Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.
So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.
Editor’s Note: See the first two parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.
The husband/wife relationship is central to feminism. Historical, first-wave feminism studied matrimony in terms of legal rights. Contemporary, second-wave feminism approaches marriage in terms of sexual and economic power. Biblical feminism seeks to understand the spiritual relationship between a husband and wife, and how that spiritual relationship manifests into physical action. To do so, we must begin at the beginning, with Genesis 3:16:
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
“Rule over you” is a phrase that sends chills down any feminist’s spine. But, what does it truly mean? A study of the original Hebrew text provides radical insight into one of the most abused verses of Torah:
This brings us to perhaps the most difficult verse in the Hebrew Bible for people concerned with human equality. Gen 3:16 seems to give men the right to dominate women. Feminists have grappled with this text in a variety of ways. One possibility is to recognize that the traditional translations have distorted its meaning and that it is best read against its social background of agrarian life. Instead of the familiar “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing,” the verse should begin “I will greatly increase your work and your pregnancies.” The word for “work,” izavon, is the same word used in God’s statement to the man; the usual translation (“pangs” or “pain”) is far less accurate. In addition, the woman will experience more pregnancies; the Hebrew word is pregnancy, not childbearing, as the NRSV and other versions have it. Women, in other words, must have large families and also work hard, which is what the next clause also proclaims. The verse is a mandate for intense productive and reproductive roles for women; it sanctions what life meant for Israelite women.
In light of this, the notion of general male dominance in the second half of the verse is a distortion. More likely, the idea of male “rule” is related to the multiple pregnancies mentioned in the first half of the verse. Women might resist repeated pregnancies because of the dangers of death in childbirth, but because of their sexual passion (“desire,” 3:16) they accede to their husbands’ sexuality. Male rule in this verse is narrowly drawn, relating only to sexuality; male interpretive traditions have extended that idea by claiming that it means general male dominance.
One of my favorite things about being on staff at a church is that I get to engage in discussions about faith and spiritual life with other men and women who are passionate not just about their relationship with God but also about helping others to deepen their relationship with Him.
Last week, I was brainstorming with our creative arts director and the student pastor at one of our campuses about improving one particular element of our services, when the student pastor remarked about how he knew people who thought of our church as light on doctrine and substance, largely because we don’t engage in activities like “altar calls.” Near the end of that part of the conversation, I remarked that Christianity in the South is more of a culture than a relationship with God.
In a now-famous quote, Flannery O’Connor once said, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” She may have been more right that she realized, because the dominant Southern Christian culture concerns itself largely with seeing and being seen, with church attendance as an end to the spiritual journey rather than a beginning, and with safely sheltering families from an increasingly messy world.
Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.
Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.
My editor, David Swindle, has a penchant for assigning me to review what I’d consider some pretty nasty stuff. It started with HBO, Girls in particular. He tried getting me into Game of Thrones, but after the whole Red Wedding thing I just couldn’t take it. Now, David has me watching Scandal. It’s more palatable in the network sense (nowhere near the gratuitous nudity and graphic sex levels of HBO), but it’s still as dark. Nothing beats watching a show about a team of lawyers who don’t care a whit about the law. In fact, they go to great lengths to break the law in order to serve the gods of public opinion.
Only four episodes in, I consulted with my PJ colleague April Bey, a big fan of the show, for her opinion. “Everyone is evil, but that’s okay because we’re all evil,” she explained. Her observation was ironic, disturbing, and thought-provoking. Despite an apparent thread of cynicism regarding religion and morality, the struggle between good and evil remains the stuff of blockbuster hits like Scandal. Because our stories reflect our cultural psyche, it should come as no surprise that the word “evil” is beginning to carry serious weight in intellectual circles. Ascribed with more power than a petty adjective (i.e. early 2000′s “evil” George W. Bush), evil is now being discussed as a theory and a reason for contemporary political, legal, military and indeed cultural failings.
Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.
According to Halle Berry, who is hawking a new lingerie line at Target, women need to be prepared “in that area” because you never know who’s going to see it.
Style.com reports that Berry told reporters at a preview of her new Scandale lingerie line,
I have some friends—who will remain nameless—that wear the same janky bras for, like, five years straight. As Americans, we can go there, but what I learned about the Frenchwomen is that they’re always updating their lingerie. … They’re not going to get caught in the emergency room not prepared. If they have to cut their clothes off, they’re going to be fabulous under there.
Lingerie marketing schemes aside, Halle (I can call her by her first name because we went to high school together and I put shaving cream in her hair during band camp
hazing initiation) does have a really good point. While I wish that I could have the freedom that men enjoy — I guarantee you that my husband has spent zero time in the last decade thinking about how ER personnel might be judging him on his undergarment choices — the truth is that because of science (having something to do with the Y chromosome, I think) I am forced to think about what would happen if someone had to cut my clothes off in the emergency room. (In fact, that did happen to me when I broke my leg skiing in the 9th grade and it is every bit as mortifying as you might imagine.)
Last week I was telling a friend about my son’s wedding in September, sharing the events of the morning of The Big Day as we all got ready for the afternoon ceremony. I didn’t realize how early we were going to get our hair done in the morning and as a result, I didn’t end up getting a shower before we all headed out to the beauty shop. So I had to settle for schlepping together a sponge bath and shaving my legs in the bathroom sink before slipping into my formal gown, a memory which, as I’m sitting here more than a month later, still horrifies me.
And it’s no better when it’s not a formal occasion. Last night, my husband had a late meeting, so I decided to run out and grab some carry-out food. Before heading out, I changed my clothes, put on some eyeliner and put lipstick on –as if the fast food workers were going to notice!
Honestly, I wish I could be free from this vanity and narcissism. I have friends who don’t give a hoot about how they look when they leave the house and they own it. Beauty is on the inside, they say, daring people to reject them for the way they look. They seem happy.
The problem is, of course, that our culture screams at women constantly that we must look a certain way, dress a certain way, wear this makeup, weigh this much.
People judge us, we judge others, we judge ourselves. Are we doing it mostly for ourselves — because we’re narcissists — or to impress others? I wrestle with that sometimes.
The average wedding in America costs roughly $30,000. Egged on by countless wedding TV shows, magazines, and websites, people throw what appear to be pseudo star-studded events that aim to rival the kind of blow-out parties you only see in movies. In the end you wind up with one night of clouded memories, a ton of photos, and a group of hungover people hovering over breakfast in the hotel lobby the next day. The bills may last you months, even upwards of a year. And for what? To make your grandmother happy? Because you really liked that episode of My Fair Wedding? You can have a great, regret-free wedding without sacrificing yourself to the Wedding Idol. Here’s how.
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat has declared his love for Lena Dunham. It hardly comes as a surprise that a New York Times writer, even one who dwells to the right of the aisle, would find the Girls prodigy appealing. What makes Douthat’s devotion disturbing is that he has managed to transform a goddess chained to a slew of liberal causes into a sacrificial lamb for conservative culture. In his struggle to do so, his misses the mark in what could have been one of the most culturally relevant critiques of Girls to date.
The critic defends Dunham’s showpiece Girls, writing,
She’s making a show for liberals that, merely by being realistic, sharp-edge, complicated, almost gives cultural conservatism its due.
It’s a seemingly ironic observation, based in the idea that Girls “often portrays young-liberal-urbanite life the way, well, many reactionaries see it…” That is, a subculture on the verge of self-destruction due to excessive amounts of what sociologist Robert Bellah dubbed, “the view that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.”
In other words, as Gawker so simply put it:
He likes watching the show because it allows him to feel superior to Dunham and her fellow sluts.
By employing a rote, traditionalist perspective, Douthat argued himself into a hole, turning his love into judgement and burying his point in poorly-worded theory and equally bad theology.
These days we don’t really talk much about idols, at least not in the literal sense. We talk about American Idol and teen idols and that sort of thing, but the idols that represent serious sin go unmentioned.
Throughout the Bible, we see the evidence of the damage that idol worship does. After the Exodus, when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the impatient Israelites made a golden calf to worship. For the people of Israel, it was just downhill from there, as idol worship and the unfaithfulness toward God that such worship represented led to a world of trouble for them, including the exile to Babylon.
In the New Testament book of Acts, Jesus’ apostles encountered idol worshipers when they went about spreading the Good News of the Messiah. These worshipers of other gods — and even some of the craftsmen who made the physical idols — stirred up all sorts of strife for the followers of the one true God.
So what relevance does idol worship have for us today? These days, the idols that Jews and Christians follow aren’t graven images per se, but followers of God do allow certain ideas, preferences, and opinions to become idols that get in the way of their relationship with Him. Many of these idols come with the best of intentions, yet they impede the ability to truly follow God.
In the following pages, through an inter-faith dialogue with one of my favorite colleagues here at PJ Lifestyle, Susan L.M. Goldberg, we’re going to look at five idols that God’s followers allow to get in the way of their relationship with Him. Hopefully naming these idols will get some Christians and Jews to think about how they may affect their own relationship with God.
11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.
Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.
See the previous installment in Susan’s Dudeism series: How to Become an Official Dude in 10 Easy Steps
Warning: Given that the f-bomb is dropped in The Big Lebowski over 200 times, some of these clips will most likely be NSFW.
10. Abiding is a science as well as an art.
Patience is an inherent aspect of abiding. Other definitions include “to endure without yielding,” “to accept without objection,” and “to remain stable.” In the world of the Internet and social media technology, abiding is an anachronistic action. We have been shaped by our media to function at rapid speeds. One of the biggest goals of Common Core is to increase the speed at which students mentally process information. Not study, analyze and comprehend, but process and regurgitate the way they would like and share a Twitter or Facebook post. Abiding flies in the face of today’s high-speed reactionary culture.
10. Watch The Big Lebowski a minimum of 3 times.
The first time you watch Lebowski, encounter the film fresh and unfettered. Invite a friend or two over. Make it a casual affair and, if you can, do a double feature. Watch The Maltese Falcon beforehand so you have some understanding of how incredibly screwed up the plotline is going to be. The second time you watch Lebowski, do so with a Caucasian in hand. Immerse yourself in the experience, not as a moviegoer, but as a key aspect of the mise en scene. Discover your favorite quotes. By your third go-round, call in sick, lounge in your bathrobe, and when your friends say, “You wasted a sick day on that movie?” respond with, “Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.” Be sure to obtain the collector’s edition and review the special features for complete immersion.
Whether you’re seeking salvation or inner peace, a god to worship or add to your home-made altar, the pop culture pantheon is at your disposal so that you may pick and choose the gods and tools of worship to service your every emotional, spiritual, and even material need.
10. Harry Potter
When they aren’t re-reading their holy texts, Potterheads commune at MuggleNet to chat about their god, study their faith and perform the usual acts of tithing. According to the Facebook page “Being a POTTERHEAD” (which is classified as a non-profit organization),
Harry Potter has reached out to 200 countries, spoke out in 69 languages, and has touched the lives of 400 million people. It is the phenomenon that ignores race, age, gender and religion and has brought us all together despite our differences.
Also known as Potterholics, Potterites and Pottermaniacs, Potterheads should never be confused with potheads as their allegiance is strictly Wizard, not weed.
If you were a teen (or pre-teen) girl at any time in the 1970s, you probably held in your (amateurly manicured) hands at some point a copy (or many, many copies) of Tiger Beat magazine. Known for glossy covers that featured saucy shots of the day’s most popular teen idols — most of them males and many of them shirtless — Tiger Beat (and its twin magazine 16) usually included a centerfold pin-up of a pop star of such import that the mere thought of his poster on her bedroom wall could persuade a young girl to part with her babysitting money. My bedroom wall was plastered with Bobby Sherman in all his glory — the purple shirts unbuttoned to the waist, the velvet choker necklaces, and those gorgeous blue eyes! Also clad in all black, with his beautiful brown tresses casually flowing in the breeze. And at least a half dozen other iterations of Bobby posing and smiling (or pouting). My cousin had all the Donny Osmond pin-ups, while my girlfriend across the street papered her walls with David Cassidy. We’d carefully remove the staples from our teen idols’ midsections, lovingly unfold our new treasures and smooth out the creases before taping (or push-pinning) them to our bedroom walls.
Did you ever wonder what became of the teen idol whose visage used to cast his gaze upon you every night as you drifted off to sleep?
Here’s what happened to 10 of our favorite Tiger Beat ”Cover Boys”:
Over at the PJ Tatler last week I unveiled my newest e-book size, giant list post: “30 Books For Defeating Valerie Jarrett’s Cult of Political Criminals.”
I organized the list into eight different sections by either theme or author, the second to last being a subject I’ve been preoccupied with perhaps more than all the others the past few years: “5 on cults, idol worship, and the origins of religion.” Here are numbers 21 through 25. I intend to eventually do a much longer, more in depth list devoted specifically to this subject. What other books do you think I should include? I’m now taking suggestions… Also related from earlier this month for those looking for more: ”Is God a Noun or a Verb? 6 Great Books Introducing Jewish Mysticism”
21. and 22. Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered by Leora Batnitzky and The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig
From PJ Media columnist David P. Goldman‘s articles and books I’ve developed a fascination with Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig. This book provides accessible insight into a core component of his thought very much of relevance to those wanting to better understand and overcome the powerful personality cults dominating America today. Leora Batnitzky focuses the discussion of Rosenzweig on idolatry, the primitive religious practice Judaism evolved against. For Rosenzweig idolatry is not based in the images or in the “foreign” customs of competing religions. It’s based in an incorrect apprehension of how to worship. Rosenzweig argues that the postmodernist, Nietzchean, truth-is-relative philosopher engages in the same practice as the ancient idolaters, self-worship, from page 47:
Once I finish reading Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed this year it’ll be time to focus on The Star of Redemption. As Goldman’s first essay book demonstrates, Rosenzweig’s ideas provide piercing analysis of our culture today…
There are many signs suggesting that America is changing. In fact, to an outside observer America is starting to look a lot like Europe on many fronts.
One indication of the Europeanization of America might be the growing interest towards soccer. (For the purpose of this article and to avoid confusion, I will, albeit reluctantly, refer to football as soccer.)
The New Republic, once the torchbearer of American liberalism – the classical kind – and now largely a progressive voice, dedicated a whole section for the ongoing soccer World Cup taking place in Brazil.
Granted, I have always been uneasy about Americans and soccer. I love soccer and see it as part of being European. But in my murky soul, soccer represents nothing more than the same lightness and irrelevance of European cultural novelties and indulgences as coffee shops, fashion and high-speed trains.
Of course Americans love sports, but should they embrace a sport that has a bloodier history than any other sport in modern times?
Football and its all-pervasive fan culture is yet another example of the tribalism that Europeans – excluding the euro elites – are sinking into. Western Europe today is defined not by a coherent set of values, but by its identity crisis and deep divisions between lawmakers and the public, Brussels and local governments – and of course between the secular and the religious.
I first saw it at the Super Bowl performance when Beyonce gyrated and snarled at an adoring audience through a wall of fire. That performance went beyond symbolism and into revelation. It was the coming out of a very old and very powerful spirit revealing itself to the world, and I’m not the only one who noticed:
“We are very disappointed in the failure of the public to recognize the existence of a divine Deity walking among them,” the church’s founder Pauline John Andrews stated. “Deity’s often walk the Earth in their flesh form. Beyonce will transcend back to the spirit once her work here on Mother Earth has been completed.”
“As our congregation continues to swell, we ask that you consider what is more real; an invisible spirit on high, or a walking, talking, breathing Goddess who shows you her true form daily? Beyonce’s spirit is entrancing. We know that she was sent to this place to spread love, peace, and joy. While we do not believe Beyonce to be the Creator, we recognize that she still sits among the throne of Gods.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but they’re right (sort of). Beyonce is definitely not the Creator. But she is channeling the ancient spirit of a goddess everyone knows, although her powers are not “peace, love and joy” but sexuality, violence and death. She is Astarte, Asherat, Ishtar, or Aphrodite, whichever name you prefer, and the spirit that has come to rest in her is one that has been here for a very long time meting out all kinds of destruction on human kind. Sexual immorality, disease, death, murder, war — these are her calling cards. She also needs the adoration of the throngs. She craves it, and she gets it. That thing that sort of looked like Beyonce at the Super Bowl commanding people to reach out their hands so she could “feel their energy” was not Beyonce but an ancient goddess coming out in plain daylight. Whether you believe it literally or figuratively is of little importance. Idol worship is alive and well and today’s idols are no different than the ones made out of gold thousands of years ago.
Watch the video on the next page.
Commentary has printed some brilliant feminist insights by Jonathan S. Tobin on Brandeis University’s refusal to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
We have heard a great deal in the last couple of years from liberals about a “war on women” that was supposedly being waged by American conservatives. That meme played a crucial part in President Obama’s reelection and Democrats hope to repeat that success in this year’s midterms. Liberals have tried to mobilize American women to go to the polls to register outrage over the debate about forcing employers to pay for free contraception, a Paycheck Fairness Act that is more of a gift to trial lawyers than women, and attempts to limit abortions after 20 weeks. These are issues on which reasonable people may disagree, but what most liberals seem to have missed is the fact that there is a real war on women that is being waged elsewhere around the globe where Islamist forces are brutalizing and oppressing women in ways that make these Democratic talking points look trivial. It is that point that Hirsi Ali is trying to make in her public appearances.
But instead of rising in support of Hirsi Ali’s efforts to draw attention to these outrages, leading American feminists are silent. The only voices we’re hearing from the left are from men who are determined to justify Brandeis.
I recently commented on the nastiness that occurs when political passion jumps the shark into idol-worshiping territory. One need look no further for evidence as to how ugly and narrow-minded political idol worshipers can get than the quotes Tobin pulls from left-wing sources hellbent on defending Brandeis’s decision. A search of both Jezebel and Bitch Magazine websites turned up zip on the controversy, once again proving the theory that feminism really is all about white, upper class “rich” chicks and their pop culture fanaticism.
I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.
The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.
The fact that the mainstream feminist movement has no use for Hirsi Ali’s brave fight for women’s rights should come as no surprise. Her global campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and abuse of women within radical Islam is so far out of the realm of #FirstWorldProblem Feminism that it doesn’t even ping on their radar. Which is precisely why feminism is a joke and women continue to be the laughingstock whipping boys of Democrat men who keep them well oiled and distracted during election season before shoving them back under Oval Office desks where they belong. What can I say except submission sells.
Perhaps Muslim women aren’t the only ones who are being targeted and abused because of their gender after all.
David Swindle has entered the ongoing discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:
Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?
No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.
…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.
And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.
…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.
Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.
Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:
In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.
…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”
Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.
As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:
…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.
Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.
There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.
Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.
Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”
One comment, however, caught my eye.
There are a lot of great lines in the megillah of Esther. The one most often quoted comes from Mordecai: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position for such a time as this.” It smacks of drama and makes for an excellent movie poster catchphrase. But, it wouldn’t hold half its meaning without the point-blank observation of evil Haman’s wife, Zeresh.
Upon listening to his frustration over Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him, Zeresh tells her husband to hang Mordecai. But, when she finds out Mordecai is a Jew, she does a complete 180 and admits:
If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a Jew, you will not get the better of him; on the contrary, your downfall before him is certain.
And this is before Esther convinced the King not to massacre the Jews. It’s refreshing to know our reputation precedes us. But it isn’t a reputation we Jews are always glad to have; we aren’t exactly in it for the fame. In fact, like Esther, our first instinct is to keep our heads down and fit in with the rest of the crowd.
Speaking of “the crowd”, modern feminists have managed to twist the humble Jewess into the villain of the tale, instead opting to celebrate the Persian Queen Vashti for her refusal to appear before the King at his whim. Think: Her body, her self, Persian style. Docile, compliant Esther, meanwhile, is a mere pawn whose beauty comes in handy to persuade the patriarchy to let her live another day. This simplistic interpretation, totally ignorant of the promise and perspective of God, relies on the feminist myth that a woman’s worth is in her ability to manipulate her body to her advantage. Esther could never be considered a hero to these women, because she was inspired by a sense of purpose that outweighed the importance of her own skin.
“Don’t suppose that merely because you happen to be in the royal palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction; but you and your father’s family will perish,” Mordecai warns before adding, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”
Vashti Feminists like to think the story is about Esther using her body to pursue the King’s favor. In reality, Esther pursues God’s purpose for her life and the life of her nation, Israel. She didn’t choose to sacrifice her body to the Persian King’s whims. On the contrary, Esther chose to devote herself, body, mind and spirit, to the living promises of God. The King, the death decree, even evil Haman, all of them were nothing more than plot devices in the ongoing love story between God and Israel. Esther, Queen of the Shadchans (Matchmakers) arrived on the scene as a reminder that “relief and deliverance will come”.
Esther was just a regular Jewish girl, redirecting her focus away from herself and onto the bigger picture of God’s plan for humanity. Crowned with the desire and humility to walk in faith, she is remembered as a Queen among her people. Vashti-feminists are oblivious to this plan and the honor it bestows, because their focus remains on the image in the mirror, not the person within, let alone the others who may be around.
Thank God, Esther decided that fitting in with the crowd was a bad idea. Had Esther followed feminist mantra, she would have dismissed Mordecai’s warning and followed the example of Queen Vashti, only to wind up exiled or dead. Instead, she trusted that God’s plan involved every part of her, including her beauty, and used all of her gifts to that end. Typical feminists favor Vashti because they worship tragic beauty; Biblical feminists admire Esther because she plays to win.