While The Weekend Australian has declined in size, it is still of a sufficient size to waste one’s entire weekend; unless you are a little discerning. An editorial decision that divided the paper into four sections was a brilliant idea. The last two sections, the business report and sports stories are only there for the tragics and can be safely discarded without any loss of cerebral power.
With half of the paper now safely in the can, we are left with the newsy part and the opinion part and two lengthy articles in the opinion part of this weekend’s Weekend Australian posed a real challenge to those faced with a duty to mow the lawn. Ignoring the old adage, that one is known by the company one keeps, the committee responsible for weekend reading placed an edited extract from Greg Sheridan’s book about God on one page and a Caroline Overington article about writers’ festivals on the facing page.
Overington’s article was headed by a photo Germaine Greer who had been disinvited to a writers’ festival. Greer may have been languishing against a tree, but her eyes were directed to the right, beyond her page, and towards the photograph of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel which graced Sheridan’s article. That is where our eyes should have stayed.
The extract from Sheridan’s book is an essay that seeks to illuminate the meanings of specific Old Testament Bible stories. He attributes the stories as a religious text to ’Jewish genius,’ but not to God. For what it’s worth, Moses was not a Jew. He was a Hebrew and the text from where the stories originate is called the Old Testament because the English language Bible is a Christian Book, which includes the New Testament. What Christians call the Old Testament, is primarily the Tanakh of which the Torah is the first five books.
While Sheridan is respectful of these stories and genuinely enthralled by them, he speaks of them largely as historical narratives and hence man-made, even secular. He says that God’s creation of humanity in his own image is a ‘powerful statement in favour of universal human rights.’ However, it is impossible to reconcile human rights with the Torah’s imposition of duties on men towards both God and his fellow. Human rights were a by-product of the Enlightenment when the light from science was intended to dispel the darkness of religion. The implication from man, the rational animal, being in His image is that the God of the Bible is reasonable. (This is confirmed in the New Testament at John 1:1)
But Sheridan’s description of the story of Ruth as irrepressible humanity is all the more compelling for its understatement. Ruth’s statement to Naiomi ‘Your people will be my people and your God will be my God’ highlights more than just the inclusionary nature of Jewish faith, that any faithful person can participate in that faith. It also demonstrates the nature of the blessing of Abraham, ‘in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.’ (Genesis 22:18) Thus we learn what the Jews were chosen to do.
I was once told by someone who would have recoiled in horror at any suggestion that he was anti-Semitic, that the Jews were arrogant to describe themselves as the chosen people. While that is not what chosen meant, the Jews have been punished by most every people on earth because of that mistaken view and we should thank God that He didn’t choose us.
It is quite possible that Sheridan’s article was longer than Overington’s although having read them both, Overington’s not only seemed to be twice as long, but the fatigue left me convinced never to attend a writers’ festival.
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