Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Klinghoffer Agonistes

In matchless prose that has all the forcefulness, and twice the pathos, of a sick kitten, David Klinghoffer announces that Pope Ratzinger is just what the doctor ordered for world Jewry.

Hark to his cold inexorable logic: Ratzinger's against moral relativism, and since "Jewish leadership" has come down on the side of moral relativism, mainstream Jews should admire Ratzinger, because - like all popes - he believes that Catholicism is the One True Faith, which gives Jews carte blanche to assert that Judaism is the One True Faith, which will lead - obviously! - to a new era of intransigent religious conservatism and the downfall of moral relativism.

The great question of our time, you see, is whether there is no truth anywhere - an ironically absolutist stance flirted with by a tiny group of confused postmodernist undergrads - or some truth somewhere, as pretty much everyone else on earth believes. What Klinghoffer - in his disingenuity or invincible ignorance - calls "moral relativism" is actually tolerance and pluralism: the notion that while there may be only one truth about deity, there is also a moral responsibility to respect freedom of conscience and freedom of religion and the integrity of the individual. Which is, of course, a perfectly firm and reasonable ethical stance that has nothing to do with moral relativism, but a great deal to do with the founding of this country.

Klinghoffer does, at least, demonstrate that if you start out with hopelessly flawed premises, you can end up with a grotesquely stupid conclusion:

Pope Benedict XVI has his truth. Jews who believe in Judaism, as opposed to relativism, have ours. The pope and the Jews can't both be right — but that fact, that there can only be one truth, is a singularly important truth in itself, arguably more important than any of the doctrinal points on which Jews, Catholics, and other Christians differ.
Look here, friend: If there's One True Faith - one narrow path to salvation - then any faith that contradicts it is false. A false faith prevents knowledge of God's truth, and without knowledge of God's truth, there's no salvation. And anything that stands in the way of salvation is evil, for all intents and purposes. If "the pope and the Jews can't both be right," then one of them is not merely wrong, but catastrophically evil.

It's not that goddamn complicated. In fact, the drab, plodding, lunatic simplicity of these notions is precisely their attraction to faux-spiritual vulgarians like Klinghoffer, which makes it all the more droll that he's pretending that these absolute values impose no intersubjective moral obligations (conversion at sword's point, for instance). Gee, that almost sounds like moral relativism!

(Link via Alicublog.)

14 comments:

gmanedit said...

The pope and the Jews could both be wrong. I vote for Zeus.

Anonymous said...

...the drab, plodding, lunatic simplicity of these notions is precisely their attraction to faux-spiritual vulgarians...

Phila, that's right. It saves them from having to think. Let the word come down from on high and follow the leader. It's so simple.

Eli said...

Ah yes, it's always so refreshing to be reminded that Christians don't have a monopoly on idiocy...

Oh, and Tag! you're it!"

Cervantes said...

You betcha Phila. I made a semi-oblique reference to this question on the dialogue blog, and I'm afraid it's been somewhat disconcerting to some of my believing friends and has perhaps disrupted our relationship.

But there's no getting around it: a tenet of most faiths is that theirs is the one true faith, and people who don't believe precisely what they believe, worship in the manner they prescribe, and accept the authority and supernatural powers of their ordained clergy, are offensive to God. For Christians, that means that God will torture them for all eternity. That is, indisputably, the Christian belief, and the new Pope has clearly and unequivocally reaffirmed it.

If you do not believe that, you are not a Christian, because it is an essential, bedrock principle of Christian belief that "no-one comes to the father but through" Christ. If you do not believe that, you are not a Christian.

Deal with it.

Rmj said...

That is, indisputably, the Christian belief, and the new Pope has clearly and unequivocally reaffirmed it.

Can I be the first to call "bullshit!"?

Please. An avowed atheist who apparently has an animus for Xianity, is going to define Xianity for Xians?

Next.

janeboatler said...

Can I be the second to call "bullshit"?

Kate said...

If Cervantes' statement is "bull shit," then what is hell? Where do nonbelievers go?

I don't understand the appeal of Christianity, though I come from that background. To worship a tortured man bloody on the cross who you can only act like (never be like, since you can never be the son of god), is odd to me. It seems like a death cult, really, one that wishes for the end in order to be "saved" and joined with "God."

I wouldn't mind God and all of his followers (whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) if they weren't causing so much pain and destruction around the world. "Peace" is a concept in these religions, not a reality. It's so sad.

BTW, I'd love to have the whole God-Christ-Holy Spirit thing explained to me. Sunday school didn't do it; I'm still confused. It's called a monotheistic religion, yet there is God and there is Jesus, who is also God. Holy Spirit...God too? Is this three gods or one god with separate faces? And if it is the same god with many faces why all the trouble over Jesus and the need to worship only him? If they're three gods then it's polytheism, and you might as well worship Zeus. At least his human frailties weren't denied.

I think I'll stick to zen buddhism. No god, but plenty of peace.

Take care, sisters and brothers!

roger said...

rmj and jane----maybe you could tell us where and how cervantes is wrong about christianity. wouldn't that be more constructive than just crying bullshit. labelling him as anti-xtian does not answer his assertion. i know he poses a tough position but it does seem to me to accurately describe at least catholic orthodoxy as the new pope sees it. how do other christian traditions view non-christians? are we consigned to the hell in which we don't believe?

janeboatler said...

Cervantes, Pirate, I don't consign you to hell. Why do you care anyway? You don't believe in it?

Don't blame me for what the Pope says, nor what Christian fundamentalists say. Just like unruly Democrats, Christians are a diverse and unruly group. Why is that so difficult to grasp?

Rmj said...

labelling him as anti-xtian does not answer his assertion.

Granted.

i know he poses a tough position but it does seem to me to accurately describe at least catholic orthodoxy as the new pope sees it.

And no more than that. You characterize it correctly. Cervantes says, and I quote: "For Christians, that means that God will torture them for all eternity. That is, indisputably, the Christian belief." It is, indisputably, no such thing. But I've had this dispute with Cervantes too many times, and I'm tired of it. Trying to point out the errors in it is tedious, and apparently pointless. So I called it as I saw it.

how do other christian raditions view non-christians? are we consigned to the hell in which we don't believe?

Some say yes, some say no. Myself, as a Christian minister, I don't believe in hell. Kind of hard for me to "consign" you to a place I don't believe in, either, isn't it?

But Cervantes apparently knows better than I do what I believe, and what Christian doctrine is. Which attitude (and not yours) is what prompted my answer.

Phila said...

I'd just like to say, in case it was unclear, that my remarks were directed at fundamentalism.

I agree with Cervantes about fundamentalism; I agree with RMJ and JB that what Klinghoffer is arguing for is not "indisputably, the Christian belief." Which is why I called him a pseudo-spiritual vulgarian.

janeboatler said...

Phila, it was clear to me from the beginning. The Anonymous comment above is actually mine. I had deleted cookies and did not realize that my name was not on the comment.

roger said...

rmj and jane--thank you for the considered replies. i do know that neither of you condemn me to anything. i think it is important to discuss this because a chunk of our citizenry seem to want to enshrine (loaded word) their view that some of us are less worthy of inclusion in the body politic because we do not subscribe to their religious view. i know that you, and probably phila, certainly cervantes, are included by them with me as second class humans.

i am pleased to know that rmj doesn't believe i hell. more info is good.

Speechless said...

You know, there are limits to the American attention span, and I suspect that God and religion are being a little oversold. Just like Madonna and Brittany Spears, once the clothes come off, the mystery is gone and everybody goes back to ordinary life.

Ralph Reed, Karl Rove and George W. have probably ridden this God ride about as far as they can. The rapture ain't happening, and the next Great Disappointment is just around the bend.

Of course they'll hop off before the thing crashes, just like they did with the "communist threat" back in the days of the McCarthy Era.-- and really, I don't think it's even all that different a ride from the one the coutry went on with liberals in the 60's. By 1976 almost every person between the age of 18 and 35 had gone to at least one sit-in or peace march and could sing the lyrics to three Bob Dylan songs. Did that make them peace activists? No? Did it change their consuming habits or career path, not for most.
This isn't all that different. The consequences and fall out are to our environment and to people in other parts of the world. We get all excited and beat our breasts at the wrongness of the extremism because it feels better than doing nothing. But ultimately, what any of us can effect is life in our communities. Who are we neglecting? Who is being treated unjustly. Who is silenced, afraid, not free. That's what we should and must deal with.