When the sun rose 6

Easter: from the name of a goddess whose feast was celebrated at the vernal equinox, Eostre; cognate with Sanskrit usra = dawn, so East: in the direction of the rising sun.

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An editorial in the IBD today, written to mark the festivals of Passover and Easter, is titled Faith and Freedom.

Here’s part of it.

In recent history the phrase “Judeo-Christian values” has been bandied about so much, it’s forgivable to suppose it was invented by politicians pushing their wedge issues. This week it is gloriously more than that.

Those values held unshakable life-and-death meaning, as the celebrations of Passover and Easter remind us, for thousands of years. …

No theology lessons are needed to grasp that these complementary faiths forged the foundations of our free society, requiring us to move progressively toward an ever-larger sphere of human liberty.

Passover … offers a weeklong retelling of the Exodus, when the lawgiver Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. …

From the sorrow of Good Friday to the ecstasy of Easter Sunday, we may still believe that we inherit a “home of the brave.” For believers, the Resurrection’s eternal lesson is that death itself carries no sting. No earthly power, however formidable or diabolical, can snuff out the providential gift of everlasting life.

Moses bequeathed to us the certain knowledge that freedom’s source lies beyond the caprices of statecraft.

Jesus, seconding that original truth, showed us that courage and love may secure an unstoppable advance of human liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

Whether you’re a believer or not, that’s an inheritance to claim boldly …

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Rather than analyse all that’s wrong with this piece, we prefer to write on the “Judeo-Christian” theme by presenting our own view, which will amply contradict it.

We’ll mention the one thing the IBD editorial says that is true. Yes, “Passover” (its right name is “the Festival of the Unleavened Bread”)  is about setting people physically free. The giving of the Law which followed the Exodus allowed the establishment of a free society, freedom being possible only under law. Law guarantees freedom. That is what law is for.

Judaism dates from the giving of the Law – not from the covenant with Abraham, though (the tradition teaches) monotheism began with that old man of legend. With him too came monotheism’s (revolutionary) foundation myth: the story of an animal being substituted for the patriarch’s son on the altar, signifying that the one and only God did not require human sacrifice.

Judaism’s highest values were freedom and justice. That was good. Justice is hard to achieve, but the need to strive for it followed from the big idea that a free nation must live under the rule of law. In addition, some of the actual laws were wise and necessary – though not exclusive to Judaism. But the religion was burdened with rules governing the performance of rites contributing nothing of importance to human wisdom or civilization. And its God was an irrational conception, a being often profoundly unjust, capricious, and cruel.

Now to the term “Judeo-Christian”.

That Judeo-, tacked on to Christian, like a little trailer drawn behind the big SUV to bring some extra goods to a camping holiday, has as little to do with Judaism as the tents and climbing boots brought from the garage have to do with the life lived in the family home.  By which is meant that Christianity was not a revised or reformed Judaism: it was  an entirely new religion.

The God of Christianity is not the God of Judaism. God the Father in the Trinity  bears no resemblance to Jehovah the Law-giver. The two may seem superficially to be conflated in a shared concept of Creator, but a closer scrutiny of Christian theology with its pre-existing Son who was there “from the beginning” dispels the illusion.

In the sphere of values and morals, Christianity preferred Love to Justice. While justice may be hard, universal love is impossible to achieve. It is alien to human nature as an emotion, and useless as a principle. To try to pretend to it is a recipe for sustained hypocrisy. If sometimes it can be just (though never enforceable) that a person be loved for something he has done to deserve it,  and though individuals are often loved by other individuals whether they justly deserve to be or not, a general order to treat everyone lovingly will seldom be just, always be impractical, and frequently provide an incentive to vicious and criminal behavior by promising an absence of condign reaction. In other words, to claim that one loves all is to live a lie and incite evil.

The author of Christianity, the man known as St Paul who first conceived the idea that Jesus the crucified Jew was divine, wanted nothing of Judaism in his new religion; not its Law, not its scriptures. But the developing Church found it could not do without some of the laws and many chunks of the scriptures. So when the Church Fathers compiled their “New Testament” towards the end of the second century, they allowed the  “Old Testament” to stand as its pre-history. They embraced the moral laws while ignoring the superfluous ritual laws which have nevertheless remained in the Christian record. More essentially, Christianity needed the prophesies of the Jewish bible. Those works of fiction known as the gospels needed to prove that Jesus was the Messiah (the “Christ” in Greek), so they made up stories of his birth, deeds and sayings that would make him seem to fulfill what the “Old Testament” had prophesied.

So these are the bits and pieces from the garage that the big car of Christianity took with it in its trailer: the myths of creation and early times; vestiges of the moral law; the prophesies needed to make Jesus fit the expectations of a Messiah. The outfit, car and trailer, never of course returned to the House of the Law. So we’ll drop that metaphor now, ignore the tacked-on Judeo-, and talk about Christianity.

Was Christianity good for European/Mediterranean man?  To answer that, it’s necessary to judge what it replaced. It replaced (not Judaism but) a Greek civilization that initiated intellectual enquiry, experimental science, the critical examination of all ideas. This was a greater freedom than Judaism had conceived. And to Christianity it was insufferable.

Christianity stamped out intellectual enquiry and the free criticism of ideas. It put a stop to science. It tried to lay down absolute “truths” in which all human beings must believe. In short, Christianity brought darkness where there had been light. The darkness persisted, sustained deliberately by an intolerant and cruel Church, for a thousand years and more, until the Enlightenment brought a new dawn to Europe and Europe’s greatest product, America.

  • Mark E

    Was not Spinoza expelled from the Jewish community because of his ideas? I suspect there are more parallels between the Christian and Jewish traditions than you recognize here. (I agree with the general thrust of your piece, however.)

    • Jillian Becker

      Yes, Mark E., Spinoza was expelled from the Dutch Jewish Community. He was one of the great men of the Enlightenment. His “God” was the laws of physics (as was Einstein’s). In other words, he was an atheist, not believing in the supernatural. I don’t see what you mean when you suggest that his expulsion somehow illustrates a parallel between Christian and Jewish traditions. In any case, we didn’t try to trace “parallels” between the two religions in the article, not considering them of much interest. We spoke of the origins of Christianity, how it came chiefly from the fantasies of Paul, so the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition has little “Judeo” in it. Our main point was that the Christian religion was not a source of the ideas by which the West grew great. On the contrary, Christianity was profoundly bad for Western man. The ancient Greeks had the good ideas, which were finally revived in the Enlightenment, when the malign power of the Christian churches was overcome. On Easter Monday when Christians praise the rising of “the Son”, we praise the the exploration of the natural world – Science and all that springs from it, including our technologies – medical knowledge, space exploration, computers … As we do every day.

      Thank you for your comment. It has allowed me to stress the message of our post.

  • George

    I told a Christian Bible-thumping zealot that if they had been able to prove that GOD exists then there would be no atheists. Atheists could not and would not exist because it would have been finally proven that such a being exists. The Christian said to me that if you want to see God’s existence then just look around you at everything in existence. I then replied to him that what I see all around me is a product of NATURE and not some imaginary , invisible , formless Space Ghost and everything in existence is a product of natural existence and it has absolutely NOTHING to do with chance.
    I then took it a step further and told him that when JUDGEMENT DAY comes , I want to be the first person in line so that I can pass my judgement upon this evil and tyrant being. I want to be the first in line so that I can serve GOD with a warrant for his arrest for crimes against humanity and nature.
    I want to have GOD prosecuted for his HOLY HORRORS or ACTS OF GOD such as hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, plagues and other deadly diseases, birth defects, natural human deaths, mud slides, deadly lightning strikes, snow storm blizzards, mud slides, volcano eruptions, sun pot solar flares wreaking havok upon earth, famine, drought, and an almost endless of other crimes upon humanity and the environment.
    I want to see this supernatural tyrant executed for such attrocious and horrific acts. The problem is how to you give an invisible deity the electric chair, gas chamber , firing squad or lethal injection ? There were many other things I stated that I won’t go into , but then again being an “angry” and outspoken assertive atheist which I’m often called I no longer allow these religious zealots to walk all over me . Gee , I can’t imagine why this religious zealot was so offended for me speaking up for my beliefs . I ONLY speak this way when they get in my face and engage in their staunch proselytizing to me. They have absolutely NO respect for our secular beliefs and I’ll be darn if I show ANY respect for their superstition and mythology. My motto—- “Live and let live and follow the Golden Rule”.

  • Ralph

    Many use Darwin and science to support their atheism. Darwin refutes Genesis, but nothing more. It doesn’t touch the moral corruptness of religion. My atheism is based on history. Thank you for an article using history to refute Christianity.

    • Macnvettes

      I do not believe that atheism can be supported by only one subject of inquiry (i.e. history, science, logic, etc.), atheism is supported by all means (except of course blind faith) as is has to be because truths are facts and the fact about the existence of a god is that it is an unchanging fact. Many make the assumption that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a direct replacement for creationism, which it is not, it is simply a theory on why the life forms on Earth are so diverse.

      • Ralph

        I did not mean to imply that only history was needed to support atheism. Virtually any subject that requires logical thought will lead to atheism. My atheism is based on reading history and Ayn Rand in the mid to late 1960s. Since then I have found many other reasons to be an atheist.