Being an atheist, it's difficult for me to decide which is the weirdest and most unbelievable religion, because they're all weird and unbelievable.
Since I don't know a lot about Judaism, I was drawn to a piece by Adam Gopnik in the August 28, 2023 issue of The New Yorker, How the Authors of the Bible Spun Triumph from Defeat. Based on a review of a book by Jacob Wright, "Why the Bible Began," the article aided my understanding of what makes Judaism so strange.
Gopnik says that the Jews were notable losers.
The Jews were the great sufferers of the ancient world—persecuted, exiled, catastrophically defeated—and yet the tale of their special selection, and of the demiurge who, from an unbeliever’s point of view, reneged on every promise and failed them at every turn, is the most admired, influential, and permanent of all written texts. Wright’s purpose is to explain, in a new way, how and why this happened.
The easiest explanation is that it happened this way because that’s the way God wanted it to happen. But this does not lessen the need to say how it happened.
If the primary cause of the Old Testament's triumph -- which I obviously don't believe -- is viewed as the will of God, Wright argues that the secondary cause is our love of losers.
The “secondary cause” for the Bible’s triumph, in Wright’s view, can be put simply: losers rule. More people remember the record-losing ’62 Mets than the pennant-winning ’62 Yankees. Division and defeat, Wright explains, made the Bible memorable.
Successive expulsions and exiles forced the Jewish poets and prophets, like Red Sox fans of yore, to imagine defeat as a virtue, dispossession as a gift, failure today as a promise of victory tomorrow. Defeat usually compelled other ancient peoples, as it does us, to invent rationalizations for what happened. (Yes, we failed to pacify Afghanistan, but nobody could have done so.)
In the face of regular defeat, however, the Jewish scribes had to ask whether defeat wasn’t God’s will in the first place, and so opened mankind unto a new contemplative possibility: that spiritual success and failure were not to be judged on worldly terms. Nice guys, or, anyway, pious guys, finish last and should be proud of their position.
Since Jesus was a Jew, we can see this principle continuing on into the New Testament.
How much losing is there, really, in Christianity? At first glance, the Christian story appears to reverse the polarities and make a tale of universal triumph out of the old Jewish stories of particular defeat. But is this really so?
Debates still rage over whether the Jewish figure of the “suffering servant” presaged the Christian example. Whatever scholars conclude, though, the force of the Christian example surely lies in the extremity of the deity’s abasement, tortured to death in the most humiliatingly imaginable way and left to be buried as a criminal.
The Christian fable potently compresses the Jewish stories of suffering into a single story, unfolding over a single year. Indeed, doesn’t the emotional appeal of Christianity rest on its very Jewish ritualization of extreme suffering and humiliating defeat as a prelude to divine favor?
Consider the number of images of Crucifixion (Jesus dying) in Italian churches as opposed to those of the ascension (Christ rising). Christian art centers on a moment of anguish and defeat, and this is in essence a Jewish idea.
Donald Trump isn't at all religious. He just uses religion for his own selfish and authoritarian ends. One way he does this is by appropriating the Judeo-Christian notion of noble suffering. The more political and legal trouble he gets into, the more he hopes fundamentalists will view him as a martyr.
Before and after Donald Trump’s historic indictment and arraignment, countless MAGA Republican provocateurs have been noting the Holy Week timing and blasphemously comparing Trump to Jesus.
“As Christ was crucified, and then rose again on the 3rd day, so too will Donald Trump,” tweeted one right-wing lawyer known for representing Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Other influencers making the comparison include Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, TPUSA Faith founder Charlie Kirk, and even Trump’s own attorney. Trump, himself, framed his arrest as an attack on Christians in an “emergency prayer call” on Tuesday, April 4, with televangelist and longtime aide Paula White-Cain, attorney Rudy Giuliani, and MAGA worship leader Sean Feucht.
Well, you've got to give Judaism, Christianity, and yes, Donald Trump, credit for turning weakness into strength, defeat into victory, humiliation into triumph. I don't consider that either of these religions, and certainly not Trump, deserve to be embraced for those reasons.
But as a marketing ploy, hey, it does seem that "losers rule" is effective. Most of us like a comeback story of someone who overcame difficult obstacles more than a tale of a person whose path to success had no detours or roadblocks.