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Hope and Responsibility

The Assembly with the Promise of God

Douglas Knight

What can we know of the future? What confidence may we have in

the future of mankind? Is it better to say something about it, even if
unverifiable or banal, in order to keep the question of the future
before us? Or should we stifle the issue in case it turns out that the
only future we have is to be dreaded? Surely it is better to raise the
question and venture to say something about the future than to let
our fears silence us. We should not be afraid of appearing foolish or
exceptional to those who want to confine us to less ambitious
questions. One human community is under an obligation to
countenance the future and to say something about it for the rest of
us. They talk about the future as a matter of hope. We can weigh
their talk of hope by examining this community, and this community
must be examined through its orientation to the future.

The community that has been addressed by God has hope, and this
hope enables, and mandates for them the thought of the future.
They are able to ask this question, and so for all humankind the
question exists. They hope because God has addressed them, and
they expect him to do so again. This hope of his address determines
their future. God has called them into existence simply so that he
can address them and they address him. For this community, hope
is cognizance that a promise has been made, expectations been
raised and obligation created. What we can say about hope, the
future, and human responsibility derives from what this community
says about itself, which is that there is an ongoing covenant
between God and Abraham. It is not simply that Israel had, but has
and always will have this relationship with God and therefore knows
at least two things about the future, that it is the love of God for
them that gives them a future, and that the God who does so is the
true God and therefore the God of all men. Yet the community for
whom the thought of the future takes the form of hope – their hope
– is the exceptional community, and feeling abashed, may play
down this hope of theirs in order to avoid the resentment of those

without such hope. Yet we must talk about this community in terms
of its future-orientation.

The God who has brought Israel into covenant with himself has
revealed that this relationship is the truth of the relationship of God
with man. Israel’s covenant with God is for Israel’s sake. Then we
have to add that the covenant with Israel is also for the sake of the
world. Since Israel is in covenant with the God of all mankind, this
covenant is the truth of all mankind, and there is no mankind for
which some other kind of existence is true.1 Each human is in
relationship, fundamentally and immediately, with God and, through
God, with every other human being. Humans are in relationship
because God has made them so; our existence is dependent on this
prior relationship. We do not exist first and at some later date
decide to enter our first relationship. Man is with his fellow men:
none of us is first on our own and only subsequently and
problematically with other people. Each human exists only because
God calls them into existence, and each is called into existence so
that they may be called into communion: the communion is the
purpose of this existence. Since Israel is covenantal, Man is

This covenantal view of mankind has direct consequences for the

flourishing of all persons and societies. The call of God brings each
human being before their fellow human. God calls each of us before
the other so that we can recognise one another and render one
another the affirmation appropriate to each of his creatures, in
particular to the human creature, who bears the image of God and
participates in the love and freedom that are proper to God. Each of
us is called before both those who are ready for us and those who
are not. Each other person is the image of himself that God
presents us with and so represents the call and claim of God on us,
and we may each hope that the other can discern that image and
glory in us. Each encounter with our fellows represents this
challenge to hear this call of God to enter the communion, with the
God and with all men, that takes the form of this covenant with

Two things must said of this covenant. First, Israel’s covenant with
God is for Israel’s sake. There is no further rationale than the love
of these persons for each other. But then we also have to say that
Israel is in the world – the world of the Gentiles – as the presence
of God with man, and so as the witness of God to man, and the
embodiment of man’s proper worship of God. Thus this covenant,
that is for its own sake, also has this further purpose and

Karl Barth Church Dogmatics III

responsibility. Israel is for the sake of the world. The purpose of
Israel is man, and Israel is the destiny of Man.

In this paper I am going to suggest what might be involved in these

issues of true worship, witness and responsibility. I am going to
show what more extended uses of the concept of covenant
Christians make and how they relate to the issues of hope and the
future. Lastly I will point to the threats to the world, which are also
the threats the twofold community of hope. I will suggest that
Israel, along with the Church, has to find ways to describe the fears
and compulsions that characterise the world of the Gentiles,
sometimes has to call the product of their imagination ‘idolatry’ and
advise them to repent, and be converted and delivered. I will
suggest that, though Modernity may be a proper form of secularity,
it may also be a ideological and religious force, even a cult, directed
against the particularity of persons and the possibility that persons
that have a future different from their present. This force is
occasionally even aimed against the particularity of the people of
Israel. Modernity is a positive development inasmuch as it receives
from Israel, but becomes an idolatry when it declines to do so; its
identity emerges as Modernity receives its definition from Israel and
the Church in gratitude or refuses it in aggression. For better or for
worse therefore it is Israel that gives Modernity its identity. Without
the witness of the Jewish, and Christian, community the world can
only despair of discovering any future and drift towards shutdown.
It is the presence of Israel in the world that keeps the world open
and gives it a future. The identity of Israel depends on taking up
this responsibility as model and teacher to the Gentiles who look to
her. She must receive them because they are the gift – of her glory
– given to her by her Lord. Thus there will not finally be two
assemblies, but one, in which Israel will be at the front while the
Gentiles take their place behind her. They are two assemblies,
perhaps necessarily so, for now; each may appeal to the other not
to make what divides us appear bigger than it is, and to offer one
another tokens of recognition that, at the appearing of that future
assembly in which all will be reconciled, these two must be one.2 To
say all this is the responsibility of Israel.

God has made man his covenant partner. More than that, God has
made one specific man (Abraham) his covenant partner and with
the one specific people (Israel) who are the children of this man.
He, and they, are the covenant partner of God. ‘Covenant’ is not a
Robert Spaemann ‘Gott ist kein Bigamist’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 11 April 2009 ‘Jedenfalls
ist der Gedanke von zwei Bundesvölkern dem Neuen Testament vollkommen fremd. Es gibt nur das
eine Volk Gottes, dessen „geborene Mitglieder“ die Juden und dessen adoptierte Mitglieder die Heiden

general truth or a universal right but a specific communion,
membership of which is by invitation. The covenant of God is with
man through this people only, and with this people for their sake
and for the sake of all mankind. It is exclusive and it is inclusive.
Israel is the future of mankind, held out by God to man. This
covenant is simultaneously with Israel and for all mankind, at once
particular and only so universal. It is good news for all mankind that
God loves Israel for Israel’s sake, for Israel is Man with God.

Israel is ‘Knesses Israel’ – the assembly of Israel. This assembly of

Israel worships, from the beginning and forever, before the throne
of God. The ‘Church’ (ecclesia) is the assembly called into being
around the assembly of Israel, so Israel is the centre around which
the Church gathers. We baptised Gentiles worship the Lord with
Israel and we see the Lord as Christ, surrounded by this company of
his people. Often in Christian worship the assembly of Israel is
shrunk to the figure of Mary and disciples in adoration of Jesus, or
to some schematic of prophet, priest and king, but nevertheless the
Church is present, only, where the Scriptures of Israel are read and
the patriarchs and prophets heard. The one divisible testament of
God makes itself heard in the sequence of readings ‘Old Testament-
Psalm-Epistle-Gospel’ of every service of Christian worship. The
New Testament is not the antithesis of the Old Testament, but
simply the Old Testament opened to the Gentiles. Christians refer to
this one testament in its two fold form as Old and New
simultaneously. It is ‘Old’ because it is the original, from the
beginning, the unchanging testimony of God, and it is ‘New’ since it
makes all things new.3 Christians worship the Lord as ‘Christ’, that
is, as he is anointed and surrounded by his people Israel, and by all
mankind and by all creatures. They are his glory and his anointing;
without them Christ would be without his kingdom and so would be
no Christ. Each of the prophets sent by the Lord is a member of the
assembly that surrounds him; each is vindicated by all who follow
him: the arrival of the whole does not replace the parts, but
glorifies them, revealing their place in this whole whom we call
‘Christ’. This understanding of the simultaneously plural and unitary
nature of the ecclesia enables Christians to insist on the centrality of
the assembly, and so to call attention to it when this assembly is
not present at the centre of Jewish thought.

Jewish thought appears to the outsider to point in two directions.

On the one hand is the Law, which some contributors to this volume
want to reserve to Israel, not for others. She is in an exclusive
relationship, in which the Gentiles have no part. About this private
relationship, they suggest that Christians have no more to say than
any other Gentiles. On the other hand, Jewish thought is committed
Irenaeus Adv Haer IV

to the discourse of philosophy. Since philosophy represents an
engagement with Gentile wisdom, this suggests that there is some
requirement to wrestle with the Gentiles, make sense of them, offer
them some wisdom and in some measure act as witnesses to them.

But to do philosophy is not only to let the Gentiles speak as equals

but often and unfortunately to extend more credit to them than
that. Gentile wisdom sets the questions, while Jewish thinkers carve
up Jewish wisdom in order to present answers that Gentiles will
recognise, and which will support rather than confront the pagan
understanding of the world. Jewish thought seems ready to ready to
receive as allies the various deisms, theisms or a-theisms of Gentile
wisdom that can be identified in different centuries with Athens and
Alexandria, Rome and Paris, Königsberg and Berlin, and New York
and Chicago. Yet the basic questions asked and answers expected
by his heirs in successive restorations of the Academy remain
determined by Plato’s vision of the universals. Nothing in the world
is eternal, everything passes away. What is eternal must always
remain above the world. God cannot come to man or love man, or
choose one man rather than other and so cannot make covenants.

Can such ‘philosophy’ affirm universality without casting off all

particularities? Is it not bound to blind out the actuality of the
events and so for example of the event in which the God of all men
calls one people out of another, and chooses to be the God of all
men only as the God of this particular people? Has Jewish thought
succeeded in defending this point? Or how often does it step back
from the dangerous doctrine of election, which alone secures the
fundamental nature of the particular, to wave towards a vaguer and
much less demanding morality to which gentiles may wish to
adhere, if only they could?

But, since it is not informed by the covenant of God, Gentile

wisdom, knowing only the fundamental fact of death, is mesmerised
by the processes that dissolve away all particularity. Since all must
bow before all-powerful, all-dissolving, time it finds it difficult to
concede the fundamental significance of any person or people.
Gentile Wisdom – ‘Philosophy’ – represents the tug-of-war between
the one and the many and the inevitable triumph of the One. All
particularities will eventually dissolve into a unity-without-
distinction (Parmenides), or into a flux without stability or identity
(Heracleitus). Gentile wisdom is determined by a logic of
particularity-eradication. Is Jewish thought robust enough to
identify the presence of this threat within philosophy ?

Thought that is Jewish will insist that the one true God is the God of
Israel, the universal God is this particular God. While universality

dissolves particularity away in the pagan conception, in the
covenanted conception universality and particularity are no threat
to one another. Thought that is Jewish, and which therefore starts
out from the worship and Scriptures of Israel, must subject
philosophy to the given that is the assembly of Israel, and to the
events set out in those Scriptures. It must secure the truth that
there is a people, simultaneously many and one, whose identity is
more fundamental than time or death. These persons will never be
sublated into any other higher or lower unity, nor be turned into
anything that is not themselves. This assembly is fundamental.

Jewish thought will surely take the existence of this assembly and
the covenant that has created its hope as its starting point. It will
therefore surely subject every doctrine of God and of man to the
givens of Israel’s history, the events of recorded in Scripture which
the God of all makes himself known as the God of this one people.
It will offer its own particular history as the means by which every
people may interpret their own histories, and by which every
concept of man and of God may be disciplined. Can Jewish thought
therefore really maintain that Law and Philosophy are independent
areas of concern, and that Jewish Scripture has so little to say to
Gentile wisdom? Surely Jewish thought will use Jewish Scripture to
diagnose Gentile thought as engrossed in by the prospect of its own
extinction? Though engaged at a deep level with the Gentile wisdom
of philosophy, Jewish thought inexplicably wants to avoid the term
‘theology’, in case the Gentiles get the impression that the universal
God of whole world, about which philosophers wonder, be also the
local God of this particular people, knowable through the worship
and the Scriptures of Israel and in no other way. Should there be
such minimal correspondence between Israel’s private existence
and her public existence?

But Jewish thought seems to suggest that there is a gulf, on one

side of which is the Law, which denotes Israel’s private life with her
Lord, and on the other side of which is Philosophy, which is Israel’s
discernment of what sense there is in the wisdom of the nations. It
does not seem to encourage much traffic between the two, as
though there are some questions which may not be asked. In his
ignorance and conceit, the outsider may wonder if Rabbinic thought
does not underplay, even suppress, three crucial factors. The first of
these is the assembly. Israel is gathered by God, and gathered on
earth and so before the world, where the rest of mankind is pretty
much guaranteed to notice and take an interest. The second is the
worship of this assembly. This people is unique because their
worship is true and their prayers are heard; sourced from this true
worship, Israel’s talk about God distinguishes it from all other

peoples.4 The outsider therefore asks whether it is really the Law
(together with its interpretation), or whether it is not rather Israel’s
identification of the true God in its worship that is the fundamental
distinctive of Israel. Then Israel might say that the Law gives them
613 ways to examine themselves, check that their worship is free of
the idolatry and gentileness that might otherwise creep in. Thirdly,
this impertinent outsider might suggest that where there is this
assembly and this worship it is because the presence of God brings
them into existence, so we have to say that this worshipping
assembly is the presence of God here on earth, before men.5 It is
the presence of the Lord who enables his people to be the people
who can observe this Law, and declare that it is indeed the Truth,
and which God graciously enables Israel’s heeding and following.
Without these three terms, assembly, worship and presence, we
have this gulf between Law and Philosophy.6

Though Israel may perhaps not need to make these three terms
explicit for her own sake, Gentiles have to make them explicit, and
Christians do so. They say that the worshipping community of Israel
is where God becomes nameable, and so makes himself
addressable and accessible to man. Without this explicit confession
of this presence, worship and assembly, Jewish thought would
communicate only that the Torah is a private possession without
wider consequence, as though God meant nothing, or nothing
public, by placing Israel here amid the curious Gentiles. Yet Israel is
not created a merely angelic race, beyond the perception of the
nations of the earth.

Among the gentiles it is not the philosophers who worship God, but
another group, one that hears the Scripture of Israel and hopes for
inclusion in that assembly – the Christians. So we have three
assemblies: Israel and the two gentiles assemblies, one of the
philosophers, who do not acknowledge the God of Israel, and the
other of the Christians, who do. Yet the single assembly that hears
the Scriptures and so gathers around the patriarchs and prophets
appears to us as two parallel, even rival, communities which decline
to look one another’s way or do so only with disdain. Could it be

Lenn Goodman The God of Abraham p. 211 ‘The life of Israel becomes a symbol of
God's holiness, Israel itself is made holy and godlike – but only if the meanings are
retained and the symbols not made ends in themselves.’
Alan Mittleman Hope in a Democratic Age p.143 ‘The normative act of thrice-daily prayer,
the sturdy backbone of covenantal action for the traditional Jew, becomes itself a ritual
enactment of messianic time. Rabbinic prayer is thus a prolepsis of the days of the messiah.’
Lenn Goodman The God of Abraham concedes the significance of ritual, which is a step
towards worship, in the identity of Israel, but this small nod to piety comes only after, and
yet without connection to, an extended sociological discussion of ritual. p. 207 ‘A subtext
in all Jewish ritual, perhaps all social ritual, identifies the we. Thus we say ‘Our God and
God of our fathers’, ‘Our God, king of the Universe’, in so many ritual blessings.’

that these two communities, Jewish and Christian, each absorbed
with internal rivalries, is intended to yearn for reconciliation with the
other, that each is responsible to God for the other, and that
together they are responsible to God for the world? Could it be that,
whether separately or together, they are to point to the truth of
God as life and salvation for man and so warn him away from the
idolatries that will end in his dissolution and death? Perhaps the
man who has no wish to be alerted or turn from his path will not
welcome this witness. Perhaps we should say that this responsibility
and witness comes with some risk or cost for both communities.
Perhaps a common danger might be the opportunity for some
pragmatic reconciliations. Christians have been dangerous to Jews,
but Jews might observe that they are no longer so, for Christians
themselves are beginning to feel beleaguered as political power
turns against them in the very places it was once so close to them.

The person
If Israel has a responsibility, what would it be? We might say that it
is the responsibility of Israel to express that (1) man is with God
and (2) Israel is the form in which this is so. It can do so through
the concept of covenant, which together with the concepts of image
(man is the image of God for creation) and other ideas such as love,
faith, freedom and openness, is secured by the concept of the
person. Let us see if this concept of the person can help us draw
these various ideas together into some relationship with the
responsibility of Israel.

There is one God, who makes one covenant. The covenant of God is
with Man, who is brought into existence by this covenant that God
makes with him. The covenant of God is with Man in Israel and has
no other form. The covenant with all mankind is set within the
covenant with Israel, and the covenant with Israel is the form of the
covenant with Adam. All humankind is contained in this covenant,
which specifies and amplifies itself in different dispensations or
forms of providence which, it is true, have been called ‘covenants’.
But ‘covenants’ with Noah, Abraham, Moses and with the whole
people of Israel are contained within this covenant with Adam. In
this series of Russian dolls, when the last and smallest is opened it
reveals the first and largest.7 Open this series at any point and you
will find Israel and, in Israel, all Adam.

Mankind is both many individual persons, and one single person

(‘Adam’). Each person may grow up into relationship with all other
persons, but the only way they may do this is by entry into the
The logic of the concept of the person is perichoretic. Each person consists in many
relationships, and ultimately in relationships with all and thus there is a universality, so is
simultaneously one and many. For the most developed account of the logic of the person,
see John D Zizioulas Being as Communion and Communion and Otherness.

assembly of Israel. The only way that this may happen for Gentiles
is through the particular member of Israel given them for this
purpose. Christians participate in the promise given to the whole
company of Israel, and thus to Abraham, Moses, David ... through
Christ. This participation is both second-hand, since Gentiles are not
descended from Abraham, and it is first-hand, since the Holy Spirit,
the God of Sinai, gathers all nations into the company of God's
people in Christ.

Since God is present to the world in Israel, this must mean that God
is present in each and every member of Israel. Each Jew is all Israel
in miniature, each is man-with-God. Israel has no other existence
than in the specific individual people of whom Israel is made up,
through all history. Christians point out that if we see Israel as the
presence of God to man we must also see each member of Israel as
the presence of God. God sets each man before his fellow man so
that each may recognise this as the beloved creature and
companion of God, the gift given to him by God and the image of
the invisible God so that in each of his fellows man may recognise
and know God. We could term this presence ‘embodiment’ or

Here the concept of person allows us to relate the concepts of

covenant, and of man as bearer of the image of God, and of man as
the creature open to the future. If God and man are conceived
without relation to one another, we have two puzzling individual
units. Then Man is himself a god, a rival for God and we have a
paradoxical encounter of monads, each of which claims to be all
that is. Each can only be a limit on and rival of the other. Persons
are not monads. They can only be in relation with all other persons.
For created persons, this means we are in time, drawn and called
towards our fulfilment, always possessing what we have in the form
of a promise. All humans are persons because God regards them
so; each of them is sustained by the call of God, and this call has
the nature of a promise. Thus each Jew is a Jew because of the
promise of God. The promise is always delivered on and yet more
promised, and intrinsic to the promise to Israel is that the Gentiles
will acknowledge her for who she is. No Jew is a Jew apart from
God or in any other form than this promise. Yet this identity of
Israel depends on the arrival of the Gentiles who make up the
world, and thus on the future reconciliation of the Gentiles with
Israel and of Israel with the Gentiles. Israel is not only for Israel’s

Michael Wyschogrod has led recent recognition of this. The Body of Faith p.256 ‘The
circumcised body of Israel is the dark, carnal presence through which the redemption makes
its way in history. Salvation is of the Jews because the flesh of Israel is the abode of the
divine presence in the world. It is the carnal anchor that God has sunk into the soil of

own sake but also for the Gentiles, so Israel’s identity takes the
form of a promise. Thus a Gentile may become a Christian, and so
have hope, because Israel has the promise of God and ongoing
delivery on that promise. If God proves unreliable with any one
promise, to any member of Israel, he is of no use to the rest of us.

Each Jew is all Israel in miniature, anointed, that is, ‘Christ-ed’

Israel for the Gentiles’ sake. Israel is Man-made-holy, that is, the
Gentile-made-holy. Jesus is the means by which the nations can see
Israel as she will be, vindicated and glorious. Christ is our glimpse
of all Israel, as both distinct from mankind and identified with
mankind. Israel will truly be herself when the Gentiles are given to
her as her glory. The future of mankind is hidden, but hidden in
every member of this assembly. This assembly includes those
Gentiles who see this glory and the future of mankind here. In this
perichoretic understanding of the person, each person relates to all
others, so the personhood of each is dependent on the eventual
personhood of all, and thus on the delivery of the promise of Israel
and her vindication which, in the eschaton, will simultaneously be
the reconciliation of all men and the vindication of God for all

What about the exclusivity of the covenant of God with Israel? Is
this covenant solely a private affair, or is it also missional? Israel is
the community that correctly identifies God. By identifying him so,
Israel identifies all else as not-God, and calls excessive devotion to
anything else as idolatry. Such idolatry is the way that Gentiles give
themselves to what-is-not-God, and are lost by doing so. Their false
orientation and the misdirection of their passions sets the Gentiles
against one another, with the result that the world is a violent
place. The Gentiles are enslaved and in misery, but since they
cannot help themselves they are to be pitied. Simply by
worshipping God, and refusing to give worship to any other
creature, Israel is the witness of God to all. The witness and mission
of Israel is intrinsic to its worship of God, not something additional
to it. By its worship Israel witnesses that the true object and goal of
man’s life is God. This orientation reveals that all others are false.
The true God is the true orientation for man, by which alone he may
be at peace with himself, with his neighbour and with all other

Israel is given to the world, that is, to the Gentiles. Israel has to
pity the idolaters who, in their misery, give themselves away in
worship to every creature, and are captive to the tyrannies that
result. Israel is holy, thus Jews are here to resist the world, not
capitulate to it. When they are inviolable, the Gentiles will know that

to throw themselves against Israel is to throw themselves against
God, and against their own true orientation, which Israel’s God
alone secures. Thus Israel must bear the Gentiles. The whole nation
of Israel is priestly, invited to carry the sin of the world – again, of
the Gentiles – into the sanctuary, where it is burned up and
transformed from sin to holiness. For long periods of history this
means that Israel must bear foreign masters, even bear lawless and
violent foreign masters. The ‘harsh historical oppression’ (Korn)
which Israel suffers does not begin with Rome, but with Egypt.
Every subsequent regime – Assyria, Babylon, Persia and Greece,
and medieval European Christendom, or modern European
nationalisms – is a continuation of ‘Egypt’. But Egypt is not only
outside us but also within; the passions, resentment and rage that
bubble up within us are, until we can master them, as dangerous as
any external ‘Egypt’.9 Israel is confronted by, often subjugated by,
the nations, but must never be suborned by them, or imitate them.
But equally Israel can only be threatened by them because they
appeal to the violence within each man that is yet to be mastered.

Jewish thinkers who blame the Gentiles for persecuting Israel,

which is to say, for being violent, owe a debt to the juridical mind-
set of Rome, an approach that Augustine unfortunately sometimes
communicates to Christian theology.10 In the Scriptures, however,
‘gentile’ and ‘violent’ are near-synonymous, so it cannot be a
surprise that Gentiles are violent, but only that occasionally they
are not. Gentiles are without the Law, thus law-less and helplessly
violent in the same way that animals are. It makes more sense to
pity than to blame them. When under pressure from Gentile
aggression, Israel might blame God for not having given the
Gentiles the Law. Yet it might receive the answer that the Lord has
indeed given the Gentiles the Law, and the existence of the people
of Israel in the world is the form in which he has done so.

Israel identifies God in its worship. The gentiles gathered in the

Church are able to identify God because, in the person of Christ,
they identify Israel as the true witness and worshipper of God. They
have taken Israel as their guide and teacher, their expectations
have been awakened, and they have found hope. It is defined by
Israel’s hope of vindication, and Gentile acknowledgement of her
will be the form that Israel’s vindication will take.11 Israel will not be
taken away from the Gentiles, or they from her; she will be raised
over them and, gathered around her, they will be her glory. Without
an account of the extrinsic purpose of the covenant, and thus of the
responsibility for the world that attaches it, Israel’s testing
Jon D. Levenson Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel

relationship with the Gentiles is surely incomprehensible. Without a
doctrine of election that understand that this witness is its purpose
and this vindication its climax, it is hard to see why God subjects
Israel to this cruelty. Since these connections between covenant
and purpose and between worship and public witness, are made in
such minor key, if at all, by Jewish thought, that God would seem
unready to help or to care, which is perhaps why theodicy, and
apostasy and atheism, are such prominent options for Jewish

Gentiles are without the Law and so, in their passion and misery,
the nations lash out at each other. Israel can surely look on this as
a form of self-harming. The holiness of Israel is not sustained
simply by removing itself from the Gentiles, but by being
demonstrably holy amidst the Gentiles, so that they can see this
holiness, marvel at it and even desire it. Israel is the community
that can say that mankind gives itself away to the wrong gods and
that murderous forms of behaviour result from this idolatry. It is not
merely possession but continued offering of that truth to the world,
as its deliverance from the false gods, that is required from Israel.
But it is not self-harming only, for the nations also lash at Israel,
and sometimes come up with ideological articulation of why Israel is
uniquely the one against whom they must lash out. When Israel is
persecuted and suffers she cannot but wish to tell the Gentiles that
it is only their failure of true orientation and ignorance of true
worship that creates the misery that drives their rage. Israel can
also point out that there is release from this violence and self-
destruction through conversion to true worship. For Gentiles
salvation means deliverance from false to true worship and
orientation, whereas for Israel salvation means that God does not
let the Gentiles prevail against her, but vindicates her before them.
Meanwhile, however, the Gentiles represent the storm that Israel
has to walk through, for life amid the Man without God is the life to
which the Man with God is called.

In the assembly of Israel we see humankind with God. This means

that we see our own future selves there in that assembly. The truth
of God is of interest to us because it is the truth of our own
orientation. The future, and with it our future, is there in that
assembly, united and completed around the throne of God. But
presently for the Gentiles it is a promise and a question: we are not
compelled to acknowledge or receive it but are invited to do so in
freedom. From the future the Lord God has sent this assembly back
to in one person. All the individual epiphanies that make up the
history of Israel are appearances of this future assembly, and all are
recapitulated for the Gentiles in this person. Christ is the epiphany,
the decisive view, of the whole. He is the eschaton, making itself

diffidently available, in a single moment of our space and time, so
that we may receive it, or refuse it, in freedom. The Gentiles are
brought to edge of this worshipping assembly by one member of
Israel. Jesus is the Jew who is unafraid of the Gentiles and not on
the run from us. He goes through all that the Gentiles hurl at him
without reviling, unmoved by this rage, so he is the person of Israel
victorious and vindicated. So Christians say to Jews: Be Jewish! Be
unafraid! Pity Gentiles! Defy Gentiles! Inasmuch as Christians fail to
say this, Jews only have evidence only of Gentile pitiableness. Israel
is planted and established in the world, through all generations,
withstanding all assaults, worshipping the true God and no other
and the Gentiles may see this and wonder at it. Israel’s worship is
not hidden, or is only hidden so the extent that the Gentiles hide
themselves from that glory. Though the Gentiles may fear and hate
it, and from time to time attempt to extinguish it, this witness is
invincible and eternal, for God is faithful to Israel. Since this means
that their violence will not be allowed to overcome the world, it is
also good, indeed it is salvation, for the Gentiles that he is so.

Philosophy and theisms

Israel is Emmanuel, the sole evidence of himself offered by God to
the world, and so the single and inescapably theological fact by
which man is confronted. Israel is Man-is-with-God and the hope
that God-is-with-Man. Thus for the pagans who insist that no
enduring relationship between God and man is possible, Israel is the
evidence that confounds them. Man without God is miserable and
also ultimately unsustainable, for the man who is determined to be
without God will give way to Man who is with God. The man who
holds out against his fellow man will give way to man who is freely
and gladly with his fellow man, content to receive each and every
human being from God as his fellow.

Israel is this witness in the face of the Gentiles. Philosophy – Gentile

wisdom – has determined that God is not interested in man. What
comprehension can the philosophers, imitators of Plato, have of this
God who engages with creation, with man, with the vulgar
assembly, and who enables man to worship him and so allows a
foretaste of heaven to reach earth so that it is renewed? What can
these elective Hellenists make of a world that exists in time yet is
not dissolved, but renewed by it? But the Jewish thought that is
unwilling to let Jewish worship shape its wisdom, or the inner aspect
of the covenant shape the outer, admires a deistic conception of the
God who disdains to take any interest in man, a ‘negative’ theology
in which God is so vanishingly distant that nothing can be said
about him. It concedes too much to the Gentile belief that Israel is
not addressed and her prayers not heard, and that there is no
living, speaking and prayer-receiving God, but only emptiness and

absence. Philosophy is a coy expression of a deism that believes
that any indication of God's concern for man is the unseemly
anthropomorphism arising from an immature religious
consciousness. Could it be that, when Jewish thought is reluctant to
let Israel’s Scriptures frame the dialogue with Gentile wisdom that a
non-covenantal account of a disengaged God rises from the chasm
between ‘Law’ and ‘Philosophy’? If you have a disengaged God, it
makes no difference whether he exists or not. Such a theism or a-
theism puts what is not personal above the living person, or puts
the lifeless above life. The God of the philosophers is either a thing
or a ‘no-thing’, and is either way indistinguishable from Death. The
theist God that is too high to be concerned by man and too
transcendent to appear in his own creation is no ally but an idolatry.
The Bible insists that the materiality of creation is not repugnant to
its Maker and the sin of man is not so appalling that that it keeps its
creator God away. If it were, how inadequate this creator would be.
For our sake, so that we may come to acknowledge him, God does
not come to us without creation; whether as ‘fire and cloud’ or
‘garments of flesh’ he clothes himself with materiality in order to
appear as the Angel of Lord, for how else may man know him? That
God makes himself one person among the many created persons,
does not diminish him. For Israel worships the God who has
committed himself to man, specifically to Abraham and his children
and the God who has not done so is an untruth and idolatry.

The Gentiles cannot withhold their worship from the God of Israel
without giving themselves to some other divinity. They may name
this Zeus, Woden, Gaia, Kismet or Moloch, or they may insist that it
is above all names – as ‘das Nichtige’ or ‘the One’. They may
believe that the unconcerned, disengaged God, or the God without
existence, is higher and more compelling than the covenanted and
thus concerned and engaged God who has made himself known to
Abraham and who shares his fortunes with Israel – but they pay an
awful price for this monotheism. Their god is an angry tyrant, for
whose sake they consume one another. Israel must then put it to
such Gentile cultures that they are bewitched by their own
extinction and flirting with death.

Israel can ask whether modernity is a manifestation of an Other-

phobia, a failure to come to terms with the fact that we are not
ourselves without our fellow man. Israel can name the idolatry of
the world around her for what it is. Idolatry can take the form of
‘polytheism’ or ‘monotheism’ equally. Polytheism is as much a
threat to us as to primitive societies in the ancient world; we are
tempted to give up our hope of discovering the truth of the world
and capitulating to the relativism of many ‘truths’ without unity.
Jewish thought should direct itself outward to the metaphysical

‘polytheism’ of modernity that degrades the environment in which
meaningful public discourse can take place. Should not Jews say
that relativism is idolatry and consequent descent into cultural
decay and that it is as much a temptation for them as for anyone

Moderns defer to a range of pressures and powers, articulated with

greater or lesser clarity. The world is gripped by ‘gods’ because we
play on one another’s fears and impose obligations that over time
are regularised as ideologies and cults. They articulate the awful
creatures of our imaginations the shadow-existence of which free-
rides on our anxiety before our fellow man, our reluctance to see
him as our fellow or to receive him as the creature, and gift to us,
of the true God. As in our fear we imagine ourselves as an
individual without-relation, so we image all the creatures in the
world as similarly as individuals without intrinsic relation to one
another or claim on us. We thereby turn ourselves and every
creature into a dark god, a ‘monad-without-relation’, that regards
whatever is other than itself as a threat to be shunned.

It is for Israel is to say that these pressures are rival cults that
articulate the fears and compulsions of modernity. Israel may
suggest that we may find that true knowledge of God comes as a
release from them, and enables us to discover the truth of our
neighbour’s claim on us and with it our own proper identity. The
truth of God gives a less conflicted way of being with one another
and so of being ourselves.

Monotheisms are not inevitably allies. Monotheism in which ‘God’

cannot tolerate what is not God, is no theism but simply mon-ism.
The monotheism that defers to an ogre angry with the world is no
ally. Such a ‘God’ is a stranger to this creation; it confronts him as
something alien to it and he expresses his rage at his helplessness
before it. The oneness of God is not a doctrine about phenomenon
of number, for the revelation to Israel is not simply that there is an
underlying unity but that the true God has made something that is
not himself. All mankind is his creature, the whole world is the
product of his own creating and he loves what he has made. God
loves and has created something that is not himself, so that
alongside the underlying unity is an underlying duality, of God and
Man. On the basis of this unity in duality man can be with what is
not himself, and each human being can come into relationship with
someone who is other than himself.

The monist ‘god’, confronted by the world he did not make and
cannot love turns that anger against this most particular nation.

Two forms of monism set themselves against her, both appalled at
Israel as fundamental theological fact, so Israel has enemies. The
Primitive and explicitly theist monism of the Middle East is one.
Modernity, the ostensibly atheist and non-religious monism of the
West, is another. Aggression against Jews, and against their self-
determination in the state of Israel, indicates that these two
monisms are moved by intolerance of one people in particular.

The suggestion that Israel has been supplanted in the affections of

God is sometimes termed ‘supersessionism’. From the first the
Church identified it as the heresy of Marcion. Christianity is entirely
dependent on the witness of Israel; it does not attempt to displace
it, but defers to it, indeed bows before it. This is not to deny that
individual Christians and churches have not, and do not, speak and
act against Israel but this the pagan within speaking, in defiance of
the Gospel. When this occurs the Church as a whole must hold out
to them the oxygen mask from which these Christians can draw
draughts of the Scriptures deep enough to return them to lucidity.

The high view of Israel at the centre of the Christian doctrine of God
may represent unwelcome attention, but it surely means that, for
Israel, Christians are not the enemy. Jews can surely distinguish
between Christians and other Gentiles. Christians are those in
whose worship of God Israel is central. Ideological Moderns on the
other hand Gentiles who are opposed to the witness of Israel or the
Church, who are committed to a metaphysics, whether theism, a-
theism or anti-theism, which resists the distinctiveness of this
people. Modernity is defined by its antipathy to its own origins that
aims towards universalisation that will level and homogenise all,
and especially whatever nation presumes to remain distinct.
Judaism’s opponent is not Christianity, but the ‘modernity’ that has
taken exception to its own origins in the Christian gospel and thus
in the worshipping assembly of Israel to which the Church points.

But supersessionism continues in the two monisms of ‘Ideological

Modernity’ and ‘Ideological Primitivism’. Each represent the Gentile
form of life, in which man-without-God is also without hope. It is, as
Karl Barth pointed out, typical and inevitable that Gentiles lift their
hand against the Lord’s anointed.12 Identification of Israel as the
peculiar enemy may turn to murderous violence, but is primarily a
form of self-harm by the Gentiles without hope. The ‘culture’ that
intends to supplant Israel defies God, and is likely to destroy itself

Karl Barth Dogmatics in Outline p. 67-68 ‘The attack on Judah means the attack on the rock of
the work and revelation of God, beside which work and revelation there is no other... A nation which –
and that is the other side of National Socialism – chooses itself and makes itself the basis and measure
of everything – such a nation must sooner or later collide with the truly chosen people of God.’

as it attempts to do so. In the case of the Modernity, hatred of
Israel warns us how advanced the decay of our culture is.13

A monist understanding of God gives support to a monist

understanding of man, in which each human is a single unit of
uncovenanted will, and so a little tyrant. There is then no great
difference whether the monist account takes the form of furious
assertion of the rights of God against man (ideological Primitivism)
or of the (deist or theist) irrelevance, or the (atheist) non-existence
of God to man, represented by Modernity. It is the concept of the
will without covenant that determines the account of man operative
in that society. Without a concept of covenant, we are left with man
baffled by the world and by his neighbour and unwilling to commit
himself to the disciplines by which he could grow into responsibility
towards them. If, in our conception, God is without intrinsic relation
to anything that is not himself, so will man be; if God is simply a
will, each human will suspect every other of manifesting a will
contrary to his own. If in our conception God acts as a tyrant, we
will very likely act as tyrants towards one another. Such an
individual can acknowledge no relation, no ‘Other’ and thus no
restraint: everything is an offence to him as soon as he identifies it
with the will of another. Such a tyrant-individual, suffering an
otherness-phobia, will consequently be without offspring and the
society in which this phobia is advanced will be a one-generation
phenomenon. The long-term result of this autistic account of man is
that we give away the responsibility that we do not know how to
handle, give up hope of sustaining our own covenants of family and
community. Israel may hold up its high, ‘covenanted’ view of man
so that this can be contrasted with all more reductive views. The
worshipping assembly of Israel may ask each society in which it
finds itself whether the ‘gods’ of that society enable the growth of
each individual into responsibility and citizenship, or whether they
rather teach only that each must exert their will against the world
and, when exhausted, fall back baffled and miserable. The assembly
of Israel may ask therefore ask members of these cultures impacted
by the monism of Modernity or Primitivism whether they have the
conceptual means to see one another as fellow-citizens, as
members of a society, and ask what they look forward to.

The human covenant

The covenant of God with man in Israel gives a complex account of
man in which we are persons, each of us simultaneously a unique
being and a social being. As a creature of covenant, man is not
simply an individual unit of will, indifferent or hostile to all others.

I am indebted here and several other places in this paper to David Goldman’s ‘Spengler’
columns in First Things and Asia Times.

Man is with God, and not known without God, or apart from God, or
other than as the creature loved by God. The Lord brings each
before the other so that through him they may turn to hear one
another and wonder at the image that each presents to the other.
We must seek one another’s recognition and approval, and wait for
one another to receive that recognition. Each member of Israel, and
through Christian baptism each Gentile, may receive the
discipleship by which he can repent and confess his sin, and ask for
forgiveness: these are the skills of self-judgment by which human
autonomy may be established. Any society benefits from the
presence of the community that can hear and speak the truth in
critical self-judgment. The society that receives these skills even at
second-hand will not be entirely a captive to its own resentment
and the cycle of retribution, in which blame can only ever be given
but fault never admitted. Man is in receipt of the act of God, and so
may look for continuing acts of God. Because it is the source of
hope, this covenant opens the question of the future. As God
speaks to us, and hears from us, so we receive our existence and
purpose. He is our audience, so whatever we do has the promise
that there is someone who will follow our progress. We may
persevere in our projects on the basis of this promise that God will
continue his concern for us, and may give us neighbours and
successors who will give us our recognition so that our projects so
not die but continue throughout all generations. We may term this a
metaphysics of promise, or an eschatological ontology, by which we
can speak to the world in hope, indeed, in faith, hope and love.

We seek other persons and demand their wisdom, judgment and

approval and so we cannot intend to be without them. Man
flourishes as he knows he is loved and is enabled by love to give
himself in service. All communities and societies are entities of love.
Loves aspires to permanence: we desire its growth, not its break
down; love aspire to greater self-control, so that it becomes truer
and more permanent.

Each society must seek its own continuation, and thus hope for a
generation that will recognise it as good. No generation can be
sufficient to itself for it needs another other to give this affirmation.
Our shared present depends on a larger covenant of the present-
and-the-future. Our present existence therefore requires that we
pass life on, and pass on the culture by which those who come after
us can affirm that life as good. If we live as though there is only this
present, and so set ourselves against the emergence of future, we
will deny existence to the very people who could give us the
affirmation that we desire. Thus we must live in a way that enables
the medium and long-term to emerge; were we to live in such a
way that nothing came after us, even our present life would be of

no value. Each person, this would suggest, is a dual being: he is
both himself and the possibility of another, and indeed of many
others. Each of us is more than a single self.

Fundamental to the concept of hope is the prospect of new

generations to continue the human race. Israel is the future-
oriented people because they acknowledge the obligation to honour
their parents, and do so by presenting them with another
generation by which the life of this people may continue. Since they
acknowledge the summons of God, the future is a real question,
and thus they are ready to serve and wait for not only their own,
but past and future generations.14 By extension from the covenant
of God with Israel, we can see that all mankind must be a creature
of covenant in other ways too. There must be these two covenants,
one which takes place within one generation, and which holds that
generation together as a functioning society; the other of which
takes place between one generation and another, and holds the
generations together. Let us look at the intra-generational covenant
first. Man is a covenanted being because humanity is not unisex,
but sexed and so dual. We are either man or woman and so may
give ourselves to one another as man to woman or woman to man.
Each may desire the one who is not like themselves, and in love
even give themselves to that other, in freedom and for good, not
holding themselves above this relationship, ready to extricate
themselves from it. Marriage is the covenant in which each partner
recognises the lasting uniqueness of the other. As husband and
wife, a man and woman may desire one another to the exclusion of
all others. They may do so now, and hope to do so more and thus
may welcome whatever discipline supports their love so that their
future love may be greater than their present love.

A family and household are created by this relationship of one man

and woman. Marriage is the public recognition given by society, that
they make this single new unit. Each marriage creates a new little
society, each of which serves the renewal of, and is as fundamental
as, ‘Society’ itself. Their relationship is exclusive, and it recreates
and renews society as a whole only because it is so.15 This covenant
exists both for these two people and for those outside. It is good for
society that two people make this fundamental identification of one
another as good, not relatively or provisionally, but finally and
unchangeably. When marriage is not understood as covenant,
singleness is promoted over life together in the covenant which we

Michael Wyschogrod The Body of Faith p. 253 ‘The Jewish family is thus the space in
which the future membership of the Knesses Israel is prepared...The bond of the Jewish
parent to his child reflects the faith that the Jews of future generations are already members
of the house of Israel and that redemption will come to humanity through them.’
Robert George and Jean Bethke Elshtain (eds) The Meaning of Marriage

can enter freely, and we become dependents of that other covenant
that we have not entered freely, the state.16

Then marriage acknowledges the possibility that a new third party

may come into existence. Children may arrive. Covenanted together
this man and woman can concede the possibility that, though it
disrupt their autonomy, a third person may be created through their
love. One generation can love the next enough to give it existence.
Marriage is public recognition that this child is not simply a
biological phenomenon but a person, who fairly expects the love
and service of the woman and man from whose bodies they come.
Marriage intends to provide children with security in which their own
readiness to enter covenants and start families may develop.17 The
recognition of the irreducible particularity of persons secured by
marriage has the long-term effect of creating the culture in which
persons are irreducible and are ready for the commitment to others
that will generate new covenants and thus give a future to that
society. It represents a further a covenant between this generation
and all possible future generations and so between the present and
the future. But, again, only the community that understand itself in
terms of covenant is able to say this.18

Marriage creates a distinction between this particular household and

the wider world made up of all other households. There is the inner
sphere of the household, and the outer sphere of the public square
in which these many households meet, do business and sustain a
civil society. The household and the market serve each other so
neither should attempt to absorb the other. The household is the
place in which the next generation of workers, savers and
consumers is prepared, while the market is where the goods and
services that serve that household are sought. For the sake of the
production of new generations and thus for its own continuation
generation by generation through time, society must honour the
distinction between the household and the wider public sphere of
the market, culture and politics.

There is a distinction between the inner sphere of family and

household, and the outer sphere of market and employment. There
is a public and a private sphere and mutual dependence between
them, but there cannot be any perfect symmetry between them.

Patricia Morgan The War between the State and the Family (IEA), Douglas Farrow Nation of
Jonathan Sachs Faith in the Future: The Ecology of Hope and the Restoration of Family
and Faith (1997) p.23 ‘The family is ‘the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing
future generations’
Michael Wyschogrod The Body of Faith p. 253 ‘The community in which the Jew lives is
not only the community of his contemporaries. It includes those Jews who have been and
those who will be.’

Lack of symmetry creates the tension that generates the movement
from one generation to another, and so ensures the continuation of
society through time. Too much symmetry forestalls this movement
by which one generation brings another into existence. The
distinction between public and private is not only analogous to the
distinction between this present time and the future, but ensures
that this present continues to give way to that future.

The continuation of society rests on an understanding that the

present is not sufficient to itself and that much has to be invested
without present reward. The concept of love, exercised in self-giving
and service, together with the freedom of every human being to act
publicly by forming covenants, is essential to the trans-generational
continuity of a society. There can only be freedom of action,
initiative and risk-taking when we concede that we are prepared to
wait for our recognition and reward.

The human economy is about the transfer of life from one

generation to another. Each generation has a debt to all previous
generations; in some measure it pays, or at least acknowledges,
this debt when it produces children to present to its own parents.
The material economy is the flows of services and goods that
enables this transfer of life.

With its understanding of covenant, the community of Israel is able

to put a question to every modern society. Can the modern
economy find the sustainable balance between the claims of the
short-term and the long-term, and so between the present and the
future? Or is modernity, self-defeatingly, simply the prejudice of the
present against the future? The economy of modernity intends that
each act and service should be immediately and entirely explicit.
Our work is instantly acknowledged and rewarded by the currency
of recognition that we know as money. But not everything can
receive instantaneous acknowledgement, nor everything be paid
for, because not everything is immediately recognisable for what it
is. We cannot see how anything will turn out so all identification
requires an eschatological reserve, and thus a little humility about
our knowledge of the present.

Modern economics is unable to account for the motivation of man to

serve a generation that does not yet exist, and so for the continuity
of the human race. It does not concede that the household has a
real, economic, function in the production of the next generation. It
therefore attempts to absorb the household into the short-term
economy of the market.19 Modern economics is valid only within an

John D. Mueller ‘The Stork Theory of Economics’

existing generation. It is the triumph of the present over the past
and so, disastrously, the triumph of the present over the future.

Each generation must see its children as an extension of itself, a

second self. A readiness to acknowledge this debt and pay our
predecessors the honour they are due makes for a confident
society. We may acknowledge that our forebears learned the virtues
that, over the long-term, made Western societies peaceful, open
and prosperous; and conversely acknowledge that our failure to do
the same may mean that our successors do not inherit the same
peace or prosperity. In recent decades Western societies have
neglected the inter-generational covenant. The expectation of
parents that children will, when adult, produce grandchildren and
thus keep their society in business, has been disappearing and a
consequent orientation to the future is going with it. The inter-
generational covenant depends on the implicit promise that, when it
is time for this generation to retire, and later become infirm and
dependent on the provision of the generation then in employment,
that younger generation will supply that provision and care to their
elders. But this promise will be broken because their elders have
not kept to the equally implicit undertaking to produce children in
sufficient numbers so that, when the time comes, there will be
enough of them not to find the burden of that care economically
crippling. As a result of the first broken promise, each of us now in
employment faces the realisation that we have to compete with all
our peers in order to win the much reduced provision that will be
available when we are elderly enough to need it. Most of us realise
that our earnings will not be sufficient, so we attempt to step ahead
of our peers by placing our earnings, and even our borrowings, in
the capital markets, as a result of which those markets have
massively expanded.20

The moment we first left home to enter employment we gave up

our place in the household that was then led by our parents. That
household then began to dissolve as all but a sentimental tie. We
allowed the family and household to dissolve again when our own
children left home. Since it does not exist as functioning inter-
generational economic unit, there will be no family to take us in
when we ourselves become elderly and infirm. Though we may have
been able to convince ourselves throughout our adult lives that we
are a single unchallengeable unit of will, that fiction is over when
our own body ceases to obey us, and we require the care of others.
But the only ‘home’ that will take us will be the ‘care home’ that has
to be paid for: this is the unspoken thought that determines the
modern economy.

Reuven Brenner Labyrinths of Prosperity

The expansion of capital markets and money stock is a function of
the belief of each of us that we will have to accumulate much
greater funds in order to buy in the care that our own familial
relationships will not provide. The expansion of money, and the
dominance of the formal economy over the domestic household, is a
function of our, justified, belief that there will be no one to take
care of us in our last years. The proliferation of money into every
relationship is a consequence of the dissolution of ties, a dissolution
that was first experienced as the freedom of leaving home, and
then the compulsion consequent on the need to compensate for this
lost home.21 We did not understand ourselves as social, embedded,
covenantal beings but as individuals without relation. The society
that does not understand itself as a society of covenanted persons
is becoming an aggregate of individual wills, individually facing a
deficit of value and thus in a state of anxiety: none of us is
surrounded by enough people who value us highly enough to
provide the love and guarantee the care we are going to need when
age brings the mutiny of our own bodies.

Since we are not confident of our future, we are not willing to

receive our public recognition in the long-term and implicit currency
of honour but insist on receiving our acknowledgement in that
explicit and immediate currency that is money. We need that money
because our own children will not be there to support us. We insist
on receiving our payment in this single hard currency against which
every relation can be measured, and reduced to, every other. We
demand to be paid in this currency because with it we can set
anybody, anywhere else in the world to work. The massive
expansion of the money stock through the expansion of credit-and-
debt represents the cashing in of family and other social capital.
When we do not acknowledge the fundamental nature of such
covenants, we understand one another only as an undifferentiated
individual, for whom all relationships are equal and equally short-
lived. The monetised economy strips us of relationship to family and
inherited capital. Money is relationship, dissolved of specific relation
and made liquid. Social capital is money in the bank: as soon as it is
cashed out into explicit money to compensate for love not received,
or relationship dissolved, it is gone. When social capital is turned
into the formal capital of money it is not sufficient to buy all the
services that social capital itself would have provided.

Modernity is the economy in which a more or less explicitly single

currency runs through the hands of every human on the globe. The
degree to which this economy has expanded to take in all human
relationship is the degree to which we have opted out of our many
particular covenants and relationships. We refuse whatever
Roger Scruton

particular relationship the other person offers, because it binds us
to them and them only. We insist that payment in the medium of
money is finally the only valid form of public acknowledgement and
so we enforce this a single medium on one another, replacing
particular relationships and actual plurality with universal
relationship-stuff. If everything can be adequately denominated in
the single medium of money, we may all be paid off, debt cancelled,
differences equalised and all relationships concluded. If everything
is reducible to the unity represented by this medium, all ends and
purposes can be made present to us, here and now, without loss.
Then there is no reason to wait for or look forward to any other
world, or any future. Everything, and indeed everyone, is fungible.
No human being or relationship has any ultimate status, each
culture and context may be translated into any other without loss.
The universal is permanent, we its merest epiphenomena. With the
triumph of universality the particularly of each person expires.

Money appears natural and our need of it inevitable. But the

excessive expansion of the market into the household means that
money is not only the useful tool of our public encounter, but also a
regime which we impose on one another as we demand this
universal, rather than any other more particular, form of
recognition. It is a regime enforces a particularity-obliterating
universality; but since it is we who enforce it, it is also a consensus
and the cult that sustains this consensus. As a result of our
insistence of receiving our recognition primarily in this one medium,
the world is composed of two phenomena, which conceal a terrible
unity. On one hand there are the many relationless and contextless
individuals, each a unit of autonomous will; on the other are the
forces of market and state, which are themselves the dispossessed
powers of our own personhood, released by our failure to take up
our responsibility as persons.22 But each of these forces serves only
to draw the individual into that dark monad that tolerates no other.
Each of us will be finally individuated and assimilated back into the
‘One’ and so extinguished as a particular being – Death will claim

But, once again, it is only the assembly of Israel, and the baptised
Gentiles added to her, who can say this. It is the responsibility of
the one God-worshipping assembly to identify as ‘gods’, idols and
forms of captivity, the various ways in which the man of modernity
subjects himself to such reductions of the truth of his own being.
This account of the individual without relationship is the specifically
modern form of our idolatry. The market and state grow as they
respond to the individual’s desire to be rid of his relationships and
responsibilities. We discourage one another from finding our place
Jean Bethke Elshtain Sovereignty: God, State, Self

in covenants that will continue our society into new generations.
The individual who puts himself beyond challenge, and the
expanded market and state that service his consequent desires and
needs are the modern result of the ancient assumption that unity is
more fundamental than plurality, that the One is prior, and that
persons derive life and a merely temporary freedom from it. These
two aspects of this monad with which the tyrant-individual identifies
reinforce our fear that everything is already present to us and we
may hope for nothing that we do not already have. Modernity is the
cult of a dark God, which disdains to give his name or hear prayers,
and everyone of us is a function of him – until we are snatched from
him and brought into the assembly that worships the true God who
is with man, allows man to acknowledge him and so be saved.

The large public square of the West is the outcome of the long
presence of the community that acknowledges the God who gave
his name and promise to Abraham. The assembly that worship this
God, in its twofold form of the Jewish and Christian communities,
also practise the skills and virtues of self-examination, and from
them Western societies have learned the art of taking criticism. As
western societies dispense with the witness of this God-worshipping
assembly, so our ability to give and take criticism will diminish and
our public squares shrink. The crisis of confidence felt by our
contemporary society of individuals without covenant expresses
itself through our disavowal and even state-led eradication of our
inherited differences. As a result the cultural self-abjuration has
become a public policy directed against the faith that generated our
inherited culture. Such self-reviling comes from a great ingratitude
and unhappiness.

Once Europe was once a continent of feud. Over centuries the

practices of Christian life broke the cycle of violent retribution. The
Christian form of life tamed the extreme violence of warrior society;
it taught obedience to the law, brought about a corpus of law that
allowed national law to emerge, and so made nations out of these
tribal societies. It is not the nursing of grievances, but judgment,
repentance and reconciliation that keeps a society together.23
Christians do not consider any situation without looking for God's
judgment of it, and with that judgment, release from the brute facts
that bring only condemnation, and thus they consider each situation
along with the prospect of its redemption. Through prolonged
exposure to the Scripture of Israel they too have become future-
oriented people.

The presence of Christian witness brought about an open and thus

‘secular’ culture, in which our various accounts of man could be
Oliver O’Donovan Ways of Judgment

tested by public speech. Without this inherited culture of ours, that
relies on an ongoing relationship to this God-worshipping assembly
and its tradition, will we continue to have the culture of self-
examination and public judgment that has produced the secular
public square and market? True secularity demands the exercise of
such public virtue, even including the courage required to be the
exceptional people. We can assess Christianity only by the extent to
which its presence ameliorates our own intrinsic warrior culture
through the, at best partial, conversion of any society. Since it is a
faith, the Christian faith is not the permanent possession of any
society. This faith ebbs and re-grows in this people, and when the
Christian tide goes out it reveals more of the pagan beneath. If over
the long-term Europe ceases to receive the witness of these two
communities it will not continue to be secular, but descend into the
various forms of collectivisation, totalitarianism and tribalism from
which it once emerged.

When it does not deign to hear from these witnesses, Western

culture is baffled by the question of the permanence of the human
person. Without the fundamental given of the concept of covenant,
this society has no conception of ontological debt and gratitude to
previous generations, moderns begrudge leaving anything to future
generations. It endeavours to draw the future towards ourselves
because we are not confident that it will come in its own time. The
Man of Modernity knows nothing about any past or future. He
believes he is only what is present to himself, and so is without
either forebears, without parents to honour or children who will pray
for him when he is gone, he is a one-generation only phenomenon.
But those who hear the promise of God hold out against the all-
demanding present for the sake of the future, without which this
present has no continuation, vindication or purpose. It is therefore
what does not yet have existence that gives them their definition,
so they are the future-oriented people.

We have to identify two societies, mingled together. One is the

society of man trying to be without God who inflicts on himself a
process of disintegration and suffers a passion without conclusion.
The other is the society of man who is with God, whose witness to
us is the people of Israel and communion of the Church. This one
assembly, presently in its two forms, travels through the society
without hope, and sometimes suffer the aggression that results
from the misery of that society. The society that does not
acknowledge the covenant of God with man, and thus does not
know that it is loved and sustained by God, will suffer a crisis of
confidence manifest as specific political and economic crises, at a
deeper level as cultural and demographic crises, but which are

fundamentally always the same crisis of faith, of man in paralysis
before the summons of God.

Without the concept of person, there is only fate, under which the
particularity and freedom of each of us is in doubt, and each lives
under threat of being absorbed into the whole, with the result that
everything they are and do is in question. The society that can
tolerate and even welcome the witness of this God-worshipping
community may continue to be an open, healthy and a prosperous
society, but societies that do not receive the confidence derived
from this covenant may give up not only hope but life, and so
disappear. Societies come and go, but the God-worshipping
community will remain.

The greatest favour that the assembly that worships God can do is
to be distinct from that society to which it is sent, and remain holy
whilst still a public part of that society. Made confident by the
covenant of God with man, this assembly can say that it is God who
sets us before one another, inviting us to receive one another as
gifts, and to look for his image in one another. It can look into the
future without fear, can name as idolatries the threats it sees and
its confidence will sustain the open economy against the closed
economy of paganism. To say that we are the people summoned by
God to be his witnesses is the single constructive thing we can do
for our society and for the human future.