As I was digging in the yard this week, a thought came to me about a widespread contemporary phenomenon among Christians in the West—the nascence and spread of rabbinical Christianity. By rabbinical Christianity, I do not mean Christianity dominated by teachers—though one might say that is another woeful current fad—but rather one that sees Christian morality in the same way that rabbinical Jews see the Mosaic law. According to most currents of rabbinical Judaism, the Mosaic law only places obligations on Jews. The heathen gentiles have no such requirements. Certain rabbinical traditions hold that God’s universal moral law—applicable to all people—is contained in the Noahide law, which is far less demanding.
Christians altered this framework as they developed their understanding of natural law from Hebraic and Greco-Roman philosophy and law. Doctors of the Church taught that men may know the natural law according to reason, while the moral perfection of love is revealed only through and by Christ. Natural law is applicable to all people as they are—like the Noahide law, while the vocation to become truly Christlike is for all people, as well, though this universal call to holiness does not come naturally. I am not completely comfortable with the clean demarcations of reason and revelation or of nature and grace, but I think that the categories point to some basic realities.
Unlike their forebears, these latter day rabbinical Christians no longer appreciate natural law. For them, what once was considered according to reason now only applies to them as Christians who keep their religion’s way of life. The new Noahide law—the modern ius gentium—has devolved to the contradictory moral notions of liberal society—namely an idiosyncratically limited tolerance and an emotional version of warm fuzzy kindness. When traditional Christians advocate the upholding of the natural law, these rabbinicists rebuke them by arguing that it is not just for Christians to impose Christian morality on the heathen who have no way of living up to such stringent demands. For them, what was once deemed according to nature has become possible only by grace. Hence, the practical reason of the Greek philosophers is now only for the “chosen people” of Christians. Unlike the Hebrews, though, Christians must not take any pride in being thus chosen. Like the self-hating Jew, Christian morality (meaning natural law—not the sacrificial perfection of true Christian morality) is their “special burden.”
I conjecture that rabbinical Christianity has resulted from Christians’ attempting to reconcile their moral tradition with liberal society. According to the previous Western tradition, human beings may know the human good both from reason and from revelation, while liberalism denies that there is any human good or, if there is, that it is knowable. Thus, each human will may decide its own good. These two positions cannot coexist peacefully in the same soul. For traditionalists, we simply reject liberalism as wrong. Accommodationist Christians who have accepted the transformation of Western civilization, however, must find a way to live with their cognitive dissonance. For man is a rational animal, and he must try to rationalize his contradictions. Therefore, liberalized Christians reserve natural law for themselves like the old Mosaic law, while they follow the rest of society in acknowledging any further demands upon human beings. The Frankfort School is their Noah.