In the hebrew bible, when God creates the universe, she doesn’t simply reveal her work to the whole of humanity. She picks a particular people and gives them the burden of living with the knowledge that there is only one God. This sets them aside from all other peoples of their time, who believed that there were many gods, assigned to many peoples. Although God has not picked this people because of any superior traits, their experience of being chosen gives them a feeling of specialness, but it also makes them resented and even hated.

I tell this familiar story to indicate how fraught and complex the relation between particular identities and universal ideals has been. I think we can draw from the story two lessons relevant to understanding the stirring and powerful defense of what is normally called “identity politics” published by Paul...

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