Affluence to Effluence

Secular Link: http://livinglies.wordpress.com/2008/04/19/capitalism-and-environmental-policy-ultimate-reality-show/

There is an illusory difference between the traditional believers (“fundamentalists”) and those who subscribe to more liberal views of the scriptures, Torah , Mishnah and Talmud. This has led them to be at odds with each other when the clear opportunity is for them to join hands seeking the same goals. traditional believers serve a purpose in our society by reminding us of fundamental realities of right and wrong. 

Sometimes they carry it too far, with our consent, and allow coronation of individual men (mostly) who proclaim their own divinity over the godliness of their fellow men and women. Look at the FLDS compound, and for that matter FLDS as a “religion” teaching the subjugation of women and children to the whims of men driven by sexual lust and power. (A little research into Joseph Smith will reveal the flawed approach pandering to the weakness of men’s sexual fantasies.)

The more liberal interpreters of the masters and the scared writings allow themselves to convert the “final” word on right and wrong to suit their immediate convenience, thus allowing their own predilections for money, power or sex to drive their lives at the expense of their souls and the lives of future generations.

Nachmanides expresses a similar idea, as he mentions that our Sages (in Torat Kohanim) explain the statement “Be holy” as “Be separate.” The Torah permits pleasurable physical activities – eating kosher meat, drinking kosher wine, intimacy between husband and wife – yet someone who is driven by lustful passions may overindulge in these activities while thinking that he is still within the bounds of Torah law. Such a person is called a “glutton” (see Proverbs 23:20). Thus, after Parshat Acharei Mot lists all the specific prohibitions regarding immorality, Parshat Kedoshim teaches us generally, “Be holy.” We must separate ourselves from overindulging in permissible activities, curbing our appetites in order to maintain dignity and holiness.

Nahmanides was born at Girona (hence his name “Gerondi”) in 1194, and died in the Land of Israel about 1270. He was the grandson of Isaac ben Reuben of Barcelona and cousin of Jonah Gerondi; his brother was Benveniste de Porta, the bailie of Barcelona. Among his teachers in Talmud were Judah ben Yakkar and Meïr ben Nathan of Trinquetaille, and he is said to have been instructed in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) by his countryman Azriel.[1]

Nahmanides studied medicine which he practiced as a means of livelihood; he also studied philosophy. During his teens he began to get a reputation as a learned Jewish scholar. At age 16 he began his writings on Jewish law. In his Milhamot Hashem (Wars of the Lord) he defended Alfasi’s decisions against the criticisms of Zerachiah ha-Levi of Girona. These writings reveal a conservative tendency that distinguished his later works — an unbounded respect for the earlier authorities.

In the view of Nahmanides, the wisdom of the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud, as well as the Geonim (rabbis of the early medieval era) was unquestionable. Their words were to be neither doubted nor criticized. “We bow,” he says, “before them, and even when the reason for their words is not quite evident to us, we submit to them” (Aseifat Zekkenim, commentary on Ketubot). Nahmanides’ adherence to the words of the earlier authorities may be due to piety, or the influence of the northern French Jewish school of thought. However, it is thought that it also may be a reaction to the rapid acceptance of Greco-Arabic philosophy among the Jews of Spain and Provence; this occurred soon after the appearance of MaimonidesGuide for the Perplexed. This work gave rise to a tendency to allegorize Biblical narratives, and to downplay the role of miracles. Against this tendency Nahmanides strove, and went to the other extreme, not even allowing the utterances of the immediate disciples of the Geonim to be questioned.

The tendency of humans to allow themselves to overindulge and to stray from our own dignity and holiness is nowhere more apparent than in our stewardship of the Earth — Al Gore’s moral imperative in an “Inconvenient Truth.” For the last 250 years mankind has embarked on an experiment to use the world and control its resources in manner that strikes down our dignity and deprives us of access to holiness. 

Despite the cost to our current health and happiness, we continue to rely on “economic indicators” to tell us we are happy and content when we are not. It is neither truthful nor real to tell someone that employment conditions are good when they have dropped out of the marketplace in despair, or taken a job far below their potential or have recently been fired, only to be told that they lack skills and education  to perform in the new marketplace. For them a decline in unemployment figures or jobless claims is meaningless and reinforces their isolation, unhappiness and depression in a society that is supposedly founded on hope.

Despite our desire to see our children grow up to be productive good citizens we continue to value monetary transactions that economists use to measure economic activity without reference to the contribution  made by a good parent who successfully instills morality, good sense, and motivation in her/his children. It may not be PC to say it, but the lack of educational motivation of students, teachers, administrators and government can be traced in part to the fact that as a society, we treat a good mother as an underground activity that doesn’t matter and isn’t measured in our reporting of economic/societal activity. So we end up with under-educated children who resort to bullying rather than reason. 

And most importantly, despite the obvious costs to our health and the current condition of our planet in peril, we continue to consume things we don’t need or want or need, spend money we don’t have, and from all this “activity” produce an effluent of indifference to civil liberties, loss of species (including our own), and worship of “money” in lieu of worship of a higher  power or source that could give context to the meaning of our lives. Affluence has become Effluence for most people.

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