Thursday, January 18, 2007


Steve Browne has an interesting article about anti-semitism. In it, he concludes:
for a believing Christian, the very existence of believing Jews is going to be a threat to their core beliefs, since he can't get around the fact that the basic scriptures of his faith are Jewish and the Jews stubbornly refuse to be convinced that their prophecies have been fulfilled.
This conclusion is based on the following premise:
For a Christian, his whole faith is wrapped around the idea that the life of Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew prophecies of the messiah.
(Shockingly) I disagree with this premise. I do not pretend to be as knowledgable about the Jewish scriptures as Mr Browne appears to be. However, as a Christian, I can attest that the core of my faith is that Christ, through his crucifixion, wiped me clean, and that I desperately needed it. That Jesus fulfills an ancient Hebrew prophecy is merely evidence that he is what he says he is.
This implies the highest possible stakes, his belief in eternal life as a reward for believing this and acting accordingly.
Personally, I wouldn't describe it that way. It implies there's some reward for an action that we take. I would describe it Christianity claiming that God desperately wants to bring us back to Himself. He made us to long for Him. We chose something else thinking it could replace God. This created a huge gap between us and God. So we needed a way to bridge the gap. Christ was that bridge. Eternal life is only a tiny part of what happens when we cross that bridge. Reunion with God is the real prize. But the important part is that the prize is not something we earn. It's something given to us (if we accept it)(1) because God so desperately loves us.(2) Other things he said:
there is not a single messianic tradition but several (3 to 5 depending on who you're listening to), which scholars have been arguing about for a long time.
It matters little to me that Judaism has multiple prophecies. Science produces multiple predictions. The ones that come true are the ones we tend to believe. That there are multiple predictions doesn't invalidate science. But we do tend to disagree with those who hold onto the predictions that didn't come true.
But the most important reason [that Christ is not the fulfillment of the ancient Hebrew prophecies] lies at the heart of Christian symbolism - crucifixion. In the Hebrew scriptures, an accursed death which renders the body unclean and destroys the chance for resurrection.
Let's suppose that this is true. If this is the product of this kind of death, then it would certainly require divinity to be resurrected from it. In other words, it's this kind of death, the worst kind of death, that a God who's intention is to cleanse the sins of the world would choose.

But it seems odd to me that there's this kind of execution. I presume that the execution of people is not done by their choosing. Which means that, per the Hebrew scripture, I can condemn another person not by the quality of their character, nor by their behavior, nor by any choice that the other person makes. But rather my choices can impose eternal penalty upon another. This does not jibe with what I think of when I think of God and His sense of justice. Moreover, I'm reminded of two characters from Joshua: Rahab and Achan. In which we see that Rahab, a foreigner, is welcomed as one of the Isrealites, while Achan, an Israelite is sent to his death. What distinguishes these two characters is their behavior. They are not held responsible for the sins of someone else. They are responsible only for their own choices. And those choices supercede their heritage. It's difficult for me to resolve the picture of God that I see in Joshua with this description of the revulsion of the crucifixion.

One of the last things he says about this is:
(Ask any violence professional the quickest way to get assaulted: challenge core beliefs.)
The context of this is that he's answering someone who asked him to define anti-semitism. And he came up with the conclusion at the very top of this post. Then he says this. Is he really trying to say that being Christian is the definition of anti-semitism? Obviously, I don't agree with this. I certainly don't believe in the tenets of Judaism, but I don't think that means I hate Jews! This is a conclusion that seems really broken to me.

  1. Within Christianity there are two schools of thought w.r.t. our acceptance of this gift. In the one school (Calvinism) even the act of accepting God is something that God does for us. On our own, we are unable to even accept his Gift. I find this to be a difficult position in that it destroys free will. The other school (Arminianism) says that God did in fact do it all, including giving every one of us free will to accept/reject his Gift. I'm better able to understand Arminianism than Calvinism.
  2. It's not the only thing He loves. He also appears to love free will. Which is why he allows us to deny Him. CS Lewis describes it this way: "In the end we will say to God, 'Thy will be done' or He will say to us, 'Thy will be done'." He let's us choose. He also appears to love purity. Which is why we need to be cleansed of our inpurities in the first place. Which is the purpose of Christ.

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