Questions & Answers

A polydoxy is a religion whose fundamental principle is that every person is her or his own ultimate religious authority with the right, therefore, to accept and follow whichever religious beliefs and observances she or he thinks true and meaningful. Accordingly, members of the same polydox community (a religious community that subscribes to a polydoxy) may hold different views on such subjects as the meaning of the word God or the existence and nature of an afterlife. All members’ beliefs regarding the great subjects of religion are equally acceptable so far as the polydox community as a whole is concerned. (Members of a community that subscribes to an orthodox religion, by contrast, are all required to accept fundamentally the same religious beliefs and to follow basically the same ritual observances.) The fundamental principle of a polydoxy may be stated in terms of a covenant, the Freedom Covenant: Every member of a polydox community pledges to affirm the freedom of all other members in return for their pledges to affirm her or his own. Equally binding in a polydoxy is the corollary of the Covenant of Freedom: Every member’s freedom ends where the other members’ freedom begins.

Polydox Judaism is the polydox religion of Jews.

The term “polydoxy,” like the term “orthodoxy,” refers to the general nature of a religion: whether it is authoritarian or free. Orthodox religions are authoritarian; polydox religions are free. Just as orthodox religions are not necessarily Jewish, witness the Eastern Orthodox Church and Orthodox Islam, so polydox religions are not necessarily Jewish.

Yes. It may also be said that it is a new “Jewish” religion or “Judaism.”

For a full understanding of the answer to this question it is important to recognize that Polydox Judaism is not the first new Jewish religion. On the contrary, the scientific study of the religious history of the Jews reveals that a number of new Jewish religions emerged over the ages in response to new intellectual, economic, political, and cultural conditions. Thus prophetic ethical monotheism was a new religion superseding an earlier lsraelite polytheism and henotheism; Pharisaic Judaism differed essentially from the Sadducean Judaism it replaced; Maimonidean philosophic Judaism is a totally different religion from Hasidic Judaism. Interesting to note, all presently existing Judaisms were at one time “new” Jewish religions, that is, no religion which can be said to have been the original “Judaism” presently exists.

Basically, they are the same. They differ in the use of historic symbolism. The Freedom Covenant and the Polydox Principle provide the foundation for them all.

As stated earlier, in a polydoxy the Covenant of Freedom grants every person the ultimate right to determine the nature of her or his own belief. This includes the right to hold whatever views concerning the word God the person believes true. Accordingly, the position of Polydox Judaism regarding the word God is that the polydox community as a whole grants to its individual members the freedom to determine for themselves its meaning and use.

Of some significance here is the fact that the Jews in the course of their religious history have subscribed to a rich variety of different and conflicting views regarding the word God. The views of Jews have ranged from monotheism to pantheism and from panentheism to agnosticism. It is only in a polydoxy, where theological freedom prevails, that all the God views Jews have held are acceptable and can be presented for consideration to the community.

In order to serve the Polydox community, services have been produced whose essential characteristic is that they are theologically open, that is, noncreedal and undogmatic. In a Polydox community, every person has the right to her or his own theological beliefs. Thus services intended for the general Polydox community must be theologically open so that persons with different theological views can participate with integrity and authenticity in the same service. In the case of ordinary services, where creedal and dogmatic language that expresses one particular theological view is employed, those present at the service who subscribe to other views must either exclude themselves from the service by remaining quiet, or mouth language whose meaning they consider untrue. In a Polydoxy, forced exclusion of a person from a community religious service by the use of creedal and dogmatic language is an infringement of the person’s rights and a fundamental violation of the Covenant of Freedom.

Noncreedal and undogmatic services are produced by writing the liturgy of the service in “multivalent” (equivocal) language. Multivalent language is a technical term, and means language that espouses no single theological creed or dogma. Thus multivalent services do not express a particular theological viewpoint. Rather, they use language as a vehicle to communicate information and inspiration in such a manner that the participant is free to fill creatively her or his mind and heart with whatever theological content is desired.

The reason is that in our popular culture the word God unfortunately is not a multivalent term. This is so despite the fact that the word God has historically been and continues to be employed by theologians, philosophers, scientists and many others in a variety of senses and for different uses. The word God has been and is employed by naturalists and agnostics as well as by supernaturalists and theists. Yet despite the word God’s proper status as an open or multivalent term, the popular culture, owing to doctrinaire early religious education and imprecise language habits, has made “God” into a univocal term, namely, a word having only one meaning. This meaning is an anthropomorphic and anthropopathic supernaturalist theism. Accordingly, since the word God in our popular culture is by and large not understood as the open term it actually is, it is generally omitted from multivalent services.

There is no reason a person who believes in a personal God should not participate in multivalent services. The language of a multivalent service is harmonious with belief in a personal God as it is with other theological concepts. It is true that a participant in a multivalent service is called upon to be more active and creative than a participant in a conventional dogmatic theistic service. The participant in a multivalent service uses the words and music of the service as a vehicle to create a private internal experience that is personally valid and authentic.

In a Polydoxy, the individual is free to use whatever services she or he considers meaningful. In a situation, however, such as a Polydox community service, where other person’s rights to participate fully and authentically would be violated by use of anything other than a multivalent service, such a service is properly employed.

Although the Polydox religionist has the freedom to pursue a solitary course, Polydox religionists organize because, as is true in most cases of human endeavor, individuals can better achieve their goals collectively than they can separately. Thus the ideal practice of Polydoxy requires, above all, knowledge. For the exercise of freedom presupposes the ability to choose among alternatives, and such choice cannot take place without a knowledge of the alternatives. If a person, therefore, is to exercise genuine freedom in taking a position with respect to the word God, then she or he must have a knowledge of the many meanings and views that exist regarding the word God. The same requirement of knowledge holds true for the authentic exercise of choice respecting rituals, holidays, and the like. How is such knowledge, which requires special training, to be attained? In an organized community the resources of individuals can be pooled for the common benefit. Through combined resources, teachers and other specialists can be engaged to staff a religious school or conduct adult study groups where the knowledge of alternatives necessary for free choice can be imparted. Organized communities possess a number of other values for Polydox religionists. Two that bear noting are these. Celebrations of life-history ceremonies and observances of holidays are enhanced when experienced in common. And the mere fact of being united in community with others who share one’s fundamental religious principles brings a sense of fullness and release from isolation.

The term soteria refers to the state of ultimate meaningful existence that is attained when the fundamental problems of individual human existence have been resolved. The essential purpose of all Jewish religious systems past and present, and of religions generally, is to provide the human person with beliefs (such as regarding the word God and the afterlife), values, and observances that enable the individual to progress toward the attainment of soteria. In Polydoxy, where freedom prevails, more than one path to soteria exists. Some persons will choose one set of beliefs, values, and practices to attain soteria, others will choose another. The spiritual leader of a Polydox community has no function more important than providing all possible assistance to members of the community in their quest for soteria.

The term “soteria” is distinguished from the term “salvation” in this way. “Salvation” has historically referred to a state of ultimate meaningful existence that is attained by a supernatural “saving” of humans. “Soteria” is broader in meaning. “Soteria” refers to the state of ultimate meaningful existence whether attained through supernatural means, as in the case of “salvation,” or naturally, through the ordinary processes of nature.

Conversion to Polydoxy is substantially different from conversion to an Orthodox religion. Orthodoxies generally possess a significant number of dogmatic theological beliefs as well as rigorous ritual and ceremonial requirements. Consequently, converting to an Orthodox religion requires a person to commit herself or himself to some particular view regarding the word God, the nature of the afterlife, ritual observance, and so forth. In Polydoxy, there is only one fundamental principle; this is the Covenant of Freedom. In converting to Polydoxy, a person is required only to accept and affirm the Covenant of Freedom and in this way join with the others who have so covenanted, and thus become affiliated with the Polydox community.

The Polydox position on intermarriage is that the freedom granted an individual by the Covenant of Freedom includes the right to marry whomever the person wishes. Traditionally, Orthodox religions have taken as their right the authority to determine whom a person may marry, and otherwise invade the most personal areas of their members’ lives. Polydoxy rejects Orthodoxy’s claim to such authority on the basis that no credible evidence exists to justify this claim either morally or legally.

A number of fundamental differences exist between Polydox Judaism and Ethical Culture. Three may be stated. The first is that Ethical Culture is not a religion. Felix Adler, the founder of Ethical Culture, wished to bring together people who wanted to do “Good” without having to dispute over religion. The stated aims of the New York Ethical Culture Society make this point clearly: “To teach the superiority of the moral ends above all human ends and interest; . . .to advance the science and art of right living.” Polydox Judaism, on the other hand, is first and foremost a religion, that is, a vehicle to attain soteria. Second, Ethical Culture disassociates itself completely with the Jewish religious enterprise, and does not in any degree bear the impress of Jewishness. Polydox Judaism, however, sees itself as a new Jewish religion, a Jewish emergent. Thirdly, Ethical Culture makes no affirmation of individual freedom. Polydox Judaism makes freedom its fundamental principle.

As stated earlier, Polydox Jews have the freedom to celebrate whichever ceremonies they find meaningful. Accordingly, Polydox Jews may celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzvah if they choose to do so, and many do. Comment: The point should be made that the meaning of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony in Polydox Judaism cannot be the same as that in Orthodox Judaism. The reason is that the Bar and Bat Mitzvah in Orthodox Judaism require a system of divinely revealed commandments (mitzvot) or Law that is obligatory upon the Orthodox Jew. Indeed, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah in Orthodox Judaism signifies that the person has left behind the period of childhood, when the divine commandments are not in full force, and attained her or his majority when the commandments or Law are fully obligatory Hence the term Bar or Bat Mitzvah means “someone who is obligated to observe the commandments.” Such a system of commandments or Law does not exist in Polydox Judaism. The meaning of Bar and Bat Mitzvah among Polydox Jews varies widely in accordance with individual views. Two views presently current in Polydox Judaism indicate just how wide this variance is. One is that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is merely a symbolic ceremony marking the increased maturity and obligations of adolescence as compared to childhood. Another is that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a time when the person, having attained the increased maturity of adolescence, is called upon to commit herself or himself to whatever commandments she or he believes have come from a deity. An alternative ceremony in Polydox Judaism is the Baalat/Baal Mitzvah ceremony.

In Polydox Judaism, every person is affirmed in his or her freedom. This means the individual possesses the ultimate right to lay down commandments or mitzvot to herself or himself, that is, the ultimate right to autonomy or self-determination. Understandably, this fundamental right cannot be fully realized during childhood. The Baalat/Baal Mitzvah ceremony signifies the increased degree of autonomy that is acquired in adolescence and points to the full realization of autonomy that comes with adulthood.

 

In Polydox Judaism, the freedom to keep religious observances in a way that the individual finds meaningful extends not only to the right to determine what those observances shall be, but also to the right to determine when those observances shall be celebrated. Accordingly, in a Polydoxy a person has every right to celebrate the Shabbat on the seventh day of the week, to light candles, and to refrain from work. On the other hand, there also exists in Polydoxy another concept of the Shabbat. This is that the Shabbat refers not to the seventh day of the week, but to a psychic state of being in which the person achieves a sense of profoundly meaningful existence. Such a Shabbat or state of being is independent of calendar measurement and can occur at any time, seventh day or otherwise. Shabbat as a state of being has become an increasingly significant meaning for the Shabbat as the intellectual, economic, and cultural conditions necessary for a meaningful seventh day Shabbat continue to deteriorate. (The meaning of Shabbat as a state of being in discussed in this article.)

As indicated above, the Polydox Jew has the right to celebrate a holiday at the time it is most meaningful to do so. This means there is no date on which a Polydox Jew “must” or “must not” celebrate a holiday. Accordingly, Polydox Judaism does not teach that religious holidays should not be celebrated on the same dates as do other Jews.

There are Polydox Jews who have changed their celebration of the Chanukah from eight days beginning on the twenty-fifth of Kislev in the Jewish calendar to eight days beginning on the winter solstice, December twenty—first or twenty-second. Although the full argumentation for this change cannot be presented here, it is helpful to bear this point in mind. Scientific study of the past reveals that the Jews, in the course of their religious history, have repeatedly changed their calendars and the dates of their holidays. It was only in the tenth century C.E., after some three thousand years of Jewish changes of calendars and dates, that the holiday calendar Jews use today was fixed. This process of change is inevitable since life is dynamic, and conditions suitable for celebrating a holiday on a certain date in one age do not necessarily exist in another.

Polydox Judaism takes a very similar position to that of Rabbinic or Orthodox Judaism on this question. A person who “believes in” Jesus is still a Jew. Orthodox Judaism goes so far as to say that a person remains a Jew even though she or he converts to Christianity and is baptized. Comment: It is of interest to note that Jewish thinkers and scholars have taken some very positive positions regarding Jesus. For example, Franz Rosenzweig, who is a conservative Jewish theologian with many followers in Conservative Judaism and traditionoid Reform Judaism, states in his Star of Redemption that Judaism and Christianity are “equally true.” Harry A. Wolfson, who described himself as a “nonobservant Orthodox Jew,” and who was the greatest historian of J ewish philosophy of our century wrote an article entitled, “How the Jews Will Reclaim J esus.” Wolfson writes “The Jewish reclamation of Jesus will not be brought about by efforts of evangelical piety on the part of some Jews, or by a sentimental yearning for what we haven’t got, or by a servile imitation of the most powerful element in our environment. lt will come about as a result of a wider and more comprehensive conception of the scope of Jewish learning and Jewish literature and of a general restoration of our lost literary treasures. When the works of Josephus, and the Apocrypha, and the Hellenistic writings have all been restored by us and given a place beside the hallowed literature of our tradition, then the works of Jesus also will find a place among them.” On the other hand the position is taken by a number of Polydox religionists that based on critical analysis there is no credible evidence or knowledge of a real Jesus.

The primary difference is that underlying all Polydox religious school materials is the principle that the young person in the Polydox community is as completely affirmed in her or his theological, liturgical, and ritual freedom as any member who is an adult. This means the youngster attends school for an education, not an indoctrination. No untruth is ever wittingly told a student; no myth is ever presented as fact. The information given as knowledge is that which is derived from scientific and critical study Even here, knowledge is only probable and fallible and the youngster is informed that such is the case. The individual student is affirmed as the final arbiter of the views she or he chooses. Similarly, the youngster’s liturgical and ritual freedom is safeguarded. Services are written in multivalent language and rituals are presented as options.

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