Monday, June 1, 2009
Why the Jews survived as a people when no one else did
Further to the last post, I was watching a lecture by Yale Professor Christine Hayes, and she makes the point that the reason the Jews have such an extraordinary long history when so many larger and more advanced civilisations dissapeared off the map, is their robust monotheism. Which meant that when the ultimate national disaster happened (being wholesale exile and enslavement) rather than accepting that their god had been defeated by the enemy's god they interpreted the event as an act of their soveriegn God. This interpretive act effectively stopped them from being assimilated by the conquering culture and allowed them to maintain a unique identity. Now this is an entirely secular argument, not one that needs God to be real for it to work. (Although if God is real then obviously God might have a hand in the survival of God's chosen people as well.) But I think this same point applies to the contemporary Christian's ability to maintain a Christian identity even through the most traumatic and harrowing circumstances. If you are able to interpret the event as being within the will of a soveriegn God then you will be able to survive it with your commitment to God intact. But if the event is interpreted as having happened in spite of the best efforts of a limited god your willingness to identify with that god will be compromised. After all, it makes no sense to give all your loyalty to a deity than isn't always in control.