There is a tendency to lump the three major monotheistic creeds together and an even more pernicious tendency to assimilate Judaism and Christianity into a single entity called the “Judeo-Christian” civilization. Despite the fact that Christianity never rejected the Old Testament, nothing is further from the truth. These three creeds show fundamental and irreconcilable differences.
The Torah is the most respected text of Judaism, zealously followed by fundamentalists. It teaches that the Jewish tribes have been singled out and elected by Yahweh among all the tribes of this earth. Among other Gods, Yahweh is the God of Israel only and will help the Jews to conquer new lands, prosper and vanquish their enemies, provided they obey Him. “Do to others what they do to you”, “do to others what you suspect they would do to you if they could”. These precepts guide the fundamentalist Jew in his daily life and put him on the defensive: he waits for other people to manifest their intentions and reacts on them on a basis of stark retaliation. The motto “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” indicates to the Integrist that he should not expect kind treatment. The Torah gives as an example Jews behaving like sanguinary rascals during the occupation of Canaan, which they supposedly laid waste although the occupation of Canaan was realized in a pacific way, mainly by Jews who never left the country. Jg 18 is explicit, especially 9: We saw people who live in security, as do the Sidonians, They are far from Sidon and have no relations with Aram. Stand up! And let us march against them. Because we saw the land and it is excellent. …You will find defenseless people… God put in our hands a land where nothing fails of what one may have on this earth. The Jewish leadership, praising these obscene writings that advocated violence, stealing and hatred, fostered ethnocentrism. The Jews were cordially hated, for good reasons, by nations that received them well and were without any animosity against them. The hatred lasted for centuries (Jdt 11, 2; Est 3, 8b-9) and ended up with the complete destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D., who sold the inhabitants. In 73, Masada fell. It was the end of the Jewish state.
The message delivered by Jesus was exactly opposite to the teaching of the Torah. The reformed concept of God had germinated in Judaic consciousness after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. Jesus preached that God is a God of Love and that his Love extends to all men of good will. Men are invited to abandon hatred: “love thy enemy”, “do to your neighbor what you would like him to do to you”, “thou shall not judge”, “hate sin but love the sinner”. The initiative of peaceful and constructive social relations with neighbors and foreigners is in the hands of the Christian. The civilized Christian refuses to demean his conduct to that of the enemies he confronts.
Jesus spoke in a country that was part of an Empire. At that time, the Empire feared no external enemies. Within, peace and security were achieved. Paul, Peter and other apostles traveled wherever they liked within the empire without fear for their life and possessions. The peaceful political context that protected the first Christians allowed them to live up to their creed: honesty, tolerance and peacefulness. Pugilistic attitudes and war were banned and indeed the first Christians refused to serve. The impossibility to rely on Christians for warfare presented no problem to the administrators of the Empire as long as the borders were secure. They were secure during 500 years, from about 100 BC to 400 AD. When the Empire suffered an external assault in 410 AD, the pacifist Christians took up arms. In the West, the Empire eventually disintegrated into tribal subunits; in the East, Byzantium survived until 1453. When the Byzantine Empire adopted Christianity, it followed the Christian precepts of honesty and decency: citizens were not systematically stolen by the State and Byzantium kept the value of its money unchanged until its fall (1453).
The Christian Truth is revealed by a prophet who is also God. Yet, violence cannot be inflicted to resilient people unwilling to accept the Truth. The free will of the converts must be respected; nobody may be forced. The perception of the Truth must proceed from man himself and the Church relies on persuasion, discussion and a mystical enlightenment (e.g. Paul on the road to Damask; Pascal on a bridge of the Seine River) for the conversion. This line of conduct was applied during the first thousand years of existence of the Christian faith. It succumbed to violence later on.
Islam arose in a country with a tradition of nomadism, which lay beyond the borders of the Empire (Byzantium). Trade had made the urban centers of Arabia extremely wealthy, which had fostered the development of potent tools of logical analysis, among which an elegant script and mathematics. Islam was at the forefront of science for 800 years, from 600 to 1400 AD. The progress made in science and transport technology allowed the rearing of superior breeds of camel and of the Arabian horse, a superb animal. The cavalier was armed with excellently crafted steel weapons. The warships of Islam remained unsurpassed until the battle of Lepantus (1571). Mohammed, the prophet, introduced Logic into the Christian Faith and considerably simplified it, making it intelligible and acceptable to Nomads (e.g. polygamy). He pushed Logic to a repulsive extremity with the sanctification of murder (fatwa) and war (jihad). The physical elimination of the sacrilegious is a duty. War conducted to convert the Infidels is not only permissible but also recommended. War is a holy obligation. The greatest evils, the most disruptive factors of civilization are presented by Islam as the most desirable and necessary Goods.
This choice of Islam to attribute sanctity to abhorrent means appeared to have been the correct one, because Islam blossomed and grew into an Empire, initially centrally administered from Medine, in Saudi Arabia. In AD 751, the army of the T’ang Dynasty (618-906) suffered a serious defeat against the army of the Abbasid Caliphate (AD 750-1258) at Talas in Western Turkestan. The Chinese papermakers captured in this battle transmitted the art of papermaking to Islam. A manufacture of paper was installed in Baghdad in 795. The availability of paper was a potent stimulus for the advancement of the sciences and administrative skills in the Islamic world. It also favored the writing of military treatises. Transport technology, military technology and administrative technology responded to the exigencies of a society that had made the waging of war its prime concern.
The initial military successes of Islam on sea and land were immense not only because Islam’s armies were superior on all accounts but also because the enemies encountered to the East (Buddhists, Hinduists) and West ( persecuted heterodox Christians) refused combat. The success of the Islamic armies proved the correctness of Mohammed’s approach. His example was followed by barbars as Carolus Magnus while the Church, on the defensive, strenuously rejected all aspects of an Islamic civilization that was perceived as a denial of civilization for its glorification of war, despite some desirable aspects which pope Sylvester attempted to assimilate.
A dramatic error in judgement of the Fathers of the Church was to keep the Old Testament, with its dangerous content, on an equal footing with the Gospels and the Epistles. There was absolutely no ground for this except the assertion by Matthew (XXII, 32) that Jesus reveres the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus III, 6). The “Judeo-Christian” civilization is a return to primitive tribal savagery promoted by integrist movements within Christianity, which took the Old Testament seriously. Access to the contents of the Old testament (when the Bible was printed and people learned to read), offered to poorly educated believers endowed with a limited level of intelligence the occasion to revert to the primitive concepts of behavior extolled by the Torah, which the Protestants clothed with all the virtues attributed to a pristine holiness. The Quakers remained true to the message of Christ.
The contemporary picture of Western and World civilizations is dismal and appalling. We are back at the start of primitivism, below the level of civilization achieved by the Bushmen. Conrad Lorenz made the joke that he had found the missing link between apes and humans: us. There are overwhelming reasons to despair but there are also some reasons of hope for the better. All this will be exposed in the third part of this study.