In the past our survival depended on recognizing and being suspicious of difference. If people were in and of our group, we could assume good intent. If people were not in and of our group, we would be safest to assume evil intentions. Vestiges of that belief are retained in our behavior. Palestinians face Israelis across hopeless barriers of mistrust. Christians shout down Muslims without letting their voices be heard. And we argue endlessly about the efficacy of racial profiling in keeping our communities safe.
What the catalogue of fault lines illustrates is that the atomized homogeneous groups that existed in the past are no longer the truth of our world. Our planet will not survive if we cling to the verities of the past. We must recognize that we are part of one group, one family -- the human family. Our survival as a planet depends on it. We are part of one family, and we are fundamentally good.
What difference does goodness make? Goodness changes everything. If we are at core selfish, cruel, heartless creatures, we need to fight these inclinations at every turn and often need strong systems of control to prevent us from revealing our true (and quite ugly) selves. But if we are fundamentally good, we simply need to rediscover this true nature and act accordingly. This insight into our essential goodness has shifted how I interact with other people; it has even shaken how I read the Bible.
Goodness changes the way we see the world, the way we see others, and, most importantly, the way we see ourselves. The way we see ourselves matters. It affects how we treat people. It affects the quality of life for each and all of us. What is the quality of life on our planet? It is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions.
Each kindness enhances the quality of life. Each cruelty diminishes it.
If we believe that we are fundamentally cruel and selfish, we act accordingly. The targets of our nastiness feel the effects of our malice. And the consequences of our cruelty are evident in our health. Meanness shows on our faces. Churlishness shows up in our bodies as stress and illness. It is also true that when we recognize our fundamental goodness, we act differently. And we feel different. We are happier, healthier. God is pretty smart. It feels good to be good. And we know it! When we attend to our deepest yearnings, our very nature, our life changes forever, and, person by person, so does our world. We are made for goodness by God, who is goodness itself. We are made for and like God, who is the very essence of goodness. The creation stories in the Hebrew Bible underline these truths about us. These stories do not set out to tell us scientific facts. They set out to tell us governing truths, truths that affect how we live our lives. Whether, like Mpho and me, you read the Bible as sacred text or, if as one who does not share in the Abrahamic faiths, you read it merely as good literature, it offers insight and wisdom distilled from centuries of human experience. And the fundamental point of the creation stories is that we are made by God, for God, like God. But what does this mean? In the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, there are two creation stories. Each tells a particular truth about us. In the first Genesis story God speaks creation into being. Turn with me to these beautiful words. Let us read them for the profound truth they tell rather than for scientific accuracy.