July 20, 2023

iDENTITY IS SECULAR:

The A(braham) Bomb: Why we're fighting our political battles like religious wars (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, JULY 19, 2023, Tablet)


It is difficult if not impossible to grasp the direction and the dimensions of world history, to say nothing of American history and contemporary developments, without coming to terms with the peculiar form of monotheistic religion associated with the wandering herdsman widely considered by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim believers to be the father of their respective faiths. It is out of the Abrahamic world that America's religious, civic, and political culture have emerged, and if we want to grasp the nature of the forces that both unite and divide us today, we will need to come to grips with the reality that we are, whether we like it or not, the heirs of Abraham.

"Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One," is the classic statement of Jewish faith. "I believe in One God," is the opening of the classic formulation of Christian doctrine known as the Nicene Creed, repeated every Sunday by congregations all over the world. "There is no god but Allah," is how the Islamic statement of faith opens.

The belief that there is one all-powerful, all-knowing God, the Lord of Time and the Ruler of the Universe--who, acting alone and without aid, made everything that exists--is, whether one personally agrees with it or not, the most consequential idea ever to thrust its way into human consciousness.

I don't mean by this statement to disparage Hindu, Buddhist, or other non-Abrahamic belief systems. Ancient Greek philosophers found their own way to the concept of a unitary divine being without, so far as is known, direct exposure to Abrahamic religion. Similarly, philosophers and mystics in the great Asian traditions arrived at their own ways of understanding that unity of power, benevolence, and wisdom the family of Abraham worships as God. But Abrahamic religion puts the unity of God at the center of popular piety, greatly intensifying the power of this world-altering concept to reshape the social and intellectual landscape of a given culture.

As a grand hypothesis that claims to provide a single explanation for everything that happens in the heavens and on earth, the monotheistic idea is, for one thing, a daring leap that opens the door to a world of speculation and research--a path from tinkering to science. Postulating a single creator for the entire universe leads to the belief that the universe is predictable and rule driven. Events in the natural world are not just one darn thing after another; they do not reflect the caprices of minor deities. There are laws of nature, and because human beings are created by God--and in the Abrahamic religious accounts we were created in God's image--most if not all of those rules should be discoverable by the human mind. The mathematical reasoning that we do in our heads corresponds with the mathematical structure that exists in the external world, and the experimental results we obtain in our labs here on earth can help us understand the nature of quasars at the far ends of the universe.

Similarly, in philosophy the idea that there is one all-powerful and self-sufficient God who created humanity in his image serves to stimulate the quest for truth. Our minds may not be able to plumb the full depths of divine transcendence, but the correspondence between creature and creator, a correspondence that includes the faculty of reason, means that as far as our minds can reach, they can discern the truth. Reconciling the scriptures of the great Abrahamic religions with the conclusions of Greek philosophers was the business of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian thinkers well past the classical period. The works of Maimonides, Averro√ęs, and Aquinas, each representing the culmination of centuries of reflection, still stand as massive monuments in the history of human thought and continue to shape and inspire philosophers and political thinkers to this day.

Abrahamic thought and religion are as foundational and constitutive in the worlds of politics and history as they are for science and philosophy. Abrahamic religion holds that every human being matters, is a direct object of concern and care by the Creator of the universe, and is an immortal soul whose fate has eternal significance--and that the history of the human race is a moral and ethical story with a purpose and a meaning. Those are genuinely world-shaking convictions, and people who have never read a word of the Abrahamic scriptures or darkened the doorways of an Abrahamic house of worship live in a world shaped by Abrahamic values and ideas.

Women matter. Peasants matter. Slaves matter. Social divisions like race, caste, and wealth are evanescent. God judges impartially between rich and poor, and every human being lives under the same moral law. Every human being has rights by divine decree that do not depend on or proceed from the will of the state. Rulers are accountable before God not only for their personal conduct but also for the consequences of their policies on the poor and the weak. These are radical ideas, and they have touched off more than one revolution in the long course of history. They continue to subvert tyrannies and challenge hierarchies of privilege in our time. In my opinion, the Abrahamic political revolution will continue as long as imperfect human social orders fail to live up to the requirements of Abrahamic justice.

That is the point at which the Right/Left deviates from America.

Posted by at July 20, 2023 6:51 AM

  

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