The Orthodox Life has a short but interesting post on the sacred artwork of early synagogues: “Ancient Jewish Icons.” Yale’s EIKON site features many images from the pictured Dura Europos Synagogue. It looks strikingly like an Orthodox Temple.
Earlier in the year, I visited the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Cincinnati’s Museum Center. I did not have time to visit the Israel Museum when I was in Jerusalem, and I was happy to get to see some of the Qumran fragments. Since the exhibit only had a few dozen pieces, it padded the experience with hundreds of artifacts from ancient Israel, including spears and stones from the Assyrian attack on Lachish as well as commemorative displays from Nineveh that celebrated Sennacherib’s success. The oldest object was a three thousand year old four horn shaped altar. I never knew before exactly what they looked like. I also learnt more about the money changers in the Temple; the exhibit had a pile of Tyrian shekels. There was also a small section on Masada, which featured a tartan garment that had been left at Masada by a Roman soldier during or after the siege. One wonders if the soldier had bought the clothing while stationed near the Caledonian border—or if he was born among those ever savage northerners! There were many other items from everyday life—from religious objects to commercial tools to home goods to political propaganda.
The exhibit as well as my amateur archaeological adventures in the Holy Land contradict the iconoclastic notions of biblical Israel held by certain Protestant groups—as if the detailed descriptions of the two Temples and of the Temple rituals in holy writ were not enough to dispel the folly of white walled Calvinists. The Lord, the Lord our God, is a Lord of color and form. Let the iconoclasts seek after their nihilism; we worship the Lord in spirit and in truth.
Yesterday, I mentioned Auster’s post, “The afterlife and Christ,” wherein Auster refers to a View from the Right entry from three years ago—“The Gospels: too embarrassing to be fiction”—that concerns Frank Turek’s argument for trusting the scriptural accounts of Jesus. I remember reading the post, but I do not think that I commented on it before. It is good. Here is an excerpt by Turek:
If men were inventing the resurrection story, it would go more like this:
Jesus came to save the world, and he needed our help. That’s why we were there for him every step of the way. When he was in need, we prayed with him. When he wept, we wept with him (and told him to toughen up!). When he fell, we carried his cross. The gates of Hell could not prevent us from seeing his mission through!
So when that turncoat Judas brought the Romans by (we always suspected Judas), and they began to nail Jesus to the cross, we laughed at them. “He’s God you idiots! The grave will never keep him! You think you’re solving a problem, but you’re really creating a much bigger one!”
While we assured the women that everything would turn out all right, they couldn’t handle the crucifixion. Squeamish and afraid, they ran to their homes screaming and hid behind locked doors.
But we men stood steadfast at the foot of the cross, praying for hours until the very end. When Jesus finally took his last breath and the Roman Centurion confessed that Jesus was God, Peter blasted him, “That’s what we told you before you nailed him up there!” (Through this whole thing, the Romans and the Jews just wouldn’t listen!)
Never doubting that Jesus would rise on the third day, Peter announced to the Centurion, “We’ll bury him and be back on Sunday. Now go tell Pilate to put some of your ‘elite’ Roman guards at the tomb to see if you can prevent him from rising from the dead!” We all laughed and began to dream about Sunday.
That Sunday morning we marched right down to the tomb and tossed those elite Roman guards aside. Then the stone (that took eleven us to roll into place) rolled away by itself. A glowing Jesus emerged from tomb, and said, “I knew you’d come! My mission is accomplished.” He praised Peter for his brave leadership and congratulated us on our great faith. Then we went home and comforted the trembling women.
Turek’s article and Auster and his readers’ comments will surely bring a smile to your face.
On the Orthosphere, Roebuck continues his treatment of Mormonism about which I wrote last week in “Mormons and Jesus.” His latest post, “The Basic Case against Mormonism and Other Pseudo-Christianities,” defends the necessity of proper theology for the Christian life. I commented:
And some, seeing the bad state of current Christian culture, hold that traditional Christianity is largely a failure. These people want an institutional Christianity that appears culturally successful.
[This objection, unlike those above, is at least based on a true premise. Current Christian culture is in a deplorable state. But this is not a valid reason to contradict the teachings of Christ.]
Charlton makes this point repeatedly in condemning “mainstream” Christianity. Each time that he raises that point, I want to state, following the old saying, that the problem with Christianity is the Christians, while the problem with Mormonism is Mormonism. Charlton and like-minded individuals may respond that a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, but even a good tree with put forth some nasty crops if it is placed in a cellar with little light or if it is continually malnourished. I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Church, and I believe that the Orthodox Church is “the Church.” However, I readily admit the problems that exist among Orthodox Christians. The modern world is explicitly anti-Christian in so many ways, and its hostile, corrupting influence is a severe thorn in Christians’ sides. In the early centuries, the pagan world persecuted the Church, and the Church prevailed. Such is happening again. We often fail to remember all the compromises and the lukewarm folks who betrayed the faith in the early centuries, thinking only of the victorious martyrs. Yet, I wonder what the real numbers were. I assume that many Christians missed the mark in living out the gospel radically, but the Church eventually triumphed over idolatry and wickedness, as it will do so in the future. Every age has its peculiar temptations and occasions for apostasy, and I believe that the current age is the most insane, most depraved period in history. It should not surprise us, then, that so many of the faithful fail—and fail so miserably—at their vocations of discipleship. However, persecution also brings forth martyrs, and that bitter cup in the modern world teems with witnesses. In Orthodox lands, we have seen countless martyrs, confessors, and lifelong strugglers who lived and died for the Lord under the theomachist Communist regimes. In the West, consider the virtuous men and women who have held fast to the Good since the perfidy of modernity exposed its bloody jaws; from the patriots of la Vendée to today, there has been a strong minority of those who have maintained a view of heaven despite the clouds of modern confusion.
When Charlton points to Rome, the Orthodox, or confessional Protestants with a condemning finger due to the sorry state of their larger societies and of their nominal members, he errs in his sampling. When Mormons fail at being Mormon, they “leave the church” and become, well, Utahns (or the equivalent secular person elsewhere) due to the ostracism factor in Mormonism. That is a model of ecclesial discipline, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. And there are disadvantages—we are dealing with salvation here, and the stakes are quite high. Rome could increase its healthy piety stats if it took a different course, but such heavy handed discipline might jeopardize millions of souls by burning bridges on the Tiber, so to speak. Thus, grievous sinner O’Donnell continues to consider himself Catholic until his death, though he lives worse than a pagan. Yet, his continued affiliation with the Church remains for him a lifeline. The door remains open. What is the “recidivism” rate of Mormon defectors? Outside Mormon majority areas? I bet that Rome’s rates of return are much higher.
Besides, we are traditionalists, are we not? We are not soulless devotees of the latest fad in social science. We try to avoid tunnel vision, especially in only considering our own age. Charlton mentions fertility as an indicator of who is following the golden path. Right before the Great War, Russian Christians had one of the highest fertility rates in history. I recommend that you read “Young Russia: The Land of Unlimited Possibilities” from National Geographic in November, AD 1914. Ignorant of what future terrors awaited the empire, the writer predicted that Russia would have six hundred million people by the end of the twentieth century. However, a bloody revolution, a civil war, two world wars, including an invasion, generations of suffering under Communist tyranny and its consequent social and material depravity, and the influences of alien ideologies have reduced the fertility of Russian women to below replacement levels. Is this surprising? Are we really to blame Orthodox dogma and praxis for this? (Fortunately, that decline is starting to reverse!) Moreover, the same Churches that Charlton condemns provided centuries and centuries of healthy societies, thousands of saints, and, in summation, post-classical Western civilization! What has Mormonism given us besides good looking, clean cut blond families with a social ethic that would have been considered normal and unremarkable sixty years ago?
Everyone on this site pretty much agrees that contemporary society is mad. It is to be expected that Christians who live in this madness will be affected negatively, and we must implement and follow special survival strategies if we are to keep our good sense among the crazies. Forming and living within a counterrevolutionary subculture is one such strategy (the best option, in my opinion), and that is what the Mormons have done. The region of the country under their influence—from northern Arizona to Idaho—is a lovely land mostly populated by hearty WASPs descended from frontier stock. Their governors (their prophet and quorum of the twelve) live in this subculture and rule with its good in mind. However, if we formed a governing body from the men of any Christian group in this region, we would likely get some rather sensible people, too. I suppose that even the Episcopalians in Idaho are solid folks. Then, if these hypothetical rulers only made decisions with this subculture’s denizens in mind, they would probably come up with moral standards and social controlling decisions quite like the Mormons. Rome’s (or Russia’s or Germany’s vel alia) bishops do not have that luxury. Their flocks live in darker places, and the bishops have to keep them in mind and govern accordingly. Nonetheless, where there are counterrevolutionary subcultures among the papists (Society of Saint Pius X, for instance) or the Orthodox (say, ROCOR), you find even more sanity than what you see among the Mormons, just as traditional, healthy lifestyles and local communities are common among Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, traditionalist Lutherans, and so on. As the LDS move toward the mainstream and embrace accommodation for the larger society, they will become more like the Jones. Or, to be more precise, they will be like the Romneys and Huntsmans, only without the wealth, breeding, and industry of those elites. In other words, the average Mormon will resemble the average Methodist more and more. Of course, the Mormons’ wise men may switch course and refortify.
Rather than looking at such outward statistics, which is more a matter of how much one resists and sets oneself apart from the larger, godless culture (and such ghettoization comes with a cost), Charlton should ask where one can find Christ taught and glorified—where one finds truth, where one finds a path to holiness. In Greek jargon, we seek to unite ourselves with the Lord’s body and thus to become like God (theosis). Is that possible in the LDS? Roebuck argues no. The Church from the apostles to today has argued against heresies that resemble Mormonism in many ways (including Mohammedanism), and it seems reasonable to hearken unto such warnings.
Anglican Bruce Charlton asks “Is it possible to be fully Eastern Orthodox in the modern world?”:
Orthodoxy is Christianity in a Christian society - that is, in a Christian monarchy, where the ideal is that all of life be harmoniously integrated into a framework for the highest possible development of theosis (sanctification, spiritual progress toward communion with God while on earth) - where the matter of developing Saints is, in a sense, the primary and structuring goal of society.
This situation is gone from the earth, since the Russian Revolution of 1917; and the conditions for it do not exist anywhere.
Is it gone forever? Various prophecies concerning the End Times (which I have seen collected in the works of Fr Seraphim Rose) suggest that Orthodox Monarchy could be restored in Russia - and perhaps spread from there to some extent; but that is the only possibility, and may not happen if other choices are made.
Absent an Orthodox society, Eastern Orthodoxy is broadly similar in the outlines of its practice to Roman Catholicism and Liturgical Protestant denominations - indeed I suspect it is less well adapted to modern life, and the adherents of (for example) some evangelical Protestant churches are in practice able to reach a higher level of devoutness, of Christian life, of sanctification and/or theosis - than are Orthodox believers.
What Orthodoxy preserves is the memory of an ideal; and this then serves as a context or structure for modern Christian life; which necessarily proceeds at a much lower level (or not at all, in the large majority of modern people).
What Orthodoxy gives us the fullness of Christianity, and the proper balance and focus of Christianity - nowadays in ideal and in memory rather than in lived practice; because the Orthodox Church amputated from the Orthodox state is a partial and broken thing.
So, I believe that all Christian should (!) read, understand, assent to the ideal of Orthodoxy as instantiated in the Byzantine tradition - not as a perfection of Christian life (perfection is not attainable on earth), not indeed anything near perfection - but as the highest form of Christian development yet seen: a society saturated in Christianity which bred and sustained devoutness and the religious life - including many Saints.
But Orthodox monarchy will not arise in the West, and the high Christian life will not again be possible.
In general, I agree with Charlton here. Orthodox Christianity is communal by nature, and such a communal life does not fit well in a post-Christian society. I have commented before that fundamentalist Protestants have better success in catechizing their children because their religion is itself a development of and response to the modern West. In Darwinian terms, such Protestants are fit for our contemporary environment. Such folks take it for granted that religious instruction is up to them and that their families walk as sheep in a hostile world full of wolves. By contrast, the “village” model of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy assumes that children will learn the faith from the Christian life lived among Christians. They neglect focused catechesis and rely on a sort of cultural osmosis. However, Christians largely do not live among Christians; the noetic “air” that we breathe is opposite Orthodox Christianity. Unless Orthodox parents inculcate a separate identity for their families, their children will become as the world. As I have written before, when Roman Catholics left their ethno-religious ghettoes to assimilate into mainstream America, they thereby started down the path of secular Calvinism. The implementation of the Second Vatican Council provided the occasion for vast Protestantization, iconoclasm, and apostasy among American papists, but I do not think that it was the reason for it. If Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians wish their families to maintain the faith from generation to generation, they need to learn from the fundamentalist Protestants—and from the rabbinical Jews of yore, who have a remarkable record. Their fortress under siege mentality combined with their self identity as an exiled people set apart preserve them as a distinct group. When Christians live beyond the borders of Christendom, they must learn to do the same.
I disagree with Charlton’s pessimism regarding the possibility of Christendom’s return. We are currently witnessing the slow and admittedly painful rebirth of Christian civilization in Orthodox lands, but the Eastern phoenix rises nonetheless. I actually expect to see the restoration of Russian Orthodox autocracy or a modified form of it in this century, and I do not say that from mere wishful thinking. Our age is an anomaly; we ought not to take it as the measure of the future. For it is silly that critics of the Enlightenment (sic) adopt the Enlightenment’s own chauvinism about its necessary historical victory.
However, Charlton’s pessimism mostly concerns the West. Even so, I do not think that the West can long continue its nihilistic devolution. The madness will stop; it is unsustainable. Moreover, strong Christian polities in the East will have an effect on Western nations, especially in the encouragement that they will provide to traditional Westerners. Consider how Saudi oil money and Mohammedan immigration have transformed the West—largely against the will of Western peoples. Let us suppose that Western man’s primal tribal urges to survive will reassert themselves—something that we should expect once the money runs out that keeps the masses well fed, entertained, and complacent. The rebellion against the former regime’s puppet masters and against their various tools and pets will be severe. The Left will rue the absence of Christianity and of its restraints upon the population when the bestial character of the populace manifests itself against them. The old order will crumble, and those left standing will pick up the pieces and rebuild. The traditional Christian remnant, if they survive being massacred in the chaos, will have default authority among a people hungry for a return to a known stability that is not the regime from which they just revolted. Once again, a Christian empire in the East will send agents of order to the West to assist their brethren.
An alternative history fantasy? Perhaps—though it seems far more likely than the ridiculous futurism of the last century that betrayed its utter ignorance of the human condition in countless ways. In two or three hundred years, I expect throngs of people to be marching in procession around Chartres singing to the Lord. Our descendents may even see a king crowned again in Reims. The future is unknown to us.
Have a blessed feast of the Conception of the Theotokos tomorrow!
I wish you a merry feast of Saint Nicholas!
In the spirit of the saint is a lovely account about charity in The Detroit News: “Most Holy Trinity Christmas Party crosses religious lines to help kids in need.” Read about the Ecclesiatical Shakedown Society and smile at a very American Christmas story.
And may your holidays be bright!
The AHC seeks to help preserve the corporate identity and heritage of the People Israel within the Church. By gathering the Jews who have entered the Church, we hope to help them rekindle and live out their collective vocation, giving corporate witness to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and His Church.
A.H.C president David Moss provides an informative interview for Faith Magazine: “Are Jewish Converts still Jewish?”
The problem of Jewish identity may briefly be described as follows. When a Jew enters the Church, he enters into a community and culture that has become sociologically, for want of a better word, Gentile. The term Gentile refers to the non-Israelite peoples of the world.
Consequently, the Jewish convert is separated from his people, his culture and his heritage. Then, through assimilation to the prevailing culture, his offspring are no longer considered part of the People Israel.
Most importantly, the corporate vocation given to the People Israel can no longer be fulfilled, either in the convert or in his offspring. This is the case because, since the 3rd or 4th century, the People Israel have not had a corporate presence in the Church. Thus, in the Jews that enter the Church, the People terminate.
What do you mean, the people terminate?
The basic way that Jews preserve themselves and their heritage is through their offspring. The Jewish community recognizes the offspring as a Jew and, therefore, a member of the People Israel. Through the community, the individual is given his or her identity as a member of that community.
However, when a Jew enters the Church and marries, there is no community recognition of the offspring as members of the People Israel. Thus, the offspring, in effect, become Gentile. And even if the family attempts to preserve some aspects of their heritage, by the second or third generation, those aspects have disappeared and the offspring have completely lost any sense of their identity as Israelites.
So, even if the convert continues to describe himself in terms of his Jewish origins, the preservation of the People through his offspring comes to a halt. Thus, my statement that ‘the People terminate’.
That explains why, when I was interviewing a Rabbi about interfaith marriage, he stated that every Jew that converts or marries and does not raise their children Jewish - that is like another Holocaust. I was startled by the comment. Is this what he was referring to?
Yes. The way it’s communicated doesn’t add clarity. But, the Rabbi uses the term holocaust in the sense of how many Jews are lost. The People Israel have a God-given vocation in this world. They, therefore, also have an obligation to preserve themselves and their vocation.
Auster addresses the same issue in his post, “Made Whole.” When one of Auster’s readers, a Jewish Christian, noted that he felt alienated due to his becoming a Christian, Auster responded:
Two caveats. First, I would say that while some Jews have an intense negative reaction against Jews who have become Christians, not all do.
Second, I, as a Jew who became a Christian, want to assure Jewish readers, who may be concerned on this point, that I have no design to use this site to encourage the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In this area, I am truly a respecter of individuality and of the uniqueness of the Jewish people.
I first expressed my thoughts on this subject many years ago when a Christian friend asked a question that Christians often ask: “Why didn’t the Jews at the time of Jesus become Christians?”
I answered more or less as follows:
Under Judaism, the believers come into relationship with God by collectively following the Jewish law. Under Christianity, the believers comes into relationship with God by individually following Jesus Christ. Judaism and Christianity are two different religions, two different approaches to God. They are not interchangeable. If the Jews had become Christians, they would have ceased to exist as Jews. Since they were the recipients and legatees of the first revelation of the true God, which they naturally valued above all else, it would have been unreasonable to expect them to give that up, to give up the Jewish dispensation, to give up their very identity and existence as a people formed around that dispensation, in order to become followers of Jesus. Of course some Jews, who were called, did follow Jesus. But the majority didn’t. While I believe that the Christian revelation is higher and truer and more complete than the Jewish revelation, the Jewish revelation, as the predecessor of the Christian revelation and the very condition of its existence, should be respected.
I then wrote the following comment. Auster’s response commentary is in bold:
I do not believe that Providence drives history in an absolute sense. The world is too wicked, and there are far too many nobler and better roads untraveled. God works with us and through us, but it appears as if he refuses to play chess with men as his pawns. That said, I often wonder why something like a “Mosaic rite” never came to pass.
I empathize with your view of rabbinical Judaism. It would be a loss to see its wisdom perish. Yet, Christ did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. [LA replies: This is one of Jesus’ statements in which he is speaking his own language, not ordinary language. He may have meant that he was fulfilling the Jewish law in the true, spiritual sense, but from the ordinary point of view of the Jews, he certainly was coming to destroy it. There is no question that his teachings meant the end of the Jewish religion, for example, of the laws governing the Sabbath. So let’s drop the Kumbaya and frankly admit that there was an either-or situation here.] I wondered why you reacted so negatively when Ann Coulter had her episode with Donny Deutsch [covered here]. Perhaps, your opinion about the everlastingness of the covenant played a part. However, I do not see why there could not be a rabbinical expression of Christianity for the descendents of Jacob. It appears that such was the early Church in Palestine and among the diaspora communities throughout the empire. Had more Jews converted, then perhaps something like Mosaic law Christians would have survived. As it was, Jewish Christians were absorbed into the general mass of Christians, the vast majority of which converted from the nations.
I also do not think that Christians come to Jesus Christ as individuals. That is a rather modern, and to be frank, Protestant, manner of describing Christianity. The gospel is not a set of intellectual doctrines but rather the life in Christ, which is a life of being fellow members of one body. Christianity is essentially communal, even for the hermit in the desert. [LA replies: Good point about the communal nature of Christianity, but at the same time Jesus is constantly telling his disciples what they need to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and in the Gospel of John this is primarily through the relationship of the individual person with Jesus Christ. A community of believers may share in that relationship, but each individual must have it. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation.” Each of us is an individual self and center of consciousness. Even within a church community, each of us must experience for ourselves—and thus each of us must figure out in practical terms for ourselves—what the Way consists of.]
I certainly do not know what is correct when it comes to the relationship / extension / fulfillment of God’s covenant(s) with man. Yet, it seems reasonable to think that the Mosaic law, and the special way of life that developed among the Jews, does not preclude Christianity. It was the seed bed of the apostolic mission. I see no reason why it needed to end. I suspect that thoughts to the contrary demonstrate a spectacular success for hell’s strategic planning.
P.S. Thank you for your post on Saint Mark’s gospel. I find it odd that few people comment on the humor in the scripture. The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ comment about having been touched is very funny. Like the boy who fell asleep and then fell out of the window during Paul’s preaching—no one seems to notice that they’re funny.
I therefore find it heartening that there is an organized effort to establish something like what I proposed to Auster in the Roman Church. Moss continues in his explanation of his association’s purpose:
Our goal is to preserve the identity and heritage of Israelites within the Catholic Church, through the establishment of a Hebrew Catholic Community juridically approved by the Holy See.
By identity, I mean their election (calling, vocation). The election is a choice of God that applies to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that is, to the People Israel of the flesh. It is collective and it is eternal.
Today, the Jew who enters the Church is unable to fulfill his vocation as a member of the People. Instead, he enters the Church and assimilates to the prevailing culture.
Isn’t this true of all cultures or is that not a fair question?
There are similarities. You can look at converts from other peoples, cultures and religions and, at times, see their own people turn against them because they feel like the convert has betrayed them.
In these cases, we are dealing with human nature. In the case of the People Israel, however, the issue is of a people created, formed, and preserved by God, a people still intimately connected to the ongoing drama of salvation history.
For example, the Catechism states that Jesus will not return until all Israel recognizes Him. Thus, it appears that there is a connection between that part of the People Israel we identify as Jews and the second coming of Jesus.
Yet, how will His people recognize Him if they are not given the opportunity to consider the Gospel? And, since the program of the Church today, with respect to the Jews, is one of dialogue, not evangelization, how will the opportunity to consider the Gospel arise?
I believe the dialogue is important and good because of the history of Catholic Jewish relations. Healing, respect, trust, honest communications, learning about the other, and shared efforts in the social arena are all necessary and important.
Yet, the dialogue has its problems. One problem arises from the efforts of some Catholics within the dialogue, as is also the case in other Catholic disciplines, to re-interpret Scripture and Tradition to the detriment of the Catholic Faith. Thus, in attempting to deal with issues that have negatively and unjustly affected the Jews, they are betraying the Catholic Faith.
What do you mean? Who is betraying the Catholic Faith?
Let me give an example outside of the dialogue which takes an extreme form: the Jesus seminar. Here, theologians vote on whether passages really reflect the words of Jesus or not. When one looks at the results of their votes, one finds that the New Testament has completely lost its character as the inspired Word of God. Others have questioned or challenged the truths of the virgin birth, the resurrection of our Lord, the miracles of the loaves, and so forth. I could go on.
Within the dialogue, you will find the aberrant notion that there are two parallel paths to salvation: one for the Jews, which is Rabbinical Judaism, and one for the Gentiles, which is Christianity. Of course, one may ask: How then do we explain that the Church was formed by Jews? that Jesus, Mary, the apostles and almost all the early believers were Jews?
Overall, however, the dialogue is necessary, important, and producing good fruit.
Returning to your original question about the goals of the AHC: I already mentioned our primary aim that is focused on preserving the People Israel within the Church. With the establishment of a Hebrew Catholic Community, the other major aim will begin to develop, that is, restoring the heritage of Israel to the life of the Church.
For 3,500 years, God has formed the People Israel. There is much in their literature, their culture, and in their spiritual and moral disciplines that will edify Catholics. God has given them certain gifts and called them, as a Servant People, to be a blessing to the nations. As a People living out their vocation within the Church, I believe they will be a blessing to the life and mission of the Church, and to their brethren outside the Church, the Jewish people.
I do not yet know what ecclesiastical format the Hebrew Catholic Community will take. There is much work that has to be done by theologians and those involved with canon law.
Scripture states that “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” The AHC makes the case that the time is at hand to restore the People Israel, as a People, to the life of the Church.
So in Acts, where they discuss the problem of Gentiles entering the Church, the issue was do Gentiles need to become Jews before they can become Christian. What you are saying is that it is reversed? Now the question is can you be a Jew and become Christian?
Yes. Let me state the question as it has been asked of me: “Can I, a Jew, become a Christian without becoming a Gentile?”
In Acts, the Church was made up primarily of Jews. Through observance of the Torah, the People Israel had been formed by God to be a holy people, separated from the pagan world surrounding them. The Mosaic laws not only formed them, but it preserved them as a people.
In the New Covenant, where the Gentiles were being grafted onto the People Israel through baptism, the following dilemma faced the Jews: How were they to retain their identity if they now no longer had to observe all of the Mosaic laws?
For example, the laws regarding ritual purity (such as the dietary laws), had helped keep them a distinct people. But, in the new dispensation, Jews began to eat with Gentiles. It became apparent that their distinctiveness could no longer be preserved through these laws. And in those early days, while the understanding of what Jesus had taught was developing, you can read in the New Testament where some of the early Jewish followers of Jesus continued to observe the Torah. In fact, this situation continued through the next two or three centuries, while the People Israel maintained a corporate presence in the early Church.
But the reversal of the situation in Acts is not the only reversal we are witnessing. St. Paul, speaking to the Gentiles, taught that they, the Gentiles, had received mercy because of the failure of the majority of the Jews to believe in Jesus. But a time would come when the Gentiles, who had the faith, would lose it. And, from their failure, the Jews would again receive mercy. And with mercy, all Israel would be saved, bringing about the return to faith of the apostate Gentiles. I believe we have entered that phase of salvation history.
As I wrote in “The Vain Queen Consort,” ethnic chauvinism has been a stumbling block for the Jews, and Moss and such men must be vigilant not to succumb to this tendency. I find his use of “gentile” for non-Hebrew Christians somewhat problematic. The world is full of many nations, and I do not think that the Lord intends for their dissolution. John writes of the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation:
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Auster thus comments:
In the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city, there are still distinct nations, and kings of nations, and these are the glories of humanity which are brought before the throne of God, and there transfigured in the light of Christ. Mankind, following the end of the world, is still providentially constituted of separate nations, which give it its character and distinctiveness, even as, for example, our earth is constituted of separate continents, islands, mountain ranges, and valleys, which give it its shape and its meaning. The physical earth is not a homogenous mass consisting of nothing but “equal” individual particles, and neither, in the biblical view, is mankind.
We need to keep such passages along with God’s covenants in mind when we ponder Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
As human sexuality is part of God’s plan, so are the nations. Yet, there is a more fundamental unity through Christ, who redeems and transfigures us into something even higher than the apex of creation. As such, Moss’ basic categorization of men into Hebrews and the nations—that is, everyone else—appears to go against two thousand years of Christian practice. If we are to dismiss heretical revisionism that has delusions of recovering the “authentic gospel” from “Pauline distortions,” we must take the tradition seriously. I am open to exploring roads not traveled, as mentioned above, and I would welcome a development of something like my imagined Mosaic rite, but the primary distinction among men for Christians is between those who have answered the invitation to come to the feast and those who have not yet answered. If certain merrymakers wear distinctive hats and eat special foods, then there is room at the banquet for such differences.
Moreover, we mortals do not know who will be kicked out of the party for having come unprepared, and we do not know who may be on the way to the festivities though they have not yet arrived. So, we ought to beware of triumphalism due to our presence at the festival.
I wish Moss and his friends the best in their endeavors. I would like to see the same development in the Orthodox Church. When I was researching places to visit in Jerusalem, I discovered Archpriest Aleksandr Abraham Winogradsky Frenkel, who serves at Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in the Old City. He shepherds a multiethnic, multilingual parish, where the services are in Hebrew on Saturdays. Here is the Trisagion in Hebrew:
A few Orthodox Christian Mission Center bulletins contain an article on Fr. Aleksandr’s work:
Spring 2005: pages 24 and 25 (pdf page 13)
Fall 2007: pages 8 and 9 (pdf page 5)
The number of Russian immigrants continues to rise in Israel, and many of the immigrants have a connection to the Russian Church. They immigrate as Jews under the Law of Return, but many are converts to the Church or have relatives in the Church. This growing community, with priests like Fr. Aleksandr, may develop into the roots of a future Hebrew Orthodox Christian culture.
Χριστός ανέστη! May you continue to enjoy this festal time.
Bonald, of Throne and Altar, recently posted a provocative piece on The Orthosphere, “The other Abrahamic religion that will never want to be our friends either.” Provoke it did—so much so that Bonald deleted it. Bonald tactfully but frankly brought up several aspects of Jewish-Christian relations that are verboten in contemporary polite society. I commented, but some of my comments disappeared with the post. There followed a discussion that makes for an interesting read for those who have an interest in Jewish-Christian / Jewish-Western relations and who despise taboos.
Here is a reconstruction of my first comment:
What is it with the past week—is it the season to break taboos? [I was refering to the firing of John Derbyshire by The National Review over his “The Talk: Nonblack Version” in Taki’s Magazine.] Well, you may read my two shekels about rabbinical Jews on my site, especially:
“Ann and the Jews,”
“Hadley Arkes, Yet Another,”
“Anti-Christian Bigotry,” and
“The Vain Queen Consort.”
I do not have a fixed opinion on the “liberal WASP” counterargument, but I do not think that Kristor and others are acknowledging the subversive potential of a permanent “Other” that invariably rises to the elite in its host society.
The “liberal WASP” argument notes that liberal, degenerate Protestants are as destructive to American society as liberal, secular Jews due to their political opinions. Therefore, it is reasonable to hold that liberal Jews’ assaults on traditional culture result from their leftist ideas rather than from any group hatred toward or alienation from the majority population. I occasionally refer to this argument in my posts. An obvious objection is that rabbinical Jews as Jews organize for leftist causes, meaning that individuals and organizations that represent Jews as Jews often attack traditional Western, Christian society. For example, Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman’s long career as an advocate for the tolerance and acceptance of Jews gives one the impression that the same tolerance and acceptance should not be granted to traditional Christians. However, we know that leftists use whatever means available to them to advance their causes. So, one could argue that leftists who happen to be Jews choose to organize as Jews to promote their ideas behind an identity that most Americans see as an irreproachable Victim Group. Leftists exploit children and women in the same way—why not rabbinical Jews?
Anyway, Steve Nicoloso wanted a clarification about the “Other” in my comment, and he further said that he found Orthodox Jews to be closer in spirit to him than Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles. I responded:
I address your question in my linked posts. The permanent state of “otherness” comes from Judaism itself, where to be Jewish is to be a nation apart. Your point is that the religious children of the rabbis are not problematic, but rather the sowers of discord are secularized Jews. I largely agree, but I would argue, based on personal experience quite unlike Kristor’s and on a cursory examination of American politics over the last few generations, that even secularized Jews persist in a state of—to use a favorite concept of an early secular Jew—alienation from the dominant society. With Abe Foxman and his ilk, it is always late imperial Russia, and the goyim are always a crazed mob ready with pitchforks and torches.
As far as demographic destiny, the Left does not need to reproduce when it can re-educate. My point above is that Jews will always come to occupy places of influence (when allowed) because of their exceptional qualities, and hence they will be in a position to re-educate as they see fit. When rabbinical Jews fear and loathe their host societies, they make a dangerous elite—for the host society and, ultimately, for themselves (when the reaction finally comes).
And shame on you for mentioning the Cardinal Who Shall Not Be Named! Well, sometimes, we must speak of the devil.
Bonald’s article disappeared. Then in “More on inferiority,” Bonald stated that he had deleted his initial post. He further requested some advice from philosemitic Christians. The new entry elicited dozens of responses, which you may (as of now) still read in context, including the following of mine:
Bonald, did you just “Lowry” yourself? What a pity. I agree with Joseph above . . . we ought not to assist the Masters of Discourse by “pre-emptive obedience” (such terms do appear more impressive in German). Also, the Jewish Problem is a real issue, and those who wish to ignore it won’t thereby make it go away, just like the dominant American political establishment’s fantasies won’t make the problems of our particular ethnic diversity go away. One commentator mentioned in the deleted thread that the Orthosphere had “jumped the shark” with your entry, and another mentioned that discussing such issues might scare away potential allies or converts. Yet, the problem remains, and being unwilling to discuss it openly, rationally, and honestly cripples us—leaving us prey to the “fever swamps of the anti-Semites” or to the white, conservative, Christian hating leftists, not a few of whom are rabbinical Jews. Moreover, such delicacy and misplaced tact are insulting to Jews. Men like Bernie Goldberg, Michael Medved, and Andrew Klavan—those allies and converts that we treasure so highly—are not girly whiners. Hopefully, they can distinguish between our discourse and the agenda of Mr. MacDonald.
I cannot really answer your chief question since I don’t frame the issue in the same way. Rabbinical Jews are not a cleanly marked “Other” for me, for personal and religious reasons, as I have mentioned in my posts about them. On a personal level, I am a total Heebiephile (though NOT a hebephile!) because I admire, respect, and share many characteristics that are peculiarly abundant among the children of Jacob. There is no other ethnic group with whom I would rather spend my time.
Religiously, I respect rabbinical Judaism as an ethically rich, pious tradition that is historically and doctrinally close to my own religion. I acknowledge its good aspects and blithely disapprove of its shortcomings—similarly to how I respond to mainstream Protestantism.
On matters of religious “diplomacy” and religio-socially, though, I quickly lose patience with rabbinical Jews because truth and justice trump ethnic chauvinism and personal preferences for me. This might be a family trait. Last week when I was home, I attended a passion play at a local Roman parish with my father. I was pleased that the production kept the Barabbas scene with the ugly mob. I mentioned this to my father afterward, noting how “offensive” the gospel was to those in the rabbinical community who have taken upon themselves the role of official offendees. To which my father, a man of the most judenfreundlich tendencies, retorted in a way rather unkind to the Foxmans of the world. The only other time that I witnessed my halbjude father express anything negative toward the Jewish community was during the hysterical and bigoted reaction to The Passion of the Christ—for similar reasons.
Given the Orthodoxfest on these threads, I want to note that some of the most hateful, anti-Christian rhetoric that I have ever witnessed has been sputtered by super Orthodox rabbinical Jews. Yes, secular Jews are far more likely to support monstrous leftist policies, but they are far more cordial . . . in the way that Anglicans are preferable to Westboro Baptists. Religious fanaticism—self righteousness, not a spirit enlightened by love and wisdom—creates ugly souls. Liberalism is a form of degenerate charity, but I prefer it to cold, proud legalism. Sloppy theology is likely less harmful than nakedly demonic theology.
Mr. Nicoloso, you wrote, “for every Abe Foxman, there are probably hundreds of Katharine Jefferts Schoris.” This is a continuation of the “liberal WASP” counterargument. First, you have to consider quality in addition to quantity. Sure—there are probably more WASP fools in Massachusetts alone than perverse Jews in the entire country, but look at the caliber of the threat. One Foxman is more estimable a foe than hundreds of Shoris. Look at what that man hath wrought. Consider the ethnic make up of the elite in the media, academia, the political establishment, and NGOs, and you will quickly see why the fever swamps come up with their conspiracies. Rabbinical Jews, observant or not, are at the center of American life now. However, that community still continues to behave, in large measure, as if they were still an oppressed outsider. I think that Sailer made the point that American Jews have become the elite without having acknowledged the cultural responsibilities of being the elite. Would the same be true of the “liberal WASPs” of the nineteenth century? Which of those American patricians Who Knew Better actively worked for the dissolution of the American people?
Second, instead of comparing the rabbinical Jewish community in America to liberal WASPS, we should compare them to American WASPS in general. Which community, as a whole, is more harmful to the culture, to welcoming Christians to having a place in the public square, and to the traditions of Anglo-Saxon constitutional republicanism? We do not know exactly what has caused such dismal forces in the Jewish community, but we cannot deny that such forces are far more prevalent among American Jews than among WASPs. Moreover, the respective talents and organization of Jews magnify their influence. Therefore, what traditional, wise Jews we get on our side are a significant boon, like manna from heaven. Yet, not many join the side of guarding and preserving our civilization. Hence, the Shoris of America enjoy the considerable intellectual, creative, material, and political power of the American Jewish community. The American Left has successfully tapped the first round top demographic pick for its roster.
To use Kristor’s policy test against his genteel and Christian disposition, imagine the American regime without the descendants of immigrants from the Pale and compare it to our actuality. It seems pretty clear to me which America would be stronger, more united, and more sane. Though I also suspect that it would be far less interesting, learned, and entertaining. Such thoughts trigger fears of Judenrein among us, but they clarify the situation instead of indulging in warm fuzzy hopes. Bonald’s original post brings up the Jewish Problem, and his taking it down doesn’t help to resolve our mess.
To Franklin [who had mentioned that future Jewish communities would be less intelligent due to the relative rise of the anti-intellectual Hasidic population]: the traditional rabbinical communities are not unintelligent. They are simply uneducated (in the modern, worldly sense) and uninvolved. Don’t you think that they will continue to be a fount of genius, which will only be recognized in the ones who leave their insular worlds? If traditional, observant life were “moronogenic,” then please explain the bright lights that have emerged since emancipation.
A commentator named HenryOrientJnr replied:
There is no Jewish Problem, and I think anyone who uses that phrase is asking for trouble. There is a problem of political correctness which is associated with education and intelligence and since Ashkenazim have both in abundance they are naturally disproportionately affected by it. . . .
I think that Henry makes a significant point, and it is similar to how I usually explain the leftist orientation of Western elites in general. Our society is dominated by leftist ideology, and clever, educated people imbibe that ideology. Moreover, as my friend Andrew often points out, it takes some intelligence to rise above convention and to question the standards of one’s civilization. When these bright, young folks notice the superficial irrationality of tradition, they begin their journey leftwards. However, it takes a lot more intelligence and insight to see how such conventions accord with nature and hold societies together. Hence, there are fewer intelligent conservatives than intelligent leftists, but they are far more profound and rationally grounded in their ideas.
I do not agree with your trepidation toward the monstrous Left and its taboos. “Asking for trouble”? Faugh!
I’ll explain what I mean by the “Jewish Problem.” It is basically what Auster says, and we all know what a raving Judenhasser Auster is. In any society, ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, and class divisions cause tension and stress social cohesion and unity. Of course, the more healthy and robust the body politic is, the better the regime is able to deal with such problems. There are also many mitigating or aggravating circumstances that lessen or heighten the impact of those stresses. Unfortunately, leftist ideas are among the latter; they turn ailments into cancers. Yet, liberalism does not make the ailments problematic. For they are natural challenges that inhere in diversity.
A society with a self-separating subpopulation will often have some level of social conflict. There are not many ethnic differences between the Amish and their normal American neighbors, but every year there are criminal cases that result from harassment or violence between the two groups. The greater the difference, the more likely the rate and severity of conflict. Consider the less than rosy relations between American whites and blacks that no amount of manipulative advertising, institutional indoctrination, and media framing will change. The gypsies have been in Europe for centuries, and yet there remains enmity between them and the host population.
Why, then, would I mention a specifically “Jewish Problem”? Unlike many other groups, Jewish communities do not engage in criminality at higher rates than their host population. They do not become a parasitic class that lives by a mendicant or criminal code. On the contrary, they tend to excel. Their learning, intelligence, industry, creativity, and organization allow them to climb the social ladders wherever they settle if their hosts allow them the freedom to do so. This is the Jewish Problem. It is not a special perfidy. It is not a genetic disposition toward destruction that only Jews have. There is no worldwide Zionist conspiracy to dispossess the closest competition. Rather, Jews are a self-separating subpopulation that invariably rises to the elite in an open, meritocratic host society. That is an inherent recipe for disaster. It is a real problem, and it must be discussed. We have seen the alternatives too many times.
Only by acknowledging the problem can we take steps to mitigate it. The Parsis of India are in a similar situation, but they and the Hindu population appear to have developed a sustainable system that works for them. America before our cultural revolution also seemed to have kept a harmonious way. Sure, there were country clubs where Jews could not golf. Sure, Jews were overly represented among American Communists. Yet, overall, the relations were decent. Jewish Hollywood celebrated Christian America, and American Christians welcomed rabbinical Jews as fellow citizens without apologizing for their own cultural hegemony. We need to return to something like WASP hegemony, but we cannot even begin to take the steps that will ensure the longterm safety, peace, and social inclusion of American Jews until we recognize and proceed to deal with what you, Henry, find unthinkable.
Later in the comments, Franklin and Brock discuss the ultra-Orthodox / secular dynamic in the rabbinical community in more detail, with an entertaining tangent on Jews and Chinese food. I asked them the following question:
Franklin and Brock,
Thank you for your responses. Only time will tell what rabbinical Judaism will look like in a century. Imagine yourself at any given point in time and think what would be reasonable to expect in the future at that moment. Then, think about what followed. History is usually surprising.
I never thought about Jews and Chinese food that way. I just assumed that Jews ate Chinese on Western Christmas for the same reason that the Parkers ate Chinese in A Christmas Story—those joints are the only places open. Maybe the film was just Jewish Hollywood’s dastardly covering their tribe’s tracks by hoodwinking the gullible goyim! I spent Western Christmas in New York City one year, and I took my mother to Joe’s Shanghai for dinner. It was a very festive atmosphere.
I have a question for you that I raised in “Jewish Leftism.” Basically, I want to know why the earlier wave of predominantly liberal, German Jews—who brought the Reform movement to America—appear to have become conservative while the later wave of traditionalist, Eastern European Jews have supplied the Gramscian Left its most formidable recruits in this country for the last century. In my ignorance, I can see several possible explanations:
* Liberal German Jews meshed well with conservative American ideas (“right liberal” in Auster’s terminology).
* German Jews from the nineteenth century had better relations in the old country with the majority population, while immigrants from the Pale hated and feared non-Jews due to the pogroms.
* German Jews were emancipated assimilationists (Reform Judaism is somewhat Protestant Judaism), while the folks from the shtetls had no experience of or desire for assimilating. Such would explain their varied responses to American society.
* The earlier wave was accepted more into the mainstream of the American Midwest than the later wave that settled in East Coast ethnic ghettoes.
* The political climates where the two groups settled determined their orientations, just like the Irish. Cincinnati Jews often registered as Republicans while New York Jews became Democrats with few exceptions.
* “Conservative” and “progressive” tendencies within one’s religion do not necessarily match such tendencies toward outsiders.
Do you have any insights about the issue?
There are several other delightful morsels in the thread. “Vishmehr” stated that he has read many Jewish writings and found them all lacking in depth and life, and I asked, “What about the gospel of John?” “BGC” despairingly wrote about his having to abandon his Englishness for the sake of the gospel, to which I wrote:
I am reminded of Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity as a new Buddhism. Remember, we have an incarnational religion. The nihilistic interpretation of the gospel is for the gnostics, not for us. Do not eschew your English heritage as a Buddhist consolation while you witness evil men mar your civilization. Rather, redeem your civilization to the extent that you can. The Left hates Christendom. It thus hates England. You do not hate your mother because she is not Jesus, though the gospel leaves itself open to such Buddhist interpretations in many places. Resist and rejoice. And sing “Jerusalem” to yourself in moments of doubt!
“MPB” warned against the thread’s fascination with (Jewish) intelligence, stating people value certain traits in others as good because they conform to their own traits. To such 60’s anthropological rubbish, my inner HBD retorted:
I don’t think that problem solving ability, which is what we basically mean by intelligence, is a cultural bias. Different individuals and different groups have different gifts in different distributions. Among such gifts is the ability to notice patterns, absorb information, make distinctions, and propose solutions. That is something that we should want for our society.
Of course, only birds that fly will crash in midair. Snakes will not crash in midair. Is that an argument against the gift of flight?
Human group relations, cultural conflict, religion, ethnicity, intelligence, ideological clashes, and Jews—these threads that disgust so many Orthosphere readers serve a wondrous bounty of my interests. What joy! Of course, whenever anyone steps beyond the Markers of Propriety set for respectable people, only disrespectable people share words . . . awkward folks like Sailer, Auster, and Derbyshire who are more interested in matters of truth than faddish notions of politesse . . . and, unfortunately, truly disrespectable folks. Of course, that line of demarcation varies considerably depending on who discriminates. Discussions of Jacob’s patrimony is a beckoning beacon to Jew haters, and they rarely fail to show. Regardless, we must address matters of import sincerely rather than falling into conditioned unthought. Many Jews have taught me so.
In my post on “Anti-Christian Bigotry,” I criticize David Turner’s and William Nicholls’ psychological evaluation of Christians. I thought of an image earlier in the week that plays the same game in reverse, though it is a far more reflective of reality.
Imagine a vain queen consort. This woman has many lovely qualities, and she could offer her inestimable talents to her king and to her kingdom in countless ways. However, her chief role as queen consort is to give birth to an heir. As a woman in the most important womanly task, she has an opportunity to manifest the special splendor of her sex—that of the deflection of importance from herself to her child. It is the mysterious glory and beauty of woman. Needless to say, many daughters of Eve fall short of this excellence, including our hypothetical queen consort.
Instead of finding honor in her role to give birth to someone that she loves more than herself—to someone that means more to the kingdom than herself—our queen thinks such painful and repugnant. She dwells on her many superior qualities and curses the fate that her special duty is that of a breeder. She will not rule in her own name. Knees will not bow and tongues will not confess because of her. She is but a handmaiden—a royal and treasured handmaiden—but a handmaiden, nonetheless, in that she must serve another. Instead of finding fulfillment in nursing, she begrudges her babe his destiny. She will fade in the tower while the infant whom she suckles grows up to reign. Even though she could continue to assist her family and her people in a multitude of ways, her most important act has been accomplished, and she dreads a life of waning importance. She is a miserable and spiteful queen.
In many ways, I think that Jews—as an ethne—are a consort queen. The Jewish ethne, being biological children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has the most important role in the history of nations. For the Hebrews were to give birth to the Messiah, and it is from the Jewish ethne that the Church would arise. The New Israel grew from the seedbed of the original Israel. There is no greater honor for a people as a people.
However, most of the Hebrews rejected God’s plan. I do not think that most did so in the manner of the vain queen. Rather, it is likely that most rejected—and still reject—the gospel for religious reasons. Jesus defies the expectations of most Jews, and the newness and strangeness of his message must strike most of them as heretical and blasphemous. If he is not indeed the Son of God, then he was a terrible heresiarch—indeed, the panheresiarch—the greatest wolf in world history, who has stolen so many sheep. If he is the Messiah, however, then God’s plans did not accord with the hopes and desires of most of his ancient followers. That sounds perennially familiar. Yet, I believe that rabbinical Judaism developed separately from Christianity mostly for theological reasons.
Nonetheless, I suspect that the ethnic vanity of Jews has provided a continual stumbling block for them that impedes their acceptance of the gospel. When I talk to rabbinical Jews or read their frank “ecumenical” words, I sense the spite and resentment of the vain queen. Some of the Hebrews were not content to acknowledge their ethnic role in God’s history as a historical step toward a God’s universal adoption of mankind. What do the chosen people have to do with the filthy nations? One can see the same attitude over and over again. It is a pity. The vain queen has much to give, and she would be praised and valued for such contributions.
“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
This past spring, I had a conversation with a fellow on the train as the Cardinal Line coursed through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He was a lapsed Episcopalian, which I considered rather redundant. We had a pleasant talk about religion wherein he mentioned doctrines that troubled him and I defended them in ways that made them less objectionable to him. I then wanted to share something about the Christian religion that I found problematic, but as I began to speak, I discovered an appropriate rejoinder. It was an odd experience. Am I an apologist in spite of myself?
I had wanted to complain about the repeated injunctions in the scriptures to believe. My skeptical side has always disliked these passages, finding them inexplicable and even embarrassing. I do not want to believe; I want to understand. Moreover, I want solid reasons to accompany that understanding. Exhortations to belief struck me as a fraud’s gimmick to sucker in folks. I never judged the evangelists as snake oil peddlers, but certain passages in the bible made me uncomfortable. Paul and Silas preach, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” John writes, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Mark writes, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” There are scores upon scores of such examples, and they are targets for skeptics who care not for blind belief. I am sympathetic to them.
As I was relaying these objections to my fellow Amtrak passenger, a simple explanation came. My interlocutor never knew that my objections were not rhetorical. This unforeseen answer reminded me an earlier objection that I had about the anthropomorphism in the scriptures’ depiction of a wrathful, vindictive God. When that thought bothered me, I happened to come across some patristic texts that addressed the problem, though I do not remember which. The basic idea was that the scriptures are written for men—for their edification and for their salvation. Hence, the inspired texts speak to men at their level. Portrayals of a wrathful, jealous God do not depict God as he is but rather address us pastorally. Most of us have had loving fathers who corrected us. Fathers employ anger, disappointment, approval, sadness, and joy in pedagogy, and we grow up with an intimate recognition of these emotional tools. Holy writ taps into our human psychology to instruct us in the ways of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is not the end of it.
Similarly, it occurred to me that the recurring invitations in the bible to believe may also be pastoral. Rather than seedy priestcraft, the call to believe is like a physician’s request that a patient trust him. Unless the patient believes that the physician is able to help him, he will not likely follow the doctor’s advice. Trust necessarily precedes the assistance that the physician may offer. Likewise, Christ the Healer offers us medicine, but we must first accept that it is medicine rather than poison. We must have faith in the physician. This is so obvious to me now, and it is likely a commonplace thought among Christians, but I never realized it before. One must believe before one knows in almost any discipline, since one must trust his teacher before he attains knowledge. How much more necessary is trust when we are dealing not with mere knowledge but with salvation?
I wish those on the old calendar a blessed feast of the Transfiguration, as well as a happy birthday to my sister.
The gospels do not specify upon which mountain the Transfiguration occurred, though Christian tradition holds that it was Mount Tabor. Christians have made pilgrimages to the mount since antiquity, though the Mohammedans demolished all Christian edifices in the thirteenth century. Centuries later, the Ottomans allowed first the Franciscans and then the Orthodox to rebuild monasteries and temples on Mount Tabor. The site BibleWalks has pictures and information, and there is another page for the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Elijah.
Interestingly and coincidentally, my sister’s namesake has a historical connection to Mount Tabor, as recounted in the fourth chapter of the Book of Judges.