Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ungodly Words: Toward a Political Philosophy of Heresy (Part III)

(Part I, II)

At the same time that I am marching into Jewish homes confiscating all Uncle Moishy tapes for their Pantheist heresies, I could also be going around putting a Hechser (kosher symbol) on all sorts of "dangerous" texts. In dealing with the Gospels one could argue make a plausible argument that the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke and possibly even John did not believe that Jesus was part of a divine Trinity but simply believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the physical embodiment of the Law. This in fact was the view of the great medieval Jewish apologist Profiat Duran. Duran in fact goes so far as to call Jesus a "pious fool." Duran believed that the early Christians were good pious Jews, who were mistaken in certain matters. (See "Toward Formulating a Jewish View of Jesus.") Imagine for a second that Christianity had remained and died as an obscure first century Jewish sect leaving nothing behind for us except the Gospels. Would we view them as "the New Testament?" More likely we would see them as the harmless writings of a group of Jews who lived a long time ago, who were followers of a Messiah who did not pan out, and got themselves into some heated verbal exchanges with the more mainstream rabbinate just like the Dead Sea Sect. In this scenario if Zayd were to be caught with a copy of the New Testament, cross on the cover and all, underneath his shtender (reading lectern) it is highly unlikely that he would be thrown out of Shul (synagogue) or that anyone would bother to even confiscate the book. If we view heresy strictly in terms of what is the most plausible interpretation of the text then we have license to ignore, in making our judgments, any considerations of the historical trappings that can come in a text's wake. In looking at the Gospels, the Council of Nicea, Christianity, and the past two-thousand years of anti-Semitism in the Western world would become irrelevant.

The Authorship Model would have us admit that we cannot reach any conclusions as to the heretical nature of a text simply from the text itself but that we must rather decide as to heretical nature of a text based on what the author intended his text to mean. If this is the case then the imperative question that one has to ask about any text is did the author intend by the text to make claims that are in contradiction to set Jewish dogmas. This would get us out of the Uncle Moishy problem because it would allow Suki and Ding, assuming we decided to believe their public statements, to declare that they do not have any Pantheist messages in their songs and that all they meant to say was that God's authority and awareness extends to all places.

The first issue in regards to the Authorship Model is that like the Interpretive Model it turns away from the issue of how a text has fared in the real world. In fact the Authorship Model would stick us into the mire even deeper because not only would it allow us to not take the issue into account, it would expressly forbid us from even considering it.

The second issue in regards to the Authorship Model is that one has to ask whether we are declaring any text written by a heretical author to be heretical or whether we are simply declaring only the texts of heretical authors that, in themselves, make heretical assumptions. Either way is problematic. If we are to say the former then we would have to conclude that any text that was written by someone who was not either an Orthodox Jew is heretical. This would mean that over 99.9% of all books in the world are heretical, including books on such subjects as mathematics, music, cooking and sewing. This I guess would make some in Haredi circles happy, except that this does not end there. We would have to continue and apply the same rules to the spoken word since direct speech is potentially at least as dangerous as the written text. This would mean that no Jewish school would be able to hire a teacher who was not an Orthodox Jew to teach anything, not even that the sky is blue, since that statement is part of a larger "body" of work that is heretical. To take the matter even further if your gentile neighbor tried to wish you "good morning" you would have to cover your ears and run away lest you be exposed to heresy. If we are to allow texts and statements of heretical authors to be read as long as the texts themselves do not contain heresy we would simply run into other problems. What is heretical about John 3:16? The text 'G-d,' 'so,' 'loved,' 'the,' 'world,' or 'Son.' We cannot possibly declare that the author meant to make heretical statements with individual words, but at what point are texts large enough that we can say that the author meant it something heretical by it; does a text have to be a complete sentence, paragraph or an entire book in order for it to be heretical? Where does one place the location of the author's heretical intentions?

The third issue that I would raise is the case where the author intended the text to mean something heretical but either was not trying to convince the reader to accept the heretical assumptions of the text or was even trying to refute the heretical assumptions of the text. Take Kierkegaard's Either/Or in which Kierkegaard wrote in the character of 'A' who is an aesthete. Now many of the aesthete's statements are intended to go against conventional dogmas but it was not Kierkegaard's intention to try to convince people to follow the aesthete's worldview; are we to say that Either/Or is still heretical? How for that matter are we to deal with a volume of Jewish anti-missionary literature? Are we to say that, because they quote texts that contradict set dogmas, they are heretical?

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