Prayer Books and Liberalism/Secularism
From this blog's intermittent religion and the press beat, a couple of NY Times pieces on completely separate subjects which are strangely related.
First, "In New Prayer Book, Signs of Broad Change," NY Times religion writer Laurie Goodstein covers the new prayer book of Reform Judaism. An interesting excerpt:
“It reflects a recognition of diversity within our community,” said Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman, the editor of the prayer book. “We have interfaith families. We have so many visitors at b’nai mitzvah ceremonies that I could have a service on Shabbat morning where a majority of people there aren’t Jewish,” she said, referring to bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies on Saturday mornings.
“There are even those in my community who come to Shabbat worship each week who don’t believe in God,” said Rabbi Frishman, who leads the Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, N.J. “How do we help them resonate with the language of prayer, which is very God-centric and evokes a personal God, a God that talks to you in a sense? There are many, many Jews who do not believe in God that way.”
The article gives a nice religious history of changes in the Prayer book over the last century.
Second, at Crooked Timber, John Holbo takes on Stanley Fish's op-ed piece (irritatingly hidden behind the "Times Select" wall) arguing that liberalism and secularism are one and the same. I was going to blog on that piece myself, but Holbo has made my point for me:
Also, it might not be a half-bad idea to notice that liberalism is not incompatible with religion, merely with illiberal forms of religion. Just as liberalism is incompatible with illiberal forms of secularism. Which suggests that there may be a need to revisit Fish’s title: “Liberalism and Secularism: One and the Same”.
One of the 81 (and counting) commentors on Holbo's post reiterates an argument (and a pretty good one) that I often hear in my classroom, usually from religiously oriented students confronting some nasty side of religious social expression in the past (in my class, that' s usually the religious proslavery argument):
Almost all liberal ideas originiated as religious ideals. For example, the anti-slavery movement, the movement for political rights for racial minorities and the movement for women’s rights were first advanced in this country on religious grounds by Puritans, Quakers, and other religius movements and organizations.Another student of mine last semester, referring to the religious impulse of the anti-slavery movement versus the racist implications of a considerable body of Enlightenment/proto-scientific-racism thinking, put it this way: "who were the missionaries of the Enlightenment"?
Yes, the above point is overstated, and it doesn't take long to come up with a good list of missionaries for a liberating form of the Enlightenment. But I liked the question, for the same reason that I liked the article on the prayer book: it challenges the kind of assumptions that pervade the Fishian equation of liberalism and secularism.