We are used to hearing that Judaeo/Christian influence has shaped Western society, but what exactly does that mean? Like all ideas expressed in words it can mean whatever the listener wants it to mean, both positive and negative. However, it is usually understood to mean that this tradition has somehow shaped and undergirding national values. Well, what values? Both sides of Australian politics as well as the growing myriad of independents stake their claims on the basis that they, more than their opponents, exemplify ‘values’ that are truly Australian.
So what of Judaeo Christian values? The touchstone can be found in the Old Testament prophets and the tradition that surrounded them. It was the prophets who forged the idea of monotheism within what was a polytheistic world and with it the necessary concomitant that all human beings are equal, have equal rights, share the same destiny under the one God. As this became the prism through which human life was to be understood then justice and how it should be both administered judicially under God and more importantly accepted as a way of living by the people became the overriding concern of the prophetic tradition. Matters of religious expression, cultural identity and ownership or sovereignty of land were secondary to this first principle. “The context of the Old Testament concern is not the nation, although Zionism distorts it into that, but the God of justice who, divinely representing justice for everyone and every nation, is called the universal God”. (Paul Tillich)
Justice is honed in the New Testament through the application of the principle of grace. That is to say, justice is not simply a matter of right and wrong alone, it is a matter of equity and fairness, of raising up the weak, of releasing the captives and setting the down trodden free. Justice undergirds harmony, equity and peace without which the world is condemned to violent competition and suffering.
With this in mind it is difficult to understand those Australian policy makers who claim to be in the Judaeo/Christian tradition and yet enslave the poor through monetary and fiscal policy that favours the rich. It is also very difficult to understand those who claim to stand in that tradition but who continue policies that have seen refugees caught in a time warp, seemingly without end, on Manus and Nauru. As my ecclesiastical patron, Bishop John Stoward Moyes of Armidale argued, “it is impossible to claim Judaeo/Christian values if you are a communist who accepts the right of the state to make its people subservient. Equally it is impossible to claim these values, or indeed claim to be a Christian, if you are a capitalist who believes in a market that enables a few to benefit from the resources of the many while the many languish in layers of disadvantage”.
If a nation is to have the right to claim Judaeo/Christian values as its foundation, it must find a path which embraces both space for individual aspiration and a society transformed by social justice.
Let me also take this reflection into the heart of the modern State of Israel, presumably an inheritor of the ‘Israels’ that have preceded it. Universal justice appears to have become an unwelcome stranger in the land of Israel. Zionism’s compulsive identification with land, has replaced justice as its core value. The having, holding and conquering of land has seemingly become the arbiter of nationhood, the ideal which must not be questioned, to do so is to be a ‘self hating Jew’ or anti-Semite.
The modern State of Israel is secular. Those who believe in what might be understood as religious Judaism may well be the minority. However, the claim to land has a religious history and the manner in which this is articulated relies on that history for its validation. The West, by this I mean Australia and the US make certain claims about Israel that identify it with values which we are purported to share.
· Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Hang on, no it is not. First of all, on who’s definition of democracy? Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are afforded no rights while Arabs in Israel have differing and reduced rights to their Jewish counter parts.
· Israel is the only country in the Middle East that enables freedom of religion. Well, no. Israel claims to be a Jewish State. By definition the statement excludes those who are not Jews. The idea of Jerusalem as an historical centre for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike is being constantly eroded. “Jerusalem is being Judaised” as the Christian leaders in Jerusalem explained to me. On the other hand, Palestinian leadership has consistently pleaded with me to ensure that the Christian population of Palestine is not further reduced through lack of support from the West.
· Israel is the only country in the Middle East that lives by the rule of law. Well, no, it does not. Palestinian children as young as primary school are incarcerated in Israeli gaols because they resist the occupation. The occupying force protects the illegal settlers and not the Palestinian civil population. Essential services are provided to the illegal settlers and restricted or denied the Palestinians.
My strong critique of the State of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians is based upon what I understand to be Judaeo/Christian values. As such, rather than this critique being anti-Semitic, I believe it to be supportive of the essential value upon which the culture of Judaism is founded – the practice of universal justice. It is Zionism, the placing of land in the position of ultimate concern, above human well being, above fairness and justice, which is the truly anti-Semitic narrative.
The Judaeo/Christian ethic then is founded on the principle of universal justice: justice that exceeds simple right and wrong, a justice which seeks to restore the balances of personal national and global disadvantage, justice that has its goal in shalom, the harmony of a mutually shared life to which all aspire and in which all might flourish.