Maimonides


Maimonides came to my attention through a review, written by Jay Harris, that appeared in Foreign Affairs.  A 2009 biography of Maimonides, by Moshe Halbertal, has recently been translated into English, and released by Princeton University Press.

Some people see religion as a positive harm. It’s a block to progress, or a source of violence. In this view, humanity would be better off to discard God and religion, and to rely on reason.

Harris astutely points out that contemporary non-religious (i.e., secular) “political and moral discourse” has not “particularly distinguished itself when it comes to dealing with the world….” Instead of bypassing religion, Harris (following Maimonides) suggests that we need better theology. That is, human well-being will not be increased by trying to avoid, deny, or banish religion; human well-being will be increased by doing religion better.

And doing religion better means doing theology better– “theology” in this sense understood broadly as any reasoned speaking or reasoned conversation about God.

Here is Harris on Maimonides:

Maimonides insists that a proper understanding of God (knowing what God is not), together with the commandment to imitate God as he is manifest in the world, will lead people to a life devoted to righteousness and loving-kindness– the essence of God’s impact on the world. A mistaken understanding of God, on the other hand, can lead people to place a divine imprimatur on all manner of evil acts.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Maimonides

  1. If the theological discourse and the secular discourse were equally bad at solving the world’s needs, how or why is doing religion/theology better preferable to doing the secular discourse better? The theological discourse could be viewed as just adding an unnecessary and complicating aspect.

    • Harris’s comments about the failure of secular discourse came as a jab to those who blame religion for all of humanity’s ills– he’s saying, look, it’s more complicated than that: even when we remove religion from the conversation, there is still irrationality, bias, and confusion in our discourse.

      So maybe the problem isn’t religion, maybe the problem is us fallible humans.

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