Of God and Man
Of God and Man
What about This Religion? On the Threat of Fundamentalism - Not Only the Religious Kind
Stanislaw Obirek Perhaps our opinions are beginning to diverge, particularly in reference to the question of the influence of the concept of religion, especially monotheism, on a person's life. This doesn't worry me at all, quite the opposite, because it allows us to clarify issues heretofore unnamed. Or so it seems to me. Zygmunt, earlier you said, 'The other issue that you raise, the relationship between God and man, does not at all seem to me to be related to the issue of the monotheistic-polytheistic debate.' But it seems to me that it is very important for us to realize that, despite the subtle assurances I've cited from Muffs and Knohl, the followers of a monotheistic God, whenever they have had the opportunity (and Christians and Muslims had it more than Jews, which is probably why it is less perceptible in Judaism), began converting others to their own truth in an entirely non-peaceful way, and this was connected to problems with their very understanding of monotheism. Despite an avowed faith in one God, in their day-to-day lives they did not become consistently monotheistic. I am no expert in the history of God, and I would not presume to paint with the broad strokes of Karen Armstrong in her History of God , a book that fills me with both awe and deep respect, but I would like to direct our attention to the so-called 'practical' side of monotheism, - namely, to life and the consequences emerging from it. 1
I understand that the Jewish Cabbalistic tradition offers a remarkably subtle way of linking the divine with the human, and the Cabbalistic ideas that you discussed illustrate this beautifully. Nonetheless, as you well know, institutionalized Judaism viewed the speculations of Cabbalists with great suspicion, as indeed the Christian Church perceived the extravagant flights of its mystics, and as established Islam regarded Sufi practice. You refer to the studies of Gershom Scholem; perhaps it is also worthwhile to recall his student Moshe Idel, who both developed and enriched the findings of his teacher. You rightly point out the dilution of the fundamentals of Cabbalistic studies in today's popular culture, which not only trivializes, but even falsifies, the deepest dimensions of Judaism. Nonetheless, these caricatures should not be allowed to conceal the most important things in the Cabbala - that, in it, mankind not only meets God, but is even fused with him. If you'll allow me, I will mention a few ideas from Idel's book, which to me seems particularly inspiring in our consideration of what Russian thinkers have called God-human affairs. Idel approaches the Cabbala in a phenomenological way, but without bypassing the enormous hermeneutical tradition that has Paul Ricoeur at its forefront. I am thinking here of the one book of his that has been translated into Polish: Kabbalah: New Perspectives . 2 This is not only a work of astonishing erudition, but also one that asks weighty questions about the links between religious experience and its transmission in words, and about the place of that experience in different religious traditions, particularly those that emerged from the shared source of the Abrahamic faiths.
Idel examines some of these questions in many of his other books, which we do not need to discuss here, but I cannot resist mentioning Messianic Mystics , published in 1998, in which he pursues the topos of the messiah so key to Christianity, but considers it from a Jewish perspective. 3 This has significant consequences for Christianity's self-conception and perhaps this is why the book has not been unanimously well received among Christian theologians thus far. But let us return to new perspectives in research on the Cabbala. This is how he describes his intentions: