from the field of knowledgable Voices

Writing exercise in response to request from Ari Roth on 7/13/10 by Dorothy Marschak

One reason I believe “The New  Jerusalem” resonates so deeply with audiences is its instantiation of a universal theme in history and drama—that of the conflict between the revealed or reasoned  truth proclaimed by an exceptional individual and the threat this is perceived to present to the welfare of the group (religious, political, class, etc) to which he/she belongs. The individual’s unwillingness to compromise his or her position, which exceeds the limits of dissent permitted within the group, results in removal from the group—by shunning, excommunication, banishment, or even death in extreme cases.  The perceived threat may be overtly stated in religious or ideological terms, but  frequently also represents challenges to dominant economic or political interests. 


1. Socrates:  He was accused of corrupting the young, but also of the Athenian equivalent of “practicing without a license”—in his case of  threatening the Sophists who charged for their teachings by giving his for nothing.  When he realized he would be convicted in any case, he maintained his truth and didn’t try to deny the charges, and also refused the offers of friends to help get him off the death sentence, thus maintaining his pre-eminence for the ages.

2. Gautama, the Buddha:  He was denounced by the Brahmins for rejecting asceticism as a way to salvation,  rejecting the Hindu belief in the existence of a permanent soul, and accepting women and those of lower castes (and outlaws) into his sangha. . Since he was not dependent on them, he went his merry way, eventually converting many of them, by example, to his teachings. India has always been an example of the ability of a society to accommodate conflicting religious beliefs (until the partition in the last century).

2. Jesus:  He was accused of challenging the temporal power of the Romans and was condemned by the Sanhedrin of the Pharisees because of not only challenging their orthodoxy but also of threatening their privileged but fragile autonomy under the Romans—a close analogy to Spinoza’s position within  the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

3. Thomas Becket:  Henry VIII felt his authority as head of the English Church was threatened by Becket’s refusal to swear to his replacement of the Pope in that role. He was the closest person to Henry, who begged him to sign, but his refusal on the grounds of conscience and faith led to the order for his execution because of fear this would give support to the Catholics, who were still very strong in England. The power play of Thomas Cromwell also played a role.

4. Joan of Arc:  The church condemned her to death because she refused to renounce the authority of her voices as vs. the power and authority  of the church.

5. Galileo:  A counterexample—he did recant publicly.

6. Roger Williams: expelled from the Puritan community in Massachuse

7. Abraham Lincoln:  His conflict was internal—preserving the union vs. belief slavery was wrong. 

8. Gandhi

8. Contemporary Israel: