Saturday, February 26, 2005

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him

I get my weekly Torah letters on Monday, I try to hold off reading them until Shabbat (this has become my way of keeping Sabbath as of late). We're on Exodus 30:11-34:35; the 10 commandments, the Golden Calf.

Whenever I describe my religion and why it resonates with me, the first thing that comes to mind are the words of my childhood Rabbi telling me that Judaism is a "living religion". Being that my rebbe was a major-league frum Yid whose family had a personal relationship with Schneerson, his statement seemed quite revolutionary to me at the time. After reading Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger's commentary to this week's parsha, the Idol of Complacency, I realize my rebbe's words were anything but revolutionary - unless you consider the truth to be so.

We, as humans, understand things in our own terms. We try to nail them down to little tidbits as we comprehend them and, frequently, end up judging and labeling based on our understanding - our interpretation. This harkens back to the argument about the inerrancy of the Bible. I hear "Scripture said this" and "there is no room for interpretation of Scripture; The Bible is complete and every word is the literal truth" and yet we somehow not only have three Abrahamic religions (and multiple denominations of those religions) that disagree about certain things based on the same words.

Why is it that G-d does not want humans to make any graven images or molten statues of himself? Could it be, as Rabbi Loevinger asserts, that He doesn't want us to make a "fixed" image of Him? We fix an image of who or what someone is based on our own notion of who/what they are. That image may or may not be accurate, it may or may not be complete and/or it may or may not be outdated. Regardless, we have that image, and it is most often immutable much to their (and our) detriment. Just as we frequently fail to see the person before us due to our image of them (or even of ourselves, when we are not quite the being captured in our own self-image), we frequently fail to see all that G-d is.

When we limit G-d we limit his words which, in turn, decreases the boundaries of our minds and sets our hearts. In doing so, we allow ourselves to stand in His stead, to cast judgment in His name and to accuse those doing what they think is humane of quite the opposite. We do this because we have set our understanding into stone, not due to the words he cast there.


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Public Theologian said...

I come from a line of Christians for whom inerrancy became in the last 125 years the core principle. In our church or school faith statements, the inerrancy of the Bible was listed even before belief in G-d or Christ or the Spirit. Ultimately it is less a belief than a reaction to modernity. My ancestors were good people of faith who felt their cherished beliefs were being ridiculed by biblical scholars at European and Ivy League schools. Inerrancy was their way of fighting back against this. I don't agree with it, but I do understand it.

Ol Cranky said...

It's ashame that people feel the need to hunker down and get a bunker mentality when faced with what they consider challenges to their beliefs (probably more so when the challenge comes from overbearing academics).

To a certain extent, I understand why people hold onto the beliefs from scripture and live according to them; it's much akin to living in accordance to halacha (I understand the separation of meat and dairy; but got hung up on the fact you separate poultry and dairy but can dip chicken in egg to bread and make fried chicken - my rabbi finally admitted the poultry/dairy separation was actually tradition, not required). My concern is when they (anyone) holds that everyone must accept these beliefs and live by them, which turns my respect for deep held faith to resentment. Of course, I might have had a completely different take on this were I not a member of a minority religion.

It is possible that the original writings that comprise the Bible may well have been dictated by G-d - I'll grant people that. I just get fixated on the fact that much of it (if not all) was passed down orally and then, eventually, translated. In all fairness, I also cannot get passed Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt (this drives the Lubavitcher's as batty as it did the YoungLife & Campus Crusade crowd) and that G-d sometimes comes off like a petulant little . . .

It might be an interesting post on you blog (if it's not too personal and/or hasn't been done yet) for you to address how you came to change your views and handled what must have been a less than enthusiastic response from your family.