Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reasons To Believe

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away -- Philip K. Dick

Brooklyn Wolf asks, Do You Really Require Proof?
I don't have any absolute proof, and, truth be told, I don't need any. Just by looking at the wonderfulness of nature, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, I am convinced that God exists. When I look at the universe and consider the possibilities that it either sprung into existence by itself or had help, I take "had help." Yes, it's only a gut feeling and yes, it falls far short of proof, but that's all I need to live my life. But I'm also honest about it. I know that it's not proof, and I state the same up front to anyone who asks. I don't require "solid proof" for my beliefs -- and, if you seriously consider what I said, neither do you.

This was my response:

"Proof" is the wrong word. What people need are reasons. For some people, the fact that they like Orthodox Judaism is reason enough to believe. For others, the fact that their parents and ancestors believe is reason enough.

And then some people just want to know what's TRUE, period. We don't want reasons to believe if those reasons don't help us believe what's true. We want to avoid the traps other minds fall into: denial, logical fallacies, and sheltering ourselves from people and ideas that might destroy our beliefs.

We see that people with Muslim parents tend to believe in Allah and people with Jewish parents tend to believe in YHWH and we realize that people who believe for the kinds of reasons that we believed basically believe whatever they want to believe.

So we become skeptics. We set out to find what's true. And we steel ourselves to face the truth even if we have to give up some cherished beliefs and even if accepting the truth means that our families and friends and communities might reject us.

I'm not saying this makes us better people, or more healthy psychologically. I'm sure the psychological reasons for believing what our communities believe evolved for a reason. What I am saying is that we're more likely to believe in what's true.

If you'd rather believe what your loved ones believe and what your parents believed and what lets you live in an Orthodox community, you should probably stick with whatever it is that lets you do that. If you want to know what's true, become a skeptic.

29 comments:

Holy Hyrax said...

skepticism is good for anything. Religion, global warming, etc etc. Skepticism is a healthy thing. But its not a total sum game. Skepticism does not mean, "There is no God."

Jewish Atheist said...

It may not mean, "There is no God," but it sure leads to not believing in Orthodox Judaism. Show me an honest and educated skeptic who believes God/Moses wrote the five books.

Holy Hyrax said...

Orthodox Judaism is a red herring. How would you feel about Conservative Jews that believe in God and revelation but not the rest? For you, they are no different delusionally than an OJ.

Jewish Atheist said...

For you, they are no different delusionally than an OJ.

That's not true at all. They're vastly less delusional. I happen to think they're still wrong, but that's not the same thing. I think reasonable people can be Conservative/Reform Jews. To be Orthodox requires either not caring or not looking.

Holy Hyrax said...

Good :)

I'm going to hold you up to that from now on.

CyberKitten said...

H H said: Skepticism does not mean, "There is no God."

Though it does tend in that direction. Works for me anyway.....

Anonymous said...

I too feel the same way as you, I can't just believe that Allah handed Mo the book called Quran + all the additional details Shias believe without good reasons. I'm the sort of person to nominally stick to a faith if I find its harmless though & there's family & ancestors involved. If I was a Reform Jew or Senegalese or Ismaili Muslim, I'd have remained nominally Muslim despite not believing. I was instead an Iranian Muslim, from a country which still has stonings. I'm pretty sure that the Torah too was written by similar barbarians like the worst of today's Muslims(I'm ex Muslim & a Zionist, so don't accuse me of Anti Semitism!) but if the people practicing the faith were decent, I'd have believed.

Instead, neither do I see good reason to believe that the Quran is Allah's word to Mohammed, nor do I find the faith community of Iranian Shia satisfying, so what is left for me?

Thankfully my parents are sort of apostates too & they're fine with my decision, even my decision to marry a non Muslim.
Fawzia

Jewish Atheist said...

Fawzia:

Just wanted to say I'm really glad to have you as a new regular. :-) You bring a unique perspective.

JewishRebel said...

This thing about believing what you grew up with and the fact that muslims / jews / christians, etc. (only if you grow up amongst orthoprax people?) is one of the things that are the most powerful arguments against orthodox religion.

Anonymous said...

"it may not mean, "There is no God," but it sure leads to not believing in Orthodox Judaism. Show me an honest and educated skeptic who believes God/Moses wrote the five books."

Umm, by your definition somebody who is Orthodox is not honest nor educated.

You are far from a real skeptic. Real skeptics are skeptical of everything, not just the things they disagree with. You can tell from your posts on this blog, that you are not skeptical of everything (especially things which by some strange coincidence happen to be aligned with an American democratic/liberal perspective of the world)

Anonymous said...

"This thing about believing what you grew up with and the fact that muslims / jews / christians, etc. (only if you grow up amongst orthoprax people?) is one of the things that are the most powerful arguments against orthodox religion."

Right, because there never is and never was anybody who was really a convert, I'm sure.

Holy Hyrax said...

Like I said, skepticism is a good thing and I believe Mis-nagid said it best (and I am paraphrasing) that he would rather "a doubful OJ than a certain atheist"

Jewish Atheist said...

Anonymous:

Umm, by your definition somebody who is Orthodox is not honest nor educated.

By "honest and educated" I mean someone who has sought the truth with intellectual honesty. If you think there are honest, educated (in that sense) Orthodox people who nevertheless believe that God/Moses wrote the Five Books, please disprove me.

Anonymous said...

Hi JA,

I pass through occasionally and like the blog and your general striving for both epistemological and ethical/political courage (the two kinds of courage often don't go together). In any case, I have no quibble with the basic content of your posting here (I agree that most--or perhaps all--religious beliefs of the strong variety wither under honest skepticism). And,like you, I consider myself an atheist (at least with respect to the content of human religions; I don't presume to declare that I know with respect the the ultimate nature of things--or to rephrase this more clearly: the universe is super-awesome and super-beyond my understanding but, beyond that, the shit that religions say about it is clearly false).

I do want to suggest, though, (borrowing from non-atheist, William James) that skepticism is only part of the picture, if truth is what you're after. Since skepticism is only negative, it can only eliminate the false, it can't actually get you anywhere in terms of positive beleif.

Since knowledge is a matter of both accepting the true and regecting the false, as James put it:
"There are two ways of looking at our duty in the matter of opinion,--ways entirely different, and yet ways about whose difference the theory of knowledge seems hitherto to have shown very little concern. We must know the truth; and we must avoid error,--these are our first and great commandments as would-be knowers; but they are not two ways of stating an identical commandment, they are two separable laws. Although it may indeed happen that when we believe the truth A, we escape as an incidental consequence from believing the falsehood B, it hardly ever happens that by merely disbelieving B we necessarily believe A. We may in escaping B fall into believing other falsehoods, C or D, just as bad as B; or we may escape B by not believing anything at all, not even A."

Ultimately, my attitude about James' "Will to Believe" essay that I excerpted this from is almost the precise inverse of my attitude about your posting here: he's got great premises but his attempt to defend kinds of religion doesn't meet the test of his own skeptism. You, on the other hand, I'd say, are quite right in your general conclusions about religion, but could benefit from some more thinking about your epistemological premises: skepticism alone won't get you to truth any more than a good musical crap-o-meter would help you compose good music. They'll just help you eliminate the false or the crappy. To get to truth, you also need (well, I don't know exactly what you need: a creativity, maybe? a reverence, to appropriate a religious phrase?) some sort of positive orientation as well.

Well, I'll be through here again JA. Again, congratulations on the fine and enjoyable blog.

Warmly, Sean

Anonymous said...

Thanks JA!

To my disappointment, Shalmo seems nowhere in sight. :-(

Fawzia

Ivy said...

JA:

You may have purged yourself of the OJ delusion, but come on you're still religious: the religion of liberalism and political correctness.

Your posting on this site and HS's surely prove that much.

Jewish Atheist said...

Skepticism is for factual questions. I'm a liberal for moral reasons. I do, however, think that liberals have been more factually correct about (most) issues under dispute than conservatives since at least 1992, if not earlier.

Jewish Atheist said...

Sean,

I do want to suggest, though, (borrowing from non-atheist, William James) that skepticism is only part of the picture, if truth is what you're after. Since skepticism is only negative, it can only eliminate the false, it can't actually get you anywhere in terms of positive beleif.

I agree. I was using "skepticism" as a stand-in for something more like what you called "epistemological and ethical/political courage." I usually try to be more precise. :-)

And thanks for the great compliments!

Joshua said...

At least among some of the Modern Orthodox there are some who accept variants of the Documentary Hypothesis (although they are a minority as far as I can tell). So in that regard, those individuals should possibly be in the same category as Conservative and Reform.

Also, note that in many modern Orthodox Jews are also accepting of people who don't believe but keep various parts of halachah or go to minyan, etc. Thus, if one finds the communal and ritual elements comforting one can continue to some or all of them even as one acknowledges that they likely lack any divine mandate. (The set of people who do this seems very small).

jewish philosopher said...

"We see that people with Muslim parents tend to believe in Allah and people with Jewish parents tend to believe in YHWH"

And people with atheist parents tend to believe in evolution.

Anonymous said...

"By "honest and educated" I mean someone who has sought the truth with intellectual honesty. If you think there are honest, educated (in that sense) Orthodox people who nevertheless believe that God/Moses wrote the Five Books, please disprove me."

I know plenty of such people. How exactly do you want it to be disproven/proven? Would you like me to arrange a private interview for you?

Joshua Zelinsky said...

JP, what do you think you are accomplishing with such comments? You aren't going to convince anyone of your opinions by throwing in comments of borderline relevance with not a shred of evidence backing the claim up.

shoshi said...

In reality, Jewish atheist, you live in two cultures: Jewish orthodox culture and US culture.
I would state that the "comon belief system" of the US culture is rationalism - and even if there are many theist belief systems in it, like christianism, etc, even if those systems seem quite strong - they are not "the dominant faith".

So if you leave the Jewish orthodox belief system to join the rationalist belief system, you kind of pass from your own "sub-culture" to mainstream culture in your country. that's all.

And perhaps, due to your upbringing in your own sub-culture, where you did not embrace "belief-sets" of the general society, you will also discover the incongruencies of the "rationalist faith". Because they exist.

I agree with you that any ideology, especially religious traditions can hinder us from seeing "the truth" (= what corresponds to reality). You have blind spots from any vantage point, just that they are not the same. (so perhaps you can discover "the whole truth" if you change perspectives).

Perhaps in general people who belong to minorities (and also know the "cultural techniques" of the majority) have an advantage in finding "new truths", because they start from a different, double perspective.

Comrade Kevin said...

I'm sure religious upbringing factors into the equation. I was raised by agnostic parents who wanted to believe but couldn't quite make themselves.

I believe, but I formed my own opinions based on theirs to a large extent.

LM said...

Ah, this is nice... a blog with intellectual and civil discussion. Given what I've been reading recently, this is a relief.

I would like to disagree on one point you wrote here. i do not think it is fair to say, "show me one educated intellectually honest person who believes in the Torah. " Believe it or not, the person I consider to be one of the most intellectually honest I know--as well as one of the most brilliant and well-educated--is a devoted Rabbi and teacher. And I'm fairly skeptical about most things, almost in the Pyrrhonian sense. I can think of a couple others as well who have truly impressed me in the same way. Doesn't mean I always agree with them, but that's different from claiming they are intellectually dishonest/don't seek the truth.

However, I fully agree that people such as the ones I am thinking of are not the norm, unfortunately.

Jewish Atheist said...

i do not think it is fair to say, "show me one educated intellectually honest person who believes in the Torah. "

Yeah, that was a mistake. "Show me one..." never ends well. ;-) I think my general point stands.

Anonymous said...

"However, I fully agree that people such as the ones I am thinking of are not the norm, unfortunately.
"

Wouldn't you have to agree that anybody being "intelectualy honest" is not the norm? Be they believers in Divine writ, or be they believers in Global warming?

diana said...

I left this post on the Rabbi without a cause blog today since it was the first blog I looked at since joining Xanga two days ago: Upon turning on my computer again later on today, I was led here and decided to post my link to show how God actually appears in mankind when their hour comes. How do I know? It happened to me: How did this help me understand the Torah and rest of the Bible? Experience of all the metaphor written for the "mind", till the soul actually experiences the metaphor to find a NEW REALITY never seen or heard before.

http://www.xanga.com/home2.aspx?user=Zafana&exp=1#

Geonite said...

There are a lot of absolutes here for a skeptic.