Judaism, Christianity, and the Afterlife

Oct. 13 2020

While most Jews are only vaguely aware, it at all, of traditional Judaism’s ideas of post-mortem reward and punishment, these subjects are treated extensively in rabbinic literature. Like their Christian counterparts, the rabbis conceived of a hell where the wicked were punished, and an afterlife where the righteous can enjoy their just desserts. Yet these similarities, writes Shalom Carmy, obscure deeper differences:

Jews like me, and our Christian counterparts, are willing to entertain the possibility of eternal punishment for some, whether as a matter of dogma or as a logical entailment of free will; if our decisions are truly momentous, then we are able not only to accept God but also to reject him. At the same time, we aren’t eager to assign people to hell. . . . I and more of my Jewish confreres than I suspect would take a public position are strongly ­influenced by Maimonides. He holds that eternal perdition means losing out on the afterlife rather than being subjected to endless torment.

Although the Jews and Christians I describe seem to think alike, it’s hard to avoid feeling that Jews are simply less apt than Christians to place issues of salvation and eternal damnation at the center of their religious consciousness. Jews given to intense self-examination and criticism often ask themselves how they will render their final accounting before God but rarely ask whether their souls are saved or not. For Christians—and not just evangelicals—such a question appears more customary. There is a gap here, I believe, and I am unsure how to express it. One impediment is that theological formulations are often detached from their experiential contexts.

Carmy goes on to illustrate his point with a sophisticated reading of the commentaries of the Talmud, Maimonides, and the great medieval exegete Rashi on Moses’ famous exchange with God on Mount Sinai, in which he asks “to see God’s ways.”

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Read more at First Things

More about: Christianity, Death, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter