Jesus The Misunderstood Jew: Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts on differences between Jewish and Christian traditions focusing in particular on attitudes toward the Bible, learning and dialogue.

The views Christians and Jews have about community affect how sacred text is studied and how it shapes faith. Levine says God has given the Torah to Israel, the community, and it is the role of the community to interpret it. In this way Israel honors both the Scripture and God. Faithfulness demands engagement, questioning and on-going dialogue.

In contrast, among some Christians–not all, but a vocal minority–the Bible is viewed as the absolute, unchanging, inerrant word of God. Faithfulness involves holding fast to unchanging principles. Those preaching this view have been in the ascendancy in public media exposure recent years. They have shaped how Christian faith is perceived among those unfamiliar with more moderate faith groups.This approach creates a different kind of community than the learning community Levine characterizes. In the latter instance, it is one which leads to a view of the world as hostile and a stance that faith is a bulwark against this hostility. Viewed from this perspective, the Bible must be defended from those ideas that challenge its inerrancy rather than to engage and challenge it as a way toward more complete understanding.

Similarly, the community must defend itself against all manner of threats. Questioning and dissent are viewed as unfaithfulness. Mix this with labels such as liberal or conservative and left or right, and the debate becomes more than a little unsavory. It starts to characterize people and their faithfulness, or insufficient faith. It is the soil in which division is sown and purges develop. It’s my way or the highway.

At its worst this leads to facism. For an excellent discussion of Christian facism see Chris Hedges’, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Hedges says Christian fascists are a minority but regardless the number, fascism must be watched and refuted.

The most unsettling result of the methodology of individualistic faith is its distortion of the biblical principle of justice. Justice in the Christian right’s definition is a legal system based on “Christian principles” which they alone have defined. As Hedges notes this results in a legal system designed to protect “Bible believing Christians.” It no longer revolves around universal human rights.

One need only recall the Judicial War on Faith Conference following the Terry Schiavo episode and the national telecast a couple of years ago in which some high level right wing politicians equated U.S. judges to the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to see how this perverted definition of justice finds expression. Writer Max Blumenthal explained how key values of a democratic society get re-defined when framed in this narrow view of the world.

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