Friday, April 29, 2011

Honesty Shmonesty

On his blog, GH is leading a discussion about Orthopraxer honesty, and attempting to determine if OPs are required to tell the truth about their lack of belief. Here's an adaption of a comment I left on his thread:

I don't agree that I am ever obligated to tell anyone anything about myself. Perhaps I can't lie (though even that is something to be addressed on a case by case basis) but I certainly am not required to confess. Also, the issue is much more complicated than Gh's discussion allows.

Suppose, I believe in God, but the God I believe in is not the God my Rabbi believes in. Say, his God collects prayers like precious stones, and rides down on a cherub to protect people from harm, while my conception of God is more deistic in nature. I have to tell him we disagree? Why?

Or suppose I believe in God, but not that the Torah we have is a letter for letter match with the Torah Moshe received. Why do I need to announce this? Why do I need to provoke an argument about Rishonim and their interpretations of TMS with people who, generally, are too dim to follow it? What larger goal does that serve?

Most people don't really care about theology and beliefs except in the most superficial way, and will either ignore a confession, misunderstand it, or latch on to a blunt, and imprecise sound bite (DB doesn't hold from TMS!) that they'll use to harass, intimidate or embarrass. I should expose myself to that? Why?

In short, I don't think anyone is ever obligated to open a can of worms. Most people are too dumb for this kind of conversation anyway, and it will only confuse them, or cause them to draw incorrect or incomplete conclusions about the person making the confession. Most people have a stark view of the word - you're with us or against us. You're kosher or kofer. For them, there is no in between, no possibility that some Rishonim embraced and promoted ideas that other Rishonim fully and wholly rejected. They can't recognize, tolerate or accept legitimate diversity of opinion. Just as I wouldn't ask a child to contemplate calculus, I see no profit in asking the average Orthodox Jew on the street to contemplate Orthodox Jewish pluralism.

And what about ideas that truly are beyond the pale? What if we're not talking about views that can be ascribed to a Rishon but views that no Rishon accepted? Are you obligated to tell your wife and your kids and your Rabbi and your friends that you're an atheist who thinks Judaism is man made?  My answer is still no. You are not obligated to make that confession -- especially if such a confession will dynamite your life.  Your private thoughts are none of their business, and your treif beliefs aren't hurting anyone. Your prayers still work, you can still be legitimately counted in a minyan or a mezumen, and much as the moron editors of Ami magazine might disagree, kefira doesn't cause cooties: Your mere presence don't infect beleives. There's no reason to tell anyone, because there's no danger of which they need to be apprised.


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