Sunday, March 25, 2007

Does God Want Cowardly Followers?

Chana writes:

What good is this frumkeit* that is cultivated simply by wearing blinders?

...

Personally, I think that the person who has quested and tried and dealt with various issues in an attempt to act as a committed Jew but who ends up non-observant is more authentically religious than the one who maintains his religiosity by avoiding everything that could potentially undermine it.

More simply, in the words of a very wise person I once knew, "There is a heresy that is holier than observance."

I might qualify that statement by stating, "than some types of observance."

...

So perhaps I may argue, even though it may seem revolutionary, that the very person who denies God or who becomes non-observant in his own way is actually the person with the deepest, most committed, most authentic relationship to Him.

Thanks, Chana! :-)

I've long felt the same way, of course. If God exists, he surely prefers an honest and courageous atheism to a sheltered and cowardly observance. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:
Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.

There are courageous and honest religious people. I think Chana is one of them. Too many, though, shy away from difficult questions. I believe the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews fall into that category. If you're the kind of person who hasn't taken a position on evolution, or dismissed the Documentary Hypothesis without even an investigation of the subject, you probably do too. If you've honestly investigated and found them untrue, you might be wrong, but you aren't a coward.


* Orthodox Judaism

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

How does one investigate all these highly technical topics. I can't become a bible scholar over a day to see for myself whether minimalists or maximalist are really right. The most I can do is go with my intuition. How am I to decide who is right about Oral Lawrence Schiffman of Jacob Neusner I simply don't have the expertise.

Ezzie said...

Good post overall. Just to quibble a bit, though...

If God exists, he surely prefers an honest and courageous atheism to a sheltered and cowardly observance.

Personally, I think this is likely true. However, I can hear the arguments for the reverse: If one accepts the notion of an oral tradition being passed down, it does make sense to argue that even if one finds what they perceive to be unanswerable questions, they should still trust that there are answers out there that they do not or cannot understand for whatever reason (and they should remain religious while searching for those). [i.e. strike a balance of continuing to search while remaining observant]

If you're the kind of person who hasn't taken a position on evolution

I presume you mean avoidance as opposed to actual choosing to not take a firm position...

If you've honestly investigated and found them untrue, you might be wrong, but you aren't a coward.

Agree on not being a coward, but don't necessarily agree [but don't necessarily disagree either] that throwing it out follows from that (as stated above).

Jewish Atheist said...

anonymous:

How does one investigate all these highly technical topics. I can't become a bible scholar over a day to see for myself whether minimalists or maximalist are really right. The most I can do is go with my intuition. How am I to decide who is right about Oral Lawrence Schiffman of Jacob Neusner I simply don't have the expertise.

That's a good and important point. Many people are simply not qualified to make that kind of determination. However, you needn't be an expert to make a reasonable guess in most circumstances. For example, I do not have the qualifications to give a full and fair investigation to the claim that AIDS is not caused by HIV. However, I am qualified to see that most people who make that claim appear to be cranks in other areas and also that the overwhelming majority of people who are qualified to judge that claim find it to be plainly false.

As I wrote in my post, though, I have no quarrel with people looking honestly at a question and coming to the incorrect conclusion. They are not cowards; they're just wrong.


Ezzie:

If one accepts the notion of an oral tradition being passed down, it does make sense to argue that even if one finds what they perceive to be unanswerable questions, they should still trust that there are answers out there that they do not or cannot understand for whatever reason (and they should remain religious while searching for those). [i.e. strike a balance of continuing to search while remaining observant]

Again, if they honestly cannot find an answer, I have no quarrel. I'm criticizing those who refuse to look out of fear.

I presume you mean avoidance as opposed to actual choosing to not take a firm position...

I mean people who avoid the question out of fear, not people who come to the honest (if wrong) conclusion that there is not enough evidence to make a decision. I've seen many otherwise intelligent and curious religious people who have purposely avoided looking too closely at the theory of evolution.

Agree on not being a coward, but don't necessarily agree [but don't necessarily disagree either] that throwing it out follows from that (as stated above).

I don't understand this sentence.

Liorah-Lleucu said...

good post

Stephen said...

It's interesting: you assume that God cares about our beliefs, not merely religious observances. As I understand things, it is usually Christians who emphasize right doctrine as opposed to praxis.

I agree with your argument as far as it goes. But I would express it differently. God values authenticity, rather than courage. Certainly Jesus saved his sharpest rebuke for those he deemed hypocrites.

Moreover, I think God prizes compassion above either courage or authenticity. As a Christian, I don't emphasize the observance of religious rituals so much as practical expressions of compassion.

Judaism has a rich tradition of both, of course. Not meaning to slight Judaism by referring to my own tradition. A person who is authentic and compassionate is not going to alienate God by affirming evolution or the documentary hypothesis, or even by doubting God's existence.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, I agree, but I think contemporary orthodox judaism views god *exclusively* through the lens of midieval judaism, which as a reaction to midieval christianity came up with the ideas of duties of the heart and commandments of belief. So according to Bachya and Mimonides a person with unorthodox beliefs is a sinner and thus goes to hell. As for compassion, unfortunatley judaism values primarily one thing: obedience to the teachings of the rabbis. As the Talmud says: even if they say on left that it is right and on right that it is left. So the question could also be posed as: why would God encourage obedience and not independence/individuality; if anything god should incourage someone who practices His own qualities, ie freedom.

jewish philosopher said...

Hey! I'm pretty bold! You want evolution, DH, I've got it.

Patrick said...

Truly there is a God, although the fool has said in his heart, there is no God [Psalm 14]. And it assuredly exists so truly that it cannot be conceived not to exist. For it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; & this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, but this is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; & this being you are. O Lord our God. [St Anslem]

Peace Be With You
Patrick

Dirty Monkey said...

St. Anslem can imagine that God is something neccessary and greater than everything else but it's not neccessary that what St. Anslem imagines is neccessary exists neccessarily outside his imagination.