(15) Yes, and if oxen and horses or lions had hands, and could paint with their hands, and produce works of art as men do, horses would paint the forms of the gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and make their bodies in the image of their several kinds.
(16) The Ethiopians make their gods black and snub-nosed; the Thracians say theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
Early Greek Philosophy, John Burnet, 3rd edition, 1920, p. 119. Translated from Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker griechisch und deutsch, Hermann Diels, Walther Kranz, 1903.
Xenophanes’ understanding that each group has gods that resemble it, so that the divine as such must be abstracted from these, is a valid anthropological deduction, but the foundation of a theory of religion rather than a religion.
What the Hebrews discovered was that their god, properly understood, was the One God, because all humans derive their humanity from the same scene. The specifics of the sacred being are unimportant; the sacred is above all the will that is the source of our humanity, our language and our self-consciousness. Although each group sees god(s) in its own image, unlike horses and lions, Thracians and Ethiops are both humans whose racial differences are unimportant, as are their different languages, provided that each community can communicate within itself, and by extension, to all the others.
This simple intuition is the most consequent of religious revelations because it establishes humans not merely as a single biological species, but as constituting, beyond all cultural differences, a single and unique community. Languages can be mutually translated, and although religious practices are not simply equivalent, they can all be seen as proposing variations of the same conception of the sacred. The direct consequence of this is that all humans share the same moral intuition, however diverse their ethical laws. This is the basis of the conception of the nation as opposed to the tribe, whose difference from other nations does not extend to its relation to the sacred: the eventual foundation of the European congress of nations that created the modern world.
But this revelation has a single locus in space-time. The infuriating thing about Jewish firstness is that it cannot be historically effaced. It is the enormous chutzpah of claiming to worship ab ovo the One God, not the best or most powerful but simply the One, that makes the heirs of this belief objects of eternal resentment.
One can well say, with John Paul II, that the Jews are the “elder brothers” of the Christians, as well as of the Muslims; that they have given their revelation of the sacred to the world, and that as with all firstness, it should be understood in the first place as a gift, not an assertion of superiority or a mode of exploitation.
But as Mauss discovered, gifts are meant to be exchanged, and this is a gift that has no counterpart. The only remedy is to accept the gift in good faith and seek to offer to the world gifts of one’s own in the measure of one’s ability.
To the extent that generative anthropology can help make this acceptance easier to bear, it is in providing it with a hypothetical basis. As a result of their experiences, at least partially understandable through the biblical narrative, the Hebrews discovered an essential quality about the sacred; but they did not invent the sacred. The Hebrew contribution to the Western, Judeo-Christian conception of God is secondary to the sacred’s fundamental characteristics that all such conceptions share. The better we understand the anthropological basis of the sacred, the less we need resent the historical accidents of its revelations.
“First they come for the Jews…” Usually after they “come for the Jews,” they go home, unless they happen to throw in a few other stigmatized groups. But unlike like these other groups, the Jews are not merely despised, but resented for their firstness. The core of antisemitism is the inescapable dissonance between resenting and denying this firstness, as in denying the Holocaust while regretting its incompletion. The Jews are the only category of victims to whom the stigma of “blaming the victim” does not apply; they are excluded from “intersectional” groupings.
The friends of the Jews, Evangelist Christians and Mormons are among the most fervent Zionists, far more consistently than American Jews themselves. Instead of mocking their beliefs as relics of ancient superstitions, we should respect them as expressions of cultural wisdom. They understand that the Jews embody the foundation of Christianity and modernity, and that their return to Israel is an event of world-historical significance, an affirmation not merely of “Western civilization” but of the modern world and its potential. Religious intuitions/revelations can express anthropological truths whose rational exposition is too far away from realization, just as the originary hypothesis solicits a “faith” that cannot be demonstrated with direct factual evidence.
Whence the world-historical potential of Donald Trump’s Abrahamic initiative in spreading to the Islamic world the reconciliation with its Hebrew “elder brothers” that has been made by the most enlightened Christians.
Not only did Trump’s daughter convert to Judaism to marry a Jew and raise those Jewish grandchildren that liberal Jews have so few of, Trump alone of our presidents dared to take the decisive step, in the face not only of the increasingly antisemitic Democrats but of “respectable” Republicans, of moving the American embassy to Jerusalem as a mark of the definitive installation of the Jews in their ancient homeland. No more emphatic message of international affirmation had been given to Israel since Truman recognized it in 1948.
This is a major point in favor of viewing Trump as a world-historical figure, whose quirks of personality must be understood as the price paid by us and Trump himself for his having the audacity to stand in opposition to Western oikophobia. Along with his ally Ben Carson, Trump was sole among the more than a dozen GOP hopefuls in 2016 to recognize the danger of the victimary: what was then called PC and has now mutated into wokeness. His MAGA slogan was an affirmation of national pride that was unusual only in its apparent audacity.
The resistance of so many American Jews, and not a few of those in Israel, to Trump’s encouragements to claim full nationhood and abjure what David Wurmser called the Jewish attitude of the galut or state of exile, which persists in Israel itself despite its 70-odd years of existence, only underlines the significance of these initiatives. Rather than characterize the West, and the Jews, by their moral failures, both should be judged on the basis of the moral as well as material benefits they have brought the world. It is our Judeo-Christian moral conscience that has allowed us to condemn slavery when it continues to be practiced in less advanced societies. Ideas like these seem banal, but their limited currency today demonstrates that the wisdom of common sense demands more maturity and courage than does woke virtue-signaling. As the land symbolic of the postwar re-beginning of Western civilization, Israel must resist this exilic temptation, lest it spread, as it now risks doing, to both the European heartland of this civilization and its bulwark in the USA.
Today Americans are becoming become aware of the awful consequences of 2021’s so-called “return to normalcy” that is in fact a submission to the victimary pseudo-religion promoted by the near-totality of American society’s elite, some merely as virtue-signalers, and others recognizing the political advantages of doing away with America’s once majoritarian “middle class.”
Trump alone stood viably against this trend, and his treatment at the hands of his political enemies throughout his term shows how low not only patriotism but the simple respect for reality has sunk among the bureaucrats who control American educational institutions, commerce and industry, and above all, government.
Why indeed have the Palestinians become so dear to so many, like the poor girl whose heart was hurt by our supplying Israel with—purely defensive—Iron Dome rockets? Clearly, the real source of the vast sympathy for Palestinians is simply that they are “victims” of the Jews. Trump has been the only American (and pretty much the only Western) politician to treat Israel as a fully legitimate country rather than as coequal in its claims with the Arab groups who rejected the Balfour declaration and have sought ever since to make the land of Israel Judenfrei “from the river to the sea.”
The Abraham accords have no doubt benefited from the Arab-Sunni reaction to the danger posed by Iran to the status quo in the Middle East. But this tactical rapprochement should be understood in a far broader context. Just as Christians have learned (more or less) to accept the “seniority” of the Jews without denying their own religion, the same can happen in Islam.
No doubt, in comparison with Christianity, Islam’s generally hostile relationship to the Jews reflects a far more adversarial theology, as shown by the numerous anti-Jewish passages in the Koran and Hadiths. Unlike Christianity, which seeks to spread its faith throughout the Earth while always retaining the distinction between God’s kingdom and that of the world, Islam promotes an active program of world conquest, in the context of which any territory once occupied by Muslims can never in principle be relinquished. Although the Koran is highly dependent on the Old Testament, Islam inverts this dependency by representing itself as the “true” version of what had previously been revealed to the Jews (and Christians) only in distorted form.
But if Islam can accept the loss of Spain and other European territories, it can accept the legitimacy of Israel. If there is a self-serving element in any such agreement, so much the better. Israel doesn’t need charity from the Islamic world, but simply a chance to live together in peace. The Palestinian population has much more to gain in the long run from cooperation with the Arab world and with Israel than from dependence on the Muslim Brotherhood and on Iran’s fanatical regime, deeply hated by the majority of its own population.
The potential consequences of a fully-developed Abrahamic alliance are far-reaching. The establishment of a sense of religious brotherhood would help diminish the Muslim/Christian tension that is undermining the unity of Europe, while encouraging the modernization of the still-medieval aspects of Sharia. The decline and defeat of jihadism would unleash the potential of Asian and African nations now preoccupied with the threat of religious civil war.
There is no overriding necessity that mimetic rivalry find its outlet in destructive violence. Reassuring words do not themselves constitute a solution, but the Abraham accords are not mere slogans. Whatever hope remains for the West to contribute to the betterment of the human race, this potential alliance is a far better way to initiate the rapprochement of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds than surrendering Afghanistan to the Taliban.
It is in fact of great significance that this step toward unity has occurred at the very moment when the postwar world order under Pax Americana appears to be breaking down. The extension of peace between Islam and the Judeo-Christian religions to the still incompletely modernized lands of Africa and the Middle East could be the crucial watershed in the extension of modernity, instead of just its weaponry, to the entire human race. It is still not too late for the West to learn once more to believe in itself and its values before war once again turns all the advances of modernity against its inventors and humanity as a whole.