Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Why believe?

Lilla (see previous post) rhetorically asks "Why is there political theology?" and immediately notes that this question is usually interpreted in connection with a response to why we believe in God. He insists that the proper question is "Why do certain religious beliefs get translated into doctrines about political life?" This question assumes that we make a conscious decision to translate inherited beliefs into political doctrines.

Did the rabbis of Sanhedrin choose to innovate doctrine by radical interpretation of Torah, or was it simply so urgent for them to reconcile reality with a foundational document, that they had no choice but to invent a new manner of reading? Lilla suggests that "even an arbitrary picture inherited from the tradition or society in which one lives can be given rational structure and rational justification," but it is not clear to me that rational justification is sufficient evidence of choice.

Lilla concludes that "The temptation is great to draw God closer to the world or cut him free from it" (p. 31), but is this not specifically a Christian dilemma? I submit that the Jewish solution is to cite the scripture that proclaims "It is not in heaven"-- i.e., the revelation was both necessary and sufficient and is left for us to study and draw from it our own conclusions. We may appear to be rejecting when we think we are radically interpreting, but those who have earned the authority to suggest new readings are always attempting to draw God closer; and we may be attempting (whether consciously or not) to cut ourselves free, but never to cut God free.