Right after Adam, the Bible says, people started making tools of iron and brass, and instruments for making music (Genesis 4). We are born improvers of things. So the natural course of human history is progressive. Unless calamity or error knock us off course, our species’ attempts to make the world better tend to succeed.
In our own time we have seen human life-spans expanding. King David died at seventy, Solomon at sixty. People today often live past a hundred. The famous line from Psalm 90:10, “the days of our years are threescore and ten, and if by great strength, fourscore,” has become a benchmark, teaching: 1) progress is possible; 2) we have, in fact, made tremendous progress; and 3) we can look forward to more.
Despite what’s often mis-taught about the Seven Noahide Commandments, no society is required to command “belief in HaShem” or prohibit atheism.
Regarding Exodus 20:2 - “I am HaShem your God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” – the great sage Abraham Ibn Ezra taught, “One who denies the existence of any deity whatever commits a greater violation than one who worships idols.” And religious people often say that atheism is worse than idolatry. But Exodus 20 is only God commanding the Jewish people, individually and collectively. That is, it’s a Jewish law, a Torah commandment. Nothing makes it a universal principle.
In fact, atheism isn’t necessarily all that far from the monotheistic belief system taught by Torah. If history, logic, and the glory of the cosmos all combine to teach true monotheism, they still aren’t screamingly obvious. People can draw their own conclusions and are entitled to their own beliefs.
We, mortal and finite, can barely begin to comprehend God’s majesty, the miracle of His existence, nor the miracle of Creation. Atheists, who may (like us) be awed by both the material and the cosmic, sometimes struggle (as we do) to make sense of them. God created us all - with our much more than merely animal intelligence – to make our way through life with limitless amazement and very limited understanding.
One who worships an idol, human or material – who settles on some finite thing to follow as a god (!) – may be much further away from us than the atheist, who denies His existence. After all, whatever image the idol-worshiper has in mind of God is of something that certainly is not God.
Granting that none of us can even begin to imagine God, we – believers – tend to make our way through life more like the atheist does. Despite the atheist not benefitting from believing that the God Whom we can’t imagine is immanent and transcendent, holy, just, eternal, and our King and Father.
At least atheists try to apprehend the cosmos and infinity without the help of any false god. As do we. Plainly, our world is suffused with Divinity while atheists’ are godless, but the different worlds we live in may not be that far apart.
New “Pro-Life” Law
Abortion is such a difficult, uncomfortable topic… On November 15th, 2018, the State of Ohio’s legislature voted 60 to 35 to forbid elective abortions once the fetus’s heart begins to beat. (Abortions are still permitted beyond that time, up to the baby’s delivery, in case of medical emergency or to save the mother’s life.)
A fetus’s heart is formed and begins beating more or less simultaneously with its development of a neural network - including the ability to feel pain, and along with the determination of gender - at about six-weeks, or forty days, after conception.
Before that, the Rabbis teach, the fetus is “mere water” or just a hairy egg. After forty days, it’s not just an egg but a potential human being. Still, if it endangers its mother’s life it should be killed, if necessary. But then birth changes being. Once the fetus comes out of the womb it’s a baby, entitled to life on a par with its mother, with the president, or a king.
These are Torah principles. They appear to be, additionally, what experience, midwives’ wisdom, and human knowledge leads to, in any society that seriously respects the sanctity of human life. If that’s true, as we argue in Rainbow Covenant, they should be tenets of Noahide Law - that is, of all the world’s nations’ laws – too. Because, especially now when we can see what goes on with a fetus in the womb, and have seen film documentaries like “The Silent Scream,” they are benchmarks. And because one of the bold black-letter tenets of the First Covenant is to “not destroy a man in man.”
Just to make this clear, Roe v. Wade is America’s famous “pro-choice” Supreme Court decision. It establishes the last possible date for performing a completely elective abortion as that point when the fetus first becomes viable outside the womb. The bill that Ohio just passed differs radically from that. Under the Ohio bill, the unwanted “hairy egg” can be terminated by a so-called abortion pill or by simply scraping the lining of the uterus: dilation and curettage, or D&C, within forty-days post-conception. Otherwise, Ohio’s law will be decisively “pro-life,” permitting abortion only in cases of medical emergency or to save the mother’s life.
We expect the Ohio bill to be litigated in the Supreme Court.
Government, Tyranny and Anarchy
While America’s Democratic Party seem to be mostly headed towards protecting Roe v. Wade and making “pro-choice” abortion a basic Party principle, Republicans seem to be mostly heading the wrong way respecting government.
The Noahide Commandment is one of dinim, or “laws,” which means government. But Republicans have been professing great antipathy to governmental institutions, denigrating the power of government – that is, government of the people, by the people, for the people, in Lincoln’s words) – to elevate the people’s culture and do good.
“Wherever national life no longer permeates and elevates the masses, they sink into the mire of sensuality, superstition, and animalism.” - Bernhard Duhm (Germany, 1847-1928)
Contempt for government is no virtue. One of the principal objectives of every human society should be to perfect a more perfect union: to make government work well. Government doesn’t exist merely to defend private property; its mandate is much larger than that. It’s perfectly proper for government to fix and maintain roads, for instance, or subsidize scientific research. The claim that’s so often heard today, that this or that is not “a proper function of government,” is often extremely dubious.
One more point: people who don’t recognize that 1) government should be by and of and for the people – which, we believe, is the only type of government that is fully consonant with the principle that God made each person in His image - and that 2) law must govern leaders, rather than leaders, autocratically, determining what is law, generally deserve what they get. Which is to say, tyranny: oppression of the weak by the mighty.
Tyranny and anarchy are not opposites. When government is lacking, when anarchy rules, the result is still the oppression of the weak by the mighty.
National sins are followed by national calamities. Trouble comes to every culture that fails to uphold the Seven Commandments.
Dr. James Regehr lives in Yorktown, Saskatchewan. We introduced him in September in the issue called “Big Charisma.” Later, he sent us a bison shofar – a sound-generating instrument made from an animal’s horn.
A shofar is blown, like a conch shell, to send out certain sound signals. Dr. Regehr, living on the prairie where bison have always roamed, painstakingly turns Buffalo horns into shofars.
Besides crafting them, which is quite a process, Dr. Regehr sends along some thoughtful observations on the spiritual, cosmological and moral impact of sounding a shofar and hearing its sound: about how it may affect the human soul. He has also sends some concise written instructions on how to blow the shofar well.
It was great to get this shofar!
We described it this way: Buffalo Horn Shofar: A buffalo-horn shofar! Designed and made for non-Jews, Dr. Regehr carved a lovely inscription from Psalm 18, the Psalm of Triumph, 18:3, in proto-Hebrew lettering - the alphabet that Moses used to write the Torah. It reads, “Horn of My salvation.”
Dr. Regher writes lyrically about the shofar’s spiritual effects and uplift. But this needs to be said. Jewish people can’t use a bison shofar to fulfill the Torah commandment of blowing a shofar to mark and celebrate the New Year. We once had this unfortunate adventure with a certain golden calf, you see… The horns of bison are too much like the horns of oxen. It was, after all, the making and worshiping of a young ox that got us into so much trouble.
Regardless, both Jews and Noahides can blow it, just to blow a shofar made from bison! Read Dr. Regehr on what effects that might have on us spiritually.
For your information, we’ve been practicing blowing this shofar. We definitely getting better. The people and animals that used to flee from its playing have stopped fleeing so quickly.
By Michael Dallen
Let all who walk the earth recognize and know that You alone are the God over all the kingdoms of the earth.
- Hebrew Prayer book, morning prayer; 1 Kings 8:60