Monthly Archives: October 2010

Arthur Green responds to Daniel Landes

When the new issue of Jewish Review of Book came out, a friend emailed me the Landes review of Green and asked: Is this frum screed any different than the worst of the dogmatic pronouncements from YU polemicists?

Here is the article by Landes. Last Trumpet at Jewschool has published a response by Green.

To the editor:

Rabbi Daniel Landes’ da’ mah she-tashiv (“Know what to answer the heretic”) approach to my Radical Judaism, protecting innocents from “the dangers lurking in the rhetoric that Green and like-minded thinkers employ,” represents a theological bankruptcy lurking in traditional Jewish circles. The forces of religion fought two great battles in the twentieth century, one against evolution and the other, taken more seriously by Jews, against Biblical criticism. It lost them both, quite decisively. These defeats, plus the Holocaust, are real parts of the baggage that any intellectually honest Jewish theology must confront. My book is an attempt to create a viable Judaism in the face of those realities. Landes may choose to live in a closed circle that pretends these uncomfortable facts do not exist, continuing to play by the old theological rules. For Jews living outside those circles, such an approach does not work. He should know; many of his students are among them.

Who is the “God of Israel” Landes is so proud to champion? The God of Numbers 31, telling Moses to slaughter the Midianites? The “compassionate Father” of our rabbinic prayers? Would Landes accept the God of Maimonides’ Guide as “the God of Israel?” Or the God of the Zohar? The longest single chapter of my book is precisely about the evolution of our understanding of God, a process that has never ended. Landes passes over the obvious evolution and variety of Jewish views of God as though they did not exist. But a freezing of theological thought in the face of contemporary challenges is precisely what we do not need. It is just as threatening to living Judaism as is the freezing of halakhah.

Indeed Mordecai Kaplan understood that much of Judaism’s vigor lay in its ability to grow and evolve. But so did Rav Kook, whose theological writing has always attracted me more than Kaplan’s. I am amused that Landes finds Kaplan to be my “hidden master” at this late point in my career. Where was he when I could have used him to shore up my Kaplanian credentials? While Kaplan’s style may at times be trying, to dismiss his theology as simply “boring” is beneath the dignity of response. Kaplan at least tells you openly and honestly what he means by “God.” I respect this and try to do the same. In some areas the divergence between us may be more in affect than in substance. But in matters of the heart that makes all the difference.

The nasty attack on Jewish Renewal is also unworthy of Landes. He picks out my comment on the seventh commandment (I say clearly that I am reading the ten as a guide for teachers) to remind his readers of the sexual misdeeds of some leaders in that movement. I suggest he beware of calling the kettle black. I have not seen that the high fences of halakhah have been terribly successful of late at helping some Orthodox teachers to defeat temptation, either sexual or financial.

The high point of my annoyance is Landes’ claim that I offer “no doctrine of ahavat Yisrael.” This book is written entirely in the spirit of love for both Judaism and Jews. Why else would I make the effort? Landes is unhappy that I admit openly my deep alienation from “the narrowly and triumphally religious” within our community. Honesty can sting. My claim to be “a religious Jew but a secular Zionist” is also intentionally distorted for polemical purposes. I meant simply that I remain committed to the vision of a Jewish and democratic state (There – I have signed my loyalty oath!) while according it no messianic significance. Has that gotten too hard to understand?

Landes lines up with the late Sam Dresner and others in expressing an overweaning fear of anything that smacks of pantheism, celebrating God within nature, or an underlying sense of universal religiosity. But it is precisely this sort of religion that I believe humanity most urgently needs in this century, when our collective survival as a species is so threatened. I am here to teach a Jewish version of it, one relying deeply on our own sources and bearing our values, but without making an exclusive truth claim for Judaism. I rejoice that the deepest religious truths are known to men and women of many cultures, clothed in the garments of both east and west. See Malachai 1:11.

Mostly I am saddened and disappointed that Landes reads me this way. He is, after all, the director of Pardes Institute. Surely that worthy institution was so-named by its founders for the association of “pardes” with the multiple ways in which Jewish sources can be read and interpreted. It has claimed for decades to champion intellectual pluralism under the cloak of behavioral conformity. Heresy hunting does not befit its leader.

Arthur Green

Universalism in the interfaith air

In the 1960’s, Tom Lehrer made fun of National Brotherhood Week, the national week from the 1940’s to the 1960’s that affirmed the unity of mankind.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants
And the Hindus hate the Moslems
And everybody hates the Jews

But during National Brotherhood Week
National Brotherhood Week
It’s National Everyone-Smile-At-
One-Another-hood Week

This week I received the universalism pitch three times. First from the Chief Rabbinate office, then from Chancellor Arnold Eisen, and finally at the Council of Centers of Jewish-Christian Relations conference. Despite all the mockery, National Brotherhood Week allowed Jews and Catholics to enter white Protestant America. Now, there is a perceived need to stop the demonization of the other. In all three cases the appeal was not to theology or specific commonalities, rather the universalism in which we are all brothers of a common Father in Heaven.

The first text I received was by Oded Wiener is the Director General and coordinates interfaith dialogue for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. (He also writes Metzger’s successful speeches.) We need to emphasize that all humans are in the image of God and that we need interpersonal dialogue to end violence. Hmm.. seems to be responding to many major rabbis in Israel who have been racist and denying human dignity to non-Jews.

A world without violence: religions and cultures in dialogue
by Oded Wiener 14 October 2010

Beyond the quest for a better world, one without violence, there is a common element that unites us all – the belief in one G-d. It is important to understand that man, who was created in the image of G-d, is not a wild, independent creation, who cannot be subjected to restrictions or criticism. This is certainly not the case. Man is continuously accountable – first and foremost to the Creator, who watches his actions and both demands and expects that he will act appropriately in all areas of life.

What is the significance of man being created in “G-d’s image”? The meaning is that in every man one can see a semblance of the Creator… And for the sake of peace among men, that one should not say to his fellow, “My father is greater than yours”.. . Again, the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, manifests itself in the fact that man stamps out many coins with one seal, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, stamped each man with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his fellow.”… These words are of great importance and reflect man’s commitment to behave in a way which respects the image and spirit of G-d within him, and the image and spirit of G-d in his fellow man– regardless of his religion or views, nationality or his people of origin.

The use of violence and force by a person of faith is in clear contradiction to the ways of G-d and undermines the ideological basis in the name of which that person is exercising violence.

Dialogue is the torch that must be carried in pride, without fear. It is no secret that on each side there is an opposition that challenges dialogue between religious and spiritual leaders and which, in extreme cases, is coupled with threats or efforts to condemn and marginalize those who engage in it… For this exact reason religious leaders ought to ask themselves – in light of the ignorance regarding the traditions and religion of other nations, which is often the catalyst for violence – how can they encourage dialogue, educate, teach, influence, and bring people closer together?

Full Version Here.

The second received speech was by Chancellor Eisen. He seems to have given several variants of it in the last few weeks. He gave it in the mid-west as “A Jewish Theology of Pluralism.” In that version he opened with the sharp statement the energy for dialogue and interaction between faiths is usually promoted by a crisis, a necessity, or an urgency. The purpose of such a theology is not to achieve sameness. And an effective theology of religious pluralism must not start with Moses or Abraham. It must start with Adam, the ancestry of all humans. Eisen’s NY version sought commonality with Islam through the common shared Abraham covenant of circumcision.

Arnold Eisen Chancellor, The Jewish Theological Seminary, October 24, 2010
The moderates of all faiths have to talk often and well, lest the extremists carry the day. The stakes of not doing so are simply too high to countenance.
But there is another, no less important, imperative to dialogue. It stems from the texts and practices that believers like me hold sacred and a notion of covenant with God and community that sees these bonds as precious vehicles to the service of something larger and higher than ourselves.
Jewish Sages have always made much of the fact that the Torah begins with Adam and Eve, not with Abraham or Moses. After the Flood, humanity begins again with Noah and his children, only one of whom is the ancestor of Israel. Why? So that no one can claim purer blood than anyone else; so that all of us know that we all, without exception, are created in God’s image and act on that knowledge. God makes a covenant with all “children of Noah” 10 generations before the covenant with Abraham.
The Torah is clearly interested in both of the sons of Abraham and wants its readers to be concerned with them as well… Abraham then inscribes the mark of the covenant on himself and his firstborn son, Ishmael, who is thirteen at the time. Isaac is not yet born. The result of the story, and its variant in the Quran, is that Jews share the sign of the covenant from the very outset with another people, another faith.
Full Version Here.

The third time was at the CCJR conference, in which theologian Prof Terrence Tilley, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology, dealt with the contradiction between the recognition by the Catholic Church of Judaism as a revelation and their own sense of the specialness of the Church. He answer to the tension is not to solve it theologically but to dissolve it logically and practically.

Tilley cited the pluralism of Sacks in which the universalism of Adam plays itself out in particularity. Tilley said focus on the universalism since according to Sacks, after Babel we have no ability to evaluate others anymore. Even the [Adamite] Noahide laws can only be know in, and through, the particularity of other faiths. We have no God’s eye perspective to judge others in their particularity. Hence, if it is possible according to epistemological pluralists like Sacks that we have to work on the universal level and cannot enter truth claims, then the contradiction is not a contradiction.

Hilary Putnam has a similar reading of Sacks in an obscure volume. But Putnam frames it according his thinking that we have [universal] value without [particular] fact. Hilary Putnam, “Monotheism and Humanism.” Humanity before God, ed. William Schweiker, Michael A. Johnson, and Kevin Jung (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 19-30.

In these three cases, they all turned to Adam as a commonality. They seem less theological and more practical. When you have two groups that are in conflict, the practical first step is to seek a universal in order to create a safe space and establish at least some commonality. If human brotherhood seemed silly in the 1960’s – but it served us well. Can these simple statements serve us equally as well? Has there been so much demonizing with patronizing tolerance that we need a core sense of humanity?

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein holds a Q and A session in Teaneck

This past Shabbat, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein held a question and answer session in Teaneck. The questions were indicative of where the community is at right now, while the answers led the older members of the audience to sense their own mortality.

The four questions asked were:
1] After all the effort put into day school education, we are losing members of our community- some of them to the right but many more to the left by their not continuing on the path of modern Orthodoxy. What are your thoughts?
2] How should we relate to Homosexuality? Is it a choice or natural orientation? Do we accept them as synagogue members? Enroll their kids in day school? Welcome them into the community?
3] Could we hear your thoughts on women rabbis or women serving in a public position?
4] Why are there so few religious Zionist leaders who defend democracy today?

They offer a good sense of what is bothering the community right now.

Very Short versions of the answers are as follows:
1] Defection from the community- This is not a new phenomena. There were places in Europe where 80% of the youth stopped keeping Shabbat. [AB- There were places that had 95% defection.] It was tough in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was tough in the 1950’s. And even in the 1970’s Peter Berger would not have envisioned the rise of yeshivot and observance. Back in the 1950’s almost no one had a Sukkah, today everyone in Teaneck has a sukkah.
There is no need to question the money spent on day schools since that is our spiritual goal, our axiology, our formative activity. What else would we build and spend our money on?

2] He did not grasp the first part of the question at first. Rabbi Nati Helfgott, who drafted the Statement of Principle and was named one of the Forward’s 50 last week, was in the first row reformulated the question. The answer was formulated a tension between minimizing the issue by considering the person halakhic with an idiosyncrasy and on the other hand letting this aspect of their life override our ability to see their commitment to learning and a halakhic life. (Someone mentioned to me how 15 years ago even this position would have been rare in the community).

3] He did not want to use analogous thinking to other cases, if a woman cannot be A or B then she cannot be a rabbi. We have to appreciate everything she can do like teach and we have to appreciate the inherent virtue of being conservative in our judgment.

4] In 1952, in the first elections in Israel, the religious party went from those who God forefend davened in shorts to the Agudah and the gedolim supported it. More 1950’s stories.

Immediate reaction to those I spoke to: Oy we are getting old. I remember Rav Aharon when he gave me my bechinah in 1974. He was so strong and robust., now he is frail. And Oy, I use 1970’s stories with my college age kids the way Rav Aharon starts everything with a early 1950’s story.

Some (many?) were frustrated with the answers as not addressing the community. And happily, a HS senior reacted to the talk with “It was really good.” He gave subtle answers framing the issues in an intelligent way and showing how to think critically about the topic. He showed both sides on the issues. But for the passage of time, I think many of the old timer would have given the same answer, but they cannot go back again.
(If you were there and think I did not get the details correct, then email with corrections.)

Christian Rock and Kiruv

Even academics must eventually return books to the library. I have had out for several years the following title and the library wants it back.

Andrew Beaujon , Body piercing saved my life: inside the phenomenon of Christian rock Da Capo Press (2006)
As a rock critic his goal was to review Christian rock, but as a non-fiction author he sought to explain the paradox or tension between the amoral world of rock and the Christian version of it.

From The Blurb

A look at some of the colorful figures who have transformed the Christian rock scene into a flourishing industry. A non-Christian, but a devoted fan of music and a senior contributing writer for Spin..Never condescending to his subjects, the author appears to hold a genuine curiosity as to what makes Christian rockers tick, and they in turn welcome his deliberately naive inquiries, making for a refreshingly unbiased view of a subject that many jaded journalists would find easy to mock.

Everyone in the world of Christian rock is connected to anti-religious rock more than the average person, yet the believers see themselves as more pure than those Christians who are religious but listen to ordinary music. What does it mean to situate one’s religion in the raunchiest part of culture? He describes a culture that is indebted to MTV and the internet, cheers for red meat, and has pop culture references to Hooters, Paris Hilton and reality TV. Preachers learn their sermon timing from stand –up comediennes like Eddie Murphy. How is this Christian?

The parallel to the Christian rock youth movements are the kiruv organizations that based culturally on videos, songs, pop-culture- offer trips to Great Adventure- offer classes in drumming and karate- and offer much of the same raunchiness. Torah study and mizvot are not the focus, rather personal states like commitment, belief, and acceptance of Torah as a reedom from doubt.

Andrew Beaujon in his interview finds that the preachers of rock declare: “We preach in an un-Christian place,” America is a non-religious country. The youth care about culture, music, TV and “we need to be conversant.” He finds an implicit dualism –“the world” is part for one’s religious life and one need to put the world aside. The world is sin and temptation. Second, there is the dualism in each person. People have a sinful nature, so we have to wean them away from it.
How much of kiruv reconnection to Judaism is weaning them away from the evil outside world? And how much is a support group knowing that people sin and need to group support of a shabbaton not to sin? What is the anthropology of outreach?

In addition, is it related to the mainstream? To be technical for a moment, Durkheim distinguishes between group and grid organization. In group organization, the religious moment is the separation from the non-religious world-the impure. Group identity is formed by excluding things. Grid organization is the hierarchal arrangement based on knowledge and observance. The religious goals for a grid arrangement are the aspirations of making oneself a scholar or scrupulous within one’s community. If people are lax within a grid community, then one needs for them to re-ascend the grid through Torah study and scrupulousness. Blaming the outside world would not work for a slid down the grid. In contrast, youth movement kiruv is about group identify and conveying a sense of difference from the outside? For Durkheim, group activities like discussing pop-culture or enthusiasm does not and cannot lead to grid strictness in observance.

Beaujon points out that personal testimonies are the secret currency of evangelicalism” Should we use hip-hop? Answer — Can and did it save anyone? One can use anything no matter how raunchy if you think it will lead to commitment. What are the criteria for integrating pop-culture into Kiruv? How do we know hip-hop is good to use? It works.
Christian rock preaches not to curse, but Beaujon notes that some of the successful preachers curse for shock value. The preacher shows he is cool by doing it. It somehow teaches that even though one has rejected pop culture, yet one is still part of it. Needless to say, mainstream preachers neither have to tell their congregants not to swear like a rapper, nor would they even violate it to be cool. Christian Rock is a religiosity situated in the simultaneous acceptance and rejection of pop-culture.

Beaujon deal with the case of second generation Evangelical kids. They say they have been saved and gained much through Christian rock even though they were already raised in a religious home and have done little tangible in the year to repent or change their ways. They don’t have more of any criteria of observance or attendance. Beaujon claims that since the second generation does not really want more demands for alteration of behavior, therefore those raised in religious homes have anger and resentment because they cannot get the euphoria and freedom from doubt. (They are lots of Jewish parallels here).

In the world of Christian rock, they preach abstinence by talking about sex often and decrying the immoral sex on TV. (Compare the endless Jewish sessions on negiah.) When it comes to statistics, those attracted to Evangelical chastity have the highest unwed mother rate (think Bristol Palin). The lowest rate are those studious types who prefer science fairs and are working to get into competitive programs. (On the Jewish side, getting someone turned onto serious learning (or math team) changes his life more than decrying secular values.)

Beaujon compares Christian Rock to jam bands. The attraction is not the artistry but the ability to tap into a sense of freedom and adventure. They have a sense of swagger, the fun of winging it, heartfelt muddled beliefs and the promise of self-guided education. Beaujon thinks that Americans try on identities and they need maps to navigate the muddledness of life. Christain music offers a chance to try on identities and boundaries.

Bono who is always speaking about his Christian faith is not the model. Beaujon points out, U2 are banned because of their “doubting” lyrics – and Bono’s criticism of grasping American tele-evangelists. Though they will play cover versions of their songs.

The mainstream Evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a review of the book in which the author wanted not to like Christian rock since it does not adhere to the mainstream straight world of the heartland church. They don’t want believers with spike wristbands. The magazine questions the very religiosity of the bands and these preachers. If you spend all your time in the music world, then you may be more non-Christian than you think. (Think of what a mainstream rabbi would say about a kiruv jam band.)

Show me an evangelical between the ages of 15 and 50, and I’ll show you an evangelical who can tell this story (or something much like it): I used to listen to secular music, then I discarded it all and listened only to Christian music. Then I realized I didn’t like much Christian music, so I slowly started listening to secular music again
It doesn’t take Beaujon long to note Christian rock’s tortured existence. Not only does the audience choose it as an oft-reluctant alternative to mainstream music, but many Christian musicians are themselves forever sorting out their own relationship to the non-Christian artists they esteem, the non-Christian listeners they covet, and the non-Christian labels with whom they’d like to sign.
At the Pedro show at Cornerstone, the central question—for Beaujon and the thousands of packed-in teenagers, if not for Bazan—is whether Bazan will flaunt the festival’s unwritten ban against curse words and include his lyrical f-bombs. He does, the audience squeals, and Beaujon marvels at how evangelical kids can love someone who has rejected their culture:
Which raises a question, one that Beaujon’s project and the entire Christian music industry begs: What makes music Christian? Is it the mission statement of the labels? The theological content of the lyrics? The faith of the musicians or producers? The faith of the listeners? The profit margins devoted to the poor? Surely none of the above, for all exist on a sliding scale….
Well—here’s a fool’s axiom: Both inside the parallel universe of Christian music and in every other universe, the only one who can make music Christian is Christ

Substitute the word Torah in the last sentence. Mission, outreach, faith, dedication, commitment are all second to Torah.

The book also opens up the question of the quality of religious culture. We tend not to have a frame of reference for judging religious art or thought. We accept kitch and don’t compare them to the broader world. In this Beaujon is indebted to the 1981 classic by Franky Schaffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Art. In this work, Schaffer asked: we don’t hire builders, accountants, or doctors just because they are Christian, so why do we do this in art and thought? (No shortage of Jewish parallels.)

My interest here is how culture and relgion interact, specifically the rle of pop culture in Judaism. I am not overly interested in discussing kiruv.

Attn Wingnuts: This is not an attack on Kiruv. And there are many different organizations and changes over time, therefore I dont need your story globalized. I did not give Jewish specifics because my emphasis was on Beaujon.

Avi Sagi, Casualties of Worship—Reshit II

The prolific author Avi Sagi has an article on prayer. Sagi’s prior work was to create a pluralistic traditionalism of an open canon, non-metaphysical positions based on Wittgenstein, Leibowitz and Goldman, and more recently to propose a Gadamer reading of the tradition. For our prior discussions on Sagi, see here and here.
In the last issue of Reshit, Avi Sagi has a long article “Casualties of Worship: Tefilah after the death of God- a Phenomenological Inquiry into Hebrew Literature.” The article is selected pages from a forthcoming book on the topic. Html- here and pdf – here

Sagi wants to return us to prayer in our post-secular age through a sensitive reading of Israeli poetry- connecting the themes of secular Israeli poets to those of Rav Nahman and Rav Kook. The overall effect is his advocating prayer as a personal act in which people express existential themes. Even though he is footnoted only once, the project seems to continue the work of Eliezer Schweid in seeking to create an Israeli Jewish culture.

Sagi argues that prayer after the death of God and expressing one’s disbelief is still in front of God; it is still a religious act. It is not atheist or theist, rather a presence and then absence. Sagi rejects those who seek dialogue and connection with God. Buber wanted I-Thou presence as did William James and A J Heschel. Sagi claims that these experiential approaches have no real transcendental available. Prayer in Sagi’s reading is about the self. It is about the human subject. Sagi offers us the Kierkegaard’s struggle, Camus acceptance of fate, and Feuerbach’s prayer as the alter ego of the person.

From this modernist idealistic and existential base, Sagi analyzes a broad spectrum of Israeli writers most of whom were formed in the early part of the twentieth century including Yizhak Lamdan, Abba Kovnor, Uri Zvi Greenberg, Sim Shalom, Brenner, and Amir Gilboa. This book will offer the Israeli high school teacher a way of re-tooling for an era when there is less of a religious –secular divide. Everyone is now existential religious. The early poems of Amichai are not read as sardonic or cynical, rather as noble and religious. Amir Gilboa whom once upon a time was considered by critics as too exilic, too Jewish, and too metaphysical, and not secular, rebellious, or expressive enough—is used by Sagi to transition into the very human prayers of Rav Nachman and Rav Kook. Gilboa is associated with the secular in order to show how close they are to the religious.

Israeli poems of recent vintage are not discussed, even though they would lead to a different direction, for example there is no discussion of the generation of Binyamin Shevili, Ella Bat Zion, or Rifka Miriam. This work rests in classic modernism. The work is also entirely a cognitive discussion, more would have been gained by looking at how contemporary religious poets look at the issues, for example through the important journal IMAGE:Art, Faith and Mystery.

In the 19th century, Prayer even without God changes a person declared Kierkegaard, prayer as a projection of the ego is the essence of religion decided Feuerbach. Sagi returns to find the pieces of modern Jewish thought on prayer that speak to this approach, such as Franz Rosenzweig’s – expressive and emotive prayer and Wiesel’s prayer at God instead of to God. Sagi manages to even glide Rav Nachman into considering prayer as the modernist action since “ Every blame of grass has a prayer”- so it is not expressive or faith but an action. Sagi finds that the common principle to modern prayer as self-expression and traditional prayer is their depth structure. He proves this by quoting rabbi S R Hirsch that the essence of prayer is self-judgment. So we prove tradition and modernity coincide by showing that a cultured 19th century Wiemar romantic rabbi just so happens to sound like early 20th century Hebrew poets.

Religious moderns used to ask about the efficacy of prayer, and they used to answer using shards of Albo that prayer is a self-fulfilling statement, personal transformation, and acceptance that God’s will be done. This is true whether they framed prayer as a gift from God or as a human obligation. Philosophy of relgion deal with the coherence of prayer in the modern age but for Sagi the real question is what model of prayer?

In conclusion, Sagi offers us an alternate model that “Prayer is not the inheritance of religion, on the contrary the religious ritual of prayer …is one of the expressions of human existence. We now have a modernist prayer without belief. Prayer is about fate, existence, and the questions of life. God’s death is a moment in our demythologized human narrative. Sagi has officially crossed the line into liberal theology reminiscent of Bultmann.

From my American perch, Sagi is attempting to create a minimal deity far from the theism that people cannot believe anymore, akin to discussions of prayer in Arthur Green and Elie Wiesel. Sagi can also be compared to the discussion in Adam Kirsch’s review Unorthodox Theology about “an anthology of liberal Jewish thought evinces a deep unease with traditional conceptions of God.” Kirsch continues his summary: “God, in these pages, is not a being to be described but a process to be experienced. As Kalmanofsky puts it, “Theology is discourse about God. Religion is the human, social response to transcendence; systems of ideas, tales, and behaviors that help us keep faith with our deepest spiritual experiences.”

The weak part of the presentation is that Sagi still does not understand the turn away from self in a post-Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida world. Yet, he wants to be part of this post-modern discourse. Sagi wants desperately to offer a phenomenology based on Jean Luc Marion in which Sagi’s modernist prayer of self-expression and in which God does not appear is equated with the God beyond self, a Given, in the Marion sense. However, the given for Marion “is famous for the idea of what he calls the “saturated phenomenon,” which is inspired by his study of Christian Neoplatonic mystical theologians….[The idea that] there are phenomena of such overwhelming givenness or overflowing fulfillment that the intentional acts aimed at these phenomena are overrun, flooded—or saturated.” Sagi’s phenomena of prayer never overcomes the self or has a givenness of God that overruns our theological categories. Sagi should listen to Caputo’s classes or read Richard Kierney, in which God returns after God- a disorientation that we learn to welcome.

Depending how the book is edited, it may become a classic for Israeli high schools and an entrance for Americans into Hebrew poetry as a religious quest. The approach will definitely not excite the new generation of spirituality, meditation, and new age. It probably has drifted too far afield for use in the religious community. But it is still nice to have a humanistic approach to Jewish prayer, that should find many an eager reader. If there is time to still work on the manuscript, I would suggest a greater emphasis on questions than answers and a coda of some of the recent thinking about poetry and religion found in the journal IMAGE.

Garcia Lorca once said, ‘we need four white walls and a silence where the poet’s voice can weep and sing.’ One enters that space with the hope that, through the making of language, the making of poems—poesis, after all, means making—one will be taken away, one will go where one hasn’t been before. We hope to be possessed.”

More recently, writing in Image #49, Robert Cording sounds a similar note. “Both poetry and prayer acknowledge the limits of the ego. In this sense, their origins are rooted in invocation—a calling out to that which cannot be seen or logically understood and which ultimately cannot be put into language.

OK- go read the review and come back to discuss.

AMERICAN GRACE- Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell

There is a new book by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell called AMERICAN GRACE: How Religion Divides and Unites Us 673 pp. Simon & Schuster. $30. The book is not earth shattering but it will be standard work that needs to be footnoted and it will be the accepted starting point for discussions.

Putnam whose prior work Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community – showed the breakdown of social networks in the United States. We don’t have bowling leagues, Moose lodges, synagogue men’s clubs, or continuous community activities compared to prior decades. (Anyone dealing with the rise of the new online social networks would need to use this as a base.)

In this new book, Putnam together with Campbell argue that we went from the loss of the religion in the 1960’s, the return in the 1980’s, and then the reaction against the repressiveness in the late 1990’s by people claiming to be atheist or post-evangelical. None of this is new to readers of this blog.

Second, They show that increase in social contact with any group leads to an acceptance into one’s social network. Evangelicals, Catholics, and Jews each now accept each other and assume the others are all going to heaven.

Along the way they gather much of the tidbits about religious life in the US we know from the various surveys. Jews are the most accepted of any group and that most people are both somewhat feminist and religious. (The ADL fleeced American Jewry out of 54 million last year by arguing for the virulent Antisemitism everywhere..) I have included various citations from the NYT review and the review by Peter Steinfels.

There are may other reviews out there but I have also included an interview with Putnam by Albert Mohler the conservative Baptist. It is interesting to show how a conservative Evangelical deals with social science data, especially the fact that his own positions have driven people away. This is interesting because Centrist orthodoxy does not usually allow social data to interfere with ideology.

America has experienced three seismic shocks, say Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In the 1960s religious observance plummeted. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s a conservative reaction produced the rise of evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Since the 1990s, however, young people, turned off by that linkage between faith and conservative politics, have abandoned organized religion entirely. The result: growing polarization.

That reaction to “the long Sixties” has been extensively analyzed. Less so the second great aftershock, the rise of the “nones” after 1990 when young people, in particular, began rejecting identification with any religion, though not necessarily with a variety of religious beliefs and practices. More and more young Americans, according to polls, came to view religion as “judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political,” overly focused on rules rather than spirituality.

“The Richter rating of this second aftershock is greater than that of the first aftershock and rivals that of the powerful original quake of the Sixties,” Putnam and Campbell write.
Putnam and Campbell write, “By the 2000s, how religious a person is had become more important as a political dividing line than which denomination he or she belonged to.”

Here the authors explain the observation they started the book with: America’s religious diversity hasn’t generally involved much intolerance. Indeed, believers seem willing to bend basic doctrines in the name of interfaith amity. Most Christians, even most evangelical Christians, ¬believe that non-Christians can go to heaven, notwithstanding the New Testament’s repeated assertions that Christ is the only path to the Kingdom of God.

The authors’ explanation for this bigheartedness is common-sensical: “Most Americans are intimately acquainted with people of other faiths.” Americans have, on average, at least two friends who don’t share their faith, and at least one ¬extended-family member who fits that description. And who wants to tell friends or relatives that they’re going to hell — or even believe that a friend or relative is going to hell? More broadly: getting to know an adherent of an otherwise alien faith tends to humanize the aliens.

They conducted surveys with the same large pool of people in consecutive years and tracked changes in both social milieus and attitudes. They conclude, for instance, that gaining an evangelical friend leads to a warmer assessment of evangelicals — by seven degrees on a “feeling thermometer,” to be exact — and gaining a non¬religious friend brings four degrees of added warmth toward the nonreligious.

“Most Americans today are religious feminists.”
Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today.

A whopping 89 percent of Americans believe that heaven is not reserved for those who share their religious faith.

Americans are reluctant to claim that they have a monopoly on truth.”

The discussion between Putnam and Mohler is useful for Orthodoxy. If we apply Putnam’s conclusions to orthodox Judaism then the new skeptics, the post-orthodox, and the fault lines in the community are all due to strong political rabbinical control in which rabbis over extending their bounds by banning Slifkin or Avi Weiss. The turn to right wing politics in both American and Israeli politics was not good for keeping people. Putnam argues that this has not been a secularization trend but a break from the conjunction of religion and politics. The young still like relgion just not the political form in which it was presented. Putnam has the data that this change away from the institutional structures will be as great as the 1960’s losses. (I have been working that assumption with that since this blog started but now I have a footnote.)

Putnam thinks that a successful religious leader is likely to arise who could combine a liberal framework with Evangelical relgion- getting the best of both worlds. Think of combining the Torah and spirituality of Orthodoxy with an open political- social base. The conservative Evangelical Mohler acknowledges that there is wisdom in sociology but then clergy need to learn what to do with the data. Evangelicals should not jump to become judgmental before they have the understanding of what is actually going on in the field.

Mohler askes: if this is true, then what does the future of mission look like? Mohler then hems and haws about what to do with this and states that he is based on the text of the bible and must separate the true message from what may have not been expedient. But he cannot go much further than this.

Putnam: Well you know it’s interesting, if you just read the raw data you have to say we’re in a period, and have been for the last twenty years, of a sharply increasing secularization mostly because the younger generation, unlike previous younger generations, have just stepped sharply away from organized religion. And many people, especially many people on the secular side think of this as finally America’s becoming a secular nation. I actually don’t think that’s quite right.

Many of these young people in their private beliefs have quite conventional religious beliefs. I think they’ve been very turned off, as I said, by the conjunction of politics and religion.. they’ve essentially said well if that’s all religion is about is just about republican and conservative politics that’s not me, I’m out of here.

And if you ask me, I bet you quite a bit that over the next ten, fifteen, twenty years, some successful religious entrepreneurs, people who want to save a lot more souls will be looking at that pool saying, I think I know the kind of religion that would be attractive to them. It would be, it might very well have a lot of the accouterments and liturgy and so on of evangelical religion.

Mohler: One of the most important acts of intellectual stewardship is to learn how to read a book. And as I often say to my students we need to read a book for all it’s worth. And that means putting into context, understanding it’s purpose, being able to judge its credibility, and then considering what kind of intellectual impact it should have on our lives and our thinking…Now we’re going to be looking at this and inevitably evangelical Christians are going to be reading it with a lens, a focus, that is intensely and unapologetically theological, that’s really important, that’s where we have to begin, and that’s where we have to end. But we need to read a work of sociology as a work of sociology. So phenomenology attempts not to make a value judgment of whether people are right or wrong, but simply to come to an accurate understanding of what they believe and why it matters.

I think the genius of this work and where evangelicals are going to find an awful lot of fodder for thought is in the second aftershock

But what Putnam and Campbell come back to demonstrate is that there was another aftershock that began in the 1990’s a response not to the sixties but to that second aftershock. These were folks who said we don’t like the way that conservative Christians would take this country. And indeed, we don’t like what we hear. And he points out some things that evangelicals really need to pay attention to. For instance, he suggests that the growth in evangelical momentum ended in the 1990’s and thus for a period that could be as long as twenty years, we have been in an era of evangelical retreat.

How do we communicate our message? How do we tell people the truth in a way that is hearable and in way that is understandable? Did you notice when he talks about the religious predictor factor of voting.

He said something that I never heard said by a scholar in this field of inquiry before. He said that they determined that when an individual had an incommensurate set of positions with religious beliefs on one hand and political convictions on the other, it was not the case that the religious convictions would drive a change in the political positions. Instead it turns out that the political positions drive a change in the theological worldview. Now for evangelical Christians that comes as an explosive bomb. This is something that needs to get our attention immediately.

A theological lens, we have to look at it with a missiological lens. We have to look at it first of all as Christians and come to understand that when we look at this kind of data it’s telling us what is, not what ought to be. We gain out understanding of what ought to be and what ought to be believed first and foremost from the bible. We’re a people of the book, and so if we’re looking for what to believe we don’t look to this data we indeed look to the word of God. We also look at it with a theological worldview that given our last conversation of the issue about whether it’s the political position that draws the theological conviction or vice versa , we’re the people who know it better be the theological and biblical conviction that drives all the rest.


Ulrich Beck Part II- “A God of one’s Own” –Politics

Continued from Part I- here.

Beck notes that in the era of cosmopolitanism – liberal tolerance that keeps religion out is not the model anymore. Religion is back, but we want it to be moderate enough not to hurt anyone. Beck notes that many in each faith have to learn to civilize themselves, abjure violence, and commit to mutual tolerance.

Beck notes how the Pope functions as an NGO and that the pope was able to criticize Bush in the name of religion for supporting war and sweatshops. Rabbi Sacks is serving some of the same function on a smaller scale.

Beck offers five models for a more civilized religion. He seems to appreciate all of them and encourages all of them.

1. The first is based on Thoreau, an acceptance of religious civil disobedience. Social action disagreements as positive because the disagreements overcome depersonalization and denationalization.

2. His second is the market model, we need to get along to make money.

3. Third is Hans Kung’s idea world ethos- we all accept of the Golden Rule and each religion should stress the Golden rule within their relgion.

4. Fourth, is Gandhi’s religious cosmopolitanism- a combination of syncretism and universal rights and universal reason over ethnicity.

5. Finally, Jurgen Habermas has argued to let each religion argue in the public sphere based on public discourse. It creates a religiously neutral state in which no religion is enfranchised.

I would add to this that Zygmunt Bauman thinks in an era of “willful ignorance” we need at least a minimum of Levinas’ concern with the other. We turn our faces from atrocities around the globe or that our products are made in sweatshops. Tzvetan Todorov thinks we need to stress a positive humanism toward others, knowing full well the fragility of it all. And interfaith encounters are on the upswing around the world as a means of moderation and civilization since much of the intolerance is religious based.

One of Beck’s new points is his observation of the rise of reflexive fundamentalism. In the new cosmopolitan age, fundamentalisms clash in violent ways different than the traditional versions. What are the characteristics of the new reflexiveness.

1. There is a rediscovery of unquestioning acceptance of relgion. The more religion the less self-reflexive questioning in the classroom. For Beck it functions like a strong brand allegiance.

2. There is a totalitarian immediacy of God. Believers offer submission to whatever variant is popular in order to gain a direct line. They replace objective world with the subjective world, and use the language of scientific rationality for religious certainty.

3. There is demonization of believers in other faiths

4. Finally, globalization allows a transnational network and operation

To Beck, I would add Arjun Appadurai’s observations that now we can be tolerate where we live and project out intolerance on a homeland that we visit regularly. His example is Hindu’s who are tolerant in the US and project intolerance onto Kashmir. Appadurai also notes our ability to have small televised flashpoints like Kashmir or Hebron that allow an unnatural focus. He also notes the breakdown of nationalism has lead to a fear of minorities, in which he observes that the “Fear of small numbers” causes a demonization.

Beck wishes us to replace truth with peace. (190-194)
1. Modernity advocated toleration of religion of those I disagree with. They are wrong but I tolerate them. For Beck, this requires a state to enforce it. It needs governmental programs.

2. Another option is to return to the double religion of masses and elite. The elite are taught a universalism- like in the older days- and the masses are left alone. Think Plato, Averroes, or Vivekananda.

3. We should return to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing parable of the ring from Nathan the Wise. We avoid all discussion of absolute truth in the name of peace. We live as if there is no true ring.

4. We should accept God as mediator. To think that God is greater than any one religion, so we cannot totalize our religion. (Rabbi Sacks has this one) Create universalist interfaith leaders.

5. Advocate grassroots co-operation as a form of religious secularism. Encourage people to separate out good works and making the world a better place from dogma. Get people to help one another on economics or climate despite the religious differences.

There will not be a return to people living secular lives in the public sphere.

EJ in his comment on the first post already perceptively noted how hard this will be for Haredim. He also noted the potential reframing for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.