Jews, Christians, and Civil Society
Novak, David, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
No one, save a prophet, could have predicted the radical change in the relationship between Jews and Christians since Western civilization narrowly escaped physical and moral annihilation in the Second World War. Having narrowly escaped physical annihilation, Jews have had to look at the world surrounding us anew. There some of us have discovered Christians facing us on the immediate horizon in a new and favorable way. Having narrowly escaped moral annihilation, Christians have also had to look at the surrounding world anew. There some Christians have discovered Jews on the immediate horizon in a new and favorable way. This mutual discovery of each other in new ways can be located on three levels.
First, mutual discovery has occurred on the theological level. Through sound historical scholarship, more Christians than ever before have learned how close Christianity has always been to its Judaic roots. The current Christian retrieval of Christianity's true origins has looked not only to the Hebrew Bible but also to the Second Temple Judaism out of which Judaism until this very day has been emerging. That is why Judaism can no longer be dismissed as an historical relic, as mere proto-Christianity. Through the very same type of scholarship, Jews have discovered that Christianity is not a one-time deviation from Judaism. Rather, Christianity has been developing in a trajectory continually parallel to that of Judaism. Jews need to see how much Christianity has had to be similar to Judaism in order to continually differ from it. From this some Jews have learned that we can discuss the Torah with Christians in away we cannot discuss it with any other gentile people. Thus Jews and Christians today have found a way to talk to and with each other that is mutually affirming and that need no longer be either offensive or defensive, as interaction so often was in the theological disputations of the Middle Ages and the ideological polemics of earlier modernity.
Second, mutual discovery has occurred on the political level. Until quite recently, the political relationship of Jews and Christians in modernity had been almost totally hostile and suspicious. Jews had been seen by many Christians as being in the vanguard of the atheistic trajectory of modernity. Truth be told, some of the most prominent atheistic theorists have been Jews, and some of the most effective public atheism has been promoted by certain Jewish organizations. By "public" or de facto atheism, I mean public policies that advocate "don't ask, don't tell" when it comes to mentioning God in political discourse--even when used by a religiously observant Jew running for the office of Vice President of the United States. Because of this sad fact, Jews have been seen by many Christians as leading the attempt to keep religion--which for the vast majority of Americans is some form of Christianity--out of the public square. Indeed, many Christians have assumed that Judaism itself is identical with the modern progressive ideal that requires the public square to include only those "naked" Christians who have divested themselves of anything Christian at all. What most Christians do not realize, however, is that the public atheism of some prominent Jews, individually or collectively, has been even more injurious to Judaism than it has been to Christianity, inasmuch as naked Jews are still more vulnerable to public disappearance than are naked Christians.
Christians, on the other hand, have been seen by many Jews as resisting an ideal of modern progress that promises political and cultural equality to the Jews. To be sure, there are Christians who still long for the pre-modern world they think they once controlled--a world in which Jews were inevitably political outsiders and cultural pariahs. Nevertheless, many Christians now realize that the notion that Christianity truly controlled pre-modern European and American civil society is in many ways a …
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Publication information: Article title: Jews, Christians, and Civil Society. Contributors: Novak, David - Author. Magazine title: First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life. Publication date: February 2002. Page number: 26+. © 2009 Institute on Religion and Public Life. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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