Why is it that I am drawn to the discussions that GH/XGH initiates. I mean of course he is an entertaining and lively blogger, but I don’t think it is a stretch to say there is an element of repetition to the discourse. Most have noticed this. Some have commented on the way it resembles a feverish obsession with the subject matter. An itch that demands to be scratched.
I won’t be so bold as to suggest why XGH pursues the frailty of faith and religion, but I will try and analyze why it has such a formative hold on me…and why I preferentially peruse these discussions even though I am, by this point thoroughly familiar with the outcome as well as most of the arguments that will be represented in the thread.
The gripe is almost always the same. It’s what most people realize as they get a better grasp of logic and history outside of Orthodox Judaism. And that is: There are no good reasons to believe in the brand of Orthodox Judaism that we were raised with. Certainly there are appeals to consequences, and the dire situation those of us who lose faith find ourselves in, but when we usher out our preconceived notions, engage the same critical faculties that we use during our work day, and view what is reasonably known…. no religion passes the bar of credibility.
Sure, there are answers to those damaging questions, “the flood could be local”, “days don’t mean days”, “the creation isn’t the literal order”, “logic doesn’t apply in areas where it contradicts the torah”, “history doesn’t apply in areas where it contradicts the torah”, “God magically put animals on different continents after a flood.”
And sure, they could all be true. We can’t show definitively that they are not. But I think most people with a sensitive intellect begin to realize, that with the liberal amount of leeway the above “answers” require to make room for the torah, there doesn’t exist any story, or series of statements that cannot be justified with the same method. And the answer that answers every question really answers none.
And once one comes to this conclusion religion losses it’s lofty footing as absolute truth, and those who extol it as such are revealed as kindly figures who, despite expertise in Jewish legalities, have never pondered the larger issues.
Shouldn’t the Charedi Rabbi from my Yeshiva who laughed at Christians for the Virgin birth be forced to nod his head and admit that this is no sillier than a talking Donkey? Why was this analogy off limits to his thinking?
Shouldn’t the Modern Orthodox Scholar who easily eludes questions by invoking “alternate realities” and the “limits of logic” every time the Torah runs aground against hard fact, shrug his shoulders and admit that such tactics ultimately can be used to justify any system of thought, no matter how badly it is flawed? Where is this honest introspection in a person who claims that truth is his guide?
Can’t everyone take a step back and realize that they are playing tennis without a net, and marvel at how they remain completely convinced of their own victory?
I think it is necessary to understand that the answer is NO for many people. The ability to apply a critical assessment to themselves and their belief system in the same manner they do for the theological imperatives modeled by others, for reasons of ego, consequences, or otherwise, are outside of their abilities.
Indeed, it seems a core component of successful religion is the ability to avoid this type of introspection. In some religions these thoughts themselves are forbidden. And I have noticed on many comment threads that people seem unable to go down this road of contemplation.
Now, for those who have thought about their religion in this light, it begins to occupy a new space in probability, it is reduced from a certainty to one of many unsupported possibilities. Not better or worse than any other unsubstantiated bit of fluff out there. And as stated above, there exists no good reason to believe.
Well still, it could be true, some might protest, and wouldn’t they be correct? After all it is familiar, and does seem to have some benefits? And even if there is no evidence doesn’t our amazing history show us some hint of our chosen status?
And of course it could be true.
But the real rub comes when we look at “it”. For once you have reduced religion to it’s appropriate rung of likelihood, the “it’, which in our case is Orthodox Judaism, exudes a foul odor of absolute certainty in it’s convictions, which is not in line with the evidence supporting it.
Indeed, In light of the evidence supporting religion, and in fact the myriad of apologetics necessary just to keep it afloat, it would seem an honest religion in an honest community would issue it’s religious proclamations with a mandatory string of diminutives.
“If there is a God, and we can’t rightly say, seeing as how we have no way of knowing, and we won’t be so ethnocentric as to claim our revelations are better or more reliable than everyone else’s….but if we could ever take a guess as to what he was thinking, assuming he has a mind that resembles in some manner the human mind, in that it thinks thoughts. And with the conjecture that he is aware/concerned/remotely interested in human existence and or behavior, and considers us something more than an annoying layer of crud that grew on his favorite blue marble in his marble collection, we would like to posit the possibility, that the torah is his divine word, and that he is horrendously infuriated by gay people.”
Of course, no such form of religion exists, probably because it’s hard to get people to judge other people with the recommended dosage of cruelty on such a long strand of maybes. And so religions shrug off an honest appraisal of what they can and can’t know and instead use indoctrination and fear tactics to get compliance with their “certainties”, and do so with enormous success.
Many of us have been “volunteers” and received extensive doses of indoctrination complete with the threat of punishment that comes with going “off the derech”, and can testify to the ability of these tactics to achieve their goals.
Religion has aptly demonstrated that it can get people to believe what is uncertain with unquestioning metaphysical certitude by pulling the right strings. And we should all continue to marvel at how all religions do this, in full sight of their contradictory counterparts.
So why will I be waiting at the next GH post that restates the above?
Well partly because GH is an expert orator, and I can expect humor and bravado along the way. And partly because I like to look across the fence and marvel at the inventive nature in which religion will be defended. Maybe I think someone will start to catch on…to look at themselves the way they used to look at Christians and Muslims, and wonder how they are so sure they are right and those are wrong. Maybe there is a rescue aspect, maybe sometimes I feel like I am extending a hand to people still caught up in the fear and indoctrinated hardship and I can show them a way out. Maybe it’s a bit of revenge against the forces that so casually assumed the right to mold me in an image that they had never really pondered the truth of…or perhaps I like to behold the psychology that allows individual certainty in the face overwhelming doubt.
Finally, I think GH has boiled down the difficulties of religion to it's core. He's dissected layer by layer until arriving at the very beating heart of the mythical beast, and executes it as a daily ritual in front of vast audiences. He's shown people the theological difficulties which when unanswered do not allow you to pass GO. And like myself, stands amazed, at the resiliancy of this belief, that in the minds of many commenters, will not submit to the deathblow it recieves. For, rooted in primitave places of the mind, it is immune to his grandest attacks.
Hell, Maybe I just like to watch the show...
Who knows…. either way, I’ll be there.