Oliver Roy, Holy Ignorance – Part III

Roy quotes Bishop Roland Minnerath that entire swatches of Christianity are undergoing pseudo morphosis. A term from mineralogy where the minerals are changing only on the outside.
In this case, there is an outer casting of Christian words, rites and symbols but inside the mystery of God is absent. The core and soul of contemporary religion, and by this he means the committed engaged members are in their heart post-modern irrational, speaking of gnosis, sects, and new age. But no interest in God as transcendental creator and redeemer. (131) No shortage of Orthodox parallels.

For Roy, the current approach contains the loss of religious certainty since there is no culture to appeal to for norms, so that means that at any moment the legitimacy of a particular practice can be called into question. Now religious practices are no longer embedded in the surrounding culture – they have to be reinforced, imposed and explained. General culture, and even the culture of religious individuals is always disbelief. (134) We cannot trust general culture because it is the source of the immoralities of feminism and gays rights.

The Sociological believer is no longer recognized. Everyone now is born again, or takes the faith on as a personal acceptance. Roy deals with how conversion has gotten stricter in Islam. In the past one just affirms the Islamic faith and in good faith accepts that one is a Muslim. Now, it involves tests by imams on one’s beliefs and one’s standards of behavior. (136)

Everything is now them and us. There are no more sociological Christians, or sociological Orthodox Jews.
Personal faith must be declared and worn as a badge.

For Roy, Catholics seek to maintain culture, and evangelicals and Salafi Muslims ignore culture and create a holy ignorance. Orthodox Judaism seems to have both aspects.
Society always has romance, but in the past the distinction was good and bad representations. Now, it is faith as opposed to culture, precluding romance.

There is now established a minority separatist vision. The minority discourse is now explicit.- Don’t touch my community- they are adopting a communitarian attitude not one of reaching out.

Roy cites a 2007 article in the Yated apologizing for a prior article encouraging Jews to come together because we can never come together or have friendship with Non-Haredi Jews.
Roy cites the Noah Feldman case- were most of the articles written as a reaction were about safe guarding the Modern Orthodox community from slander rather than defending religious principles. (141)

“Everywhere defending the group’s identity and values takes precedence over social and pastoral concerns.” There is no participation in social service events because of the secular and liberal faiths that attend. People learn that the demarcation from the non-Orthodox counts more than performance of the rituals and prayer, and counts more than caring for people. (139)

Roy concludes that we now have faith communities that would not have been understood in the past. (142)
In the 1940’s -1950’s religions considered entering culture as a kind of vocation. They sought secular dress, had few complaints about culture, and taught that the goal was for religion to enter the profane. Since, now there is nothing positive in the profane culture, therefore one needs religious markers to separate those religious from this profane culture. Synthesis of religion and culture has given way to a separatist religious culture.
Roy shows that there is now a suspicion of religious knowledge itself and knowledge can distract from true faith. There is a greater emphasis now on revivalism, on emotions, and on the irrational.

As an interesting question, Roy asks how can all these believers who took on religions as a personal decision pass it on to the their children? How can the children of BT’s pass it on to the their kids?
Obliviously, the answer is that the kids need to be raised as part of a bigger stable culture bigger than the enthusiasm of the parent. Kids needs to be mainstreamed.
But what of the enthusiasm that the parents had? What if the kids contextualize their parent’s decision as just another fad of the 1970’s or 1980s?
Answer- the parents and community attempt reconnection, have calls for reconnection, and seek revival. The community creates new cultural markers of religious popular culture, such as religious rock, retreat weekends, religious videos. But Roy thinks that they are confusing cultural markers with culture. Instead, we have holy ignorance without real culture just popular culture. SO it wont work.
But what happens when the new generation loses their faith after having Holy ignorant parents? Roy claims that the younger generation that does not have the passion and personal commitment have a loss of faith and loss of observance without becoming socially integrated secular people. They remain in the religious culture because they have little connection to secular culture. (11-12)

8 responses to “Oliver Roy, Holy Ignorance – Part III

  1. Wow… I think I’m going to read this book.

  2. Very depressing.

  3. psuedomorphosis is a term from spengler which he appropriated from minerals. in spengler and all german philosophy it means something that looks like its from one (old) stratum but is really from a newer stratus. eg if you find an imitation of classical statue or rhetoric in the renaissance, realize that this is not classical.

  4. Why does Oliver call both those who choose to stay religious & BTs examples of conversion to the Jewish faith? The parent ate a smail kezayis matzoh, the next generation ate a humongous kezayis. They moved to the right. But over time, when they have kids even frummer than they, they eventually realize what’s going on, and re-identify with their parents in some new more flexible way, as will their children. And of course Orthodoxy itself changes from one generation to the next as people negotiate their relationship to their parents and their culture. The ability to pass on at least the basic Talmudic/halachic culture is shown again and again all over Orthodoxy. No big problem. The problem exists mainly in the more humanistic culture vulture denominations. Is this a problem for Oliver’s thesis?
    As for how to protect oneself from becoming fundamentalist and a yahoo illiterate, I feel the best way is to pursue a separate secular path that need not integrate with Orthodoxy point for point. One can have memorized every page of Slifkin and still be a cultural and Talmudic am- haaretz. I say Proust and Talmud, differential equations and the Mahral, Mahler and the Noam Elimelech…one needs a flexible plan for secular study and immersion in contemporary culture, each person according to his interests, temperament and madreiga, and one needs a plan for becoming knowledgeable in Torah. And then go for it. Integrate when you are join a retirement community.
    You seem to feel since we basically have a secular mind set, we are incapable of serious, sustained religious thought. I don’t know this. A serious person finds himself in each decade of the life-cycle pondering/working on questions she feels are deep and important. She might be knee deep in the middle of psychoanalysis or understanding the Zohar or immersed in German-Jewish culture or working through the mussar of Kelm. That’s where she is. Why should this be automatically labeled non-religious thought, unless you have a certain scholastic Maimonidean picture of what the religious mind is supposed to contemplate?

    • EJ-
      Your first paragraph helps me see that Roy is a bit too rigidly structural and does not the movement of human protagonists.
      Your second paragraph is exactly his point, and will be my final post on Roy. One need a cultural sphere and a religious sphere. The former giving me everything from academia, history, culture, folk, society. The latter returning to our central beliefs, which for misnagdim is Torah and mizvot.

      You wrote:
      You seem to feel since we basically have a secular mind set, we are incapable of serious, sustained religious thought

      No, since we have a religious thought only concerned with boundary issues against the secular (or fighting the boundaries) then we have neither serious religious or secular thought. It is exactly your point in “One can have memorized every page of Slifkin You and I and still be a cultural and Talmudic am- haaretz.” You and I share a view of a constant need for “the life-cycle pondering/working on questions” that requires both culture and religion.

  5. Thank you very much for these posts. Very very interesting.

    One thing I want to note, is the apparent inner contradiction facing the National-Religious in Israel who are moving toward a Haredi worldview (i.e. חרד”ל). What Roy points to seams to be right: the emphasis on countering the secular culture at all costs, of building a fence between the camps, the building blocks of which are halachic fetishes of form (e.g. the whole issue of women singing in the army – if you’ve followed the news from here). BUT, if so, this stands in complete contrast to the avowed vision of sacralisation of the secular and turning the state of Israel into the seat of God and the summation of Geula. The Kooknics’ ethos has always been the integration of the Holy and the Secular. I think this inner contradiction is just now beginning to be noticed by many of them, who went passively along with the hyper-nomianism of the last decades.

  6. Alan,

    A huge thanks for these posts. After your first one I picked up a copy of Roy’s book. His analysis is very thought provoking. Unfortunately the book was poorly translated so without your posts I suspect I would be missing much of what he is saying. Also the comments from followers of your blog and your responses to them are exceptionally well thought out. Rov todah!

    • The book is so poorly translated, that I will be forced to check the original French before citing it professionally. Parts of it are entirely unreadable. His other works had better translations.

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