Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Redefining Our Reality

Around 1400, the European world of Reason began to die. Its death was facilitated by the concerted efforts of brilliant thinkers like William of Okham (on the Christian side) and R. Hasdai Crescas (on the Jewish side). What these two men had in common (along with many others) is that they chipped (or hammered) away at the integrated, rational worldview and model that had been built up over the centuries and reached its apogee in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and (le-havdil) Maimonides. [For those who've read Dante Aligieri's Divine Comedy, it is often cited as the literary expression of the architectonically structure, Thomist worldview. In any case, no cultured person should miss it.]

After 1400, people had less faith in reason and looked for alternatives. Neo-Platonism began to take the place of Aristotelianism among Christians and (mutatis mutandis) Qabbala advanced its triumphant march among the Jews. What both have in common is that they put a clear limit on the power of reason and tend to have a very authoritarian patina. Of course, that makes sense. In a world where people feel that the structures of life are disintegrating, it is only natural to seek refuge and solace in certainty, dogmatic or otherwise. [I'm grateful to my teacher, Professor Reuven Bonfil for part of this insight.]

I mention this point because I believe the Western World is living through a similar development. Post-Modernism and Deconstruction have gleefully wreaked havoc on Reason, Language, Morality and all of the other cornerstones of Modernity (and Religion for that matter). In response, it seems to me, that many people have sought refuge in authoritarian/dogmatic forms of mysticism, politics, philosophy and religion. Others have run to anarchy and relativism. [Ironically, it is also possible that the end of the exclusive reign of Modernity may have opened up the way for the resurgence of non-authoritarian Traditional Judaism as well. At least, so it would appear from Halakhic Mind by Rabbi Soloveitchik.]

One of the dangers inherent in resort to one-dimensional outlooks is that when they are proven flawed, they often lead to hysteria, extremism and nihilism on the part of the disillusioned. I sense, I fear, that the upheavals of the last few months are leading to just such results in the Religious Zionist World, just as they have been long manifest on the Israeli Left (witness the self-destructive, self-hatred of which I've often written). There has been too much talk of self-ghettoization or rejection of Judaism to just reflect a few extremists.

They say that diagnosis is the beginning of the cure. If I'm right, we'd better get started working on it before the disease does us all in.

3 comments:

Tzemach Atlas said...

are leading to just such
not are eading to just such

Tzemach Atlas said...

What I don't understand is that historically there were many junctures that qualify for the description and how it is different now than?

mnuez said...

As a man whose mind bows to no man, I can't help but applaud the Fortean Times within which we live. The less that anyone (scientists and philosophers included) is seen to be the priestly teachers of truth, the better we all are. I'm repulsed when asked what "my sign" is, but of this nonsensical stupidity is the price that we have to pay for being less susceptable to dogmatic beliefs, then so be it.

mnuez