The Characteristics of Shem




THAT THE PRESENT POPULATION originated from the sons of Noah, spreading throughout the world after the Flood, is obvious. What is not so obvious is that Civilization and Culture have been the result of the combination of the particular traits peculiar to the descendants of each son. Although the interaction of these contributions has at times obliterated their specific nature, a careful analysis of history can still separate them, allowing each to be traced back to its original source in one of the three brothers. It is these particular characteristics that we now wish to delineate.

Shem: The Worshipper

It is fortunate for us that Shem comes first in the list. Certainly, as far as Western Civilization is concerned, the three most important religions are Judaism, Islam (Mohammedanism), and Christianity. The picture is more confused toward the Far East because in those countries it is difficult to know where "philosophy" ends and religious belief begins. Many authorities, for example, point out that Confucianism is not in any sense a religion and only in a limited sense a philosophy. Its founder did not concern himself with God at all, nor was he vitally interested in pure philosophy - only in a kind of practical wisdom. It seems desirable to make some effort at this point to distinguish between philosophy and religion. There is plenty of room for disagreement here, but I think that certain points of vital distinction can be noted to which there will be general assent.

In the first place, revelation is essential for religion but for philosophy it must be rejected, human reason being the only justifiable tool. Religion is concerned with morals, philosophy with ethics: the difference between the two is essentially this: morals have to do with man's relationship to God and ethics with man's relationship to man. Morals are absolute, ethics are relative. If we may substitute meta-nature for meta-physics, we may say that the subject matter of philosophy is meta-nature (whereas the subject matter of science is Nature), but the subject matter of religion is super-nature. In religion, miracle is, in a sense, an essential adjunct, but in philosophy miracle is simply of no concern. The end object of all religion is to find God, but the end of philosophy is to find the truth. This does not mean that religion does not have the discovery of truth as an object, but only that it is a secondary one.

With this very brief explanation of how we are using the terms we can go one step further and observe that while Semitic people have tended to lay the emphasis on the search for righteousness, the Japhetic or Indo-European peoples have laid the emphasis on the search for understanding, and the Hamitic people have searched for power. All men are religious to some extent and the nature of their gods tends to reflect something of their own personal goals. The gods of the Semites, and preeminently the God of Israel, rewarded conduct that was righteous. This is true of Judaism, Islam, and, of course, Christianity. But to a large extent it is also true of that form of paganism which, deriving its source of inspiration from the Babylonians and Assyrians (both of whom were Semitic), subsequently spread in modified forms far beyond the confines of its original home in Mesopotamia. The extent to which this pagan religion underlies the religious beliefs of many non-Christian people is remarkably revealed by A. Hislop in his well-known book The Two Babylons. (16) The gods of the early Indo-Europeans were gods of light, but this light was not moral light but rather the illumination of the mind or understanding. The gods of the Hamites were gods of power, in fact - in the absence of the moral component - were gods of ruthlessness, demanding appropriate sacrifices.

To sum up thus far, it seems clear that from the Semites have come all the religions, rightly so-called, both false and the true. The contribution of Shem has been fundamentally to the spiritual life of man.