Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Doubting Thomases...and Yosselas

Over at Emes Ve-Emunah, Harry seems to be taking a much needed hiatus from his standard "Up With Centrists - Down With Chareidim" fare. Yesterday's post dealt with a much more serious issue, and one that I completely agree with: the issue of waning Emunah - belief in G-d - in the greater Orthodox community.

Until my recent foray in the blogosphere, I was ill-prepared for the depth and magnitude of this issue. There are a lot of confused people out there.

Harry's post was actually well written and I do not have much to add to it. Still I want to present a short analysis of the issues of Emunah, perhaps it can help some people reduce the confusion.

All the players in the game must be aware of one principle: There is not any and cannot be any irrefutable empirical proof of G-d.

How do I know?

G-d told me. (Of course, for those of you who do not believe in G-d, then the Torah was written by a deranged prankster. Thus, a deranged prankster told me.)


Shmos 33:20. Here G-d (or the prankster) tells us: כ ויאמר לא תוכל לראת את-פני כי לא-יראני האדם וחי:

And He said, "You are unable to see My face, for a man cannot see Me and live."

Although there are many ways to understand this pasuk, one simple understanding is that if there were irrefutable evidence of G-d, and thereby we would be able to "see" Him, we would lose our free-will, our bechira. Not having free-will is tantamount to death.

And so, for our own benefit, G-d does not allow us to "see" Him with unequivocal clarity. This being the case, it is impossible to prove the existence of G-d to another person. Don't bother trying.

Still, G-d leaves His imprint all over the place. Anybody who looks for G-d can find Him. And therefore, a person is capable of proving to himself, and only to himself, the existence of G-d.

Who told me this?

King David told me this. He wrote it for me in Tehillim 145:18 and he left instructions to read it over at least twice a day. There he wrote: קרוב ה' לכל-קראיו לכל אשר יקראהו באמת:
Hashem is close to all who call Him, to all those who call Him in earnest.

What does this mean? It means that anybody who looks for G-d can find Him, provided one thing:

He calls in earnest. In other words, he wants to find Him.

And herein lies the key to Emunah - one will never believe in G-d unless one wants to believe in G-d!

What comes out is a true example of G-dly irony. Only a believer will find proof of G-d - and plenty of it. A non-believer will find nothing. This is because G-d is actually a real nice Guy and gives everybody what they want. If you want to find Me - here I am. You don't want to find me, you never will.

Thus Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT"L says in his tapes that a watermelon is a proof of G-d. To someone like me who is interested in seeing G-d, I agree with him and see G-d in a watermelon. Also in apples and oranges, chickens and eggs, birds and bees, flowers and trees, mountains and seas, and, more than anything, in children. (For the life of me, I cannot fathom how anybody who ever produced a child of their own can doubt G-d; but that's just me.) But the scoffer scoffs at Rabbi Avigdor Miller and at the watermelon and at the children and at everything else and believes in the "fossil record". (Incidentally, I see G-d in the fossil record, as well.)

This a variation of the age old adage:

To the believer, there are no questions and to the non-believer there are no answers.

So a non-believer is somebody who doesn't want there to be a G-d. And a doubter is somebody who is not sure he wants there to be a G-d.

The question boils down not to: "Is there a G-d or is there no G-d?" but rather to: "Do I want a G-d or do I not want a G-d?" Or, as Tommy Lee Jones would say: "Can I handle a G-d?"

"What's in it for me?"
"Am I better off with a G-d or am I better off without one?"
"Is G-d good for me or not?"

Or - lets shorten that last question a bit: "Is G-d good or not?"

What is G-d, anyway?

Well, according to Rambam's 13 principles, G-d is: the supreme Creator of all that exists (Priciple 1), unique in his Oneness (Principle 2), and has no tangible form and thus cannot be perceived by Humans (Principle 3).

Most of us can handle that.
Why? Because it does not have much to do with us.
But let's move on.

According to Rambam, G-d also gave us the Torah through Moses (Principle 8), is aware of all of our actions (Principle 10), and will reward us for obeying Him and punish us for disobeying Him (Principle 11).

This means we have rules to live by and we are accountable to G-d for how we live up to these rules. It means that we cannot do whatever we want. It also means that when we leave this world, the game is still not over.

Some of us like this deal. We want G-d to be here for us and we are willing to be here for Him. And because this is what we want, we are willing to believe.

Others cannot handle this deal. As we say to the bee: We don't want your honey and we don't want your sting. They do not want G-d. And so they are not prepared to believe.

But, either way, nobody can prove it. It's not what you believe. It's not watermelons or fossils. It's what you want for yourself.

And so, G-d (or the deranged prankster) tells us in Parshat Bechukosai: If you walk in My ways and do My bidding - if you include Me in your life - I will make life very pleasant for you. It comes at a price but it is well worth it.

But, if you leave me out and refuse to look for Me, then you will never find me. If you want a G-dless existence I will give you a G-dless existence. And you can do whatever is within your power to do. I will not interfere. And you will become part of the "fossil record".

Sounds to me like the world is just one big foxhole.


Harry Maryles said...

Up With Centrists - Down With Chareidim" fare.Nice post - and I'm glad you agree with me. But the above is not true and I will deny it every time.

Haven't you read my projections about the future of O Judaism being in Charedi hands?

E-Man said...

So, according to you, what did bnei Yisroel see at Har Sinai? Why were they compelled to accept the Torah? Who was Moshe talking to? How did he know it was G-D? Did our ancestors see him and pass down this tradition or is there some other reason we follow Judaism?

Ahavah Gayle said...

The famous philosopher David Hume would agree with your analysis. He said (basically) that only a personal experience of the Deity would be proof, because proof of anything outside the space/time continuum that we know is beyond science. Yet he said anyone who had such an experience was probably delusion, and he wouldn't accept such testimonies as proof because he himself had not experienced them. And, of course, demanding bread and circuses from G-d as proof of G-ds existence gets you nowhere, since He wants you to have real faith.

It's amazing to me how many people think G-d should just program them to believe and love and be grateful, like little robots. Why would any being, especially G-d, want that? Would you feel that you were really loved if you knew your spouse had been brainwashed and programmed to think they loved you? Of course not. Even a child can tell a "real" hug from a perfunctory one. G-d wants real faith and real love, and making people believe doesn't accomplish that - nor does bread and circuses. That type of manipulation is not real faith, either.

So it's a dilemma for the non-believers, because they want "proof" that isn't forthcoming, and believing scientists have all sorts of arguments in favor of G-d's existence, and unbelieving scientists have all sorts of arguments denying G-d's existence - proving Hume's point well, but neither proving nor disproving G-d.

In other words, it's just like you said - you have to really, truly want to believe in order to be convinced by any argument or evidence. And if you really and truly don't want to believe (because that would cramp your style to have to obey) then no amount of argument or evidence will sway you.

You have already made up your mind. What you're looking for is not proof, but justification one way or the other.

FFBs however, have a slightly different problem IMHO. They do want to believe, but weren't given an honest platform on which to believe - so when challenged with facts, they have no real foundation to build on. The Rabbis lied to them, the facts prove it - case closed, right? Your whole life has been one big lie, right?

It's hard to get past the anger and hurt to see maybe it's not so cut and dried, and most people simply can't get there. The Rabbis put salt in their wounds instead of honey.

Pesach said...

I am dissapointed by this post. You seem to not allow for the possibility that there might be real searchers who want to discover the Truth, come what may. Are there no answers for them? Do you have nothing better to say than G-d will answer you if you really want it? Is the intellect not part of G-d's world?

Yechezkel said...

>>I am dissapointed by this post.

Sorry about that. What were you expecting?

>>You seem to not allow for the possibility that there might be real searchers who want to discover the Truth, come what may.

People are not actually searching for "the Truth". They are searching for purpose and meaning and a direction in life. They just want to base it on "the Truth". The problem is that they define "the Truth" as a conclusion based on incontrovertable evidence. Now, the problem becomes: what counts as "incontrovertable evidence" and what does not? The answer can only be: what makes sense to them is incontrovertable evidence and what does not make sense to them is not. This boils down to a personal judgement call which is always influenced by subjective factors such as first impressions, peer pressure, emotions and/or desired outcome. So we are more or less back to square 1.

>>Are there no answers for them?
As long as they rely on empirical proof, the answer is "No".

>>Do you have nothing better to say than G-d will answer you if you really want it?

Dovid HaMelech said it before I did. He also said to learn Torah day and night (Tehillim 1:2). Obviously, he felt that it has all the Truth one needs.

>>Is the intellect not part of G-d's world?

See the words of Dovid HaMelech - Tehillim 111:10, Shlomo HaMelech - Mishlei 1:7, the Navi Hoshea - Hoshea 14:10 and Pirkei Avos 3:17, all of whom say the same thing about the place of intellect in G-d's world.

Anonymous said...

E-man, each Jew at Sinai indeed had their own personal experience of G-d, and each of them individually found that compelling (as our host put it: "A person is capable of proving to himself, and only to himself, the existence of G-d").

E-Man said...

So it wasn't a national revelation according to you. Then how did they all answer at the same time that they couldn't bear to hear G-D anymore and that moshe needed to be the intermediary?

Pesach said...

What would you say to someone whose search led them to Jesus instead of HaShem? Why are they wrong?

Anonymous said...

It is overly simplistic to divide the world into people who want God to exist and therefore believe and those who don't want to and therefore don't. Since you concede that there is no objective proof either way, that leaves open the possibility of someone wishing god existed but insisting on rigorous proof nontheless. I may wish that there are thousands of planets in our galaxy populated by higher civilizations but until I see proof one way or the other I am content to leave it as a tantalizing possibility and accept that it probably isn't true. How is belief in God any different?

Baal Habos said...

>And if you really and truly don't want to believe (because that would cramp your style to have to obey) then no amount of argument or evidence will sway you.

And if you really and truly *want* to believe (because you can't handle life without the crutch of religion or because you can't handle the cognitive dissonance of your whole life being based on a lie) then no amount of argument or evidence will sway you.

anon said...

A person needs both knowledge and emunah inorder to truely believe