AMERICAN HERESYby Shlomoh
May 8, 2015
While I used to believe all the hype about vanishing Jews and vanishing non-Orthodox Judaisms, my experience both in New York and Ohio tells me a different tale. Jews will not vanish from America, not even non-Orthodox ones, not even intermarrying ones. This was a comfortable myth that we self-righteous Jews used to tell ourselves during the Great Awakening of the 1960s-1980s. It just ain't happening. In fact, in the 1990s, with the popularization of the Internet [the net has been around since the 1960s but few knew about it] new blood has been injected into American Jewry, not necessarily creating new alternate Judaisms but modifying and evolving them to fit the new age God-within theologies of this century. I am just finishing a book that I bought at a local library booksale, called BAD RELIGION: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. Although written from a Roman Catholic perspective, its tenets can be translated to American Jews and Protestants easily. In 1966, Harvey Cox, a noted Protestant theologian, wrote a book called THE SECULAR CITY in which he predicted the end of religion in the 20th century Western World. He called it the "DEATH OF THE AGE OF CONSTANTINE". For those who are unaware, Constantine was the 4th century Roman emperor who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Cox predicted that secularism would become the major religion of the West. As far as Europe is concerned, he was right. But America fooled him. In the early 21st century, Cox published a major retraction, saying that the theory advanced in THE SECULAR CITY was all wrong for America. And then, he converted to Judaism.
To many, it just SEEMS like secularism has won out over orthodoxy; but the truth is that heresy has won out. America is still the most self-consciously religious nation in the West but it's no longer orthodox. The Orthodox [Catholic, Jew, Protestant] are in the dwindling minority. The Yiddish famous expression, AZ ES KRISTELS ZICH, NA ES YIDELS ZICH, "Whatever the Christians are doing, the Jews wind up doing the same', is still in effect.
What have American Christians, and ultimately American Jews, been doing since the Great Awakenings of the 1960s and 1970s? They have been advancing the cause of heresy! Before the Great Awakening [sometimes known as the Age of Aquarius], our parents, teachers, and society taught us that there is a Divine Jewish-Christian God Who issues demands and punishes those who disobey. I am not making this up. You can't make this stuff up. Dig it.
"I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me", - Exodus 20:5
Who hates Him? - "But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey ... And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my ..commandments." - Deuteronomy 5:10
So if the ones who love Him are the ones who keep His commandments, the ones who hate Him are the ones who don't.
Well what about the ones who don't but SAY THEY DO?
A long time ago, someone asked me if I go to synagogue. Well, me being me, I said, Yeah. I go to the synagogue of Satan. Schmuck me. How was I supposed to remember, in my sorry attempt to be comical, that God [which one?] says to Jesus?
"I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars--I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you." - Revelation 3:9
But ask a real Orthodox person of any denomination, Who goes to the synagogue or church or mosque of Satan?, he/she will tell you they are those who claim to be the "real" Jew or Christian - but do not follow their REAL faith.
America was fashioned and made for religious heresy. I am just surprised that it took over 200 years to achieve it. The author of BAD RELIGION tells us that heresy is as bad as secularism, maybe worse - because secularists, at least, are honest about their fundamentalism while heretics are dishonest.
Who created America? Men like Tom Jefferson. Well, Jefferson and most of the other Founding Fathers were Deists. Deistic religion posits a God who is removed from human concerns and human actions. In a Christian or Jewish society it is the perfect setup for heresy. God may tell you that He is pissed if you masturbate, have unmarried sex [especially if you are a female, God help you!], if you don't carry out the rituals He has prescribed in the exact manner in which He has prescribed them, if you don't go to synagogue, church, or wherever you are supposed to be on the weekend, etc. BAD RELIGION states that that describes the REAL religion. So what, according to it, describes heresy?
A heretic is the one who says, GOD IS JUST KIDDING AROUND! Ten Commandments? He REALLY means ten suggestions.
Sex without marriage? But God has implanted in the mind of Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus [a Jew satanic, naturally] the idea to invent the contraceptive pill. Homosexuals need to be killed, along with non-virgins, witches, arrogant teenagers, and sabbath descrators? Oh well, the new American Religion, the God-Withiin Religion says, no one chooses to be homosexual, the pill did away with the need to be a virgin, witches were nothing more than wise women who knew healing, teenagers need to freely express themselves and question authority, and you need to work on Saturday and Sunday to pay the mortgage. All of this may be true but it has only been true since the Great Awakening. Listen, I myself am a heretic but I am old enough to know what the benefits of Orthodoxy are, benefits no longer enjoyed in heretical America. They include Kindness to others, especially strangers, communal comraderie, extended families, sense of real belonging, enjoyment, yes enjoyment of our Orthodox rituals and of REAL Sabbaths and holydays, now called holidays, and a lot more.
Todays religious people follow Oprah, Olsteen, Scientology, and every other feel-good-grow-rich prophet more than they follow the God of their ancestors. Once we believed that being religious was hard because it is hard. Once we believed in sacrifice for the sake of our community and for the sake of our fellow man. Once we believed that ritual made us better Jews,Christians, people.
We heretics today are in the thrall of the Oprah and Olsteen and others like them. They tell us what we want to hear. God wants you to relax and pray for the means to pay off your mortgage, take long vacations, and have the ability to vacation in Vegas, and the means to do it.
Relax. God understands America. He doesn't need you talking to Him in some defucnt language. [I am not Catholic but when I heard Catholicism was dumping Latin, my eyes rolled up in my head and I told my real religous friends, there goes the neighborhood]
Relax. God understands if you want to go to Plato's Retreat or get on Ashley Madison - so long as there is pure intent in your heart. God doesn't expect you to work out your relationship problems in any easy way, and if you take the easy way out, he fully understands. You may not go to Heaven but the worst you can expect is a few weeks in Purgatory.
Abortion? That's your right as an American. Roe vs Wade says so. It's ok so long as you vote Republican because God Almighty knows and agrees that your taxes are too damn high. I think you get the idea. Christians are not disappearing from America and neither are Jews. It's just that the times, they are a'changin', and we along with them.
The Upside of Heresy. [June 14, 2015]
It's just too obvious to say but I'll say it. Once you move forward, it's hard, maybe impossible, to go back. During the time that we were not a nation of heretics, we were a nation of unsophisticated and uneducated Americans. Yes, many Jews were educated but the general population of nonJews remained suspicious of urban people who had higher "school-learnin'". It was felt that secular university education was not only unnecessary but harmfull to old-time religion and family values. It turns out that this suspicion was justified. American Jews in the 1950s and 1960s attended universities out of proportion to the rest of American society, and they became the avant guarde of the new liberalizing America.
Education, sophistication, and awareness of the REAL America allowed them to be in the forefront of recognizing and wanting to correct the social and economic abuses that Orthodoxy not only favored but actually abetted. In the 1970s. my rabbi, Shlomo Riskin, said one day from the pulpit, "You know, most Americans used to have the same values and beliefs about morality that we Jews have. That is no longer true. Our country's ideas about morality have drifted away and become permissive and hedonistic." Nothing truer could be said. What Riskin called ideas of morality amounted to maintaining a stifling and stagnating lifestyle in which those in authority have the God-given right to dictate your individual lifestyle - how you dress, how you speak, how you conduct yourself romantically and erotically, whom you love, how you handle your own personal sex and pregnancy, and more. American Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders supported this and so did orthodox politicians.
Higher education and sophistication could not but change old, staid, puritanical attitudes, and with that change of attitudes came changes in the way we look at our families, our friends, our neighbors, our religious and secular leaders, and our laws and mores. The more educated and sophisticated we became, the more scientific and empirical minded we became and the more demanding for evidence and the more empathetic towards our fellow citizens.
We now know that Harvey Cox was wrong. We may have become uncomfortable with certain aspects of our religious ideas but we were not ready to give up our religions. We were however ready to bring them into alignment with the modern Western world's reliance and demand for evidence. It became evident that women were entitled to the same respect as men, that witches and homosexuals were not agents of the devil but people much like ourselves, that people of all races were essentially the same homo spaiens, and that our Deities could not actually be as nasty and hatefull as our religious leaders told us They were. After all. It turned out that we were not as bad sinners as we had been told we were for centuries, and so our God must also not be as bad a Sinner as they said He was.
No, we could no more hold on to Orthodox ideas about how we ought conduct our lives than we could travel back in time to a simpler, more innocent age. That is the issue. We are heretics because we are no longer innocent. We are not innocent but neither are we horrible sinners.
We are what the Lubovitcher Rebbe, writing in his TANYA, described as BENONI. He taught, "There are 3 types of people in our world; the Wicked, the Righteous, and the Inbetween Person [BENONI]". His disciples asked him, "Rebbi, which of the three are you?" He said, "I am a BENONI." They were shocked. They said to him, "Rebbi, why do you condemn us all?"
If the story were written today, perhaps the disciples would be less shocked. But if less shocked, then no longer Orthodox.
"Humanism needs to be grounded in something higher than a purely material account of the universe, and in something more compelling than the hope of a secular utopia. Only religious premises can support basic liberal concepts like equality and human rights. Only God can ask human beings to love their crooked neighbor with all their crooked heart."
-Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How we Became A Nation Of Heretics, Free Press, New York City, 2012
Ross Douthat paraphrased the German theologian, Karl Barth who said that the world wars of the 20th century were the inevitable endpoint of a theology that make human aspirations rather than the idea of a caring God the measure of all things. Secular fundamentalists have turned out to be just as benighted as their religionist fundamentalist counterparts whom they lampoon, insult, and disrespect. In these last two centuries, the secular humanist fundamentalists have wished to experience the known god of this world, said Barth. Well, they have experienced him alright.
-Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How we Became A Nation Of Heretics, Free Press, New York City, 2012
In their haste to defend Scriptural Authority against scoffing and scientists and academic critics, fundamentalists adopted a radical literalism. Fundamentalism could now claim to have a biblically based schematic for interpreting all of modern history - kind of a Christian version of Marxism, one might say, that offered all the answers to anyone willing to embrace it and its closed system of interpretation. This self-enclosure was cemented in the 1920s when fundamentalists chose a courtroom in Dayton, Tennessee as the central front in their battle against modernism, making the teaching of evolution in school textbooks as their chief enemy. But in the aftermath of the Darwin Wars, religious fundamentalists were pushed to the margins of the major Protestant churches, or else jumped ship to found their own denominations in what remained of 19th century Protestantism's institutional inheritance (seminaries and univeristies sliped permanently beyond their grasp). By the Depression-Era, the stigma of fundamentalism ensured that evangelical Protestantism was increasingly defined as religion of the marginalised and dispossessed, retrenching in the rural heartland while the progress of modern civilization continued without them.
In these last decades, the same embrace of radical literalism has overcome Jewish Orthodoxy, especially the brand known as Ultra-Orthodoxy, closing off any attempt at honest inquiry and dialogue which were welcoming characteristics of the Judaism in former times.
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