Listing entries tagged with doubt

Disbelief in the Holy of Holies

posted on 12.07.2006 at 12:52 AM

Does doubt lurk even at the very heart of religion -- even in the Holy of Holies?

That is one of the claims made in the new experimental paper we have posted on the Web. We do hope you will take advantage of the more advanced format for commenting it offers and weigh in.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 12:52 AM | Comments (2)

Mamet and Moses

posted on 11.04.2006 at 3:58 PM


In his new nonfiction book, The Wicked Son, playwright David Mamet rebukes, with a gusto and combativeness found in many of his characters, irreligious or anti-Zionist Jews -- "self-hating Jews," seems the term he prefers.

Where to begin? Perhaps with this interesting point Mamet made while discussing the book on WGN radio recently:

If you look at the five books of Moses, the Torah, it's a complete record of the people, the Jews, who don't like it.... The Abrahamic text is about this desert people who had this revelation and fought it tooth and nail every page until the end of Deuteronomy.

Mamet wants us to see this as evidence that faith has doubt under control. That the irreligious can find themselves -- and answers to their doubts -- in the Bible. We might instead wonder if faith can ever escape or subdue doubt -- even among people who claimed the most intimate experience of God. We might wonder if the whole miraculous production wasn't hard to credit even then.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 3:58 PM | Comments (1)

George W. Bush

posted on 10.01.2006 at 11:57 AM

There has been some dispute lately about just where the current US president stands among the supernaturals. We have, of course, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' suggestion that Mr. Bush is "El Diablo." But other observers see the self-described "Decider" as fitting more gently into a religious context. Here is Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times:

In Bob Woodward's highly anticipated new book, "State of Denial," President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war.

I'm not sure the "almost" is necessary in the phrase I italicized above, as has been noted here before. Certainly, one of the great gifts of religion has been certainty. Here is the first major Christian theologian to write in Latin, Tertullian, having a go at those wishy-washy Greek philosophers (whom the Christians would, soon enough, put out of business):

Wretched Aristotle...taught them dialectic, that art of building up and demolishing...self-stultifying since it is ever handling questions but never settling them....

Mr. Bush settles questions. (The Republicans even pass laws to make sure everyone knows they are settled.) And I'm naive enough to remain shocked that questions could be so badly settled with so little reliance upon wisdom and reason, with such terrible consequences for this country -- and the world -- at this time.

The devil often appears as "the opponent" of religion. But, as history has taught, it is the partisans of religion -- with their obstinate, at some point unreflective certainty -- who so often muck things up.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 11:57 AM | Comments (2)

The Crucifixion

posted on 04.14.2006 at 12:33 PM

Were you to subtract the supernatural from the events at the end of Jesus' life, one Passover week in Jerusalem, you would be left with a popular Jewish religious figure experiencing the most brutal of executions -- one intended, by the Romans, primarily for political rebels. That this actually happened does not seem in much doubt. (Jesus lived perhaps thirteen centuries before Moses was supposed to have lived and perhaps nine centuries before the also questionable Solomon; and he lived in a literate outpost of the sophisticated Roman Empire.)

crucifixion.jpgWe see in the four Gospels, written of course generations after the fact, a man, presumably in unimaginable pain, nailed to a cross. Jesus had by the time of his execution numerous followers, so his last words (forgetting dreams and visions of reappearances after death) might well have been remembered. In John those words are "It is finished." In Luke: "Father, 'into Your hands I commend My spirit.'" Mark and Matthew, however, likely the two oldest of the Gospels, have a question, the same question, coming out of Jesus' mouth right before he dies. That question -- given, remarkably, in the original Aramaic before being translated -- is: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" or "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

In her fascinating attempt to get at the historical Jesus, Paula Fredriksen notes that passages in these probably heavily worked over texts that do not seem to further their purposes in rallying the faithful seem more likely to be authentic. This seems such a passage. Yes, Jesus is repeating the first line of the controversial Psalm 22, which describes the tribulations of David or, in the Christian interpretation, the Messiah. But might not a man, dying with the belief that a glorious plan has been fulfilled, quote a line from the positive second half of the Psalm?

The case could be made that this man, Jesus, died not only in terrible pain but in doubt.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 12:33 PM | Comments (3)