Thursday, April 26, 2007

Defending the Faith?

Recently the Forward (Friday, April 20) carried an essay by David Klinghoffer entitled Defend Your Faith When It Is Blasphemed. I’ve read D.K. for quite a while and rarely do I agree with him, principally because of his conservative politics. However, I tend to read him because it’s good to get the other side of things. After all, for the most part, I am surrounded by mainly liberal news media, the company I keep tends to be liberal and quite frankly it can wear you down. So reading D.K. is a good antidote to all of the liberal press and opinion I’m exposed to.

D.K. is upset because Jewish traditional (orthodox) intellectuals aren’t confronting the recent spate of books which are attacking organized religions. Specifically he’s upset that scholars and atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins mocks the Hebrew God referring to him as misogynistic, homophobic, racist etc. He’s upset that there aren’t intellectual/rabbinic leaders a la Maimonides who will take up the banner and defend the honor of the Hebrew God.

We have nothing to be ashamed of and we have nothing to defend. We have done nothing wrong, and we aren’t accused of doing anything wrong. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have their point of view and they expressed it very eloquently in their respective books. I’ve read their books and would recommend them to anyone who takes their religious practice seriously. It is important to hear, know and pay close attention to what others are thinking and saying. We can learn much from what they say. Not everything they say is true, but not everything they say is false.

Have we been accused of being genocidal? Yes. Are we? Maybe. That all depends on how one interprets the Amalek text. It also depends on how one understands the text in Samuel when it is made known to King Saul that he has lost favor with God. How are we to interpret the text, and how are we to interpret the commandment to wipe out Amalek. Why is it so upsetting to D.K. that Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins points out and exposes this seemingly genocidal feature of our text to the world. The Christian world bases their new testament on our sacred text and incidentally, our cousins revere our sacred text as well.

D.K. reminds me of Don Quixote. Rather than be proactive he has chosen the reactive approach which never is effective. The Harris and Dawkins books are best sellers and coming out with a reactive text won’t make a dent. Those who believe in Torah aren’t really affected by what intellectuals of that ilk happen to think or write. Those who share their sentiments won’t be influenced by anything written which is reactive.

Another issue I have with D.K. is his conservative propensity to be less than tolerant when it comes to those having an opinion that doesn’t fit their world view, or in this case, Jewish view. Frankly I find it refreshing to hear another opinion other than the one I personally subscribe to. It gets you thinking and keeps you on your toes. For those who don’t want to be challenged or tested, don’t read the material. For folks like me who love the challenge and the curiosity about what others think I don’t see the problem.

Nor am I personally offended by what others think of my faith and religious practice. Last year the Muslims had a “fit” when their God was cartooned by a non – Muslim. I never had a problem with that. I certainly don’t have a problem if someone cartoons an impression of the Hebrew God. What do I care? He is entitled to his opinion and thankfully he can express it. I may disagree, but that is the beauty of living in a free and open society. Maimonides and others during the middle ages were called upon to defend our faith not for intellectual gymnastics or entertainment but because our future was at stake. We could have been driven out of countries, super taxed, accused of blood libel, or worse. So there was a necessity to defend our faith.

The circumstances today are somewhat different. The traditional Jewish community has a bumper crop of books published on Jewish Thought, Jewish Philosophy, Tanach etc., many of them presenting traditional Jewish practice and belief in a sophisticated, articulate and intelligent light. There is, not to forget, the power of the World Wide Web and the blogoshere. There are even numerous radio talk shows which do an exemplary job of defending “old testament values and morals”. So anytime D.K. wishes to defend us against the likes of Dawkins and Harris he has the opportunity and venue. In fact I challenge him do so. It would be a daunting, but something I’m sure he can handle.