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I just had some queries from an infrequent Babbler about some discussion we have had lately which touched on theology and concepts in theology such as the concept of Jews being gods "chosen people."
On the topic of religion, it is my opinion that literalist hermeneutic determinations are sloppy theology, wether they be from believing Muslims who take such quotes from the Qu'ran, as the rather infamous one in the Hamas charter about rocks and trees calling out to the believers and saying: "there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him," and interpret that in a racially stygamtzing way in which god prefers them to Jews, or from their enemies who also attach the same meaning, but in a negative light. In my view the problem here is the literalist approach, and is a problem both for supporters and detractors of any religious faction.
Obviously, it is not current thinking in the Hamas leadership that rocks and trees talk. It is an allegorical statement in its very flesh, and any literalist determination of part, but not all, of the statement, absurd.
In order to properly understand that quote one has to take it in its context in the Quran, wherein it is taken from a specific conflict where Mohammed's Arabs are at war with the Jewish tribes and is supressing them. It is not a general call to kill Jews "wherever they are" simply because they are Jews, but a specific prophesy relating to a phase when Mohammed's Arabs are at war with a specific group of Jews.
Further study of the Quran reveals a much more complex vision of social relations where Jews are tollerated within the Islamic society that Mohammed envisioned, (as it is also reflected in the practice of the Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire) and this goes against the literalist interpretation used by some Muslims and a large number of their "war of civilizations" detractors in the west and among Zionists and BJP type Hindus (lest we forget,) who simply assert that Mohammed believed co-existance with unbelievers was impossible, and that they had to be killed outright, and this phrase among a few other is drawn out of its context to support this view.
So much to say, snipping out little pieces of the Qu'ran and attaching non-contextualized meanings to them, and asserting that this has sweeping implications for the nature of Islamic culture is a very dangerous game, and simplistic in a manner that feeds into prejudices about Muslim people.
I feel very much that way about the "chosen people" catchphrase that is commonly held to be an important concept in Judaism, as signfying Jewish superiority, and it is easy to see why this is, when taken out of the context of the Torah. But in context this meaning fades, into deep complexities, where it can be seen that Jews are chosen not to be "superior" but actually "chosen" to suffer by spreading the word of the "one god" and humbly submit to the laws of the lands which they are exiled to. It is a very ascetic type of being "chosen," indeed.
This in fact is the theological grounding in which much of Jewish Orthodox opposition to Zionism is founded, and can be further investigated by researching Torah True Jews.
Of course, even in this light, this special relationship with god, does, I think, have an impact on the developement of Judaic religious culture, and possible ramifications in terms of the seclusionary nature of Jewish societies and assertion of "seperateness" from the dominant culture (asserted both by Jews and also the dominant culture,) but I think there is too much emphasis on the belief of "superiority" of Jews as the primary intended meaning of the phrase "chosen people," and this is a much abused oversimplification of the theology.
While these views are obviously matters of opinion, I would say that opinion, is the crux of the issue.
My opinion that the determination of the meaning of liturgy is largely the manifestation of personal opinions, expressed most often as schools of thought. To assert categorically that the concept of "chosen people" has a universally understood meaning that is manifested universally in Jewish societies, is to use an overwide system of analysis, and possibly prejudicial in effect even if that is not the intent, [i]no matter which interpretation is being prioritized[/i].
The same kind of analysis that might be used to assert that Lenin's interpretation of Marx is the only actual interpretation of Marx current among Marxist. Such a determination would be simplistic and also prejudicial to Marx and Marxists, as they variously intepret Marx in often radically different ways.
"Dictaroship of the Proletariat" is a phrase similarly excerpted from the writings of Marx and Engels, and many of the literal interpretations both by supporters and detractors provide simplistic analysis of its meaning, and its ramifications.
The phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" appears only once in Engels, and it can only truly be understood in the greater schema of Marx and Engels. It is in fact a slogan, and is certainly not a central thesis upon which either Marx or Engels elaborate on to any great extent.
This is not to say that it is not emblematic of Engels thinking, or that it does not have meaning and ramifications, but to say putting to much emphasis of its relevance to the thought of Fredirk Engels is to loose sight of the general thrust of the works of Marx and Engels.
One should be very careful, I think, when making such sweeping assertions about anything, based on decontextualized excerpts from texts, especially when they are potentially allegorical, and vague. When viewed literally, either positively or negatively the effect of these simplifications can be ideologically catastrophic.
[ 01 March 2007: Message edited by: Cueball ]
I think the problem with not having a dictatorship of the proletariat is that it tends to lead to dictatorships of the few over the many. After the revolution, original American colonies set out to create the first government in history to work for and serve the people instead of the thousand year old monetary system controlled by an elite few. By what I have read about Marx and Engels, they said little about who should control banking and finance of a nation's people's agenda. I actually hope someone will correct me on that, but I think banking and finance is at the heart of economic issues today. The Americans did not succeed in their lofty goals of government for and by the people. The real power in America today is said not to be in Washington where democratically-elected governments sit - power resides on Wall Street and Bay Street here in Canada. For century after century, money followed power. Today it's the reverse and nothing really has changed. Money corrupts democracy in favour of an elite few. We have the illusion of democracy.
My problem with that is I don't think that you can show the the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat," is central thematically to Marx and Engel. And that even if it is, it has to be read in the much larger context of their work, not just a stand alone catchphrase emblematic of their views.
In the main the drift of Marx and Engels, is anti-dictatorial and seeks enfranchisement of all. To me the use of the term "dictatorship" is set in direct opposition to the "dictatorship" it opposes, specifically in the context of the Paris Commune revolt, and in that is meant as an expression liberation, in a very rhetorical sense.
It is hard to tell, as neither Marx or Engels ever expounded on the ramifications of the phrase at length, which is my point. As I said, it appears as more of a clever slogan, than serious theory.
I think it's kind of like Smith's invisible hand. He made only passing reference to it about one time in total. His disciples since have tended to take him out of context and labouriously expound on the parts that lend to satisfying greed at all cost. I think Marx considered his writings on economy and society to be ongoing. He passed the ball to socialists after him, and so here we are. Is what we have now democracy and enfranchisement ? Has capitalism delivered on the economic long run to make everyone better off ?. And if not, then how to we proceed in the proletariat struggle for democracy?.
That sounds like a great thread topic, in an of itself, though the "invisible hand" thing is more pertinent, here.