"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Myth America

A Jewish college student, bright, well-intentioned, sincere, was writing me some of the tired cliche copout stuff about how religion is myth-making and the Bible is a compilation. Here is a segment from a letter I wrote in response:

The theory of myth-making actually misleads people into a fallacy. By using the word "myth" in place of guiding narrative, they build in a bias toward the presumption that the myth is, in fact, a myth. This is a rhetorical trick by social scientists who know darned well they are cheating by coining this verbiage. Ironically, what they have done to gull their students is itself a form of myth-making. As the Talmud says: "Those who call names are usually guilty of those very faults."

A more perceptive analysis might be to take the following approach. Every society needs to be founded around a truth. The United States, for example, built a polity upon a set of principles, eventually enshrining most of them in a Constitution. The premise of that founding is that these are truth, or as accurate a representation of truth as human investigation could identify.

Most people who have read the founding documents of the nation, both the official ones like the Declaration and the unofficial ones like the Federalist Papers are impressed by the good faith effort to seek truth without fear or favor. The loyalty they evoked in fellow citizens is in large part a function of that recognition. As the Talmud says: "Words of truth are recognizable."

What myth does, as in Indian or Central American idolatrous fantasies, is attempt to mimic truth as a basis for founding a society.

However, history proves that myth cannot last. No belief system from the time of Judaism's founding is still extant. No national dynasty from the time of Judaism's founding is still extant. This is because, as the Talmud says, "falsehood cannot remain standing".

The best example of this actually occurred in recent times in the form of Soviet Communism. This ideology was so passionately believed by people that they overthrew existing systems and starved tens of millions. People left the United States in the 1920s to move to Russia and experience the dream. In the end, it took only seventy-four years to puncture the chimera.

Yet Judaism not only continues to exist after 3300 years, dislocations, massacres, tortures, you name it, it actually generated enough spirit in the past hundred years to reclaim its homeland and its language. This, despite experiencing a Holocaust in the very same time period.

Hey, I put in my years in college. The professors spend their lives patting themselves on the back and trying to seduce undergraduates while real men and women get out into the world and live life where it bleeds. I had the privilege of knowing great Jewish scholars who lived by principle and eschewed convenience. Those are the people I trust. They, along with the texts that made them great.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or, as Walker Percy put it, why are there no Hittites in New York City?