My last post on Baha’is in Iran (Baha’is in Danger, June 15, 2008) seems to have gotten me into a bit of hot water. At issue is the following statement I wrote as part of that blog entry:
In a sense the Baha’i Faith is to Islam what the early Christian Church was to Judaism, and just as a believing Jew could not accept the overthrow of Torah that is central to the Church, so a believing Muslim cannot accept the overthrow of Muhammad and the Qur’an that is central to the Baha’i Faith.
A number of people wrote to tell me that being a Christian does not require the overthrow of Torah: Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill it… Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5: 17 & 19).
While this may have been the teaching of Jesus, it is not the teaching of Christianity. Nowhere do we find Christians behaving like Orthodox Jews. The Jewish Christianity of James, the brother of Jesus, lasted only a short time, while the Gentile Christianity of Paul became the dominant form of the faith.
Paul, over against Peter and James, established a Gentile church in which converts could become Christians without first having to become Jews obligated to Jewish law. Paul did not require his converts to Christianity to observe the laws of circumcision or kosher, for example, two observances that are central to Jewish life. Nor where they required to sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple, another key feature of Judaism at that time. Indeed, in his Letter to the Galatians Paul seems say that those who try to promote circumcision are perverting the true teaching of the new faith. He becomes so incensed at these Judaizers as to wish they would castrate themselves (Galatians 5:12).
Paul makes it clear that it is faith in Jesus as Christ rather than keeping the commandments of the Torah that is the key to entering Heaven: “For if justification comes through Torah, then Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21).
At the heart of both Christianity and biblical Judaism is the notion that God is only appeased through blood sacrifice. This is an idea as old as religion itself. The Bible’s innovation was to put an end to human sacrifice and focus instead on the sacrifice of animals. This is the meaning of the near sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham.
Christianity returns to the theme of human sacrifice, arguing de facto that animal sacrifice is not sufficient and that only a human sacrifice would do. The Christian innovation is that only one final sacrifice is necessary and that is the sacrifice of the God/Man Jesus.
Both religions maintain their sacrificial foundation even today. Traditionally observant Jews pray daily for the restitution of the Temple and its slaughter of animals, and traditionally observant Christians participate in the sacrifice of Jesus through the act of Communion.
While I find the entire notion of a God requiring blood sacrifice absurd, it does seem clear to me that Judaism and Christianity are incompatible religions. Each denies the essential tenet of the other.
Does this mean that individual Jews and Christians cannot invent variations of their respective faiths that make room for some of the teachings of the other? No. Individuals can do lots of things, but they ought not pretend that their private innovations are the norm of their respective faiths. But then again all religion is pretend, so, please, invent away.