Thursday, July 29, 2010
Ungodly Words: Toward a Political Philosophy of Heresy (Part V)
(Part I, II, III, IV)
The Community Model leads to a number of interesting possibilities as to how heresy functions on a day-to-day basis. For instance, since the Community Model does not require a text to objectively be in contradiction of a statement of dogma, it would be feasible to claim that something could be completely true and at the same time be completely heretical without in any way denying the legitimacy of a statement of dogma. Take the issue of evolution for example. As most of my readers would surely agree it is theoretically possible to reconcile the claims of evolution with the opening chapters of Genesis, but one, with some legitimacy, could argue that even though the theory of evolution may not really contradict the Bible and may even be true; still the Jewish community cannot afford to ever officially admit that possibility. The problem for the Jewish community in doing so is that we would be admitting that the biblical text can and should be reinterpreted in light of the findings of modern science. This fact, while arguably true, opens up a Pandora's Box. What is to happen when Zayd wakes up tomorrow and decides that he is a "homosexual?" He will come to the conclusion that since science has shown that the creation story does not really mean what he was taught it meant in heder (religious primary school), maybe those verses in Leviticus do not actually mean what he was always taught they meant, now that modern psychiatry has "demonstrated" that homosexuality is not an illness, but a "perfectly normal" style of behavior. (Note that the concepts of mental "illness" and "normal" behavior are value judgments and thus outside of any empirical proof or demonstration.) In light of this "scientific" discovery Zayd could claim that it should be assumed that the verse "thou shall not lie with a man in the manner one lies with a woman, it is an abomination," (Leviticus 18:22) is not meant to ban "healthy," "loving" relationships between homosexual men, who technically speaking are not anyway carrying out relations with each other in the same manner as a man and a woman. (See Michael Lerner's Jewish Renewal pg. 324-327.) Rather the text is only meant to ban homosexual men from claiming that their relationships are equivalent to heterosexual marriage. Personally I think it is far more dangerous for Zayd to think that Judaism is against science than for Zayd to become an active Orthodox homosexual, but that is just me.
The central issue for me surrounding the Community Model is that if we were to accept this notion that texts should be defined as being heretical based on the decision of the community then the whole notion of heresy becomes tied to the issue of defining community. Without a clearly defined community structure there can be no heretical texts. For example one could argue that we, in this post-Enlightenment world of ours, cannot with any legitimacy speak of a Jewish community. While a Jew may belong to a synagogue, only associate with other Jews, and live his life according to Jewish Law, none of these things have any innate authority over him, as they once did. Any authority that these things do have comes from the willingness of the individual to defer to them. So in fact when the individual follows rabbinic authority or the standards of his "community," he is merely following the dictates of his own conscience. If this is the case then heresy becomes the broken staff of a deposed king. The fact that this staff is still being waved encapsulates in of itself the very nature of the power structure that wields it. It has ceased to exist yet it still thinks that it does, which following Cartesian logic confers its own form of existence upon it.
So I put the challenge to my readers. What would you do if you saw your fellow Jew reading a book titled: "There is No God. If There Was One He Would Be Four Beings, Physical, Not Eternal, Not Worth Praying To and Not a Talker to Prophets Nor a Giver of Torahs. If He Would Have Given a Torah He Would Have Changed it and He Would Never Have Bothered With Anything So Foolish as Reward and Punishment, a Messiah or the Revival of the Dead?" Would you try to explain to this Jew that such a book is dangerous and if so who is it dangerous to? Would you attempt to confiscate this book; if so, by what means and by what authority? Would you claim that this Jew is actually committing a sin by continuing to read that book and if so what sin has he committed?