Ben Avuyah

Welcome to the Pardess.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

New Kid on the Block

Here is an excellent blog, by Big S Skeptic, and all sides of the religious debate should check out this post and think about the method by which they make their arguments. This is an excellent post about going off the derech and the book by that name.

Another must read is this post about the consequences of inflexible Dogma.

And finally a stirring post about what our attitude towards scientific exploration should be that will make you want to go out and attack your existential woes with a Vengance.

24 Comments:

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I had your brain - you are a genius!

 
At 12:11 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Awwww shucks....

Please note the links on this post are to another blog, they are the genius of Big S Skeptic !!

 
At 1:42 PM, Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

I have read Big-S and agree!

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Yeah he's great, JF, some of those posts should be required reading for the RCA

 
At 2:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reb Elisha,
I quoted your image of "authority being like a soap bubble" today in my shiur ( at Matan) on the conflict between R. Gamliel and R. Yehoshua.

Your are a gifted writer, and a person of great sensitivity and religious integrity, even if you theology at times seems stuck in the 19th century...


Moshe (Simon) Shoshan
mdshoshan@gmail.com

 
At 2:11 AM, Blogger David Guttmann said...

I had Big S in my favorites but had not looked at him for a while. Thanks for the reminder.

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Hi Moshe, I'm really touched and very happy that my stories made an impression on you !

If you want to specify what puts my theology in the 19th century I'm all ears !

Hi David, it's always a pleasure to alert the bloggosphere to vibrant and questioning minds :-)

 
At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Harry said...

We have been fed a load of crap. Ain't no heaven or hell. Many of us are culturally orthodox and the prospect of injesting pig or lobster would probably produce vomit, but there's really no logical reason other than culture. Why are we here? don't matter, nobody gets out alive

 
At 11:58 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Hi harry, thanks for commenting !

>>>We have been fed a load of crap

True, but it's likely the people who spoon fed us really believed it. I can't really be too sure.

>>Why are we here? don't matter, nobody gets out alive

While it is true that we don't know why, or even more siginificantly we don't know if that is an appropriate question, there may not be a "why" (metaphysical reason) just a "how", but mankinds endeavor to figure it out is enough to keep me interested !!

 
At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Moshe Shoshan said...

i dont have the time right now to respond to your request that I clarify my statment that your theology is stuck in the 19th century. iy"h I will do so. untill then I would like to recommend some reading in modern jewish thought. A friend, who specializes in the field recommended,

the english anthology of essay by R. Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, edited by Bokser. (paulist press, i believe)

God, Man and History- Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz.

I recommend anything by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik- especialy the Lonely Man of Faith and the fourth footnote in Halachic Man.

This reading will not solve any of your problems, but it may make them more bearable.

Moshe

 
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At 4:34 AM, Anonymous Moshe Shoshan said...

With regard to my claim that your theology is stuck in the 19th century:

Your writing reproduces many of the major rationlist citiques of religion in gneral and Judaism in particulr that have gain prominence sine the enlightenment. You seem to write from the persepctive that beleivers today are simply un aware of, or ignoring these critiques. Though this is no doubt true for much of the Orthdox world, your approach is still merely the flip side of the standard kiruv claim that any one who is not an Orthodox Jew is either stupid, ignorant or evil.

Indeed there have been many profound religious thinkers in the past few centuries who have fully understood and respected the rational critique of religion and yet sought to defend the persistence of faith in the modern world. They may not have fully suceeded but their arguments are certainly worth consideration.

One key repsonse is to argue that the rationalist have set up a straw man. Sophisticated people of faith have never believed in the simplistic religion that rationists attack. As R. Kook said to his bar plugta, the secular writer Brener, "The God you dont beleive in i dont believe in either." Unfornately, strawman Judaism is being widely disseminated in our schools and yeshivot, with disasterous consequences.

Another important track, is to focus on the serious limitations on rational thought, that even secular philosophers have come to accepted in recent decades. once again, you are very much a product of your yeshiva. You share their belef in abosulte truth, in the need to reconcile faith and reason. But what if this is not so? What if both the Scientists and the Rabbi in your story are wrong, that there is nothing to be seen out a telescope that can prove or disprove religion?
Nor anything in the Gemara that bears directly on the work of the labratory? What if truth is fragmented and science and religion each give us only partial answers? Sometimes these answers are complementary, sometimes contradictory, sometimes they are answers to unrelated questions.

Once again, I do not seek to provide answers, just hopefully better questions.


Moshe Shoshan
mdshoshan@gmail.com

 
At 7:31 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Hi Moshe, thanks for stopping by to clarify!!



>>>Though this is no doubt true for much of the Orthdox world, your approach is still merely the flip side of the standard kiruv claim that any one who is not an Orthodox Jew is either stupid, ignorant or evil

Not so !

I do believe that they have chosen to subscribe to a system that believes exploration of rational critique is forbidden/strongly discouraged. I find that to not be intellectualy honest.

>>>>One key repsonse is to argue that the rationalist have set up a straw man.

Although Yeshiva religion may be easier to "upshlug" than many other thought systems, I think the wrotten wood of faith, serves as the basis for most religious idealogies. so in answer to this question...yes and no.


>>>Another important track, is to focus on the serious limitations on rational thought, that even secular philosophers have come to accepted in recent decades.

Post modernism?
Sure, there may be limits to the rational mind. In fact there is no good reason to suspect that the lump of meat and vasculature in our skulls, that evolved to figure out better ways to get an apple out of a tree, would be useful for solving the myteries of life, the universe and everything.

But while I can imagine that there is a limit to human rationality. I have never been able to see this as a justification for faith...

Just because we may not be able to figure out everything, therefore, we should beleive in things that are clearly arational/irrational. Becuase there are limits to our knowledge we might as well believe in something that was clearly mythos.

Why ??

It seems like you are saying, there a limits to out understanding, so you might as well beleive x, which we know does not make sense, but at least you get to believe what you were brought up with...

I disagree !!


>>>What if truth is fragmented and science and religion each give us only partial answers?

A possibility....but what reason is their to believe that religion gives us any answeres ?
Science has at least uncovered some pracitcal truths aboutthe world.
Religion? Nada.

I mean, I see where you are going with this....we can't know everything ala post modernism, therefore orthodox judaism, rav kook style, could be correct....

yes it could...but there is really no reason to believe that any more than christianity etc....

Demonstrating the edges of reason never really gets you back to "why religion is the answer", it just adds a healthy dose of skeptisism to our abilities and goals.

Thanks for the thought provoking comment, one of these days I will have to read Rav Kook !!

 
At 3:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben,

Let me make it clear to you that I have no intention of attempting to prove to you the “truth” of Orthodox Judaism or of religious faith in general. I cannot do this. The best I can do it to try and show that viewed holistically, from the point of view of the entire range of human experience, at least some forms of religious faith are a viable option to the modern person.

You write that,

“I do believe that [Orthodox Jews] have chosen to subscribe to a system that believes exploration of rational critique is forbidden/strongly discouraged. I find that to not be intellectualy honest.”

I agree that such approaches are intellectual dishonest. I believe however, that you unfairly tar all Orthodoxy with your attack. I am trying to present to you a version of Orthodoxy, which believes that since, “chotamo shel hakadosh baruch hu” is “emes”, the search for truth, using all of the rational, intuitive and sensory tools that God has given use is Divine mandate and a supreme value. This does not mean that it is the only value, but it is an extremely important one. This is central for the thought of R. Soloveitchik.

As for the limits of reason, this is not something discovered by the so called “post-Modernists” The story of western philosophy going back over two centuries to Kant, is one of the ever shrinking domain of reason.

What are the limits of reason as believed by contemporary secular philosophers? Reason in and of itself cannot tell us how to live our lives nor can it provide our lives with meaning. There is no such thing a rational moral system, that does not rely on some sort of postulates that must be taken on “faith”. Reason cannot tell us how to create beauty and neither can it tell us whom to love and how. As even Mr. Spock eventually learned, a purely rational life is not worth living.

As for the “rotten wood of faith”, come on. For all your legitimate complaints about religion, it is hard to deny that even from a secular, utilitarian point of view, faith has its uses. As a physician, you must be aware that over all religious faith is good for your health. That the world’s great religions, especially ours, are responsible for introducing to human civilization such quaint notions as the infinite values of all human life, and the primacy of ethical living in general. Furthermore, much of the intellectual and aesthetic accomplishments of human kind have been achieved by people of faith in a religious context. I don’t really think we want to live in a world devoid of faith. The Communists tried it, it wasn’t so much fun.

None of this adds up to proof for Judaism, certainly not a rational one. At this point, all I want to argue is that the alternative you propose, does not sound very appealing.

Moshe

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Moshe, that was a very thoughtful comment, let me reply.

>>>I am trying to present to you a version of Orthodoxy, which believes that since, “chotamo shel hakadosh baruch hu” is “emes”,


Yes, this is one of the many claims of our religion. But does it really back it up ?? I think this claim made by religion, especially ours, falls a long way from our actual practices. A system in which “truth” is the only necessity, does not indoctrinate it’s children from their uncritical youth with fear and trepidation of “leaving the path”. There would be no need for such warnings, a simple request for unyealding fealty to truth would be enough. However, this is what we do observe in our teachings:

“The Mishnah says the following have no share in the world to come: "He who denies that the Torah is divinely revealed, and the apiḳoros." R. Akiba says, "also he who reads heretical books". This is explained in the Talmud (Sanh. 100b) to mean "sifre Ẓeduḳim" (Sadducean writings); but this is an alteration by the censor of "sifre ha-Minim" (books of the Gnostics or Heretics). The Biblical version, "That ye seek not after your own heart" (Num. xv. 39), is explained (Sifre, Num. 115; Ber. 12b) as "Ye shall not turn to heretic views ["minut"] which lead your heart away from God" (see Maimonides, "Yad," 'Akkum, ii. 3).”

You see, the problem is, we don’t really have a heritage of an open minded view towards knowledge in which we are sure that the “truth” of our heritage will be clear to everyone. No one appears confident that “chotamo shel hakadosh baruch hu”, will be recognized by truth seeking. In fact, it is necessary –not- to seek.

Idealogies in which we wish to reverse these trends are necessarliy retrofits that become difficult to squeeze into our past writings. Yes, in the modern world, we desperatly want to believe that judaism is open to all knowledge and confident that the truth of it’s views will emerge upon examination. But this does not fit into our previous writings.


As far as your second point regarding the limits of reason (identified by the way, using reason), I never really see this as a justification for orthodoxy. Yes there are limits to what we can know….therefore we might as well believe in this collection of stories that is so clearly an ANE collection of myths ??? how does that follow? If you want to show us that reason has boundries that’s fine, by why in the world would that justify the particular series of stories that you were raised with above all else??

>>>Reason in and of itself cannot tell us how to live our lives nor can it provide our lives with meaning.


Yes and no. Many people do live their lives as best they can by reason. This is not to say that people are not often irrational, but I am not sure why you think that sheds a positive light on Judaism? How do you connect the dots? Is it that, “people are irrational anyway, you might as well believe in talking donkeys and a God who is interested in the ingredients on your candy bar” ??

Meaning in life is quite personal, and many people find meaning without religion.

>>>>>There is no such thing a rational moral system, that does not rely on some sort of postulates that must be taken on “faith”


Not true. Morality has tremendous underpinnings in evolutionary development in the animal and human kingdoms. None of this needs to be taken on faith. What exactly do you postulate the great apes are having faith in when they observe selfless behaviors that enhance the benefits of the group.

>>>>>Reason cannot tell us how to create beauty and neither can it tell us whom to love and how.

Aha !! You have listened to one to many Kiruv lectures ! Things are beautiful so there must be an OJ God floating in the sky ??? Please. And by the way, the old, “ God must exist because of love”, is as used and tired as the hallmark cards it was stolen from.

>>>As even Mr. Spock eventually learned, a purely rational life is not worth living.

Did your Rabbi approve that as source material ?? ;-)

>>>For all your legitimate complaints about religion, it is hard to deny that even from a secular, utilitarian point of view, faith has its uses.


No argument…social control has it’s uses !!

>>>>>That the world’s great religions, especially ours, are responsible for introducing to human civilization such quaint notions as the infinite values of all human life, and the primacy of ethical living in general.


Whoa !!! I never said religion has not introduced incredible concepts… I just said it is not an intellectually honest system.


>>>The Communists tried it, it wasn’t so much fun.


Yes, but that was one issue out of many, the Swedes are doing just fine.


>>>>>None of this adds up to proof for Judaism, certainly not a rational one.

Agreed.

>>>At this point, all I want to argue is that the alternative you propose, does not sound very appealing.

I never said it was… but some people just prefer harsh reality over even the best of day dreams…

 
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