We have been reading The Source, by James A. Michener. Like many of Michener’s works, it is a fictional account which is loaded with facts, history, and at times profound insight.
The following is one of the latter.
It is revealed as one of the characters in the book is attempting to resolve a conflict that is troubling him. It has to do with a knotted old olive tree and the fresh shoots that continue to grow from it, even though the tree itself appears dead.
He realizes that the olive tree represents Judaism, and the fresh shoots the ways in which it has reinvented itself over more than five millenia.
The character, a Christian Archeologist, is running his thoughts by his Jewish colleague. The following excerpt from Michener’s narrative is the colleague’s response:
“My thought is that in those critical years (100 – 800 CE) Judaism went back to the basic religious precepts by which men can live together in a society, whereas Christianity rushed forward to a magnificent personal religion which never in ten thousand years will teach men how to live together. You Christians will have beauty, passionate intercourse with God, magnificent buildings, frenzied worship, and exaltation of the spirit. But you will never have that close organization of society, family life, and the little community that is possible under Judaism. Let me ask you this: Could a group of rabbis, founding their decisions on Torah and Talmud, possibly come up with an invention like the Inquisition, an essentially anti-social concept?”
The Jewish colleague continues:
“…Judaism can be understood, it seems to me, only if it is seen as the fundamental philosophy directed to the greatest of all problems: how can men live together in an organized society?”
The Christian Archeologist responds:
“I would have thought that the real religious problem is always ‘How can man come to know God?'”
To which the Jewish colleague replies:
“There’s the difference between us. There’s the difference between Old Testament and New. The Christian discovers the spirit of God, and the reality is so blinding that you go right out, build a cathedral and kill a million people. The Jew avoids this intimacy and lives year after year in his ghetto, in a grubby little synagogue, working out the principles whereby men can live together.”
“The tremendously personal religion that evolved around the figure of Christ was all the He and Paul had envisaged. It was brilliant, penetrating and a path to personal salvation. It was able to construct soaring cathedrals and even more vaulted processes of thought. Bit it was totally incapable of teaching men to live together.”
It has always troubled us that such a sharp distinction exists between Judaism and Christianity (and for that matter, Islam). As a Christian, it is obvious to us that Christ came to show that once and for all, the God of the Old Testament, the one and only God, forgives.
History has shown that the blind pursuit of Christianity, Islam, of any other religion which is not firmly based in the precepts of how men can and must live together, bearing with one another, as the Jewish faith relentlessly strives to do, can lead to disastrous results for society.
It is fascinating that the Jews, for all that they have suffered, still strive towards helping all of mankind learn to live together.
It is even more fascinating that, with a few noteworthy exceptions, the Jews have been largely unable to form the society for which their religion continuously strives.
The problem of living together in society can only be solved if two things occur. First, man must learn to truly and permanently forgive, as God has forgiven us. Second, he must abandon the Might makes Right ideology and adopt True Capitalism, a radical respect for both the life and property of others, as the basis of his relations with others.
It would not be perfect, but it would be a large step in the right direction.