18/03/2019. After the Christchurch Mosque Massacres of the Innocents.
I was young when I first read East of Eden by John Steinbeck but his words changed my life: more than a Presbyterian upbringing with weekly Sunday School attendances, more than being brought up by an academically expectant (read desperate) mother or an alcoholic father and more than all the other books I ever read. I read a lot. But this story based on the myth of Cain and Abel and which explores evil in all its forms, temptations, responsibilities, and outcomes affected me the most. It doesn’t mean I am perfect, it just means I know what I am doing.
The Bible (and by extension the Koran with a different but similar interpretation) tells the story of two brothers both seeking to gain favour from their father. One gives his best, the other not quite so much and the parent notices (don’t we though?). Sibling rivalry erupts into murder and denial. The father adjudicates, leaving the living brother in an eternal state of damnation and by extension anyone who tries to put him out of his misery, the dead brother in grace. Rough interpretation, but good enough.
In East of Eden, Lee, the father’s Chinese servant and the only person to bring up the brothers with love, looks at the old Hebrew texts to determine why the murder (aka evil aka ignorance) takes place and how judgement is made. Lee, comes up with the word ‘timshel’, a word as old as our world.
“But the Hebrew word timshel—’Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ That makes a man great and that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” (East Of Eden, John Steinbeck).
If there is a God, and at times of massacres of innocents as we have recently experienced in Christchurch, then he (she) gave us choice. We know that. But do we always understand the burden of this word, this concept? Not only on those that do wrong, often many times, but also on us as to how we then choose to deal with those who have done wrong.
The Koran tells us: Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely’
The Talmud: Therefore, humans were created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul [of Israel], Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if she had saved a full world.
There were people in the two Christchurch mosques who saved a full world.
There was one man who destroyed a full world.