Canadian Civil Society I

Canadian Civil Society I

by

Howard Adelman

At the conference in Ottawa last week on “Our Whole Society: Religion & Citizenship at Canada’s 150th,” the objective was to advance solidarity among faith groups by allowing them to operate within a broader framework of shared practices, in spite of diverse perspectives. I was there to address the role of faith groups with respect to immigrants and refugees and to help comprehend the role of faith groups in society more generally.

In my talk, I addressed each of these topics. On the issue of solidarity, I challenged such an objective on two grounds. First, a family resemblance existed among different faith groups on shared practices and values that required no solidarity on perspectives. They already had a common frame; they did not need solidarity on content. As John Borrows noted in his keynote address, the goal should not be to close the space and eliminate the gaps between and among groups. Nor should it simply be to allow space for others. Rather, those spaces should be used to encourage dialogue and debate, to facilitate exchanges that encourage respect for others.

Secondly, I addressed the conjunction between immigrants and refugees and suggested a fundamental difference between the two groups, not in terms of the traditional difference between one group who came of their own free will and the other who came because they were forced to flee. Free will and coercion are not dichotomous choices. Rather they are ideal poles and different immigrant and refugee groups arrive with different degrees of each motivating their quest for Canadian citizenship. I then suggested that the groups could better be distinguished by the different ways they integrated into Canadian society, a process that had important implications for future support of refugees and for the premise of the interfaith dialogue that led to the cooperation of faith groups.

Third, I challenged the conception of “exclusive secularism” that seemed to have been presumed by the organizers. This is a brand of secularism that insists that a hard line had to be drawn between the secular and the faith worlds, as hard a line as Kant drew between reason and faith in his Critiques. I challenged this proposition on two grounds. First, in many jurisdictions, especially in France with its doctrine of laicité, secularism itself is a religion and a relatively dogmatic one at that. It is a value-rooted system that prescribes conduct and especially dress, not just the banning of the hijab by school girls, but the wearing of speedos by males at public swimming pools. Second, it is a myth that faith groups are excluded from the political process. They enjoy in many areas, but especially in the sphere of refugees, an intimate partnership with the state as well as with the rest of secular society.

Fourth, I insisted that research had pointed to the important relevance of history rather than the primacy of faith in explaining the hand religious groups extended to refugees. That is why the Mennonites and the Christian Reformed Church were first to step up to the plate in a partnership with the Government to bring Indochinese refugees into Canada in 1979 and why more established churches, the United Church and the Catholics, had been stragglers. There was a hierarchy of commitment among faith groups, but the degree of commitment was not determined by faith, but by the historical experience imprinted in a group’s priorities concerning the effort to be devoted to refugees.

But the major part of the talk addressed the family resemblance among the different faith groups. I argued that the same family resemblance was shared with a significant part of secular society so that it could be said that most Canadians share a Canadian Civil Religion. It is a civil religion because it is not rooted in a singular faith and because it influences and prioritizes what governments do and, in particular, how government deals with strangers, how it deals with immigrants and refugees, how it deals with the most important question a polis faces, who to admit into membership. They shared core values. The values as articulated below were all expressed by various participants on the first day of the conference. I merely wrote them down.

The easiest way to explicate the Canadian Civil Religion was to contrast it with the American Civic Religion currently dominant in our neighbour to the south. I stress the phrase “currently dominant,” because most Americans do not decry the Canadian values depicted below. Second, the current dominant American values are also present underground in the Canadian collective psyche.

A set of ten values as follows indicates the contrast:

Canada                                        U.S.A.

  1. Civility                                         Incivility
  2. Compassion                                Passion
  3. Dignity                                         Indignation
  4. Diversity                                      Unity
  5. Empathy                                      Insecurity
  6. Impartial                                     Partisan
  7. Egalitarian                                  Inegalitarian
  8. Fairness                                       Ruthless & even Unfair
  9. Freedom as a Goal                    Freedom as Given
  10. False-consciousness                 Humans as Falsifiers

Let me explore each of these dichotomies in turn. In doing so, I will make reference to the brilliant and gripping Netflix documentary, Get me Roger Stone, in which the Stone-Trump doctrine of cynicism is explicitly articulated. Roger Stone has been depicted by Jeffrey Toobin as the “sinister Forrest Gump of American politics.” Whereas the movie Forrest Gump provided a story in which a naïve innocent was present in every key event since 1960, Roger Stone’s biography reveals a cynical disrupter present in everything from an indirect involvement in the McCarthy hearings through his mentor and hero, Ray Cohn (who was also Donald Trump’s litigation lawyer) from whom Stone adopted his dandyism, to his own actual involvement in everything from Watergate to the election and performance of Donald Trump.

Though not ever present in the Canadian sprawl, at the centre of the Canadian Civil religion is the quality of civility. For Canadians, it is the queen of virtues. It is what Americans refer to when they say, “Canadians are so polite.” Civility esteems reasonable behaviour that elevates courtesy to an art form. At the funeral of Ron Atkey, one could not ignore the civility that characterized this man during his life and the order and respect of the memorial service in his honour at Metropolitan United Church. For society to be civil, political engagement has to show reverence for civility in the conduct of those who practice the profession. Civility, relatively, is an outstanding trait of the Canadian Parliament.

In contrast, Roger Stone and Donald Trump raised incivility to a political art form by using discourtesy to others, innuendo, ad hominem attacks, personal insults, troll accusations and hate speech as the core of the political process. Whether Trump was telling the Russian ambassador that Comey was a “nut job,” or whether he and Stone were leading a mass crowd to shout, “lock her up” in reference to Hillary Clinton, Trump wallowed in libel and defamed his final competitor in the race for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, by referring to stories accusing his opponent of being a sexual gallivanter when Trump’s own operators had written the stories. This is not a core value of most Americans. It is a core value of the Trump regime currently in charge of the polis in the U.S.

A second virtue extolled in the Canadian Civil Religion is compassion, a concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others. Compassion entails not just pity, but self-sacrifice for others. Compassion is not merely driven by the sight of the dead three-year-old Syrian refugee boy, Alan Kurdi, washed ashore on a Turkish beach, or abhorrence at the horrors of war itself, as Donald Trump was possibly motivated by the dead children killed in the chemical attack by Syrian forces that left 75 dead, including 20 children. Donald Trump called the behaviour an “affront to humanity” and castigated Bashar al-Assad for his heinous action. But his outrage was not based on compassion for it did not lead to sacrifice and the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. Rather, it led to blowing up runways, facilities and planes with tomahawk missiles.

For the ideology of the Trump brand extols passion for a cause rather than compassion for others. Zealotry, intensity and pugnacity are highly praised under a doctrine of “take no prisoners” and leave behind a scorched earth. For the object is not just winning, but winning at any cost and winning at great cost to the other. For politics is not a positive sum game or even a zero sum game. It is a negative sum game in which you lose, but your opposition must suffer even greater losses. Politics becomes provocation and the only response to criticism is to attack, attack and attack.

A third virtue of the Canadian Civil Religion is dignity. Dignity admires serious attention to a problem and self-control in dealing with it. But it is not only a virtue with respect to one’s own bearing and conduct, speech and self-regard, it is also the accord extended to others who one considers to be a being who is valued even as one disagrees with his or her opinions. The virtue is identified with respect for inherent and inalienable rights. Humans of all types must be treated with dignity. So must the dead.

The contrasting values of the Stone-Trump ideology esteem indignation in oneself and insults aimed at the other. The goal of the latter is to humiliate and lay open to scorn the character and conduct of others. Indignation demonstrates unconcern and indifference for the other and total absorption and care for oneself. The object is to debase the other and draw attention to oneself.  The irony is that indignation is seen to arise because of perceived unfair treatment of oneself. One is affronted and takes umbrage at the disrespect shown. But indignation does not normally result in the quest for fair treatment, but rather in a view that the world is inherently unfair and that the only response is fight if one does not want to flee the plane of battle. Indignation presumes a politics of resentment and uses that deep understanding to mobilize those suffering from indifference and disrespect.

A fourth value esteemed in the Canadian Civil Religion is diversity. Often, many think that this is the primary cultural attitude as we extol multiculturalism. But the curious question is why anyone would prefer monochromatic unity in opposition to diversity. We do not want to eat at the same restaurant every night. And we all do not love meat loaf and fast food. Canadians extol the richness of multiculturalism, the benefits to society brought about when multiple cultures live side-by-side and interact.

However, the reverence for diversity, the respect for pluralism, is not confined to civil society. It permeates the polis, its makeup, policies and priorities. Canadians do not favour assimilation; Canada has no melting pot. Canadians do favour integration. Canadians support strong multiculturalism, not simply tolerance and respect for differences, but a positive effort to promote diversity both in the political representatives of our society and in how the government deals with different cultural groups. This is a work in progress because the government has never been able to adequately address the status and role of aboriginal groups in Canadian society. However, John Borrows in his keynote speech offered a primer on how to do precisely that.

Trump trumpeted unity in his victory speech. This past American Thanksgiving in late November, when Donald Trump was forming his government, he offered the following prayer: “It’s my prayer that on this Thanksgiving we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve.” From the most divisive force in the history of American politics, this prayer may have seemed like an expression of hypocrisy, but Trump has a record of engaging in fisticuffs and then inviting all those he beat up for a drink, while notably abstaining himself.

When he appointed South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, it was not done to highlight America’s multiculturalism, but to honour the success of its efforts in assimilation. When he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress, he extolled unity to end a toxic, partisan environment, ignoring totally that he was the prime source of the toxicity. When he is in charge, everyone should march to the tune of the pied piper even as he plays very different tunes at different times. Unity is a virtue as long, and only as long, as it means unity in “following me.”

That appeal did not last as divisions worsened in society at large, between Democrats and Republicans, within the Republican caucus and even within the White House itself. Trump does not invite or welcome dissident voices. He sees himself as the captain of dissent and difference, but a captain intent on winning the big prize and forging a regime of unity under his suzerainty. It does not work in politics or in society, and Canadians know why.

To Be Continued

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Second Class Citizenship

Second Class Citizenship

by

Howard Adelman

Does Bill C-24, “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act,” mean that dual citizens have become second class citizens? Chris Alexander, the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in the Harper government, lost his Ajax seat in the last election by a landslide, falling short by about 10,000 votes. In contrast to the period when he was in a position of authority and avoided the press like the plague – and then often got in trouble when he met with or talked to the media – after his defeat, Chris Alexander consented to a street interview that was aired on CBC’s Power and Politics. It was a fascinating interview. Alexander vented his spleen in an eloquent and loquacious, even if very faulty, defence of himself as a minister in the Harper government.

The interview, well worth watching, can be heard and seen here:

http://globalnews.ca/news/2301750/watch-out-of-parliament-but-unrepentant-chris-alexander-slams-hippy-trippy-liberals/; Please also check Power and Politics.

A number of topics were discussed in that interview, but in this blog I focus on only one, the very first issue that seemed to have gotten under Alexander’s skin during the election. (In a subsequent blog, I will focus on his defence of his record on the Syrian refugee issue.) One of the provisions in Bill C-24 that the Liberals, who supported the legislation, promised to amend when elected, was the circumstances and the method by which the Government of Canada could strip a Canadian of his or her citizenship. (See “Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts,” Bill C-24 that was given royal assent 19 June 2014.)

The criticisms of the revocation of citizenship provision referred to in the House of Commons debates and on the hustlings seemed to irk him the most, though perhaps being called a “baby killer’ in the critique of his handling of the Syrian refugee crisis was emotionally more painful. In any case, Alexander was clearly very bitter about the way that the issue of stripping Canadians of their citizenship became an election issue, the way the item was understood and communicated, and, even, that it became an election issue at all.

There were parts of Bill C-24 that were uncontentious, such as the retention of citizenship for those born abroad to Canadians in service to their government referred to as stateless or lost Canadians. There were also many other parts of Bill C-24 that the opposition parties had criticized, including the extended time it would take under the Bill for an applicant to become a citizen. Thus, for example, under the old legislation an applicant could apply for citizenship after three years of residence in Canada; under the new Citizenship legislation passed by the government, it would take at least four years. For a student who had attended post secondary education in Canada for three years, she must first find a position and then apply for permanent residence. The application process would take a year on top of the three years she had already spent in Canada, assuming she even obtained a permanent job as soon as she graduated. Then and only then would the four year period of required residency start. She would not get credit for the time she studied in Canada or for the time it took for the file to come to the top of the pile. In other words, she would have to be in Canada at least eight years before she became a citizen. None of her previous residence in Canada would count either partially or fully towards the new requisite four years of required residence in Canada.

These and other provisions of the Bill were much criticized in the debate in the House of Commons and subsequently during the election campaign. But the one I want to concentrate on is the one that Chris Alexander offered as his primary item to defend his record as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. In that street scrum, Alexander took issue with the opposition’s campaign focus on the provision in  Bill C-24 that gave the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the authority, unilaterally and without a judicial process, to strip dual citizens of their Canadian citizenship if they were found guilty of terrorism and if they could be deported to another country where they had, or were entitled to have, citizenship.

Alexander harrumphed about even talking about second class citizens. “That concept does not exist in Canadian law. It should not exist in political debate. We did not introduce it into the debate. When it was introduced by the party that won the election, we did not counter it enough. But it is painful to see people stoop to those levels and for it to go unanswered by the other political participants and by commentators and media. We do not have room in elections for poison like that. And people deserve in an election to know what the law actually says, what protections they enjoy in this country, opportunities they enjoy in this country more than almost any other country in the world. That failed to be communicated.”

In his screed, Alexander began on a conceptual level, denying that two classes of citizenship were even applicable to the issue since the provisions in the Citizenship Act do not use that term. He also criticized even the propriety of raising the issue as something to be debated. The Conservatives had not introduced it into the debate and he implied that the opposition was hitting below the belt in making it an issue. He accused the Liberals of introducing the issue into the election, though Tom Mulcair was also a leading opponent. He was critical of his own party for not countering that argument, but he seemed even more critical of the media for taking up the issue. Then he characterized the way the issue was raised as “poison.” Finally, he insisted that Canadians deserve to know what the election law says and what protections Canadians enjoy. As Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, he never assumed responsibility for any failure in communication. That failure belonged in the cloud. “It” failed to be communicated, not, I failed adequately to communicate to the Canadian public.

The whole interview resembled somewhat Richard Nixon’s speech after he lost the election to be President in 1962 when he declared, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” To clarify:

  1. What does Bill C-24 say about the issue?
  2. What protections do Canadians enjoy under the legislation?
  3. Was it “poison” to introduce the issue into the election?
  4. Were the media guilty of taking up the issue, but only by repeating the opposition’s claims rather than clarifying the Tory intent?
  5. Were the Liberals responsible for introducing the issue into the campaign?
  6. Was the issue one that was appropriate to be debated as an election issue?
  7. Is characterizing the issue as one of introducing two classes of citizenship incorrect or even “poison”?

Alexander insisted that, “the people deserve in an election to know what the law actually says.” I agree. So, I believe would every Canadian, whether defending or opposing the law. But try to understand what the law actually says. As the Conservatives wrote it, it is difficult to understand except for those with expertise in Immigration law. And the Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) was adamantly opposed to many sections of the Bill, especially the revocation provisions. (For its detailed critique, see http://www.cba.org/CBA/submissions/pdf/14-22-eng.pdf.) The people in Canada do deserve to know what the law states. But the convoluted prose and the whole style of the writing makes only one thing clear: the law was not intended to be read by the ordinary citizen.

What every Canadian deserves to know, what they can know and what the government helps them know are three very different things. Certainly, Chris Alexander as the ostensible author of the Bill, never made even an effort to state clearly what this provision in Bill-24 said. How did Chris Alexander interpret the Bill, specifically the revocation clauses? Though he did discuss the issue of residency requirements and the broadly supported re-acquiring of citizenship for those who inadvertently lost it, the main divisive issue was revocation.

In the debate when Alexander introduced the Bill for third reading in the House of Commons, he discussed the time line for an application and the residency requirements as well as the restoration of citizenship to children of Canadians born abroad. However, in his speech introducing Bill C-24, he said nothing about the revocation clauses. There was and remains a consensus about what the bill intended. As is currently the case, citizenship can be revoked if it was obtained by fraud, though this has been admittedly a very dragged out process as can be seen even in the cases of alleged former Nazis accused of war crimes. The revocation terms of the law explicitly now included Canadian citizens who served as members of an armed force or organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada, were convicted of treason or of a terrorism offence (or an equivalent foreign terrorism conviction) and given a sentence of five years or more, but only provided they were dual citizen and, also, provided that they did not become stateless as a result, for then the law would be in breach of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

As the opposition member and immigration critic, Philip Toone, said in the House of Commons, “The minister can now decide, based on a balance of probabilities, to revoke the citizenship of a Canadian, without that person having the right to appeal, the right to natural justice or the right to present evidence to a judge. Only the minister, in his little office, with documents in front of him, on a mere balance of probabilities, can revoke an individual’s citizenship. It is beyond comprehension why the minister would want such a responsibility, because in our legal system people have the right to be respected. In this case, there is a risk of abusing that right. Once again, why create a situation where rights can be abused?” As he went on to say, the bill will almost certainly be challenged in court and, if the government’s past record is any indication, the Courts will rule that the law is in breach of the rights of citizenship.

Does the Bill introduce two classes of citizenship? Virtually every analysis and critique of the law says that it does. In fact, even the existing law, arguably, can be said to have two classes of citizens, those who acquire citizenship by birthright and those who become naturalized Canadians during their lifetime, except it is argued that those who acquire citizenship by fraud never truly became a citizen. Of course, a charge of false representation is inapplicable to Canadians who enjoy citizenship by birth. The irony is that the new law allowed revocation of citizenship even to Canadians who acquired citizenship by birthright if they, through their parents, enjoy dual nationality or the right to claim dual nationality. Further, the Canadian citizen may not have any real ties to another country even if he or she was born abroad but came to Canada as a young child.

So the law changes the classes of citizenship. Revocation applies to any citizen, whether citizenship is acquired by birth or by nationalization, provided that the person enjoys of could enjoy dual nationality. So it seems unequivocally true that the law creates two classes of citizens by implication. Why does Chris Alexander have a problem in understanding this? Is he obtuse? What something means does not require that meaning to be explicitly articulated if that is its plain meaning.

Further, as the Canadian Bar Associated stated it, “revoking citizenship in other circumstances [than fraud] poses fundamental constitutional challenges. Targeting dual nationals for citizenship revocation results in differential treatment based on ethnicity or national origin and therefore implicates section 15 of the Charter. Canadians from countries that do not recognize dual nationality would not be subject to the provisions. However, Canadians whose ancestors came from countries that recognize dual citizenship and pass citizenship to generations born abroad would face the prospect of revocation. Entire ethnic or national communities would either be subject to the provisions or not. Gradating the rights of Canadians on the basis of the laws of another state creates different classes of citizens. It is unfair and discriminatory.”

The charge of two classes of citizenship was broadly raised by law societies and human rights groups. Thus, for example, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) launched a constitutional challenge to the new Citizenship Act for relegating over one million Canadians to second-class status. The lawsuit argued that the Bill C-24 “creates a two-tier citizenship regime that discriminates against dual nationals, whether born abroad or in Canada, and naturalized citizens. These Canadians will now have more limited citizenship rights compared to other Canadians, simply because they or their parents or ancestors were born in another country.” The issue of two classes of citizenship was raised right across the country by law societies and civil rights groups.

The CBA asserted that banishment, that has not been in common use since the Middle Ages, is one of the most serious punishments that can be inflicted on a citizen. Even if it were to be restored, surely it should be undertaken only with the strictest protections. So the biggest conflict was not even over who could be targeted for revocation, but who decides, on what grounds and by what process? In Bill C-24, the decision is placed in the hands of the Minister (or his delegate), thereby leading to the fear of an indiscretionary use of power, particularly since the individual will not have a day in court or even a hearing before being issued a revocation order. Essentially, the Conservatives determined that this process would be less costly and quicker, and this is the core difference between the members of all opposition parties who held the rights of an individual citizen to be the foremost concerns, while the Conservatives believe that the voice of the people, their elected representatives and appointed Ministers should have that power.

Given the uproar over just these two issues – to whom does revocation apply and who makes the decision – who would expect the issue not to be introduced into the election debate. And it was, loudly and forceful by Tom Mulcair as well as Justin Trudeau who was accused by Alexander of being the sole culprit.  So how could anyone who believes in free speech insist that it should not “exist in political debate”? Did the Tories not counter the argument? They did so during the passage of the Bill, subsequent to its passage and during the election. Did they do enough?

Alexander said that Trudeau had introduced the issue just before the televised debate on foreign affairs. Quite aside from whether he did and how he did, it was the Tory government at the end of September that initiated steps to strip Zakania Amara, leader of the Toronto 18, of his citizenship after he pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb downtown Toronto and was sentenced to life imprisonment. As the Harper government put it, Amara, who holds Jordanian citizenship, would be free to walk the streets and travel with a Canadian passport after serving his sentence and Amara would become eligible for parole in 2016. Further, at the beginning of October, the Harper government attempted to strip Saad Gaya of his citizenship though he was born in Canada, arguing that Gaya “retroactively” became a Pakistani citizen.

The opponents of the bill, not just the political opposition parties, charged that the provisions of Bill C-24 on revocation made those born outside Canada, those born in Canada but who had a second citizenship or were able to obtain one, would be open to being stripped of their citizenship. Those critics insisted that such a decision could be made arbitrarily since the law authorized the Minister or his delegate to make the decision on his own. Contrary to the claim that raising the issue was poison, Alexander revealed an even more stubborn mindblindness to the democratic deficit that grew under the Tories. Further, he never adequately defended the provision because it is difficult if not impossible to find a legal justification under contemporary principles of natural law.

As the Immigration caucus of the Law Society of Canada insisted, citizenship is not like a car license that can be revoked for misbehaviour, nor a privilege subject to revocation except where fraud was used to obtain it. Bill C-24, rather than imitating the provisions of other Western countries, was an outlier in its revocation provisions. Once a criminal justice system punishes someone, he should not be subject to double jeopardy. If a person commits fraud and lies to obtain citizenship, then the punishment is directly related to the fraud and can be meted out by the courts. As with all human rights arguments, the issue is not just the alleged terrorists targeted by the law, but other Canadians – one million of them – who could be subject to that law. Dual citizens and people who have immigrated to Canada can have their citizenship taken away while other Canadians cannot. That is the meaning of two classes of citizenship.

What seems clear is, however loquacious and even at times eloquent Alexander was on the issue, what he said obscured issues, deflected any blame and reinforced his self-righteous stance. He proved either that he did not hear or understand the criticism raised, or, more likely even, seemingly was simply incapable of understanding them. Instead of respecting his critics while disagreeing with them, he berated them and insisted their criticisms were initiated for political motives. But evidence suggests his amendments were introduced for political reasons. After all, a majority of Canadians favoured stripping convicted terrorists of their citizenship. Last November, after the killing of a soldier on Parliament Hill and then the killing of the terrorist, a national poll found that just over half of respondents supported new anti-terror legislation and another 22% were critical , but because they wanted Canada to go even further.

Did Alexander truly believe that it is ok to remove the citizenship of Canadian-born Saad Gaya who was convicted of terrorist activities for his role in the Toronto 18? Did he really believe it was proper to retroactively regard him as a Pakistani citizen even though his own parents lost their Pakistani citizenship when they first came to Canada and he was born and raised in Canada? The opposition claimed that the courts would find those provisions in the bill to be null and void. The provision was introduced as a wedge issue to play up the Tory claim that they were strong on terrorism. Are Canadians with another nationality (and those who are eligible to obtain another nationality) now second-class citizens, even if they were born in Canada? Under Bill C-24, their citizenship can be stripped.

So why is Chris Alexander such a sore loser? He just doesn’t get it and never got it.

Commentary on the first six books of Genesis

Parashat Bereshit (Genesis 1.2-6:8)

by

Howard Adelman

This week Jews (and some others) begin the annual re-reading of the Torah. And the beginning is my very favourite part. Why? Because it is about what we are given as gender beings and how that forms the foundation of our ethics. We are born equal, man and woman; God created men and women as equals. But not in man’s head. Man has the delusion that he was born first and that woman is but a physical extension of a man. While man does not take responsibility for his own penis and sexual drives, he presumes woman is merely an appendage and physical extension of himself to serve him. This inversion of how man regards his own body and how he regards a woman’s body are the foundation of ethics and what it means to say a man is born in sin. It not because he is sexually driven; rather, it is because he does not take responsibility for his sexual drives, for his embodiment. Further, he turns a woman, not into an object, but into an extension of his own agency and does not respect her as an agent in her own right.

Take the issue of revelation which supposedly divides the Orthodox – or, at least, most of them – from the non-Orthodox in a debate over whether the Torah as written is the word of God transcribed on the page or the collation of a number of writers over years when the importance of the Torah is that, as one reads and examines the text, the text reveals to us profound truths, beginning with the roots of sin and the need for ethical norms and their compass. The usual division of Bereshit starts with the first seven days (1:1-2:2) and then moves to the Garden of Eden Story (2:3-3:23), then to the story of Cain and Abel (4:1-4:26) and ends with the prelude to flood (5:1-6:8). I want to cover all four sections in one commentary.

Though the narrative begins in cosmology in the discussions of light emerging from darkness, the emergence of the sky, the earth and the heavenly bodies, and then the creation of the fish of the sea, the birds in the air and the animals on earth and finally, the relatively new species, human beings, the significance of the story has nothing to say about how the world was created. Rather, it is a set up. Nature is good. God says it over and over again. Then God created humans and, understandably, needed a day of rest.  

When we throw light on nature, when we separate the darkness and allow light to bathe over not only the earth but even the deep depths of the ocean floor, one has to be amazed. Just watch an episode of National Geographic or the BBC series on deep water exploration. What a fantastic place we live on! It is truly a wonder to behold. By the fourth day, we have a cosmos that gives us our days and nights, our weeks and our years, the rhythms of time in accordance with which we live. And even when monsters and wild beasts came into being; it was all perceived as good.

And then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (verse 27)  So begins the problem and the paradoxes. Man is created in God’s image even though God has no visible presence. But what is clear is that he created both male and female. (verse 28) And then we have the first blessing and the first commandment: “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” Being created in God’s image is not about physical appearances but about the human role as an agent – a creator AND a ruler. “And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (verse 32) In ch.2:3, God rested and blessed the 7th day as He looked with satisfaction on what He created. 

But not for long! Then the dissolution set in. God discovers for the first time, and it will not be the last time, that He made a mistake. For what he thought of and pronounced as good was no such thing. Why? 

We then move onto the second segment and read the second story of man’s and woman’s creation, and in this story they are not created equal. For this is the story as the male imagines it. Man is the product, not of a virgin birth, but of a femaleless birth. He is made sui generis out of earth and water and air that is used to inflate him. And then God created the Garden of Eden with all kinds of trees, but two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a huge garden fed by four great rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon (where the wealth of the earth’s resources, especially gold and precious gems, can be found) and the Gibon (the Nile ?) that runs through the Cush. The Garden extends from Babylon or Iraq down through the Arabian Peninsula where Noah’s son, Shem, and his son, Joktan (the Ishmaelites) (Genesis 25:18) will settle, down into East Africa where Noah’s descendent, Cush, the son of Ham, will settle. 

God issues the second commandment, not to eat and enjoy, but rather not to eat, specifically not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man eats thereof he will realize that, unlike God in whose image he is made, man will know that death is certain. Further, man in the Garden of Eden did not recognize he was lonely; God observes that. God pronounces that as not good. In the second imaginative version of creating woman, woman is fashioned out of Adam’s rib, but for a specific function, to be man’s helper and aide de camp. Rulership is perceived as extending over women. Third, man is given a job. He becomes a biological taxonomist giving names to the different species of animals and fish and birds and perhaps even the insects in the billions. Perhaps this was the reason he did not even recognize his emotional need for a woman – he was so caught up in his mental work of naming and imitating God as a creator. Finally, it was observed that man and woman were together and were naked and were not ashamed.

Chapter 3 tells the story of what is often called “The Fall”, on the supposition that until this moment Man and Woman lived in a state of grace. But if in man’s imagination he was born not from woman, that woman was created as a projection of himself, and in service to himself, then the seeds of trouble had already been planted. We are introduced to the Serpent, a new character in the story. Who is the Serpent? He is shrewd. He is a wild beast. He is erect. Unlike other animals, he speaks. He is masculine. And who does the Serpent talk to? Not man, but woman. And what does he say? He does not behave like man walking around the Garden as a biologist naming everything and therefore serving as a surrogate in bringing things into being in the realm of knowledge. Instead, he behave like Socrates sceptically asks a question. 

 “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” 2 The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who knows good and bad.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.

 

Why were they embarrassed? What were they ashamed of? They had disobeyed a commandment. But the disobedience had been very pleasurable. Further, they became wiser in some sense in taking pleasure from themselves as sexual beings. The serpent had been correct. They did not die from eating the fruit. Only their innocence died. They became ashamed of their bodies. Why? Because, commandments and ethics did not determine what they did; their bodily desires did. So they recognized who the serpent was. This erect figure, this male penis, was not an independent voice, but the voice of male desire for which the man did not take responsibility. Just as the woman was seen as an extension of his own body, the penis became an independent agency for which man did not take responsibility.

 

Both were internally conflicted, each torn inside and confused. When God sought them out, they hid. God clued in. He immediately knew that they had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God knew that they had the sexual relations, those relations that Bill Clinton denied he had had with Monica Lewis. God asked, “Did you eat of the fruit that I had forbidden you to eat? The gender wars were now on. The male said, “She did it. She put me up to it.” So really, God, it is not only her fault. It is Your fault. For you created her as company for me. The woman was not much better in refusing to take responsibility. The serpent, his penis, tricked me, she said. So God addressed the penis directly and said that henceforth, the penis would no longer stand erect but crawl on the belly of man. Henceforth, this now shrivelled and wrinkled piece of flesh would be the source of enmity between man and woman and the male and female children of man and woman that will spout from their loins. She will strike at the head of man, at man who attempts to rule over woman by guile and rational cleverness. Man will strike back, nip at her heel and forever undermine her as he attempts to seduce her and then rule over her. In spite of that, her desire will be directed towards him. As a result, she will have children, but bring them forth only in pain, and not simply physical pain.

 

As for man, no more would he simply be the biologist and taxonomist, but he would, like his scrawny shrivelled penis, be cursed and henceforth survive only through physical toil in an earth no longer bountiful but full of thorns and thistles. Man would have to become a farmer and a herdsman and work all his life by the sweat of his brow. You thought you were made from dust so to dust shall you be returned. And Man named his wife Eve – no longer a generic name but a particular name, but as a generic name in a different sense than as a class term, the mother of all of humanity and even of everything that lives. Woman would henceforth be Gaia. And man would henceforth not be allowed a life of leisure, simply living off the fruit of the land.

 

The third segment of Bereshit begins with Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. For if the story of cosmology is a tale of awe and wonder and the beauty and bounty of nature, and if the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the story of the inner conflict within each between Desire and Life and between not only the two of them and between Desire and Life, but between Desire that envisions man as God living off the earth and ruling over that bounty and Desire for Woman and becoming one flesh, and between Life that aspires to immortality and Life that simply endures the hardship of survival, the story of Cain and Abel moves into a new struggle, the struggle for recognition between two alpha males and between two different ways of life bequeathed to humans who no longer live in the Garden of Eden. It is the story of emerging from the second stage of what began to be called in modern political theory, ‘the state of nature’.

 

Cain, the eldest was a farmer. Abel was a shepherd, a herdsman. But the cowboy and the farmer could not be friends. Each wanted exclusive recognition of his rights. For their ways of life were pretty incompatible. One needed fences. The other needed open pasture. One life meant being on the move. The other meant settled life. Each offered the best of what he produced as a sacrifice to seek recognition for his way of life at the same time demonstrating that they were still above the work of mere survival and wanted divine recognition. God gave it to the shepherd, not the farmer.

 

God had said that the farmer could do fine without recognition as the superior way of life, as the way of life worthy of divine sanction, but the farmer did not want to live on the margins of a pastureland, as in the pampas of Argentina, or to lose the status as God’s chosen imitator. It was not the man dedicated to domesticated animal husbandry who killed the farmer, as one might imagine, but the farmer who killed the peaceful shepherd. Farming became the dominant mode of earning a living and herding animals and sheep or camels was thrust off into the margins. Agriculture became the central route to building civilization and cities. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain, unlike his parents, did not seek to hide but replied equivocally: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

 

Ironically, his smart-assed reply revealed the very core of the ethical code necessary to avoid murder and mayhem. As punishment, the man of the soil who only wanted to settle in one place, was made a nomad, driven to seeking more fertile soil always elsewhere. He became the unsettled settler, the migrant par excellence and not just a nomad. He went to live in the Land of Nod (ארץ נוד), East of Eden, the land of wanderers, for “nod” is the root of the Hebrew word, “to wander” ((לנדוד). Ironically, the desire and need to wander would become, not so much the source of agricultural settlements, but the foundation of cities where man lives uprooted from the soil as neither a farmer nor a herdsman.

 

What is the mark of Cain that God put on him to protect him from murder? Cain was made into a fugitive and wanderer alienated from nature and destined to live in cities. To live in a city, man requires protection. No more could a man be recognized for what he did and how he brought forth the means of survival by his labour. The mark of Cain is recognition that man must be a citizen of a polity to be protected; he can no longer rely on his own devices; he must have membership in a political collectivity. This is his mark of Cain. He can enjoy no freedom without such a membership. So in the fight for recognition of one way of life over another, neither wins. A new form of polity centred on the city and civilization comes into being where man must be recognized as a member of a people and ruled by a government in order to survive. Ironically, the mark of Cain is citizenship. It is the mark that means man has totally left the state of nature and entered into the world of polities. So Cain and His wife bore a son, Enoch, who founded a city. And another son born of Adam and Eve, Seth, gave birth to another line of humanity.

 

And so humanity grew and multiplied and settled the world until Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth came along. The fourth segment of Bereshit is told following the alienation from the wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, following the discovery of treachery and duplicity rooted in a failure to take responsibility for ourselves as embodied creatures, and then following the war between different ways of life and the search for recognition of the superiority of one over the other only to end up with murder and the emergence of a new way of life, living in cities and a polity where each carries a mark of identification, the artifact of citizenship, as the means of protection. But civilization will breed classes, those who sacrifice themselves for the future and develop their capacities and means of sustenance, and those who look sceptically upon the whole effort of service and duty to family and nation and country and simply want to get satisfaction from life.

 

Then who were the Nephilim, divine beings, the heroes of old, men of renown, who cohabited with the daughters of men and who made wickedness the prevailing mode of life on earth, and who made God regret that he had created life on earth altogether so that he wanted to start all over again to correct his mistake and decide to bring forth the flood? The Nephilim are neither those who achieve mastery over men and themselves nor those who are self indulgent. Why are these Nephilim equated with those who fell who are associated with wickedness, children of God and fallen angels, or, alternatively, those who cause others to fall, giant Samurai, heroic warriors of a bygone age worshipped in epic tales?

 

The Nephilim are both. They are the knights of the roundtable, chivalrous men whom women idolize. They are gods and God Himself becomes God si love. True love becomes amor where the new ethical basis is between the idealistic knights who dedicate their might to an abstract ideal and the ladies who worship those knights. Knights were not wicked in the sense of bestial, lewd beings in pursuit of the satisfaction of a night of passion. Rather, they were the epitome of courage and valour, of honesty and integrity, loyalty and fealty and dedicated in a totally pure way to the women to whom they gave their troth. Women were not perceived as physical extensions of man but as a source of inspiration. They are put on a pedestal and, in turn, appreciated as an ideal. Life itself becomes etherealized. And man is no longer in bondage to man but in bondage to a heaven-sent partnership that has nothing to do with the passions of the flesh and everything to do with mutual recognition, with grace, with mutual protection and mutual fulfillment in an ideal conception of life.

 

Why would God see this as wickedness? Why are heroic fearsome giants (Numbers 13:32-33) viewed as a source of distress and discomfort? Because in a land of heroes and romanticism, in a land built on the premise of romantic love as the source of ethics, in a land built on an ideal of purity and perfection as the fullest expression of life, that land devours its inhabitants. That is not a land rooted in the family and in children, but in ethereal passion and self-sacrifice for abstract ideals. These children of God become the real source of the virus of wickedness and repression. And ordinary humans are seen as grasshoppers or cockroaches, inyenzi, insects to be exterminated where the rule of law and of civilized men is sacrificed in service to an abstract ideal and dream of perfection.

 

So God will strike first and drown all but the select few.

 

So it is no surprise that the Haftorah reading comes from Isaiah, for Ashkenazim, Isaiah 42:5-43:10. God opts for nationhood and not heroism, for enlightenment and not self-repression in stark opposition to idolatry of any kind. God becomes dedicated to innovation and not nostalgia where the citizens of cities will lift up their voices. The warriors will not be knights of the roundtable but, rather, the Lord will go forth like a warrior, raising a war cry and prevailing against idolatry. And so we are given an apocalyptic vision of a God in labour giving birth to the new:

 


יד
  הֶחֱשֵׁיתִי, מֵעוֹלָם–אַחֲרִישׁ, אֶתְאַפָּק; כַּיּוֹלֵדָה אֶפְעֶה, אֶשֹּׁם וְאֶשְׁאַף יָחַד.

14 I have long time held My peace, I have been still, and refrained Myself; now will I cry like a travailing woman, gasping and panting at once.

טו  אַחֲרִיב הָרִים וּגְבָעוֹת, וְכָל-עֶשְׂבָּם אוֹבִישׁ; וְשַׂמְתִּי נְהָרוֹת לָאִיִּים, וַאֲגַמִּים אוֹבִישׁ.

15 I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools.

טז  וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים, בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא יָדָעוּ–בִּנְתִיבוֹת לֹא-יָדְעוּ, אַדְרִיכֵם; אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר, וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר–אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, in paths that they knew not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and rugged places plain. These things will I do, and I will not leave them undone.

יז  נָסֹגוּ אָחוֹר יֵבֹשׁוּ בֹשֶׁת, הַבֹּטְחִים בַּפָּסֶל; הָאֹמְרִים לְמַסֵּכָה, אַתֶּם אֱלֹהֵינוּ.  {פ}

17 They shall be turned back, greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say unto molten images: ‘Ye are our gods.’ {P}

יח  הַחֵרְשִׁים, שְׁמָעוּ; וְהַעִוְרִים, הַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת.

18 Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

יט  מִי עִוֵּר כִּי אִם-עַבְדִּי, וְחֵרֵשׁ כְּמַלְאָכִי אֶשְׁלָח; מִי עִוֵּר כִּמְשֻׁלָּם, וְעִוֵּר כְּעֶבֶד יְהוָה.

19 Who is blind, but My servant? Or deaf, as My messenger that I send? Who is blind as he that is wholehearted, and blind as the LORD’S servant?

כ  ראית (רָאוֹת) רַבּוֹת, וְלֹא תִשְׁמֹר; פָּקוֹחַ אָזְנַיִם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָע.

20 Seeing many things, thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not.

כא  יְהוָה חָפֵץ, לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ; יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה, וְיַאְדִּיר.

21 The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to make the teaching great and glorious.

כב  וְהוּא, עַם-בָּזוּז וְשָׁסוּי, הָפֵחַ בַּחוּרִים כֻּלָּם, וּבְבָתֵּי כְלָאִים הָחְבָּאוּ; הָיוּ לָבַז וְאֵין מַצִּיל, מְשִׁסָּה וְאֵין-אֹמֵר הָשַׁב.

22 But this is a people robbed and spoiled, they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth, for a spoil, and   none saith: ‘Restore.’

(Hebrew-English Bible/Mechon-Mamre)

 

But they can and will be redeemed.