Can I be a Christian, or an atheist, say, and still keep the First Covenant?

Yes. One can keep the Covenant Law on several levels.

Keeping the laws against 1) perverse and cruel dietary practices (See Torn Limb), 2) larceny, 3) criminally perverse sexual conduct, 4) murder, and 5) anarchy (society's obligation to make and keep a system of police and courts to protect life and property and prevent the strong from oppressing the weak) are basic obligations. Whatever one's spiritual or religious beliefs, everyone must avoid transgressing these laws.

As for idolatry and blasphemy, Israel's ancient prophets didn't roam the world denouncing other peoples' idols. Jonah didn't go to Nineveh to denounce the paganism there but the horrible cruelty, oppressiveness and immorality of the Assyrians.

Sacrilege is always idolatrous, idolatry is always sacrilegious. The commandments against a) sacrilege and b) idolatry, which are so closely related to each other that they can practically be regarded as one commandment, are different.

At the level of the Law that everyone always must enforce and keep, "blessing God" (actually, cursing Him, directing a curse against Him) is forbidden. It's sacrilege. As for the Universal prohibition against idolatry, the real prohibition is against "strange worship" (in Hebrew, avodah zarah - avodah (service, work or worship), zarah (strange). To worship one's gods or God in cruel, hurtful, disgusting, oppressive ways violates the Law. To cut oneself to "suffer as He (Jesus) suffered," to make a bonfire of one's enemies as a sacrificial offering, to throw people off cliffs to appease some supposed deity, to worship rats, to excrete, or urinate, or have sex in public as a worshipful act, to blow oneself up along with as many women and children as one can in order to win a place in Heaven - these are all avodah zarah/strange worship. The Law prohibits them absolutely, forever.

As for idolatry in the sense of worshipping anything created (instead of or even along with their one Creator), that's a different matter. Israel's strict monotheism is not one of the minimal requisites of civilization. The peoples of the world haven't yet learned enough about the Law, or the Lawgiver, to keep these laws as Israel - with its unique history and long connection to HaShem - is commanded to keep them. So, for instance, one of recent history's leading advocates of the Law of the First Covenant, Aime Palliere, was a practicing Roman Catholic priest (See The Unknown Sanctuary: a pilgrimage from Rome to Israel (Paris, 1923/New York, 1993).

One can, in the world as it is today, believe in a different God than HaShem (the God of Abraham), or in several gods, or no god, and still be a very good person.

So, for instance, a Hindu who worships Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, or a Buddhist, who makes offerings and bows to Buddha, can keep the Universal Law. Despite doing something that's absolutely forbidden to Israel, he or she can be a very good person, and good people can confidently expect a place of honor in Heaven above.

One recognizes that every act of idolatry, in the sense of worshipping anything created, diminishes the honor that people should give to God. Further, one makes no judgment here on people, b'nai Noah, who come to acknowledge the oneness of God, recognize that one should worship Him directly, but then go back to other ways. Probably, that would constitute an act of betrayal, a repudiation of the truth and God. A Noahide who did that would be very like a Jew ish person who did that.

Mark the man of integrity, and behold the upright! - Psalm 37:37

We are speaking above of crimes. Being a good person involves more than just avoiding criminal violations of the Seven Commandments. One should try to do the very opposite of what the Law forbids. a) In the matter of the commandment against larceny, for instance, one shouldn't just avoid stealing but should try to live charitably and give charity. One should also avoid the corrosive sin of coveting, or excessively desiring the property or privileges of another. b) In the matter of the commandment against murder, one shouldn't just avoid murdering people, one should try to save the life of a person in danger. c) In the matter of the dietary commandment, one shouldn't just avoid the horrible crime at the root of the commandment, one should also try to avoid eating blood, avoid eating any animal that wasn't killed in a kindly, decent way, and avoid any kind of cruelty to animals in general. d) In the matter of the sexual commandment, one shouldn't just avoid criminally perverse acts but should instead try to do what the Torah declares to be good and right: to marry a person of the opposite sex, bring children into the world, and raise them to do good. e) In the matter of the commandment against anarchy, one should hate injustice and try one's best to make justice and fairness prevail everywhere.

Further, in the matter of the commandment against "blessing God" (or really, cursing Him), one should go beyond refraining from cursing Him and bless Him and honor Him, with all one's might and all one's soul, and in every way. In the matter of avoiding strange worship, instead of merely refraining from worshipping evil beings or even good beings or things which are mere created things or beings, one should worship God alone and worship Him in purity.

A person who does any of these things is better than one who does none of them. One who does all these things and lives like this is a boon to the world, regardless of his or her religion or lack thereof. This individual is one of the righteous of the nations; this person will get from God infinite and eternal rewards, and his memory and merit will be a blessing in the world. This is keeping the First Covenant.

Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. - Isaiah 1:17

But this is not the end of the story. A person who lives like this due to the belief that it is good and right to do so - that doing so is ultimately right, and not just personally beneficial or expedient - is, all things being equal, a better person than one who doesn't hold to such beliefs. The first person is bound to be more consistently and thoroughly good than the other. He or she is likely to live like this all the time and not just sporadically.

At an even higher level, one who believes that God - the Ultimate in goodness, however else one may think of Him (or possibly of Her, or of Them) - sees what one does and cares about what one does, and has given us His Law to guide us in His Way, is, all things being equal, closer yet to God's ideal, a better person than one who doesn't hold to such beliefs. This is so because the God-loving, God-fearing person is 1) likely to be more conscientious about consistently, constantly doing the right thing and, 2) likely to be more involved in studying, learning and concentrating on what doing the right thing actually entails. Holiness doesn't come by instinct, nor by accident. Holiness requires study, and practice. Animals are ruled by their instincts. Man, whose intellect surpasses his instincts, who has the free will to make choices for himself, makes moral choices based on learning (The Rainbow Covenant, p. 246).

Without wisdom there cannot be any good act or true knowledge. - Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed 3:36

The ultimate operational principle in doing and living righteously is the Ultimate, HaShem. Belief in HaShem, according to the Torah, is the first principle: as more people turn to HaShem, more people will conduct themselves in accordance with the First Covenant; as more people conduct themselves in accordance with the First Covenant, more people will turn to HaShem. This is the faith and knowledge that will transform mankind. So the person who deliberately, knowingly and publicly follows HaShem directly advances God's Own great agenda, His larger plan for all the world. Bringing one's fellows true knowledge of God, by words, deeds and example - this person is completely fulfilling the First Covenant.

Let all Your awe be manifest in all Your works, and a reverence for You fill all that You have created, so that all Your creatures may know You, and all mankind bow down to You to acknowledge You. - ancient Hebrew prayer, in the Amidah for the High Holidays

Eventually, every nation will acknowledge Him and even "know Him," in a sense. For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of HaShem, as the waters cover the sea (Habakuk 2:14). At that point the last two commandments, the two highest commandments of the Seven Commandments, will become fully operative. Outright, deliberate acts of idolatry and sacrilege will be outlawed - that is, turned into crimes, at least into misdemeanors - everyhere. The peoples of the world will demand it. At that point, beyond merely avoiding sacrilege or insults to His Name, people everywhere will honor His Name. Beyond just avoiding the worship of values and "gods" that are not God, people everywhere will worship God, HaShem.

They shall declare My glory among the nations. - Isaiah 66:19

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