Monday, December 12, 2011

Love...will keep us together

sang The Carpenters. They were wrong.

What keeps groups together through time?

A recent ad by the government of Israel, inviting American Jews to avoid assimilation by coming home, caused quite a ruckus. Which is an ancient Yiddish word for mischegas. But the facts are plain: Jews in America are disappearing because of the combination of low birth rate and huge levels of intermarriage with Gentiles, as well as indifference to or avoidance of the practice of Jewish religion. The one place on earth, prior to Israel in 1948, where Jews could be safe and free has become the place where they tend to evaporate. On their own.

That leads to wonder why Jews in the past did not dwindle much, despite the often challenging conditions in which they found themselves. My amateur sociologist's theory? It was precisely the challenging conditions --along with pre-emancipation Halakic law-- which kept them alive. With the exception of the Nazi extermination program, which had an unprecedented killing rate, the various strictures and sporadic outbreaks of violence, all expressions of their Gentile neighbors' dislike, created an ironic version of what the early rabbis called "building a fence around the Torah."  While Jewish law created obstacles against assimilation from within, Gentile suspicion made its own wall against it from without. Once tradition-free Judaism met a relatively fence-free America and the Pill...

The two places where the Jewish birthrate is high are among very traditional Halakha-observant Orthodox groups, wherever they live, and in Israel, surrounded by a sea of Arabs who loathe Jews.

Continuing on my sociological way, it leads me to ask what forces actually keep groups intact. Sometimes, maybe always, you don't know the answer to that question until the groups begin to fray or diminish. I don't know anything about the internal Jewish discussion when Reform Judaism decided to make life easier for recently emancipated 19th century German Jews by adapting to the surrounding culture. I am sure some sectors predicted disaster. (Conservatives always do.) But who could have thought that an updated and ethically-based American Judaism would prove so unable to resist the allure of an extraordinarily welcoming Gentile nation? A classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Another aspect seems to be the creation of a publicly tolerated or respectable secular identity. After the French revolution, it became increasingly common and ok not to be associated with any religious group at all. So Jews could escape the burdens and isolation of history not by betraying their ancestors through conversion but by ignoring them through secular transcendence.

My friends the Anglicans come to mind. What held them together, such as they were, for most of 400 years was not only their State-sponsored status, ethnic/racial self-confidence, and clear episcopal governing structure, but their 1662 Book of Common Prayer. When they decided to allow a plethora of different local liturgies at the very same time that being White became a crime, their compulsive embrace of liberal modernity and post-modernity has proved to be their unravelling and perhaps their undoing. 

The sociology of religion contains a paradigm --I forget by whom-- that differentiates religious groups as cults, sects, denominations or churches based on the level of tension with and difference from the surrounding culture. Too much and you remain a tiny isolated cult, too little and you become so mainstream that there's no feeling of loss if you leave it behind. You don't seem to value what costs you nothing. And who has mirrored the values of liberal America --created them, actually-- more than Reform Jews and mainstream Protestants?

I think of America, of course. We have been a Union precisely because we have always been trying to hold together our divisions. You only call something United which needs to be united because its natural momentum is toward separation. So I don't overestimate American harmony at all. From the very start we have had regional, racial and class tensions. And then there was 1861 and its awful aftermath. It feels to me now that we are in a Civil Cold War where two sides of the country are no longer opponents but enemies. Am I wrong to think that a significant portion of the country hates its own Republican countrymen more than it really hates Al Qaeda? If my neighborhood and city is any indication, it does. The election of 1800, were it to be replicated now, would be considered not a triumph of our Constitution --which it was, even by the skin of its teeth-- but its utter delegitimation. So what forces held us together, fractiously of course, in the past --especially things we took for granted-- which seem to be evaporating now?


Anonymous said...

Alas, it is perhaps only the Nazi "Final Solution" that makes assimilation (Spinoza's Final Solution) seem wrong. Spinoza had deeper reasons, but the main reason for assimilation to a post-Christian Gentile culture has been that Jews shouldn't have to endure the indignity of embracing a Gentile religion (even one devised by Jews!) especially one that has a tradition of hating Jews, simply in order to escape hatred of Jews.

Without the Death Camp memory, the American solution would seem perfect. The Israeli government's invitation to Jews in North America and in the other lands recommended for Israelis by Helen Thomas would not have created a ruckus -- it would have seem'd simply insane. Why unassimilate for the sake of a fence of Judenhass?

Indeed, without the Death Camps, there would have been founded no state of Israel -- would not seem necessary or adviseable or anything else.

Spinoza's final solution was continued by Marx, who insisted upon the abolition of a culture of belief in Biblical revelation, Christian or Jewish, especially as might get pick'd up on by the state (On the Jewish Question). This solution is acceptable only for Jews who reject belief in their chosenness by yhwh, just as it is acceptable only by anonymous Christians or 'private Christians' (a term from the Victorian era, I think) who wish to not believe in Christian dogma.

But if it were really only a matter of not having to endure the indignity of conversion to Christianity, Spinoza's detour into deChristianization of Christianity was a mistake. The decision made by Jessica bat-Shylock was surely the right one: a minute's resolution to do a foreground conversion (as done by Heine, for instance, and also Disraeli's father), and then one can enjoy the neo-Platonic culture of the music of the spheres (into which she was educated by ?Lorenzo) on Mount Parnassus.

Official foreground Christianity is left to a bunch of death-wish tragic-homosexuality fanatics such as Antonio, desolate in the seculum. Such Christianity would die off, and Europe would return to pagan cults à la the corn doll [wheat effigy] so fervently revered by Robert Graves. Anglicanism knows how to do a liturgy that is only a Girardian mimesis of the corn doll rite, which is itself only a mimesis reflection. Anglican cleverness for withering away shouldn't be underestimated, eh?

Anonymous said...

And since all Selfs would agree, there'd be no need for maintaining "Anglo-Saxon" constitutional government. Concern for freedom of religion and speech and press and assembly for individuals is insolent when the thing most needful is a devout herd whose mutually unsolidary members wish to do no more than to do critiques after dinner of political administrators' apparent decisions.

If a 'fence' means only a way of selling stolen goods then the hatred of Jews will continue. But Spinoza's and Marx's prime consideration -- freeing the state from dominion founded in biblical grace -- could be fulfil'd by an Islamic Caliphate. ... Queen Elizabeth 1 is said to have been educated by an Augustinian Christian. That kind of impending nightmare wouldn't impend if Muslims ruled. Plus, you could have, secretly, privately, your awakening of making love à la Lut (cf other ex cathedra posting for today) and not have to participate in a liberal enculturation as if that was important.

But to return to the original theme, Spinoza's proposed final solution of 'cultural genocide' of Jew and Christian into a technocratic set of secular experts in whatnot only seems an indignity to Jews vis-a-vis the Death Camps. ... But in fine, Spinoza's final solution is affirm'd by e.g. Richard Rubenstein in "After Auschwitz," he rejects belief in the God of the Bible for Jews, and calls on Jews [and Christians] to worship the God of Holy Nothingness instead (pp. 204, 230). I'm not sure how he knows such a God non-exists. Does Aquinas' quinque viae argue for this God? Or Aristotle's prime mover?

What would be absurd is to return to Israel for the sake of "Jewishness" at the risk of getting wiped out by atomic attacks by Iran. Ain't no "cultural identity" worth such a risk! And assimilation is good (dixit Spinoza, Marx and many others) as long as Jews aren't ask'd to commit the indignity of official conversion to Christianity -- or maybe even to Islam, although Jessica bat-Shylock found the brief indignity worth enduring. And if the Old Testament is cultural myths and whatnot, then surely she made the just decision.

Assimilation may seem dismal when it implies that the holocaust was for naught. But rejecting belief in chosenness by yhwh already implies that Judaism is and has always been a vain thing. It implies that not-anonymous Christianity too is and has always been a vain thing.

It isn't even that assimilation of Jews requires them to become "Gentiles" -- because "Gentile" has no meaning except in the binary Jew and Gentile.

As for low birth rate, Betty Friedan, a Jew, says that smart people as those en route to higher education "overproduced" children (The Feminine Mystique, ch 14, ['a new life plan for women'] p. 349). So Jews were right to lead the way for other smart people in having far fewer children.

Anonymous said...

A friend I had who was Mennonite talked the same way about the recent historic developments of his folk; Mennonite communities were strong when there was widespread discrimination against them, but when that stopped, the next generations didn't really care about being Mennonite much, and increasingly gave up mennonite ways, married non-m, etc.

This whole theme connects somewhere to one of the more frequently-discussed (with frequent disgust!) facts about Islamic immigration into Europe -- how studies often show that second and third generation Muslim immigrants show more radical religious attitudes than their parents. Some effect, it would seem, of being a minority in a particular country while their parent's weren't.


Anonymous said...

@Nathan. Do you mean, then, that Islamphobia is, after all, Westerners' fault, or at least Christians' fault?

Mennonites have gain'd great acceptance because Catholic and Protestant Christians have accepted the Mennonite or Anabaptist conviction that Christian and Biblical names ought not to be placed upon the powers and principalities of 'this world,' the perdition world, the cheled? Romans 13 à la Augustine is to be undone. This programme won't and isn't intended to diminish violence and exploitation etc. This programme may even increase the quantity of violence and exploitation. but only that no official or legitimated violence will be done in the name of Christ or the biblical God etc. Which is apparently the most important consideration, or even the only consideration?

Prots and RCs accept that Christian political civilization ought never to have happen'd. The true Jesus is the Jesus against Culture, in H. Richard Niebuhr's formulation.

In my irreducible benevolence I add with as much emphasis as I can that Jesus' kerygma by this account must be opposed by Jews. For the theistic civilization in matter that Jesus opposed was the Jewish civilization superintended by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Rabbi Joseph Klausner as quoted by Niebuhr is apparently agreed with by Niebuhr: if Jesus is correct then he must be rejected (as in handed over to the Romans, I guess) by his people because Jesus deny'd all divine meaning or substance from Jewish national life (Christ and Culture, pp. 2ff).

For example, Jesus commands not swearing by “God” at all (Matthew 5:34), not merely that a Jew not take the name of yhwh in vain (and accordingly must never mention this name at all, speaking realistically, as indeed one must praise Jews for such truthfulness! Today in the aiôn of desublimation they many of them won't even speak or write the name God but only G-d, which is an astonishing level of truthfulness or 'honesty' as we say.)

The Gentile Jung makes ostensibly affirming the shadow or the evil desire a vain thing by how easy honouring the shadow supposedly is to speak of. Hey, the 'dark' side of stuff is creative. Which makes of the light side of stuff (presumably then pious moralism) rather more of a 'shadow' side of stuff, since revering Pat Robertson and Republican know-nothings' humbug is more difficult than keeping a dream journal. Carl Sagan and Pat Robertson make a really boring syzigy aion-pair, but obviously Pat Robertson is the dark side.

Anonymous said...

In any case, Christianity — when and only when resolutely apply'd — gives a protection of Jews from the murderous rage of the human race at the Jews’ very reasonable "hatred" of the human race: “His passover blood be upon us and on our children!” (Matt 27:25). The supposedly anti-semitic Gospel of John declares in the person of JX that salvation is of the Jews. Oliver Cromwell and even in the Oliver Cromwell-George Fox binary can protect against anti-semites whereas Jews can’t look to Mennonites for such protection, or even to Stanley Fish and Stanley Hauerwas.

Christians need Jews, I guess, to protect them against the human race also, because Christians too apparently despise the human race (e.g. Paul makes of the Greek Paideia no great thing, and the book of Acts 17 reveals to us the stultifying boredom of philosophers’ waiting around ‘fishing’). Plato as disclosed to youngsters (at least a little bit) by e.g. Allah Bloom is obviously not what philosophers wish to do for their pupils. Plato and Homer would destroy the Paideia, just as Machiavelli would destroy the Renaissance. … But Gentiles need protection against the human race too, if only they understood.

(Everyone in barbarity and in culture or civilization's a Christ “killer,” I guess against Rene Girard, who directs attention away from the guilt of the sacrificers to theorizing of the innocence of the victim. Which obviously wasn't so, or the Grand Inquisitor would have said so. He says the victim is strong, not unguilty.)

But then in the desublimation aiôn we Prots and RCs agree with Mennonites, who implicitly deem Aquinas and Augustine morons in their level of understanding. Why don't we "like" Muslims? Surely Mennonites should like them, since they are so convenient. Our apparent hostility makes (poetizes) them as a community set apart from us. We agree with Mennonites, but we don't agree with Muslims? Paul said that all principalities and powers are establish'd by God (whether they say so or not). Islam doesn't declare this -- but lets on as if only Islamic principalities and powers are establish'd by Allah. Sublational domination goes in only after the Islamic label goes on.

"Our" hostility to Islam is maybe not all that serious.

In conclusion, “Hildegard of Bingen, she a dirty kuffar.”

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