One God, many peoples I: JudeoIslamic universalism

This is the first of a 4-part series.

The reactionary blogosphere is largely a debate between Christians and secular or pagan antiliberals.  Thus, we argue a lot about whether Christianity is to blame for unleashing anti-cultural universalism and egalitarianism on the world.  The related but deeper question is what spiritual forces, whether or not they are distinctly Christian, have driven these movements. I’d like to start this little investigation by inviting a couple of interesting outsiders to have their say, reserving my own arguments for later.

First, here’s historian David Levering Lewis lamenting the victory of Charles Martel at Tours:

Had [Muslim general] ‘Abd al-Rahman’s men prevailed that October day, the post-Roman Occident would probably have been incorporated into a cosmopolitan, Muslim regnum unobstructed by borders … one devoid of a priestly caste, animated by the dogma of equality of the faithful, and respectful of all religious faiths … [T]he victory of Charles the Hammer must be seen as greatly contributing to the creation of an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy.

How about that?  Islam=equality, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance.  Christianity=particularism and hierarchy.  That’s the common wisdom among historians.  Not all monotheisms are the same, and if group loyalty is what you care about, you’re much better off with Christianity.  For their part, Muslims seem to be proud that their faith and its law teach individualism and equality, that it dissolves national and ethnic boundaries.

Second, listen to David Goldman, a.k.a. “Spengler”:

Tribal warfare is the bane of human society. During the 40,000 years before the dawn of civilization, some anthropologists estimate, two-fifths of males who survived infancy died in warfare. The great empires of the Near East and the West failed because they enslaved the peoples they conquered rather than integrate them. European Christianity offered a compromise: the ethnicities that occupied Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire would join a universal Church in the spirit, but keep their ethnic nature in the flesh. Ultimately the flesh overwhelmed the spirit, and ethnocentric nationalism provoked the terrible wars of the 20th century.

Chinese civilization offered a different model: it integrated innumerable ethnic minorities into a unified culture centered on a written language and literary tradition, and offered the opportunity for advancement to everyone who came under the umbrella of this culture. Unlike Rome, it did not enslave subject populations to work giant estates, but emphasized the extended family as the fundamental unit of society.

What distinguishes Israel from all the other peoples of the ancient world west of the Indus River? Uniquely, the ancient Hebrews believed that their nation was defined not by ethnicity and geographic origin but rather by a code of practice given by divine mandate.

The Jews are not an ethnicity but a people defined by a partnership with the Creator God, in which they are obligated to recognize God’s presence in the details of their daily lives, and empowered to help in the work of creation. Individuals of all races can be adopted into this nation by accepting its responsibilities; in today’s State of Israel one sees hundreds of thousands of black African Jews from Ethiopia, as well as Jews of all ethnicities.

The Jews are not an ethnic nation but a multi-racial family. The Jews were the first people to apply the same laws to the foreigner as to the home-born. Indeed, they are commanded to love the stranger in the same way that the love themselves, because they were strangers in Egypt. It is a particular nation-indeed, a “nation apart”-that nonetheless has a universal purpose for all of humanity. The Jews are “the paragon and exemplar of a nation,” the German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig wrote a century ago.

What the Jews have in common with the Chinese, therefore, is a sense of loyalty to an ancient tradition that defines the obligations of each member of society and puts the family at the center of social life, as opposed to a mere tribal and ethnic loyalties. These are parallel ways of rising above tribalism.

Again, it is the Christians who have failed to rise above tribalism where now the Jews and even the non-monotheistic Chinese have succeeded.  I find it fascinating how a Jew and a Christian can characterize the same fact in opposite ways.  Christians would say that our faith has overcome tribalism because people of all races and tribes can become Christian, whereas for Spengler this same fact proves Christianity does not overcome tribalism, because after baptism ethnic loyalties are not erased.  Suppose one were to accuse the Jews of being themselves a tribe–the biological and adopted descendants of Abraham–of not having entirely transcended the ideology of ethnicity or the ideology of having a geographical homeland.  Such accusations neglect the genuine moral horror the Jewish people feel toward ethnic particularism outside their divine covenantal context, as seen for example in their leadership roles in the Frankfurt School and American civil rights movement.  True, Jewish theologians and sociologists often claim that Judaism maintains the value of the particular and non-universal in basing itself on the particular calling of Abraham, but this is particularity defined against established “universalizing” Christian or European cultures.  So again, the meaning of “defending particularity” is nearly reversed between us.

Christianity would seem to be the odd man out, surrounded by Muslim and Jewish (and maybe even Chinese) paths of universal brotherhood.  Readers are always offended when I suggest that Muslims and Jews are more similar to each other than either is to Christianity, that we are much more “pagan” (hopefully in a good way!) than the other two great monotheisms.  However, my impression is that our Elder Brothers agree with me.  Consider the controversy over Catholic prayers for the conversion of Jews.  In a letter defending their decision to cancel their participation in the Italian Bishops’ Conference’s “Day for the exploration and development of dialogue between Catholics and Jews”

In their reply, Laras, Luzzatto, and Nahum concluded: “It should be remembered that relations between Judaism and Islam have generally been more productive and serene than those between Judaism and Christianity.”

History has its indelible influence. But revisited today, in the thick of the war in Gaza, this tribute to Islam and this swipe against the Church sound surreal.

(This was 5 years ago–another war in Gaza.)  (Also, I think these interreligious stunts are a waste of time, so I’m ironically on the Jews’ side on pulling the plug.)  It may sound surreal to Sandro Magister, perhaps, but to many Jews, Muslims really are a more natural partner than Christians.  Let us not dismiss the wisdom of our Elder Brothers.  Let us ask what makes Christianity unique among monotheisms.

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40 thoughts on “One God, many peoples I: JudeoIslamic universalism

  1. The Jews and the Chinese are amongst the most tribalistic ethnics out there. As for the sycophantic islamophile, he is just being ridiculous.

      • Yes, I am aware of their expulsion and I am aware of what the Jews did and what the Muslims did but what did they do together?

      • That article has a few odd points but I agree with the gist of Jewish-Islamic collaboration.

        My contentions are this: Jews, Arabs, and Spaniards are all Mediterraneans but the former are Semitic and are of a different race than the Spaniards who are a mix of Indo-European and Paleo-Iberian. Modern Jews are a hybrid sort of race between Semites and Europeans with minor amounts of Asiatic and Turkic blood but they are now different from both Old Stock Semites (like modern Arabs, Lebanese, Syrians and the like) and Old Stock Europeans.

        Technically they are of the same race as the Caucasian race but there so many various groups in that race (Berbers, Jews, Gypsies, Arabs, Egyptians, Hindus, Persians, Turks, Albanians, Syrians, Lebanese, and Europeans) as to make it too broad.

        Either way, the racial materialism is not accurate, the most accurate way to measure a group of people is their gestalt. How the various components that make up the group act as a whole is important. The various components that make up the Jews don’t matter, what the Jews are do. From what I see, most Jews are quite destructive culturally, while a minority are good (Paul Gottfried).

        I have heard from Gottfried that it is the Ost-juden or the Eastern European Jews that are the worst, the Germanic and Sephardic and Middle-Eastern Jews are fine.

      • I’ll be honest and say I didn’t read the whole article. I was aware that the jews were accused of aiding a Muslim reconquest of Spain before 1492, so I did a quick google and post for your benefit.

  2. Not where I thought you were going with this. I would say that I object to calling the Jews our “elder brothers”. We are Abraham’s children. Their father is, um…, not Abraham.

      • Well, my father is Jewish and a very good man, certainly a better man than myself, but my father’s religion of secular talmudism is of the devil. My father has been a civil rights lawyer working for the DOJ for 40 years and has had a hand in destroying many a community in the name of his religion.

        The Catholic church is the continuation of the Abrahamic religion. The Jews who accepted Christ became the Catholic Church, the Jews who rejected Him became “Jews”. After the destruction of the Temple the religion of the ancient Jews ceased to exist, thus the Church is the new Ark. Since this time, the Jews have created a new religion without priesthood or sacrifice where debate is resolved by force majeure. This debate takes place in and around the Talmud. They have created Kabbalah which is the Jewish version of the ancient Egyptian mysteries, similar and related to hermeticism. At this point, the Jews’ only claim to be the children of Abraham lies in their belief in their own magical DNA, which Christ puts the lie to in the Gospels of John and Matthew. The essence of post-Temple Judaism is the rejection of Christ (one can be a Jewish atheist, but not a Jewish Christian) and this worldly salvation, often by our own hands. In other words, this is part of the Luciferian religion of “ye shall become as Gods.” So, the Jews, as rejectors of Christ have (like all modernists) accepted the devil rather than God as their father. I have this on good authority.

      • Thank you for this response. It is just what I needed to get started in the right direction. Lots to chew on.

    • As a docile son of the Church, I have decided to follow recent popes in calling the Jews “our Elder Brothers in Faith”, as in “…while the Apostles were in hiding for fear of our Elder Brothers in Faith…”

  3. It should be remembered that relations between Judaism and Islam have generally been more productive and serene than those between Judaism and Christianity.

    A very common sentiment, prevalent not just among Jews and Moslems, but among Christians. And totally false, from the very beginning of Islam.

    I can see how people arrive at this notion, because it has since the Enlightenment been the Standard Narrative of History in the West, taught to all of us from our infancy: Christianity bad, everything else much much better. What’s really amazing to me is that any modern person, *especially a Jew,* looking back at the history of Israel and her neighbours since 1948, would think for a nanosecond that the Jews would be safer ruled by Moslems than by Christians. It’s like thinking that water flows uphill; or that we can make a New Man, I suppose.

    That’s the thing about false narratives: they are generally easier to credit than truth, because they are easier to learn.

    • It seems to me that partisans on both sides of the modern conflict in fact try to paint Islam and Judaism as ancient mortal enemies when they weren’t. The Israelis do this primarily to garner the support of American evangelicals, the Muslims do it to cover up the fact that it was often their caliphs and emirs who invited the first nascent Zionist communities back to the Middle East..

      • Back? They’d never left. Nor had the Christians. It was the Jews and the Christians who administered the Moslem states.

        We are still providing those states with the wherewithal of their civilization, such as it is. They are not capable of manufacturing an AK. Or an Enfield, for that matter.

      • I had in mind the Ottomans inviting in European Jews from the late 1400s up to the outbreak of the First World War. Many of those Jews had no ethnic or even religious roots in the Middle East.

      • Ah. Yeah, by that time the Greek, Bulgarian, Anatolian and Levantine Christians had pretty much soured on the deal, what with the regular annual tributes in boys and girls, the jizya, etc. The Ottomans had to look elsewhere for skilled, literate civil servants.

        In like manner, the shipyards of the Golden Horn, that had built and maintained the Byzantine navy, fell into desuetude as the skilled Greeks left for Italy. The Ottoman galleys at Lepanto were built by Christian shipwrights who had washed out of Western yards on account of incompetence, drunkenness or thievery.

  4. Pingback: One God, many peoples I: JudeoIslamic universalism | Reaction Times

  5. @Bonald – I find the mode of argument here rather confusing. Maybe there is a conflation of ‘ideology’ (the ideal definitions of religions, as they were intended) with historical contingency (what specifically happened in certain times and places)?

    One striking fact is the relative *weakness* of organized Christianity compared with the other large monotheisms (e.g. leaving aside Zoroastrianism).

    This is *especially* the case if the usual Orthosphere exclusion of Mormonism from Christianity is applied; because the CJCLDS is the only spiritually-thriving, large, self-identified Christian church in the West.

    The only remotely young, strong and vigorous versions of mainstream Christianity, are multiple micro ultra Protestant churches of the broadly charismatic, pentecostal and ‘home church’ types in places like China, Africa and South America.

    And (while I am in no serious doubt that these are spiritually of great net benefit) these are not even real denominations but are simply individual churches or small alliances of individual churches – and they are so small-scale and individualistic in their lack-of-organization, that they can hardly be compared with the historical multinational monotheistic religions.

    Much of this ‘debate’ about Christianity and Leftism (not really a debate; since one side are invincibly ignorant, incompetent in argument, and refuse to engage but keep changing the subject) is simply that mainstream organized Christianity is utterly corrupted by secular Leftism hence NOT Christian; while REAL Christianity in the West (outside the LDS) is so utterly feeble as to be unable to take any active role in the world of policy.

    • The only remotely young, strong and vigorous versions of mainstream Christianity

      In my hope, I see the return of the Traditional Latin Mass and the overwhelming support of it by young, fruitful families and young priests as a sign of good things to come.

    • Ah, yet another silly comment, from Bruce.

      not really a debate; since one side are invincibly ignorant, incompetent in argument, and refuse to engage but keep changing the subject

      The pot calls the kettle black (again).

      Christianity in the West (outside the LDS) is so utterly feeble as to be unable to take any active role in the world of policy.

      I am very curious and wish you would tell me where the LDS are affecting policy in favor of traditionalism. On some of the most basic moral issues they have officially compromised (like abortion). They have a history of such compromises. If we had an actual traditional movement going in this country, the LDS would be fighting with the liberals against it, in the name of “liberty.”

      because the CJCLDS is the only spiritually-thriving, large, self-identified Christian church in the West.

      Here Charlton sees a modern religion thriving in the modern world (surprise!), and thinks that is somehow and indictment of Christianity.

      Hey, Scientology is fast growing too, and they are persecuted by the media and outlawed in some countries so it must be true!…… right? Dr. Charlton, I could see the blog post now “L Ron Hubbard and the Inklings: Beauty and Truth in Literature “

      • On some of the most basic moral issues they have officially compromised (like abortion).

        I googled this. I assume you are referring to exceptions they make like health of the mother and rape?

    • Bruce,

      I agree. Christianity appears to be a moribund religion, at least so far as the mass of humanity (including Europe and America) goes. My interests, as always, are academic–historical and philosophical.

  6. Islam=equality, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance. Christianity=particularism and hierarchy. That’s the common wisdom among historians.

    Bonald, I think that is common wisdom among contemporary (i.e. advanced left-liberal) historians. When I read old books, I don’t get that impression from the historians of previous generations.

    I know jack-squat about Chinese history but the Chinese seem pretty ethnically and racially homogeneous to me.

    • Yes and no. The ethnic Han Chinese are more or less “pure” in the more northern areas, though there is a bit of Manchu and Mongol in that mix. In the south, they bred with the indiginous Tai (no “h”) peoples as they simultaneously drove them out; this is why southern Chinese people are noticeably darker complected than their northern cousins.

      In Tibet, where they are committing genocide, the Han Chinese are marrying the Tibetans—at least the ones they don’t murder; Tibetans are ethnically very close to the Han to start with.

  7. I do not see how one can wring universalism from any of these religions, since the theological meaning of universalism is that all men will enjoy or suffer the same eternal fate. Universalism in that sense derives from atheism in any of the three forms that Plato said atheism took. In form 1, denial of God’s being, men universally share the fate of what the French revolutionaries called “eternal sleep.” In form 2, assertion of God’s infinite indulgence, men universally share the fate of glory (in some versions, after a period of chastening and purgation). In form 3, assertion of God’s indifference, specific doctrines proposed various outcomes, but no specific doctrine proposes that sheep will be separated from goats. All men are goats, or sheep, or perhaps gadarene swine.

    If we are talking about moral universalism, then Christianity may be given credit (or assigned blame). I can think of nothing in the New Testament that commands, or even condones, Christians deceiving or despoiling non-Christians. One doesn’t have to look for very long into the holy books of Judaism or Islam to find passages that condone dishonesty towards gentiles or despoliation of idolaters. Christians have practiced moral particularism, of course, but it is not in our DNA.

    Moral particularism is not, however, the same as cultural particularism. Moral particularism means that members of the out-group are treated according to a different set of basic moral rules. Cultural particularism is not so easily defined, but I’d venture to put it this way: (1) cultural variety is natural, (2) much of this variety is morally and theologically neutral, (3) individuals naturally feel affection for the specific variety of culture into which they were born.

    Christianity has historically been friendly to cultural particularism because, compared to its rivals, it does not penetrate into the minutia of everyday life. It’s unusual indifference to diet is a good example of this. No one had to foreswear pork, or meat, or alcohol, or anything else of that sort in order to become Christian. Christian missionaries had rigid views on heathen unchastity, but otherwise left large chunks of native culture intact.

    • Moral particularism is not, however, the same as cultural particularism. Moral particularism means that members of the out-group are treated according to a different set of basic moral rules.

      This is a very good distinction. The belief that it is not a sin for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims is an example. And the “ethnic culture for me but not for thee” of certain American and European Jewish movers and shakers is another example of it.

  8. To suggest that tribalism is “the bane of human society,” is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Tribalism, i.e., feelings of loyalty due to shared kinship, is of human nature. This is like saying that sex (gender) is the cause of so much destruction, so let’s get rid of it. Yet, you can’t do that without changing the nature of Humanity. So what are you trying to protect?
    And let’s face it. Conflict and triumph are the reasons why Man is where he is today… so that some men can criticize their origins.

  9. Bonald, I’d hesitate to call today’s Jews our “elder brothers,” since ancient Judaism and today’s Judaism are different religions. From what I can gather from Holy Scripture and the Catholic Church’s pre-Vatican-II teaching, the New Covenant replaced the Mosaic one and the Book of Hebrews tells us that the Mosaic one is obsolete.

  10. Pingback: Keepers of Our Elder Brothers | The Orthosphere

  11. Pingback: One God, many peoples II: Muslim individualism, Christian corporatism | The Orthosphere

  12. Pingback: One God, many peoples IV: “neither Jew nor Gentile” | The Orthosphere

  13. Pingback: Cross-post: One God, many peoples IV | Throne and Altar

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