Monthly Archives: October 2009

Science fiction and Theology

I am not into the apocalypse or particularity into Science fiction, but science fiction serves as a window on people’s metaphysical and religious ideas.  For example, UFO’s went from friendly to menacing. Or science went from a brave new world to the potential cause of world wide destruction, then to new age. And now science is seen as limited.  Here is something about this year’s sci-fi that came my way. [I will get back to another post on Novak by week’s end.]
Is mysticism overtaking science in sci-fi?

That the human intellect can be copied like software, but the human soul is conserved or copy-protected or some such.
That seeking after technology is a misguided pursuit that can only lead to the destruction of the human race.

That moving or dividing the soul requires alchemical symbols inscribed on metal tokens.

Fallacies of the movie 2012:

2. That it is possible—indeed, inevitable—for all of this water to be released in a single cataclysmic event.

3. That “hard” sciences like geology, climatology, planetology, astronomy and physics are, in some way, incapable of foreseeing the disaster, or of comprehending it when it happens.

4. That pre-Columbian Toltec priests, along with certain Renaissance scholars (specifically French pharmacist Michel de Nostredame and Italian painter Leonardo da Vinci) did somehow have access to this knowledge, by a mechanism we no longer understand, enabling them to predict the exact date of the end of the world.

I do not remember which religion source linked to this source. But it offers the following observations that show a current distrust of science and experts. My question is how this is playing itself out in current visions of Judiasm? Jewish apocalypse? and the Jewish attitude toward science?

Advertisements

This is How Redemption Looks- Chayuta Deutsch

Chayuta (also spelled Hayuta) Deutsch is the editor of the Akdamot Journal, published by Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, and the author of Nechama: The Biography of Nechama Leibovitz, published by Yedioth Ahronot Press. She was the literay editor for Ha-Zofeh during its sensationalist decade.
She has a new book out “ככה נראית גאולה” This is how Redemption Looks. Something for me to get next trip to Israel.
“ככה נראית גאולה”, מאת חיותה דויטש, הוצאת “ידיעות ספרים”. 239 עמודים. The book is short stories about the Relgious Zionist world–Think “Serugim”
Here is an excerpt.

Facebook for book

David Novak- The Jewish Social Contract- Part I

I will be working through several of David Novak’s volumes. I will return to Fishbane afterwards.

David Novak- The Jewish Social Contract, Princeton UP 2005

The book asks the good question:
“How can a traditional Jew actively and intelligently participate in my democratic polities?”

I will divide his position into units. For the full answer to his good question, wait until the next post on Novak.

1] To provide a Jewish social theory he will use “Theological retrieval, philosophic imagination, and political prudence.” Theological retrieval “searches the classical Jewish literary sources for guidance, and in which historical description is always part of the essential normative thrust.” Anytime Jews need to act beyond the four cubits of halakhah “philosophical imagination must be employed since here speech and action need to be justified to more universal criteria.” We need to find enough democracy in the Jewish tradition and not just a form of superficial apologetics for some current ethnic agenda.”

2] Novak’s imagination envisions that the definition of human nature, human rights, and human society are not natural but God given. We enter social contract not as isolated but from community. We accept the Biblical covenants – the Noahite covenant and the Sinai covnant – both are unconditional and interminable.

3] Novak uses “the law of the kingdom is law” “dina demalkhuta dina” to say we need to crate a civil society, as a social contract.

The very creation of a secular realm was a chance for many cultures to participate. (In this he seems to use Charles Taylor, who is only briefly cited later) Religious liberty was not for tolerance and to keep it out of the public sphere, but to allow us to have our individual covenants. (He explains the establishment cause based on Hutchenson not Jefferson, and freedom of religion as a Baptist not as Locke and Hobbes)We accept civil society and civil society in order to respect our covenantal community.
Novak is against Rawls, we do not approach things based on fairness and rationality.
(He blames the naked public sphere entirely on the Spinoza tradition, rather than the private religion of Jonathan Edwards and the Protestant America.). Novak claims that civil society is made up of many religious groups and the founding fathers of America planned it that way. (not empirically or historically true for the US). Civil religion is from Rousseau and is against traditional faiths and their authority, Novak cites Richard Neuhaus as his source.

He thinks that religious people can argue better in a democracy for cultural autonomy than liberals.
He thinks that religious people will show more respect for other faiths than liberals since every religion knows it is in its best interest to not abuse its self-interested or totalizing demands.

4] Novak does not think he is creating a synthesis of social theory and Torah, there is no confrontation. Social theory is Torah with philosophic imagination.
Jews were multicultural in antiquity since they had to get along with Assyrians and others.
And from the Bible to today Jews are multicultural. Even Haredim choose to be a minority in a multicultural Israel because they know that if they claim hegemony over the secular it will destroy the social contact of Israel !!!

5] All of humanity is in the “Image of God”– defined as “a relational capacity for what pertains between God and all humans.” He bases this on Hermann Cohen and Psalms.
Judaism is a universal religion. Multiculturalism of Judaism is based on interreligious respect, and the respect for everyone’s image of God. As a contrast, Jonathan Sacks places the emphasis on Babel-there are no universals, all knowledge is limited. God chose one family, the Jews, to show that we need to celebrate diversity of families and religions. For Novak, we have a universal to follow and to argue for within the public sphere. For Sacks, absolute religions are the enemy of religion and public life. For Novak, liberalism that does not start with an absolute divine covenant does not allow a public sphere. For Novak, Jewish secularists are poor advocates of Jewish national claims on world!!! We need those with a covenantal certainty. It seems Novak has never heard of secular Zionism or any of many public advocates of Judaism.

6] The Bible shows us that we can only talk to covenantal partners who fear God. We can work with Malkizedek and not the king of Sodom. We can only make work with those who have the moral prerequisites. Therefore, Shimon and Levi could kill the men of Shechem since they are not moral, so we cannot enter into covenant with them. Does Novak notice what he is saying when he justifies killing them because we deem them immoral?

Covenant is n affirmation of creation for humans to make world inhabitable.. He cites as his proof Nahmanides’ introduction to the Torah – berit = bara – make the world inhabitable. But the original of Nahmanides was a praise of the mystery of God’s miraculous powers of creation. Novak transfers these powers man. Hermann Cohen’s universalism and man’s powers presented as Nahmanides.

7] Novak boldly states “Jewish and Christian ideas of human nature and community, which are most often identical” He thinks this is true even in medieval Europe.
Novak states that Jews lived in medieval Europe with integrity by knowing they shared values with the Christians. They had a social contract with medieval Christians based on trust His proof:
Tosafot states that a Jew can accept an oath from a Christian even though, the latter associates (shituf ) something else mentions with God. For Novak, this shows, that Jews share with Christians trust and social contract. They are not idolatrous, rather they are answerable to the same God so it is a social contract. Novak pictures the tosafot as conceiving the relationship as follows: “I have good reason to believe you will not change your word to me, I can trust you because of your Christian faithfulness. And Christians believe in God’s faithful covenant. I trust you because of your belief in God. This is unlike modern atheists and secularists whom we cannot truly trust.

I am not sure what to make of this. It is not halakhic – juridical reasoning from Shulkhan Arukh. It is not historic reasoning even though he cites Jacob Katz. (Katz saw the medieval situation as without trust and commonality, only exclusivism. These tosafot statements were only ad-hoc leniencies without theological power.)
This is Novak’s “theological imagination” using the tradition, having fidelity to halakhah but not to halakhic reasoning.

8] The bible is covenantal and rabbinical thought is all contractual. Rabbinic law is justified by Scripture and debated by scripture. – (All texts for Novak seem sibah ledavar velo siman ladavar). Rabbinic statements are mainly left as stalemate, continuous arguments. It is all open interpretation. (cf new book by Boyarin- I will get to later this season)Rabbinic law is contractual since it gives reasons (Novak assumes darshinan taama dekra) and since law can be repealed by a greater beth din

9] Babylonians were secular and not idolatrous> hence we respect their civil society. Novak uses “the law of the kingdom is law” “dina demalkhuta dina”  to say we need to crate a civil society, as a social contract.Rashba and Ran – right of kings to create secular law but since  we are not really into kings – today it means social contract.          [he damns with slight praise Lorberbaum on Ran, and his edited with Waltzer The Jewish Political Tradition. For Lorberbaum , Halbertal, Waltzer – these medieval texts show an opening to create a secular realm,  without the interference of Judaism and rabbis. A realm consisting of  kings, prime ministers, laity, populous] For Novak, these texts point to natural law and covenant Abarbanel’s critique of kingship is taken as the Jewish norm, cf rambam

10] Moses Mendelssohn  taught that religion is private and to be keep out of the social contract. There should be tolerance for religion. The secular state should tolerate religion because one’s transcendental warrant for one’s religion comes prior to the liberal state. One’s religion is one’s public persona. The secular state is a place to encourage multiple religions. The state is multicultural recognition of diverse religions.  Our Covenantal duties are stronger than Mendelssohn’s duties of conscience. Novak concludes that Mendelsohnn was wrong. We do not start as individuals and follow reason and conscience but we start as a covenantal community, which knows that the Noahite Laws are the natural law for society.  Mendelsohn not enough to bring religion into public sphere.

Novak does not seem to get that Mendelssohn had a very real fear of herem, seruv, beis din control of society and economics, rabbinical pronouncements on society, heresy trials, and an autonomous kehilah. Novak assumes that Mendelssohn’s rabbinical establishment would write op-eds and First Things articles, rather than put each other in herem.

To be continued and edited tomorrow night.
Galleys of my Book One are due tomorrow.

What to Read on Religion and Foreign Policy

From the current issue of Foreign Affairs-Anyone have any thoughts on these volumes? It seems the political science people are trying to make up for lost time on the role of religion in politics. I think I would want to see a list from the Economist, who are more up on the state of the world. The original article has one line blurbs for each book.
What to Read on Religion and Foreign Policy
CHRIS SEIPLE is President of the Institute for Global Engagement and a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Academic and policy discussions of international issues generally ignore religion or, at most, treat it as part of some other problem to be solved.To be relevant, therefore, U.S. foreign policy must acknowledge the place religion occupies in global politics and engage in candid conversations that include both secular and religious voices. The books here provide the basis for beginning such discussions.

Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft. Edited by Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson. Oxford University Press, 1994..

Religion and Security: The New Nexus in International Relations. Edited by Robert A. Seiple and Dennis R. Hoover. Rowman & Littlefield, 2004.

The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century. By Scott M. Thomas. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy
. Edited by Elliott Abrams. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics. Edited by John D. Carlson and Erik C. Owens. Georgetown University Press, 2003.

The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. By Madeleine Albright. Harper Collins, 2006.

Liberty and Power: A Dialogue on Religion and U.S. Foreign Policy in an Unjust World. Edited by E. J. Dionne, Jean Bethke Elshtain, and Kayla Drogosz. Brookings Institution Press, 2004.

Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion. By T. Jeremy Gunn. Praeger Publishers, 2009.

Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment
. By William Inboden. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Symposium on Secularization at NYU

For those in NYC- See you there

This Thursday’s (10-22) public symposium with Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West.  The event will run from 3:00-8:00PM. The doors to the Great Hall (7th @ Bowery) will open at 2:00PM.  We expect this to be a full-capacity event, and we advise you to arrive early to secure seating.

3:00 – Welcome—Jonathan VanAntwerpen, SSRC

3:15-5:00 – Panel I
Jürgen Habermas, “The Political” – The Rational Sense of a
Questionable Inheritance of Political Theology
Charles Taylor, Why We Need a Radical Redefinition of Secularism
moderated by Craig Calhoun, SSRC and NYU

5:00-5:45 – Intermission

5:45-7:30 – Panel II
Judith Butler, Is Judaism Zionism? Religious Sources for the
Critique of Violence
Cornel West, Prophetic Religion and The Future of Capitalist
Civilization
moderated by Eduardo Mendieta, Stony Brook

7:30-8:00- Panel III
Craig Calhoun will moderate an open discussion between Judith
Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West.

Update:

Here is a summary of the lectures.

Determine Your Rabbinical Age

Here is a quiz for Evangelical Ministers to help them know their style: old fashioned, baby-boomer, or emergent.   I  invite all my Rabbinical readers to take this quiz to see where their pulpit style fits in. Almost all the questions are easliy adapted from the Church to the Synagogue. If you are not clergy but know clergy, then use it to evaluate your clergy. Let me know your results.

Determine Your Ministry Age
Do your assumptions about leadership reflect the values of your generation?
Jimmy Long Monday, October 12, 2009

In recent years we have entered into lengthy discussions about how worship, spiritual formation, and evangelism are transitioning in the church. However, the most crucial area of transition, leadership, has received minimal attention. For more than 35 years, I have been overseeing the ministry of young InterVarsity staff and college student leaders. In that time I have seen a significant swing in how these young leaders view leadership. The emerging generation of leaders desires a context that fosters community, trust, journey, vision, and empowerment.

If we are going to transition the church to the next generation, both existing and emerging leaders will need to understand and appreciate each other’s values. This quiz, developed in conjunction with the editors of Leadership, is a helpful start.

Here is the Quiz

Good luck and report your results.

David Nirenberg on the Jewish-Muslim relations in Christian Spain

David Nirenberg, of the University of Chicago, does micro studies of Jewish life in Spain based on legal documents. He offers a nuanced approach to the topic of interfaith relations in Spain. He points out that there is no simple calculus to say if a society was tolerant. His big insight is that Jewish –Muslim relations were mediated by Christians and both minorities modeled themselves on patterns of the host. He shows that many of the incidents were local events of urban fear of the other.  Think of the movie “Do the Right Thing” or the Crown Heights incident between Jews and the Black community.  A bit of Zygmunt Bauman on Judeophobia and urban tensions could probably really sharpen an already fine article.

Here is the fine article of his online that gives many of his conclusions from his book.

David Nirenberg, What Can Medieval Spain Teach Us about Muslim-Jewish Relations? CCJR Journal Spring / Summer 2002. 17 -36

I give some of his general principles and there cases: Tax Collection, Butchers, and Holy Week

First, no history as long and complex as that of Muslim and Jewish interaction can be explained by exegesis of a single text, even when that text is as foundational as the Bible or the Qur’an. Such prooftexts can sustain any number of interpretations over time, some of them quite contradictory, as anyone familiar with the Talmud (for example) knows.

Second, societies cannot be classified as tolerant or intolerant merely through the accumulation of “negative” or “positive” examples. Our understanding of the history of Muslim (or Christian) relations with Jews has to be rich enough to explain both the periods of relatively stable coexistence and the periodic persecution that marked Jewish life in both civilizations. Any account of Muslim-Jewish relations that does not simultaneously make sense of, for example, the brilliant career of Samuel Ibn Naghrela and the terrible massacre that ended his son’s life is obviously inadequate, for both are very real products of the same society. And finally, historians are not accountants, toting up the assets and liabilities of this and that society in order to declare a particular tradition more solvent (or in this case, more tolerant) than another.

The positions Jews and Muslims took vis-à-vis each other in Christian Spain cannot be understood in any simple sense as the products of “Jewish” or“Islamic” cultural attitudes toward one another. They were that, of course, but they were also very much influenced by what Jews and Muslims understood to be Christian interests and ideologies.Sometimes the arguments were purely economic or pragmatic.

Jews also were the tax collectors, officials, scribes of the chancery, and those employed in land and sea services. A Jew acted as magistrate, and as such sentenced [Muslims] to punishment of whipping or lashes.

The competition sometimes made for strange bedfellows. When the Jewish butchers of Daroca succeeded in acquiring a royal monopoly on selling halal meat to Muslims, the Muslims joined with the Christians in lobbying to have the Jewish meat market shut down. Moreover, the winner was not predetermined. The episode is revealing in that it confirms an important point: Christians were the ultimate arbiters in this competition between Judaism and Islam. Hence any arguments in the contest needed to be made with an eye on the Christian audience.

Each year during Holy Week, in Spain and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, crowds of Christian clerics and children participated in ritualized stone throwing attacks on Jewish quarters called “killing the Jews.” In 1319, a group of Muslims tried to make the practice their own.