Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Jews Will Survive, but Will Europe?

Our esteemed co-blogger JR, an incisive and iconoclastic thinker, recently wondered here if the Jews will survive. He linked to two longer essays on one of his other blogs, Dissecting Leftism, here and here. There was some controversy in the comments, and I don't wish to turn this blog into an internecine circular firing squad, but I think that JR's observations deserve a little further airing out. If Reliapundit, our host, permits.

In his second posting, JR boiled down his main point in raising the question of Jewish survival to this:
My point is that Jews should be cultivating their allies NOW -- while such allies (American fundamentalist Christians) are available. Fundamentalist Christians are strong people in the face of the hostility of the world and have therefore remained supportive of Israel despite the scornful attitude that many Jews seem to have towards them -- but changing churches is an American tradition and church doctrines themselves have undergone a lot of changes even in my lifetime.
That certainly seems like a useful and unobjectionable observation.

Some of the points he used to support that conclusion, however, are subject to varying interpretations, and survival is something I think that many if not most Jews are very sensitive about. After all, how many members of any other group can honestly say that there are hundreds of millions of people who are instructed to solve the world's problems by killing them off?

In his first posting, JR began by challenging the Jewish view that they have succeeded by surviving a hostile world, wondering if the small number of Jews in the world didn't in fact suggest the opposite. He wrote:

Their small numbers reveal Jews as a biological failure. Reproduction is the prime imperative in biology and reproductive fitness has to be judged by reproductive success. I have always admired the wisdom of Gideon but from a biological viewpoint, strength is in numbers. So the roughly 10 million Jews in the world today is not impressive.
Perhaps JR is not impressed. But that number of 10 million (it may be 15 million, but why quibble?) certainly compares well with the number of Danes, Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians in the world, and is well in excess of the number of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians. Not to mention the Navajos, Dakotas, Cherokees, and Zunis. Does Jewish reproductive success really look so bad when compared with other small nations?

Because of course when compared with the Hittites, Jebusites, Amalekites, Midianites, Moabites, Ugarites, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Scythians, Thracians, Medians, not to mention the Goths, Vandals, Alans, Avars, and other nations of the ancient world, the Jews have been fantastically successful; all of those nations are extinct. (And the cultural identities of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, and ancient Rome are also more or less completely vanished.)

JR's confusion is revealed in his next comparison:
By contrast, there are around one billion Christians in the world. So why have Christians flown so far ahead of Jews in reproductive success? Originally, there were a lot more Jews than Christians.
The problem is that he is comparing the number of members of a nation, with the number of adherents of a religion. How many Christians today are the direct biological descendants of the Christians who were alive in the first century? Not many, I'd say. The vast majority of today's Christians are the descendants of proselytes. The success of Christian proselytism is indeed impressive, although it pales in comparison with the success of the Muslims and the socialists. But to expect the Jews, who are a nation, and not a proselytizing religion, to compete in numbers with doctrines who set themselves the goal of mastering the world does not seem to me to be a fair test.

The test of history, of survival in the face of unrelenting suppression and intermittently murderous persecution over 2,000 years, would seem to indicate that the survival of the Jews is a good bet.

But why so much concern with the survival of this admittedly tiny nation? Why not similar articles on the demographic threats facing the Tutsi and the Hutu, the Aymara and the Chechen? Why do the Jews so exercise such fascination?

The answer to that, I think, lies in the abrogation by both the Christians and the Muslims of key aspects of the Jewish tradition. The Christians acknowledge their origin within that Jewish tradition, although they have through most of their history claimed to have superseded it, by replacing the Jews with the Church. The Muslims absurdly claim that their religion antedates the Jewish tradition, and that the Jewish tradition is an illegitimate version of Islam. But both of these religions are, in a sense, profoundly embarrassed by the persistent survival of the Jews, living exemplars that neither Christianity nor Islam is all-encompassing. In parts of the world untouched by Christianity or Islam, the Jews are not such a preoccupation. To the Indian, the Chinese, or the Japanese, the Jewish nation is just another one of the many tiny barbarian cultures in the world, and does not excite much general interest.

There may be another reason. The pseudonymous columnist, "Spengler," who publishes at the online Asia Times, has written many columns over the past few years on the demographic catastrophe that is overtaking Europe. Many European nationalities are no longer reproducing in numbers sufficient to maintain their populations. Their fertility rates have fallen below the critical number that ensures survival. In 100 years, there may be no Italians, no Spaniards, no Germans, and no Russians. In 50 years, the populations of many European nations will have been reduced 15% to 50% to a geriatric remnant. They will have been replaced by Afro-Arab populations that are moving into Europe in numbers more significant than the great Voelkerwanderung of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

According to "Spengler," it was the European nationalities' self-consciousness of their impending doom that moved them to adopt Christianity, and which colors their reactions to the Jews. He notes that half of the world's known languages are going extinct and observes:
Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed toward a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customs have lost their living power.

A sick cat or dog will crawl into a hole to die. The members of sick cultures do not do anything quite so dramatic, but they cease to have children, dull their senses with alcohol and drugs, become despondent, and too frequently do away with themselves. This is not due to an inborn death-drive, contrary to the odious Freud, but rather a symptom of a culture's mortal illness.

That is why pagans become Christians. That is, individuals embrace Christianity when their pre-Christian culture no longer can transmit their memory as well as their genes to future generations. Christianity, in that sense, succeeds precisely where "natural law" fails. Self-confident and secure pagans do not seek life eternal through belief in Jesus Christ, for they are quite happy to believe in themselves. It is when they have reason to cease to believe in themselves, when the depredations of the empires, or the great tide of globalization, overrun their defenses and expose their mortal fragility.
In another column, "Spengler" notes that the Jewish tradition may be the only traditional culture in the world that expresses a sincere liking for life:
The better one gets to know the Jews, the more peculiar they appear. "Remember us unto life, O King who delights in life," they pray on the solemn occasion of their New Year, which this year fell on September 13. Unfeigned and spontaneous delight in life is uniquely Jewish; the standard Jewish toast states, "To life!" while the most characteristic Jewish gibe admonishes, "Get a life!" We are not dealing here with so-called lust for life that involves a pile of broken dishes and a hangover the next morning. Instead, the Jews evince a liking for life as such. That is not only unusual; it is almost unnatural.

Life as such is not that likable. As Mephistopheles taunted Faust in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's tragedy, life in its totality was fit only for a god, too hard a cracker for ordinary humans to digest. That seems to be the prevalent opinion across epochs and cultures. Socrates told us to despise life and instead to view death as the highest good. Buddhism teaches us to regard it as an illusion to inure ourselves from its attendant pain. From the Spartans to the Vikings, the martial cultures of the pagan world showed contempt for life, for they often fought to the death. Pagans aspired to a glorious death; I can think of not a single instance in the history of the Jews, whose wars of antiquity were frequent and ferocious, of the mention of a "glorious death". The very notion is repulsive to Jewish sensibilities.
He admits that the Chinese also have a life-affirming culture:
Professor David Layman of Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, observes that the Jewish outlook is not quite unique. In correspondence with this writer, he notes, "There is one prima facie exception: China. The stereotypical vision of popular religion (the 'folk' customs and traditions that underlay all Chinese practice) is summarized as 'prosperity, progeny, and longevity': wealth, descendants, and long life. But I am not sure that exception carries the full weight of the Jewish formula. In my reading of Chinese religious development, the primal Chinese formula is no different from the Deuteronomic dictum in 30:19: 'This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.'"

Professor Layman adds, "However, at that point [the] Chinese and the Jewish traditions diverge. Deuteronomy 30:20 continues, 'and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.' What intervenes, of course, is the supernatural event of the Covenant.
But why are the Jews so content with life? According to "Spengler," because their survival as a people, as a nation, is not in doubt:
It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations. Mephistopheles is right: life as such, the run-of-the-mill business of being born, having children, growing old and dying, is not an attractive proposition. The desire of all nations is eternal life, to be exalted above this muddy vesture of decay. A people that clearly foresees its own end will crawl into a hole and die like a sick animal, as we observe so tragically among aboriginal populations forced into communication with the modern world.

What makes the Jews different is their unique belief that the Covenant gives them eternal life, a belief grounded, to be sure, by thousands of years of history, and survival against all odds against the depredations of the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Alexandrine and Roman empires, not to mention more recent unpleasantness. It is not changing the baby's diapers or changing grandma's bedpan to which the Jews refer when they speak of delight in life, but rather the idealized, perpetual life of a kinship community.
Perhaps JR should worry more about the survival of the Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Spaniards, and Italians than about the survival of the Jews.


Reliapundit said...

brilliantly argued.

one more point comes to mind:

christianity - like europe itself - is also changing demographically and becoming more and more a third world religion as europe becomes both more paganm and muslim; (as they vanish, the europeans are becoming more pagan - both as leftist-hedonists and gaia worshippers).

also this:

jewish festivals celebrate events which occured to the jewish people; christians celebrate events in the life of jesus.

the cultural pride and purpose, this sense of history and destiny animates jews all over thw world.


jews are not all as observamt as they can be and therefore should be.

but most jes everywhere play a role in jewish survival.

assimilated american jews have raised billions to support jews in israel and to help relocate diaspora jews to israel.

helping to rebuild our ancient homeland and restoring jerusalem are noble acts and important mitzvahs - even for leftist reform jews.

m,ore importantly - for the sake of all humans everywhere - the survival of jews, EVEN AS A REMMANT, means the survival of the Sefer Torah, and this means the survival of civilization.

without the Torah, there would be no western civilization, no natural law, no democracy.

there would be only the servitude of man against man.

when God freed the jews and gave us the Sefer Torah and took us to the pronised land, he gave all humanity the key to the promised land.

tyrants who want humanity shackled to their hideous ideologies (islam; leftism, etc) - away from God's Law, Natural Law - have always sought to eradicate jews and our Torah.

because this has not yet happened the light of liberty and of dignity before God has not yet gone out.

pray it never does.

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