If you ever wondered whether newspaper editorial illustrators actually read the editorials before illustrating them, wonder no more. Not that I have the answer to this question, just that it is a stupid thing to wonder about, so stop. I can tell you, however, that Web Bryant, who illustrated Michael Medved’s On Religion column for today’s USA TODAY (Monday, April 23, 2007) probably didn’t.
Medved wrote about the decision of the Jewish Theological Seminary to accept openly gay and lesbian students into its rabbinical program. The piece was called “Goldilocks’ faith serves lukewarm mush,” and Bryant was illustrating the lukewarm mush by showing us three bowls of porridge: one hot, one cold, and the other stabbed with a giant spoon sporting a large white Christian Cross. The drawing wasn’t that good, and the essay was predictable, but the Cross did make it memorable.
Michael Medved tells us he grew up in a Conservative Jewish home, but that he, two brothers, and his father have migrated to Orthodox Judaism, while another brother is a Reform Jew. Clearly the center cannot hold, which shows that Michael never read or understood Goldilocks.
In Goldilocks’ world the middle is just right not lukewarm. Goldilocks is a golden haired Buddhist following the Middle Way, or a blond Confucian adhering to chun yung, the Mean. In Michael’s world the middle is weak and wishy-washy. Choose damn you: hot or cold, hard or soft, big or small. Clearly when it comes to homosexuals Michael chooses hot, hard, and big. I don’t blame him.
I agree with Michael: “watered down versions of religious faith fail.” Where I disagree is over the implication that Reform Judaism is watered down. Today’s Reform Judaism is actually thickening up. Traditional norms, rituals, and Hebrew liturgy are making just enough of a comeback as to thicken Reform into Conservatism Lite. What I would say is that lukewarm religion fails, and that contemporary Reform Judaism is definitely lukewarm.
The original Reform Judaism of the late 19th century was ice cold. It had bite. It stood for something. You either loved it or hated it. It was either genius or heresy. Today it is long forgotten as Conservative and Reform Judaisms slowly merge into a massive blob of tasteless porridge, Orthodoxy is dynamic, creative, hot, hard, and authentic. It is also homophobic, misogynist, and medieval.
We need a new Judaism. One that is a icy alternative to Orthodoxy’s blistering heat. One that blends the Neo-Hasidic fervor of Jewish Renewal with the theological daring of Mordecai Kaplan, and the religious humanism of Martin Buber. We need a Judaism unafraid to be deeply spiritual, contemplative, postmodern, scientific, soulful, and blessedly anarchistic. We need a Judaism of which Spinoza and Einstein could be proud. We need a Judaism Michael Medved would be as passionate about rejecting as he is about the Orthodoxy he embraces. Michael is right, Goldilocks is wrong. Lukewarm sucks.