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Everything is Outside the Text

Rémi Brague famously described Europe as having an “eccentric identity.” He meant that Europe’s culture is one whose resources come from elsewhere, so that rather than looking inward for inspiration, Europe looks outward. At the secular basis of European culture, the Romans knew themselves to be entirely indebted to the Greeks for their art, their philosophy, and their literature. At the spiritual heart of Europe, the Christians knew themselves to be permanently dependent upon the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets.

Many religions are built on religions that preceded them and which the late-comers claim to supersede. Drawing on a subversive reconfiguration of their texts, Islam claims to supersede Judaism and Christianity. With its new revelation through Joseph Smith, Mormonism claims to supersede Christianity. Supersessionism among religions is usually “Darwinian” in nature: The larger beast drives out the weaker, less evolved beast and takes over its habitat, effectively driving it to extinction and replacing it.

Today it is a matter of debate among Christian theologians whether Christians must be “supersessionist” with respect to Judaism. Whatever “supersessionism” would amount to in Christianity, it could not be the process of a bigger critter’s assimilating the terrain and function of a less adaptable species. Brague distinguishes between relations of “assimilation” and “inclusion”: When one culture assimilates another, it thoroughly digests it, so that the digested culture ceases to exist as itself. Cultural assimilation occurs when cultural forms are translated into one’s own “higher” culture without residue, and the originals discarded. Brague’s assimilation is what we today call “cultural appropriation.” By contrast, cultural “inclusion” occurs when the original is retained as itself. “Inclusive cultures” do not, Brague says, so much translate artifacts into their own languages as comment on those artifacts while leaving them intact. Europe has tended to comment upon and gloss its “author cultures,” rather than eat them whole. And so, Christianity’s “inclusion” of Judaism has required that Judaism remain Jewish. Christianity’s “secondarity” or derivativeness is not merely temporal, a matter of coming afterward: “The Old Covenant is not a past from which the New one distanced itself progressively; it is rather a permanent foundation.” “Founding-upon,” or inclusion, is a non-competitive action, which requires the founding and inspiring culture to remain itself.

Read more at First Things –

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