Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Myth Of The Judeo-Christian Heritage

A final examination question in my college "middle east" history class was whether Islam clashes with the Judeo-Christian heritage? Finding it to be a ridiculously stupid question, my answer focused on the myth of the Judeo-Christian heritage.

The Bible is replete with references to Jesus' betrayal by the Jews. Some Christians, to this day, still blame the Jews for Christ's death. The Inquisition in 1492 not only attacked Islam in Spain, but also set out to murder the Jews of the region. With their Muslim comrades, the Jews fled south for safety to Morocco (ever wonder how there are so many North African Jews - that's how). The Dreyfus case in France in the 1800's in which a Jew was accused of murder inspired the birth of Zionism and the realization among world Jewry that they could never be safe in Christian society. Russia, a bastion of Christianity since the 900's, has a notorious history for pogroms and the ghettoization of the Jewish community. And, of course, the story would not be complete without Adolf, who believed he was finishing off what his Christian predecessors in Europe were unable to accomplish. Where is the shared heritage?

Even though Christianity has spent the better part of the last 2,000 years trying to wipe the Jews off the planet (in contrast with the recent 60 years of Jewish-Muslim hostility), the argument goes that the Bible is the shared heritage. But, if that is the case, why don't Christians keep kosher? Why do they eat pork, when Jews do not? Circumcision? Depending on the Christian with whom you speak, the Old Testament has varying degrees of relevance to Christianity. It really is more a product of the "picking and choosing" principle than a wholesale acceptance of the Judaic forefather. The Old Testament is like the uncle whose wisdom is useful when you agree and outright ignored when you do not.

In the ever-absurd world of political correctness, recent attempts have been made to to call it the Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage. This attempt has been rebuffed by no-brain Christians who have not studied history and know nothing about Islam. Jesus is a prophet of god in Islam, whose teachings are considered equally holy. The Quran refers to Christians and Jews as "Ahl al Kitab", i.e. People of the Book (those who believe in the one god).

Although I find this attempt to link heritages to be a futile waste of brain cells, it is remarkable to me that the important similarities between Christianity and Islam, and Judaism and Islam are ignored while the strife-ridden relationship between Christianity and Judaism is glossed over in the current "you're with us or against us" crusade against Islam. Since Jews don't believe in Christ, how do Christians share a heritage with a people who are destined to eternal damnation?

This whole thought process was sparked by a discussion with a Christian friend of mine. Concerned for my mother's salvation (my mother is terminally ill with cancer), she explained that good deeds do not get you into heaven, only acceptance of Christ can do that. With her religious insensitivity, the subtext is that since my mother is a Muslim, she's on the express bus to the fire no matter how kind and loving she may be.

I find it really difficult to believe that Mussolini, Stalin, Catholic pedophile priests and George Bush stand a better chance of getting into heaven than my mother. And if that's the line-up at the welcoming party, hell may be the more palatable option. Really, though, what does it mean to "accept" Christ? If acceptance means respecting Jesus as holy and believing in the validity of his teachings and acting in accordance therewith (because your actions speak louder than words), then there are many non-Christians who surely are equally eligible for heavenly consideration and many so-called Christians who are not.


At 12:15 PM, July 18, 2005 , Blogger bombsoverbaghdad said...

Sorry to hear about your mother, II.

I learned a lot of history in that post.

Your post is but the next chapter in the eternal conflict between those who profess a certain faith and those who actually live a faithful life.

At 10:02 PM, July 18, 2005 , Anonymous Jason said...

I'm far from being a biblical scholar, and there are plenty of people more qualified to reply to your post, but here it goes.

About what you consider the “myth” of the Judeo-Christian heritage…

The Old Testament is the Jewish Bible. It is the bible that Jesus read. Jesus was a Jew, as well as the apostles. The Old Testament prophesies of a coming Messiah ("savior"). Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah. So the story of Jesus (the New Testament) is merely a continuation of the Old Testament. God sent Jesus to save his people (the Jews), and all the first "Christians" were Jews. At one point, during the early days while spreading the word of Jesus, his "salvation" was offered to non-Jews (Acts 10:27-48). Non-Jews were not held to the same laws of the Old Testament, since they never followed them to begin with. But even the Jews who chose to follow Jesus were no longer required to uphold some of the old Levitical laws (Kosher, circumcision, etc.) since Jesus created a "new covenant" with his people, replacing the old covenant (John 1:17).

Your comment, "Christianity has spent the better part of the last 2,000 years trying to wipe the Jews off the planet" is simply not true. I'm not saying that the Inquisition or the Holocaust didn't happen. They certainly did. But those people acted totally against the teachings of Christ. No true Christian would agree with the principles of those perpetrators. The Jewish religion is the foundation of Christianity, and any anti-Semitism is opposed by Christians who really know history, the Bible, etc. In fact, there are Christian ministries today that are dedicated to spreading the gospel to Jews. They feel that Jews have priority over the gentiles to receive Jesus' salvation (see Romans 1:16) and they still uphold that the Jews are God’s chosen people.

Your other comment, "Some Christians, to this day, still blame the Jews for Christ's death" is true in a sense. Jesus came to save his people (the Jews), and he stirred up a lot of controversy by going against the legalistic teachings of the Jewish leaders of that day. And even though the Romans are the ones who actually pulled the trigger, they were egged on by the Jews who opposed his teachings. Being a Jew who follows Christ, I don't take offense to this; it is history. In fact, this was even prophesied in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 53).

How does Islam relate?

The Quran contains different teaching than the Old and New Testaments, especially about Jesus. As you say, the Quran describes Jesus as a prophet, not the Messiah. Both the Old and New Testament teach the same about the Messiah. The Old Testament describes the coming Messiah, and the New Testament is the fulfillment of those prophecies. Jesus' Messianic nature is the whole basis of Christianity.

You asked “what does it mean to accept Christ”. Maybe that was a hypothetical question to make your point, but I’ll answer it anyway...

Regarding your comments about Hitler, Stalin, Catholic pedophiles, etc, I love how people always use the most extreme examples to make generalizations. If someone truly repents of their sins, and chooses to follow Christ, it would be evident by their actions. Obviously, no mainstream Christian believes those people are going to heaven, or even qualify as Christians. For less extreme examples (our family, friends, acquaintances)… it's easy to think that they are generally good people, so they deserve to go to Heaven. The problem is: "How good do you have to be?" Do you have to be good at least 50% of the time to qualify? Or is it 75% of the time? Or is it just that your "good works" must surpass your "bad works", which would open up a whole can of worms trying to define that and assign rankings (obviously mass murder is worse than stealing a pencil from the office, for those of you who like extreme examples). The answer is in the Bible: None of us can be as "good" as God expects us to be, since he is perfect (Romans 3:10). If you sin once, you are a sinner. Therefore, we are all sinners and must pay a price for our sins. In essence, God teaches us that, "GOOD" people don't go to Heaven... "FORGIVEN" people go to Heaven. The Jews used to repent and seek forgiveness of their sins by sacrificing animals as an action of atonement. Jesus arrived on earth because God loved the world so much, that he sent his son as the “ultimate sacrifice” to pay for all of our sins (John 3:16, Romans 5:8). This is the story of the Gospel.

As far as your mother, I am truly sorry for the suffering your family is currently enduring. She is a wonderful person, who has always shown me nothing but loving kindness, and I have only good thoughts about her from the 10+ years that I have known her.

We Christians are commanded to share the Gospel with others, so let me clarify the intentions of your friend (who I know very well). What you call "religious insensitivity" is actually a very loving act. Ask yourself: If you really believed that you learned the path to Heaven, wouldn't you share it with people you love (including your mother)? If not, THAT would be pretty insensitive! Your friend is not telling you that your mother isn’t going to Heaven because she’s a Muslim, or thinks your mother is a bad person, or for any other reason... she's just sharing what the Bible/God says, and in her heart, she truly wants to "save" your mother's eternal life… and whether or not you believe what she says, you should thank her for that.

At 8:23 AM, July 19, 2005 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...


You seem like a bibical scholar to me. :-)

I understand that the people who persecuted Jews for the past 2,000 years acted against the teachings of Christ, but they did so under a Christian banner. Without persecution by Christian nations, Jews would not have their unique 2,000 year history. "Wanderings" by Chaim Potok is a great book on the subject and the chronicles of the Elders of Zion is worth a look.

Also, I don't agree that any of us can sit around and decide who were "real" Christians or not. It is analogous to the current apologists for Islam. A bunch of crazies do horrific things around the world, completely contrary to the teachings of Islam (depending on what verse you look at), but do so under the banner of Islam. Just like the Christians of the past, the modern day Muslims sit back quietly and let the bullies run the show without doing anything to stop them, all the while crying that "those" people aren't "real" Muslims. My question is always, why aren't they real Muslims and who made you the big cheese in charge to make that call? If they aren't acting in accordance with Islamic teachings, God will sort that out, but there is no head cheese on earth to decide who really is and isn't a "real" Muslim. Same thing with the Christian crusaders and inquisitors. If the bumper sticker is true, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven" then those people who slaughtered Jews may very well be Christians in heaven.

Your explanation about good deeds and sharing the gospel actually makes a lot of sense.

At 10:45 AM, July 19, 2005 , Anonymous Jason said...

Yes, very true... the Persecutors would unfortunately commit their evil deeds "in the name of Jesus".

This discussion can go on forever (so far, 2000 year and counting), but you are very correct that none of us can judge others, nor can decide who is a "real" Christian. Only God will make that final judgment. But... Jesus does teach about “false prophets” (who sometimes have large followings) that will deceive many people, and who are very evil and dangerous. (Matthew 24:11)

There have always been false teachers, that is Satan’s way of distorting the truths of God. That is why we have so many cults, religions, and other –isms that claim a Christian basis for their beliefs.

Jesus also teaches that there is way to sometimes tell them apart; by the “fruit” they bear. (Matthew 7:15-20). Most of us have an inherent knowledge of good and bad, and since “A bad tree bears bad fruit,” some of those extreme examples of evil are obviously bad trees… but again, only God knows our hearts, so we should leave the judging up to him.

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