Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Religious Liberals

I don't get the religious left. I'm not talking about politically, but in terms of religion. These are the people who call themselves religious believers but still find that their religions must be reformed. How can a Catholic believe that homosexuality is just fine? It's completely contradictory. If their religion is wrong how can they have faith in it? How can they believe something is the word of God and yet also see it as wrong?

They would seem to have two options here for a coherent view of the world. They can believe they are hyper-conservative wherein their "true" religion has been misinterpreted for centuries and that the original form of their religion has been forgotten. What they are advocating are a return to the old old ways. You see this with these "innovative" interpretations of Biblical verses.

Or they can admit that they are simply partial skeptics and that they do not believe that stuff which God supposedly commanded were actually divinely ordered. The problem with this for people is that most folks do not want to make that step. They want to believe in their chosen religion. But religious liberals want to have their cake and eat it too. Their religion is true, they say so, but God's word needs adjusting for the modern world.

Come to think of it, there's another way to resolve the religious liberal mind set. It's the fulfillment approach. God made certain rules but only for that time and He expects us to fulfill the spirit of the law by changing it for the modern world. But besides being completely ad hoc and intellectually unfounded, I don't think most religious liberals think about it that deeply.

In any case this all relates to me because although I applaud many of the efforts of the religious left to draw the masses away from fundamentalism, I completely disagree with their incoherent view of the world. God, the Omnipotent, has rules which needs reform? It really doesn't make any sense to me.

The religious left are those who enjoy the warm feelings of religion but don't really apply any criticism to their religious beliefs. These are the people who'll say ridiculous things like that "all religions are true." No, that's absurd! Either believe in something or don't, but don't play these games in this incoherent middle.


Conserva-Girl said...

Interesting post. As a "Religious Left-ist" (or a "Right-Wing Liberal") I tend to see that divine law is unchanging, but rabbinic law needs some careful review from time to time. You really can't honestly deny that the world has changed since we trekked across Har Sinai, but many seek to argue that our beliefs and practices have to fall in line with (what they interpret) to be the "authentic" way of the law that was handed down that mighty day.

Anonymous said...

Try Expanding the Palace of Torah for a potentially coherent explication of a cumulatist theory of revelation. (It's packaged as a discussion of feminism, but I've had the pleasure of taking a few classes with Dr. Tamar Ross and her real interest is in theories of revelation.)

I happen to think it's unfortunate that we spend so much time on trying to pin down a coherent theory of revelation. Haza"l certainly didn't -- they seemed much more concerned with formulating and reformulating (or reinterpreting or reapplying, if you prefer) laws that would achieve their various aims, including continuity with the past and making sense with their present. Only later (perhaps with the geonim, exemplified by Rav Sherira, or perhaps not until Rambam), when rationalism and then modernity became philosophically in vogue did various figures attempt to fit the pretzel-like development of halakha into a neat system.

(There are ma'amarei Haza"l, BTW, in support of the idea (and fact) of the need for growth and change in the law itself, including Biblical law, as well as others which confirm a more fundamentalist viewpoint. Plus statements that affirm communities which exemplify beliefs or actions of which they approved. It seems like your discomfort with religious liberals might have more to do with either their (a) explicit formulations or (b) resultant policies than with the actual process of change, which is present in Haza"l, although admittedly not always admitted or acknowledged explicitly.)

Orthoprax said...


Judaism may have the unique factor of having a clearly delineated (as some see it) between the laws from God and those from the rabbis.

As such, the liberal Jew has the opportunity to say that it is only Rabbinic law which can be changed.

That's fine and all, but a) it is rather limited in scope and many religious liberals attempt to change even Torah laws and b) to believe that the Rabbis have flawed understandings then one undermines a large segment of the modern (small m) Orthodox Judaism.

The appeal to the "authentic" law is, as I mentioned, actually a form of hyper-conservativism and really unconvincing.


I have issue with both the resultant policies and the manner in which they are supported in argument. Your open-view of Torah means that anything can come out of it. A person can argue (and do argue) that the Bible is actually pro-homosexuality. While I don't see homosexuality as immoral, it's simply wrong to say that the author of the Torah thinks the same way.

Maybe some members of Chazal were also religious liberals. Certainly possible. But that doesn't much support their beliefs or those of today's. They would be just as wrong as those today.

If God himself, the infallible, all knowing creator of the world, the source of all true-morality, gives a set of rules for people to follow, I can't see how that can be matched with a will of authority to change or amend those rules. The two beliefs are incompatible.

KlalYisrael said...

I think, Orthoprax, that the change in form can be mandated by adherence to the goals, values and purposes.

There is a great article by CHief Rabbi Jonathan sacks in the book Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy about legitimate chidush...

But also, and more importantly...
the brit we have with G-d is that we will be active partners in creating a more just world. G-d gave us wheat, says the midrash, but we make bread.
We similarly have to improve on moral standards.

Orthoprax said...


"G-d gave us wheat, says the midrash, but we make bread.
We similarly have to improve on moral standards."

Right, this is like the "fulfillment approach" which I mention in my initial post. But the tikum olam concept was never meant to mean changing the rules but playing by them better.

I think I'm getting to understand how people may come to be religious liberals, at least Jewish liberals anyway, even though I disagree with them.