An anthropological and economic reflection starting from the first chapters of Genesis

On occasion of the 90th French Social Weeks, a presentation for a round table discussion entitled "Renewing our vision of globalization through religions."

by Luigino Bruni

Paris, UNESCO, 3 October 2015

1.   Creation, the Earth, Fraternity

Civilizations that proved very fruitful are those that have not developed a 151003 Parigi SSF Unesco 03 ridpredatory relationship with the earth and with time, but the ones that have understood, experienced and welcomed them as a gift.

According to the Bible the earth is part of creation, and so "the earth is YHWH's" If the world and the earth are part of creation, then we are inhabitants of a land that we are not the masters of. Biblical humanism is centred on the radical generosity of time and earth. This was expressed in many ways, but especially and in a foundational way by the great law of the Sabbath and the Jubilee: "Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed." Exodus ( 23,10-12)

We are not the masters of the world in which we live. We live in it, it loves us, nourishes us and gives us life, but we are guests and pilgrims here, residents and owners of a land that is entirely ours, and entirely foreign to us, where we feel at home and remain travellers passing through it at the same time. The earth is always promised land for the Bible, and the promised land is the ideal goal in front of us that we have never reached. And the land was also the promised land when we built our house on it, where we built our homeland on it through our blood, where the crops grow in our field. All over the earth there reigns a primary law of gratuitousness. The earth is the first gift, and as such it should be lived and inhabited.

In the Bible there is a radical prophecy of human and cosmic fraternity. You can use the land for six days, but not on the seventh. You can and you have to work, but not always, because we worked always only when we were slaves in Egypt. The stranger is not a stranger every day, because he or she is a person of your house with and like all the others. There's a part of your land that is not yours, and you have to leave it to the wild animals, to the stranger, to the poor. What you have is not altogether and only for you. It also belongs to another one who is never too "other" to be left out from the horizon of the "us all". All goods are common goods.

But if a chrism of gratuitousness is imprinted on human things and relationships, then the Bible also tells us that each property is imperfect that every human domain is secondary, that no man is truly and only a foreigner. No poor person is poor forever.

The degree of humanity and civilization of any concrete society is measured using the difference between the sixth and seventh day. The last day then becomes the perspective from which the other six days, as well as their ethical, spiritual and human quality can be viewed and judged. When the freedom of the seventh day is missing, work becomes slavery to those who work, servitude and lack of breath for the land and the animals; the stranger never becomes a brother, the poor never finds redemption.

The Gospels also link the earth with meekness or docility. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The meek are promised the earth, it is their inheritance. But the earth in biblical humanism belongs to God: So which land will be ours if we are meek? The meek own all land by not possessing it; and therefore they share it all. They regard it as inheritance received for free, not as goods purchased in the markets; and therefore they want to leave to their children. They open the doors of their house because they know that it is actually the house of the others, of everybody, too. And when their house is filled with non-family members they do not feel a hero nor an altruist, but only someone who is in possession of a land received as a gift and inheritance, even when they bought it from the savings of an entire life.

The earth is always promised land, it is more than a (River) Jordan that we contemplate but never cross. And if the meek are promised the earth, then the promised land is the land of the meek. Each land inhabited by the meek has already become the promised land. Also the land of our city, our neighbourhood, my home becomes the promised land if there lives at least one meek person on it.

2.    Adam and Cain

The Bible send Adam to take care of the earth. In the beginning there is no Cain, but there is something "very beautiful and good" (tov), that on the sixth day with the human being became "very beautiful and good" (Genesis 1,31). It is because of the blessing that hovers over the created world. The bereshit, the beginning of the earth, the living beings and humans is goodness and beauty, which tells us what the deepest and truest vocation of the earth, the living, man and woman is. It also tells us that the earth is alive because it is located within a relationship of love and mutuality. That mountains, rocks, rivers and the sky are also alive. The first chapter of Genesis is but a sublime hymn to life and creation, with Adam, the human being as its climax. And all these creatures are good, very good, beautiful and blessed because they were called to life by an overflow of love.

Unlike the myths of the Middle East or India that are coeval or previous to Genesis, where the world and man were born from acts of violence, fights between gods, decadence and degeneration, the first words on creation and man are goodness and beauty in biblical humanism. Evil can be tremendous and crazy, but the good is deeper and stronger than any large and devastating evil. Evil can be banal, good will never be.

This "very beautiful and very good thing" may get ill and it may degenerate, but no illness of soul and body is strong enough to wipe out this beauty and cancel this primordial goodness. Cain may kill Abel, but he does not kill Adam.

Life does not die, we cannot be put out inside until - despite having to watch the story from the perspective of Cain and his sons - we do not forget that before Cain there is Adam who lives as someone related to God and not the earth. The Adam blooms in fullness, his image is revealed truly in reciprocal relationship with the woman, when their eyes meet as equals (Eser Kenegdo). The statement "It is not good that the man should be alone ..." (Genesis 2) is aimed at male-female relationships, but men and women are not alone when they feel accompanied by the whole of creation.

To believe this first word about the world and man is to believe that the first and last word about man is not that of Cain. Instead it is on the primacy of Cain and the radical anthropological pessimism that we built social contracts and leviathans, criminal law and courts, taxes, banking, laws on illegal immigrants, euthanasia for children.
The real man is a mix between Cain and Adam, but the Bible's humanism tells us that Adam is there first. If the first and last word on us was that of Cain, no forgiveness and no restart would be real, just as no "forever" could be pronounced.

Those who take that first word on man seriously can see that the world is full of beautiful and good things. They can marvel at sunsets, stars and snow-capped mountains but they also see very good and very beautiful things when they look at their colleagues, neighbours, old people dying, the terminally ill, the many people warped by poverty or by too much wealth, the grandmother who has returned to be a little girl playing with dolls again, Cain who continues to shock us. No Amazon rainforest, no Alpine mountain peak can ever reach the beauty and goodness of Mario, the homeless man at Termini Station in Rome. This is biblical anthropology.
But in this primacy of Adam over Cain there are other important messages, too.

Genesis presents to us in the first chapter the relationship between man and nature as consisting in housing and care giving. The Adam (the earthen one: the name Adam comes from the word adamah: earth), is placed in the garden, with the command to take keep it and cultivate it. To keep it: shamar, in Hebrew. In chapter 4 of Genesis we find the same verb again, when Cain returns from the fields where he killed his brother Abel, and in front of the tremendous question of Elohim: "Where is your brother", instead of answering, thereby taking up the responsibility (responding) for his action, he raises another question to God: "Am I my brother’s keeper?". Again, keeping, again, shamar. Keeping is only one: if I am not the keeper of my brother I cannot be keeper of the earth, and vice versa.

If we do not keep (take care of) each other, we will not be able to keep the land - or even ourselves. Where keeping (caretaking) disappears, fratricide takes the place of fraternity and the earth gets stained with the blood of brothers. But God can smell the blood of the victims who were not "kept" (taken care of): "The voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground" (Gen 4,11).

Fraternity borders with fratricide. In the relations between human beings and creation there is never any indifference: either the "keeping" of the other or fratricide. But that first failed fraternity also tells us that if the first fraternity in history was a fratricide, then every murder on earth is fratricide.

3.    Conclusion: Noah or Babel?

After Cain, the Bible presents Lamech and his song: "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me." (4,23). Humanity becomes totally corrupted, Elohim repents and sends the flood. But on a degraded land and in a deep 'crisis', there is still a fair and just one: Noah. This righteous man receives a call, a vocation, and he builds an ark of salvation.

So the first sign of Noah's righteousness is his answer to the call. But the second, really decisive sign is the building of an ark, which gives content and truth to that personal call. Many self-deceptions and not infrequently neurosis has also been hiding behind "calls without arks of salvation". Human communities, businesses, the world are saved every day from situations of degradation, failure and from radical crises only because there are people who feel a call of salvation and answer to it by building an ark of salvation. Because there is at least one such person. A single person can be enough for a story of salvation. Salvation always comes through vocation and through the building of arks. Through someone who creates a work of art, founds a cooperative, a company, a union, an association, a political movement. Someone forms and takes care of a family, a child, a job or manages to carry a fruitful cross for long.

In all the stories of individual and collective salvation there is a "righteous man" and there is "an ark". One can be saved from the floods because there is a righteous man, at least one, who hears a call to build an ark, and builds it, too.

But at the end of the beautiful story of Noah and the rainbow of forgiveness and the new covenant between Elohim and the earth, we find the construction of the tower of Babel.
The fundamental error of Babel was to seek salvation by closing up into a group of similars: they all had "one language and a common speech" (11,1). The city-tower was built in order not to "be scattered over the face of the whole earth" (11,4). Actually, to be scattered was exactly the command issued to those saved from the flood: "multiply on the earth and increase upon it" (9,7). But people who had been saved sought salvation not in a "go", but in a "stop" away from the risk of diversity and from teeming life.

So the major sin of Babel was thinking that salvation is found in the creation of high walls, in giving life to a community that loses the sense of gift. Our history has always been an alternation and an intersection of cities-of-walls and cities-of-gifts, but when the walls killed the gifts it did not bring happy days for civilization.

In the case of the ark, salvation came with a building process, in Babel it was born from destruction, by dispersion. Individual and collective salvation arrives like this: runoff, from mass departures, by migration. The blessing and fruitfulness lies in dispersing on the face of the earth, in the popular new worlds, and in the variety and biodiversity of languages, and so cultures, talents and vocations. The corolla of the flower is only fruitful if it disperses its spores. The temptation of Babel arrives promptly as soon as mankind has escaped a flood or is afraid of another one. Instead of getting dispersed, leaving, looking ahead with hope, instead of looking for allies among the different ones for exchanges and encounters of mutual benefit, the tent is abandoned and the building of a tower is started. But in such towers no children are born. The tent is the right home for the human.

In the valley of Babel people did not understand that "the heavens" to reach were not above them but in front of them, on the road towards the "not yet". They did not understand that a humble nomadic tent is more resistant than a sky-high tower.

"Out of Eden, in the garden of history now, we shall not find the new language of Adam if we keep turning back or stop our history inside similar towers; we will only be able to retrieve it if we walk following a voice, a rainbow, a star, a wandering Aramean.

Today in Europe, in the era of financial and social floods, the temptation of Babel is about to return with increased force. But there are also many Noahs emerging to fight the boats of death and their traffickers by creating arks of salvation at all levels. We must continue to bring down the high towers, and build arks to save and save us from old and new floods. But above all we have to save the children, our sons and daughters and the children of everyone else, too. The promised land is for them.
Thank you.

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