Wednesday, May 2, 2007

In which Gautama Buddha is quoted

Monica and I are arguing about Christianity and Judaism and stuff. Even knowing that I'm almost certainly wrong because I don't know what I'm talking about, I recommend it as good reading... Here's a link to the original source, but you should probably comment at Monica's blog. Or not.

This argument (and by argument, I mean divine dialogue) all started when I read Monica's earlier post about Eric Sundquist's comments concerning Christianity. Sundquist is a big-time literary critic who has tended to write about race, history and culture (see To Wake the Nations). Here's how Monica explains Sundquist's recent comments:

Sundquist believes that the very act of translation has helped to transform the Holocaust from a specific Jewish tragedy into a more "Christianized," and therefore universal, experience. This, I'm not sure I like the sound of -- I'm creeped out by the idea that a "Christianized" experience is a more universal experience.

I love that Monica is "creeped out." Few people care enough to be creeped out by anything anymore. I think I understand where she's coming from -- Christianity does have a history of cultural and even political empire building. I was trying to problematize the creepiness by suggesting that, at least initially, the universalism of Christianity seemed to be a big part of what made it successful, was a major part of its "advertising campaign." Whereas the narrative of Judaism excluded Gentiles, Christianity saw the Gentiles as fertile soil -- salvation was not just for Jews anymore. After Peter's preaching in Joppa, the crowd hears his message:

So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.

This phrase, even the Gentiles, is and has always been central to my understanding of Christianity. In Judaism, God's covenant is with the Jewish people. In Christianity, it seems, God's covenant is offered to everybody. The question in the ideological battle between Judaism and Christianity seems to be deserving of its own blockquote:

What is more "creepy": exclusion-by-birthright (which may be understood as the foundation of slavery) or universalizing impulses (which may be understood as the foundation of the Holocaust)?

An obviously unanswerable question. As I understand it (which is almost not at all), Judaism, before its reform phase, was unavailable to anyone whose mother was not Jewish: exclusion-by-birthright. On the other hand, Christianity was available to everyone, but it always does seem "creepy" when those zealots come knocking on your door: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

All of this is further complicated by the fact that, according to wikipedia anyway, most Jews believe that Abraham was the first Hebrew. And what made him so? His mother was not Jewish. The answer seems to be: he was the first person since Noah to publically reject idolatry and preach monotheism. So, at its very foundation, Judaism is born out of an idea, not a lineage... (Was Judaism reformed before it became orthodox, only to be reformed again? When did the mother-as-prerequisite clause enter the scene?)

Anyway, I tried to resolve this at Monica's page by opening some space between the ideals (of Moses or of Jesus) and the way they were practiced. I'm not sure that solved anything, and I'm sure nobody will be convinced because no one has an attention span big enough for this kind of thing anymore except for people like me and Monica who suffer from ASD (Attention Surplus Disorder).

So, because I have nothing but questions, let me close with Buddha's words:

Profound truth, so difficult to perceive, difficult to understand, tranquilizing and sublime, is not to be gained by mere reasoning and is perceived only by the wise.

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