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The True Meaning of Ethical Monotheism

03/19/2014 04:33 EDT | Updated 05/19/2014 05:59 EDT

There are two stories about the revelation at Mount Sinai. God sent a friend request and the Jews accepted. The second story: God sent a friend request and the Jews waited, looked into the ramifications of the contract, the commitments-rights and responsibilities, the duration, little things. God really wanted the Jewish people to accept, so, He decided on a little incentive. He raised Mt. Sinai over their heads and repeated the question. The Jews looked up, saw what was before them and accepted the friendship request. So, they became "the chosen people, a light unto the nations."

The Bible teaches that all of us were together to "Hear O Israel," to listen to the mighty Word from the heart of the fire, through the sound of trumpets of rolling thunder piercing the soul, circumcising the heart, a gift wrapped in mystery and heralded in awe. All of us must learn that revolutionary ethic, to keep it alive no matter how difficult to maintain, no matter how easy to let go.

Whatever the story may be, the fact is from out of the wilderness a new form of nation emerged. New laws were decreed to make living together possible. It was and remains a revolutionary transformative ethic that changed the entire organization of humanity. It is an ethic that prioritizes freedom, justice, the fullness of human dignity, and free will that requires of us that we balance rights and responsibilities with compassion, the policy of law with the attitude of mercy and love.

I have often wondered if the Jewish teachings of social justice and prophetic law would have survived through the millennia without Christianity. I sometimes think that the ethic survived because of Saul of Tarsus. I know that sounds odd. Jesus-Jeshua-and his followers brought new ideas to Judaism. Then Saul of Tarsus while on the road to Damascus had a revelation. He was transformed and as often happens, he had a name change; to Paul. He reinterpreted Judaism which was at first a combination of Greek theology and Jewish morality. It is Paul who started evangelizing his new interpretation around the Mediterranean and the rest is history.

Ultimately the point of how the word was spread is moot. What is not moot is the gift of the Jews, the morals, values and ethics brought into the world by this ethic, now referred to as ethical monotheism. It brought about the greatest change in the collective unconscious of humankind since the cave dweller discovered the art of fire-making because it freed us from the belief that we had no control over our destiny, that we were mere pieces in the games of capricious gods. From the moment that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, we have been exhorted to choose because we have been blessed with the responsibility to exercise free-will. We are not victims of circumstance; we are active participants in our own lives. Ethical monotheism taught us that we have intrinsic value: we matter because we exist; we are valued for who we are not for what we do or for our financial worth.

This belief in an ethical God also made it possible over time to move from a society of tribes to a society of many tribes held together with common shared beliefs, stories and traditions because this God demanded that we care for the other, the stranger because we know how a stranger feels; we were once strangers in a strange land.

I fear for the survival of Western culture, the recipient of this ethical gift.

Unfortunately, like fish in the sea, we have taken our life-giving, life-sustaining surroundings for granted, and now the ideologies of secularism, agnosticism, atheism, fundamentalism and political correctness have been elevated to espousers of objective truth that will somehow protect us from intolerance, war and all the other evils impugned to religion.

Too many of us no longer know or understand the meaning of ethical monotheism and the Judeo-Christian ethic and how it transformed the whole organization of humanity. We no longer teach these concepts in school even though they are the foundation of our society. It is as if we assume that our children will learn about their culture through osmosis. They won't. Our culture will only survive if ethical monotheism and the Judeo-Christian ethic are taught. One does not need to be Jewish or Christian to live in a culture that is informed by those teachings.

Isaiah offers the vision of universal peace; "...the mountain of God's house will rise higher than the mountains...Then all the nations will stream to it, many peoples will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may each us his ways so that we walk in his paths" (Isaiah 2:3).

And Micah 4:5 "For let all people walk everyone in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever."

Winston Churchill wrote that the Bible gave us: "a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together on that system and by that faith. There has been built out of the wreck of the Roman Empire the whole of our existing civilization."