How Judaism Gave Western Civilization the Ideas of Human Freedom and the Ordered Universe

Aug. 19 2019

Drawing on the work of the mid-20th-century Christian theologian Claude Tresmontant, Samuel Gregg explains how the ideas of the Hebrew Bible made possible the achievements of European civilization:

The Jews . . . believed that the material world was not evil or beset by demonic contests. [The] universe is presented in the Hebrew Scriptures as ultimately permeated with order—not chaos and incomprehensibility. Much of this universe was thus understandable by the human beings made by God in His image and similarly suffused with His order.

This belief in a good and ordered world challenged the supposition of the surrounding religions that the material world itself is malevolent—a view that was not clearly rebutted by Greek philosophers such as Plato. The Hebrews insisted that this material world was made for man and that its goodness would unfold under his cultivation. This Jewish emphasis on the order built into a created world of which man is the apex had two critical consequences. First, Judaism’s audacious confrontation of idolatry and pagan mythology was a powerful affirmation of man’s rationality. . . . The Jews’ liberation of human reason from mythology and nature-worship amounted to one of humanity’s most powerful “enlightenments.”

The second important consequence of Judaism’s understanding of the created universe was its accent on human freedom. In the Hebrew Scriptures, human mistakes and errors are not caused by capricious Greek and Roman deities manipulating men. Nor did Judaism see human events as determined by fate, which characterized the pagan religions.

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More about: Ancient Greece, Judaism, Western civilization

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship