1. Why did Christianity become a ‘universal’ religion? How did Christians replace the ‘chosen’ people? What was the logic behind the transformation of the Jewish god into God of the humankind?
In the literature on the subject that I have read, the first two questions get a historical (semi-psychological) answer. Traces of this answer can also be found between the lines in ‘The Heathen…’. There is a great deal of theological discussion on the third issue but I have not followed them.
Are these questions important? Extremely. Should we seek to decipher the logic behind the mutation of Judaism into Christianity or is this process not a mutation but a mere transformation of Judaism? That is to say, is Christianity a solution of sorts to some or another dilemma of Judaism (Sankrant identifies the tension in the notion of Jewish god) or is the emergence of Christianity to be solely located in the response of the Judaic communities? The issue needs a bit of unraveling before it can be tackled properly.
2. I claim that religion exhibits the double dynamic and every entity that is a religion should obey this. But the motor of the double dynamic is different for each religion and for Christianity it is the Christological dilemma. The messianic doctrine in Judaism is not a dilemma to Judaism because it does not claim a universal scope. The same becomes a dilemma to Christianity because it is forced to become `universal’. In other words, the Christ figure is a problem to Christianity because of what it is forced to do with the messiah of Judaism. In this sense, depending on what we focus upon (in this case) Christianity either continues the Judaic religion (the doctrine of the messiah) or breaks with it (because of how it looks at the messianic figure).
3. While it is true that religion universalizes itself through the processes of evangelization and secularization, there is an empirical problem regarding these two processes. (Since I have tackled this question at length in one of my earlier posts, I will be brief here.) We need to keep in mind that the process of universalization of religion is tied to the extended reproduction of religion. In the book, I identify another mode of reproduction of religion (the simple reproduction of religion) and focus there only on one type of the extended reproduction, namely expanding in space (geography), people (the conversion of members from elsewhere), and domains (more and more aspects of human existence come under the sway of religion).
4. There is, however, at least one other mode of extended reproduction of religion that we empirically know of. Instead of expanding horizontally, some or another religion expands vertically (`horizontal’ and `vertical’ are merely convenient images). That is to say, while it looks from the outside that there is a mere simple reproduction of religion (there is no horizontal expansion of religion; the EI account merely continues to make the Cosmos explanatorily intelligible to those to whom it is the case), the religion in question is obeying the dynamic of extended reproduction of religion. It looks like simple reproduction because the secularization process appears muted and the religion in question does not evangelize. However, this is merely an appearance: because the religion inducts members from new generations (the children), it evangelizes them; it also brings more and more spheres of their
existence – novel and unanticipated developments in society – under the sway of religion and hence it secularizes itself as well. (One could say that all living religions know extended reproduction of religion and that the notion of a simple reproduction is a theoretical construct that enables us to get synchronic snapshot of the structure of religion.)
5. It is a matter of historical contingency (I think) as to which kind of extended reproductive dynamic a religion is subject to. It is my hypothesis that when a religion confronts a vibrant pagan milieu, then it is forced, as it were, to expand by taking the form of an apparently simple reproduction of religion. This happened to Judaism in Rome; a similar fate would have befallen Christianity too (for the first three hundred years, this is how Christianity lived in the Pagan culture that Rome was). I think that is what happened to Islam and Christianity in India as well. (That is also why I think that a revitalization of the Indian traditions is the only answer to the problem of conversion in India. But this is a different issue altogether.)
6. Even though it is a question of historical contingency that Constantine founded Constantinople and thus laid the basis for the Byzantine Empire, moving away from Rome was crucial for the horizontal expansion of Christianity. (It took nearly another six hundred years to remove all vestiges of paganism from Rome.) Such luck has never accompanied Judaism: it has always been forced to reproduce itself in its apparently simple form. (There is some proof, though, that it did evangelise in the Roman Empire, but it did so analogous to the way the cults expanded there.)
7. Now is the time to pick up Sankrant’s thoughts by reformulating them. Is it possible for religion to reproduce itself indefinitely in a simple form, which hides its extended reproduction? Or is there something to religion that compels it to expand horizontally as well? Even though Constantine is a historically contingent figure, would the nature of Christianity (as a religion) sooner or later have required a Constantine? In this sense, is a Jewish state (though contingently founded only after the Second World War) inevitable?
8. An EI account cannot be restricted by time, space, or ideational clothes. The message must also be unconditionally accessible because its truth does not depend upon the truth of any piece of knowledge that human beings produce. Judaism is both an EI account and, at the same time, restricts access to its message. It claims that the Cosmos is explanatorily intelligible (therefore, it makes unconditional truth claim about all that was, is, and shall be) and that all other `competing accounts’ are false. At the same time, it explicitly denies that this truth is accessible to all. Not only that. It says that `others’ are necessarily forced to access only falsehoods. That is to say, only on the condition that others necessarily access only falsehoods is this EI account true. Judaism is the unconditional truth about the world if and only if it is only conditionally true. (That condition is that others are not only false but also that they cannot ever access the Truth.) The god of the Jews is God if and only if other gods exist and they are false. The `other gods’ are the creatures of God; the latter is what He is (i.e. the unconditioned God) unconditionally. At the same time He is God, if and only if His existence is conditioned by the existence of other, false gods. The
Jewish god is God if and only if he is not the Unconditioned God.
9. If this is the case, the Jewish theology (with the notion of an `inconsistent God’ as its centre piece) would help us figure out (a) Judaism as an EI better; (b) relate the emergence of Christianity to Judaism; (c) answer some of the questions raised earlier in this post. One of the empirical issues of great significance to us is to trace the history of the several notions of `god’ as they evolved in the Jewish theologies. Is this inconsistency a result of the internalization of the nature and notion of traditions, i.e., is this how Jews incorporated the nature of the pagan milieu they lived in as the motor of their own religion? Or is this a purely internal development of Judaism itself?
10. Once we have some such history of the motor of Judaism, only then, could we tackle the issue of `genericization’. However, I think that Sankrant is on a very interesting track. It appears to open up very exciting and fascinating areas of investigation that will help us understand the nature of religion better. My suggestion to Sankrant (and to others who feel like it) is to pursue this track. You need to delve deeper into the history of early Judaism, its theologies, and make yourselves very familiar with the early Christianity. I personally think that Sankrant’s suggestion is the best I have come across so far for us to start tackling the nature of Judaism and the questions about its nature as a religion.
- The dynamic of religion: secularization and proselytization
- Achievements of Indology: Esoteric Indian traditions