woensdag 13 januari 2016

Does everybody become Jewish?

“It’s not impossible,” the philosopher Samuel IJsseling writes in one of his posthumously edited texts, “that in Europe a form of Christianity arises with some resemblance to the attitude of the Jews.”

That attitude he described a little earlier in the text, using an observation by Amos Oz. “Nowhere in the world,” says Oz, “you find so many Bible-knowing atheists as in Israel. Faith here has given way to admiration. Admiration for the stories that are told and interpreted over and over again. Here God is first of all a word, a character in an ancient story. Admiration also for rituals and celebrations, and even for the law that is at least partially maintained”.

The above text suggests that the life-orientation of the Christian world moves somewhat to that of the Jewish world. This is intriguing, especially since according to the text this would be the case for two, often mutually contradictory, groupings in European culture. On one hand the group of secularised people, who said goodbye to the Christian faith, but like many atheist Jews continue to cherish its cultural and historical aspects. And secondly, the Christian believers who do not secularize. They too come to stand closer to the Jewish world, namely by the fact that they allow certain aspects of their religious orientation that truly can be called Jewish.

To start with the latter: for a long time Christianity has been marked by a kind of  unearthlyness. It cherished supersweet stories in which angelic virtue was cultivated as the highest (and unattainable) ideal. That approach seems to slowly give way to a more mature attitude to life in which, for example, the reality of violence, including that of the very own tradition, is better acknowledged.

Some of that I found in the statement of Frans Kellendonk that the religion of heaven has to become the religion of the earth. Or in Jean-Jacques Suurmond who said, on the occasion of Blood Book of Dimitri Verhulst, that you should be glad that the Old Testament tells no tales, for “precisely a sweet utopia makes people grab a Kalashnikov”.  Recognition of the violence of one’s own tradition can teach you to deal with it appropriately. By the way, I am afraid that all this does not apply to the growing group of evangelical Christians.

Then there is the other, first mentioned tendency: that of secularising people showing kinship with Jews who cherish their tradition in the first place as cultural heritage. IJsseling’s own wanderings are perhaps typical of this group. From being a Catholic priest he developed in pagan direction by becoming an admirer of Greek and Roman polytheism. Later, the plurality of divine characters and moods of this pantheon, from envious to engaging and from loving to vindictive, made him, appearing from the above quote, in a new way responsive to the plurality of voices of the Hebrew Bible.

Whether or not that pluralism is religious in content does not matter anymore with IJsseling and the group he represents. More important in the context of this column is that ex-Jews and ex-Christians increasingly appear to have an attitude in common. Which could be summed up in what Tamarah Benima calls ‘mercurianism’, after Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, including associations like “speed, eloquence, travel, science, but also cunning and deception”. You could say that everyone becomes a bit more Jewish. Or the reverse: Jews become a bit less different.