Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Hasmoneans, and Us

I, too, read the Slate piece by Christopher Hitchens, remembering as I did that this is a man who professionally hated on Mother Theresa for a while and just published a book titled God is Not Great. And I actually liked it, although the Sherbs tells me that Mr. Hitchens's history is a tad reductionist and simplistic.

Hanukkah should be a time of a little philosophical soul-searching for more liberal Jews, because Hitchens's piece builds on a fundamental truth of Hanukkah: we're celebrating the butt-kicking of one society because our religious fanatics weren't comfortable with it. Sure, there's a forced assimilation component to the Hellenic side, as the closest they got to religious tolerance in those days was "we'll let you worship your gods if you also worship ours," but, to a great extent, this was a war to define us as a particularly religious nation.

I'll still be lighting the candles, because, even though I don't like the Hasmoneans and I'm a little suspicious of holidays based on the Apocrypha, I don't have a good enough theological reason not to and I like fried food something fierce. But I take Hanukkah to, in part, warn us of what happens when we get all we want religiously - we can then become big jerks to one another. It seems that the UK chief rabbinate and some Israeli rabbis are in conflict over conversions - mostly because some people seem to want to speak for all Judaism despite getting their position through having support in only a small minority. Just because we've had some big wins doesn't mean we get to be jerks. That's my lesson for the season.

Hannukah: Festival of Backwardsness?

I came upon this slate article indirectly from a frequent, yet anonymous commenter of this blog (sorry if it annoys you that I'm blogging on this, but it was just too extreme to let slip, and I'm in finals and therefore easily distracted). All I have to say is whoa. That is quite a strongly worded piece directed against Hannukah. Ah the joys of journalism and the internet, where one does not need to cite sources or hold a reasonable respect for the subject of one's inquiry (though in all fairness there are plenty of academics who do the same thing but with bigger words). I'm not saying the history is not generally correct. Though my historical knowledge of this subject comes from a freshman class I mostly slept through, I believe the general facts is somewhere in the reasonable range of the truth (obviously feel free to correct me). But the tone is, well lets just say, not really compatible with our societies generally p.c. pluralism.

Before I continue I should note that the article was written by Christopher Hitchens, and he is definitely not a man who shies away from controversy to say the least. But irregardless, it does raise some interesting questions for us..

If I can guess correctly, our readers are probably thinking one (or many many) of these opinions (hows that for precision?):
1. This is (insert adjective) anti-semitism
2. This is (insert adjective) secularism primarily, but also anti-semitic
2b. This is secularism, but walks a fine line between secularism and anti-semitism
2c. This is secularism, not anti-semitism
3. This is correct, but seriously this author must have (insert non-sexist noun)
4. other (who is Zie to tell me what to think?)

Crazy right? Personally, I think there are ways to say something like this that seek to elucidate the facts and not merely anger a community. History can be told from an unlimited number of viewpoints with an unlimited number of agendas. Almost every year I come upon numerous articles that discuss Christmas as a commercial holiday lacking any actual religious meaning or historical fact. However, I do not know if I have ever read someone saying that Jesus represented backwards ideas and therefore to celebrate his birth is to deny enlightened thinking. hmm..

when did we stop appreciating a good metaphor?? Literalists make me seriously angry! Really takes some of the beauty out of life eh? Try reading Shakespeare literally... really doesn't make much sense. end of digression.

So, what do y'all think?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Grad School and God

It's been a really long time since I have written. Granted, Harley may be the only person to have noticed, as I am new and only sometimes interesting... but here goes Jewbiquitous, you new method of procrastination!

This may seem paradoxical, but the vast majority of divinity school students could not care less about God. Granted, this is not a true religious institution but an institution of religion. My university prides itself as being uber academic and empirical evidence means everything and conviction close to nil. Perhaps as it should be -- I know if it were the other way around I'd high tail it back to the east coast. However, would it kill us to show phenomenology (briefly, studying religion from the side of or inside religion) a little respect? Why do the Godless chose to study the exact theologies and communities they largely reject? Because its freaking fascinating.

However, I have been wise in choosing philosophy. I can talk about God in a million different theological or rational frameworks and accept or destroy God at will based upon my superhero like rational skills. (hah!) In my line of work, God is a concept just like subjectivity or beauty or thought itself. I can say Kant's idea of God is flawed (this is a what if, I'd rather not argue this point) in the context of Kierkegaard's philosophy/theology (hat tip nature boy) and it really does not have to mean anything but a grade to me.

But eventually philosophy has to mean something. Ideas matter. Or at least I like to tell myself that. You can turn on the evening news and hear watered down Enlightenment ideas being spewed that may seem passe in philosophic circles but are still in full swing in the actual social world. So in that case, don't we have a responsibility to show a little respect? If i say God is bullshit based upon a logical proof or scientific fact (uh Dawkins) and would it really matter to you?

There is always a theological answer that trumps reason, if the individual cares more about theology than science. I don't know how familiar y'all are with Christian theology but Schleiermacher might have had one thing correct- our feelings and intuitions matter and they do not always line up with reason. But then he went and ruined everything by saying Christianity is absolute (and it almost always is... unless you are reading Maimo or something). My new grad school friend who I will call truth man, would just say that feelings are a result of complex actions and chemicals in the brain. Well yes. But that is a really boring way of experiencing the world. If I am just a series of complex chemical interactions, they why would any of this matter at all. Because it feels like it matters. And I truly believe life is mostly about getting through it without causing too much harm to anyone, especially ourselves. But I digress, the point is... sometimes its just nice to have a little love with my morning helping of rational proofs.

So if some of you out there believe in God and want to write books about God's love... I will be interested to read that. Perhaps. But in the end, I'm probably just another critic.