I don't want to focus on the overt intellectual cowardice of censorship. The people reading this post are beyond that. Instead, I'd like to talk about what Chaim Potok (an author I love and respect) refers to as "compartmentalization:"
In The Promise the confrontation is between a fundamentalist religion and another gift to us from our general civilization. A gift right from the very heart of that civilization developed in the Universities of western Europe in the last century. A methodology we call scientific text criticism. It's a methodology that uses all the modern findings of archeology, philology, ancient languages, and the new things that we know about the cultures of the ancient world and their interactions to explore the developement of ancient texts.. It brings all this powerful instrumentality to bear upon the central and sacred texts of the western tradition. The texts of the Bible. For fundamentalists, these texts are in one way or another divinely revealed. They are the word of God to man. We touch and tamper with those texts at our great peril.
Indeed for the Jew the problem is considerably exacerbating, in that for the religious Jew all of Jewish law is predicated upon the idea that the first book of the Jewish Bible, the Torah, is literally word for word revealed by God to Moses at Sinai and may not be touched. The entire legal religious tradition of Judaism is founded upon the infallibility of that text. You are forbidden to touch that text, especially its legal portion, for once you begin to tamper with the text and alter the words all the laws predicated upon those words begin to totter. It's quite as if we discovered one day that there was another version of the American Constitution and that the one we've been working with all along isn't quite the one that they were supposed to have agreed on at that meeting in Philadelphia. To tamper with the sacred text is to do violence to the core of a tradition.
Yet what do you do with the truths that seem to come to us from the discipline we call Scientific Text Criticism? What do you do with the windows that it opens up for us on the development of species?. Do you throw out truths in order to maintain your uniqueness, your allegiance to your particular core? Is that the price that is being exacted from us? That's the tension that an individual like Reuven Malter is caught up in in The Promise. A tension felt by many of the people with whom I grew up, that of a core-core confrontation of ideas.
Reuven Malter resolves this particular tension in the following way. He will take this methodology and apply it only to the text of the Talmud. This is a vast work which took about 800 years to develop and create, and whose earliest texts are concurrent with the latest texts of the Bible. Now you will say to Reuven Malter, "What kind of sense does this make?" If you're going to apply this kind of methodology in order to understand the Talmud, why not apply it as well to the last books of the Bible? "Well," Reuven Malter will say to you, "if you want me to apply it to the last books of the Bible, I will. But then then you'll say to me, "Why not apply it to the books that are adjacent to the last books, after all aren't they also concurrent?" And I'll do that. And you'll say to me, "Why not apply it to those books that are adjacent to those books that are adjacent to those adjacent books?" And before you know it we're inside the first of the three volumes of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, in which the legal portion is supposed to be inviolate. Then we begin to tamper with the legal portion and all Jewish law begins to totter. Therefore, I will simply make a hard and fast rule. The Talmud, yes. I will alter text, change things around, maneuver and manipulate pages in an attempt to understand what is in the Talmud's order, but I will not apply this method to the Bible." Thus Reuven resolves this particular confrontation.
--Chaim Potok: On Being Proud of Uniqueness
I believe that Orthodox Jews of even the most modern and intellectually inquisitive type make similar choices every day. Perhaps they are curious about evolution and they learn all about it but refuse to critically examine the laughably weak Six Days Means Six Eras hypothesis. Or they are troubled by the Torah's clear view of homosexuals and so give wishy-washy interpretations of what the verse truly means. Or they are willing to accept that much of Genesis is metaphorical but afraid to examine what that implies about the rest of the Torah.
Now I would like to ask if this really an honest way to proceed? Danny Saunders chops up Freud, and Reuven Malter chops up the Bible and the Talmud, each for his own convenience. Is this an intellectually honest way to proceed? And the answer is probably yes. It is certainly the case that many do this kind of thing. And it is absolutely the case that the very founding fathers of Western Secular Humanism did precisely this as they went about creating this super-sophisticated secular civilization in which all of us live today. People like Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and others reached back into the civilization of the classical world of Greece and Rome and took from them what they regarded as it's loveliest aspects, it's cool and rational thoughts. They took its art, its eclectics, its stoics and thought that they were going to create a new world, a thinking world not locked into throes of religious thought. Those aspects were the ones they made the paradigms of this new civilization. They totally ignored the ugliness and brutality of this ancient world, its orgiastic elements, its lust for power, and its crude religion. They very carefully selected out of classical Rome and Greek culture those elements toward which they felt a significant affinity. They performed the same act of selective affinity that all of us do when we encounter an alien culture. We pick and choose those elements of that alien culture toward which we feel a measure of affinity. Then, adopting those elements, we reject the others, precisely as Danny Saunders does with Freud and Reuven Malter does with scientific text criticism.
Here Potok is himself being intellectually dishonest. Choosing aspects of an ancient culture to emulate while jettisoning the objectionable parts is common sense. Wielding the same logical tool in one area of your scholarship while willfully neglecting to use it on another because one doesn't like the inevitable result is the height of intellectual dishonesty.
The Chosen and The Promise, although dealing with how people feel on a daily basis when locked in this kind of confrontation, are essentially exercises in intellectual confrontation. Individuals caught up in that kind of confrontation compartmentalize rather than fuse reality. They section off their life and apply this methodology only to parts of it, but not to their faith system, or its core. The problem is thus by and large intellectually resolved.
I agree with his analysis of how people use compartmentalization to resolve that kind of confrontation, but his last sentence is absurd. The problem hasn't been intellectually resolved; it's been intellectually avoided. Orthodox Jews are often afraid to honestly follow their intellects for fear of what they will find.