The following is in response to a post from my friend Tony. We were talking about Zorba (the film, which he had just seen for the first time). We have discussed the natures of Christianity and Islam. My latest post to him reflects my current thinking.
By the end of the first century there were already over a dozen versions of Christianity. Most of the differences were on two issues – the nature of Jesus (divine and human, only divine, only human, etc.) and the relationship with the OT in the new faith (all of it, selected parts of it, none of it, etc.). Gnosticism was an important element in bringing Christianity into the pagan world as were the mystery religions. Syncretism (adapting other faith systems, customs and symbols into Christianity) goes on to the present day. The Gnostic influence is the basis for Christianity’s dark view of this world, such as original sin. Trinity is a concept developed over two centuries following the establishment of the NT canon. I have read some of that literature including Augustine’s long essay on the subject. It is still a doctrine that leaves some theologians discomforted. I understand it as a way of seeing the theological problem of God’s connection to this world – Father is transcendent and distant; son is immanent and close; Holy Spirit is the connector. This same set of ideas is present in both Judaism and Islam, along with the problems and issues connected (for example theodicy, the problem of divine justice). Decades of study and experience have shown me that the three Faith’s are really three faces of one faith. All the conflicts among them and within them are not really about faith no matter how much faith is used to promote and justify them. The only reason, I believe, that this does not happen for Jews is we are so few in numbers. Our own sources say there is nothing intrinsic about us that is better than other peoples. God chose us to play a role in human history and much of the time we might wish, as Tevye says in “Fiddler,”. “Can’t you choose someone else for a change?” I am very proud to be a Jew because of all the good we have done in our assigned role (which I think includes the creation of both Christianity and Islam), but that does not mean I feel superior. It just means I have burdens of responsibility to teach and promote a way for people to be good to each other. My political and social views come from that place.
On vacation my mind seems to open up. I think I may post this message on my blog…