An Otherworldly Faith

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The Article

Counting Easter as day one, the seventh Sunday after Easter is the 50th day, hence the name “Pentecost” for the major feast that Christians of the Western calendar celebrate today. It corresponds, in any Christian calendar, to the ancient Jewish holy day of Shavuot, a like distance after the Passover. The Jews commemorate in that harvest festival the giving of the Torah, of the Commandments. The Christians, in Pentecost, commemorate as well the descent of the Spirit at Jerusalem, at Shavuot, in the sound of winds and the miracle of the tongues.

It was a day also marked by the baptism of thousands who, according to Scripture, were swept up in that miracle, hearing the Word preached in every conceivable language, including to all travellers in their own native tongues.

By tradition, it is thus the birthdate of the church, founded by Christ, but “activated,” as it were, after his Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascent. Given historical evidence for the events of Christ’s Passion that converge upon a particular year, this would make today the church’s 1,977th earthly anniversary: from Shavuot in 33 A.D.

Never forget that Christian religion rests in every corner on Hebrew foundations.

It is a continuation of that religion. Christians affirm that the Messiah has come, and recall that He said in His own words: “Do not think that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

“Judeo-Christian” is a term of art in the culture wars. It is rightly controversial. I use it myself in exactly the way my Evangelical friends use it, in close-quarter fighting with the contemporary Zeitgeist. We speak of the “Judeo-Christian tradition” in “the West.”

Let us confess that in addition to provocative, both terms are potentially misleading, the latter especially. For when we say “the West,” we mean specifically the Christian West, which is to say, the European civilization that was for all practical purposes created by the Roman Catholic Church, though later big swaths of it were separated from Rome. Nevertheless, Protestants and Catholics share Roman roots.

There was, of course, an Eastern Christendom, too, though in the course of centuries almost all of it fell to Islamic conquest. It is, if one believes in accidents, an accident of history that the West, centred on Rome, became the Christian civilization “par excellence”—for it corresponded, in historical fact, roughly to that part of Christendom that remained independent and free of dhimmitude. And it did so, incidentally, by being willing to give as well as it got at the frontiers.

All that aside, it will be seen “the West” is not a geographical term, but a historical one. It is, “the civilization descending from Western Christendom.” The contraction to “the West” has the advantage of not waving the cape too splendidly before the post-modern bull. It allows people who are entirely Christian in ultimate loyalty to pose as mere imperialists and colonialists and ethnic chauvinists. You need that sometimes to get another word in.

But then, “Judeo-Christian” gives the game away. True, it can also be a little misleading, for we are speaking of a tradition that was in no sense an alliance between Christians and Jews. The “Judeo” part of this equation was, through about 15 of the last 20 centuries, exclusively “as interpreted by the Roman Church.” And over the last five, descending from that interpretation.

Yet the term has a useful meaning, in signalling how squarely Christendom was founded on the much older inheritance, through Abraham and Moses—preserved, we believe authentically, by the Jews.

Should my reader find the courage, he might pick up a copy of the Bible. If he is entirely unfamiliar with this work, the first thing he may notice is the distribution of pages. About four-fifths of the bulk is provided by pre-Christian material, all of which just happens to be Hebrew. Go figure.

There is more to this than statistics. In the culture wars, the invocation of “Judeo-Christian” reminds all educated protagonists that the Christian moral order is not some passing fancy of the last 20 centuries, but was established thousands of years before that. We might add, that the Commandments to the Jews are echoed in all the world’s other great religions; but that would be piling on.

Every human being is hard-wired with a conscience, and with the capacity for spiritual apprehension. These are faculties that can, alas, be seriously twisted (call it “original sin”). Yet even when turned upside down and inside out, they are constantly present in human behaviour. (The wickedest man will try to justify himself; the boldest atheist will seek some alternative “god” before which to prostrate himself—evolution, ecology, historical materialism, whatever. There are no true atheists.)

For all, the Pentecost exists both inside time, and outside it; a moment of instruction, in all the tongues of man. Let us remember that our conscience and our spiritual apprehension are no accident of nature: that they answer to an inescapable reality, transcending this world.

David Warren
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