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Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The Short Version

Paul Melko insisted on one-sentence versions of my and Hal's positions on monotheism, so he wouldn't have to read my previous, insanely long post.

Here's what I came up with:

Hal: We all play nice about monotheism, excusing the excesses of its fanatics as aberrations, but they proceed naturally and inevitably from the core values of the Bible -- absolute obedience to the Law, and absolutely justified brutality against those who fall outside it.

Me: Monotheism functions as a ladder along which different moral positions are available; the oldest, brutal, tribal part of monotheism says "obey God or die", and the historical consensus says "we know the Law and this is it, and deviance must be punished"; but monotheism also contains, equally centrally, the idea of an absolutely moral Law that we cannot ever finally know, which must be continually reinterpreted and reinvented, and this Law is continually transgressive and progressive, always calling power into question.

Then I also say a bunch of stuff about Rabbinic Judaism specifically.

There, don't you feel better now?

Update: Hmm... actually, maybe Vardibidian's summary is better:

[M]y fundamental understanding of the Jews boils down to we were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And I will still say that, because it’s true, and it’s true to myself the way I understand it... But it’s also true, as Mr. Rosenbaum points out, that you could boil the story of the Jews down to the Temple was destroyed, so we wrote the siddur.

....when my daughter asks me what the universe is like....which one do I want to tell her? Because, honestly, I think that is what I want the universe to be like. What I want her world to be like. Because, let’s face it, the Temple is being destroyed (as it is in every generation, as it always is for everybody), and she’ll need a good siddur.

"And yet," Vardibidian goes on to ask, "Where is the Lord in all this? Because when I say that all living things should praise the Creator, I mean it."

So, you know... me too.

Over on David Moles' blog, then, I say "transcendent/immanent is one of those easy distinctions -- like nature/nurture, mind/body, and Left/Right -- that I think, though handy for quick superficial assessments, both collapses on further inspection, and obscures more than it clarifies."

The world is so much bigger than all our tales about it.

It is self-defeating to expect all your beliefs to mesh logically; that mistakes the map for the terrain.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your might, with all your heart, and with all your soul." I try to take that one on. I think at my most honest, I am filled with gratitude for the world God has given me, as well as with awe and fear at its immensity.

And I don't find it the least bit incompatible with the historical account: "and here's where we made God up."

After all:

We are very very little. We are doing our best.

We have a radical freedom to choose our interpretations of the world.

There is no default interpretation. The one that feels like the default, that feels like it's "the obvious conclusion unless you make some extreme, perverse effort, some leap of faith", is simply the one that your culture is trying to enforce. Its obviousness is a product of force, not of nature (unless you think your own age is uniquely enlightened, a passing familiarity with intellectual history should be enough to make this clear).

A mighty hand, an outstretched arm.

We told ourselves that story. That doesn't make it any less true.

Posted by benrosen at March 8, 2006 02:48 PM | Up to blog

I liked the long one better.


Posted by: Vardibidian at March 16, 2006 05:45 PM

Hmm. I mean... me too. But, how so?

You sound like I lost the essential part.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 16, 2006 05:47 PM

Does the update help?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at March 16, 2006 06:13 PM

You mean I read all that when there was a Cliffs Notes available? Dang.

Posted by: Scott Janssens at March 17, 2006 11:16 AM

I'm another fan of the long ones, and I appreciated V's long contribution as well.

When core stories came up on the previous thread, I found myself really wanting to join in but not feeling particularly satisfied with what were turning out to be more philosophical statements than stories. "Each I is a story the universe tells" was about the best I could hit, and for all that I think it's true, it doesn't really say much about how to read the world...

...but I just now remembered something that, like a good core story should, sunk in so well that I stopped thinking about it: "in life, there is coming together and there is tearing apart; even though in this world the tearing apart always wins, it's important to be on the side of the coming together."

Not that I'm always the greatest at that, but there it is.

Posted by: Dan P at March 17, 2006 01:30 PM

Well, Paul Melko is now my hero. I read everything here, about 70% of the stuff at Duncan's place, and everything again at Mole's place... It's fascinating, yes -- but I was seriously considering cutting and pasting the whole mess into Word, printing it up double-columned in 8-point font, then using highlighters and sharpies to make a big flow chart so I could maybe figure out once and for all where the central topic of discussion had got to.

Abstracts, I keep thinking: This is why papers in science journals are required to have bleeding abstracts...

Posted by: Jackie M. at March 20, 2006 02:55 PM
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