Why the Bible, Contra Leo Strauss, Is Part of the Western Philosophical Tradition

June 16 2016

According to Leo Strauss, the Hebrew Bible stands in “radical opposition” to philosophy. Strauss bases this argument on the contention that philosophy began when the ancient Greeks discovered “nature”—i.e., that which is unchanging and universal—as distinct from mere custom, and hence the idea that there exist universal definitions of truth and goodness. By contrast, he claims that Jewish scripture maintains the pre-philosophical view that everything is governed by custom. Yoram Hazony contends that even if Strauss’s definition of philosophy is correct, the Hebrew Bible should in fact be studied as the very beginning of the Western philosophical tradition:

[T]he decisive move that turned ancient Israelite thought into a force in the history of ideas was the discovery that there is only one God, who is the creator of all things in heaven and earth. But although this fact is well known, its meaning . . . is not well understood today. In the ancient world, . . . [there] were gods for each nation, gods of weather and agriculture and fertility and war, and more localized gods such the god of the apple harvest or the god of a given field. Each of these gods was understood as making normative demands upon human beings in the area of its own competence. If a man or a woman wanted something from the god that lorded over a particular nation or place or activity, then finding a way of pleasing the relevant god was of the utmost significance.

In other words, the gods of the ancient world were each of them recognized as promulgating a local standard of right that governed, or held good for, certain peoples or places or activities. . . .

In practice, the system of thought known from the nations of the ancient world—paganism—amounted to the localization of what was considered true or good. As Strauss observes, what the god of any given place might endorse or demand could easily be different from what was demanded by another, neighboring god. In other words, an understanding of the world as being governed by many gods amounted to the recognition of numerous different standards for determining what is true and good, with each god asserting its own standard, different from the others.

By contrast, the [biblical] discovery that the world was governed by one God was the discovery that there is only one normative order, only one standard for judging what is true and good. As such, this one standard had to be independent of all local standards, and consequently, of the claims that were otherwise being made in the name of ancestry, authority, and custom in any given place.

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Read more at Jerusalem Letters

More about: Ancient Greece, Hebrew Bible, Leo Strauss, Natural law, Political philosophy, Religion & Holidays

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter