Religion 21st Century

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Judaism is important, not because the number of members is great, but because two other “world religions”, Christianity and Islam are partly derived from Jewish myths.

Jewish myths are sometimes treated as factual history. This misunderstanding of metaphor and myth continues to create confusion and conflict. Jews often treat the stories in their Bible as historical facts. Their holidays and rituals affirm their “history” and maintain a metaphysical, quasi-genetic, maternal lineage. It is a mythical history of a very small group of humans who lived in a very small area of planet earth. According to recent Israeli definition, a Jew is any person with a Jewish mother. Jews come in different shapes, sizes and colors from different countries that span the planet so that a real link to common ancestors of such a genetically diverse group is improbable. Unless, of course, you recognize that all humans have common ancestors and a lineage that extends back to the first living creatures who emerged 3 billion years ago.

Biblical stories span many centuries. Abraham appears as the father of the Jewish people, who promoted the one God idea. God assumed control of the Israelites and commanded individuals to do his bidding. The Israeli God sent Jacob and his children to Egypt, where their descendants became slaves. God later commanded Moses to liberate the slaves and lead the group on an exodus from Egypt. The Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai in the Jewish Year 2448 to receive the Torah directly from God (the books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.)

God designated the descendants of Moses' brother, Aaron, to be a priestly class within the Israelite community. The Israelites settled in the land of Israel and survived attacking enemies for 300 years.

Although the Jews were the chosen people, God had not transcended human ways and would send attacking enemies as punishment when he witnessed the sins of the Jews. God, for example, allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle in Shiloh. In the Book of Samuel, he appointed Saul to be King. But Saul disobeyed God and was told to appoint David as his successor. David's son, Solomon, eventually built the first temple in Jerusalem.

In all these stories the Jewish God behaves much like the worst of the Greek Gods. Gods are local, specific and all too human. A God may be actively involved in directing human affairs, sometimes in a benevolent manner, at other times as peevish, vengeful parent. In his study of the Book of Job, Jung described Yahweh: “a God who knew no moderation in his emotions. He admitted that he was eaten up with rage and jealousy and that his knowledge was painful to him. Insight existed along with obtuseness, loving-kindness, cruelty, creative power and destructiveness.”

God is acting as he should—a local invention of a group that needed an external reference and an external authority to remain more or less together. Yahweh is portrayed as a sociopath grown large, possibly because he was not human, but more realistically, because he was a human invention. Dominant men often behave in his fashion, inflicting great harm on others with little or no justification. Job is prototypic, a small, helpless human whose main role is to suffer any and all punishments that God invents.

Brooks summarized the collision of Alexander’s Greeks and Jews in the 300 years before Jesus appeared. The Greeks aspired to create a secular, universal culture. The Jews promoted the idea of one God. Brooks stated:" At its best, Hellenistic culture emphasized the power of reason and the importance of individual conscience. It brought theaters, gymnasiums and debating societies to cities. It raised living standards, in places like Jerusalem. Many Jewish reformers embraced these improvements; (others) resisted or fled to the hills. But Jerusalem did well.

The Seleucid dynasty, which had political control over the area, was not merely tolerant; it used imperial money to help promote the diverse religions within its sphere. In 167 B.C., however, the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, issued a series of decrees defiling the temple, confiscating wealth and banning Jewish practice, under penalty of death. Those who refused to eat pork were killed in an early case of pure religious martyrdom."

Jewish groups fought among themselves: Brooks explained: " It was a battle between theologies and threw up all sorts of issues about why bad things happen to faithful believers and what happens in the afterlife — issues that would reverberate in the region for centuries, to epic effect. The Maccabees are best understood as moderate fanatics. ..They were not the last bunch of angry, bearded religious guys to win an insurgency campaign against a great power in the Middle East, but they may have been among the first. They retook Jerusalem in 164 B.C. and rededicated the temple. Their regime quickly became corrupt, brutal and reactionary. The Maccabees became religious oppressors themselves, fatefully inviting the Romans into Jerusalem. There is no erasing the complex ironies of the events, the way progress, heroism and brutality weave through all sides. The Maccabees heroically preserved the Jewish faith. But there is no honest way to tell their story as a self-congratulatory morality tale. The lesson of Hanukkah is that even the struggles that saved a people are dappled with tragic irony, complexity and unattractive choices."

A biblical scroll dated to 2100 years ago, contains the peace innovation used by the United Nations: “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for a well-educated smart reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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