All you need is love!

Ever wonder what narrative the nudists are following?

It’s easy to understand greenies – a love for nature, the environment, animals and concern for natural resources becomes a passion and cause worth campaigning governements and big corporations about.

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But what about the nudists?

I lived in South Korea for a few years and become accustomed to the “jim jil bang” or “steam room” sauna and spas. Common across Korea and Japan, these spas are regulars for people of all ages, and while segregated by gender, are completely nude.

However, picnicing nude, playing sport nude, swimming and otherwise doing all of normal life, outdoor and mixed gender activities entirely nude,  is a curiousity.

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Not all nudist colonies espouse sexual libertarianism. Many seem to be communities of people living normal lives communally – in the nude.

In Byron Bay and other hippie communities around Australia, high proportions of the residents would consider themselves left leaning, green voters.  Within these communities, nudist colonies, nude beaches and other such activities are not uncommon.

These communities boast high density of artisans, permaculture experts and organic farmers, yoga and meditation classes and instructors and health professionals with a penchant for “herbal” remedies. Many of these would consider themselves to be highly spiritual people; nearly all of them would espouse pacifism. .

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The elements that unite hippies, greenies and nudists seem to point back to eastern mystical thought.

Interestingly, Hebrew thought, also an eastern faith, has a lot to say about the relationship between these ideas. Hebrew narrative places the first humans in a garden, in relationship to each other, the planet and the divine, without barriers.

Breakdown in relationship with the divine caused the first humans to feel shame and seek to conceal their previously uninhibited nudity.

The breakdown continued to spread into bickering and blaming between them, the death of innocent animals, and finally the murder of one brother by another.

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Within a dozen generation, the whole planet collapsed in a massive natural disaster wiping out all life.

So narrative synergies begins to emerge. These Eastern narratives are all reaching back to the Garden of Eden.

Nudists thus live within a highly ideological framework. Eastern meditation seeks to abandon the ego, abandon the self with its trappings and coverings which are the cause of the destruction of relationships with fellow humans, the planet and ulimately the divine.

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The ego constructs barriers by identifying a self which is different to others. These barriers lead to bickering, blaming, fighting and bloodshed. It is these barriers that must go.

It is the human ego that destroys the planet selfishly and we face imminent judgement by nature in the form of tidal waves, asteroids, ice ages or global warming. The ego must be denied.

It is true union with the divine that we seek and eastern thought via meditative practices, the shedding of the ego, the oneness of self with the earth and with fellow humanity, that restoration is found.

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Both eastern ideologies, Hebrew and Buddhist, espouse the centrality of love and peace.

But what is missing from the neo-Buddhist narrative – that is present in the Hebrew narrative is the “person” of the divine. In eastern thought, there is no person to know or unite with. It is the removal of “person”  in a search for nirvana that is the fountain of peace. All clinging to “person” creates attachment, and attachment creates pain and suffering.

And arguably one cannot truly love, without attachment and personhood.

So Hebrew ideology and eastern ideology embraced by hippies, greenies and nudists, a kind of neo-buddhism, agree on many things. But they part ways on this one core feature.

For the Hebrews, to believe the divine is a person, the divine must have feelings, thoughts, a heart and must suffer pain. For the divine to be restored to relationship with humanity, the divine must suffer pain, because it was humanity that betrayed and denied.

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When Noah and his family left that Ark after the catclysmic flood, God sent a rainbow and promised that never again would the world suffer in such a way.

Yet human ego still causes much bloodshed and destruction in the earth, more and more it seems with each passing year.

God’s promise to humanity, was also a promise to the earth, that something else, someone else would bear the pain and suffering caused by human “ego” or “sin.”

Nudists needn’t live in a forrest, eat vegetables, meditate and seek harmony with the planet and each other in order to save the planet and ourselves.

We humans need only look to the personal divine, the man-God, who took all the suffering we caused upon himself to restore relationship with us.

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This relationship is true Eden, true community, true harmony with each other and the planet, true shalom in relationship with God.

Noah and the quest for Immortality

The Legend of the animals going in two by two into the ark is charming, but the moral of the story of Noah is appalling. God took a dim of humanity, so he [with the exception of one family] drowned the lot of them including children, and also for good measure the rest of the [presumably blameless] animals as well.

Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion, p 279. 2006.

When the movie Noah, starring Russell Crowe was released early 2014, many Christians cried foul. It was an incorrect rendition of the biblical account, God was mean, Noah was homicidal ! It did not align with the Sunday renditions they were accustomed to – a God of grace saving a family and the animals through extraordinary circumstances.

I however, loved it.

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Aronovsky has taken a biblical tale and created a rendition to appeal to a mass audience. However, interestingly the biblical tale itself is a rendition taken from popular literature of its day. Each version has its focus and each focus has an interesting comment to make.

The earliest version of the Flood narrative is the Babylonian epic dating back to 18th C BC. known as the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Epic of Atrahasis.  The story recounts an ancient king Uruk or Gilgamesh, living c. 2700 BC,  part divine part human, who finds himself on a quest to find the secret to immortal life.

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Not unlike the Greek epic, The Odyssey, the hero embarks on a long journey across the ancient world encountering gods and beasts.  In his quest he discovers Utpnapishtim, or Atrahasis,  the surviver of the Great Flood, a human granted immortality. Utnapishtim recounts his story as one who built a boat, took his family, some craftsmen, two of every beast and survived the cataclysmic flood sent by the gods as punishment upon humanity. Upon landing on a mountain top, Upnapishtim releases a dove, a raven and a swallow. When the raven fails to return, he opens the doors to the boat and releases all the animals. He sacrifices to the gods who in turn lament ever destroying the human race and vow never to do so again. Utnapishtim reward is immortality. This gift is unique, however he shares with Gilgamesh the secret that at the bottom of the sea lies a boxthorn plant that will restore youth. Gilgamesh journeys again and acquires the plant but before he can eat it, it is stolen from him by a serpent. Gilgamesh weeps at the futility of his search for immortality, learning that “For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands.” Having failed both chances, he returns to Uruk, where the sight of its massive walls provokes him to praise this enduring work of mortal men. He understands that mortals can achieve immortality only through lasting works of civilization and culture.

So the story of Noah is a tragedy, which ever way one looks at it. It bears more in common with apocalyptic than with adventure genres and holds profounds questions up for consideration – what is the destiny of humanity? what is the consequence of human evil? how do righteous men and women find immortality or favour with the gods? what is the meaning of our mortal existence?

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In the Babylonian account, the survivor of the Flood, Utnapishtim has been granted immortality, but Gilgamesh cannot attain it. He can only preserve it through human civilisation and culture. However, the story curls back on itself, for it is human civilisation and culture which brought on the wrath of the gods and the cataclysm in the first place – giving humanity a very tenuous place in the world. The Hebrew version, rather presents Noah [“he who finds rest”] as a mortal, saved due to his righteousness but not granted immortality. However, the very seeds of evil that caused the flood in his generation rear their head in his own behaviour upon disembarking and in his sons’ behaviour after him. He again the story curls back in on itself and begs the question – is history repeating ? and what is the ultimate solution if Noah and his family are ultimately just the same broken and flawed beings?

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These things considered, the Aronovsky version of the Flood narrative seems more palatable. For a modern audience I can see the film makers isolating a few clear points:

  1. In our culture, we can strongly identify with a narrative which embodies mother nature as a wrathful being, willing to destroy all traces of human existence with a shrug. Meteors, ice-ages, flooding – many apocalyptic tales tell of the end of humanity at the hands of nature. Something within us understands that there are imminent consequences for our actions towards the planet we inhabit. While some Christians object to the overtly environmentalist agenda to such story, they must not forget that this is about as close to a sense of guilt and acknowledgement of sin as many in our culture can relate to.  It is not a far stretch to tell the story not from Mother Nature’s perspective, but from the creator’s perspective. Human actions poison our world and there are consequences from an otherwise loving and “parental” deity.  Humans can both trust God but must fear God’s wrath. This consciousness can only be a good thing when Christians interact with their fellow men and women.
  2. In the film, God is silent or distant, unlike the above accounts in which Enlil or the Hebrew YHWH interact personally with the protagonists. However, presenting the story as history, the story-tellers seek to give us a more “in time” version of events. How do you or I act or decide? Do we have strong intuition? do we perhaps dream or have premonitions and so act and in retrospect see destiny weaving our path? I believe the filmmakers sought credibility in their story telling and so rather than have an audible voice or visible being, represented Noah as behaving as anyone of us would do in such a case, alone with a more modern, internalised relationship with God.
  3. Noah really struggles with what is going on. The biblical account is spare and does not give much insight into the personal journey of the protagonists.  Aronovsky’s film version seeks to get inside the mind and heart of a man who understands that humanity is deeply and darkly affected by a moral illness, including himself, including his descendants. Maddened and saddened by the destruction of humanity and the planet around him, Noah goes through a Shakespearean struggle to understand God’s will in all of this. Why save him and his sons when they too carry the seeds of evil within them? Should he exterminate any living descendants to spare the new world of the weight they will bring upon it? Should he and his sons live out their lives and die leaving the earth to peace and longevity? When Noah stays his hand from acting this judgement he simply suspends judgement for another to make. God will determine with the solution is for humanity. God saved a remnant, who themselves carry the line of sin. But through their faith to obey God, no matter the cost to themselves, He will bring about redemption.

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What is of interest to me in the biblical epic is the notion of “judgement”. The world is declared so terribly evil in the time of Noah, that “every thought in the heart of man was evil and destruction” [Gen 9].  Aronovsky’s film seeks to capture that with cannibalistic society, full of slavery and darkness.  Indeed the blood of innocents, falls to the earth and is absorbed there.  Genesis 9 talks of the “curse on the ground” and I suspect that there is some merit in seeing that the injustice of the old world was literally absorbed by the earth and it imploded. While the narrative says “God was grieved and caused a flood” in fact this is simply a way of saying, “the earth was overwhelmed with evil and collapsed taking with it all forms of life.”

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With the remade world, God makes a promise through the rainbow to never again bring destruction on the earth through a flood. Yet evil lives on and blood is spilled into the earth? So what happens to all the injustice in the world now? what bears the burden of the blood of the innocent? Here we have God change the narrative radically by presenting an alternative solution. It is through a descendant of Noah that the redemption will come. But this descendant will be no normal human being – God himself will take on human form and through the destruction of him body and soul, will bear the weight of the blood of the innocent and all the curses of evil we humans create.

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So the biblical story of Noah was in fact a reframing of a popular tale of it’s time. It reframed a quest for immortality which ended in acceptance that humans live but once and can only build great buildings to remember their lives. It re-injected into the story the hope for immortality, for life beyond death for human beings – but not through eating a plant – through surviving the flood, in an ark afloat on the cataclysmic waters of destruction. Jesus’ death and resurrection carries us through the storm to life on the other side, to a place where we can find life and rest.