Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Friday, October 07, 2005

Jewish fundamentalism

"Fundamentalism" is a term that covers both a period of Christian theological inclinations deriving out of the publication in 1909 of a volume entitled The Fundamentals, and is used also to denote a style of religious conservatism. I prefer to use the term for the historical movement, and just call the rest "religious antimodernism", which is properly descriptive.

Judaism has been as susceptible to these extremes as any religion. Like Islam and Protestant Christianity, and unlike Catholic Christianity, it lacks a central dogmatic authority, and so there are competing religious schools. But overall, Judaism is internally more of a "live and let live" religion for its adherents, with a wide range of views ranging from quite radical, with female rabbis, to ultra-Orthodox.

So it is no surprise that a modernist rabbinical scholar named Nossan Slifkin, who is like most educated religious figures quite happy to accept the reality of science and the things science holds occur, like evolution, has been censured by Orthodox rabbis for accepting evolution. They are young earth creationists like Gish and co., although they deny they rely on the Fundamentalist movement. Still, they do.

Antimodernism is another word for a fear of the new. Sometimes it pays to fear the new. But other times, when the old has failed for thousands of years, causing ethnic, class and cultural rivalries and holding women and children in servitude, the new is exactly what we should embrace. All Quaeda is based on a fear of the new; so is creationism, anti-democratic parties, and so on.

Rabbi Slifkin may not be presenting proper science - someone who has read his book indicated this - but he at least is trying to accommodate the old to the new. It's a pity to see a reaction like this from antimodernists.