The Evolution of God by Robert Wright

 

excerpt from
CHAPTER ELEVEN

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At the end of the first century Christianity was no longer thought of as a species of Judaism, and blatant anti-Semitism would soon surface within the church.

This emerging tension between Christians and Jews follows the now familiar pattern: tolerance and amity often thrive when the game is seen as non-zero-sum but are less robust when it is seen as zero-sum. In the Roman Empire, anyone who refused to worship the state gods needed a special exemption, and the best hope for getting one lay in a deep historical heritage—showing that your religious tradition long predated the Roman Empire. Both Christians and Jews could point to the Hebrew scriptures as evidence of their deep roots, but whether both could do so successfully was another question. After all, could there really be more than one rightful heir to the Hebrew tradition?

So Christians, in pressing their claim for an exemption, had to undermine the Jewish claim to legitimacy. They argued that Jews had forsaken their own god by killing his son. That, explained the church father Justin in the second century, is why Jewish males are circumcised—a divinely mandated sign of their guilt. (And as for why the circumcision ritual predated the killing by more than a millennium: God is prescient, Justin noted.)

This is the same Justin who in other contexts hailed Christianity’s transcendence of ethnic bounds: “We who … refused to live with people of another tribe because of their different customs, now live intimately with them.” But apparently this tolerance depended on the tribe and the context. When Corinthians and Romans swap favors under the rubric of their common faith and share a stake in the success of that faith, the game is non-zero-sum. But two tribes competing for a single prize, the title of rightful heir to the Hebrew tradition—that’s another matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 


“One World, Under God”
(The Atlantic article)