Friday, January 15, 2010

Prayers for Bobby: Mrs. Griffith's Answer

Another Frum Gay Jew mentioned the film "Prayers for Bobby" in his blogpost. Therefore, I watched it this morning. It reminded me of Harold Kushner's book When Bad Things Happen To Good People. He surmises that there's an evil force outside of God that God can't control and that's why bad happens. Similarly, Bobby's mother decides that if God didn't cure her son and make him not gay, it must be that's because it's not wrong to be gay. (I will add the caveat, which should be clear, that Judaism does not permit the homosexual act, but does not forbid the feeling, and so differs from her statement.)

As for me, my understanding is that found in Isaiah 45:7- ז יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ, עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע; אֲנִי יְהוָה, עֹשֶׂה כָל-אֵלֶּה. {פ} 7 I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the LORD, that doeth all these things. {P}

Evil, challenge, darkness, suffering...all come from God as well.

Arguments based on emotion, while heartwrenching, don't prove points. There are a lot of distinctions between the presentation of Presbyterian religion in the film and Orthodox Judaism. In contrast to Presbyterianism, we have an Oral Law which clarifies and explicates laws. So while she may be persuaded by the argument that 'children who are disobedient are supposed to be stoned to death' and we don't interpret words that way anymore, a religious Jew wouldn't be. Also, while she may state that love and compassion is what it's all about in terms of her religion, that's not the bottom line in ours, even though it certainly plays a major role.

So in terms of the point the film is trying to make, I'm reminded of Isaiah 5:20-onward:

כ הוֹי הָאֹמְרִים לָרַע טוֹב, וְלַטּוֹב רָע: שָׂמִים חֹשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר וְאוֹר לְחֹשֶׁךְ, שָׂמִים מַר לְמָתוֹק וּמָתוֹק לְמָר. {ס}20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that change darkness into light, and light into darkness; that change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter! {S}
כא הוֹי, חֲכָמִים בְּעֵינֵיהֶם; וְנֶגֶד פְּנֵיהֶם, נְבֹנִים. {ס}21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! {S}
כב הוֹי, גִּבּוֹרִים לִשְׁתּוֹת יָיִן; וְאַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל, לִמְסֹךְ שֵׁכָר.22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink;
כג מַצְדִּיקֵי רָשָׁע, עֵקֶב שֹׁחַד; וְצִדְקַת צַדִּיקִים, יָסִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ. {פ}23 That justify the wicked for a reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! {P}
And because I need to make everything eminently clear: no, I do not mean to suggest people who are attracted to other men are wicked or evil. But I think that people who use the justification, "Religion is difficult and hurts people; therefore, it's not true" fail to realize that how one emotionally feels about something has nothing to do with the veracity of it.

Having stated all that: You don't have a heart if you don't cry when you watch this film. But then again, I was the first girl in the theaters to see "Brokeback Mountain" and I cried at that, too. And at "Trembling Before God." This stuff kills me. I know you will find that surprising, those of you who find me alternatively odious, morally repugnant, homophobic, bigoted, backwards, living in the dark ages, and I don't remember all the other labels you've given me. How can something emotionally kill you but you intellectually live by it anyway?

Welcome to my life.

46 comments:

Shades of Grey said...

Very spot on - another great post. It is characteristically un-Jewish to claim that anything can exist outside of G-d's creation of all of reality as we know it. As I recall (I think) from Rabbi Carmy's class on Suffering and Evil, we define evil based on our particular perspective. If things don't mesh with our limited viewpoint, clashes with what we, as humans, consider to be inherently good, we immediately label it with "evil" - thereby giving it something "other" than what is necessarily positive in life. The truth of the matter is exactly as you have written - G-d creates evil just as much as He creates good, we are even obligated (according to Masechta Brachos) to make a bracha on the "bad" things that happen just as we are on the "good" things that happen to us. "Evil" is just another tool in G-d's hands which He uses to make our world function.

Sure, we can be very conflicted over these sorts of things, but that's built into our human psyche (Rabbi Angel talked a lot about this in his shiur on Koheles) - we have a drive planted within us to understand everything, and when we don't we become infinitely frustrated by the fact that we simple can't know or comprehend everything in the world. As tough and unfair as that is, that's life...

Avi Kopstick said...

Once again, I don't agree with what you say, but love the way you say it.

By the by, I find it funny that you challenge Prayers for Bobby, as if it is some intellectual treatise representing a whole movement. It's a movie... and not even a Hollywood movie!, but some Lifetime Original Movie... I just thought it amusing, you arguing on a made-for-tv movie :p

Anonymous said...

"Bubby" still believes in fundamentalist xtianity despite her prayers for Bobby.

I have asked Mordechai in an obscure section of this blog whether or not he believes in gay marriage, if that isn't his ultimate goal for himself and other lost boys coming out.

If gay marriage is legalized in New York, will New York's finest tie the knot? Everyone believes in civil rights, but what is the Orthodox community supposed to do with out gay couples?

What would "Rabbi" Levado say?

What will Rav Twersky say (again).

What does Mordechai say?

Chana said...

Avi,

But wouldn't you agree the made-for-TV movie has a purpose? As an emotionally heartwrenching film, it's amazing. In terms of the point of view it is trying to advocate for, however, I don't agree.

Anonymous said...

Having stated all that: You don't have a heart if you don't cry when you watch this film. But then again, I was the first girl in the theaters to see "Brokeback Mountain" and I cried at that, too. And at "Trembling Before God." This stuff kills me. I know you will find that surprising, those of you who find me alternatively odious, morally repugnant, homophobic, bigoted, backwards, living in the dark ages, and I don't remember all the other labels you've given me. How can something emotionally kill you but you intellectually live by it anyway?
=========================
R' Kushner was excoriated at the time for exactly your point-of course as finite human beings we can't really explain why good people suffer and there are a limited number of logical reconciliations (other than saying we are finite and can't understand the infinite) so everyone eventually picks an approach that allows them to get through the night.

As to the remark above, I'm sure there were some negative personal comments in the discussion but I don't think that should be your take away. The discussion that imho you should consider was whether R'MT (and you) were logically consistent in your positions or was there some svara chitzona (unstated assumption) that was being made (and was it justified by actual data). IMHO the answer was that there some svara chitzona (unstated assumption) that was being made (and was it not justified by actual data- at least as far as the secular world undersands it currently). Now of course this happens to all of us from time to time and again we need to figure out how to get through the night. We don't need to rehash the debate but I think this is the important point.

KT
Joel Rich

Chana said...

Joel,

I made my point perfectly clear here. Mordechai doesn't agree with my interpretation but that's fine; there's more than enough to room to get the impression that I and others did. So I don't agree with your svara chitzona statement. Hence my deserve and sacrifice post. Also, R' Moshe Twersky, R' Yona Reiss and I did not have the same viewpoint and you shouldn't merge my response with theirs. Here's another thing: there's stuff that goes on behind the scenes that you and most people don't know about, and that's something else people should keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

Chana,
Sorry for the misimplication-I actually thought that you and the others had differing positions with their own fallacies but didn't want to rehash the debate. As for things I don't know (which would certainly fill a large hard drive), I'm sure it's true but not much there I can act on.
KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Kushner's approach to theodicy is rich. As a great thinker once expounded, the solution to a headache is to chop off one's head. That is what Kushner proposes: eliminate God and the problem is solved.

Saul showed compassion upon Amalek. He wore his heart on his sleeve dealing with evil agog. There are limits as to what the Orthodox establishment can offer. The gay plight is similar to feminists who suffer. Open Orthodoxy embraces diversity, involvement, prax, heterodoxy. The fromm community, the truly pious, are powerless to argue with true empathy, sympathy, kindness, compassion, understanding.

But, Rav Twersky cited Albany. The reality is that those who are pining for arayot want acceptance like everybody else. This implies loving relationships, more than Dave and Jon.

Daniel said...

You are correct that emotional reactions do not prove anything as to the veracity of the law or rule they are reactions against.

However:

What if the law or rule so protested has no evidence of any kind to prove its veracity?

Halakhah forbids gay Jews from actualizing their sexuality and from satisfying their needs for love and companionship physically. Fine.

That is just the equivalent of saying "I believe X is wrong." It is not a objective and verifiable truth that "X is wrong."

Orthodox Jews believe based solely on faith that the halakhah is the correct articulation of how God intends Jews to live and that they are obligated to obey it, yet there is no evidence to demonstrate why this so. Appeals to "tradition" are just as emotive and just as lacking in proof as the emotional reaction you decry.

Every human being is a free moral agent. Nothing can compel a person to do anything against his or her will. If one chooses to follow Orthodox halakhah, one is doing so because one has freely chosen to do so. One has decided to believe that the halakhah is correct and has determined that one's conscience requires one to do so. Fine.

But that is not proof that the halakhah is correct. It only demonstrates that one believes it to be correct.

Why does one choose to believe this? Some are raised to believe so and cannot conceive of alternatives. Some believe they have experienced a personal gnosis that led them to that conclusion. Some are attracted by non-rational, aesthetic or emotional needs. All of those are perfectly valid for the individual; the problem though is that it is very difficult to universalize the subjective experiences of the individual and impose them objectively on others.

Some can look at the halakhah and not see a Divinely ordained legal code but the best attempts of human beings to create a guide to a away of life based on what they believe are a priori principles. Certain rulings of these rabbis strike them as unfair: the categorical ban on any sexual outlet for gay people is the topic here; the plight of the agunah is another. These people's reactions to these laws is emotional, yes, but not emotional devoid of reason. The halakhah has placed the gay Jew and the agunah in unfair positions. This militates against their sense of justice, against their conscience, against the supposed love and mercy and righteousness of God.

Just as some by their own personal pathways have to accept the veracity of the halakhah, others by the same means can come to reject that, to conclude that the human rabbis who formulated the halakhah are incorrect.

Who is correct? How does one weigh evidence when evidence does not exist? How does one determine which opinion -- "tradition" or one's own conscience -- is correct? That is for each individual to decide. It is impossible to prove who is objectively correct.

To be Orthodox, however, is to accept this legal system lock, stock, and barrel and submit even to opinions one does not agree with. Fine. That is fully within a person's right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religious belief.

However, it only goes to prove that it is impossible to be both gay and Orthodox.

ChayAiz said...

Thanks for posting, Chana.

Rebbe, why do good people suffer?http://www.portraitofaleader.org./

Chana said...

Daniel,

It's refreshing to read such a thoughtful, well-written and otherwise articulate comment. I liked it very much. I respect your point of view, even though, of course, I disagree. I've written about the distinction made between human and divine justice here. I believe in an approach I've dubbed 'Torah Through Tears'- namely, that God wants us to be pained by our fellow human beings' suffering but at the same time commands that we must accept that His law is law. Also, of course, in contrast to you, I don't believe human beings wrote the Torah or came up with the halakha based upon their own prejudices, but rather, that it is divinely given. Thus, since our premises are completely different, I don't think we can come to an accord.

That having been said, your analysis of why people believe what they believe is very sound and I am very aware of the fact that a great part of my religious observance is predicated upon my love for the family which raised me and the ideals and values they taught me. I cannot prove the truth of my religion- I don't believe anyone can- and would not claim to be able to do so.

Anonymous said...

Chayiz,
There's a period in your link which needs to be deleted.
The letter basically says what I previously stated "(other than saying we are finite and can't understand the infinite) "
KT
Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

I don't understand. In strict, formalist logic, you are correct, but is this the spirit of Jewish law?

If so, everyone who cheats and steals is also not Orthodox. Yet, they are. The term orthodox, derived from the Greek, Orthos doxos, implies one right way. Yet, the righteous also sin, a given. The fear is yield an inch and lose all. Reform was the first to recognize homosexuals. The Conservative movement celebrates gender theology. Those from Orthodox backgrounds who truly self identify as gay might be more accepted there. Otherwise, imperfect Jews share commonalities wherever they reside and pay synagogue dues. There is a place for them at the table (and discounts at the SOY Sefarim sale).

FrumJewInYU said...

Avi K.:

What can you possibly find in this post with which to disagree?

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