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JEWISH LITERATURE VERSUS CHRISTIAN IDEALISM (PART II)

December 28, 2015

JEWISH LITERATURE VERSUS CHRISTIAN IDEALISM (PART II)

I have never read any of the starkly judgmental language or the implications of such language attributed to Jewish literature in the gospels as coming from the mouth of Jesus. When I read in Jewish literature that God commanded this or that, including falling upon a city and killing all its inhabitants, I take it with a grain of salt and as a fantasy of the writer playing a God-like vicarious role, and writing it down doesn’t give it any more credibility when later canonized and included in the bible at the Second Council of Nicaea in 381 A.D. In short, Jewish literature does not define Christian idealism; it had its own fish to fry in its day and time and some of the rules and taboos of that age have no applicability to what Jesus later brought to the table.

Whatever you believe or whether you believe, Jesus Christ was and is a towering figure in Western civilization and brought an ethical model to living we could all well emulate irrespective of belief. Thus, for instance, I believe in several of the stated insights of Mahatma Gandhi, but I am not a Hindu, and likewise with some of the wisdom of the Buddha, but I am not a Buddhist. Wisdom can come to us from a variety of sources, and I for one will not let the history of such sources define my acceptance of their current value to me in my day and time here. We all pick and choose, and rightly so, whether or not David slew Goliath or the Red Sea parted for Moses. Let’s keep some perspective in this connection by maintaining high standards of ethical conduct whatever we believe since we have enough problems to solve without adding interpretation of ancient writings to the list. (End of my commentary)

My PhD friend’s commentary > Those who use Leviticus and other legalistic rules of the time of the Exodus and several centuries later to justify their application in the present open themselves to ridicule for ignoring the influence of the cultural climate of the time in that region of the world. They also display  the shortcomings of “cherry picking” what applies and what doesn’t in support of whatever opinion they already have. I am reminded of the maxim that there are arguments for and against any position you want to take. The operative word is “want” or “desire” in place of a reasonably objective analysis and an understanding of the trends of history. Or to put it another way, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

One rule that all of the higher religions are supposed to hold in common is the “golden rule.” Treat others as you want to be treated. History shows that that rule is probably the most violated of all the dictates of the wise men that were instrumental in founding and shaping what are called the “higher religions” which basically are the monotheistic ones. I guess one would think that truth is unitary and cannot contradict itself. Of course, what is true also depends on individual perceptions, leading to the notion that perception is truth or becomes truth in the minds of those who are especially susceptible to the power of repetition in engraving an idea into one’s subconscious, if not conscious, mind. The power of evidence and the need to apply the golden rule become secondary to what beliefs or opinions a person already holds.

I would like to see or hear more often in the media a serious and penetrating study of the nature of propaganda and how it operates in bringing to power some of the most brutal and atrocious leaders that have been a blight on humanity. Of course, Hitler and Stalin stand out, as do present-day ISIS leaders, but they are simply the most visible of a legion of such power-mad rulers, many of whom are popular with the majority of those whom they rule – at least for an extended time. Because of my intensive study of German history (and perhaps because I am a Lutheran Christian), I am especially interested in how the German people, the vast majority, became willing followers of an evil ruler and party in the years between two world wars. Because of the current wave of support for a person of obvious defects, “the Donald,” to be specific, we could learn something about the mindset of a candidate who gains leverage by belittling and slandering those who disagree with him, drawing on a kind of “mass mind” among his core of sycophants. I won’t equate Trump with Hitler, although there are echoes in how he is an effective propagandist with too many Americans.

And among this core are some who believe they are the best example of Christian belief and behavior, even though they espouse militaristic, monetary, and selfish values that certainly do not remind us of the “Prince of Peace.” One thing they cannot abide is that our Creator, whom they claim to worship, made homosexual as well as heterosexual human beings, and apparently transgendered ones as well, so if they want to argue, let’s suggest they argue with the Creator. Probably they would decline, refusing to give up a belief that has been engraved in their minds and which they don’t have the will to change. Still, one has to hold out hope, just as we are supposed to believe that faith and love endure, and the greatest of these is love. (See Paul’s epistle in Corinthians 13.) I believe this statement is, or should be, a core belief of a Christian. (End of commentary)

So there you have it in a short survey of the rationale for ancient beliefs in a modern society, and I am reminded of a question one of my favorite economists (John Maynard Keynes) asked of a colleague in a different but not unrelated context: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Times change; what was a valid set of measures to ensure a particular society’s view of a moral person have changed as well. With new problems new means of solution must necessarily evolve. Thus there were no rules in the time of Exodus and Leviticus for jet plane traffic because there were no jet planes, and I know of no rules today (civil or criminal) which regulate bringing a bull to the altar.

Dr. Laura, take note.    GERALD    E

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