“Happy is the man who… does not sit in the seat of the scornful.” Psalms 1.1
In this sermon of November 5, 1967, Rabbi Olan contrasts the stance of scoffing at all morality and faith with the more balanced attitude of “honest doubt” and “measured skepticism”. “Absolute certainty in any area of human experience is impossible.” For him, there is something admirable about loving another person or believing in God even in the face of that inescapable uncertainty.
Rabbi Olan is particularly critical of the cynic who scoffs at the idealism of young people, and counsels them only to do “what will cause [them] least trouble and give [them] more pleasure”.
Writing during the Vietnam War, Rabbi Olan is contemptuous of the cynic who seeks only “not to get involved”. One thinks of Rabbi Olan’s own commitment to the struggle for social justice: he certainly got involved!
In the spirit of the Prophets with whom he identified, Rabbi Olan ends on a note of warning: if the voice of the scornful wins out, “A generation of our children and grandchildren will arise who will be alien to ideals, to faith, and to hope.”
As you read this sermon, reflect upon what helps you to sustain your own ideals in the face of the cynicism of the scoffer.
*Written by Lionel S. Joseph and Frances M. Olan*