9/24/10

More Answers for Mr. Atherton (Samoa Observer)

(Re: Letters to the Editor - Sept. 22, 2010: "It is never too late.")

Free Will and Morality

Mr. Atherton:
Morals do not begin or end with the Bible. Neither the Bible nor Christianity has a monopoly on morality. Several moral codes have been developed over the years by civilisations unfamiliar with Judeo-Christian scripture.

LV:
God predates all these sources including the Bible. His Spirit was in the beginning; He was in the beginning. His “light” enlightens and elucidates every man and creature.  Morals begin and end with God - the Alpha and Omega.

Mr. Atherton:
But here is a question for those of your readers more knowledgeable about these matters than I am: if God intended humans to be moral, why did He forbid Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge between good and evil?

LV:
I don’t claim to be more knowledgeable about matters raised by Mr. Atherton. I do however have some idea of what he’s enquiring about and I hope my insights will at least shed some light on the issue(s). My answer lies in Free Will and its indubitable link to morals and morality.

Free Will is a broad and complex subject and has become more convoluted, if not more controversial in recent decades. New fields and disciplines such as neuroscience, cognitive psychology and even new branches of the prototypical fields - philosophy and theology - all subscribe and contribute to the discourse and disputations. Because of such complexity, I will try to limit my response to the Biblical context as mentioned in the question.

Free Will - in its connotation of agency of man or freedom to choose between good and evil - was granted to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It’s true that they were forbidden to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, BUT, along with the interdiction, Adam and Eve were allowed and given the freedom to “choose”.  In the LDS canon, we find this clear specific consignment of the freedom to choose by God to Adam and Eve:

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Moses 3:17)

Now before any accusatory scream of heresy is launched and fired, it is well to understand the Bible itself, since it does basically say the same thing - that Adam and Eve were given the freedom to choose. Let’s examine the applicable verses.

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:16,17 - KJV)

God is essentially - and in a real subtle yet compendious way - saying: “You can do this, BUT not this.”  That’s CHOICE right there!  In other words, God gave them a choice between two opposite alternatives. Alternatives along with clear and specific consequences also suggest succinctly the possibility, opportunity and ability to choose as individuals.

Again, Adam and Eve were forbidden but were also given the freedom to choose which is tied to our ability to make moral choices.

On a bantering note, I wonder if God was punning when He said to Adam and Eve that they may freely eat”.

9/22/10

My new thinking and writing - and stop teasing - hat

I have to move my computer and, therefore, my cheese.

In the past few months I have been using my daughter’s room for blogging and for some serious writing (blogging is not serious writing?). Now she’s back from AZ and that means I have to move my computer ...and my cheese (writing).

The sign “Writing in Progress” - which has stayed up on the door even at times when I wasn’t writing - needs to be moved too. And my writing hat will change as well. My mentors recommended that I have a “writing hat” to let others know when not to bother me - in other words, something along the lines of the Carl’s Jr. commercial slogan “Don’t bother me, I’m eating.” So when I was looking for a “don’t bother me” hat, I just settled for my daughter’s that was on her dresser. It’s a girly hat and it looks farcical and boorish on me. Just give me some dorky glasses to go with the hat, and I’ll be on a Spike Lee look-a-like lineup - alliteratively speaking, at least.

On a recent Saturday morning, I was up early, writing. When it was time for our family to leave on our weekly ritual and pilgrimage to several little league football fields to watch the grandsons let off some steam, I still had the hat on and even throughout the games, so our children were teasing and making fun of my girly hat. Now I think I’m going to switch to my BYU (True Blue) hat. Yes, I said “I think”....since some in my family are ironclad fans and afficionados of the Utah (University) Utes - BYU’s perhaps fiercest rival - who may continue teasing the hat at my team’s expense.

I have a solution though. I’m going to remind them that it’s my new “don’t you dare bother me” hat; therefore, any teasing and taunting shall and will stop. Anyhow, it’s a rebuilding year for my Cougars. Oh, but wait ... Jake Heaps is starting at quarterback this Saturday, so I bet you that things will start turning around. Just you wait and watch! ...my Cougars are going to have heaps (punning of course) of wins ... Go Cougs!

From the cheesy to some real cheese, if you haven’t read “Who Moved My Cheese" I'd suggest you do; I read it several years ago. It’s an excellent inspirational and motivational book. It’s an easy read, yet effective in its message.

Speaking of inspirational messages, here’s one of several from the book:

“If you don’t change, you can become extinct.”

9/16/10

An Answer to a Question in the Samoa Observer

Beasts, creeping things and birds.

"The reason God [blotted out man, beast, creeping things and birds with the Flood] was because the people were wicked.  But does anyone know where the beasts, creeping things and birds went wrong?" - John Atherton, Siusega.

If I surmise correctly, the assumption made by Mr. Atherton was that the beasts, creeping things and birds were not wicked or evil; they were innocent and therefore should have been vindicated.

His question therefore is a thought-provoking one; though to any diehard religionist, it’s an easy one that can be answered with this familiar, convenient, one-size-fits-all and pat response: "It’s God’s will."  Inevitably, in the end, it may very well be "the answer", as it is for most other Biblical mysteries and/or faith-based conundrums. In that case, I may be guilty of making a circular argument in my reply.

Nonetheless, for curiosity and fecundity’s sakes, I think the question deserves ruminating and cogitating over. So here’s my take, not as a freethinker but as a free thinker.

I am going to start my supposition with a popular quote by the Greek philosopher Protagoras that "Man is the measure of all things." Generally, this quote has been handed down with no clear or concrete interpretation, although it is oftentimes linked to agnostic and relativistic contexts in which man - not God - is purported to be the ultimate source of morals and values.

Within such vagueness and speculation - as well as in an attempt to answer Mr. Atherton’s question - I would take the liberty in rephrasing Protagoras that "Man is the measure of all things [God created]." The insertion of God, I hope, clears up the ambiguity and the obvious irony established by the godless context of the original quote.

As believers in God, we understand that man is the epitome or crown - hence "measure" - of all of God’s creations. Therefore he was given the charge to be "lord" over all the earth:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image,... and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26).

With that as a premise, here are the two probable reasons for the seeming unfairness on the part of God in condemning and cursing the beasts, creeping things, birds, etc., - again, as assumed by Mr. Atherton.

1. Beasts Creeping Things and Birds as Accomplices and Cohorts.
The influence of man as being the measure of all things created, can have a far reaching effect that even the animals become evil in their own way when man - as master and measure - himself becomes irreparably evil and his cup of iniquity is full. In other words, when man becomes evil continually and is found lacking in all of God’s attributes (love, patience, compassion, etc.,) he tends to treat the animals, birds, and creeping things unkindly. This in turn can make the animals more ferocious, vicious and hostile against man and against each other. Once I quoted this saying that "even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being stumbled over."

This overall deterioration and degeneracy can be transmissible to the point that a comprehensive and universal moral pandemic becomes a precursor to, and harbinger for, the condition of ripening in iniquity that would, in turn, prompt God’s wrath and vengeance upon all - man and beast. The destruction of Sodom, Gomorrah and other cities of the plains is a good example.

Another example is found in the book of Jonah.  God commanded Jonah to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh whose inhabitants had become exceedingly wicked and evil.  The king and his nobles then decreed man and beast to fast and repent, and turn from their evil ways (Jonah 3:7-8).

In this first part, I’m suggesting that it’s quite possible for beast, creeping things and birds to sink to a degenerate condition - within their own sphere for the most part - from the ripple effect of man’s own wicked condition. Accordingly, God would therefore see fit to blot out man and his subordinate cohorts. Man should not underestimate his influence - moral and otherwise - on the totality of his environment.

2. Beasts, Creeping Things and Birds as Inclusive Collateral.
The act of God on the beasts, birds and creeping things is to exact (pun intended) punishment on mankind. In the Bible, God allows deserving, indiscriminate and annihilative punishment only when a people, again, ripens in iniquity - not at the very first incident or episode of evildoing. From Genesis 6:5, this clearly was the case in Noah’s day - that the people were evil continually in their hearts and minds, hence deeds as well:

"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."

So if everything (animals, birds, etc.,) was created by God for man’s benefit and welfare, then it would seem appropriate to have them recanted and eradicated too along with man - if not to impose further and fair punishment, it can also be an intrinsic part of God’s inclusive collateral and compensatory system. The concept could be akin to the modern legal precedent where the guilty party is required to sell or surrender his/her property in order to satisfy a court judgment/settlement.

The belief in the harmony/unity of man and nature - as one indivisible whole - may also be used by some to explain the same concept of inclusive collateral. In fact, the trickle down and contiguous effects of man’s evildoing that include his environment and other living things are neither farfetched nor impractical.

Take the Fall (of Adam) for example. When Adam fell, everything (animals, plants - in essence the whole earth) fell. The ground was cursed with thistles and thorns and the serpent was "cursed above every beast of the field." This means that other beasts were cursed too with the serpent being cursed above all of them.

Further, as stated, the ground was cursed for man’s sake (Genesis 3:17). The point here being that the effects of man’s disobedience extend far beyond himself.  In the book of Zephaniah - prophesying about Judah’s fate - we get this all-inclusive reach of God’s cataclysmic hand as a result of man’s vile and abominable sinfulness.

"I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the Lord. I will consume man and beast; I will consume the fowls of the heaven, and the fishes of the sea, and the stumblingblocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the land, saith the Lord."  (Zephaniah 1:2-3).

Again, indiscriminate, widespread and utter destruction is part of God’s judgment on mankind when their cup of iniquity is full.  The Flood was such an incident and event. 

In a sense, also, we can view the Flood as a cleansing act of God in order for the earth to comply and conform to His pure and unblemished nature and character, or at least His will (pun intended) for His children.

9/8/10

S.L.C.

SLC, at least in the US, stands for Salt Lake City. But for now, the acronym might as well stand for Stress Least City too.  Based on a just released nationwide study, Salt Lake City is the least stressful city while Detroit and Los Angeles garnered the worst honors of being the most stressful. The study is based on “unemployment rates, personal financial data, environmental factors, health risks, crime rates and living standards ...” If these studies have any merits (and they should) then Utah certainly boasts - on a consistent basis - high marks for being a pretty, healthy and happy state (re: previous posts).

But here’s an incident that might countermine the findings of the above study in the health risk category, especially if it’s an everyday happenstance. Last week, during lunch, I had to run an errand and I was driving on the I-15 freeway to SLC. Before getting on the freeway, I stopped for a burger and so I was eating and drinking (fruit punch ...lol) while driving. At one point I was doing the outlandish and the unconventional - driving with my knee, a definite no-no on a freeway. But worst than driving with a knee or knees, is someone who drives aggressively and daringly.

I was at this stretch of the freeway where there were seven lanes (one way) including the Express lane. Suddenly a car did a forty degree speedy swerve from the Express (left-most) lane across all six other lanes to an exit. It was an aggressive stupid and dangerous maneuver. A couple of cars did some hard braking but luckily the traffic was moderate. Talking about stress and cortisol levels soaring in a matter of seconds. Whoooh! The stupidity of sudden lane changes just to make an immediate exit is one of my all time freeway pet peeves.

Overall, however, SLC is tame. It’s not as stressful, hence not as risky, as LA, NYC or MoTown.

9/2/10

The Feagaiga

The word feagaiga in Samoan literally means “covenant”. And covenant in its most basic meaning is an agreement between two persons or parties.

In the Samoan culture, and specifically its moral ethos, feagaiga is used mainly in two contexts:

1. In a village and church minister relationship.
2. In a brother and sister relationship

In the first one, the villagers refer to their pastor as a feagaiga - or faafeagaiga. The villagers are obligated to serve and protect the pastor and his family.

In the second one, the brother calls his sister a feagaiga within a defined respectful and honorable protector and guardian relationship.

The two relationships are sacred at the core.

This brother-sister feagaiga is a lifelong commitment, notably for the brother in respecting, serving and honoring his sister. The feagaiga is governed by a specific code and etiquette. The brother is responsible for his sister’s safety and general welfare - especially while she’s still single. He is not supposed to use any of his sister’s things/belongings like a lavalava, sheet, pillow, towel, etc., He is off-limits to his sister’s space like a room, or in the case of an open Samoan fale, the space where she sleeps and keeps her personal belongings. The brother also cooks and during family meals, he is supposed to wait on his sister. He does not eat until she’s done. At dinner, the sister sits next to the parents in the front (talaluma) of the house. The bother sits in the back (talatua) and waits on them with the hand wash bowl (vai fafano) and hand towel (solo lima).

This feagaiga gives rise to the expression: “O le tuafafine o le mea uliuli i le mata o le tuagane.” (“The sister is the pupil in her brother’s eye.”). Consider the sensitive and the vulnerable nature of the pupil which is protected and covered immediately when in danger of any external intrusion. Likewise, the sister is immediately protected by her brother when she is in harm’s way. The brother attends to her and ensures she is cared for and protected.

Sometimes, the brother takes this protector role to extremes especially when he suspects any advances of a sexual nature towards his sister by a suitor. The boyfriend usually gets beaten up for the slightest attempt to romance and woo the sister. Occasionally, this creates a discord between the brother and his sister during which the brother - most of the time - gets the support of the parents, and, therefore, usually prevails.

Now, here’s something to ponder.

Despite the above seeming anomaly, the overall concept of the brother-sister feagaiga deems ideal in molding Samoan men to become more loving, kinder, gentler and respectful of womanhood. Shouldn’t all these therefore translate seamlessly into more loving, respectful and caring husbands? In other words, methinks that the feagaiga is an ideal prerequisite and training for future husbands in their relationship and mutuality with their wives; despite the differences - insignificant as they may seem - on some levels between a sister and a wife. Does that happen? And if not, what causes Samoan men to give up the feagaiga etiquette - at least its gallantry - in marriage? Apparently there’s an unexplainable disparity somewhere. (I may venture into this seemingly uncharted territory in my future posts.)

Now for those husbands who comply, does the feagaiga influence or play a role in their conformity and civility in marriage? Personally, I think it does - and should.

Ideally, therefore, the feagaiga should give Samoan men the advantage and edge on any good husbands scale.