Re: obscurity in religious texts

Daniel A Ponech (dapst26+@PITT.EDU)
Thu, 7 Apr 1994 15:22:22 -0400

On Thu, 7 Apr 1994, Bonnie Blackwell, (519)253-4232x2502 wrote:

> Stephanie Nelson raises an interesting issue with her comment about the
> obscurity in many religious texts. I maintain that the purpose behind
> those texts is not that to which we should be aspiring. With very few
> exceptions, those texts were written to empower an elite within their
> respective cultures. That elite used the obscurity in those writings
> to justify their own existance, namely the need to "translate" those
> texts for the common man within that culture.

Does this mean, then, that the authors of the Torah and the Talmud, for
example, got together and said (consciously or otherwise) something like,
"Okay, we need something that will keep our jobs secure and keep the women
out. We'll have to rewrite some of this old stuff and..."?

I don't mean to turn your comments into trite conspiracy theory, but I
wonder if by ignoring the "effect" versus "intent" debate, the quoted
passage tends to oversimplify. I have no doubt that there were moments
when somebody thought of their power position and made an "adjustment" to a
text they were working on and that several of these "adjustments" over
time added up into what is often an oppressive mess. I just find the way
the "power elite as pusher of the opiate of the masses" analysis often
gets presented ends up sounding something akin to the "grassy knoll" talk
I hear in other quarters.

> Moreover, the obscurity
> in those texts often served to protect the religion in times of persecution
> by its very obscurity. Neither of these purposes serves to empower
> everyone. I would like to think that as humans with a global perspective
> we have grown beyond such ethnocentric and xenophobic motives.

While I recognize that it is not the intent here, this passage reminds me
of the "religion=bad" talk of the 19th & 20th century modernists who
wanted us all to believe that humanity had evolved past the need for
religion. The issue I find problematic in the quoted passage is the
implication that explicit and determinedly unobscure religious texts are
not only possible, but necessary in order to produce a fair and viable
religious system. I'm not at all sure that when dealing with religious
experience, specificity is possible or desirable.

Besides (and I know this is going to get me into trouble), I find it
difficult to believe that any group doctrine, perhaps religion especially,
is always going to empower everyone all the time.

Daniel A. Ponech Why are academic politics so petty?
University of Pittsburgh Why do academics spend so much time puffing
themselves up and overstating their importance?

"Because the stakes are so low!" H. Kissinger