Saturday, November 03, 2007

Here's to Loopholes!!

One of the good and bad things about reading a great blog is that you get tuned in to other great blogs. By reading Coming out of the Prayer Closet, I got tuned into No Mechitza In My World and Losing my Religion. The bad part about this is that my blog reading list is starting to get pretty long. :)

Recently on No Mechitza, the author, Yael, was talking about loopholes. In her Jewish faith, she has found "loopholes" for family and friends who have turned to other faiths. Without these loopholes, she would probably have to think of them as idolaters. She has had evangelical friends who have told her about the loopholes they have come up with to accommodate her beliefs. Some of the other people in the conversation also chimed in with the loopholes they have to accommodate people with a sincere faith that differs from theirs.

I find that I look for loopholes too. I have many Mormon friends who passionately love God - they just work out the details differently than I do. Though many in my Christian circles are convinced that they are Hell-bound, I do not believe this to be true. I have heard many of my Mormon friends make similar accommodations for me.

I believe the desire for loopholes pleases the heart of God. I believe God to be, first and foremost, a Father. Being a father myself, I sometimes try to anticipate his reactions toward me based on what my feelings would be toward my own children.

It makes me proud when I see my children bend or change the rules to accommodate someone who has not been included. A game is made for four, but they change the rules to include a fifth child who is nearby. Relationship trumps rules.

I believe this makes God smile. Here's to loopholes!


Brook said...

I like the example of your kids making loopholes in games to include others...
however, I have a general problem with the rest of this, in that the underlying premise of the whole thing is our need to judge and/or control others. Are we looking for loopholes to make ourselves feel better about our neighbors eternal destination (sort of like pulling the wool over our own eyes)? Or are we thinking we can somehow use these loopholes to get God to "let them in"? I really like Yael's blog, but why does she (or we) have to think anything about the spiritual status of family and friends? "she would probably have to think of them as idolaters"? How condescending! on the surface these loopholes sound downright gracious of you, but the deeper reality is that they come from a need to judge others, if we somehow have to come up with reasons why they're not so bad after all (i.e. why "we" can let them in because of OUR particular reading of a particular scripture). What if we can't find a loophole? What do we think and do then? Doesn't John 21:22 say, in effect, don't worry about what God has in store for others, YOU follow Christ and worry about your own life and not whether that sinner over there is or is not going to be accepted by God? (but what about witnessing to sinners? how will we know who is and is not saved if we're not to make that judgement on them? Good question, one that doesn't get asked quite enough, lest the whole evangelical concept of "witnessing" come crumbling down...Ever been "witnessed to" long after you'd already been "saved" through witnessing? I have. I know you have too. irritating...) I think that most people of most any faith don't want to be "accommodated" in order to be accepted into a group. If your faith (or mine) causes you to need a reason to accommodate me, then I'll just go find some less judgemental friends elsewhere, thank you.

Andrew said...

Hmmm… This would seem to be a perfect example of why Brueggemann says that we need to dialogue over our interpretations of a text.

I think loopholes could be taken in the condescending way you state. The group makes “allowances” for the poor schmuck on the outside and aren’t they nice for tolerating the outsider.

However, I am choosing to see the intent another way. Most of our religions, in one way or another, have an aspect of exclusivity to them. This is not something we tend to resist as people because there is a part of us that enjoys it. Lucy proclaimed in an old Peanuts cartoon, when generating a list of who was and wasn’t coming to her party, that “it is almost more fun NOT inviting people than it is inviting them.” People love VIP status, having the card that gets them in, watching people stand in line while they pass to the front. If everyone had the privilege, the sparkle would be lost (or so we have been conditioned).

I think the desire to find a loophole is a recognition that the exclusive system is a lie. That there is something wrong with our starting point, and we need to go back and re-examine our texts. Maybe our desire to have a “them” in contrast to our “us” has caused us to read poorly over the ages.

This is where, I believe, loopholes begin to develop. So many of us, particularly in religious communities, travel within tight subcultures. While there, it is easy to make and keep erroneous and false presumptions about the “other”. However, when you move outside your circle, all of that gets challenged. At this point, one may start to question the rules of exclusivity one grew up with. Is that what the text said? Is that what it meant? Does the context apply? Can I read the text and come to different conclusions?

Your assumption is that anyone making allowances is doing so from a perspective of judgment and therefore, arrogance. That may be. I would rather think of it as someone freeing themselves from the shackles of exclusivity that they have inherited.

Brook said...

I think we're saying the same thing. We both agree that the basic assumption is one of judgement of the other. one of exclusivity based on human perspective. and it sounds like you're saying that looking for loopholes is a way of freeing ourselves from the "shackles" of judgementalism we have inherited. I agree. but the question still remains, what do you do when you can't find a loophole? and perhaps you (hopefully) at some point realize that, instead of looking for loopholes, maybe the whole foundation of judging the other worthy or not needs to be razed. coming to an understanding that EVERYONE is invited to the "banquet at the end of the world" (as you said, the exclusivity system is a lie), and it will only be up to God as to who does or does not make it in. And that will certainly have nothing to do with who WE deemed worthy, loopholes or no...

The looking for loopholes strikes me as someone realizing the exclusivity and judgementalism of the "other" is wrong, and yet trying to hold onto that system at the same time, because (as you say) it is fun. If it is a stepping stone out of that system, then fine, but realize it is still one that is playing by the rules of exclusivity and still grounded in judgement of the other.

of course, if you don't believe in hell anyway, what do you need loopholes for? ;-)

jim said...

Yes, I think you guys are saying basically the same thing with perhaps slightly different focuses.

"but the question still remains, what do you do when you can't find a loophole?" (Brook) I would say that hopefully we would finally come to our senses and realize that we are still "religious" after all, that there is something wrong with our belief system and we are not yet completely free. This to me is tragic.

Did Jesus need loopholes? Does God need loopholes? One of the main reasons for the relatively recent rehashing of Atonement Theory (and the rejection of penal substitution) is the question "does God himself need a loophole to forgive?" Why can't God just forgive or accept? Karl Barth talks about the "free agency" of God? God may "freely" condemn all or "freely" accept all. He is not bound to do one or the other, or a combination of the two. If God is bound to find (provide) a "loophole" to forgive then he is not truly free... is he? And if we need loopholes, we are not free either.

It's often been said that Jesus came to do away with religion (I'd like to add "and consequently the need for loopholes"). It seems illogical to me that he would think that the way to do that would be to provide God with the mother of all loopholes. This is why I find the recent discussion/reworking of atonement theory fascinating and worthwhile.

My comments on atonement theory are a bit of an aside but I think they serve my point... I think what I'm trying to say is that Jesus wanted to do away with loopholes and he didn't do it by providing another one. Jesus wanted us to be free, like God is, and if I need loopholes can I really say that I am free (as it is with God).

"Relationship trumps rules" (Andrew) Rules are binding and demanding (even demanding loopholes), relationships are free(ing).

I agree that looking for loopholes is not necessarily a condescending act, in fact in and of itself it is a good and helpful thing... and it likely makes God smile... he sees us heading in the right direction. So, in that respect, yes, "here's to loopholes". But I also agree that if we find ourselves looking for loopholes we are still bound by "religion"... we aren't there yet.

BTW, I'm not trying to say that I'm "loophole free" :-) ... but I'd love to be. And I do think that God is "loophole free!"... and GREATFULLY and THANKFULLY SO!

Yael said...

Well,since I'm the one being discussed here, I suppose I should chime in.

in that the underlying premise of the whole thing is our need to judge and/or control others.

Absolutely not! The whole premise is about how we are to deal with difficult texts in Torah.

Different groups view things differently, I cannot claim to speak with a universal voice nor do I wish to as I try to explain where I am coming from with this.

The reality of the matter is that Torah speaks of many boundaries. There are boundaries between groups of people, there are boundaries between pure and impure, between holy and profane. Some of these boundaries seem quite arbitrary. So, how do we deal with such texts? Do we throw them out as being 'judgmental' or do we work with them to find meaning? Our way as Jews is to work with these texts. And the way we work with the texts is according to our view of exegesis.

So, why do I have to make these loopholes? The texts already make the judgments and I'm not going to throw out Torah. So I study how all these texts work together to see if there cannot be other readings. If that is offensive to someone, I'm sorry, but that's the best I can do with the texts and remain true to who I am and who I choose to be.

Torah clearly states that anyone who worships a god other than our God is an idolator. My mother was a Christian who worshiped Jesus as god. The fact that Christians claim Jesus and God are the same means nothing to me because according to Judaism they are not. Do I think my mother was an idolator? No. Why not? Because Torah says God tells Jews not to worship things that God has given to the nations but God does not tell the nations not to worship anything else. God only tells us. There are different standards between Jews and non-Jews just as there are different standards between the priests and the levites, between the priests and the people of Israel. This does not mean better or worse, merely different. Micah also seems to hint at this, that there are other standards for other nations which are not to be ours. This is a valid reading of the text which frees me from every having to bothered by the seemingly zenophobic nature of some of our texts.

I have never spent my time wondering who is 'saved' or 'not saved'. I don't believe in such things, nor do I believe in hell. I leave it to God to figure out people's relationships with God and only desire for people to view my relationship with God as none of their business as well.

The conversation about loopholes began with another Jew talking about some Christians trying to make loopholes for us Jews so that they're not condeming us to hell. The comment was somewhat dismissive of these loopholes and so I pointed out that I also have loopholes. It is amusing to me that in my defense of Christians trying to be accommodating of others who don't follow their beliefs I end up being the one labeled judgmental. Surely it is true no good deed goes unpunished! And I type this with a smile.

What John has to say is meaningless to me since this is not my text. I don't follow Christ nor will I ever. I'm not looking to accept anyone into my group. Torah tells me not to move my neighbors boundaries. Where other people are is just fine for them and where I am is fine for me. You will never, ever hear me say that anyone else should be Jewish. But, you will also never see me just dismiss verses of Torah because on the surface I don't like what they have to say.

No one needs my accommodation, nor do I offer it. However, I find myself often on the receiving end of such accommodations...truly amusing that here I am defending myself from accusations of being bigoted and condescending. Surely the world has turned upside down?

Yael said...

Just wanted to say I took note of your statement that this is not about judgements at all but is instead about being freed from exclusivity we have inherited.

Just want to add that all groups are going to define who is in and who is out of their group, that's the nature of groups, so there is an exclusivity which I think is perfectly valid. Where I see the exclusivity becoming a problem is when we cannot allow other groups to exist as they are, but instead insist all must become like whoever we are. That is the exclusivity which I resist and unless I read you incorrectly, you do as well.

jim said...

"Where other people are is just fine for them and where I am is fine for me." (Yael)

I agree wholeheartedly. I think that this is precisely what is so problematic and impossible to accept particularly for Evangelicals (any fundamentalist really) because of their view of scripture and of Jesus. The view that the scriptures are the verbal plenary inspiration of God and that Jesus is God forces the believer to have to find loopholes in order to accept an other's worldview as legitimate. And that's what I mean by "religious", its being bound in that way. Anyone who really believes what I've quoted Yael saying doesn't need a loop hole in order to accept an other's worldview as legitimate for them. They can, however, still live out seriously their own faith tradition, as Yael does.

For me, I can't do the "I'm a Christian and I have the truth, but I'll find a way to accept who you are somehow" thing any more. This is one of the big things that marks my departure from "Christianity" (the religion).

So, regarding the texts"Do we throw them out as being 'judgmental' or do we work with them to find meaning?" (Yael) I think we are free to do either.

Yael said...

Thanks for your comment. It's nice to know I make sense to someone!

So, regarding the texts"Do we throw them out as being 'judgmental' or do we work with them to find meaning?" (Yael) I think we are free to do either."(Jim)

You can, but not me. We may not chant from a Torah scroll that has even the tiniest piece of a letter break off, so....I work with the texts. And as you have probably figured out already, I don't mind.

And since misunderstandings ever abound on the net, let me be clear to anyone who reads this that I am not saying I think Jim or anyone else must treat the texts the same way I treat them.

jim said...

Ya... I get that Yael. Something it seems you and I do have in common is that we are willing to "judge" the New Testament, indeed you find John "meaningless". You did as a once upon a time Christian judge what was your sacred text (the NT) and "throw it out". For the most part (there are some exceptions) Christians are not allowed to do that. Are you saying that now as a Jew you are not allowed to do that with Torah?

Sorry Andrew if I have unintentionally side railed this discussion... In my mind this still relates to the need (or not) for loop holes. This has been a very thought provoking discussion.


Yael, on further thought, I think I don't need an answer... let me give it a try. Torah is indeed your sacred text but to you that doesn't mean it is the verbal plenary inspiration of God. Therefore you are not forced to "throw it out" when, for example, there is an unavoidable moral objection. You are free to work with it and search for meaning.

Andrew said...

Heh, not at all Jim. I have loved this conversation. For one thing, I have to look again at the word "exclusive". I tended to use the word only in a negative light, but it seems that maybe, like everything else, it just needs balance and charity.

Yael brings up the valid side of exclusivity. To reject it at an extreme, we would seem to have to shed our traditions and all move to a bland and banal belief that everyone could accept but no one would love.

Still, I think exclusivity's natural bent is towards a haughty, superior stance; but balance can be achieved with intentionality. I am going to have to think about this some more. :)

Yael said...

Since you seem to enjoy dripping sarcasm around me, let me ask you, why do you bother reading my blogs and following me around posting comments where I comment? Surely such actions are not good for your own soul? Why do you care in the least what I have to say about anything? I don't pay any attention to what you say on your blog nor where else you might comment. Why not return the favor?

I thoroughly enjoy living my life as I do. I don't need to bug people who think differently than I do nor do I need to post sarcastic comments in response to anyone. Can you say the same?

jim said...

Sorry Yael, but I think you have misunderstood me. It was an honest question and thoughts, no sarcasm intended. I am interested in what other people think, I have learned a lot from other people. I really just wanted to know what you think and how you treat the texts, I might learn something. Sorry, if the way I asked offended you, it wasn't my intention.

I confess that I'm a little confused. In your previous comment you seemed grateful that I'm interested in your comments and that I think you make sense. But now you have accused me of being unkind at the least, at worst some kind of a cyber-stalker. I hope you will believe (and anyone else reading this) that I'm not upset, but I do feel like I need to defend myself. Do you really think that I follow you around looking for opportunities to be "dripping sarcasm around you". I didn't see that one coming, that is really harsh.

I'm really not sure what I've done to offend you so badly. Maybe you could explain.

Yael said...

Then I offer my apologies. I did read your first comment as sincere, and at first I took your second comment as sincere as well. But, as I started to respond to it what went through my mind is that this guy is just messing with me.

Some of that has to do with this just being a very bad day and some of it has to do with past experiences, neither of which have anything to do with you, other than you happened to be the one upon whom I released my frustration.

Some days paranoia gets the best of me....I did pick up a cyber stalker this past summer, for real, and it was not fun. She actually lives not far from me, a nice fundie Jewish woman...

Jim, I'm just weary of pretty much everything at the moment. It's already Thursday night and I haven't even written one thing about Torah this week, a sure sign that this is not one of my better weeks....

BTW, this is some of the response I intended to give but then deleted. I treat Torah and the NT very differently because one is mine and one isn't. The NT was never mine, I should probably categorize myself as a former church-goer rather than a former Christian so that this point can be more easily recognized. I never felt much of any attachment to Jesus or the NT, other than familial and cultural. I was expected to accept them both by way of my upbringing, and for awhile I tried to go this route, but it was never a good fit.

Torah is different. It's mine, it's something I truly love. I don't take it as being the very words of God at all, but instead see it as containing a record of a people's encounters with, and understanding of, God. It is a text which is very much alive and just as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. Jewish tradition is to wrestle with the text rather than discard it, some of us follow this tradition, some do not. Obviously I'm on the wrestling side. Only not today. Today I'm on the weary of life side and so I'm going back to bed for a nap before work.

jim said...

Thank you for the apology and the explanation Yael. I hope that you are getting some rest and recuperation :-).

Yael said...

You're welcome, Jim. I feel pretty much like a jerk for my second response. I guess I have a ways to go before I reach the stage of tzadik....

But, I am feeling better and it is snowing outside!!!!

SocietyVs said...

The loophole thing doesn't exist for me anymore - since why would I make an excuse for a dogmatic system or for what some claim is 'the way of' God? I am not worried about someone getting to heaven or to hell - I trust God on this issue (oddly enough I am asked by Jesus in Matthew 'not to worry' one iota).

I think the whole 'loophole' idea is a tad funny - my faith has never directed me to exclusivity or exclusion of another - no matter who they are. I think once we think in terms of afterlife this is where we can develop the bias from - this 'us and them' thing - or the 'who's right and who's wrong' idea.

Fact is we know right and wrong and it is as plain to the eye as sunlight and night (and we are all subject to this reality). True perfection (if this term is to be used at all in anyone's faith) - should reflect the idea we are all equal and we all deserve the same treatment. If there is no need for a loophole for me in God's eyes - then there should be none for another (irregardless of who they are).

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