“Judeo-Christian” is an Oxymoron

As Eastern mysticism enters Western culture, its practitioners have adopted Western marketing techniques. Starting from the proposition that Western seekers of enlightenment have been failed by their institutions, the Daoist or Buddhist teacher seeks a rationale for the failure that will entice victims of “Judeo-Christian” spirituality to sample their methods. The central tenet of the narrative is that Judeo-Christianity imposes a view of human nature as fallen into sin that disempowers its followers. In contrast, the Eastern tenets and practices of “mindfulness” open a doorway to self-knowledge and self-control that leads into joyful exploration of life’s possibilities.

Having respect for Eastern methods, I’m not going to dispute the beneficial consequences of its practices. Rather, I want to emphasize that it’s not an “either-or” proposition.

In the Bible, the confusion arises right at the start, in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. As I explain in The Soul Comes First, this is a parable for a community living in direct relation with the spirit of unconditional love. In Vedantic terms, this is to interact with an occupant of the higher astral realms. The problem was not that Adam and Eve partook of the “Tree of Knowledge”, for they were given great knowledge of the world in that era, as necessary to assuming stewardship of the Earth. Rather, it was because they chose to partake of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” They chose to exercise independent moral judgment. They chose to make mistakes that would cause suffering in others, rather than disciplining themselves to the dictates of love.

The immediate response of the personality described as God is to establish a safe distance. A repeated theme of the Old Testament is the pain caused by the Chosen people to its God, and in the New Testament that culminates in human experience. To love is to give power, and when that power is misused, it causes pain. What is amazing about the devotion of the God of Abraham is the investment made in human maturation in the face of that pain. But to remain in immediate and direct contact with humanity as it went through that process would have been disastrous. Love is an amplifier. It empowers whatever it touches. It needs to keep evil out, lest that destructive force run amok everywhere.

But the devotion to our maturation is clearly visible in the Bible, and follows a logical progression. The story of Abraham and his descendants ends with Joseph, the first man in the book with the strength to be steadfast in danger and to resist his primitive sexual drive. It progresses with Moses, who introduces that Law of Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus to instill the discipline of logic in the Chosen people. In modern psychological terms, God was trying to create a people who were capable of using their cortexes to control the survival instincts of the brain stem and aggressive emotions of the limbic system.

Unfortunately, any fixed system of rules is inevitably corrupted by those responsible for its administration, who find it all too easy to manipulate it to deny rights and even life to those that they wish to control. It was against the corruption of the Judaic system of Law that Jesus set himself, eventually confronting both the Sadducees and Pharisees with this great truth [NIV Matt. 22:34-40]:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In effect, what he is saying to these experts of legal interpretation is “The Law has taught you to think. Now think about love.”

This is evident throughout Acts in the teachings of the Apostles, foremost among them Paul, but not exclusively. The message is that there is nothing that we can do to attain salvation from this corrupt existence except to call love into our presence. Having been born into corruption, which is to say in a spiritual context of Darwinian competition that requires the theft of resources from other living creatures, the fastest way to healing is to call upon love – which is to say “God.”

Judaism and Christianity are therefore two distinct spiritual practices. Because humanity is composed of individuals, both practices have value to individuals struggling with maturity. For those in thrall to aggression, lust and fear, the discipline of a system of rules still gives strength to the cortex. For those that shine hope into that struggle, love grants not only peace and joy, by a powerful transformative capability that is best exemplified by the devotion still awarded to Jesus, the man who died on the cross to prove that death has no sway over those that surrender to love.

So when looking at Eastern methods, what I see is a way to spiritual maturity without wading through the dangerous waters of Law. I see the possibility of “Veda-Christianity” that guides the seeker far more reliably into the healing spring of love.

Islam and Christ

The Christian Bible is the story of how one people succumbed to corruption, thereby surrendering a privileged relationship with God, and then wandered in a spiritual wilderness until Jesus demonstrated the discipline to surrender himself in caring for the world. In navigating this process, God relies throughout on the law of natural consequences: when the people heed the inner voice that guides them, they prosper; when they disown it, they suffer. For this reason, while history trends steadily upwards, it has its high and low points.

What is true throughout is that God meets us where we are. That’s a source of a lot of confusion when interpreting scripture. For example, in Matthew 5:18, we have:

For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

And then Jesus undermines its authority (Matt. 19:8):

Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.

And in John 8:7, he says:

Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.

So Jesus is saying to teach the law, but set it aside when it suits us? As a child “Do as I say, not as I do” drove me crazy. Or is this “Say as I say, but do as I do?” In either case, hypocrisy seems right around the corner.

The difficulty can be resolved with the understanding that different people are on different stages of the journey. The Law is a code of conduct that seeks to prevent the spread of moral corruption. For people without the tools to heal corruption, that discipline is essential.

Jesus introduced his Apostles to a new stage of the journey, making them healers of the flesh and spirit. As reagrds the Law, his is final teaching to them was [Math: 22:37-40]:

Love your God…and love your neighbor…All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

However, this was not the entire Jewish people – it was only twelve of them. Was the law to be demoted for everyone, or only for those twelve and the others like them? I think only for the twelve and those like them. This does create some difficulty for those teaching Christianity that don’t claim to be able to do the things that the Apostles accomplished in Acts. Where are they on the scale, and how are they to lead their congregations into apostolic faith?

The solution, in the modern age, is that Christians chose the congregation that helps them take their next step on their journey to Christ.

Along the way, though, a stop was made in the Middle East. The Islam teachings of Muhammad (pbuh) came at the people of Mecca out of left field. There was no cultural tradition of Law. The community was at the level of Abraham in their relationship with God.

The Islamic path is therefore “The Middle Way” between the strict legalism of Judaism and the conditional morality of Christianity. It has rules – though far less pervasively than in the Law – that allow people to establish themselves in religious practice. While eliding Hebrew history, it upholds the character of the prophets as exemplars to inspire Muslims to maturity. Finally, it disintermediates the priesthood, upholding a personal relationship with Allah with promises of forgiveness and ultimately salvation.

The principle problem with this program is the divinity of Jesus. If he was the word made flesh, then the overwhelmingly difficult conditional morality of Christ stood as a barrier to Muslim practice. It meant that those that worshipped according to the rules would be second-class citizens in the faith. That the teachings of Jesus were received second-hand would be no obstacle to those interested in manipulating such divisions: there is enough in the Gospels to prey on the fear of those unprepared by experience and education to understand Christian moral philosophy.

To prevent this exclusion from the faith of those that needed it most, Jesus was demoted, being made only a prophet. This was extended to his crucifixion.

Should this make a difference?

The point of faith, as I see it, is to provide us with the strength to do good in the world. Most Christians find great strength in the sacrifice made by Jesus. But there are also those that flee Christianity because Christians cannot act according to that standard. If Muslims find hope that they can do good without failing the standard set by the Son of God, is that a bad thing? Particularly if their tradition holds out the hope that they will ultimately aspire to that standard?

I think not. I think that God meets us where we are, and that all that matters is the degree to which our faith encourages us to open our hearts to him.