But Corrupted … like orcs of middle-earth

In my last post I looked at the biblical foundation for how we should see ourselves and others – that we are made in the image of God. But the Veda Pusthakam (The Bible) develops further on this foundation. The Psalms are a collection of sacred songs and hymns used by the Old Testament Hebrews in their worship of God. Psalm 14 was written by King David (who was also a Rsi) about 1000 B.C., and this hymn records the state-of-affairs from God’s point of view.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The phrase ‘become corrupt’ is used to describe the entire human race. Since it is something we have ‘become’ the corruption is in reference to that initial state of being in the ‘image of God’. This passage says that the corruption demonstrates itself in a determined independence from God (‘all’ have ‘turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Thinking Elves and Orcs

Orcs were hideous in so many ways. But they were simply corrupt descendants of elves

Orcs were hideous in so many ways. But they were simply corrupt descendants of elves

To better understand this think of the orcs of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings as an illustration. Orcs are hideous creatures in appearance, conduct, and in their treatment of the earth. Yet orcs are descended from elves that had become corrupted

The elves were noble and majestic

The elves were noble and majestic

by Sauron. When you see the stately majesty, harmony and relationship with nature that elves had (think of Legalos and the elves of Lothlorien) and realize that the depraved orcs were once elves who have ‘become corrupt’ you will get a sense of what is said here about people. God intended elves but what he found was orcs.

This fits exactly with what we noted as a universal tendency among people, to be aware of our sin and need for cleansing – as illustrated in the Kumbh Mela festival. So here we arrive at a perspective that is very instructive: The biblical starting point of people as sentient, personal, and moral, but then also corrupt, fits with what we observe about ourselves. It is shrewdly spot-on in its assessment of people, recognizing an intrinsic moral nature within us that can easily be overlooked since our actions never actually match what this nature demands of us – because of this corruption. The biblical shoe fits the human foot. However, it raises an obvious question: why did God make us this way – with a moral compass and yet corrupted from it? As well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens complains:

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.” Christopher Hitchens. 2007. God is not great: How religion spoils everything. p. 100

But this is where in his haste to dismiss the wisdom of the Bible that he misses something very important. The Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible has happened since the initial creation to bring about this difficult state-of-affairs. An important event happened in human history subsequent to our creation. The first humans defied God, as recorded in Genesis – the first and earliest book in the Bible (Veda Pusthakam), and in their defiance they changed and were corrupted.  This is why we now live in Tamas, or darkness.

The Fall of Mankind

This landmark event in human history is often called The Fall. And we can perhaps understand it better if we think through what Adam (the name given to the first man) faced in his relationship with God when he was created. To give us some further insight we turn to a mid-8th century BC, Old Testament Rsi (or prophet) called Hosea. As he recounts in his book, his wife had repeatedly cheated on him and run off in a string of affairs. In the midst of his pain and betrayal God commanded him to go and find his wife, reconcile with her, and win her back. Then this episode is used as a picture to show how, in God’s eyes, the Israelites of the Bible at that time were like the cheating spouse, but God, like Hosea, was willing to reconcile if they would only come clean and come back to Him. In that plea comes a comparison to Adam:

“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. … I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. But like Adam, you broke my covenant and betrayed my trust. (Hosea 6:4-7)

In other words, what the Israelites of Hosea’s day were doing was continuing what Adam, the first man, had started. There had been an agreement between God and Adam, similar to a marital contract of faithfulness, and Adam had violated it. The book of Genesis records that Adam ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. There had been a covenant or agreement between God and Adam that he would not eat from that tree – all others were available for him. It was not that there was anything special in the tree itself, but its presence gave Adam a free choice as to whether to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created as a sentient person, who was both made and placed into friendship with God at the same moment. Adam had no choice regarding his creation, but God gave him the opportunity to choose concerning his friendship with God, and this choice was centered on the command not to eat from that one tree. Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be given in the context of a viable alternative, and thus Adam was given a choice as to whether he would remain faithful in his agreement to God or not. We look more closely at this account – and what follows by deduction from it in the next post.


In the Image of God

In the last post I looked at how the Purusasukta goes back to even before time began and explains the mind of God (Prajapati) deciding to sacrifice Purusa. From this decision creation of everything followed – including the creation of mankind.

I want to now consider implications of what the Veda Pusthakam (Bible) says about this creation of mankind. So, in this spirit of considering, I want to chart an understanding of what the Bible teaches about us by looking at a key passage from this creation account.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

“In the Image of God”

Now what does it mean that mankind was created ‘in the image of God’? It does not mean that God is a physical being with two arms, a head, etc. Rather at a deeper level it is saying that basic characteristics of people are derived from similar characteristics of God. So for example, both God (in the Bible) and people (from observation) have intellect, emotions and will. In the Bible God is sometimes portrayed as sad, hurt, angry or joyful – the same range of emotions that we humans experience. We make choices and decisions on a daily basis. God similarly in the Bible is described as making choices and coming to decisions. Our ability to reason and think abstractly comes from God. We have the capacities of intellect, emotion and will because God has them and we are made in his image.

At a more fundamental level when we consider these aspects of ourselves we see that we are sentient beings, self-aware and conscious of ‘I’ and ‘you’. We are not impersonal ‘its’. We are like this because God is this way. In this fundamental perspective, the God of the Bible is not portrayed as a pantheistic impersonality as understood in later Hindu traditions, or like the ‘Force’ in the well-known movie Star Wars. The fact that humans are sentient persons rather than ‘its’ makes sense in light of this early teaching about God. We are this way because God is like this, and we are made in His image.

Why we are Aesthetic

We also appreciate art and drama. Consider how we so naturally appreciate and even need beauty. This goes beyond just visual beauty to include music and literature. Think about how important music is to us – even how natural it is for us to dance. Music so enriches our lives. We love good stories, whether in novels or plays, or more commonly today, in movies. Stories have heroes, villains, drama, and the great stories sear these heroes, villains and drama into our imaginations. It is so natural for us to use and appreciate art in its many forms to entertain, reinvigorate and rejuvenate ourselves because God is an Artist and we are in his image.

It is a question worth asking. Why are we so innately aesthetic, whether in art, drama, music, dance, or literature? Whenever I travelled in India I was always amazed at the Indian movies which feature music and dance even more than Western-made movies. Daniel Dennett, an outspoken atheist and an authority on understanding cognitive processes, answers from a materialistic perspective:

“But most of this research still takes music for granted. It seldom asks: Why does music exist? There is a short answer, and it is true, so far as it goes: it exists because we love it and hence we keep bringing more of it into existence. But why do we love it? Because we find that it is beautiful. But why is it beautiful to us? This is a perfectly good biological question, but it does not yet have a good answer.” (Daniel Dennett. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. p. 43)

The materialistic perspective on mankind has no answer to this fundamental question about our human nature. From the Biblical perspective it is because God is artistic and aesthetic. He made things beautiful and enjoys beauty. We, made in His image, are the same.

Why we are Moral

In addition, being ‘made in God’s image’ explains the innate moral capacity that is so common in all cultures, and which we covered in the moral teachings of the guru Sai Baba. Because we are made in God’s image and morality is intrinsic to His nature, like a compass aligned to magnetic North, our alignment to ‘fair’, ‘good’, ‘right’ is this way because this is the way He is. It is not just religious people who are made in this way – everyone is. Not recognizing this can give rise to misunderstandings. Take for example this challenge from the materialist American Sam Harris.

“If you are right to believe that religious faith offers the only real basis for morality, then atheists should be less moral than believers.” Sam Harris. 2005. Letter to a Christian Nation p.38-39

Harris is dead wrong here. Biblically speaking, our sense of morality comes from being made in God’s image, not from being religious. And that is why atheists, like all the rest of us, have this moral sense and can act morally. The difficulty with atheism is to account for this objective basis of our morality – but being made in God’s moral image is a simple and straightforward explanation.

Why are we so Relational

Thus Biblically, the starting point to understanding ourselves is to recognize that we are made in God’s image. Because of this, as we gain insight into either God (through what is revealed about him in the Bible) or people (through observation and reflection) we can also gain insight into the other. So, for example, it is not hard to notice the prominence people place on relationships. It is OK to see a good movie, but it is a much better experience to see it with a friend. We naturally seek out friends to share experiences with. Meaningful friendships and family relationships are key to our sense of well-being. Conversely, loneliness and/or fractured family relationships and breakdowns in friendships stress us. We are not neutral and unmoved by the state of relationships we have with others. Again, as a frequent visitor to India this comes out so strongly in Indian movies. There always seems to be family and romantic relationships strongly portrayed in these movies.

Now, if we are in God’s image, then we would expect to find this same relational tilt with God, and in fact we do. The Bible says that “God is Love…” (1 John 4:8). Much is written in the Bible about the importance that God places on our love for him and for others – they are in fact called by Jesus (Yeshu Satsang) the two most important commands in the Bible. When you think about it, Love must be relational since to function it requires a person who loves (the lover) and a person who is the object of this love – the beloved.

Thus we should think of God as a lover. If we only think of Him as the ‘Prime Mover’, the ‘First Cause’, the ‘Omniscient Deity’, the ‘Benevolent Being’ or perhaps the ‘Impersonal Atman’ we are not thinking of the Biblical God – rather we have made up a god in our minds. Though He is these, He is also portrayed as almost recklessly passionate in relationship. He does not ‘have’ love. He ‘is’ love. The two most prominent Biblical metaphors of God’s relationship with people are that of a father to his children and a husband to his wife. Those are not dispassionately philosophical ‘first cause’ analogies but those of the deepest and most intimate of human relationships.

So here is the foundation we have laid so far. People are made in God’s image comprised of mind, emotions and will. We are sentient and self-aware. We are moral beings with our ‘Moral grammar’ giving us an innate orientation of ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and what is not. We have instinctive capacity to develop and appreciate beauty, drama, art and story in all its forms. And we will innately and naturally seek out and develop relationships and friendships with others. We are all this because God is all this and we are made in God’s image. All these deductions are at least consistent with what we observe about ourselves as we laid this foundation. We continue in the next post to look at some difficulties.