Let's see if Judaism offers the bewildered mattresses
on Squornshellous Zeta anything better.
In the holy books of Judaism, we find all kinds of stories about
exclusionary command and control structures. We have kings and
generals doing what kings and generals do, some of it good, some of it
evil. However, as Robert
A. Morey famously pointed out, Jews and Christians do not make the
same claims for their holy books that Muslims make for theirs. Muslims
believe that the Quran is a perfect book, full of unambiguous truth,
written in heaven by Allah himself with no earthly sources. Jews and
Christians know fully well that their books are compilations of stories
from all around the middle east, brought together either because they
contained important historical information, or interesting philosophical
musings, or stories that taught interesting lessons, and so on.
The meaning of a story from these books is very much open for debate in
the Judeo-Christian tradition. The term "Rabinnical
debate" is almost a pure redundancy! Meanings are not necessarily
fixed and eternal. For example, in the conquest of the Promised
Land, Joshua carried out military maneuvers. This does not mean that
the God of the Jews says that everything Joshua did is a model for future
generations! What do Joshua's acts mean for us today?
What lessons can we draw? Discussion and debate is encouraged.
Judaism and classical Greek cultures are the basis of Western society not
because they have told us what to think, but because they have taught us
how to disagree and debate peacefully and productively. The Western
way is not a religion; it is a way of living with
The ethical heart of Judaism is easy to spot. It is Mosaic Law, and
most importantly the Ten Commandments. Let's review the Ten Commandments
for a moment. There are a few different
versions of these commandments, of course, but here is one of them.
1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
3. Remember thou keep the Sabbath Day.
4. Honor thy Father and thy Mother.
5. Thou shalt not kill.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.
Two of these Ten Commandments are purely cultic,
about respecting the Sabbath and following only one God. Commandment
number 2 is partly cultic, but it is in many respects a very interesting
commandment. One should not use the Lord's name in vain. This might
apply to people who kill, rape, steal or bear false witness (think
'conspiracy theorists') in the name of God. One should not use God's name
to justify atrocities. This is a violation of God.
The remaining seven commandments are completely universal. Of
course, the whole book is about how Jews are to organize their society,
but these commandments are applicable anywhere. Even the mattresses
of Squornshellous Zeta (all of them curiously named 'Zem') would agree
that in general, these commandments are a good idea. Living
according to these rules will actually help preserve their peace, so they
can swim around blowing bubbles in the swamp without being troubled, even
if they never convert to Judaism, or never even figure out what Judaism is
(mattresses are not too bright, but anyone from any tradition can see the
value of these ethical rules).
Judaism is a religion, and so of course there is orthodoxy, extreme
pressure to conform in some circles, manipulation of people, social
ostracism and all the rest. But that is not all there is to it.
There are some *universal* rules - rules that would apply to everybody,
not just the ‘in-group’.
Thou shalt not kill.
This rule does not distinguish between Muslims and Kaffirs, or Jews and
Gentiles. It is because of rules like this that Jews can criticize
their own traditions, criticize their own governments, criticize their own
orthodoxy, assess stories in the Torah and judge the actions of historical
figures, and hold up all human beings to the same moral standards.
Judaism is a religion, and it has a lot of the in-group/out-group dynamics
that Islam has, but in Judaism these tribal tendencies are powerfully
balanced by universal moral rules.
As Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas government in the Palestian Authority
in the spring of 2006 said, a few days after the party took power.
"The culture that dominated the
Palestinian street in past years is a culture that needs time in order to
turn into a culture that keeps law and order and does not resort to using
arms under any condition."
They are just starting the long, hard path towards civilization, where
disputes are settled not by establishing dominance, but by adherence to
the rule of law. Hamas sees this is needed among its own people, but
it remains steadfast in its commitment to wipe
off the face of the map. Nothing else will do. No two-state
solution, no compromise. And if Hamas learned to compromise, this
would be seen as weakness on the Arab street! One can only dominate
totally, or be dominated totally. Prior treaties, rules and
agreements are ignored.
However, elevate one of these street fighters to a position of
responsibility, where he has to mediate between parties in a conflict, and
suddenly the need for rule of law becomes obvious to him. He asks his
followers to do exactly what the international community has demanded
Hamas do – recognize your opponent’s right to exist, disarm, negotiate
according to objective rules, and keep your agreements.
Judaism, whatever its flaws, began to journey along the long, hard road of
ethical universalism and the rule of law thousands of years ago.
I wonder which ethical system the mattresses of Squornshellous Zeta (all
of them curiously named 'Zem') would prefer?