There Is No SalvationBy Shlomoh Sherman
October 25, 2008
Today I had to kill some time at the local public library while my girl friend's daughter spent time on a computer. I wandered off in search of a book or two to peruse and found myself in the Religion Section [what a surprise]!
I found Karen Armstrong's THE BATTLE FOR GOD and began skimming the chapters. THE BATTLE FOR GOD is about the rise of Fundamentalism in the last half of the 20th century. Skipping over most of the sections on Islam, I concentrated on the rise of Fundamentalism in the post 1967 Jewish and Christian communities.
What I found was a constant and ongoing tension and friction between the religious and secular world views in both communities. It is the tension and friction between what I consider the modern and premodern mindset. As the world entered the modern era, there was a strong commitment on the part of many people to hold on to the sure and comforting ways of their forefathers. Change is difficult for many people and new concepts can be confusing to those who rely on 'the true" and tested. Not only confusing but in a real sense, threatening.
As the 19th century was ending and new scientific discoveries were penetrating the everyday lives of the masses, people of faith began to react to the implications of these discoveries. As the 20th century wore on, conservative thinking people began to spontaneously organize themselves into communities of socio-religious action.
For centuries, European [and by extension, American] man had lived his life with a comforting sameness. Now he had to confront a new world filled with new ideas. His attitude can be summed up by the idea of the New Society and the True Society. What was true had no need of the new. What was new was simply not true.
This attitude burst forth with amazing force in late 20th century America. The 1960s was a decade of swift and dramatic changes within society, and much of this change was accompanied by noise and violence.
It was also accompanied by the growing strength of the South and Southerners' awareness of this new power. For a century, the South struggled with the memory of the loss of the Civil War and the suffering that accompanied its defeat by the North. For a century, America was dominated by the ideas and ideals of the North. Until the election of Jimmy Carter, there had not been a US president from Dixie since the end of the Civil War. The North set the tone for much of what the nation encountered in its daily life. Science, entertainment, news; social change emanated from the North.
But the 1960s changed that. By the time that the decade ended, there was a growing awareness that most of the country's strategic military installations were located in the south. NASA's base of operations was in the south. A news reporter of the day once quipped, If the Civil War were fought today, the South would win.
But there was more. Northerners had discovered the South and its potential. Northerners began to leave their cold homes and to move down to a more hospitable climate. Competition between North and South began to disappear and peoples who had once looked upon each other suspiciously as long time enemies began to merge together in communities with a new mind. The South transformed itself into an area of new found potentials. The transformation affected all areas of Southern society, including religious society.
Traditionally the South has been more conservative minded than other areas of the country. Religion in the South has also been of a traditional nature. I mentioned that there has existed a modern and premodern mindset, living side by side in America. I identify secular society with the former and religious society with the latter.
Religious conservatism that has come to be known as Fundamentalism found its voice in the South and spread out to the rest of conservative America. It was a revolt against what Fundamentalism considered to be the workings of God's Enemy.
Secular society and its lawmakers finally decided to put into practice what they believed the Framers of the Constitution wanted for America. What was put into legal practice in America was deemed antithetical to the teachings of Biblical Christianity. As far as conservative Christians were concerned, secular "radicals" were pulling America down the road to Hell by going against the traditional teachings of the Bible. And how were these "godless radicals" going against the Bible and against God's wishes? By the de-religionization of our children's schools, they were denying the children's ability to praise God in school. By ensuring the equality of females, they were doing away with God's plan that the woman be confined to the job of home-maker. By protecting the rights of homosexuals, they were creating a new Sodom on American soil. By giving women the right to determine the outcome of their pregnancies, they were committing nationwide infanticide. By integrating negroes into American society and making them legally the equal of whites, they were thwarting God's intentions in that He had created the black man as an inferior meant to serve the white man. These were some of the issues that Southerners such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell took up as new crusades, attracting millions of angry Americans as disciples and apostles.
In a prior time, many conservative Christians had kept themselves aloof from politics because they felt it to be too much "of the world". But in 1980, that changed. Taking a cue from various other groups in America, they realized that the best way to make changes in society and to bring America back to God was to politicize and try to influence the outcome of elections. Thereby they might put into power as leaders of America men whom they considered to be godly.
In the space of four decades, America went from a nation of Roosevelt liberals to Reagan and Bush conservatives. The Party of Reagan and Bush became strongly identified with Christian religion, as it is today, so much so that the economic philosophies of that Party became entwined with conservative religious philosophies - to the economic detriment of many a new Christian Republican.
In Israel, there was also the phenomenon of the Jewish religious Fundamentalist. The new Israeli Jewish Fundamentalist was just as vehemently opposed to his country's godless secularists as his Christian American counterpart. He also strove to turn Israel into a premodern society. And he had an impetus that the American Christian lacked. His nation had won a tremendous victory in what could only be thought of as an Apocalypse. America could not beat one country, North Vietnam. It could not beat one country, Iraq. Israel had beaten three countries in a war and had driven their armies out of territories that Israel now controlled. After 2000 years of defeat, the Jewish nation was now victorious. Surely God had spoken. Yet the secular leaders of the country turned their backs on the miraculous victory. With less success than their American Christian counterparts, Israel's Jewish Fundamentalists called on their countrymen to return to God and His commandments as interpreted by rabbis who wrote and preached in premodern times.
There is a commonality between Christian and Jewish Fundamentalists - the belief that a return to "that old time religion" will bring about the age of the Messiah, a Golden Age in which all of our troubles will disappear. All we need do is be worthy of that messianic age. The Messiah is the ultimate rationale for Jewish and Christian Fundamentalist agendas, and for Fundamentalist activism in America and Israel.
The idea of the Coming Messiah is an ongoing constant in the minds of both Jewish and Christian Fundamentalists. What is the Messiah all about? The idea of the Messiah was born in the minds of ancient Israelites, and although many cultures may have an idea of a Special Rescuer, only the Jewish idea of Messiah has affected the history of the human race as none other.
How is it that Jews came up with the idea of a Messiah, the Ultimate Rescuer?
There is much that we can learn from Jewish Scripture. The Jewish Bible tells us how Jews looked at and interpreted their history. Anyone reading the Bible inevitably draws the conclusion that it contains a story of failure. It is replete with tales of the failure of people in general and of Jewish failure specifically. As the Jews looked back upon the human history and the Jewish history presented in their scriptures, they saw repeatedly man's failure to comply with the wishes of God, either out of spite or out of inadequacy. God's demands seemed to be reasonable enough but man could not, or would not, comply with those demands. It was bad enough that this was true of nonJews. But what was most unforgivable to the Jews who looked back upon their sad history was that God had singled out their nation for a most glorious place in the world as a people chosen by Him to be a shining example to humanity of how human life is to be lived, how a good society is to comport itself, how a divinely inspired community rises up to meet the challenges of its divine destiny, and yet, over and over they had FAILED to live up to those challenges.
Read the Book of Kings and the Book of Chronicles and see the unraveling of Jewish history. One generation of Israelites and their king is God-fearing, followed by a generation of evil-doers who displease their God. Then the story repeats, over and over, good generation followed by not so good generation, world without end. One would think that having reached the level of the ideal society which pleases God, that the Jews would be able to maintain that state of grace, bringing the rest of humanity to the knowledge of God. But no. They slide back, over and over. The prophets rail, and shout, and warn, and threaten. To no avail. It's all in the DNA. Apparently the same people, both good and evil, keep being born over and over, and keep repeating the same predictable behavior, the good being constantly undone by the evil.
Finally, sick and tired of all this failure on the part of His Chosen People, God vents His anger and displeasure upon them, and they become the world's scapegoat.
And so finally the realization sets in. Yes, God has chosen the Jews to be His People - but they fall short of what He expects and demands of them in that position. It has become obvious that they will never succeed on their own. They are the Chosen People but still they are just ordinary people, like the rest of humanity, - they are limited, flawed human beings. In order to accomplish what God wills, they will have to produce an extra-ordinary man to lead them into God's kingdom. This special man will have none of the weaknesses that ordinary humans have. He will, of necessity, be Superhuman in his ability to be the Perfect Jew, and thereby cause all Jews to achieve perfection in the eyes of God.
And so, when the world turned dark for Jews, the one light that kept them going was the promise and hope that the Super Jew would be sent by God to turn on the everlasting light for Israel and the world. He is the Special Rescuer.
Whether the Messiah is born naturally in the manner of all men or whether he is born of a virgin is an insignificant difference. Whether he is killed and resurrected or whether he is not killed and succeeds with his mission immediately is of little consequence. He is, like Neo in the story of The Matrix, the One who will fix all the unfixable of life's problems. If only the demonic and God-hating secularists will stop all this equality and civil rights nonsense and allow God to run the country as He instructed Tom Jefferson and Ben Franklin, then the nation will merit the coming of the Rescuer. If only we get enough God-Fearing officials elected, then he will come. But the unConstitutional, liberal, unChristian interpreters of the Constitution continuously thwart this goal.
After Reagan got elected, it appeared that Messiah was on his way, coming. After Begin became Israel's PM, it looked as though he was about to come. But no. The godless refused to honor the TORAH or the way of Christ, and so the Messiah made a U-Turn and went back from where he came.
The DNA still is at work in the modern world as it was in the premodern world. The same assholes keep being born over and over. It's no matter whether they are religious assholes or secular assholes, it's the same story. So the world plods along on its course, and it's amazing that in the midst of all this ongoing failure, there is actually progress - without the benefit of the Rescuer. It is a tribute to the nature of mankind. Anne Frank said that people are basically good. And even though they are basically evil, they are still basically good. There are enough people who are truly good so that slowly, over the course of time, we persevere. There is no savior and no salvation. We must rescue ourselves - despite the Fundamentalists in our midst. Each of us is potentially what Jewish mystics call the MESHIACH NISTAR - the Hidden Messiah. We just need the right DNA and the Will to express it.
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