Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi talks about his Orthodox upbringing and his subsequent marriage to a Catholic woman to make essentially the same point as Jacoby: why did it take 20 years and a presidential run for Obama to declare his pastor pasul?
The following excerpt from Harsanyi’s peice sounds sensible, but I think it is a serious misreading of American faith communities:
When parishioners sit, contribute, listen, clap and offer “amen!” they are endorsing the words and the actions of their chosen church. This goes equally for the black churches of Chicago’s inner city to the mega churches of Colorado Springs….
….Remaining in the orthodox Jewish fold – for me, at least – would mean viewing women as second-class citizens and the eating of lobster as a sin. (Sinfully delicious, maybe.)
….Choosing your church means something. If you’re a practicing Catholic and support gay marriage and abortion, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re a Scientologist knocking back Excedrins every day, think your membership is over.
In an ideal, perhaps Hitchensian world, Harsanyi is right — we’d all be seamless blankets, joining churches, clubs and communities that are completely consistent with our individual values — perhaps all of them, certainly the most essential.
Harsanyi’s experience of organized religion is Orthodox, where the lines of who’s in and who’s out are distinctly drawn. But in many houses of worship, certainly Conservative and Reform synagogues, congregants often choose to live with cognitive dissonance, to worship in the margins, to ignore some precepts and accept others, perhaps ironically. (If truth be told, this is happening in many Orthodox synagogues as well.) They do this in service of something more important to them than ideological consistency — they’re in search of community, continuity, fellowship, a common language. It’s what David Mamet once said he found among theater folk: “Filial piety, humor, language, a responsibility to learn and instruct, a sense of timelessness and history.”
And some people revel in the contradictions, and are never so happy as when they are pushing back at their clergy, or sharpening their own ideas against the whetstones of their pastors’ rhetoric (sorry – I think I just channelled Daniel Webster), or trying to reform their church from within.
And sometimes people in the pews, like Harsanyi, don’t care what their rabbis or priests are saying — as the old joke goes, “He comes to talk to God; I come to talk to Goldberg.”
Wrong? Maybe. But that’s reality. And probably a lot healthier than a society in which we retreat into our own corners of fractured consensus.