At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

EMUNAH

What follows are semi-random thoughts on emunah and related subjects. Discussion is most definitely welcome, just keep in mind that I am a stubborn git, and my opinions make screechy noises when they change tracks. Please do NOT let that discourage you.



FAITH

Faith is only possible when you realize that you have no proof, that nothing proves the existence of a deity. Faith exists in the dialogue between skeptical reason and the wish to believe.
So, while it possible that indeed there is a deity, and I hope that He exists, I cannot utterly believe so.
I have doubt. Which makes it possible for me to have 'faith'.

By the same token I have to assume that Torah - Nach - etc. are more like a lab book recording experimentation or experience with the divine than a factual record. Which seems to be backed up by the moshol-like nature of the text. Almost as if someone said "think of it in this way...."

Because of my cultural background, it is also the only possible lab book that I can accept. I have delved into other religions - but other than the sheer Ballsy-ness of Sikhism, there is not enough meat, and too much gristle.



TANACH

Assuming that something happened in the time between Abraham and Sinai is far less problematic than accepting any part of the Nicaene creed (deity as man / demotic polytheism / Graeco-Roman idolatry / divine absolutism / representationism).
The Abrahamic narrative could probably be a back-formation of the beginning of the tradition, and Sinai demonstrates a transformation of the group, subsequently given an intellectual and cultural context and framework.

Let us assume that Torah to a great extent and Nach to a lesser extent are the lab books of a long and intensive approach to understanding the divine, and the Mishnah and the Gemara represent a dialogue concerning everything that flows therefrom. Compared to xtian writings, there is more meat and more method (and, in some ways, a greater madness).
From the subtexts one can attempt to construct a basis for both a belief system and a moral guide.

The material also forces one to ask questions - it is part of the methodology, part of the message. Questioning is a necessary part of relation to these texts.

I have no proof of the divine, and I don't have no answers. But I must at least try to understand the questions.

If, without a thorough delving into the material, I dare to state something definite, I'm doing so from a position of shallowness. If, at the end of a lifetime of wrestling with the subject, I state that I still do not know and still doubt, I'll be doing so from a position of depth.

The pursuit seems worthwhile.



TALMUD

Why a fellow traveler with the J-BLOG crowd? As you may have noticed, hashkofo and theology are not matters that one can talk about with most Christians - there is no tradition of discussing these matters, and a long tradition of actively discouraging such conversation with bonfires and stakes while considering everyone who believes differently accursed.

Communicating with dogmatic Christians is much like communicating with a convinced communist or fascist. There are the same linguistic rigidities, the same entrenched ideas. They subscribe to the same legitimacies as the political extremists, but have different programmes. The dialectic is rigid, blinkered, and narrow.

Not exactly a favourable environment for inquiry.

Besides which, I cannot take the Christian Subsequentia (aka 'New Testament') seriously - it requires too much credulity to function as anything other than cultural background (much like Grimm's fairytales), and the biggest stumbling block in the theology is that insistence on the son of god bit. What we cannot know by definition cannot be so specifically defined - I prefer instead to assume a Hester Panim, leaving us with the ungraspability of the divine, and, crucially, freedom of thought. The Christian description of God is childish and gnostic, the certainty of Christianity smacks too much of blackmail.

The other thing is that one absolutely cannot discuss Talmud with believing Christians, nor with most skeptic Christians. The methodology of thought is not something that a Christian can really get into, the praeconceptions are too numerous, the interest is not there, and the subject is opaque to their eyes.

Put differently, who else should I try to discuss Talmud with? There is not a wide choice, and there is an imperative to learn and debate.

The rabbinic tradition has spent much thought on man's relationship with each other and man's relation with the divine, whereas Christian thought always veers back into the nature of Jezus, saint worship, angels dancing on pins, the apocalypse, and other hairy figments.

Yes, there are people in the Christian oilam who Godol-Hadorishly believe, but have trouble rationalizing that belief. Problem is that they still believe in the ideology and most of the idolatrous points of their formation-narrative.



HALACHA VE HASHKAFA

We don't know that there is a deity, so it is probably best to operate under the assumption that there may actually be one. But if there is a deity, we really have a problem.

Specifically, anything that tells us precisely what to do and believe, based allegedly on that deity's authority, has to be considered unbelievable - because believing it partly defines or second-guesses the deity - and in that we believe we have a choice, and ergo free will - we cannot believe something that contradicts that, by putting restrictions on our free will - which is exactly what defining or second-guessing a deity would do.

Yet a belief in a deity rather makes us do exactly that. A contradiction.

So we should probably try to map out consistent and decent behaviours, and methods for dealing with circumstances, rather than insist that there is only one way and all other ways are wrong. Basically, the Talmudic process.

That's one approach to the issue.

Another approach is to imagine that God put us here and more or less told us "here's your world, act right, try to become more than you are, and I'll check back with y'all after you croak".

As long as we leave this place better than when we got here, and actually grew in that regard while we were here, we probably have a credit balance.

So we end up trying to figure out how we should act, trying to understand why, and examining underlying principles - again, the Talmudic process.

However you look at it, we cannot make rigid assumptions, and there are no rules set in stone that deal with all eventualities. The point of the process is further understanding, the methodology itself is the guide to the methodology.



FAITH AND REASON

The conflict between faith and reason is a necessary part of the deal. It is the tension between the two opposites that creates a discourse within ourselves. On the one hand, hope - speculation - belief, on the other, reason - facts - curiosity.

Someone who doesn't doubt and doesn't question is probably not deeply involved and not capable of any great flexibility.
Someone who, on the other hand, rejects religion entirely, is as shallow and rigid as the first type.

Doubt is necessary, doubt is essential, doubt makes it possible to be human. Without the Hester Panim, we would merely be obedient little monsters.



PRACTICES

Fundamentalism is natural for groups, but it isn't natural for individuals. The subtext of parshas Re'eh is one of public adherence to the practices, no matter what privately one thinks, as means of building a strong group identity. One implication is that it is the accepted performance that matters most - and that differing personal levels of faith and doubt are to be assumed.

A logical segue from that might be to ask why certain people, by their chumras, are poresh min ha tzibber. Kiruv rechokim is always better than merachek krovim.

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