Friday, June 17, 2005

Judeo-Christian tradition

What is the "Judeo-Christian tradition"?

Some kind of a case can be made for a Judeo-Islamic tradition. Judaism and Islam still feel closer to the desert than Christianity. Both, unlike trinitarian Christianity, are unitarian. Both are "ways of living" in a sense in which Christianity is not, dictating the secular details of life. Both 'Islam and Judaism believe, ideally, in a theocracy. Both (unlike much Christian thought) discourage iconism and the worship of "sacred" objects.

A case can also be made for a Christiano-Islamic tradition. This pays far more attention to an afterlife than does Judaism. Islam and Christianity, being belief systems for all mankind rather than guides for a chosen people, proselytise. They are not infused, as is Judaism, with a racial self-consciousness or blood-inheritance.

Judaism has no clear idea of Satan, and its concept of sin is more akin to disorder than to "evil". But Islam and Christianity are dualistic religions. Christianity (in Protestant form) and Islam (in most expressions) stress the unmediatedl link between the individual and God. A Jew may experience God's will but there is less possibility of intimacy: God is entirely Other. For a Muslim or Christian it may be quite intimate, almost as between father and son.

Finally, though Judaism has its mystics it is by instinct suspicious of persons claiming divine inspiration. But Christianity and Islam were born in "witness" (by Christ and Mohammed.) Both are (in the polite sense) hysterical religions, where Judaism can sound like an immensely wise highway code. Both (unlike Judaism) have been attended by alleged miracles. Both (especially, in Islam, the Shi'ites) have a central place for passion. Though Islam and Christianity have often fought, they are fighting for similar ground. Judaism is in many ways the odd one out.

So the weakest case on paper is for a "Judeo-Christian tradition". Properly understood, the two religions and their values are so very different. Yet the two peoples - if peoples we be - are no longer very different.

Why do you suppose that is?

[Source: Mathew Paris in the Spectator]