Frater Novae Res (fraternovaeres) wrote in amst3920,
Frater Novae Res
fraternovaeres
amst3920

Monotheism and Its Secular Consequences

In our smaller group discussion today, my group talked a bit about how religion influenced politics. I thought some of you might be interested, in that vein, to read an essay I wrote for my Jewish studies class of last semester.

"Monotheism and Its Secular Consequences"

            It is not uncommon here in the West, where religion is viewed as a private affair and a separation of “Church and State” is practiced, to compartmentalize religious ideas from other ideas, such as those pertaining to secular politics. However, as some philosophers (e.g., Carl Schmitt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, etc.) have argued, the realm of religious thought is not isolated from political thought. In fact, it has been argued that all prominent political ideas are secularized theological ideas.[1] Using this idea, we can trace a genealogy of our prominent political and social concepts that leads back to religion and theology. In particular, the theological concept of monotheism has largely determined in the West how we view such things as liberal democracy, equality, progress, and individualism.
            First, we must define what is meant by “monotheism.” Monotheism is the belief in a single god. Alain de Benoist has differentiated between two kinds of monotheism: Judeo-Christian monotheism, characterized by a dualistic conception of God as being absolutely Other from the world, and Greek philosophical monotheism, characterized by the identification of God with the world (which, contrary to the Judeo-Christian form of monotheism, does not exclude the possibility of polytheism).[2] It will be seen that the Judeo-Christian conception of monotheism has been the more influential form of monotheism in terms of its influence on political thought. To discern that influence, we must begin with Judaism.
            The relationship between the people of Israel and their God was initially one of monolatry, meaning the worship of one god exclusively while at the same time acknowledging the existence of other gods.[3] Evidence for this can be seen in the Book of Exodus, where Moses details the commandments given to him by God for the Israeli people: “You shall have no other gods besides Me.”[4] This commandment restricts the purview of worship; it does not deny the existence of other gods. The Jewish bible also details the transformation of monolatry into monotheism, of the God of the Jewish people into a universal God of all peoples (an idea especially prominent in Christianity).
            Just as Yahweh was the special god of the people of Israel, so too were the Israelites Yahweh’s special people. The relationship between the Jews and God is dominated by the idea of covenant. According to this covenant, God will protect and maintain the Jews, as well as preserve the land of Israel for them, so long as the Jews obey His laws.[5] The Torah, which contains God’s laws, symbolizes that covenant.
            The Torah also warns of what would happen should the Israelites neglect to obey God’s laws and so break the covenant. The result is a time of exile and persecution, which can only be alleviated by reaffirming the covenant. Through the restoration of the covenant, the Israelites would be restored to the land of Israel and God would protect them once more.[6] Later prophets foretold of a messianic era that would bring about the end of time and the final triumph of the Jewish people.[7] Thus, through the creation of the world in Genesis and the end of times predicted by the prophets, Judaism (and Christianity) conceive of time as being a linear series of events proceeding from a single beginning to an inexorable end (in radical contradiction to the pagan conception of history as cyclical, being without beginning or end[8]).
            As mentioned previously, the idea of Yahweh as the special god of the Jews, as opposed to the other gods of non-Jews, gave way to the idea of Yahweh as the god of the universe. God comes to proclaim Himself to be the only god in existence. “Thus said the Lord, the King of Israel, Their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts: I am the first and I am the last, and there is no god but Me.”[9] God is also described as being the father of all people.[10] This morph from a personal god of a specific people to a universal god responsible for all people illustrates a point made by William Irwin, that transcendence is a tacit component of monotheism.[11] Just as God becomes the one god of the universe, so too does His law naturally come to assert itself as the one law by which all people should live since all people are His people by virtue of their common descent from a single progenitor: Adam. Monotheism and universalism go hand-in-hand.
            It should not be surprising, given the tendency within monotheism to transcend boundaries, that Judeo-Christian monotheism at last transcended even the vestige of religion. The seeds of this process can be found in Judaism, for as Emanuel Rackman observes, “So committed is the Jewish tradition to the equality of the non-Jew who leads a righteous life that it accords him the coveted title of Hasid and assures him salvation just as it is vouchsafed to righteous Jews themselves.”[12] The following of God’s laws is sufficient, in the Jewish tradition, to guarantee entrance into Heaven, even without the visible worship of God. Divorced from the strict worship of God, biblical law came to inform secular values which in turn influenced secular law and political thought. For example, despite the fact that many Enlightenment thinkers expressed hostility toward Christianity and organized religion in general,[13] Enlightenment ideals such as egalitarianism, progress, individualism, and liberal democracy find their “roots” in the metaphysics and values of Judeo-Christian monotheism.
            The notion of the fundamental equality of all men and women (and so the demand that they should be made equal in various ways) stems ultimately from the belief that all people are equal before God and that all people share a single common ancestor. According to the Babylonian Talmud, God created only one human progenitor, as opposed to animals which had many progenitors, so that no person could claim genealogical superiority over another. Thus, humans possess equal dignity and deserve to be treated equally simply by virtue of the fact that they were born.[14] The equality of humans came to transcend the idea of nation and even sex as it reached its most pervasive religious expression in Christianity: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[15] Milton Konvitz lists a number of egalitarian demands: “there is the demand for equal suffrage; for economic equality; there must be no privilege by birth; there is the demand for educational equality; there must be equality in participation in the results of social developments and improvements; equality before law (real and not merely formal equality).”[16]  Konvitz also goes so far as to say that ethical monotheism may be necessary to deriving a philosophy of equality, because there is no place for the belief in the equality of humanity in the absence of a single father god and the notion of the “brotherhood of man.”[17] It is notable that Rackman, a rabbi, cites social and economic inequalities as the root of all evil and the reason for the exile, and states that the messianic era will be characterized by the end of such inequalities.[18]
            The monotheistic egalitarian impulse (as outlined by Konvitz above), in order to achieve social and economic equality, must demand some form of government in line with egalitarian values. Enter liberal democracy[19] and especially communism, which both find common ground in egalitarianism (though each applies egalitarian principles in different ways to differing degrees), and hence can be viewed as products of Judeo-Christian monotheism. Numerous philosophers and political thinkers, including Nietzsche, Schmitt, De Benoist, Tomislav Sunic, and others, have noted this connection between liberal democracy and communism and even used their mutual origin in Judeo-Christian monotheism through egalitarianism to criticize them on anti-egalitarian and anti-Judeo-Christian grounds.[20] Egalitarianism manifests itself in liberal democracy through the concepts of human rights and of “equal opportunity” in terms of political and economic participation and universal suffrage. Communism takes egalitarian principles a step further and enforces the equal outcome of economic participation, and on those grounds criticizes the idea of “equality of economic opportunity” without the “equality of economic outcome” in liberal democracy for not following egalitarianism to its logical, historical conclusion.[21]
            Monotheism’s transcendence of boundaries expresses itself in its secular offspring liberal democracy as well, through the tendency to spread democratic principles and establish democratic governments in occupied foreign countries. The contemporary war in Iraq serves as an illustrative example. Biblically, the root of this tendency can be found in the Book of Amos. In it, Amos prophecies that the God of Israel will wreak vengeance on many of Israel’s neighboring countries,[22] an act outside the purview of a local or national god. Irwin cites these verses as evidence for the moral and ethical supremacy of the God of Israel.[23]
            The nationally transcendent moral and ethical supremacy of God’s judgment is also expressed in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the “inherent dignity and [...] the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” [emphasis added] and declares that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”[24] Traditionally, the concept of rights required three things: someone who possesses rights, an object that the rights facilitate the accomplishment of, and someone else to witness and reckon with the exercise of the rights. For this reason, rights were considered a national phenomenon, since by the above definition rights only exist for individuals within a society. [25] However, the transcendent ethical supremacy of values originating in Judeo-Christian monotheism has led to the creation of international human rights as a direct consequence of the notion of humanity having descended from a single progenitor (hence “human family”), created by a single god.
            Whereas God’s laws and humanity’s common descent from Adam were secularized into egalitarianism and its governmental offshoots, the monotheistic concept of time (as a linear progression toward a messianic end of times) transformed into the belief in progress. The linear concept of time in both Judaism and Christianity is composed of two fundamental parts: 1) the eventual establishment of an ideal human society,[26] and 2) the belief that humanity is constantly moving forward in time toward that point. It is this expectation of the attainment of human perfection in this world and the conviction that such perfection is constantly attained steadily and gradually over time that is secularized, whether into social, evolutionary, or scientific varieties of progress.[27]
This idealization of the future, combined with a specific beginning point and end point of history, devalues the past and that which has come before. History is conceived as an overcoming of errors.[28] This idea is evident, for example, in the very designation of the Enlightenment as an “enlightenment,” which implies that the historical time preceding the Enlightenment was a “dark age” of superstition that had been succeeded by a better, newer worldview[29] (a concept that would later be commented on with irony by conservative revolutionary thinkers).
Egalitarianism and progress both factor into the development of individualism. Nietzsche observes that the conception of the equality of souls before God as well as the immortality of souls serves to enhance the idea of individualism (to the point of individual immortality).[30] With the dissolution of national peoples into a united humanity and international community (united by the common observance of God’s secularized law), the idea of “individuals” replaced the nationalist idea of “a people”. From a progressive point of view, distinguishing “a people” by race, sex, religion, national heritage, or other such means of classification is a thing of the past, and so an error to be overcome. The proposed solution, at least in the case of the United Nations, is the abandonment of the notion of a people’s historical identity in favor of the treatment of all persons as tabulae rasae possessing equal, universal human rights. On this view, humanity is progressing (and should progress) toward a time when these values are the only values and this law is the only law,[31] a time when there is neither Greek nor Jew, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female, but rather a homogenous and universal human community.
While some may lament (and others may perhaps celebrate the fact) that Western religiosity is growing feebler with time, it can be seen that the values of Judeo-Christian monotheism have not left us. Though our modern, secular vision of the future may differ aesthetically from that of Judaism or Christianity, though many Westerners may regard others as fellow “world citizens” rather than “children of God,” the fundamental, determining values of monotheism remain. Jews, Christians, and liberal secular humanists alike, despite outward disagreement over details, all assert the natural equality and individuality of human beings and look forward to a time when that equality and individuality are recognized and implemented in the social and economic realm the world over.

Bibliography:
De Benoist, Alain. On Being a Pagan. Atlanta: Ultra, 2004.
 
Hitchcock, James. What Is Secular Humanism? Why Humanism Became Secular and How It Is Changing Our World. Harrison: RC Books, 1982.
 
The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. 2nd ed. Holeman Bible Publishers, 1982.
 
Irwin, William. “A Common Humanity under One God,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.
 
JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
 
Konvitz, Milton. “Judaism and the Democratic Ideal,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.
 
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1968.
 
Rackman, Emanuel. “Judaism and Equality,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.
 
Schmitt, Carl. Die politische Theologie. München und Lepizig: Duncker und Humblot, 1922.
 
Sunic, Tomislav. Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right. 2nd ed. Newport Beach: Noontide Press, 2004.
 
Vogel, Manfred. “Monotheism.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 14. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 448-450. 22 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomson Gale. University of Minnesota. 
<http://find.galegroup.com.floyd.lib.umn.edu/gvrl/infomark.do?&contentSet=EBKS&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GVRL&docId=CX2587514128&source=gale&userGroupName=umn_wilson&version=1.0>.
 
 
United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights as reprinted in Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972.


[1] Schmitt, Carl. Die politische Theologie (München und Lepizig: Duncker und Humblot, 1922), 36.
[2] De Benoist, Alain. On Being a Pagan (Atlanta: Ultra, 2004), 28-29.
[3] Vogel, Manfred. “Monotheism.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 14. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 448-450. 22 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Thomson Gale. University of Minnesota. 
<http://find.galegroup.com.floyd.lib.umn.edu/gvrl/infomark.do?&contentSet=EBKS&type=retrieve&tabID=T001&prodId=GVRL&docId=CX2587514128&source=gale&userGroupName=umn_wilson&version=1.0>.
[4] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Exod. 20:3. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 155.
[5] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Gen. 17:1-22. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 28-30.
[6] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Deut. 4:25-31. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 384.
[7] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Isa. 11:1-16. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 871-872.
[8] De Benoist, Alain. On Being a Pagan (Atlanta: Ultra, 2004), 11-13.
[9] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Isa. 44:6. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 947. See also Deut. 4:39, “Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the Lord alone is God in heaven above and on earth below; there is no other.”
[10] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Mal. 2:10. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 1407.
[11] Irwin, William. “A Common Humanity under One God,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 60.
[12] Rackman, Emanuel. “Judaism and Equality,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 54.
[13] Hitchcock, James. What Is Secular Humanism? Why Humanism Became Secular and How It Is Changing Our World. (Harrison: RC Books, 1982), 37-41.
[14] Rackman, Emanuel. “Judaism and Equality,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 34.
[15] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version. Gal. 3:28. 2nd ed. (Holeman Bible Publishers, 1982), 1021.
[16] Konvitz, Milton. “Judaism and the Democratic Ideal,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 121.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Rackman, Emanuel. “Judaism and Equality,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 50-51.
[19] “Democracy is Christianity made natural...” Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. (New York: Vintage Books, 1968),126.
[20] For an overview of this line of criticism within a modern context, see for example Sunic, Tomislav. Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right. 2nd ed.(Newport Beach: Noontide Press, 2004).
[21] Sunic, Tomislav. Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right. 2nd ed. (Newport Beach: Noontide Press, 2004) 156.
[22] JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. Amos 1:3-5. 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 1309.
[23] Irwin, William. “A Common Humanity under One God,” Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 56-57.
[24] United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights as reprinted in Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 296-297.
[25] Sunic, Tomislav. Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right. 2nd ed. (Newport Beach: Noontide Press, 2004) 142-143.
[26] For example, see Isaiah 11:1-16 and Revelation 21:1-4 respectively. Of particular note is the international character of these utopian pictures of the end times.
[27] “Irony against those who believe Christianity has been overcome by the modern natural sciences. Christian value judgments have not by any means been overcome this way. ‘Christ on the cross’ is the most sublime symbol—even today.” Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 128.
[28] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 42.
[29] Hitchcock, James. What Is Secular Humanism? Why Humanism Became Secular and How It Is Changing Our World. (Harrison: RC Books, 1982), 37.
[30] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), 142.
[31] “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights as reprinted in Judaism and Human Rights. Ed. Milton Konvitz. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 303.



Tags: christianity, judaism, monotheism, politics, values
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