Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Was Grant a 'genteel anti-Semistist?' [excerpt from Grant in Process]

Again in response to Alan Mendelson, was Grant a genteel anti-Semitist? It depends on what we mean with that broad brush label. Here he speaks for himself in this interview in Larry Schmidt (ed.), "George Grant in Process," 1978 (102-3).  

QUESTION: You often speak about your dependence on the traditions of Athens and Jerusalem. Obviously the tradition of Athens, and of Plato in particular, is present in everything you say. But what is less obvious is what you incorporate from the tradition of Jerusalem. I can see the New Testament there -- but I wonder to what extent the Old Testament, the so-called Hebrew Bible, and the whole Hebraic background of Christian faith, is of vital importance in your thought?

GRANT: "Let me say first that I do not like talking in public these days of the differences between Judaism and Christianity. I don't think any political good is served by talking of such differences, because it would be taken in the bases and most vulgar way. But that does not mean there aren't grave intellectual differences between Christianity and Judaism. Clearly, for myself, I'm on the side of Christianity that is farthest away from Judaism, and nearest to the account of Christianity that is close to Hinduism in its philosophic expression. I would accept what Clement of Alexandria said: some were led to the Gospel by the Old Testament, many were led by Greek philosophy.

This same applies today when there are many ways into the apprehension of what is universal about Christ. What I object to in many modern theologians (particularly the Germans) is that they make Christianity depend on the religious history of a particular people, as told in the Old Testament. They make Christianity such an 'historical' religion that its universal teaching about perfection and affliction is lost.

QUESTION: It seems to me your use of the term 'tradition of Jerusalem' is really an empty use. If you take the Hebrew element out of the religion, what you have left is a pale Hellenism.  

GRANT: Obviously there are wonderful and true things in the Old Testament. There are also exclusivist parts. What I want to insist is that the universal truth of Christ is not tied too clearly to the religious life of a particular nation, and that Christianity is not tied to an account of God's dynamic activity in the world, which appears to me to be unthinkable and to lead directly to atheism. Both western accounts of Christianity -- Protestant and Catholic -- have emphasized the arbitrary power of God in a way which seems to me fundamentally wrong and which has produced a picture of a God whom one should not worship. I think those emphases on the power of God are related to that exclusivity and dynamism which have led to some of the worst sides of western civilization. We in the West are called to rethink all this which started somewhere close to St. Augustine. What seems to me sad is that just when this rethinking is so necessary, many theologians are reemphasizing this God of dynamism in the name of the Bible.

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