Welcome to a new feature at The Lid, Letters From David. The “David” is David M. Swindle former edited political publications from 2009-2015 before “retiring” to focus on building a Bible-based counterculture. David was my editor at Newsreal Blog and has been my friend ever since. He is now the West Coast Editor for Liberty Island and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, counterculture feminist pop artist April Bey, and their Siberian Husky Maura. In 2006 he graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana with a degree in Political Science and English-Creative Writing and still remains stuck at the fiery fault lines between politics, culture, technology and religion…
David will be contributing to this site from time to time. While you will not always agree with him (he probably hopes you don’t), but you will always find them interesting. More than adding different perspective, David adds a totally different thought process that you will enjoy.
Below is the first of many “Letters from David:”
I’m planning a shift similar to yours; I hope to gradually begin writing for a number of sites whose missions I support. I’ve already begun a series at Rebel Media encouraging Canadians who share our political values with ideas that have worked for us. I’ve started to explain the differences among American conservatives and why they exist.
I could just as well explain how in the last 6 years of my editing at conservative new media publications I’ve observed comparable divisions in the religious world. Over the years you’ve done many posts on other Jews with ideas and beliefs very different from your own — generally those on the “the Left” who antagonize Israel.
Varieties of Jewish observance are well known: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, secular cultural Judaism, Zionism, and Kaballah. With the Pope visiting America now we’re again reminded of the divides in Christianity and even within Catholicism. Among Protestants you’re well aware of the varieties as they manifest in our political realm so much whether they be as leftist Christians portraying a pacifist, wealth-redistributing Jesus or Right-wing Christians, some single-mindedly focused only on re-criminalizing abortion.
Who is right? What is the solution to these seemingly unsurmountable theological divides?
I think the Jews figured it out. Congratulations and appreciations to your people.
Question: what is the difference between “Judeo-Christian values” and just plain “Christian values”?
Obviously, in Judeo-Christian values the Judeo part comes first, not second. One of the fundamental divides among Christians involves how to incorporate “the Old Testament,” as it is much longer and more difficult to understand and a bigger linguistic challenge being originally in Hebrew.
Most Christians in my experience spend much more time in the New than the Old, and draw their morality more from the apostle Paul’s letters than from the books of Moses. Many Christians believe that the Torah is little more than a reference book for putting the Gospels in context. They see it as akin to a horse and buggy whereas Jesus is the only car they need. They think that they can largely just dismiss anything in the Old Testament; the New Testament supposedly overrules everything in the Old.
I used to live this Christianity in my teenage years, starting around 6th and 7th grade. I rejected it over the course of my sophomore and junior years of high school, out of anger at the claim that all Jews were damned (as were all non-Christians) and the over-reliance on the Apostle Paul’s letters as an answer to any theological question. This rejection of Christianity and organized religion in general led to more than a decade where I wandered amongst Pagan occultism, interfaith mysticism, and political idolatry to try and fill my God-shaped hole.
What brought me back to the deity of the Bible, the God of Israel, was coming to understand the Torah more as Jews have, and then further applying that approach to Christianity and culture at large. Dozens of Jewish authors and books have impacted me over the years and I hope to talk about them more in the coming months at the Lid and elsewhere. (Back in October 2013 at PJ Lifestyle, dialoguing with Christian writers Walter Hudson and Rhonda Robinson about these themes, I explained aspects of my religious journey in “Why the Weight of Heaven Crushed my Christianity.”)
Jeff, as I wandered through religious traditions, trying out different rituals like shoes in a department store, I came to find that Jewish mystical practices based around the Hebrew language were the most effective. The Bible only really starts to make sense when one meditates on it in Hebrew rather than in English. Translation from one language to another always transforms the message being communicated whether we can realize it or not.
A Biblical lifestyle for me amounts to treating the prophetic stories as a How-To manual. We are actually to become “prophets” ourselves. Everything in the Bible is useful and in understanding the divine as Jacob did, we are called to wrestle with God by grappling with the interconnections of his Word. The Bible doesn’t “work” when one yanks out a verse like a test answer. It’s a big narrative and God is hidden in the spaces between the stories and characters, which He calls us to bridge in our minds. One Jewish thinker I’ve studied a lot the past few years is Maimonides. I think I understand now why his final book, The Guide of the Perplexed, was really so controversial — it taught how one could develop “prophetic consciousness” oneself, thus undercutting Rabbinic authority. (The passages in the Torah and the New Testament that deal with how individuals can and should interact with God directly, without a rabbi or priest as intermediary, have always been the most controversial and misunderstood, ultimately being cloaked in “mysticism” and “occultism”…)
“The first element is shifting the struggle against idolatry from the realm of external plastic representation to that of internal mental representation.” – Moshe Halbertal, page 358 in Maimonides Life and Thought.
I advocate for everyone — they do not need to be Jews or Christians — to embrace a system of “Judeo-Christian” ethical and moral values because I believe the Jewish approach to creating morality through wrestling with the Divine’s inspired stories is the best way to guarantee freedom and create strong individuals.
In wrestling with Bible stories and trying to figure out what these mysterious teachings mean we are abandoning our selfish, hedonist, normal, natural state of being and replacing ourselves with what God wants us to be. The practice of worshipping a transcendent God allows us to come to transcend our own natural state. That’s how worship functions — we become what we worship. The qualities of the God which one emphasizes the most consistently one gradually takes on oneself. This is a sword that cuts both ways, for in it is revealed why we must only worship God: to worship nature is to worship, and thus become, death.
And some Christians do that — they obsess over the gory details of the crucifixion and center their religious experience in the high emotions of Christ’s final torture session. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and its creator’s history of anti-Semitic statements have a connection. So many Christians are still Pagans, obsessed with violence and sex in their culture and the high swing of emotions in their lives. They have abandoned the God of the Bible and replaced him with the image of Jesus and the good feelings it inspires.
Jeff, I realize that over the years I’ve come to live at an odd crossroads spiritually, my beliefs are a blending of Pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Secular traditions such that I tend to alienate and confuse the fundamentalists of each (sometimes intentionally — you know how I like to provoke and confront, sometimes to a fault.) It’s taken me awhile to start to find the particular traditions and groups that would most understand where I’m coming from and tolerate my eccentricities. In wrestling with God I’ve been torn over if I should pursue a more Jewish path, perhaps converting or aspiring to move to Israel, or if God was calling me back to a Christian community, perhaps to bring back some of the Zionist perspective, Kosher/Sabbath appreciation, and Hebrew you and others in our circles had inspired me on.
But for now at least, I’m not sure God is really pushing me explicitly in either direction, but rather to continue to strive for being a bridge between Jews, Christians, and the secular/Pagan worlds. In the Bible itself this role is served by the sections that I’ve decided to focus on this fall and spring as I write my novels, edit others’, and continue to shift my career toward Bible-based storytelling. I think that the middle sections of the Bible — what Jews call the Nevi’im and the Ketuvim — are some of the most underappreciated treasure troves of wisdom and guidance, largely misunderstood and neglected by people of all faiths and of course to secular and Pagan people. The prophetic tradition is what underlies Judaism and Christianity, binding them together. The novels that I’m working on now and developing strive to take these themes and make them accessible to those who have not yet discovered how they work in the Bible.
So in the coming weeks and months don’t be surprised if Job, Hosea, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and some of the more obscure figures of apocryphal texts begin to assert their voices more in my writing and blogging. I appreciate any book suggestions or ideas you’d have and your readers can send me their thoughts on Twitter where I can still be found at @DaveSwindle.
Thank you for your inspiration and warm spirit,
P.S. Another of the Jewish thinkers who has influenced me the most and I’m going to explore more soon is Franz Rosenzweig, who I came to appreciate through David P. Goldman’s books. I agree with Rosenzweig about Judaism’s role in guarding Christianity from descending back into idolatry: