Monday, May 23, 2016

COMMON CAUSE UNDERMINES LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY

Common Cause is a public-interest group revered by those who rely on its mission statement and its reputation earned long ago for efforts to improve the functioning of democracy.  Common Cause New Mexico (CCNM) declares itself

“dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process.”

However, an older organization with newer personnel, Common Cause no longer always practices what it preaches.  An instance is CCNM’s proposed ordinance to promote public financing in Las Cruces elections.  Ironically, its proposal and political approach directed by Executive Director Viki Harrison and executed by local agent Craig Fenske undermine the democratic principles of its mission statement—all in the name of enhancing democratic elections.

Common Cause is rightly concerned about the influence at all levels of government, of unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns, competition in election races, and voter participation.  CCNM assumes that such problems plague Las Cruces elections and proposes an ordinance creating a program to address them.  In league with some City Council members, it has developed this proposal to provide some funds for qualifying candidates for mayor, council, and judge to partly offset private funds, encourage more candidates, create more choices, and increase voter participation in elections.  However, its proposal does not represent public wishes or serve the public interest, and its approach does not reflect adherence to democratic processes.

CCNM’s initiative does not respond to any widespread desire by “ordinary people” for public campaign funding.  Harrison claims that CCNM responded to a few interested people:

I am always transparent about who we talk to and this idea of exploring public financing came from a LWV luncheon that I was at a few years ago in Las Cruces.  Several life-time residents of Cruces said they wanted to enact a public financing system for municipal races since public financing is one of the reforms many organizations support.  I told them we liked the idea (having passed similar laws in Alb and SF) and would work with them to see what the city wanted.

It took me a couple of years to raise some money to bring someone on but when I did we started meeting with various groups and then worked up the proposal that we gave the city.

Though she purports to be “always transparent,” Harrison has since refused to identify the “life-time residents” or “various groups.”  Confirmation of her claim is impossible.  Given her claim to have passed similar laws in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I wonder whether she suggested the idea and some LWV members supported it.

CCNM has done little to rally the public to its proposal.  Most Las Cruceans know about it only from columns, letters, and website comments by Fenske and me.  However, these exchanges have not engaged the issues.  Fenske asserts general problems and CCNM’s proposed solution; I question whether the problems exist in local elections and whether its proposal addresses any of them.  He describes administrative details and annual costs; I question whether the benefits justify the costs.  He has never answered to these important questions.

I have also raised important practical issues—gaming the program for profit, running phony candidates to divide the opposition vote, and thereby enabling candidates of a minority party to control Council in governing a powerless citizenry mostly of a majority party—issues which Fenske has not addressed.  CCNM’s proposal could create a situation contradicting the democratic principle of government with the “consent of the governed.”

CCNM’s responses to my questions disrespect both dissent and dissenters from its position on public funding of elections.  In a column, Fenske lied that I was indifferent to “dark” or outside money in campaigns.  At a public forum, Harrison avoided answering my questions by rudely dismissing them and me as known to all.  After it, she privately accused me of beating her up—metaphoric language to bully me by implying a common feminist charge that men abuse women.  CCNM claims that it wants “people to make their voices heard in the political process,” but its conduct implies only voices agreeing.

Otherwise, CCNM has not tried to engage the public about its proposal.  It has not issued a statement of the problems relevant to Las Cruces, of the ability of the proposal to solve them, and of benefits and costs.  It has not admitted relevant facts: candidates supported by outside funding did not win any races in the latest election; all City Council races have been contested for the past ten years, some with more than two candidates for one seat; and no data show that low voter turnout reflects a lack of candidates, the choice of candidates, or frustration that they have not addressed issues of concern to citizens.  It provides no support for its claim that programs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, with different cultures, histories, and demographics, would succeed in Las Cruces.  It omits from its proposal measures of program success or failure and a sunset provision.

Whether Las Cruces has election-related problems so severe that they require a potentially dangerous and addictive “fix” costing $200,000 annually is doubtful.  CCNM refuses to answer that three-times-$64,000 question.  How its proposed ordinance provides for that annual cost is problematic.  The critical provision in the proposal is its dictate for annual funding: “The City Council shall annually appropriate $2 per City of Las Cruces resident per year...from the City General Fund to the Fair Elections Fund.”

This provision is inconsistent with CCNM’s commitment to “open, honest, and accountable government.”  It corrupts the annual budgeting process by automatically earmarking funds for one item in advance and thereby precludes comparison with funds for other items.  It denies future City Councils the use of those earmarked funds for other public purposes more highly valued in future circumstances.  It denies citizens the knowledge about which budget items the earmark reduces.  Moreover, by earmarking funds in each year, the proposal avoids the uncertain outcome of public debate about allocating $400,000 in election years.  It sets a precedent for mandatory earmarks.  So this provision hinders future public debate on this ordinance and its costs.  What first appears simple and sensible is finally sinister in undermining democratic processes.

There is good news.  Even if City Council enacts it, CCNM’s proposed ordinance lacks legal force because one Council cannot dictate to a future Council.  Any future Council has the choice of following or rescinding it, perhaps even just ignoring it.  Puzzling it is that CCNM has attempted so much to achieve so little.

The process used to develop this ordinance is a disgrace to honest government.  CCNM and City Council advocates believe the ordinance justified by good intentions, which, as is well known, pave a famous road to an infamous place.  Harrison and Fenske could have sent Council a fully explained and developed proposal for public discussion.  Instead, they have operated clandestinely, likely fearing that the public, after scrutiny and debate, would reject it.  They have lobbied Council members and co-opted some by involving them in its development.  With their minds made up before a public meeting to formally present and officially approve the ordinance, these Council members join Harrison and Fenske in making a sham of democratic debate.  So much for CCNM’s professed commitment to “empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard in the political process.”

Both this coercive ordinance and the collusive effort to enact it show that Common Cause New Mexico does not practice what it preaches; it practices the politics of special-interest lobbyists while preaching “open, honest, and accountable government.”  As in its perversion of the petition process for a referendum on the minimum wage, City Council again displays contempt for democratic processes, good government, and Las Cruceans.

Monday, May 16, 2016

WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SURROUNDED -- A MEDITATION FOR MEMORIAL DAY

NOTE: I wrote this "sermon" for my daughter, an Episcopal priest in California.  Although I am Jewish, I sometimes think and write in Christian language and metaphors, as it were, to express, as she and many would recognize, Jewish ideas.  Oh, that's right: Jesus was Jewish.

Not so long ago, on a friend’s recommendation, I watched the HBO series A Band of Brothers.  The series, which I discovered in my collection—a holiday present filed away for later and forgotten—, is based on Stephen Ambrose’s book with the same title.  There is much to admire in this depiction of a unit of soldiers distinguished for its combat performance from the D-Day invasion of Normandy to the mid-winter defense of Bastogne to the springtime capture of Berchtesgaden.  For those of us who have seen or not seen, as the case may be, pictures or movies of the liberation of concentration camps, the episode “Why We Fight” is almost as good—or as bad—as it gets.

I was particularly struck by a snippet of dialogue between an anonymous lieutenant and Captain Winters of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, in December, 1945.  When the lieutenant warns the captain that it looks as if Bastogne is going to be surrounded, the captain replies, “We’re paratroopers, lieutenant; we’re supposed to be surrounded.”

The remark not only moved me, but also prompted meditation.  Here were men who had volunteered for dangerous duty in a do-or-die fight against enormous forces for evil.  They were not perfect men, paragons of virtue.  In rear areas or on front lines, their commitment to comrades was immediate and compelling.  So they repeatedly left the relative safety of rear areas or front-line foxholes to join them in combat, to seek out, attack, and disable or destroy the enemy.  Yet the mission was ever-present and always paramount; it brought them together, enabled them to forge unbreakable bonds, and gave purpose to their risk and their sacrifice.

Few of us have the experience of participating in armed hostilities.  Few of us have clearly defined missions and readily identifiable enemies.  Few of us bond with others in common efforts.  Indeed, most of us are often alone in the issues which confront us in our daily lives, with its moral dilemmas, ethical doubts, material distractions, and social insecurities.  What to do when your boss falsifies an expense account?  What to do when a co-worker gropes a female intern?  What to do when a friend tells a racist joke in the golf club grill room?  What to do when a neighbor posts an anti-Muslim sign on her front lawn?  What to do when an adult child buys beer for minors?  What to do when a minor child posts pictures of naked classmates on the Internet?

We are not paratroopers at Bastogne, but we are surrounded.  Are we supposed to be?  If we are people of faith, people of moral and religious conscience, people with the courage of our convictions, we differ from many, even most, others, even those who call themselves Christians, like infiltrating enemy soldiers in our uniforms.  A look around tells us that we are not only surrounded, but also outnumbered.

We are bound together by our faith and by our observances of our faith.  But our mission is not to go to church, to pray, to sing hymns, to listen to sermons, to put money in the collect, to recite the creed, to receive communion.  Our mission is to love and serve all people as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit love and serve all people, without distinction and without distraction.

Our mission is to go out of church into the world, to make our faith a force reforming it, to defeat—as it would have been expressed centuries ago—the world, the flesh, and the devil who tempts us to both.  Within the limits of our needs, we may enjoy the benefits of our labors.  But we may not amass power or wealth beyond measure, that is, without regard for others and their needs for food, clothing, and shelter; of health and education; of respect and justice in a civil society; and of fulfillment in family and community.  To the inextricably linked ends of love and service, we must sacrifice ourselves and what is ours for others; such is the Christian imitation of Our Lord Jesus.

Like the soldiers entering into battle at Bastogne, we cannot be sure of defeating the enemy.  But we have each other, we have the mission of our faith, and, with the courage of our convictions, we can face the forces which oppose and surround us in the hope that we shall be saved by saving others.


Amen.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

SOCIAL PROMOTION OR THIRD-GRADE RETENTION

[NOTE: The proposal to address student reading deficiencies in New Mexico is not greatly different from proposal to address this problem in other states.  So the issues addressed are relevant to all.  This version replaces an earlier version.]




As they retreat from their ill-conceived educational reforms on testing students, evaluating teachers, chartering schools, and implementing Common Core, Governor Martinez, PED Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandara, and others who have a business-oriented political agenda but know little about education advance the ill-conceived proposal to retain third-grade students not reading at grade level.  The situation is indeed dire: recent test scores based on national, not state, scales, reveal that a large majority of New Mexico’s fourth graders cannot read at grade level.  The implication remains ominous: those who have not learned to read cannot read to learn.



Advocates of this proposal offer a punitive, not a pedagogical, approach to this situation.  They believe that a glut of retained students will pressure administrators and teachers to improve student reading abilities.  But pressure cannot improve reading instruction.  Teachers who have failed to teach reading in four years are unlikely to magically teach it in one more year.  Adding more reading specialists, a once-favored but decades-long failed approach to assist teachers failing to teach reading, will again increase staff and salaries, without achieving success.



State officials and legislators know little about the situation or the consequences and costs of their response.  Which teachers at which grades fail to teach reading effectively?  Why does social promotion occur at any K-3 grade level?  How many third-grade students would be retained?  What are the costs—staff retraining, additional staff, and administrative costs—of third-grade retention?  What percentage of retained students would become capable readers?  Would retained students who did not become capable readers after one more year be retained for a second year or socially promoted?



Teachers admit, and state officials and legislators know, little about the causes or conditions of this situation.  Children go to school, become students, and do not learn to read.  Some blame the parents or poverty; they think progress impossible until parents get involved in their children’s education or make more money—responses which await the Second Coming.  Meanwhile, teachers must teach their students, whatever their backgrounds, as they are, not as teachers wish they were.  Given the results, neither teachers nor state officials and legislators are honest or knowledgeable, and daring, enough to suggest the obvious: K-3 teachers do not teach reading because they are not competent to teach reading.



This teacher incompetence is the problem, to which I suggest two legislative solutions focusing attention on the training of elementary school teachers.  One, require state-funded college programs of education to ensure teacher mastery of the subjects which elementary school teachers must teach, according to the requirements implicit in state curriculums.  Two, create an independent agency (1) to develop, administer, and score subject-matter tests as a sufficient standard of certification of all new in-state, and all out-of-state transfer, teachers; and (2) to develop, maintain, and audit the integrity of, a second, higher salary scale to attract or promote and retain the best and the brightest teachers; and, for this salary scale, to develop, administer, and score rigorous subject-matter tests; and to conduct personnel evaluations of candidates which rely on records and interviews, and disregard seniority.



These solutions do not constitute a quick, easy, or cheap fix.  However, putting subject-matter competent, confident, and committed teachers in the classroom is the best assurance of high academic performance.  Students respond to such teachers with respect and enthusiasm.  So do their parents.  And teachers who know that they can do, and are doing, the right job the right way will be gratified by their professional success.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

PRAISING AND RE-APPRAISING SCALIA


The death of Antonin Scalia has precipitated an outpouring of praise for his warm personal relationships, good humor, and cultivated tastes; and for his legal ingenuity, acerbic dissents, and principled opinions.  Muted is the criticism that he lacked the impartiality and the temperament of a Justice of the Supreme Court.  Only a few whisper that he was a partisan driven to use his voice and his vote to achieve, not legal, but political, ends.

Scalia’s sharp tongue does not imply a sharp mind.  On the contrary, it suggests that aggression superseded argument.  His dissents, although sometimes witty, became more often and increasingly indecorous and insulting, and cheapened discourse on the highest court in the land.  His lack of rhetorical restraint reflected his partisan commitments, particularly as the strain of losing votes on major cases took its toll.  Indeed, Scalia became unable to read views or hear news deemed liberal, and made his sources of information highly selective and exclusively conservative.

This bias is most evident in the doctrine with which Scalia is famously associated: originalism.  This doctrine, which he urged as a basis of Constitutional interpretation, holds that judges should be restricted to, and guided by, the meaning of its text as drafted or amended.  The suggestion is that originalism, not reinterpretations of, or departures from, the Constitution, ensures fidelity to it.

The doctrine is a legal fiction about an interpretive approach theoretically and practically impossible.  The Constitution is not self-interpreting.  Some meanings of its words were disputed at the time, were ambiguous or vague, or have changed since written.  How does an originalist pick one meaning and not another or make imprecise words precise?  What does “life” mean (used only once, in Article III, Section 3)?  What are the Eighth Amendment meanings of “cruel” and “unusual” in matters of punishment (then including flogging, branding, mutilation)?  Scalia approved studying contemporary texts to ascertain “originalist” meanings but disapproved studying legislative histories to ascertain the meanings of enacted laws.  Consistency would rule out The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers or rule in such histories.

Scalia’s application of originalism reflects his biases against new laws to address new circumstances or situations.  He invoked or applied it in dissents, not in concurrences.  The most recent and egregious instance is his supporting the majority opinion in Citizens United, which declared financial contributions to political campaigns protected speech under the First Amendment.  Yet neither the Constitution nor its Amendments connect, much less equate, money and speech (only the street adage “money talks” does so).  His failure to invoke originalism in this case shows him less intent on interpreting law than serving moneyed interests.  Scalia used originalism as a cover to conceal his political activism.  He was at least as much a judicial activist as any other justice has ever been; he just deplored judicial activism in other justices.

Ultimately, originalism renders one branch of the government defined by the Constitution a needless appendage.  If it creates a judiciary without the authority to interpret laws when their meaning or applicability is the basis of cases before it, then it creates a branch of government with no purpose.  Court decisions in such cases always influence the meanings of the laws.  If such decisions are called judicial lawmaking, so be it; American law has usually evolved incrementally in this way.  Scalia fabulates otherwise: each word in the Constitution retains its first, fixed, and unchanging meaning and has only one correct interpretation.  Such a Constitution never was, never was intended to be, and never can be.  With Scalia’s passing, we can move beyond his legal myth-making and his pseudo-judicial posturing.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

AGAINST A JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION



 A personal statement may prevent misunderstanding.  I am an unaffiliated, non-observant, but committed Reform Jew.  Both of my wives have been Episcopalians.  My original and two married families embrace five religions, three races, two nationalities.  Despite our close family relationships, I am dead set against the idea of a Judeo-Christian tradition because it disrespects Judaism and Christianity, and those who live their faiths.

The phrase Judeo-Christian tradition refers to any of a variety of ideas with widely different meanings.  Significantly, neither the phrase nor its meanings have the historical warrant which one would expect of a tradition: a distinctive and enduring set of specific attitudes and values; assumptions, beliefs, and principles; and practices—all different from other traditions in the same cultural domain.  First, a Judeo-Christian tradition would have to ensure that it did not overlap with other religions on most major points.  Thus, although Judaism and Christianity share the Golden Rule, most faiths have this principle central to their moral code.  Second, the tradition would require that Judaism and Christianity share realizations of these distinctive features equivalent in reality, not appearance only.  Thus, although Passover and the Last Supper are roughly alike and readily set apart from ceremonies in other religions, the additional features of the latter make it quite unlike the former; in fact, the Passover ceremony serves mainly as a Jewish context for a Christian message unrelated and inappropriate to the meaning of Passover.

Obviously, there are problems with the idea of such a hybrid tradition.  Until about the mid 1940s, Judaism and Christianity sharply differed on theological grounds and strongly reinforced those differences.  An earlier notion of a Judeo-Christian tradition was and remains a relatively new way to express the old doctrine of supercession, by which Christianity replaces Judaism.  In this meaning, the former repudiates the latter, rejects shared content, and sustains the anti-Semitic (more accurately, anti-Judaic) view that Judaism is defective because not completed or perfected by the arrival of the Messiah.  Ann Coulter adheres to this notion and advocates it without realizing—indeed, denying—that it is anti-Semitic.  This notion, far from indicating a shared tradition, signifies a sequence of opposed traditions.

Two different notions, one political, one religious, arose in the aftermath of the Second World War.  The post-war political notion of a Judeo-Christian tradition was a mix of vapid feelings and vague thoughts in contra-position to the Cold War emergence of the Soviet Union as the bastion of godless communism.  The notion persists today mainly in contra-position to Islam.  In short, this notion uses a union of Jewish and Christian religions to define a political in-group excluding “them,” be they atheists or infidels, and usually implies that they, especially Muslims, are un-American.

The post-war religious notion of a Judeo-Christian tradition reflected the response of some Christian academics, seminarians, and ecclesiastics to the Holocaust.  Its horrors shocked their admission that the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, as the Nazis euphemistically phrased it, traced its roots to centuries of Christian text-, teaching-, and preaching-based anti-Semitism.  They think that one way to expiate the guilt implied by this admission and promote tolerance between Christians and Jews is to emphasize similarities and elide differences between the two religions.  Their message, the obverse of that of proselytizing Jews for Jesus, is that Christianity can be comfortable with Judaism because Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew.  Yet this well-meaning Christian approach respects Judaism, not in its terms, but in terms of apparent congruency between the two religions in sharing the same figure, as if Jesus the Jew and Jesus the Christ are similar—ironically, a kinder, gentler version of the doctrine of supercession.

In the elaboration of this notion of the Judeo-Christian tradition, some viewed inter-religious communication and fellowship as signifying a Judeo-Christian tradition.  Their respectful, even friendly, relationships, although commendable, avoid, obscure, or devalue theological discriminations.  Improved professional and social relationships are not theologically shared elements of a religious tradition.  Even an apparently shared interest in, and support for, the State of Israel can reveal important differences between Jews and Christians.  Jews regard Israel as the Promised Land; some Jews urge others to relocate as a restoration of the Jewish people.  Many fundamentalist Christians regard Israel differently, as an instrument of Christian fulfillment stated in Revelations.  That is, the in-gathering of the world’s Jews, partly effected by Christian encouragement and support, is an immediate precursor to, and prompter of, Last Days and the Second Coming.  The value of Judaism is its utility for Christianity.

*   *   *

The history of discrimination, persecution, and annihilation because of religious differences has encouraged many to prefer to emphasize religious similarities to religious differences.  The cost of this preference for homogenization is the diminution of religion, the denaturing of Judaism and Christianity, and the eradication of the important choices of moral and religious significance which they provide.  In reactive opposition, I proceed to sketch a few of the major differences between these religions until the mid-twentieth century to recognize the integrity of each as worthy repositories of moral and religious guidance and inspiration.  I sketch in general terms which ignore postwar innovations.

However, I begin with a story, purportedly Talmudic, but likely apocryphal.  It goes like this: with the Archangel Michael at His right hand, God debates the most learned rabbi of the day about the proper interpretation of a point of Torah.  The debate goes back and forth for some time.  Finally, God delivers His last and strongest argument for His interpretation.  After a respectful pause, the rabbi rebuts God’s argument and makes his best and final argument for his interpretation.  God sees that the rabbi is right.  He turns slowly to Michael and, beaming with pride, says, “that’s my boy!”

Such a story is possible in Judaism, impossible in Christianity, for Jews can and do argue with God, but Christians cannot and do not.  This difference is easily understood.  Jews have a contract with God.  God is all-everything, but the law of contracts binds both God and Jews to their deal.  The deal seems simple enough: God promises Jews the Promised Land; they promise to obey His law.  But what do the terms of His law mean?  Their contract with God gives Jews the right to question their meanings and the standing to debate them with God.  Thus, His law is a living one, which evolves as both parties to the contract mature in moral thought and feeling.

Christians have a different essential relationship with God.  God offered His Son as a gift to humankind to redeem them from sin; Christians, through their faith in His Son as their Savior, accept God’s gift of grace with thanks.  They lack any basis for quarrel with the giver of an unconditional gift which they freely accept or with the gift itself.

As in later contrasts, there is no need to judge one relationship superior to the other.

Judaism and Christianity have other significant differences.  Jews and Christians do not share any foundational texts.  Jews call their sacred texts Holy Scriptures; Christians call their sacred texts The Bible, comprising the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Christians wrongly assume that the Old Testament and Holy Scriptures are the same.

The order of contents is different.  In Holy Scriptures, the Book of Ruth occurs in the Writings and concerns identities and loyalties; in the Old Testament, it occurs in the Historical Books and concerns religious evolution.  The meaning of words is different.  The Hebrew word for “maiden” becomes the Greek word for “virgin.”  A maiden may be sexually inexperienced, but a virgin must be, with conception immaculate because sexually unsullied, thus miraculous.  Interpretations of text are different.  For Jews, the story of Abraham and Isaac teaches not only Abraham’s greater love of God than of his first-born son, but also the rejection of human sacrifice; for Christians, it teaches the first lesson but a different second one, an allegorical prefigurement of God’s love for mankind in sacrificing His Son.  The differences are enormous; the meanings, contradictory; the analogy ugly.  For, in the language of family relations and the law of human society, a father who plans his son’s death commits murder.

Jews and Christians read these foundational texts for different purposes.  Jews read Holy Scriptures for moral instruction and mythological bases for religious observances.  If Abraham and Isaac never existed, Jews would still read and interpret the story for its moral lessons.  If Moses never existed, Jews would still tell the story that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to give to the Jewish people because it dramatically emphasizes the importance of God’s laws given to the Jews.

Christians read the Old Testament as historical predictions come true, to vindicate Christianity; they read the New Testament not only as realized predictions, but also for doctrinal truth.  But therein lies the threat: no Jesus, no Gospel stories, no miraculous birth of the Savior, no crucifixion of the Messiah, no God’s gift redeeming believers of their sins.  One response to this threat is Biblical literalism; the Word of God is true in all respects lest the text be historically suspect and prompt theological doubt.  The opposite response is to ignore the historical Jesus entirely.  Both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed omit all reference to the life of a historical Jesus except his suffering under Pontius Pilate.  The distinguished scholar John Meyer, author of a magisterial, multi-volume biography, thinks that the historical Jesus is irrelevant as a matter of faith to the risen Christ.  Ironically, such would be a “Jewish” reading of The Bible.

What Jews and Christians read and how they read these texts are also different.  In general, Jews do not read the New Testament, and Christians read both testaments.  They debate among themselves about interpretations of the text, but they do not consider or criticize aspects of Christianity in doing so.  Christians often interpret the Old Testament in ways reflecting misunderstandings of Judaism or serving polemical ends.

For example, Christians commonly compare the “angry God” of the Old Testament to the loving God of the New Testament by focusing on the God of the Torah, the first five books of Holy Scriptures, and ignoring the God of later books.  They ignore both the evolving concept or nature of God, who earlier stresses righteousness and punishes sins but later stresses love and forgiveness, and the corresponding change of emphasis in the narrative of Holy Scriptures.  This change reflects a turning point in history, between the Hebrew tribes before the Persian Exile and the Jewish nation after it.  The pre-exilic God of the Hebrews had to make a people of the various tribes.  To do so, He had to enforce the laws which established unity and identity, and, like a loving father, angered by disobedience, to punish violations of His law.  The post-exilic God of the Jews had no such need; the exile, seen as punishment deserved for violating the terms of the deal (no obedience to His law, no Promised Land), had unified the Jews, made them one people, and caused them to repent.  This later God is Jesus’ God, whom he addressed as “Abba” (father), is forgiving, loving, and personal.  The Christian contrast between an “angry God” and a loving one is polemic; likewise, other common dichotomies—law versus love, letter versus spirit, justice (or revenge: a misreading of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” or just compensation) versus mercy—are also polemic.

The many important differences between Judaism and Christianity—perhaps the most important being between waiting for a messiah or worshipping The Messiah—make clear that, in my definition of “tradition,” these religions do not share one.  Which means that each religion has an integrity of its own.  They can be compared without competing or ranking.  The certainly cannot respectfully be compared by making one’s religion the measuring stick of the other and the implement to beat it.  At their best, they urge, not tolerance, but respect.  Accordingly, we should reject the very idea of a Judeo-Christian tradition as disrespecting both Judaism and Christianity.

-       -       -       -       -       -       - 

These tables indicate other points of contrast with basic Jewish and Christians beliefs.  I recognize that some individuals and some denominations never have and do not now invariably subscribed to some or all of these points.  I provide those which have long been associated with traditional Jewish and traditional Christian beliefs at least until the mid-twentieth century.


JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN BELIEFS: GOD
JUDAISM
CHRISTIANITY
1.      God is undifferentiated as One
1.      Godhead is trinal: Father, Son, Holy Spirit
2.      God is a righteous, loving, and forgiving god
2.      God is a loving, forgiving god
3.      God created the world good; it remains good despite man’s sins
3.      God created the world good; it became bad by mans original sin
4.      God’s relationship is with a people (“Israel”) and persons
4.      God’s relationship is with individual persons, maybe mediated by a church
5.      A Jew’s relationship to God is reverential and respectful
5.      A Christian’s relationship to God is reverential and submissive

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN BELIEFS: SALVATION
JUDAISM
CHRISTIANITY
1.               Salvation is universal to all by right conduct according to Noachian laws
1.             Salvation is universal to anyone who believes in Jesus as Christ
2.               Non-Jews merit salvation depending on their ethical conduct in their everyday lives
2.             Non-Christians do not merit salvation because they do not believe in Christ
3.               Jews are people chosen to receive God’s law and live by it, to set a moral example for the world (laws are mitzvahs, or “blessings,” because living according to laws makes a person a moral being)
3.             Christians are the new Israel and are joined together in and by Gods love
Note: The Messiah of Judaism is awaited as a political and religious savior and leader who will bring justice and peace to Israel; the Messiah of Christianity has arrived and brought salvation to those who accept him as their Savior.

JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN BELIEFS: ETHICS
JUDAISM
CHRISTIANITY
1.             Humankind is morally guided by universal laws
1.             Humankind is morally obliged by love of all
2.             Jewish law is basis of ethics: justice paramount (=just compensation – eye for an eye)
2.             Christian love is basis of ethics: mercy paramount (=forgiveness – turn the other cheek)
3.             Righteousness is demanded of one’s self
3.             Forgiveness is requested for one’s sins
4.             Conduct – rite and right
4.             Creed – faith (& works?)
5.             Negative Golden Rule
5.             Positive Golden Rule
6.             Jews emphasize social reform
6.             Christians emphasize personal charity
7.             Reward for a good life of good living is a good life (no “dress rehearsal”)
7.             Reward for a good life of faith (and works) is in the afterlife