March 29, 2009


The gods are stupid (Spengler, 3/31/09, Asia Times)

A man came to the caliph claiming to be a prophet, goes a 9th-century joke. "By Allah, you are a stupid prophet!" exclaimed the caliph. "That," the prophet replied, "is why I was sent to people like you." That God might send a stupid prophet to a stupid people is one thing. But what if the prophet were sent by a stupid god? Stupid is, as Forrest Gump said, as stupid does, and what I mean specifically by stupid is not getting the joke.

To avoid confusion, I want to make clear that I do not believe in stupid gods, but only in the one and unique God of the Bible. [...]

We go looking for love in all the wrong places because it is terrifying to love the God of the Bible. Simply to evoke this fear is to put the fear God into us, as it were, and I found cold shivers shooting down my spine while reading the new English translation of a 20th-century classic of Hebrew literature, From There You Shall Seek, by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (Ktav Publishing: New York 2008).

Divine love, we flatter ourselves, is a comforting thing, a warm emanation of a beneficent presence in the universe. The Bible's lovely pastoral, the Song of Songs, teaches us divine love by a sort of analogia amoris, an analogy between the love between God and his congregation and the love of bridegroom and bride. That this love is interlaced with fear and withdrawal is the central theme of Soloveitchik's book. It is far beyond my competence to review it, although I recommend it - with trepidation. It is not hard to grasp even from a layman's reading why its author dominated the Modern Orthodox branch of Judaism for decades as the Rav of Yeshiva University in New York.

All of us in some sense are unhappy lovers, even God's congregation in pursuit of its union with God as in the Song of Songs, Soloveitchik argues.

The Song of Songs is not only an idyll but also a complaint, Soloveitchik observes. The bride and bridegroom cannot be united. Despite their love which is as strong as death, they hesitate or hide from each other at the crucial moment. A few excerpts from Rabbi Soloveitchik's summary:

"You are beautiful, my beloved, your eyes are doves," he sings (Song of Songs 1:15), hidden among the ancient, glorious hills. He sees her, but cannot be seen. He is very, very close to her, but also immeasurably distant ... their love cannot be realized, their yearning cannot be fulfilled completely. But why? Why must he flee from her at the moment that she pursues him? Why does he not look and see that she is made with longing and yearning? ...

"Where has my beloved gone?" Her entire self pleads, "If you meet my beloved, tell him this: that I am faint with love” (Song 5:8). She sobs in her agony, loneliness and suffering. Suddenly her lover appears from the obscurity of the dark night, knocking on his dear one's door ... Nevertheless the beloved refuses to rise from her bed and open the door to her lover (Song 5:3) ... Yet, after a moment the beloved leaps off her bed, her hands dripping myrrh on the handles of the bolt. She opens her abode to her lover .... The door opens - but the lover is not there. "I rose to let in my beloved .... But my beloved had turned and gone! (Song 5:5-6).

Soloveitchik's commentary on the Song of Songs helps explain why Jewish literature has no interest in romance in the usual sense of the word. One will ransack Jewish fiction without finding an Isolde, a Juliet, an Anna Karenina or an Emma Bovary. The canonical Jewish joke on the subject concerns an elderly Jewish couple. "Let's to go the theater!" says Sadie. "I don't want to go to the theater," counters Abe. "It's boring."

"What do you mean, 'It's boring'?" Sadie protests. "Theaters are for entertainment. Entertainment is the opposite of boring. If it was boring, why would they have theaters?"

"I don't care," Abe replies. "It's boring."

"Why is it boring?"

Abe sighs and explains: "When he wants, she doesn't want. When she wants, he doesn't want. And when they both want, it's over."

Like most Jewish jokes, this one works on several levels, but the truly esoteric level might be this: the cosmic drama of divine love is infinitely more absorbing than any earthly affair. The ruddy lad and the Shulamite maiden search for each other, leaping across hills like a hart, and wandering the streets of Jerusalem at night, but shun the moment of consummation. When he wants, she doesn't want; when she wants, he doesn't want.

In the Christian reading of the Song of Songs, eg, in the sermons of St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the lover hides behind the lattice to gaze at the beloved because love remains trapped in the body. The lattice, explains St Bernard, represents corrupt and sinful flesh, in which love may dwell imperfectly. Only when the soul sheds the body can it find true union with God. Rabbi Soloveitchik's account, which draws on Jewish traditional sources, offers less comfort: union with God would annihilate the soul, which draws back from the divine presence, whereas as God himself must withdraw from the world in order to allow creation to exist.

There is a reason that there are stupid gods who send stupid prophets to people like us. We flatter ourselves with the stupid gods of our own creation, because such gods are far more manageable than the terrifying, all-consuming love of the God of Creation.

One of the delicious ironies of the Richard Dawkins' sort of atheism--which claims that Christianity just a pleasant sporific for the weak-minded -- is that its proponents hide from God in terror.

Pope Benedict XVI and the Jews (David Rosen, 3/29/09, THE JERUSALEM POST)

In December 2000 in an article entitled 'The Heritage of Abraham: The Gift of Christmas" published in L'Osservatore Romano, he wrote: "Abraham, father of the people of Israel, father of faith, has become the source of blessing, for in him 'all the families of the earth shall call themselves blessed.' The task of the Chosen People is therefore to make a gift of their God - the one true God - to every other people. In reality, as Christians we are the inheritors of their faith in the one God. Our gratitude therefore must be extended to our Jewish brothers and sisters who, despite the hardships of their own history, have held on to faith in this God right up to the present and who witness to it..."

In this same article, the then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the question of anti-Semitism and the degree to which Christianity has been associated with it. He stated: "Down through the history of Christianity, already strained relations deteriorated further, even giving birth in many cases to anti-Jewish attitudes which throughout history have led to deplorable acts of violence. Even if the most recent loathsome experience of the Shoah was perpetuated in the name of an anti-Christian ideology which tried to strike the Christian faith at its Abrahamic roots in the people of Israel, it cannot be denied that a certain insufficient resistance to this atrocity on the part of Christians can be explained by an inherited anti-Judaism present in the hearts of not a few Christians."

THIS CONDEMNATION of anti-Semitism includes a description of Nazism that not everyone would share. The pope repeated this idea when he visited the site of the extermination camps in Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 2006.

In describing the intentions of Nazism, he declared: "Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down the principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid. If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to the men who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world. By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear out the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention..."

While many would argue with Pope Benedict XVI's analysis, there surely can be no more powerful an argument for Christians to avoid all anti-Semitic prejudice than the one he provides in these statements.

It is significant to condemn anti-Semitism as evil and it is remarkable to condemn it as "a sin against God and man" as did Pope John Paul II (words that have been reiterated by Pope Benedict XVI himself). However to describe anti-Semitism as an assault against the very roots of Christianity means that for a Christian to harbor such sentiment is to attack and betray his or her own faith - a message of enormous pedagogical importance in the struggle against hatred directed toward Jews and Judaism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at March 29, 2009 11:54 PM
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