Sunday, April 30, 2006

I had to write this for a class, and I am still in the process.

Question D. Using at least three examples, discuss twentieth-century skepticism or cynicism about the ability of humans to achieve utopia. What is your opinion about the possibility of utopia?

It would be a lie to say that utopia is not elusive, in any century of human history, and I would also be dishonest to myself to say that it was “easy to accomplish,” for I know that it is not. However, we need a clear definition of what utopia is before we can begin to say how realistic or unrealistic it is to actually exist in the world, and it seems that the vast array of theologies, cultures, ideologies, and philosophies, from which a notion of utopia grows, might just be the factor in making utopia as elusive as it is, and nothing else. In my personal opinion, humanity is headed towards a utopia, but I am not fooled by the belief that this utopia will one day “appear,” or if perhaps we build structures with the right shapes, destroy authority in order to free individuals to their own “Heaven,” or create an authorative structure so rigid and unbending that a few powerful leaders would force people into conforming into the ideal of that utopia, that suddenly everything will be alright. In fact, I am bothered by the notion that humanity will never reach the insight into their existence upon which “my notion” of utopia stands, but I have reasons to believe that it will one day indeed reach its destination.

I have to admit that what I am saying is ironic, because it is in the nature of a utopian vision to contrast that vision from everything else around it. I have fallen perfectly in this pattern by stating that “my notion” of utopia is simply different from all the other visions of utopia taught in this class. However, as I said earlier, a utopian vision grows from the philosophies of which a particular ideology is composed. Therefore, if “my notion” of utopia is realistic or unrealistic depends heavily, almost solely, but not quite, on if what I believe to be true is realistic or not. I am an Orthodox Jew and I believe that G-d exists, and if it can be said that to believe in G-d is realistic, then it opens up the pathway for Judaism’s notion of utopia to also be realistic. But if it is a silly myth that G-d exists, then Judaism’s notion of utopia is also a hopelessly silly myth. Jewish utopia can be best described as “Messianism.” The thing about “Jewish utopia” is that it is not a utopia only for Jews, but it is a vision of a world in which humanity has so thoroughly uncovered the deepest secrets of its existence that it can no longer deny them, which allows “true peace” to take root. It is quite radical to say, but humanity will be able to uncover this secret when it realizes that its Source, and therefore its purpose and state of being are entirely united.

Using Jewish, or one form of religious terms, this is monotheism, but not just monotheism in the sense of the election of one deity to believe in from a pantheon, but the recognition that it is simply untrue to say that anything other than the One Creator exists, one in both quantity and in essential nature. “United we stand, divided we fall” is a modern maxim that can be used to sum up “Jewish utopianism.” It explains that humanity’s summum bonum is related to fixed truths about the nature of humanity and therefore, not only does it suggest proper and wise actions for humanity to follow, it instructs them with the awareness that failure to comply brings social distortion and destruction. Having said that, no punishment needs to be administered for failure to comply, because failure to comply will create its own punishment; torturous human existence. Therefore, Jewish utopianism declares a bold statement, that humanity has the ability to alter its behavior to create a livable world. This ideology, even if not expressed in religious terms, is at the forefront of today’s most progressive strains of thought, that we can and must do the right thing – it places a certain urgency on absolute morality, such as the “Never Again” ethos of the Holocaust, which now also applies to the victims of Sudan’s Janjaweed; the military group belonging to the Khartoum government being charged of killing off the Darfurian ethnic group.

Finally, it is a very simple notion, that we, humanity, are made in G-d’s image, and when and if that is realized, the murder of another becomes virtually impossible. The belief in this One G-d is absolutely necessary, for if there are many gods and goddesses, then it is equally easy to define somebody as an essential other, and we see that this is to blame for humanity’s darkest failings. “Lucky” for us, we have reached a stage of scientific development in which what “the ancients” believed to be true by mere axiom, we are becoming able to “prove” through our amazing developments in the physical sciences, that existence not only teeters on interrelatedness (oneness), but on directed existence versus undirected existence; Creation versus an accident of life. The former brings with it the dignity of the human being, and the latter brings with it the crude belief that we are nothing more than intelligent beasts; it would be much better for us to have remained unintelligent if the latter were true. It is hard to explain or defend a position stating the absolute immorality of murder when the day’s philosophy tells everybody that life came about by accident. When the “basic” rights and wrong, such as murder for example, become “agnostic,” then we will see society do things that are a far cry from basic, such as, for example, sex industries organized on the international level destroying everybody involved – we do not even see animals, the “lower creatures,” behaving in such ways! The human insistence and recognition of the existence of G-d can pick away at the most damaging of human tendencies, but our ignorance or rejection of such a thing can turn our heightened state of being into a gruesome and nightmarish reality. This is as realistic as the ability of human beings to control themselves.

However, how realistic is this, and if it is realistic, why has it not happened yet?
Sin of Omission

Muslim religious tradition states that "the Jews" falsified the texts of the Torah in order to "elect" themselves as the Chosen People. The content of this fable notwithstanding, this declaration has two problems; 1) who are "the Jews" when it was not "the Jews" that wrote the Torah, but Moses, and 2) what did the "original texts" say and where are they now? I suppose the reply to that would be that they were preserved in the Q'uran, a text that was produced nearly three thousand years later. A Muslim with whom I was once speaking, when I asked him that question, told me that the original copy was most likely destroyed, which would have removed any evidence of its existence and with it the validity of his argument. A third problem with this belief is that one of the primary beliefs of Islam is that the concept of a "Chosen People" is anathema to G-d's Plan: either He chooses everybody or chooses nobody. However, this is fallacious because they believe that "the Jews" cheated Ishmael out of the birthright that was properly his, which would have rendered his descendants "the Chosen People." Therefore, as long as "the wrong people" are the Chosen ones, then the "Chosen" concept does not exist. Nevertheless, Muslims do believe themselves to be G-d's Chosen People.

To reply to the cheating claim, did G-d not, at every step of the way, choose the younger brother to be the recipient of His instruction? G-d chose Abraham, not his older brother Nachor, He chose Isaac, not Ishmael (although the Torah says that G-d would make a great nation from Ishmael), He chose Jacob, not Esav, Joseph, not his ten older brothers, and Moses, not Aaron or Miriam (although they did have their purposes). What about Jacob's wanting to marry Rachel, the sister younger to Leah, when it was commonplace to marry off the first-born daughter first? We see a pattern here. Would a Muslim honestly apply the criteria that the Jews twisted the texts in order to elect Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, and Moses, when it is part of their religious tradition that G-d called upon those people to do great things? As much as Islam (claims) to detract from the concept of a chosen lineage, we see that Abraham's lineage is passed on to every subsequent matriarch and patriarch through him - all of the aforementioned people are from the lineage of Abraham. We also see that lineage plays a big part in Islam when we consider that the two dominant groupings of Islam, Sunni and Shi'a, are based on disagreements as to who was Muhammad's rightful heir - each believed that it was a different person in the royal line. Who came directly after Ishmael that we know about? Muhammad was born thousands of years later, which Muslim tradition explains is a descendant of Ishmael.

Part of the Covenant between G-d and the Jews was the Land of Israel, and the Q'uran as well says that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, "Bani Israyeel," the Childen of Israel, rightfully inherited it. Does the Q'uran say anywhere that Ishmael's descendants inherited the Land? There is almost no basis to the claim that "the Jews" corrupted the "original text" of the Torah to "write Ishmael out" because we see that even the Q'uran insists that the Land of Israel was to be their land as the heritage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - not Abraham and Ishmael. As an aside, Muslim tradition says that Abraham did not take his son Isaac to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him at G-d's command, but that he took Ishmael to the future sight of Mecca in order to sacrifice him. We can hardly imagine what, in that place and time, importance Mecca contained, and it is not realistic that Abraham and Ishmael ventured to a place so far out of the locality to make a Covenant with G-d, even though it is noble (and necessary) to think so.