Jan. 13th, 2017

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A Jewish Take on Pluralism

[...] My own starting point is the insight (which took me many years to reach) that it is not secularity or secularism that provides the main challenge to religion today, but rather pluralism, as I have defined it here. This insight rejects so-called secularization theory, which dominated the study of contemporary religion until recently. Its core proposition was that more modernity inexorably leads to less religion. That proposition has become empirically untenable. [...]

You can have pluralism without religious freedom. The combination of the two has explosive consequences. In this connection a comparison between America and Israel is instructive. [...] Inevitably, I think, pluralism shakes the taken-for-granted status of parental traditions. Destiny becomes choice. This creates fragility — the memory survives that, after all, a different choice may have been made, perhaps still may be. Sometimes the sheer presence of “an other” starts a process of relativization: Here is somebody — evidently not stupid or crazy, perhaps even simpatico — who does not share my previous certainties. [...]

These considerations give a different perspective on faith in our time: The opposite of faith is not unbelief, but knowledge. I don’t need faith to affirm what I know — for example, that the skyline I see from the window of my study is of Boston, not of New York. But when I believe that the concierge downstairs is not planning to kill me, I don’t really know this, but I have faith in this belief. It is not irrational — he has been around for several years, he has always been friendly and helpful. I would say that any religious affirmation I might be able to make (hesitantly) is closer to my faith in the benevolent concierge than to my knowledge of my geographical location. If we spiritual cousins of Sartre are honest, we should describe ourselves as agnostics/”not-knowers.” There are more and more of us in advanced capitalist democracies.

Full article here.

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Yisroel Markov

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