Saturday, November 26, 2005

The star of redemption

Over in the Asia Times, Spengler provides a fascinating look at the nature of religion in a review of The Star of Redemption, a book by a german writer named Franz Rosenzweig, now in available in an English translation.
We live not merely in an age of faith, but in an age of religious wars. Today's intellectual elite feels something like the mad Englishman in a lunatic asylum whom Karl Marx sketched in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. He imagines that his warders are barbarian mercenaries who speak in a welter of unintelligible tongues, and mutters to himself, "And all this is happening to me - a freeborn Englishman!" There is no idea in The Star of Redemption that one cannot find close to hand in the mainstream of Christian and Jewish teaching. Rosenzweig's act of genius was to show that Christianity and Judaism are not ideas, not mere religions (his dismissive characterization of Islam), but rather lives. ... Faith cannot be proven or defended, but only lived, Rosenzweig taught. It is not a system of beliefs but an existential choice, not a proof but an affirmation. ... In 1914, Europe believed not in God, but in nation and Kultur. By 1918 these gods were toppled, and Europe began to worship the false gods of historical materialism and national socialism. Kant had already destroyed the philosophical proofs of God's existence in 1781, prompting Heinrich Heine's quip that Robespierre merely decapitated a king, whereas a German professor sent the Almighty to the scaffold. Biologists reduced to myth the Biblical story of creation. The Higher Criticism proved multiple authorship of the Hebrew scriptures. Modern philosophy and science presented themselves as a rational alternative to the sham of religion. Except for the backward or the recalcitrant, traditional faith became impossible. Along with the great Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, Rosenzweig opened a path for a modern faith, a faith strengthened by skepticism as if by inoculation. He turned the tables on the philosophers, the undertakers of faith, arguing that philosophy itself was the sham, the equivalent of a small child stuffing his fingers in his ears and shouting "I can't hear you!" to ward off the terror of death. Science did not threaten the faith of the West, Rosenzweig explained, but rather the resurgent "inner pagan" inside every Christian. Christians are torn between their belief in the Kingdom of Heaven and their belief in their own blood. It is the Jew, he argued, who converts the inner pagan inside the Christian. Only a "community of blood" (Blutgemeinschaft) provides man with the assurance of immortality, Rosenzweig argued. God's covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham provides such surety to the Jews, and precisely for this reason the Jews provide Christians with proof of God's promise of a New Covenant. By virtue of Christ's blood, Christians become the next best thing to a community of blood, an ekklesia, those who are called out from among the nations, and through immersion in water, undergo a new birth to become descendants of Abraham in the spirit. Christianity embraced the gentiles newly conscious of their own mortality, of the inevitable end of their bloodline
We simply do not think in terms of kin community very easily anymore, except perhaps as a negative. We drink the milk of autonomous individuality from an early age and too often even to mention kin groups is to invite scorn from the hoi polloi. I'm perfectly aware that the interactions of such communities can be problematic but perhaps we've learned that lesson rather too well and are poorer for it. Rozenweig was arguing that a healthy, long lived faith community can foster a healthy skepticism towards scientism, revealing it as having no more poweful a grasp on reality than this succesful, long lasting community. It basically flaunts its "evolutionary" fitness when questioned, rather than trying to respond in the language of the newcomer.

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