Monday, February 28, 2011

Ratzinger; Doubt & Belief in the Modern World; II
Continuing from the previous post. Included, ironically, as I continued to read something I had heretofore (originally, I actually typed hearttofore..), considered a kind of faith divorced from Judaism, I found also an example from Chassidut given by Buber and others. Here, it is neither apart from Judaism, nor 'transcending' Judaism; it just is. Ratzinger has been pivotal in acknowledging from within the Church the ongoing nature of the Jewish covenant with God prior to anything afterward. Anways, to continue;

First of all, the believer is always threatened with the uncertainty which in moments of temptation can suddenly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him. A few examples will help make this clear. That lovable saint Teresa of Lisieux, who looks so naive and un-problematical, had grown up in an atmosphere of complete religious security; her whole existence from beginning to end and down to the smallest detail, was so completely molded by the faith of the Church that the invisible world had become not just a part of her everyday life, but that life itself. It seemed to be an almost tangible reality that could not be removed by any amount of thinking. To her, "religion" really was a self-evident presupposition of her daily existence; she dealt with it as we deal with the concrete details of our lives. Yet this very saint, a person apparently cocooned in complete security, left behind her, from the last weeks of her passion, shattering admissions which her horrified sisters toned down in her literary remains and which have only now come to light in the new verbatim editions. She says, for example, “I am assailed by the worst temptations of atheism”. Everything has become questionable, everything dark. She feels tempted to take only the sheer void for granted. In other words, in what is apparently a flawlessly interlocking world someone here suddenly catches a glimpse of the abyss lurking – even for her – under the firm structure of the supporting conventions. In a situation like this, what is in question is not the sort of thing that one perhaps quarrels about otherwise – all of this becomes absolutely secondary. What is at stake is the whole structure; it is a question of all or nothing. That is the only remaining alternative; nowhere does there seem anything to cling to in this sudden fall. All that can be seen is the bottomless depths of the void into which one is also staring.

Paul Claudel has depicted this situation in a most convincing way in the great opening scene of the Soulier de Satin. A Jesuit missionary, brother Rodrigue, the hero of the play (a worldling and adventurer veering uncertainly between God and the world), is shown as the survivor of a shipwreck. His ship has been sunk by pirates, he himself has been lashed to a mast from the sunken ship, and he is now drifting on this piece of wood through the raging waters of the ocean. The play opens with his last monologue:
Lord, I thank thee for bending me down like this. It sometimes happened that I found thy commands laborious and my will at a loss and jibbing at thy dispensation. But now I could not be bound to thee more closely than I am, and however violently my limbs move they cannot get one inch away from thee. So I really am fastened to the cross, but the cross on which I hang is not fastened to anything else. It drifts on the sea.

Fastened to the cross – with the cross fastened to nothing, drifting over the abyss [strikes me as this scene from The Mission; 2:00-4:00].

The situation of the contemporary believer could hardly be more accurately and impressively described. Only on a loose plank bobbing over the void seems to hold him up, and it looks as if he must eventually sink. Only a loose plank connects him to God, though certainly it connects him inescapably and in the last analysis he knows that his wood is stronger than the void which seethes beneath him and which remains nevertheless the really threatening force in this day-to-day life.

This picture contains in addition yet another dimension, which indeed seems to me the really important thing about it. This shipwrecked Jesuit is not alone; in him there is a sort of advance reflection of the fate of his brother; the destiny of his brother is present in him, that brother who considers himself a non-believer, who has turned his back on God because he sees his business not as waiting, but as “possessing the attainable. . ., as though he could be anywhere else than where Thou art”.

We do not need here to follow the intricacies of Claudel’s conception, to see how he uses the interweaving lines of these two apparently antithetical destinies as guiding threads, up to the point when finally Rodrigue’s fate touches that of his brother, in that the conqueror of the world ends up as a slave on a ship, a slave who must be glad when a ragged old nun with a rusty frying-pan take him too with her as a worthless chattel. Instead, we can return without any more similes to our own situation and say: If on the one hand the believer can only perfect his faith on the ocean of nihilism, temptation and doubt, if he has been assigned the ocean of uncertainty as the only possible site for his faith, on the other hand the unbeliever is not to be understood un-dialectically as mere man without faith. Just as we have already recognized that the believer does not live immune to doubt but is always threatened by the plunge into the void, so now we can discern the entangled nature of human destinies and say that even the non-believer does not represent a rounded and closed existence. However, vigorously he may assert that he is a pure positivist [or sensualist, hedonist, etc], who has long left behind him supernatural temptations and weaknesses, and now accepts only what is immediately certain [or immediately gratifying, at least], he will never be free of the secret uncertainty whether positivism [or apathy, or disinterest] really has the last word. Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, about the real totality of the world which he has made up his mind to explain as a self-contained whole. He can never be absolutely certain of the autonomy of what he has seen and interpreted as a whole; he remains threatened by the question whether belief is not after all the reality which it claims to be. Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world. In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man. Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief, which can never finally eliminate for certain the possibility that belief may after all be the truth. It is not until belief is rejected that its un-rejectability becomes evident. It may be appropriate at this point to cite a Jewish story told by Martin Buber; it presents in concrete form the above-mentioned dilemma of being a man.

An adherent of the Enlightenment [writes Buber], a very learned man, who had heard of the Rabbi of Berditchev, paid a visit to him in order to argue, as was his custom, with him too and to shatter
his old-fashioned proofs of the truth of his faith. When he entered the Rabbi’s room he found him walking up and down with a book in his hand, wrapped in thought. The Rabbi paid no attention to the new arrival. Suddenly he stopped, looked at him fleetingly and said, “But perhaps it is true after all”. The scholar tried in vain to collect himself – his knees trembled, so terrible was the Rabbi to behold and so terrible his simple utterance to hear. But Rabbi Levi Jizchak now turned to face him and spoke quite calmly: “My son, the great scholars of the Torah with whom you have argued wasted their words on you; as you departed you laughed at them. They were unable to lay God and his Kingdom on the table before you, and nor can I. But think, my son, perhaps it is true.” The
exponent of the Enlightenment opposed him with all his strength; but this terrible “perhaps” which echoed back at him time after time broke his resistance.

Here we have, I believe – in however strange a guise – a very precise description of the situation of man confronted with the question of God. No one can lay God and is Kingdom on the table before another man; even the believer cannot do it for himself. But however strongly unbelief may feel itself thereby justified it cannot forget the eerie feeling induced by the words “Yet perhaps it is true”. The “perhaps” is the unavoidable temptation which it cannot elude, the temptation in which it too, in the very act of rejection, has to experience the un-rejectability of belief. In other words, both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide away from themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt, for the other through doubt and in the form of doubt. It is the basic pattern of man’s destiny only to be allowed to find the finality of his existence in this unceasing rivalry between doubt and belief, temptation and certainty. Perhaps in precisely this way, doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer; for one it is his share in the fate of the unbeliever, for the other the form in which belief remains nevertheless a challenge to him.

Ratzinger; Doubt & Belief in the Modern World; I
Obviously from previous posts, I have not qualms posting things from other faiths if they strike me in a powerful way conducive to a viable Judaism and observance. I have always found ways to find Jewish congnates to the posts, or ways that I could explicate them further with Jewish sources.
Roughly equivalent to Ratzinger below is lhvd'l Rav Soloveitchik on the "Lonely Man of Faith" and "Halachic Man". But like many 'moderns' - I had been left cold as ice by what of these characterizations of faith I could digest. I've also been left cold by the manner in which his experiences, cloistering intellectualism and vast classical education, were asked to be the the sources explicating the modern experience for all men of faith - or should I say Jews of a faith? At times, they're perhaps even asked to be the measure of faith as such - is intellectual worth the measure of faith for "moderns"?... I too ask "Must we be quite so lonely?" - but I hear answers others may not, for the most part perhaps cannot; there are deep, axial aspects of faith that are simply not exclusive to the Jewish faith experience, and my response to these answers make for many posts over the past few years.

I have, thus far, found myself unresponsive to other Jewish 'response' models of faith in the modern world; just right out. Sorry. R. Abraham Heschel is not a living tradition, and is not "Orthodox". Rav Kook is not at all systematic, deeply contested as evidenced by the complete lack of heirs consistent in his convictions - everyone has their "Rav Kook", much as everyone has their "The Rav". So many responses I hear on an individual level are simply utilitarian and presume tribalisms, willful ignorance and such that not all share, or can share - or I think should share. This I think is a consequence of "acts over faith", of behaviors of internals, of even expedience - being esteemed and valued over the question of truth. I believe that due to postmodernism and relativism being deeply entrenched in Jewish circles, too much reliance is placed on philosophical ambiguity, intellectual uncertainty (result of shifting goal posts of expectations for truth claims until we're "forced" by bad thinking to make simplistic "leaps of existentialism" where no actual need to leap exists), in the defense and advocacy of "traditional" Judaism.

Ratzinger below - and in my post to follow - stated in a straight - though explicitly Christian - manner a vision I could hold in my mind and heart. I can't deny the truth I see in it - nor can I deny the problems it leaves open before me. Should I go to the mikveh over the joy and solace and truthI find in it, lacking in "kosher" options (emphasis mine)?;

Anyone who tries today to talk about the question of Christian faith in the presence of people who are not thoroughly at home with ecclesiastical language and thought by calling or convention soon comes to sense the alien — and alienating — nature of such an enterprise. He will probably soon have the feeling that his position is only too well summed up in Kierkegaard’s famous story of the clown and the burning village, a simile taken up again recently by Harvey Cox in his book The Secular City. According to this story a traveling circus in Denmark had caught fire. The manager thereupon sent the clown, who was already dressed and made-up for the performance, into the neighboring village to fetch help, especially as there was a danger that the fire wold spread across the fields of dry stubble and engulf the village itself. The clown hurried into the village and requested the inhabitants to come as quickly as possible to the blazing circus and help to put the fire out. But the villagers took the clown’s shouts simply for an excellent piece of advertising, meant to attract as many people as possible to the performance; they applauded the clown and laughed till they cried. The clown felt more like weeping than laughing; he tried in vain to get people to be serious, to make it clear to them that it was no trick but bitter earnest, that there really was a fire. His supplications only increased the laughter; people thought he was playing his part splendidly – until finally the fire did engulf the village, it was too late for help and both circus and village were burned to the ground.

Cox cites this story as an analogy of the theologian’s position today and sees the theologian as the clown who cannot make people really listen to his message. In his medieval, or at any rate old-fashioned, clown’s costume he is simply not taken seriously. Whatever he says, he is ticketed and classified, so to speak, by his role. Whatever he does in his attempts to demonstrate the seriousness of the position, people always know in advance that he is in fact just — a clown. They are already familiar with what he is talking about and know that he is just giving a performance which has little or nothing to do with reality. So they can listen to him quite happily without having to worry too seriously about what he is saying. This picture indubitably contains an element of truth in it; it reflects the oppressive reality in which theology and theological discussion are imprisoned today and their frustrating inability to break through accepted patterns of thought and speech and make people recognize the subject-matter of theology as a serious aspect of human life.

But perhaps our examination of conscience should go still deeper. Perhaps we should admit that this disturbing analogy, for all the thought-provoking truth contained in it, is still a simplification. For after all it makes it seem as if the clown, or in other words, the theologian, is a man possessed of full knowledge who arrives with a perfectly clear message. The villagers to whom he hastens, in other words, those outside the faith, are conversely the completely ignorant, who only have to be told something of which they are completely unaware; the clown then needs to only take off his costume and his make-up, and everything will be all right. But is it really quite such a simple matter as that? Need we only call on the aggiornamento, take off our make-up and don the mufti of a secular vocabulary or a demythologized Christianity in order to make everything all right? Is a change of intellectual costume sufficient to make people run cheerfully up and help to put out the fire which according to theology exists and is a danger to all of us? I may say that in fact the plain and unadorned theology in modern dress appearing in many places today makes this hope look rather naive. It is certainly true that anyone who tries to preach the faith amid people involved in modern life and thought can really feel like a clown, or rather perhaps like someone who, rising from an ancient sarcophagus, walks into the midst of the world today dressed and thinking in the ancient fashion and can neither understand nor be understood by this world of ours. Nevertheless, if he who seeks to preach the faith is sufficiently self-critical, he will soon notice that it is not only a question of form, of the kind of dress in which theology enters upon the scene. In the strangeness of theology’s aims to the men of our time, he who takes his calling seriously will clearly recognize not only the difficulty of the task of interpretation but also the insecurity of his own faith, the oppressive power of unbelief in the midst of his own will to believe. Thus anyone today who makes an honest effort to give an account of the Christian faith to himself and to others must learn to see that he is not just someone in fancy dress who needs only to change his clothes in order to be able to impart his teaching successfully. Rather will he have to understand that his own situation is by no means so different from that of others as he may have thought at the start. He will become aware that on both sides the same forces are at work, if in different ways.
Introduction to Christianity, ch.1

For The Sensualists
"...and this [contemplating the transformation of self and body that occurs in death and Olam Haba] reduces our imagination to the withering alternative either of bodies which are hardly recognizable as human bodies at all or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer ‘No,’ he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of.
The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position. We know the sexual life [and are so often in this society proud to trumpet it for all to hear, all the time, though we do not know it fully - including from the outside]; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fullness awaits us we anticipate fasting. In denying that sexual life, as we now understand it, makes any part of the final beatitude, it is not of course necessary to suppose that the distinction of sexes will disappear. What is no longer needed for biological purposes may be expected to survive for splendor. Sexuality is the instrument both of virginity and of conjugal virtue; neither men nor women will be asked to throw away weapons they have used victoriously [oh my word...]. It is the beaten and the fugitives who throw away their swords. The conquerors sheathe theirs and retain them [is he actually using this language?...]. ‘Trans-sexual’ would be a better word than ‘sexless’ for the heavenly life.”
-C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Also relevent, once one gains, or admits, a view from "outside";

"I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself [though this whole experience is somehow "engineered", much like Judaism considers the saga of Adam and Eve?..]. No man knows how bad he is [knows least of all himself,] till he has tried very hard to be good [to be more than just his acts, his behaviors]. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later [one doesn't know what it is to be faithful to one person unless one does so]. That is why bad people [or sensualists, gluttons, or professional "experts on sex" {acts} like prostitutes and adult film stars], in one sense, know very little about badness - they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it...
-Lewis, Mere Christianity

Monday, February 21, 2011

[hope to do hyperlinks later]
I understand the Orthodox reticence in engagement with much of modern Bible/Talmud scholarship on many issues, and I think a hidden factor is the fear that not simply modern scholarship, but those who integrate scholarship into their faith communities (mainline and "historical" Christianity and to a degree liberal Judaisms - much less so Islam), may be [more] truthful in the Judaisms they account! Whole cans of worms are evidenced - and opened; from competing Judaisms to superseding Christianities to reconciliations unthinkable between theological, scholarship-averse fundamentalist "orthodoxies".

I believe that Orthodox Judaism, the various "liberal" Judaisms, Christianity (mainline and "Orthodox" - Catholic and Orthodox), and modern scholarship would all agree that JC could not reasonably be argued as the fulfillment of the "Jewish messiah" of contemporary historical Judaism ("Orthodoxy"). What is believed, what contemporary Jewish Jews abide, as far as mainline and historical Christianity and liberal Judaism are concerned - is "Rabbinic Judaism" - not Biblical Judaism.
They would all phrase this agreement differently - very differently, but I think it obvious they would agree. Orthodox Judaism would believe - apart from the others (who on the main accept evolution in interpretation, doctrine and belief regarding themselves), that contemporary doctrine has, for the most part, always been as it is; it is a history that is "special creation", at the very least essence and (to some large degree) substance 'down from Sinai' - in the loshon of Creationism. Perhaps spiced with Punctuated Equilibrium as a way to further explain their 'uniqueness' up and against the...umm...uniqueness...of others (emphasis on the useful, "special creation"-leaning misunderstandings of of Punc Eq - since Punc Eq cannot be claimed for only one species and no other without claiming the exception is a totally different organism in essence unlike any other - but when you do that, Punc Eq isn't being claimed for that species; special creationism is).

Think about it; historical, "Orthodox" Judaism is considered by these others in much the way modern scholarship accounts it; the canonization of orally and written "Pharisaic traditions" as "oral Torah", the result of a community accumulating and weeding texts (accumulating to the Masoretic text of Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvi'im), beliefs and practices (Oral Law), over time - and changing/evolving in relationships between said texts, practices and beliefs, in the meanings held about such relationships - defining even itself in each new setting and era against "Others", whom they are not, etc. And at the same time, these faithful others regard it as deriving from Revelation, of the highest order.

BUT these scholarship-imbiding modern communities themselves, for decades now - and perhaps most interestingly where historical, Orthodox Christianities are concerned - believe and teach as doctrine that they are also communities that formed and evolved around their histories of their selected texts (on the same narratives, laws, etc), from the same eras - their readings and the accounted Judaism they have found. They not only concede this, they abide and teach this! They have involved [and, at times, to me quite convincing] accounts of their faith, faith refined by scholarship, by historical questioning - not challenged by it as the great number of Orthodox Jews have regarded such engagement (traditional Conservative Judaism - from the era of Orthodox condemnation of them...being an exception this). They have a centuries-long history of engaging each accumulating and receding era of scholarship, of philosophical insight on all things - often (in the Catholic example), responsible for the institutions where such exchange, debate and engagement transpired and was established. Key faithful figures in the hard sciences as well, that came to define the advent of science, of the modern era, etc, etc...

To my mind, Orthodox Judaism - b'klal - cannot concede a similar, co-committal evolution and accumulation and remain Orthodox.

In other words, what is perhaps most challenging to Orthodox Judaism about this is not simply the possibility that the Orthoprax or secular academics or scholars are correct in their scholarship - but that other academically-committed Faithful may, in key ways (historical points that defined them/us; 1st Century Judaism, 1st Century Christianity), be correct in their faiths - their Orthodoxies - which, on the main are integrations and reconciliations of modern scholarship with historical faith and practice.

I think it goes unnoticed as a challenge, because these 'competing' faiths - unlike Evangelicals - aren't interested in converting Jews to their faith modalities; many have even proclaimed the permanence of the Jewish covenant and expressed ill-ease with seeking the conversion of Jews, so far as a willingness to accept them as individuals, but not seeking them out as such (The Catholic Church has an articulated eschatology that puts the fate of the majority of the Jews in God's perview - not mans; they no longer sanction "mission to the Jews", and repudiate such historical venture as having been done in theological error).

Such an approximating self-perception, Orthodox Jews, as a communal system, cannot abide. In fact I have only encountered individual Jews that conceive of reconciliations, often piecemeal.

Within this is also the challenge that mainline/historical Christianities and liberal Judaisms have fully-integrated beliefs about the salvific efficacy of other belief systems - and they include a place for Orthodox Judaism. Salvific potential, I grant - but it's there, in their Catechisms, their council decrees. The God they believe in (at least as in the Orthodox, historical Christianities) is one you cannot tell what to do or how to do it - a pretty big God!; for Orthodox Judaism, halacha seemingly is just such a "telling" of what God can do - how and when; the chutzpah of it sounds attractive to people (Gerim?...utterly-assimilated BTs?..) who come from backgrounds which they believed belittled humanity (one way or another) - such chutzpah is quite a bestowal of significance to humankind! (at least the Jews among humanity...) -

but so (Christianity might respond), is God becoming man, amidst 1st Century Judaism, seemingly least-prepared (in Orthodox Jewish "historiography"), for such a claim to occur, but not "unheard of" for Pagans, right?...were even they expecting something quite like this...from the Jews?...C.S. Lewis (all of ch. 14 is relevant, but here's snippet);

"From a certain point of view Christ is 'the same sort of thing' as Adonis or Osiris (always, of course, waiving the fact that they lived nobody knows where or when, while He was executed by a Roman magistrate we know in a year which can be roughly dated). And that is just the puzzle. If Christianity is a religion of that kind, why is the analogy of the seed falling into the ground so seldom mentioned (twice only if I mistake not) in the New Testament? [the only documental source for what can assuredly be called Christianity; the Christian Scriptures would seem to sell themselves short by not emphasizing more strongly to their neighbors the pagan cognates between their faiths!!] Corn-religions are popular and respectable: if that is what the first Christian teachers were putting across, what motive could they have for concealing the fact? The impression they make is that of men who simply don't know how close they are to the corn-religions: men who simply overlook the rich sources of relevant imagery and association which they must have been on the verge of tapping at every moment...Why should the only religion of a 'dying God' which has actually survived and risen to unexampled spiritual heights occur precisely among those people to whom, and to whom almost alone, the whole circle of ideas that belong to the 'dying God' was foreign?" ..The records, in fact, show us a Person who enacts the part of the Dying God, but whose thoughts and words remain quite outside the circle of religions ideas to which the Dying God belongs...It is as if you met the sea-serpent and found that it disbelieved in sea-serpents."
-C.S. Lewis, Miracles, ch. 14, "The Grand Miracle"

This would explain the surprise of even JC's own family and disciples to his statements and actions taken as one kind of whole - a whole The Church established as the NT Scriptures. Which can lead to C.S. Lewis' famous "Trilemma" - or a quadrilemma (the other competing 'quadrilemmas' - that the accounts 'aren't accurate' seems to deny a place for 'Holy Tradition' - the Christian equivalent of "Oral Torah" - and the supposition that JC never existed as a person are argued all over the net);

...either Jesus was right, mad, or lying. Rabbi Soloveichik clearly rejects the first option but delicately—and no doubt wisely—declines to call Jesus either mad or demonic, although by his own account it would seem he has no other choice. But the New Testament [itself...] narrates another option. To be sure, the gospels recognize something like a trilemma, since they report that Jesus' own family (however defined) thought he was mad (Mark 3:21), while his opponents claimed he came from the devil (Mark 3:22). But even among Jesus' closest followers [the kind of traditional Jews accounted above by Lewis], the most common reaction was incomprehension. It would do great violence to the evidence of the gospels (including the Fourth Gospel) to assert that the disciples accepted Jesus as God simpliciter by the mere fact that they were his disciples. For one thing, important strains in the New Testament tradition assert that Jesus was made Lord and Christ in the Resurrection (Acts 2:36, Rom. 1:3-4), however that “making” is to be understood [which if considered could 'explain' other discrepancies in his self-perception and those of others before and after and the account of him in the later NT works]. Let us call this, then, the New Testament “quadrilemma.” I draw attention to this theme of point out the inadequacy of Lewis' more truncated and simplistic trilemma. For one thing, Christians hardly want to box Jews into either accepting Jesus or calling him mad or demonic. After all, who does not, ultimately, find Jesus baffling?

I do think Jewish Anti-Missionaries fail in many, many ways - but ignoring these responses to challenges, actually made before the challenges were issued by the Anti-Missionaries?...available for all of them to read? And it matters so much - as the general narrative of JC has been reconciled by historical Christianities with modern scholarship - where much of historical Judaism cannot reconcile itself as consistently or communally to even the historical accounts made of Judaism - without pushing the "Conservative" side of the Orthodox envelope.

My response would be some formulation of "Israel", in the collective, being this similarly-baffling, similarly-mythic personage - but I haven't formulated it yet.

In addition, liberal Orthodox Judaisms have been considering "dual covenant" theologies whereby Jews may be "more" right than others, these self-same others have, often for decades now - already done the same regarding Orthodox Judaism, other Christianities - some even regarding other faiths. On the main, without recourse to "relativism" or liberalism in doctrine.
To engage in dialogues or interactions where such conversations could occur looks scary for those who prefer "dueling covenants" - fundamentalist Evangelicals, historical schismatics - and Orthodox Jews.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You have never talked to a mere mortal
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities… that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal (and yet there is no way to necessarily inform them, "There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun" as "No one can lay God and His Kingdom on the table before another man; even the believer cannot do it for himself"). Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"Gosh, we're all really impressed down here,
I can tell You..."
Maybe I believe too much about a God who is Too Great and Too Big, Too Powerful. And this is dangerous. He can appear to change, to change His mind from our knowledge or our perspective by simply not revealing all to us, neither through the collective 'us' (via mesorah - parameters and depths of which fluctuate over time, etc), the history of us and what's 'ours', or through 'academic' scholarly study of either or everything. He can Sanctify the 'works' of man, tell the greatest 'Truths before, become and beyond facts' through myths, the multitude of human expression, He can say what is "good", what is "very good", all these things he can do like no other, for there is no other. A God who can create through natural events, time, hide the miracle in the mundane, the love in the potch and vice versa.

Of course materialists say something like this about matter. Did Matter meet man on The Matterhorn, reveal to them Matterself that materialists believe these things?

But why did you Make me so impotent, nebish and strange?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

"Recently, I had three former CEOs of companies -- perfectly healthy -- who called me up and told me they wish to die"

...Says Kevorkian, the man with "no regrets" - after being told 5 of the 100 people he helped commit suicide that were discovered didn't qualify for his concept of "patholysis". His response when asked;

"So... what did you do? What did you tell them?" I asked gently. "No, nothing," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I didn't do anything, but people have their rights."

For Kavorkian, a champion of "right to death", this is clearly beyond a right to euthenasia, what he is generally considered a defender of. He is offering a service, propounding a personal a definition of the value of all human life. A personal definition of significance is personal - even where the definition is the significance of the person. He may have a personal 'standard' as a facilitator of death, but what standards do those seeking his aid have in seeking death? Kavorkian and these CEOs seem to share an emphasis on rights over responsibilities, common enough in this hell-bound handbasket world.
Of the CEOs who contacted him, how many have families, children, responsibilities, potential solutions they've refused to explore until life gives them no 'choice' but take it or leave it? Whatever ones views on euthanasia in physical illness - clearly not everyone who wants to die mercifully is as much of a "burden" to others as they may believe, very few in this world have been "strong enough to go on" on their own ("person") - because none of us are in our own world - even those who are claimed to be by others. Many kinds of suffering - the suffering of a "me", of an "I" -"My" suffering, in each case - have been and are surmounted by people who believed, at the time, that their life was insurmountable - ourselves, and people we know who lived on to make life livable for others. Granted I am speaking with those who are not unanimously regarded candidates for euthanasia.
In this world, where death is always inevitable and life is not, where one decision can render void in seconds a life of choices, rights and responsibilties, I think we should at least be skeptical of missionaries - for that is what he is, a missionary who is promoting his personal standards of death-worthiness - who treat all of life itself as merely another choice. Particularly where we call a spade a spade, a missionary a missionary - and others call them heroes.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

John Haught; Intelligent Design and Idolatry
From here;

Q. You've used another analogy in discussions with me that might be illuminating. This is the boiling water analogy. Could you give us that?

A. Yes. I think most of the issues in science and religion discussions, most of the confusion that occurs happens because we fail to distinguish different levels of explanation. And so what I advocate is layered or - layered explanation or explanatory pluralism, according to which almost every phenomenon in our experience can be explained at a plurality of levels. And a simple example would be a teapot.
Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove and someone comes into the room and says, "explain to me why that's boiling". Well, one explanation would be it's boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas. But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, it's boiling because my wife turned the gas on. Or you could also answer that same question by saying it's boiling because I want tea.
All three answers are right, but they don't conflict with each other because they're working at different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another. And it would be a mistake to say that the teapot is boiling because I turned the gas on rather than because the molecules are moving around. It would be a mistake to say the teapot is boiling because of molecular movement rather than because I want tea. No, you can have a plurality of levels of explanation. But the problems occur when one assumes that there's only one level.
And if I could apply this analogy to the present case, it seems to me that the intelligent design proponents are assuming that there's only one authoritative level of inquiry, namely the scientific, which is, of course, a very authoritative way of looking at things. And they're trying to ram their ultimate kind of explanation, intelligent design, into that level of explanation, which is culturally very authoritative today, namely the scientific. And for that reason, science, scientists justifiably object because implicitly they're accepting what I'm calling this explanatory pluralism or layered explanation where you don't bring in "I want tea" while you're studying the molecular movement in the kettle. So it's a logical confusion that we have going here.

Q. I think you may have already explained this, but just to be sure we see how it connects, one hears it said that it's important to, quote, teach the controversy, unquote. Do you agree with that?

A. Well, there really is no controversy between evolutionary biology and intelligent design because intelligent design simply is not a scientific idea. To come back to my analogy, it simply doesn't fall on the same level of inquiry. But if there is a controversy at all, it's a
controversy between two groups of people, scientists who rightly demand that intelligent design be excluded from scientific inquiry and intelligent design proponents who want it to be part of scientific inquiry.

Q. You have called intelligent design appalling theology. Can you explain that?

A. Well, I think most people will instinctively identify the intelligent designer with the God of theism, but all the great theologians -- there are theologians that I consider great, people like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Langdon Gilkey, Carl Rahner -- would see what's going on in the intelligent design proposal, from a theological point of view, is the attempt to bring the ultimate and the infinite down in a belittling way into the continuum of natural causes as one finite cause among others. And anytime, from a theological point of view, you try to have the infinite become squeezed into the category of the finite, that's known as idolatry. So it's religiously, as well as theologically, offensive to what I consider the best theologians, for example, of the 20th Century.

"Layered explanation" reminds me very much of Robert Aumann's use of "Orthogonal" in explaining the relationship of religious observance to rationality (elsewhere). I would use words like "emergence" or "nesting" as well, where in one set of relationships an object or personal role, act or belief is situated and understood "thus", and in yet another has an entire other significance or consequence. Certain religious beliefs have had profound scientific consequences, of course, but not be of consequence in other arrangements.

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