When the sun rose 140

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.