The Epistle to the Sybarites – yours for only $9.95!

Ms Coulter insults Jews – and trivializes Christianity.

Ann Coulter on CNBC:

“We just want Jews to be perfected, as they say. … That’s what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws.” And later: “I don’t think you should take it that way [as offensive], but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews.”

M.J. Rosenberg and the ADL hammer her for antisemitism. I’m insulted as a Christian. On Rosenberg’s thread commenter Mike Woodson demolishes her bizarre theology from a Christian viewpoint. Case closed, until her next rant.

But that leaves the FedEx analogy. What was going on in her peculiar mind? If it isn’t just gibberish, it must be a Freudian slip. We might get some insight into right-wingers by playing the parlour game: how is Christianity like Federal Express?

If it is, then Judaism must be the US Postal Service: in her mind a slow and by definition inefficient government bureaucracy, burdened by too many obsolete rules, and insensitive to the needs of its customers. Federal Express is the dynamic private-sector competitor, streamlined, responsive, and customer-friendly. So her Christianity is Judaism slimmed down by management consultants. It still has rules – but lots fewer. Order your copy today!

I wonder: could this caricature actually be a fair description of much of modern suburban American Christianity, exquisitely sensitive to market forces? (In the non-religious societies of much of Europe, religion has been marginalised but by the same token has rather less temptation to water down its messages for mass acceptability.)

It obviously isn’t the position of Saints Paul and Augustine, or Luther and Calvin – two of them reasonably philosemitic, two antisemitic; nor of a sophisticated Christian supersessionist like the Pope.

The core Christian objection to Coulter is the fact of Jesus’ ethical maximalism. He took the primacy of the Golden Rule from Hillel, but put it on steroids by welding it to the Shema and giving it radical and unsettling interpretations : abandoning your family; giving your money to the poor; loving Roman oppressors, Samaritan heretics and Iraqi thugs; treating the poor, outcasts with leprosy or AIDS, and children without medical insurance as dearer to God than the rich and powerful. If you take this seriously, you can find yourself like the supposedly cuddly wimp Saint Francis stripping himself naked and publicly disavowing his father before the ecclesiastical tribunal of Assisi. (Sabatier, Life of St Francis, Ch.IV).

The requirements of orthodox Judaism – in the legalist tradition of Shammai rather than the philosophical one of Hillel or the mystical one of the Baal Shem Tov – are heavy, but with dedication and a bit of luck it is possible to comply with all of them, and many Jews have done so through the ages. Just as most healthy men and women under 50 could complete a marathon if they really worked at it, and many do. Jesus’ call to perfection is in effect to run the marathon in 90 minutes. So every Christian automatically fails. As St Paul writes, “It is the Law by which we know how much we sin”. Far from being Judaism lite, the demands of full-strength Christianity are even heavier; indeed humanly impossible. That’s why the problem of endless sin is so central to the religion; hence the Catholic emphasis on renewing yourself through the sacraments, and the core Protestant doctrine of justification by faith. For both, nothing you can do by yourself, no compliance with a rulebook, is ever good enough.

It’s not a very saleable proposition, but Coulter might try looking into it sometime.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web