Tom's Big New Idea
Thomas Friedman's last big idea - globalization will lead inexorably
to a peaceful and prosperous world - lies buried beneath the rubble
of the World Trade Center. Not one to be abashed by past folly, however,
Tom has a new, big idea: the battle of the day is not between the West
and Islamism but rather between those who are religiously progressive
and religious fundamentalists of all religions - Christianity, Hinduism,
Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism.
That view at least has the virtue of political correctness. Islam, it
turns out, is no different than any other religion. They all have their
progressives and their fundamentalists. Unfortunately, for the Friedman
thesis, he neglected to cite any other religion besides Islam that can
claim thousands of adherents eager to blow themselves to smithereens
in order to kill others and millions more who celebrate their actions.
Friedman appears not to have read anything by Bernard Lewis, the greatest
living scholar of Islam, who has described at length the historical processes
that gave rise to Islamists' rage and their view of the world as a holy
war between believers and non-believers. Those processes simply do not
apply to Judaism, for instance.
Osama Bin Laden is still fixated on the "tragedy of Andalusia," when
Moslems were pushed out of Spain in the 13th and 14th centuries. For
him, the loss of territory once in Moslem control and the degraded state
of Moslem countries today vis-à-vis their non-Moslem neighbors, stands
as an ongoing religious challenge.
Not so for Jews. We never viewed territorial conquest or worldly success
as proof of our religion. Jews faithful to the Torah did not see themselves
in some sort of worldly competition with the majority culture within
which they lived.
More than two millenia ago, the Men of the Great Assembly taught: "He
restrains Himself and is slow to anger towards evildoers - that is His
might. If it were not for the awe of Him, how could one small nation
survive among all the nations -that is His awesomeness." Thus did we
perceive God's might and awe, even as the wicked exulted in His Temple
and enslaved His children.
Friedman cites his rebbe, David Hartman, to the effect that Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam all have a tendency to believe that they have
the exclusive truth, and that belief constitutes "religious totalitarianism."
Friedman/Hartman, again fail to note the crucial differences between
the three Bi blical faiths. Jews, for instance, do not seek converts
to their faith. Nor do they deny that the righteous of the nations have
a place in the World to Come.
The progressive religion advocated by Friedman/Hartman turns out to be
high-fallutin gibberish. Like good post-modernists, Friedman/Hartman
call for a "multilingual view of God" that reduces different religions
to nothing more than a series of narratives of human beings approaching
God out of their different history, language, and cultural perspective.
Religion, in this view, is nothing more than a man-made narrative, an
expression by men of their sense of the Divine. Revelation by an Infinite
God to finite man, who would otherwise be incapable of apprehending God
or knowing His will, has no place.
The Friedman/Hartman redefinition of religion is an assault on the very
concept of Truth itself. Jesus is both divine and not divine, the covenant
between God and the Jewish people is simultaneously intact and superseded,
Mohammed was a prophet and he wasn't. Any proposition and its opposite
are equally valid; it's all a matter of one's narrative perspective.
Yet somehow, according to Friedman, this man-made narrative need not
weaken "religious passion." It is hard to see, however, how such narratives
or our own creation can supply the strength provided by traditional religion.
Let's just take one example of the type reinterpretation of religious
traditions to "embrace modernity and pluralism," urged upon us by Friedman.
One of the leaders of "progressive" Judaism once explained to a friend
of mine that Judaism equals "social justice," and social justice in
our time means abortion on demand and homosexual rights.
Very modern to be sure, and perhaps even pluralistic, as long as one
does not dare to oppose abortion or homosexuality - and certainly not
in the name of religion. But it does leave one wondering what this progressive
religion ("Judaism" in this case) has to add to liberal politics and
what passion it can inspire or solace it can provide.
Eagerly awaiting Tom's next big idea.