our story functions to repudiate Babylon and her overwhelming violence.
We’re not asked to repudiate science in order to believe in Genesis or creation. If you want to believe in biblical creation, it’s violence that you must repudiate! Violence and Caesar and empire and their myth that violence brings peace — these are the lies creation faith calls us to repudiate. This is why nonviolence is so wildly successful!
Nonviolence is successful precisely because it’s in our genes. It’s in the DNA of divinity. It’s built into creation. God is a nonviolent god, who creates not with a sword but through the word of peace. Jesus, and not Caesar, is the one and true Lord. It’s not Babylon, not America. Jesus.
This is why we are blessed when we make peace. This is why it makes perfect sense not to bless those who curse us and to love our enemies. This is why we need not return evil for evil or resist violence with more violence. This is why nonviolence is so subversively successful! It is in the grain of the universe.
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and writes at http://blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared.
Comment on the blog post Conflicting creation stories
Please keep comments civil. MWR editors reserve the right to remove any comment. When posting a comment, you agree to the MWR Comments Policy. Name and comment will be posted; commenters are strongly encouraged to give their full name. Email address is for follow-up only and will not be made public.