Friday, November 21, 2008

from the sidelines

Surely the squabbling among the faithful as to whether or not Obama is a real Christian has been an important source of cheap entertainment in these otherwise bleak times. Not just because of the pleasure of watching yet another right-wing circular firing squad, but because it’s so darn fascinating. Arianism, Psilanthropism, Adoptianism. Just saying them makes you feel like a sort of Indiana Jones, and actually following the argument – is a “bridge” the same as a “mediator?” – is as much fun as any insider baseball around.

Some of the exotic attraction of this comes from the fact that there’s nothing similar in Judaism. It’s not that there aren’t a whole range of abstruse Jewish discussions on point of doctrine, it’s that no one gets particularly exercised about them. There is not going to be a discussion anywhere, for example, about whether or not Joe Lieberman’s beliefs concerning individual vs. communal judgment in the afterlife are sufficiently orthodox for him to be called Jewish.

This studied indifference isn’t just about the kinds of questions of interest only to scholars. Lubavitcher Hassidim believe that the late Rebbe is the living King Messiah, with some referring to him as “our Creator,” which puts it about as close to Christianity as you can get without the cross. Yet except for a rear-guard action among some Orthodox Jews, no one is going to start treating Chabad as beyond the pale.
Given the extent to which the Enlightenment project has succeeded, it’s inevitable that doctine doesn’t quite matter in the way it once did, and that’s undoubtedly for the good. Still, when I watch the passion of the debates over Obama’s beliefs I’m reminded of a passage from one of don marquis’ poems, in which Archy the cockroach describes watching a moth immolate itself.

myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity
but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself

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