Arieti is a distinguished psychologist, but as a philosopher-theologian he's very much the amateur. And while his...

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ABRAHAM AND THE CONTEMPORARY MIND

Arieti is a distinguished psychologist, but as a philosopher-theologian he's very much the amateur. And while his liberal-Jewish religious views evince sensitivity and moral concern, they also tend to simplism. Abraham, whom he unconvincingly labels ""the first modern man,"" is a hero to Arieti because he was a ""dualist and interactionist."" By worshipping a radically transcendent God, that is, Abraham implicitly affirmed a vast and complex dialectical process (between the divine and the human, spirit and matter, God and history, etc.), a sublime metaphysic that fosters a noble, profoundly human ethic--and that stands in hopeful contrast to the dismal materialistic monism of many modern thinkers (Ryle, Skinner, et al.). What Arieti is saying in these meditations, at bottom, is that Judaism, broadly interpreted, shines like a beacon of rationality and decency in the darkness of the 20th century. Fine, but en route to this conclusion he makes so many errors and misreads so many texts that he badly compromises his case. Arieti grossly oversimplifies the thought of St. Paul, of Berkeley and Hume (e.g., for Berkeley, ""no physical reality exists""); he associates the formula cuius regio eius religio with Constantine instead of the Peace of Augsburg; he claims that all historical persecution of the Jews derives from their fidelity to ""invisible values."" But Arieti is weakest of all on the Bible. He talks about the legendary Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego in the same breath with Rabbi Akiva. In his long treatment of the ""Binding of Isaac"" he dodges the obvious fact that the whole context takes child sacrifice for granted. And he lays heavy stress on God's supposed gentleness with Abraham, as proved by the phrase ""I beg thee""--unaware that this is a translator's embellishment and simply absent from the Hebrew original. Such pious carelessness would be acceptable, perhaps, in a sermon, but not in an essay addressed to the general public. Arieti's arguments deserve a better presentation.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980