maandag 29 juni 2009


Why are Jews so annoying? That’s to say, according to the Romans and early Christians? And also according to Mohammed and the later Christians and Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau?

The Dutch columnist Afshin Ellian explains the phenomenon for Christianity and Islam. Both religions, he says, claim universal validity. Jesus came, according to Christian doctrine, for all people and Islam pretends to know the truth for everybody.

Obviously these two universalist claims collide, for because each of them claims totality, they exclude one another. But at least they have in common that they believe in a truth that applies to everyone. Therefore a more fundamental confrontation for both religions is the encounter with a movement that does not believe in one and the same truth for everyone. And which in any case refuses to give up its own particularist faith in favor of universality. Indeed, that is really offensive, because general validity of any color is supposed to offer guidance. Whoever questions that principle really goes too far.

But that is exactly what the Jews have done for centuries. They viewed the joyful message of the Gospel with skepticism and refused it as they saw little redemption in the world around them. For an ideology, like Christianity, which derives its strength precisely from the general validity of its message, this is an insult.

The same happened with the truth that Mohammed brought. Regarding that message the Jews said: this is not our truth. But you cannot say that just like that to an ideology that would apply to everyone, because then you're a game breaker. You will arouse aversion and annoyance.

The bad luck - or stupidity? - of the Jews is that they demanded for themselves the right to freedom of expression at times in history that you better would not do so yet. To say no to universalist pretensions is very dangerous if you are not protected by human rights. And that’s what was showed in history. You may as well admire the Jews for it.

The problem is that universalist pretensions did not become less as Christianity lost its influence. As mentioned above, also Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau were disturbed by the Jews’ cherishing of their own traditions. And this has everything to do with the universal values that Reason, as the successor of Christianity, propagated. They don’t leave space for deviant peoples, religions or cultures, because these disrupt the universalist party.

According to Ellian, Christianity and Islam could not do – because of their universal claims – without the invalidation and demonization of Jews and Judaism. With as a result a spiral of repression and fear, violence and counter violence of which one can only hope it will once come to an end.

The pathology, resulting from the violence and fear, has largely overgrown the commitment that was originally at stake. But - historically spoken - that commitment can be indicated indeed. It was the commitment to the freedom of expression, even without being protected for that. Maybe that’s still the issue.

See also Enthusiasm