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A Concert Series Demonstrates the Pitfalls of Godless Religion

Dec. 13 2017

In a recent series of concerts at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center—titled The Psalms Experience—four renowned choirs sang all of the 150 Psalms, each set to music by a different composer. Nathaniel Peters notes in his review that two of his favorite performances were in the Psalms’ original language:

Salamone Rossi was the only composer serving [Mantua’s] ducal family who also had permission to practice his Jewish faith publicly and to set Hebrew texts to music. Rossi’s beautiful “Odekha ki anitani” (Psalm 118) is the first polyphony I have ever heard in which the Psalms were sung in their original language. [The Catholic composer Franz] Schubert’s “Tov lehodos” (Psalm 92) was likewise moving, a composition in the last years of his life for the temple of the Viennese reformist cantor Salomon Sulzer.

Overall, Peters found the performances “beautiful, powerful, and maddening”—maddening because, “despite its musicological excellence, The Psalms Experience presented the Psalms with their heart surgically removed.” He writes:

The program opened with an essay . . . by Krista Tippett, the longtime host of National Public Radio’s On Being. Tippett argues that “the new nonreligious may be the greatest hope for the revitalization of religion.” The rise of the “nones,” [i.e., those who list their religion as “none” on surveys], is not a cause for concern: “There are churches and synagogues full of nones. They are also filling up undergraduate classes on the New Testament and St. Augustine.” Many nones are interested in monasticism, communal forms of religion, and a sense of wonder at creation.

Up to a point, this is true and good. These topics of interest may be seeds of growth and conversion. But as [the great British theologian] John Henry Newman drove home in his sermons, . . . the heart of religion is the worship of God and obedience to Him. “There is no such thing as abstract religion,” Newman wrote. “When persons attempt to worship in this (what they call) more spiritual manner, they end, in fact, in not worshipping at all.” In the religion of the nones, and in the religion professed by The Psalms Experience, there is little sense of sin, and of the need for redemption and obedience. This religion is not worship—at least, not the worship of God—and therefore quickly becomes the worship of self. . . .

Where were the scholars of religion in the crafting of The Psalms Experience? Musicologists, journalists, and scholars of literature were all present. . . . [W]hy not have a professor of Jewish studies or Old Testament? . . . By contrast, The Psalms Experience tried to explain to secular, enlightened audiences why they should care about the Psalms—and the result was a desperate attempt to fit the Psalms onto the procrustean bed of enlightened pieties.

Read more at First Things

More about: Agnosticism, Arts & Culture, Hebrew Bible, John Henry Newman, Music, Psalms, Religion & Holidays

Putting Aside the Pious Lies about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Jan. 23 2018

In light of recent developments, including Mahmoud Abbas’s unusually frank speech to the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s leadership, Moshe Arens advocates jettisoning some frequently mouthed but clearly false assumptions about Israel’s situation, beginning with the idea that the U.S. should act as a neutral party in negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah. (Free registration may be required.)

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror. . . .

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil, and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. . . .

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues—such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines—are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israeli military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians. . . .

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions. What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, US-Israel relations