Judgement of Solomon

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Fresco of the Judgment of Solomon, Wallfahrtskirche Frauenberg [de] Frauenberg, Styria

The Judgment of Solomon is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed their true feelings and relationship to the child by suggesting to cut the baby in two, with each woman to receive half. With this strategy, he was able to discern the non-mother as the woman who entirely approved of this proposal, while the actual mother begged that the sword might be sheathed and the child committed to the care of her rival. Some consider this approach to justice an archetypal example of an impartial judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling.

Biblical narrative[edit]

The Judgement of Solomon (School of Giorgione, 1500)

1 Kings 3:16–28 recounts that two mothers living in the same house, each the mother of an infant son, came to Solomon. One of the babies had been smothered, and each claimed the remaining boy as her own. Calling for a sword, Solomon declared his judgment: the baby would be cut in two, each woman to receive half. One mother did not contest the ruling, declaring that if she could not have the baby then neither of them could, but the other begged Solomon, “Give the baby to her, just don’t kill him!”

The king declared the second woman the true mother, as a mother would even give up her baby if that was necessary to save its life. This judgment became known throughout all of Israel and was considered an example of profound wisdom.

Classification and parallels[edit]

The story is commonly viewed in scholarship as an instance or a reworking of a folktale. Its folkloristic nature is apparent, among other things, in the dominance of direct speech which moves the plot on and contributes to the characterization.[1] The story is classified as Aarne-Thompson tale type 926, and many parallel stories have been found in world folklore. In Uther’s edition of the Aarne-Thompson index,[2] this tale type is classified as a folk novella, and belongs to a subgroup designated: “Clever Acts and Words“. Eli Yassif defines the folk novella as “a realistic story whose time and place are determined … The novella emphasizes such human traits as cleverness, eroticism, loyalty, and wiliness, that drive the plot forward more than any other element”.[3]

Hugo Gressmann has found 22 similar stories in world folklore and literature, especially in India and the far east.[4] One Indian version is a Jataka story dealing with Buddha in one of his previous incarnations as the sage Mahosadha, who arbitrates between a mother and a Yakshini who is in the shape of a woman, who kidnapped the mother’s baby and claimed he was hers. The sage announced a tug war: He drew a line on the ground and asked the two to stand on opposite sides of the line, one holding his feet and the other his hands – The one who would pull the baby’s whole body beyond the line would get him. The mother, seeing how the baby suffers, released him and let the Yakshini take him, weeping. When the sage saw that, he turned the baby back to the hands of the true mother, exposed the identity of the Yakshini and expelled her.[5] In other Indian versions the two women are widows of one husband.[6] Another version appears in the Chinese drama The Chalk Circle (in this version the judge draws a circle on the ground),[7] which has been widespread all over the world and many versions and reworkings were made after it, among them The Caucasian Chalk Circle, a play by Bertolt Brecht.

The judgement of Solomon by Gaspar de Crayer, c. 1620

The common motif in those different parallels is that the wise judge announces an absurd procedure, which is reasonable in some perverse way: Splitting the baby, according to the principle of compromise; Or a tug war, in which one can possibly assume that the true mother will be motivated to pull harder. But this procedure is actually a concealed emotional test, designed to force each woman to decide whether her compassion to the baby overpowers her will to win.[8]

There is indirect evidence that the story was widespread in ancient times in the western world too. A Greek papyrus fragment,[9] dating from the beginning of the second century AD, includes a fragmented reference to an ancient legal case which is similar to the judgment of Solomon. The writer ascribes the story to Phliliskos of Miletos, living in the fourth century BC.[10][11] A fresco found in the “House of the Physician” in Pompeii depicts pygmies introducing a scene similar to the biblical story.[12] Some think that the fresco relates directly to the biblical story,[13] while according to others it represents a parallel tradition.[12]

Several suggestions for the genre of the biblical story have been raised, beyond its characterization as a folktale of a known type. Edward Lipinski suggests that the story is an example of “king’s bench tales”, a subgenre of the wisdom literature to which he finds parallels in Sumerian literature.[14]

Scholars have pointed out that the story resembles the modern detective story genre. Both king Solomon and the reader are confronted with some kind of a juridical-detective riddle. Meir Sternberg notes that two genres merge in the story: A riddle and a test; The juridical dilemma, which is the riddle, also constitutes a test for the young king: If he will solve it he will be acknowledged to possess divine wisdom.[15] Stuart Lasine classifies the story as a law-court riddle.[16]

According to Raymond Westbrook, the story is essentially a hypothetical problem, introduced to the recipient as a pure intellectual challenge and not as a concrete juridical case. In such problems, any unnecessary detail is usually omitted, and this is the reason why the characters in the story have no distinctive characteristics. Also, the description of the case eliminates the possibility to obtain circumstantial evidence, thereby forcing the recipient to confront the dilemma directly and not seek for indirect ways to solve it.[17]

Some scholars think that the original folk story underwent significant literary reworking so that in its biblical crystallization it can no longer be defined as a folktale. Jacob Liver notes the absence of any “local coloring” in the story, and concludes that the story is “not an actual folk tale but a scholarly reworking of a folk tale (apparently from a non-Israelite source) which in some way reached the court circles of Jerusalem in the times of Solomon”.[18] Similarly, Jeev Weisman characterizes it as “a wisdom anecdote which originated in the court circles”.[19]

Origin[edit]

The story has a number of parallels in folktales from various cultures. All of the known parallels, among them several from India, have been recorded in later periods than the biblical story; nevertheless, it is unclear as to whether they reflect earlier or later traditions. Hermann Gunkel rules out the possibility that such a sophisticated motif had developed independently in different places.[20] Some scholars are of the opinion that the source of the story is untraceable.[21][22]

In the biblical version, the two women are identified as prostitutes, as opposed to some Indian versions in which they are widows of one husband. Some scholars have inferred from this difference as to the origin of the story. Following Gressmann,[23] Gunkel speculates a possible Indian origin, on the basis that “[s]uch stories of wise judgments are the real life stuff of the Indian people”, and that, in his view, “a prostitute has no reason to value a child which was not born to her“; he acknowledges, however, that the Indian versions “belong to a later period”.[20] On the other hand, Lasine opines that the Hebrew story is better motivated than the Indian one, for it is the only one in which the motivation for the behavior of both women is rooted in typical motherly feelings: compassion for the true mother, and jealousy for the impostor.[24] Other scholars point out that such a travelling folktale might become, in its various forms, more or less coherent; the assertion that one version is more coherent than the other does not compel the conclusion that the first is more original.[8] Consequently, the argument as to which version’s women had more compelling reasons to fight over the child would be irrelevant.

Composition and editorial framing[edit]

The story is considered to be literarily unified, without significant editorial intervention.[25][26] The ending of the story, noting the wisdom of Solomon, is considered to be a Deuteronomistic addition to the text.[1][27]

Some scholars consider the story an originally independent unit, integrated into its present context by an editor.[28][29] Solomon’s name is not mentioned in the story, and he is simply called “the king”. Considered out of context, the story leaves the king anonymous just like the other characters. Some scholars think that the original tale was not necessarily about Solomon, and perhaps dealt with a typical unnamed king. A different opinion is held by Eli Yassif, who thinks that the author of the Book of Kings did not attribute the story to Solomon on his own behalf, but the attribution to Solomon had already developed in preliterary tradition.[30]

Scholars point out that the story is linked to the preceding account of Solomon’s dream in Gibeon, by the common pattern of prophetic dream and its subsequent fulfillment. Some think this proximity of the stories results from the work of a redactor. Others, such as Saul Zalewski, consider the two accounts to be inseparable and to form a literarily unified unit.[31]

In its broader context, the Judgment of Solomon forms part of the account of Solomon’s reign, generally conceived as a distinct segment in the Book of Kings, compassing chapters 3–11 in 1 Kings; Some include in it also chapters 1–2, while others think that these chapters originally ended the account of David’s reign in 2 Samuel. According to Liver, the source for the Judgment of Solomon story, as well as other parts of the account of Solomon’s reign, is in the speculated book of the Acts of Solomon, which he proposes to be a wisdom work which originated in the court circles shortly after the split of the united monarchy.[32]

Analysis[edit]

General description[edit]

The story may be divided to two parts similar in length, matching the trial’s sequence. In the first part (verses 16–22) the case is described: The two women introduce their arguments, and at this point, no response from the king is recorded. In the second part (23–28) the decision is described: the king is the major speaker and the one who directs the plot. Apart from this clear twofold division, suggestions have been raised as to the plot structure and the literary structure of the story and its internal relations.[33]

As stated before, most of the story is reported by direct speech of the women and Solomon, with a few sentences and utterance verbs by the narrator. The dialogues move the plot forward.[26] The women’s contradictory testimonies create the initial conflict necessary to build up the dramatic tension. The king’s request to bring him a sword enhances the tension, as the reader wonders why it is needed. The story comes to its climax with the shocking royal order to cut the boy, which for a moment casts doubt on the king’s judgment. But what seems to be the verdict turns out to be a clever trick which achieves its goal, and results in the recognition of the true mother and the resolution.

Purpose[edit]

The major overt purpose of the account of Solomon’s reign, to which the Judgment of Solomon belongs as stated above, is to glorify King Solomon, and his wisdom is one of the account’s dominant themes. The exceptions are: The first two chapters (1 Kings 1–2), which according to many scholars portray a dubious image of Solomon, and as stated above, are sometimes ascribed to a separate work; And the last chapter in the account (11), which describes Solomon’s sins in his old age. Nevertheless, many scholars point out to elements in the account that criticize Solomon, anticipating his downfall in chapter 11.[34]

In its immediate context, the story follows the account of Solomon’s dream at Gibeon, in which he was promised by God to be given unprecedented wisdom. Most scholars read the story at face value, and conclude that its major purpose is to demonstrate the fulfillment of the divine promise and to illustrate Solomon’s wisdom expressed in a juridical form. Yet some scholars recognize in this story too, as in other parts of the account of Solomon’s reign, ironic elements which are not consistent with the story’s overt purpose to glorify Solomon.

Some scholars assume, as mentioned, that the story had existed independently before it was integrated into its current context. Willem Beuken think that the original tale was not about the king’s wisdom – the concluding note about Solomon’s wisdom is considered secondary – but about a woman who, by listening to her motherly instinct, helped the king to break through the legal impasse. Beuken notes additional biblical stories which share the motif of the woman who influenced the king: Bathsheba, the woman of Tekoa, and Solomon’s foreign wives who seduced him into idolatry.[35] Beuken concludes that the true mother exemplifies the biblical character type of the wise woman.[36] He proposes an analysis of the literary structure of the story, according to which the section that notes the compassion of the true mother (verse 26b) constitutes one of the two climaxes of the story, along with the section that announces Solomon’s divine wisdom (verse 28b). According to this analysis, the story in its current context gives equal weight to the compassion of the true mother and to the godly wisdom that guided Solomon in the trial.[37]

According to Marvin Sweeney, in its original context, as part of the Deuteronomistic history, the story exalted Solomon as a wise ruler and presented him as a model to Hezekiah. Later, the narrative context of the story has undergone another Deuteronomistic redaction that has undermined Solomon’s figure in comparison to Josiah.[38] In its current context, the story implicitly criticizes Solomon for violating the biblical law that sets the priests and Levites on top of the judicial hierarchy (Deuteronomy 17:8–13).[39]

Intra-biblical allusions[edit]

Several stories in the Hebrew Bible bear similarity to the Judgment of Solomon, and scholars think they allude to it.

The most similar story is that of the two cannibal mothers in 2 Kings 6:24–33, which forms part of the Elisha cycle. The background is a famine in Samaria, caused by a siege on the city. As the king passes through the city, a woman calls him and asks him to decide in a quarrel between her and another woman: The two women had agreed to cook and eat the son of one woman, and on the other day to do the same with the son of the other woman; but after they ate the first woman’s son, the other woman hid her own son. The king, shocked from the description of the case, tore up his royal cloth and revealed that he was wearing sackcloth beneath it. He blamed Elisha for the circumstances and went on to chase him.

There are some striking similarities between this story and the Judgment of Solomon. Both deal with nameless women who gave birth to a son. One of the son dies, and a quarrel erupts as to the fate of the other one. The case is brought before the king to decide. According to Lasine, the comparison between the stories emphasize the absurdity of the situation in the story of the cannibal mothers: While in the Judgment of Solomon, the king depend on his knowledge of maternal nature to decide the case, the story of the cannibal women describe a “topsy-turvy” world in which maternal nature does not work as expected, thus leaving the king helpless.[40]

The women’s characters[edit]

Like many other women in the Hebrew Bible, the two women in this story are anonymous. It is speculated their names have not been mentioned so that they would not overshadow Solomon’s wisdom, which is the main theme of the story. The women seem to be poor. They live alone in a shared residence, without servants. The women have been determined to be prostitutes. As prostitutes, they lack male patronage and have to take care of themselves in a patriarchal society.[41]

The women’s designation as prostitutes is necessary as background to the plot: It clarifies why the women live alone, gave birth alone and were alone during the alleged switch of the babies;[42] The lack of witnesses seems to create a legal impasse that only the wise king can solve. It also clarifies why the women are not represented by their husbands, as is customary in biblical society.[43] Solomon is depicted as a king accessible to all of his subjects, even those in the margins of society.[42] The women’s designation as prostitutes links the story to the common biblical theme of God as the protector of the weak, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” (Psalms 68:5). Prostitutes in biblical society are considered functional widows, for they have no male patron to represent them in court, and their sons are considered fatherless. They also bear similarity to the proselyte, who is sometimes mentioned in the Hebrew Bible with the widow and the fatherless, in that they are socially marginalized and deprived of the right to advocacy. They can only seek justice from one place: God, embodied in the story as the source of Solomon’s wisdom.[44][45]

The women are not explicitly condemned for their occupation,[46] and some think that the narrator does not intend to discredit them for being prostitutes, and their conduct should be judged against universal human standards.[47] On the other hand, Phyllis Bird thinks that the story presupposes the stereotypical biblical image of the prostitute as a selfish liar. The true mother is revealed when her motherly essence – which is also stereotypical – surpasses her selfish essence.[48] Athalya Brenner notes that both women’s maternal instinct is intact: For the true mother it is manifested, as mentioned, in the compassion and devotion that she shows for her son; And for the impostor it is manifested in her desire for a son, which makes her steal the other mother’s son when her own son dies. According to Brenner, one of the lessons of the story is that “true maternal feelings … may exist even in the bosom of the lowliest woman”.[49]

The women are designated in the Hebrew text as zōnōṯ (זוֹנוֹת), which is the plural form of the adjective zōnâ (זוֹנָה), prostitute. However, some propose a different meaning for this word in the context of the story, such as “tavern owner” or “innkeeper”. These proposals are usually dismissed as apologetic.[50] Jerome T. Walsh combines the two meanings, and suggests that in ancient Near East, some prostitutes also provided lodging services (cf. the story of Rahab).[51]

Comparison to detective literature[edit]

As mentioned before, many scholars have compared the story to the modern genre of detective story. A striking feature in the biblical story, untypical to its parallels,[52] is that it does not begin with a credible report of the omniscient narrator about the events that took place before the trial; It immediately opens with the women’s testimonies. Thus, the reader is unable to determine whether the account given by the plaintiff is true or false, and he confronts, along with Solomon, a juridical-detective riddle. According to Sternberg, the basic convention shared by the Judgment of Solomon and the detective story genre is the “fair-play rule”, which states that both the reader and the detective figure are exposed to the same relevant data.[53]

Lasine, dealing with the story from a sociological perspective, points out that like the detective story, the Judgment of Solomon story deals with human “epistemological anxiety” deriving from the fact that man, as opposed to God, is generally unable to know what is in the mind of other men. The detective story, as well as this biblical story, provides a comfort to this anxiety with the figure of the detective, or Solomon in this case: A master of human nature, a man who can see into the depths of one’s soul and extract the truth from within it. This capability is conceived as a superhuman quality, inasmuch as Solomon’s wisdom in judgment is described as a gift from God. There is an ambiguity concerning the question whether such a capability may serve as a model for others, or it is unavailable to ordinary men.[54]

By the end of the story, Solomon reveals the identity of the true mother. But according to the Hebrew text, while the king solves the riddle, the reader is not exposed to the solution; Literally translated from the Hebrew text, Solomon command reads: “Give her the living child…”. One cannot infer from this wording whether the word “her” refers to the plaintiff or to the defendant, as the narrator remains silent on the matter.

Jewish interpretation[edit]

The Judgment of Solomon by William Blake in Tempera. Currently, the object is held at the Fitzwilliam Museum.[55]

According to the Midrash, the two women were mother- and daughter-in-law, both of whom had borne sons and whose husbands had died. The lying daughter-in-law was obligated by the laws of Yibbum to marry her brother-in-law unless released from the arrangement through a formal ceremony. As her brother-in-law was the living child, she was required to marry him when he came of age or wait the same amount of time to be released and remarry. When Solomon suggested splitting the infant in half, the lying woman, wishing to escape the constraints of Yibbum in the eyes of God, agreed. Thus was Solomon able to know who the real mother was.[56]

Representations in art[edit]

If the above-mentioned Pompean fresco indeed depicts the Judgment of Solomon, it is the first known painting of a biblical story (presently moved to the Museo Nazionale in Naples).[57]

Sculpture given either to Pietro Lamberti or to Nanni di Bartolo [it]. It stands at the corner of the Doge’s Palace in Venice (Italy), next to Porta della Carta

This theme has long been a popular subject for artists and is often chosen for the decoration of courthouses. In the Netherlands, many 17th century courthouses (Vierschaar rooms) contain a painting or relief of this scene. Elsewhere in Europe, celebrated examples include:

Music[edit]

Marc-Antoine Charpentier : Judicium Salomonis H 422, Oratorio for soloists, chorus, woodwinds, strings, and bc. (1702)

Giacomo Carissimi : Judicium Salomonis, Oratorio for 3 chorus, 2 violins and organ.

Other media[edit]

The scene has been the subject of television episodes of DinosaursRecessThe Simpsons (where a pie was substituted for the baby), the Netflix animated series, All Hail King Julien, where a pineapple is cut in two to settle a dispute, the Seinfeld episode “The Seven“, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It has influenced other artistic disciplines, e.g. Bertolt Brecht‘s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Ronnie snatching Kat’s baby in EastEnders.

The HIM song “Shatter Me With Hope” includes the line “We’ll tear this baby apart, wise like Solomon”.

The Tool song “Right in Two” slightly paraphrases the scene and includes the lyric “Cut and divide it all right in two”.

A surgical technique that involves dividing the placenta with a laser as a treatment for twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome is named Solomon technique.[58]

Jesus: Teacher of Wisdom (Richard Rohr)

When I talk about Jesus as a wisdom master, I need to mention that in the Near East “wisdom teacher” is a recognized spiritual occupation. In seminary,

I was taught that there were only two categories of religious authority: one could be a

  1. priest or a
  2. prophet.

That may be how the tradition filtered down to us in the West. But within the wider Near East (including Judaism itself), there was also a third, albeit unofficial, category: a moshel moshelim, or teacher of wisdom, one who taught the ancient traditions of the transformation of the human being.

These teachers of transformation—among whom I would place the authors of the Hebrew wisdom literature such as Ecclesiastes, Job, and Proverbs—may be the early precursors to the rabbi whose task it was to interpret the law and lore of Judaism (often creating their own innovations of each). The hallmark of these wisdom teachers was their use of pithy sayings, puzzles, and parables rather than prophetic pronouncements or divine decree. They spoke to people in the language that people spoke, the language of story rather than law.

Parables, such as the stories Jesus told, are a wisdom genre belonging to mashal, the Jewish branch of universal wisdom tradition. Jesus not only taught within this tradition, he turned it end for end. Before we can appreciate the extraordinary nuances he brought to understanding human transformation, we need first to know something about the context in which he was working.

There has been a strong tendency among Christians to turn Jesus into a priest—“our great high priest” (see the Letter to the Hebrews). The image of Christos Pantokrator (“Lord of All Creation”) dressed in splendid sacramental robes has dominated the iconography of both Eastern and Western Christendom. But Jesus was not a priest. He had nothing to do with the temple hierarchy in Jerusalem, and he kept a respectful distance from most ritual observances. Nor was he a prophet in the usual sense of the term: a messenger sent to the people of Israel to warn them of impending political catastrophe in an attempt to redirect their hearts to God. Jesus was not that interested in the political fate of Israel, nor would he accept the role of Messiah continuously being thrust upon him.

His message was not one of repentance (at least in the usual way we understand it; more on that later this week) and return to the covenant. Rather, he stayed close to the ground of wisdom: the transformation of human consciousness. He asked timeless and deeply personal questions:

  • What does it mean to die before you die?
  • How do you go about losing your little life to find the bigger one?
  • Is it possible to live on this planet with a generosity, abundance, fearlessness, and beauty that mirror Divine Being itself?

These are the wisdom questions, and they are the entire field of Jesus’ concern.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Dying by Brightness

But the human ego prefers knowing and being certain over being honest. “Don’t bother me with the truth, I want to be in control,” it invariably says.

Most people who think they are fully conscious or “smart” and in control, have a big iron manhole cover over their unconscious. It does give them a sense of being right and in charge, but it seldom yields compassion, community, or wisdom.

.. Divine perfection is precisely the ability to include imperfection; whereas we think we must exclude, deny, and even punish it! The flow of grace is an increasing ability to forgive reality for being what it is—instead of what we want it to be!

.. The beauty of the unconscious, whether personal or collective, is that it knows a great deal, but it also knows that it does not know, cannot say, dare not try to prove or assert too strongly. What it does know is that there is always more—and all words will fall short and all concepts will be incomplete. The contemplative is precisely the person who agrees to live in that kind of blinding brightness. The paradox, of course, is that it does not feel like brightness at all, but what John of the Cross (1542-1591) called a “luminous darkness” and others identify as “learned ignorance.”

We cannot grow in the integrative dance of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness not to know—and not even to need to know. What else would give us peace and contentment?

Richard Rohr Meditation: Mother God

Marcus Borg points out many other good reasons to identify and honor the female (as well as non-gendered) images of God throughout the Bible:

  • Male images for God are often associated with power, authority, and judgment. When used exclusively, they most often create an image of a punitive God. God must be appeased or else.
  • Male images for God most often go with patriarchy—with male primacy and domination in society and the family.
  • Male images of God most often go with domination over nature. Nature is often imaged as female (“mother earth”) and domination over women extends to a rapacious use of nature.

Female images of God suggest something different. God is the one who gave birth to us and all that is. God wills our well-being, as a mother wills the well-being of the children of her womb. God is attached to us with a love that is tender and that will not let us go. And like a mother who sees the children of her womb threatened and oppressed, God can become fierce.

It is also important to realize that male and female metaphors for God are not intrinsically incompatible. God as “father” can be compassionate. This is the point of the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). So also in both Old and New Testaments, “the Lord” whom we are to love with all our heart, strength, and mind is also compassionate—a word whose semantic associations in Hebrew mean “womb-like.”

Moreover, just as God as Lord is demanding, so is God as Wisdom/Sophia. Both images of God combine imperative and compassionate.

.. “The way”—the way of wisdom—is also what “the father” at his best teaches. The issue is not that mothers are better than fathers, but that a particular way of imaging “father” can produce a distorted form of Christianity—as if Christianity is about meeting the requirements of an authority figure who will punish us if we don’t get it right.

Christianity is not about avoiding punishment or gaining reward. It is about loving God and loving what God loves.

The President’s Self-Destructive Disruption

his repeated use of the word “fake” to describe news coverage when he actually means “unpleasant” and his style of rhetoric in front of the United Nations, where he called terrorists “losers” and applied a childish epithet to the head of a nation in whose shadow tens of thousands of American troops serve and with whom nuclear war is a live possibility, are all cases in point. There is no way to formalize conventions of maturity and dignity for presidents. Custom fills that void.

.. When he violates such customs, Mr. Trump is at his most impulsive and self-destructive. It may sound ridiculous to invoke James Madison or Edmund Burke when we talk about this president, but that is part of the problem. Mr. Trump could profit from the wisdom of his predecessor Madison, for whom the very essence of constitutionalism lay not in what he derided as “parchment barriers” — mere written commands there was no will to follow — but rather “that veneration which time bestows on every thing.” The Constitution, in other words, would be only as strong as the tradition of respecting it.

.. Burke is generally seen as the progenitor of modern conservatism, but Mr. Trump, who came late to the conservative cause, is said to be so hostile to custom that his staff knows the best way to get him to do something is to tell him it violates tradition.
.. demagogic campaign rallies masked as presidential addresses
.. because many elements of his base associate these customs with failed politics, every violation reinforces the sense that he sides with them over a corrupt establishment.
.. Historically, conservatism has tended to value light governance, for which custom is even more essential. Aristotle writes that “when men are friends they have no need of justice.” In other words, rules enter where informal mechanisms of society have collapsed. The philosopher and statesman Charles Frankel summed it up powerfully: “Politics is a substitute for custom. It becomes conspicuous whenever and wherever custom recedes or breaks down.”
.. Since Woodrow Wilson’s critique of the framers’ work, progressive legal theory has generally denied that the meaning of the original Constitution, as endorsed by generational assent, wields authority because it is customary. Much of libertarian theory elevates contemporary reason — the rationality of the immediate — above all else.

.. The president’s daily, even hourly, abuse of language is also deeply problematic for a republic that conducts its business with words and cannot do so if their meanings are matters of sheer convenience. The unique arrogance of Mr. Trump’s rejection of the authority of custom is more dangerous than we realize because without custom, there is no law.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Human Development through Scripture

The books of the Prophets represent the birth of good and necessary critical thinking. Without it, we remain far too self-enclosed and smug. The lack of healthy self-criticism within both Judaism and Christianity shows how little attention we’ve paid to this part of Scripture. (We read the prophets as if their only function was to “foretell Jesus” which is really not their direct message!) The Roman Catholic Church did not allow prophetic/critical thinking for almost 500 years after the Reformation, nor did the United States for most of its 200-year history (slavery and segregation are the most obvious examples).

.. While critical thinking typically arises in human development in the teens and early adulthood, it is usually oriented outwardly, in criticizing others. But honest and humble self-critical thinking is necessary to see one’s own shadow and usually well-hidden narcissism. Only when I encounter my shadow do I realize that my biggest problem is me!

.. We have to go through interior deaths to reach the third stage of wisdom. Only here does contemplation and nondual thinking become possible; we can begin to learn to live with mystery and paradox and to develop true compassion. If stage one is order and stage two is disorder, then stage three is the final goal of reorder. There is no way around stage two! It is what Paul calls “the folly of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Conservatives tend to stop at stage one, liberals tend to get trapped in stage two, but only stage three is the full risen life of Christ.