July 22, 2007

Conflicts between modernity and orthodoxy.

The world has come a long way from inquisitions. Such methods of dealing with religious heresy are no longer in vogue. It is also fair to say that to a large extent the religious fanaticism has become both less extensive and less violent. That is not to say however that all the issues of conflict between moronic religious dogma and irresistible modern truths have been resolved. This is especially true in the three great monotheistic religions. It is probably true that many people no longer believe that god created the earth in six days, but several other religious strictures continue to cause much confusion and agony among well-meaning people.

This is a very good article by Noah Feldman in NYT
on his own struggles arising out of a modern Orthodox Jewish background and a liberal universal humanism. He is mostly honest in depicting the irreconcilable conflicts, though he doesn't go all the way, and takes the easy way out by suggesting that his orthodox schooling gave him something undoubtedly invaluable.

In one particularly illustrative incident, a doctor speaking at his school suggests that it is OK to treat a non-Jew to save his life on the Sabbath day. Talmud prohibits working on the Sabbath, but an exception is granted to save the lives of Jews. It is apparently pretty clear that this exception does not extend to save the lives of non-Jews. But this doctor, in consultation with his rabbi, has come to the conclusion that it is fine to save a non-Jew's life on the Sabbath only if your intention is to preserve good relations between Jews and non-Jews. It is against Talmudic principles to save his life out of universal morality. Much as I admire the formal and closed beauty of this principle, I see no way of reconciling this with a humanistic outlook.


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