Culture and Anarchy

The Finding of Moses.jpg

Or, the Civil in Civility

It’s odd that we hear so much about the Judaeo-Christian tradition (usually in the context of values) these days from the Culture Warriors who believe that our values are going to ruin all around us. It’s as if, like the artist Frederick Goodall, they have a mental image of the finding of Moses amid the reeds of dissipation, ready to blossom into manhood and bring the tablets down from the mountain. In fact, it’s important for our democracy that we ground our common values in secular notions. Locke in his famous Letter on Toleration argued that religion must remain purely a matter of private opinion and that liberty depended on this. It’s not surprising that Locke and other founders of Liberalism would hold this view, in the wake of the enormous destruction wreaked on the social fabric by the Civil Wars, and indeed that the secularisation of international politics occurred after the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. The reference to Christian values (and Irant has the good oil on why Judaism gets a guernsey over at Immanuel Rant), and the controversy over the alleged threat to Christian festivities are a sign that those who are running this agenda are conservatives indeed, and no liberals at all.

As Irant writes:

The term Judeo-Christian gives the impression that our ethical and legal standards have the imprimatur of God. The same idea is the erroneous basis that the 10 Commandments are the foundation of our legal/moral codes (as I’ve commented on before). It is an exclusive term as it is code for “Christian” and the religious traditions outside of Christianity and also those of an irreligious bent are not considered at all.

Indeed. A liberal and secular moral code allows for inclusivity and difference over ethics and the good life. A religiously grounded one does not – hence the impulse to theocracy and the sort of extreme violence that tore Europe apart in the Seventheenth Century that is a tendency (only a tendency) in all of the Abrahamic salvific faiths. Adopting God’s blessing on our culture also sends a signal to those with different universalist ethics from the Christian (for instance, adherents of Islam, and the example is not lightly chosen) that they are to conform themselves to “our” values. It draws a line of exclusion not around respect for the law and citizenship but around the public endorsement of private values. The private values of a minority. Many of the Culture Warriors are not themselves particularly religious, but find convenient the disingenuous assertion that all our values stem from Christianity, and that (by inference) any other values are heretical and outside the pale.

To borrow a well-chosen quote from yellowvinyl on another thread,

All cultures, even the most sophisticated, have magic formulas, words or phrases that cast an emotional spell totally unrelated to their basic meaning. No one is free from this effect of language, though the basic formula may be quite different in two different cultures or even for two individuals of the same culture. Witness the definition of infidel in Ambrose Bierce’s ‘Devil’s Dictionary’: “In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does.”

Charles B. Maurer, Call to Revolution: The Mystical Anarchism of Gustav Landauer (1971:9)

The use of the term Judeao-Christian, I’d argue, as with that of the dating systems AD and BC, does make a real difference in the public sphere because of what’s implied in it (a hierarchical and exclusive moral judgement and an exclusive claim to moral rectitude) and the exclusions that Ambrose Bierce was quick to pick up on.

I wrote about the faux nostalgia that Culture Warriors like to engage in on the Dr Mannix thread recently. A further reflection, Keith Windschuttle notwithstanding, is that perhaps it’s in the Culture Warriors’ interest that Australians be ignorant of history. They appear to display little or no grasp of either its nuances or the fact that social strife has been with us from the beginning. And nor do they seem to know that some of the earliest legislative acts of representative Australian assemblies – particularly in NSW in the 1840s – related to the secularisation of education and the separation of Church and State. Maybe they’d rather not know, because it interferes in conjuring up the image of imagined tradition to which they’d like to shackle us all.

There’s an argument, by the way, made by the Sociologist Louis Hartz in his 1964 book The Founding of New Societies that Australia, like America, is in part a Lockean society. In that light, and in light of the values of toleration, pluralism and civility that appear to be going to ruin around us, Locke’s Letter on Toleration is well worth a read.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Antonio
Antonio
2022 years ago

Yeah the whole notion of “judeo-christian” values is the biggest load of essentialist rubbish i have ever heard.

As a non-religious jewish person, i find it impossible to point to a single underlying or overlying ethical tradition running through Judaism. Most of these “cultural-warriors” would have absolutely no idea how to deal with the hardline values of a hasidic jew and yet on the other hand would find the cultural relativism of reform judaism completely anaethema. It’s my observation that more so than many other modern religious traditions, as a whole, modern jews seem to be very open to the same “alternative” (read: pluralist, relativist, non-absolutist) forms of spirituality – eg. Buddhist meditation etc – that the cultural warriors most detest.

So if even amongst a single religious community of 20 million people who believe in a shared destiny; there is no uniform agreement on ethical values – we would have to expect that even greater diversity exists amongst the billions of christians, right?!

In other words, the concept of “judeo-christian” morality is a load of non-sensical crap. Besides, how do the Cultural Absolutists explain when Christians (as a homogenous group – because all groups are homogenous according to the cultural absolutists!) who are supposed to have a shared “morality” with Jews, have seen it necessary in the past on quite a few situations to completely annhilate the Jews! How many Jews do you see harrassing people in public places trying to convert people? Shared morality – I think not.

Moreover, is it just me, or does it seem to everyone else that people who are intent to prattle on about the decline of morality are often the least moral? I reckon it’s another case of “if you can’t control yourself, control others.”

[rant ends]

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

isn’t just you, Antonio. look at William Bennett in the States for instance. and as someone who’s got some Marranos in her family tree, I think yr spot on about Judaism…

the painting’s very interesting. imagine what a po/mo or deconstructivist reading could do with the various shades of white and dark those women’s skins are – Moses doesn’t look very semitic to me :)

Ron
Ron
2022 years ago

Mark,

totally off-topic here but with your thesis-writing, blogging and other activities done when you are awake, how and when do you find time to sleep? :-)

goangod
goangod
2022 years ago

Secular societies do not work.

Look at Europe. Look at Holland. Having cut themselves from their ‘essentially rubbish’ Christian traditions, the birthrates in Europe have collapsed.

Europe is dying – bolstered only by immigration – Islamic immigration to be specific. The cultural tensions we see now in Europe are because of a young, vibrant faith based culture (Islam), replacing a morally bankrupt secular culture (Europe).

A culture without religion is a dead culture. The evidence is right in front of you. Try arguments based on facts and evidence, rather than your own opinion.

Rafe
2022 years ago

Speaking as a kind of non-left cultural warrior, I am all in favour of people learning history, including the history of the revolutionary impulse, the impact of socialism and the activities of the trade unions. Much of this will not gladden the hearts of people on the left. Try Bill Hutt on the trade unions and collective bargaining for starters. Some of his pieces are on line in the Rathouse.
As to the Judeo-Christian heritage, one its most valuable legacies is the demand to help the poor and the weak which is the major positive driver of socialism. The important thing is to subject these drivers to imaginative scrutiny so that the good bits can be separated from other elements that work in the opposite direction. For example to save the positive motivation of socialism from others like the demand for revolution, envy, class hatred, and violence for its own sake.

Michael Carden
Michael Carden
2022 years ago

I have to agree with Antonio re the term “Judeo-Christian” It’s very much a misnomer and one coined and mostly used by ‘Christians’ I fond the reference to the 10 commandments especially amusing in such a context, because in traditional Judaism there are actually 606 commandments in the Law of MOses. However they are only to be observed by Jews. There’s also the concept of the 7 Noachide laws which apply to righteous gentiles.

Yes there are many things in common between the ‘two’ traditions but thse commonalities serve to highlight the differences. Most Christians ( and I include post-christians here too) assume that the Jewish Bible is the same is the Christian Old Testament (assuming, of course, that there is only one Christian Old Testament when in fact there isn’t). Certainly one would find all the books of the Jewish Bible in Christian Old Testaments but Christians order these books diferently to Jews to point towards the Christ event. In the Jewish Bible, Torah is the revelation and everything looks back to that. Consequently, Jews and Christians read these books very differently.

Indeed an argument can be mounted that both Judaism and Christianity came into existence at the same time and emerged out of an older religion that can be called Temple Judaism, which largely ceased to exist following the Roman destruction of the Temple in CE. THey were part of a suite of movements that were vying with one another over what can be called the Temple Israelite traditions. MOst of these other movements did not survive or continued as a small exclusivist sects e.g. Samaritans, Karaites, Mandaeans. Many were submerged within JUdaism and Christianity and others likely formed the background to Gnosticism and the third element of the ‘Israelite’ offspring, Islam.

Re the usage of CE and BCE. I have no problems with those terms however I don’t use the full term of Common Era. There is no Common Era, it is the Christian Era and I think should be called as such. To use the term Common Era makes the same mistake as exists in the term Judeo-Christian tradition. We are in the year 2005 of the Christian Era but not in the Jewish or Islamic (or HIndu or BUddhist calendars for that matter). To pretend that this is somehow a Common Era is extremely blinkered.

Like yellow, I was intrigued by the painting. Pharaoh’s daughter also doesn’t look very Egyptian.

Michael Carden
Michael Carden
2022 years ago

that should be Roman destruction of the Temple in *70* CE

Niall
Niall
2022 years ago

In response to goangod, I’d suggest that any society based on theology in any form is a shackled society and one which would atrophy much quicker than any secular society. The place for religion is in the hearts and minds of those so inclined. There is no place for it in the direction of public policy.

Steve Edwards
Steve Edwards
2022 years ago

While Niall’s comments on religion and public policy are certainly worthwhile, they carry no information as to goangod’s point about Europe.

It is not that public policy is alone responsible for Europe’s demise, but the fact that Europeans have proven themselves unworthy of their own continent. As written in The Economist:

American conservatives tend to be receptive to the idea that Europeans are a bunch of duplicitous, atheistic wimps, whose moral laxity is leading them to an inevitable and richly deserved doom.

All too true.

tony
2022 years ago

Birth rates are dropping in just about every developed nation, including Australia.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

michael may have given a misleading reference with regard to the Jewish bible and the Old Testament.
both are garnered from the same texts.

The Law was not given to the Israelites cum Jews as mode of salvation.
The Law and the Ten commandments in particular show how sinful we are.

Indeed in various areas of the JB/OT we are told mankind is sinful even before we are born thus we can never gain salvation by obeying the law.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

The Islamisation of Europe is vastly exaggerated. Unfortunately it is difficult to compare nation states but Europe is not the economic or social headcase that certain columnists attempt to depict it as. It is a long way from ruins.

Also if the secular state has failed, you’re welcome to move to Iran or Saudi Arabia to see if theocracy provides you with an improvement to your quality of life. I think you’ll be disappointed by the corruption that is religion+politics.

I think the last few hundred years have shown vast improvements in not having the state (or bishop or mullah) enforcing through their arbitrary concepts what can be decided more constructively through basic ethics. We’ll decide how we want to run our society and under what terms.

And on straight electoral appeal, the secular state is here to stay, people don’t want to go back to pointless internecine warfare based on outdated theological points.

Irant
2022 years ago

The idea that Europe is in decline is one of the new memes from the right. The argument is as follows. Europe did not support the US in GW II. Also, there are European nations are largely secular unlike the US which is God’s favoured nation. Hence Europe is in decline. No empirical evidence needed.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

This thread’s a good one to keep coming back to not just for the discussion but to check out that painting again. Who painted it? I’m sure I should know but I don’t.

There is quite a lot of alarmist stuff around about the islamisation of Europe (Pryce-Jones, even Bernard Lewis, I believe). I’m not convinced, though. Europe is more nervous about it because unlike Australia or the US European countries are not basically immigrant communities. Traditionally Europe has exported people (e.g. to the colonies) rather than imported them.

Back to that picture……

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

That said, I recently happened across the site of the Arab-European League here:

http://www.arabeuropean.org/live/index.php/federal/

and I found some of the stuff there a bit disturbing.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

In considering the virtues or otherwise of the secular state, we should not neglect the example of the Communist secular states.

These Marxist tyrannies were at least as bloody and repressive as the worst theocracy, if not more so.

There is no historical justification for considering that secular states are inherently better than non-secular ones. Both types contain examples of good and bad.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Unless, Evil, you think of communist or other totalitarian states as being themselves based on a secular religion, complete with secular messiahs (Hitler, Lenin – cf. Manning Clark’s “Lenin was Christ-like, at least in his compassion” statement in Meeting Soviet Man).

Irant
2022 years ago

I would define secular as being a democratic government with a strict seperation of church and state. No-one is arguing for such regimes as communism and I have no idea what such statements have to do with the discussion at hand.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Rob, the painting is by Frederick Goodall. If you click on the link in the post, you’ll find some info about his life and work.

Irant
2022 years ago

I’m suprised that Goodall didn’t get into the run of squad for the Orientalism exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW (this was way back in 1998). I’m looking through the book of the exhibition now and Goodall’s painting is very evocative of the style.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Thanks, Mark. I’ve re-read your post more closely.

I’m not quite sure about this bit, though:

“A liberal and secular moral code allows for inclusivity and difference over ethics and the good life. A religiously grounded one does not”.

Emile Durckheim is probably now regarded as hopelessly passe, and unfortunately I no longer have my copy of The Elementary Forms of Religous Life. But as I recall it, he argued that religion is actually a social construction: that it is necessary for societies of have a set of moral prescriptions that have the appearance of being divinely ordained in order to maintain and reinforce social norms, and to delineate – indeed, enforce – the boundaries of socially acceptable behavour.

Maybe ED is no longer fashionable; but this argument of his always struck me has having quite a lot of force.

At around the time I was studying ED, I had a conversation with a friend, who happened also to be an Anglican lay preacher. We were discussing, I think, the shootings in Hoddle Street in the late 80’s. Alastair was reflecting on the decline of religion generally, and remarked that we were finding out the hard way that morality was not inherent, it had to be learned; it had to be taught.

So I don’t entirely agree with the implication that seems to be contained in your statement: that a religion-based code has less social utility than a secular one.

I understood Duckheim’s key point to be that a ‘divinely-ordained’ code for moral behavour has genuine authority – it is necessary, in other words, for it to be based on religion to inspire a fear of transgression. And because it is internalised it is far more effective in curbing our nasty brutish natures than a system of external secular law could be.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I’ve got my copy of Durkheim, too, Rob, and read it closely as recently as last year for some lectures I gave on social order. Durkheim was reacting in part to the Feurbachian thesis that religion is a projection of human need (bolstered at around the same time Durks was writing by Freud) and to industrialisation which in countries like Germany, France and England had the result of a massive population shift from village to city, and simultaneously a massive decline in religious observance (also noticed by perceptive observers like Engels, sundry Christian socialists among Anglican bishops, and the authors of the Blue Books). Durkheim, picking up probably mostly on Bismarck’s tactics in uniting Germany, hypothesised that nationalism and the symbols of the state would replace religion as a unifying source of meaning – hence the work of neo-Durkheimians on civic ritual and symbolism. Durkheim hypostasised society as a substitute God to put in place of the now empty universal signifier, and deeply opposed what he saw as trends towards individualism – which he argued would lead to a mechanical understanding of human purpose and human nature, and thus, the social disease of modernity – anomie. He can still be read with much benefit.

Michael Carden
Michael Carden
2022 years ago

Homer: “michael may have given a misleading reference with regard to the Jewish bible and the Old Testament.
both are garnered from the same texts.”

The books of the Jewish Bible do form the basis of CHristian Old Testaments. However, the Jewish canon is ordered as follows

Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, NUmbers, Deuteronomy

Prophets – Joshua, JUdges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Twelve MInor Prophets (Hosea, JOel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, MIcah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)

Writings – Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra/Nehemiah, Chronicles

Christians, Jews, and Samaritans are all in agreeement on the ordering of the Torah but after that things change

Here is the ordering of the rest of the books in the standard Protestant Old Testament

Joshua, JUdges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

These are sometimes termed the historical books. They are followed by what are often termed the Wisdom books:

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

Finally there are the Prophets:

Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

As you can see the ordering is substantially different and reflects a different understanding of the meaning of scripture.

The picture becomes even more complex when you look at Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments, which include books from the old Greek canon. The Roman Catholics include in the historical books: Tobit, JUdith, 1 & 2 Maccabees; in Wisdom: Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus); in Prophets: Baruch, Letter of jeremiah. Additionally Greek Esther and Daniel have extra material not found in the Hebrew version.

IN the Orthodox Old testament, you’ll also find 1 Esdras, Prayer of Manasseh, Psalm 151, 3 Maccabees. Also you’ll find as an appendix: 2 Esdras and 4 Maccabees. Eastern Orthodoxy also regards the Greek Bible or Septuagint as divinely inspired but not the Hebrew bible.

It’s easy to see that what we have here a range of different canons all with different understandings about their meaning and their role in the religion, which makes talk of a single Judeo-Christian tradition completely misleading. As to your other points, they pertain to a particular faith reading of the Torah and are not relevant to my own argument.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

It’s interesting to hear how the ten commandments have such a profound undepinning of our society.
In another thread someone (Mark? Irant?) noted how implementing most of the ten commandments would be unconstitutional under US law.

How about the fact that only 3 of the ten are actually illegal!!! (and even then these are interperated conditionally in the law).

1. Thou shalt have no God but me.
2. Don’t make idols or the likeness of anything in the heaven earth or sea and pray to them.
3. Don’t take the lord’s name in vain.
4. Observe the Sabbath
5. Honour thy father and mother.
6. THOU SHALT NOT KILL
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness
10. Don’t covet anything: ox, house, ass, arse, neighbour’s wife, neighbour’s wife’s arse etc

So, if only 3 out of ten are actually illegal then I think that anyone who claims they are the stout foundation of their proud society is 100% full of shit.

“Secular societies do not work.
Look at Europe. Look at Holland. Having cut themselves from their ‘essentially rubbish’ Christian traditions, the birthrates in Europe have collapsed.”

So, the definition of a society not working is a decline in birth rates?
Hmm, I would have used other indicators such as a narrow gap between rich and poor; the providing of services; and the ability to respond to disaster to tell me if a society works or not.

Also, goangod, you will find that these days European Catholic women simply have fewer babies than South American Catholic women. Same religion.
I think your argument is sorely simplistic.
Indeed, one could argue that the entirity of aspirational capalistism was based solely on doing the exact opposite of Commandment number 10.

“American conservatives tend to be receptive to the idea that Europeans are a bunch of duplicitous, atheistic wimps, whose moral laxity is leading them to an inevitable and richly deserved doom.”
# Yes, and this goes some way to explaining why so many people hate American Conservatives and wish they would all accidentally joyously hurl themselves into erupting volcanoes.
American Conservatives also tend to be receptive to the idea that they aren’t duplicitous and moral lax despite all the evidence to the contrary.
American Conservatives also tend to be receptive to the idea that Anne Coultier is a genuis; that Saddam had nukes; that Saddam was involved with the September the 11th attacks; that diplomacy is a waste of time; that American democracy is the ultimate form of government; trickle-down economics etc etc etc

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

American Conservatives also tend to be receptive to the idea that they know best about delivering the word of their God, and so directly contradicting their own holy text.

“”