Tuesday, January 10, 2012

ALL things shining?

Just for the record, I wrote a note to the authors of All Things Shining. I'm not really expecting a response, but I felt like making the point.

Dear Professors Dreyfus and Kelly,

I am writing to thank you for your book, All Things Shining. I had already listened to some of your courses through iTunes, and looked forward to reading the book. I was not disappointed. As a religious person, I gained appreciation and insight into much that is sacred through your work. I learned and benefited from every chapter. As I say, I am writing this note in appreciation.

I do have two quibbles. The development of Judaism certainly had no place in a broad survey like All Things Shining. Focusing on small subcultures (e.g. Jews or Gnostics) in Europe would have derailed the work. However, I do think it may misleading to refer to “Judeo-Christian Monotheism”, as your book frequently does. While their may be some truth to there being Judeo-Christian values, their theologies are extremely different.

More than that, your work claims that this Judeo-Christian Monotheism promotes a certain certainty about the world. (i.e. page 200) While both religions do make truth claims, Judaism as a religion generally eschews certainty. While its bible contains much more physis and poietic elements than the New Testament, I refer more specifically to Rabbinic Judaism. The Talmud which forms the backdrop of traditional Judaism reflects complexity, contradiction and questioning rather than certainty throughout its meandering course of law, legend and lore. It should not be necessary to bring cases or Rabbinic aphorisms to prove this. Judaism has never been catholic, and attempts to make it so have failed.

Again, this does not contradict the thesis of your work. I simply think that Jewish and Christian monotheisms are different philosophically in ways that make those references to the world view of “Judeo-Christian Monotheism” somewhat inaccurate.

My second concern regards your suggested course for finding the sacred in our lives. While I think it is fair to say that your approach differs from that Wallace’s characters, it may be just the approach (mis)used by Patrick Bateman in Ellis’ American Psycho. He does seem to combine his grasp of the wooshing physis with his poietic engagement through a refined aesthetic celebration of the culture around him. I may be missing something in your prescription, but it seems that if there are no ethics rooted in the sacred, then Bateman can embrace his sacred experiences in the way that you describe. There must be a way to correct for that.

Please regard these to points as minor. As a practitioner of complex, uncertain, multifaceted monotheism, I gained a great deal from your book. The Melville chapter, in particular, changed my way of looking at Moby Dick and its cultural claims. Thank you, again.


Rabbi Michael Unterberg


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