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Monotheism, Judaism, and Story


There's been a fascinating discussion lately, about religion and the stories by which we define ourselves and the universe, ranging across various people's blogs; many of you already know about it, but others may not.

I can't possibly top Ben's description of how it started, so I'll just quote him:

So I've been engaged in this great debate over at the blog of the brilliant, irascible, thoughtful, immoderate Hal Duncan. It started with his rant about the reaction to the Mohammed cartoons, "Duncan Does Deus" ... which is not recommended for monotheists with fragile sensibilities. Then we got into it with Hal's posts "Wisdom, Justice, and Mercy" and "The Stain of Sin."

(For those who don't know him, Hal is the author of both the very short story "The Disappearance of James H___" (which we published at SH last summer) and the much longer novel Vellum (I'm linking to the hardcover 'cause it has a prettier cover), which I haven't read yet but am looking forward to. And now I feel like I should include bio paragraphs for everyone else I mention in this entry, but the rest of the people mentioned here come up often enough (and comment here often enough) that I think y'all probably have some idea who they are.)

Ben Rosenbaum went on to respond to Hal's entry at great and fascinating length with On "The Stain of Sin" (6000 words of discussion, including about 800 words of quote from Hal's entry and Ben's initial response to it).

(If you don't want to read that entire entry, you can read Ben's summary of the entry. But if you have time and interest, it's worth reading the long version.)

After you get done reading the entry (whether long or short versions), you should scroll down to the bottom of the long-version page and read everyone else's comments on it, reading upward (because Ben's journal puts most recent comments at the top of the list of comments).

Among other things, those comments include a long comment from Vardibidian, which was a followup to his own journal entry on the subject, On "On.... V. later reposted his comment-to-Ben as an entry of its own: Response to Rosenbaum.

(Aside: this is the sort of thing that trackbacks were designed to help with: multi-blog conversations, in which people are posting entries in their own journals that are responses to entries in other people's journals. Unfortunately, not many people I know have trackbacks implemented and enabled, and the standard MT implementation isn't all that great anyway, so this particular multi-blog conversation has resulted in a certain amount of copying between comments and entries, and a certain amount of nonlinearity. But nonlinearity is what the web's all about; I imagine y'all can cope even though I'm not doing a good job of providing a clear guide to what to read and in what order.)

A lot of Ben's and V's commentary is about Judaism, and in some sense What It Means To Be Jewish (to each of them), and about the stories we use to explain our worlds and our lives. Those of you unfamiliar, as I was, with the term "siddur" (some Jew I am) may find that Wikipedia article instructive (follow the link on the word).

Somewhere along the way, David Moles joined the discussion with Stories was everything, and everything was stories, #2. Which prompted further interesting discussion (in the comments on David's entry).

Although I was intending to post links to all this sooner or later, the thing that made it sooner was a paragraph from Vardibidian's comments in David's entry. V. notes that one of his own core stories "is that people are different, one to another, and that's what makes the world interesting and fun," and then adds:

Then—and this is the good part—we interact with each other, our universes overlap but don't quite line up, we become confused, we search for the reasons, we discover each other's patterns and the stories behind them, and although we don't adopt each other's stories at our absolute core, we include them in our libraries, and we do so with each other's points of view (altered and incomplete, of course). So I learn [other people's stories], and I learn—not, perhaps, who I am in those stories, but at least who I might be. Because that, too, is part of who I am.

And although I'd found all the rest of the discussion intellectually interesting, that was the part that really hit me emotionally. I got all teary about it; I think it comes pretty close to one of my own core stories. One of the things I'm most interested in is what I sometimes think of as "listening to other people's stories" and sometimes as "trying to figure out what the Human Condition is" and generally as somewhere in between, maybe as "trying to understand who people are and what they're all about, both individually and en masse."

There are several other good comments on David's entry as well. But the part that really made me cry was a line from Dan Percival's comment on Ben's summary entry, expressing one of Dan's core stories:

"in life, there is coming together and there is tearing apart; even though in this world the tearing apart always wins, it's important to be on the side of the coming together."


wow, thank you for posting this. I don't read any of those blogs, and I'm looking forward to reading these posts in more depth (I skimmed Ben's and both of V's just now.) Thought-provoking; I spend a lot of my time thinking about sin these days. :)
p.s. I miss you.

Well, and I didn't mean to make you cry, you old softy, you.

And, by the way, thank you for being the link between me and the other people in the discussion; I was thinking that I had rarely had a really good conversation like this with people I don't know, and I've never met Mr. Duncan, Mr. Rosenbaum or Mr. Moles (or Mr. Percival, either, come to that). I only came into contact with them because you know them, and although you haven't had the chance to introduce us at a party or whatnot, you still get the credit for that acquaintance, and therefore for this conversation I've enjoyed so much.


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