Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Growing Problem of Post-Orthodoxy

Earlier this week, a YU student club and the graduate school for Social Work hosted a panel discussion of homosexuals in the Orthodox community, talking about their personal struggles (link). This was a controversial event because homosexual behavior is forbidden by the Torah. While the struggle to abide by this law was part of the discussion -- whether implicitly or explicitly, I'm not sure -- even holding such an event without declaring the unambiguous and incontrovertible law might have been misleading. Be that as it may, I found the event much more disturbing for a different reason.

Click here to read moreBy all accounts, the event was packed. The YU student newspaper estimate had it at 700 people, with 100 turned away at the door. The question is why such a huge crowd showed up (many from outside YU), setting aside the attraction of controversy and whatever college scheduling alignment that may have allowed for greater attendance. I think the answer to that is a societal phenomenon.

Let me preface the following remarks by saying that I do not suspect any of the organizers of or participants in the event of non-Orthodoxy. I am referring here to something much bigger than them and in which they are likely not a part.

As we all know, the "shift to the right" we have seen in the Orthodox community is not unique to us. It can also be seen in the other Jewish movements, and indeed in every religion in the world. It is a massive, global religious revival. Over a month ago, Dr. Alan Brill blogged (link) about a phenomenon that he thinks is relevant to the Orthodox Jewish community.

Members of the young generation of Evangelicals are defecting from the fundamentalist religion of their parents. They are not moving to more liberal denominations but are instead creating what is called Post-Evangelicalism. This is essentially the religion in which they were raised but tweaked for various theological and social problems they have with it. It's a pick-and-choose, PC Evangelicalism.

According to Wikipedia (link), some of the issues that caused these post-Evangelicals to leave the fold, and represent the religious deviations, include: Individualism and lack of theological depth; Anti-intellectualism; Narrow political views; Lack of engagement in art, media, and society; Materialism and consumerism; Insensitivity to homosexuals; Questions over biblical inerrancy; Moral failure of leaders; and Multicural awareness.

As you can see by now -- what the Christians do, the Jews also do. Orthodoxy has developed its own post-Orthodox community who adopt general beliefs and practices but tweak them based on their specific theological and social objections. This is not a uniquely Modern Orthodox problem but the MO community has it worse because it is more open and susceptible to general societal trends.

Look at the list of post-Evangelical complaints and consider how many of them you have heard from those on the fringe of Orthodoxy. Add women's issues to that list and they all seem very familiar. We have, in our community, a growing post-Orthodox group. I see this as a massive societal problem that will result, probably sooner rather than later, in a new Jewish denomination (movement).

In that context, I see holding a conference on the unique problems of homosexuals in the Orthodox community as both a symptom of the post-Orthodox problem and a catalyst for encouraging the discomfort of those on the border. This is, of course, not something that the organizers and participants realized -- they were looking at the specifics of the event and not the larger trend. 800 people did not show up because sex sells. They came because there is a perceived problem with Orthodoxy and many of them believe that the old rules just have to change.

We just saw the world shift to the left this week. Fasten your seatbelts because, sadly in my view, there is more to come.

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