Monday, June 19, 2006

Will someone give that man a dictionary

For at least the fourth time, Rabbi Mencken has incorrectly used the word pluralism, and as usual, he's using his misunderstanding to smack around a Jew who is less religious than he. This time, the victim is Rabbi Dr. Dalia Sara Marx, a Reform Rabbi with a principled opposition to the establishment of an Orthodox shul on the Degania Kibbutz.

Rather than respond politley or intelligently to Marx's arguments, he mocks her(*), and a large part of his mockery is based on the idea that Marx has somehow betrayed the idea of pluralism.

Anyway, here's the comment I just left at Cross Currents:

I must object to your misuse of the world pluralism. Pluralism is not relativism. When you presume that a reform Rabbi should accept an Orthodox shul, you aren’t making a prusumption of pluralism on her behalf, but a presumption of relativism. A relativist says that anything goes, but pluralism that accepts anything and everything as co-legitimate is not pluralism.

As Isaiah Berlin, the most famous pluralist of all time put it “I am not a relativist; I do not say “I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favor of kindness and you prefer concentration camps”—each of us with his own values, which cannot be overcome or integrated.”

Properly understood, pluralism embraces not every idea under the sun but the reality that there are in this world a plurality of legitimate values that men can and do seek. By expressing her disaproval of an Orthodox shul on Degania, Rabbi Marx is not nec. being inconsistant with pluralism; rather she is saying that (in her opinion) the shul represents ideas that are beyond the pale, and unacceptable in this society.

I think she is very wrong about this; yet her position is not an offense against pluralism as Rabbi Menken suggests. It’s it perfectly in keeping with the philosophy of pluralism to oppose an idea you’re certain is wrong. Rabbi Marx thinks orthodoxy is wrong – for all the reasons she gave in her editorial – as such, pluralism permits her to oppose it.

Incidently, when Rabbi Menken himself speaks approvingly about Popes and Christians he, himself, is acting as a pluralist. Popes don’t subscribe to Rabbi Menken’s absolute truth; according to the rules of absolutist thinking, they should be given no quarter. Yet they are warmly embraced by this site. Why? Because, like most of us Rabbi Menken recognizes the pluralism describes the real and true state of the world, though we may quibble about the details.

(*) Yes, of course I occasionally mock people who disagree with me. I have no problem with Mencken's mockery per say, only with the substance of his mockery and also with the idea (often advanced by Rabbi Mencken when he is the victim) that mockery is out of bounds.

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