Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Ultimate Other

There are a lot of interesting points in this comparison of Christianity and Judaism by Peter Kreeft, including:

... Rarely did a few gentiles like Socrates and Akenaton ever reach to the heights and simplicity of monotheism. A world of many forces seemed to most pagans to point to many gods. A world of good and evil seemed to indicate good and evil gods. Polytheism seems eminently reasonable; in fact, I wonder why it is not much more popular today.

There are only two possible explanations for the Jews' unique idea of a single, all-powerful and all-good God: Either they were the most brilliant philosophers in the world, or else they were “the Chosen People” — i.e., God told them. The latter explanation, which is their traditional claim, is just the opposite of arrogant. It is the humblest possible interpretation of the data.

Kreeft continues:

The so-called “creation myths” of other religions are really only formation myths, for their gods always fashion the world out of some pre-existing stuff, some primal glop the gods were stuck with and on which you can blame things: matter, fate, darkness, etc. But a Jew can't blame evil on matter, for God created it; nor on God, since He is all-good. The idea of human free will, therefore, as the only possible origin of evil, is correlative to the idea of creation.

The Hebrew word “to create” (bara) is used only three times in the Genesis account: for the creation of the universe (1:1), life (1:21) and man (1:27). Everything else was not “created” (out of nothing) but “formed” (out of something).

The consequences of the idea of creation are immense. A world created by God is real, not a dream either of God or of man. And that world is rational. Finally, it is good. Christianity is a realistic, rational and world-affirming religion, rather than a mythical, mystical, or world-denying religion because of its Jewish source.

The essence of Judaism, which is above all a practical religion, is the Law. The Law binds the human will to the divine will. For the God of the Jews is not just a Being or a Force, or even just a Mind, but a Will and a person. His will is that our will should conform to His: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44).

Sometimes I think that the most fundamental thing in determining how people act in the world is their stance on the question of authority. If you don't believe there is a divine will, you will be modern, rationalist and leftist. This can play itself out in a number of ways, but this is the first fork in the road. For you, the world is material and meaningless and irrational. You might try to inscribe meaning into the world, but it does not have meaning in and of itself, and you can't trust yourself or anyone else because you and they are both materially caused, both in mind and emotion. The denial of the divine will impels one inwards towards an idea called the self, which is highway rest stop on the way to nothingness and thus nihilism. The self can't find anything inside the self. If you think there is a divine will, you will be on the other fork. It will take some work, but you can see that being is better and more powerful than non being, and thus good truly IS while evil is merely parasitic on it. Thus God is good, as is his creation. With this knowledge, you can begin to trust your own rationality, which informs you of the need to find and conform to the divine will. This second logical fork, followed to its logical end, leads you to be other directed, the ultimate other being God himself. Political conservatives take ideas about honour and rationality and family seriously. These ideas have little or no meaning or value for those on the other path. This is why it is almost impossible to have constructive dialogue with them. Leftists talk about "social justice" which, if it is anything at all, is justice as written by human emotion, rather than justice written by God and sought by the mind of man. Practical conclusions: Conservatives are on the path seeking God's divine will, whether they know it or not. A free and just society is dependent on the idea of a just God. Without it, each man is his own authority, and there is nothing compelling one man to respect the rights of another. When Conservatives differ, it is not because some are religious and others are not; they differ on what they think the divine will is. The difficulty in dealing with leftists is in getting them to look outside themselves in a way that isn't paternalistic and therefore still self projecting.

No comments: