Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I suppose some Muslims might argue that Islam is a reformation of Christianity, but they would be wrong, of course. The main truth of Christianity is that God became a man. Islam rejects that truth, and so is a huge step backward. It is an extremely alienated religion.

I personally do not believe in a personal God, so following the Gnostic gospels, I believe that established Christianity doesn't get at the whole truth. I believe that Christ's real message is that God is in each of us, so that we do not need to look for anything else besides each other. When you add the idea that God is in nature as well, you come to the result that God is nothing but the whole that comprises us and nature. I believe this idea is the completion of Christianity.

This view is also more or less Spinoza's view. (It is also Hegel's) (I just read a piece in the NY Review of Books on Spinoza, unfortunately also not available online for free.) Since he was a Jew, and I am unaware of any Muslim of having embraced such a view, I suppose this undermines my claim that Christianity is no closer to Judaism than it is to Islam. Muslims are not allowed to speculate about the nature of God, because according to Islam, God is unknowable by humans. So maybe Pope Benedict is right after all. (As I noted above, this diary was prompted by reading a New Yorker piece about Benedict's views on Islam (not yet available online).)

All your other points are well taken. Obviously, my diary was polemical, being inspired by being tired of the way the term "Judeo-Christian" tradition or ethic is bandied about, and the demonization of Islam in the West. There is no such thing as the Judeo-Christian ethic, because Christ explicitly said that the ethic of the Old Testament is wrong. (The latter point comes up in a piece in the current issue of Time about whether the Bible should be taught in public schools. There was a diary about that which completely misunderstood the article, and I commented on it here.)

Despite your very good points, my intuition remains that to a Christian, both Islam and Judaism must seem about equally alien. The central idea of Christianity is that Christ was divine, and there is no getting around that. This is where I do not accept your argument. To a Christian, everything revolves around Christ's divinity. So the other four similarities I claimed to exist between Judaism and Islam are secondary; also the point that Islam "recognizes" Christ pales in comparison with the fact that it doesn't recognize his divinity. (I don't understand your response to my "No concept of the Trinity" point, by the way. You write "if Christ isn't divine..." But I was writing from a Christian point of view. A Christian does not admit the possibility that Christ isn't divine, by definition.) (My sense is that Christian fundamentalists really think of Christ as a person with very good connections as opposed to as God—you don't hear them thinking about the Trinity very much—and that is why they can feel a close connection with Judaism. Furthermore, they pay more attention to the Old Testament than the New, overlooking the fact that Christ said that the former's ethics are wrong.) I cannot imagine what it is like for a Jew or a Muslim to listen to The St. Matthew Passion. (If I were a Muslim or a Jew and I listened to the St. Matthew Passion, I would convert to Christianity.)

On the other hand, like I said, if you include Spinoza within the Jewish religious tradition, then Christianity and Judaism do line up on one side and Islam on the other. But that is only if you adopt my heterodox interpretation of Christianity.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Sat Mar 31st, 2007 at 10:13:34 PM EST
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The main truth of Christianity is that God became a man. Islam rejects that truth, and so is a huge step backward. It is an extremely alienated religion.

A step backwards?  According to who? And in what sense?  If you are interested in Gnosticism you must be aware of the similarities between the Christ narrative and older Mithraic rituals.  Perhaps Christianity was a step backwards?

Alienated-same questions again.  The Muslim relationship with God is personal.  All actions are in the service of God: everyday lfe is suffused with the divine.  There is no real equivalent of priests, no intercession by saints; there are no icons, no depictions of the Prophet, no light-up Madonnas...

You seem to have found a personal answer, Alexander, and I respect that.  And I'm willing to admit I may be oversensitive because I work in the Muslim community.  But the fact that the West has fallen into the duallist trap of us (Christians and Jews) vs them (not) in this particular instance isn't an argument for creating an alternative, and equally incorrect, duality.

by Sassafras on Sun Apr 1st, 2007 at 04:46:19 AM EST
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A step backwards?  According to who?

According to reality.

Are you aware that there has been an evolution in Christian thought over the last two thousand years? During the Middle Ages, people had a coherent, unified world view based on the Bible. With the advent of the scientific revolution, it was understood that the Bible doesn't really describe or explain nature, as had been previously believed. With the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath, it was understood that people need to interpret the Bible for themselves, individually, instead of relying upon the Church hierarchy. With the development of critical textual methods at the end of the nineteenth century and more recent historical and archaeological scholarship, it has become possible to understand the Bible not as the word of God, but as the product of a historical process.

After the Bible lost its monopoly on dictating what is true during the Enlightenment, people in the West have lived with a fragmented world view, with science determining how we understand nature and Christianity determining how we understand much of the rest. But since the nineteenth century, this fragmentation has been overcome, and a unified world view is once more possible. Everything is described and understood by science and reason, and this includes religion—and Christianity in particular—itself.

Contrary to Pope Benedict's claims, reason leads to the conclusion that there is no God. The God concept cannot answer fundamental questions like how was the world created or why are we here, because when you introduce the God concept, you get a new question—why is there God—which cannot be answered. But it is very easy to answer the question: Why did people invent the God concept? It was to deal with certain existential problems.

Once the process of what Max Weber called disenchantment becomes complete, the problem arises of what are we to do with Christianity? Do we throw it away into the trash bin? To do that would be destroy a significant part of ourselves. So instead of throwing it away, we construct a rational interpretation of it. That is what I did in the post you were responding to.

Think of it this way. As Arthur C. Clarke pointed out in Childhood's End I think, there are many religions in the world, and they cannot all be right. When you look at Christianity itself, there are many conflicting theologies, only one of which can be right. Now, can we construct a unique theology for which a good case can be made that it is correct? Yes, very easily. There is no God. All theological problems disappear. And Christianity has worked its way to that resolution, with Hegel's interpretation of it, according to which God is the whole that comprises nature and ourselves.

So Christianity turns out to be the true religion. But as I wrote in my previous post, if one considers Spinoza, then one can say that Judaism is true too. In the Buddhist tradition, one speaks of "high" and "low" Buddhism. Perhaps we should start to do the same with Judaism and Christianity as well. According to low Judaism and Christianity, there is a personal God, that is, a God who is a person. According to the high Judaism of Spinoza and the high Christianity of Hegel, God is just ourselves and nature.

If one considers high Judaism and Christianity, Judaism and Christianity line up on one side, and Islam on the other. But if one considers low Judaism and Christianity, it is Christianity that stands by itself. The problem with Islam seems to be that no "high" Islam is possible. That is because of Islam's tenet that humans cannot know God. That tenet prevents Islam from developing an exit strategy from superstition.

You write that "The Muslim relationship with God is personal." That is an absurd claim, because there is no God: there is just ourselves. Muslims worship an idol—Islamic law. By claiming that for Muslims, "all actions are in the service of God", you are in effect denying Muslims' humanity, by taking the position that they are not under the obligation, as all human beings are, to try to rid themselves of ignorance and error.

In this age of rampant religious fundamentalism, it is not enough for liberals and secular humanists to say that their religious beliefs are personal and subjective. The fundamentalists claim that their beliefs are objectively valid. We must do the same.

In the Booman Tribune today, there is a diary which gives the following quotation:

There are two things which can stop this slide into barbarism and death: the conquest of the west by people who believe in something, or the revival of a west which has returned to its moral and intellectual roots. Those are the choices - be conquered by Moslems (who at least believe in something higher than themselves and their personal pleasures), or become Judeo-Christian. Death or conversion, take your pick.

Secular humanism and dwelling on the importance of the separation of church and state are not an adequate response to this sort of rhetoric. To these extremists, to say that there are many equally valid religious belief systems is to not believe in anything, and to reject the Western tradition. The fundamentalists have, fairly successfully, hijacked that tradition. Liberals and secular humanists must get it back and claim it as their own, and I have outlined how to do that here.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Sun Apr 1st, 2007 at 04:22:14 PM EST
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To a Christian, everything revolves around Christ's divinity.

To a Catholic, this might very well be true. I saw that while walking the Camino in Spain, at least one church had a statue of the Virgin Mary that was bigger than the statue of Christ. There, perhaps, everything might instead revolve around the Virgin Mary's divinity - but I digress...

Christianity has been called a series of separate religions; each based on the same book. While I am not a Christian, I am a member of a Christian church. It just plain is not true that for a Christian, everything revolves around Christ's divinity.

In the roughly 15 years I have been attending church I can not remember ever hearing any ministry on the divinity of Christ. I do know that there is no unity on such a topic, and that no one feels any need to have unity on such a topic. It just is not considered important - like heaven or hell - two other issues that have gone almost completely unmentioned. I recently attended a national business meeting. One of the purposes was to see just how a Jewish atheist would fit in. No problem. It was very similar to our local church. There were definitely Christ centred people there, but the divinity of Christ was not important to the functioning of the group as a whole. "Converting" people is not considered God's work at this time in Canada - though it was considered God's work in the past. (Well sort of - as conversion has perhaps never been a requirement for membership).

As for what do other Christians think of us - our parent body is a member of the World Council of Churches. (Admittedly we are so small that if we ever left we would be unable to re-join.)

To our church, everything revolves around doing God's work. There may be differences of opinion on what is God - or even the existence of God - let alone the divinity of Christ - but there is little disagreement on what is God's work. From the perspective of my church - are we to quibble over the nature of God and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin while there are people who are hungry, who do not have shelter, or are imprisoned?

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Apr 1st, 2007 at 07:52:11 PM EST
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Thank you for your helpful remarks. I am glad that someone has finally mentioned the importance of doing God's work. It is also part of my "Gnostic" interpretation of Christianity that the kingdom of heaven is all around us (or, more accurately in these days, can and should be), so that we should realize God's plan in the here and now, as opposed to waiting for it to be realized in a beyond.

You note that "Christianity has been called a series of separate religions." That rings true to me. For instance, Christian fundamentalism, with its dispensational premillenialism and its emphasizing of the Old Testament over the New, seems like a separate religion to me. I suppose that I showed hubris by in effect speaking for all of Christianity. But doesn't the Pope do the same? And in the Protestant tradition (which I was not raised in; I was raised Russian Orthodox), does not everyone have the role of the Pope?

I understand that I have a particular interpretation of the Bible/Christianity, which is Hegel's. (By the way, I noted in another post that I do not think that Christian fundamentalists think much about Christ's divinity.) I am an atheist, but tradition is important to me. Thus, if in our modern age one can demonstrate that, given all we know, Christianity can be given a rational interpretation, I believe that should be done. I believe that is a better approach for liberals and secular humanists to take than treating religion as ignorance and superstition, thus ceding it to the fundamentalists.

Why Hegel believed that the divinity of Christ is the truth of Christianity is that according to Hegel, the idea of God is just a projection of ourselves, taken as a community with a shared morality. Once you get a religion that claims that God became a man, you are halfway to the complete truth, which is that we are all divine, that is, it is we who are the source of fundamental values and meaning.

The usual approach of agnostics or atheists who wish to belong to a church is to say to themselves that they are non-believers. That is an unsatisfactory solution for me. I believe that it is better to redefine what it is that should be believed. I believe that the interpretation of Christianity I have been presenting is completely consistent with Christ's real teaching, while requiring us to believe nothing that is not recognized by natural science. (It does require believing that people have consciousness, something that was denied by American psychology until recently.)

Christian fundamentalists accuse liberals of "not believing in anything". And indeed, when it comes to religion, liberals do have to say that religion is a personal matter, in other words, there is no objective truth. But fundamentalists do think that there is objective truth, even when it comes to religion. This puts liberals at a severe disadvantage. The religious position I am advocating can claim, with good justification I think, that it is objectively true.

There is popular interest in the line of thought I have been advocating, the best example being perhaps Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels (2003).

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns

by Alexander on Mon Apr 2nd, 2007 at 12:15:02 AM EST
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