Of ‘Noah,’ tree-hugging, and God’s word

Of ‘Noah,’ tree-hugging, and God’s word

The movie “Noah” has received a lot of bad press from the Christian right, which sees it as some kind of pagan-packed, “brilliantly sinister anti-Christian” film, as breitbart.com put it in the headline of a review by one of its popular bloggers, John Nolte.

In his review, Nolte especially bemoans “atheist director and co-writer” Darren Aronofsky’s “blasphemous claim that God is some kind of tree-hugger who wiped out humanity in the Flood to save the planet and punish Man for hunting animals.” Nolte (a tree mugger?) calls this “a bald-faced lie.” He knows this because “saving the spotted owl is nowhere in what will later be revealed as God’s Law: The Ten Commandments.”

He also makes the claim that God has no problem with humans killing animals for food, “because after the Flood, God gave Noah, and therefore Man, a Covenant that included the okey-doke to eat animals.”

How in heaven’s name did God’s Law ever become so distorted – not by “Noah” or Aronofsky, but by Nolte and his crowd, whose only knowledge of that law seems to come from watching reruns of Cecil B. DeMille epics.

Sorry, John, but in this at least Aronofsky’s “Noah” got it right: God is some kind of tree-hugger who wiped out humanity in the Flood to save the planet and punish Man for hunting animals. As far as that “okey-doke to eat animals,” read Chapter 1 of Genesis before reading Chapter 9, John, and you will realize that God is making a huge concession to human bloodlust, albeit with serious restrictions. There is no “okey-doke” here. If more proof is needed, John, check out Leviticus 17:4, which likens killing animals just for the fun of it to murder.

The fact is, God’s Law – the Torah, not the so-called “Ten Commandments” (which we actually call “the Ten Declarations,” but that is for another column), and the Judaism that flows from it insist that we must do whatever we can do to preserve God’s creation. The earth is not ours, after all, and neither are is creatures. All belong to God.

Sad to say, that humankind still has an ambivalence toward its relationship to Creation is indicative of the ambivalence it has towards God and His role as Creator. As much as many people pay lip service to that, especially the fundamentalists of every monotheistic religion, they do not really buy the package. The texts, however, do not allow for any ambivalence.

Thus, while it is true that Psalms 115:16 tells us that “The heavens are the heavens of the Lord; but He has given the earth to the children of men,” it does not mean that “the children of men” can do with it as they please. Psalm 24:1 makes that case: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it.”

The earth belongs to God. Our job is to care for the earth on behalf of its Owner. It is that simple.

Nolte and his fellow tree-muggers, it would seem, rely on a misreading of Genesis 1:28, which says: “And God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.'”

As explained by the 12th century biblical commentator and grammarian Abraham Ibn Ezra, “The ignorant have compared man’s rule over the earth with God’s rule over the heavens. This is not right, for God rules over everything. The meaning of ‘he has given the earth to the children of men’ is that man is God’s ‘pakeed’ over the earth and must do everything according to God’s word [because ‘pakeed,’ meaning steward, is a specific term, referring to a commission for a specific task. That task is found in Gen 2:15]: ‘And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it.'”

In fact, the Torah makes clear in several ways that we humans do not have absolute power over the environment. Nowhere is this more evident than in the notion that even the land is entitled to a “Shabbat” of rest (see Leviticus 25:1-19).

Then, of course, there is Deuteronomy 20:19, which tells us, “You shall not destroy the fruit-bearing trees of the enemy, for is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you?”

This statement led to the halachic principle known as “bal tashchit.” The sages of blessed memory created a library-full of laws based on it, including one that forbids burning fossil fuels with abandon (see the Babylonian Talmud tractate Shabbat 67b).

Later decisors added wings to that library. Maimonides, for example, insisted that “the Torah forbids … uprooting [trees and bushes] without any purpose, for that is wanton destruction.” (See Responsa No. 54.)

A 14th century rabbi, Aharon Halevy of Barcelona, in his Sefer Ha-Chinuch, added that “not even a grain of mustard” could be destroyed for no good reason.

The message is clear: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.

All, John, including the creatures that roam on it, or fly over it, or thrive beneath it. God truly is “some kind of tree-hugger” in every sense of that term.