I used a term in the Wednesday 12:30 Spiritual Psychology class that I have normally only used in an academic setting. I was trying to describe how language is used not only to communicate information, but also to maintain a world view in a community. When I learned this term in college, the “sociology of knowledge,” a whole realm of thought opened up for me, and the concept continues to shape how I think.
Here is an example of how I used the term to help me understand something:
Several years ago, I was invited by a synagogue member to join an informal panel before a small group of about 20 thoughtful people who met regularly on different topics. It was not too far out of my way home on a Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) afternoon, so I accepted. The others were an evolutionary psychologist and a Catholic priest. The topic was religion. I only wish I could say that what happened next has a punch line.
A vocal part of the group was decidedly anti-religious. Somehow (maybe because of my black hat), I got identified with the ‘bad and the ugly’ - religion, the evolution guy with the ’good’ and the priest was amiable enough to escape much focus. As time went on, the discussion got hotter and hotter and more and more shrill. At one point, as the rabbi (with the black hat), I was asked (challenged) to defend traditional Orthodox customs against women baring the arms. I recall saying that I don’t agree with it, but I could explain it. I talked a bit, and thought rather engagingly, about traditional Jewish laws of modesty. I noticed that many folks in the group just became angrier and angrier. I remember thinking, naively, “but they invited me here!”
I realized after a few angry rounds (one person actually walked out of the room), that the ethos of a big part of this group was anti-religious. That was their world view and their goal was to maintain that world view, not to have it challenged. The more I presented Jewish Orthodoxy and Christian Fundamentalism in sympathetic terms, the more offended some in the group became. It turned into one of the most unpleasant teaching experiences I had had in a long time.
Now, I certainly violated some of my own rules about speaking before unfamiliar groups. Chief among which is to find out the ethos, the world view, of the group and that of the moderator and other panelists. They needed a different kind of rabbi. One who would know how to affirm their world view more naturally than I.
People develop a world view rather unconsciously. Issues of identity, right and wrong, how to change things, who is good and who is bad, form mostly in the unconscious. We typically then want our views maintained. Our views are consistent with columnists we read, the TV we watch, the books we choose, the friends we keep, and yes, the synagogue we join.
Going back to my Wednesday class, a newcomer asked me to define the world view of Ohr HaTorah (our synagogue). I did not have time to write a book, and if I did, that is not the first book I would write. I did, however, want to mention just one foundational element. Civility. We have a large range of political views. We have vegans and carnivores. We have atheists, agnostics, deists, and theists. We have schmoozers (socializers) and we have daveners (pray-ers). We have yogis and martial artists. We have spiritual Jewish types and cultural Jewish types. We have many non-Jews among us who are central to our communal life. And many more types of antimonies.
What we do have in common, is a shared world view of civility and respect, and rules and regs. to enforce that. No putting down, no trashing, no judgmentalism, even in enforcing our world view of civility and respect. Closely related to our world view of civility and respect, is a world view of moral realism - that there are better and worse answers to moral questions. Even though we do have moral relativists and subjectivists among us, they know they won’t get much traction with a question at that topic. Moral judgment, rationally presented, is not judgmentalism. Evil, such as slavery and wanton murder, is not wrong by opinion, it is wrong by its nature.
I could list further elements of our world view, a view of the soul, of the spiritual life, and of righteousness in relationships. Perhaps one day I will; however, for Shabbat B’reishit, the beginning of the reading of the Torah for this year, I wanted to express what I think to be the foundations of our world view: how we relate to each other and how we talk to each other. From there, things can flourish.
~ Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Ohr Ha Torah Congregation, Los Angeles