Saturday, February 7, 2009

Christians and Jews - best buddies

A few days ago, I watched a debate on YouTube with an atheist, a Jew, and a Christian (Christopher Hitchens, Dinesh D'souza, and Dennis Prager). It was pretty interesting, and it got me to thinking about something that's been simmering in my brain for a while now. The Jew and the Christian found themselves agreeing quite a bit, especially so they could pretty much gang up on the atheist. Oh, and the Christian carefully stepped around the fact that his belief condemns Jews to hellfire. Of course, the term Judeo-Christian got thrown around a lot. I'm starting to find this term to be one more of those buzzwords that many people say but few people put any thought into what they mean by it.

While it is true that Christianity did begin as a reform movement within Judaism, and of course Jesus himself was a Jew, we need to stop pretending like these are both pretty much the same religion. Also, what with the rise of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, Jews and Christians in this country are acting like these two faiths have been palling around in peace and harmony over the past two thousand years.

Don't get me wrong. In many ways, I think it's a positive thing that Jews and Christians are getting along better in this country than ever, I don't like this revisionist history. It's so bad that one Jewish commentator was given to say (and I think that it might have even been Prager) that he felt that the reason why Jews have had it much better in this country than in other countries is due to the fact that this is a nation founded on Christianity. (Never mind that that's not exactly true - and please realize that I'm going from memory, but that's the basic idea.) I even had a Christian point this out to me.

What happened? Did everybody get a mindwipe? Does nobody know their history? If anything, Jews have done well in this country in SPITE of the influence of Christianity. If anything, they're able to do well because this country has a separation of church and state. But can we also stop pretending that anti-Semitism never existed in this country? I mean, just because we haven't had a Holocaust, Jews have had to deal with their fair share of prejudice in America. And are we forgetting how Jews faired in countries where there wasn't a separation of church and state? Anybody remember that little thing that happened in Spain? And let's not forget the failure on the part of the church to act in stopping the Holocaust. (As Hitchens pointed out, it's very interesting that the only reason why Goebbels was excommunicated from the Catholic Church was because he married a Protestant. Being a Nazi is okay, but marrying somebody who doesn't use beads to ask God for forgiveness is right out of the question.)

So yeah, there is a shared bit of history there, and Christians and Jews would do well to emphasize their similarities over their differences. Still, I have the feeling that many Christians view Judaism to be a Christianity-light of sorts. You know, all the religion but without the Jesus. While I'm certainly no expert, I've had the fortune to speak to many Jewish people about their faith, and they certainly don't seem to approach it the same way that most Christians do. To make a really overly simplified contrast between the two, Judaism emphasizes the customs and practices, whereas Christianity emphasizes the beliefs. Of course, Judaism has beliefs and Christianity has customs, but neither one favors them both in the same way.

And the bottom line is that I've known too many Christians who were more than willing to say all sorts of anti-Semitic things. Not only that, but many of these fundamentalist Christians are only playing nice with the Jews because they believe that Israel is going to be part of their God's doomsday scenario.

So please, Jews and Christians, play nicely - but stop acting like you've always been friends and that you share the same religion. You haven't always gotten along, and religion is the thing that's gotten in the way.


Matthew said...

I see what you're saying, but I think that what we call "Christian" in this country is a relatively recent phenomenon. I'm not saying there aren't striking and arguably fundamental differences between Judaism and all shades of Christianity, but evangelical Christianity is not the historical flagship for orthodoxy Christianity (regardless of what Focus on the Family may say). To my mind, Catholicism is philosophically closer to Judaism than it is to some evangelical groups.

But, even including evangelicals, I think the major similarity between all the desert religions is the idea of an single omnipotent and external (I forget the philosophy term for this one, but the idea that the god is completely separate from this world) god. This creates a fundamentally unique world view that is distinct from any other popular religion. Thus the "Judeo-Christian" traditions... though Islam seems to be unnecessarily overlooked by this term.

But, I agree with you about religion flourishing due to a tradition of separation between Church and State.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I was having a tough time putting into words exactly what I was thinking on this one. I think that where I came closest was this feeling that I get from a lot of Christians that Judaism is basically a Jesus-less Christianity. Obviously, there are plenty out there who know better though.

Anyway, your comments help to bring my thoughts a bit more into focus.