Friday, January 20, 2006

I Am That I Am

Tonight I was shooting the breeze with a good friend of mine whose faith is similarly dead (it was precisely these sort of bull sessions that began my downward spiral). Unlike me, however, he sincerely laments the fact that in all probability there is no God, and in the event there is, Judaism is unlikely to have done Him justice.

His litany of complaints are actually quite similar to this sorry sod who is unable to accept such a possibility (see this incriminating post). If one were to accept this view, goes the argument, morality disappears and life becomes bleak, etc.

But is Judaism so much different? Do we ever know God? Do we ever really understand His ways? Fanatics seem to think the answer to these questions is a resounding yes. They are readily able to discern the will of God, speak in His name, and describe his Features. That is clearly bosh. The RaMBaM’s third article of faith states “I believe, with complete faith, that the Creator, blessed is His name, does not possess a body, that bodily concepts do not apply to Him, and He has no resemblance.”

To ascribe will and features to God, seems to me, violates this principle. Interestingly, the RaMBaM’s own statement seems to violate itself, as creation is a physical construct as well. I guess the RaMBaM’s fascination with creatio ex nihlo, explains how he can call God a creator. Note that under this approach, the most odious of all the Kiruv Klowny arguments for God— the dreaded Watchmaker—runs up against this principle of faith. The argument conflates a human act of creation with the Godly act of creation, and thus infers the latter from the former.

Back to my friend.

He is reluctant to accept the world as it is. He wishes that what he was taught as a child was true. He wants an all powerful benevolent force to be watching over him, and he wants to know that the Big Rockcandy Mountains await him beyond this place of wrath and tears.

But did he ever know a benevolent God? Did he really think that he was going to experience a Heaven in a physical sense? Even Judaism does not teach this concept. God cannot be benevolent, as benevolence is a physical concept. There is no jealous God, as jealousy is a physical concept. There is no physical experience of Heaven, because Heaven is a non-physical state of existence. In fact, Moses, desperate to know God asks him is name and receives the famous reply of “I am that I am.” God is God. There is no other way to explain Him, because to bring Him down into a human lexicon is an impossibility, even a profanity. Hence, I see a fundamental gap between God and man. If He has no physical dimension, how can we ever feel connected to Him?

To take it one step further- is an incomprehensible existence any different? Are we that much poorer if we cannot answer certain questions? It may be that we are unable to escape the illusion of our “I.” It may be that we do not understand How It All Started.

It is what It is.

Worked before, didn’t it?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is Rational Religion Possible?

"Men who openly confess that they can form no idea of God, and only know Him through created things, of which they know not the causes, can unblushingly accuse philosophers of Atheism."

State of the Hashkafa (Ramble in D Minor)

JOHN EDWARD: Everything I tell people is positive and gives them hope. How does that make me a douche?
STAN: Because the big questions in life are tough: Why are we here, Where are we from, Where are we going. But if people believe in asshole douchey liars like you, we're never going to find the real answers to those questions. You arent just lying, you are slowing down the progress of all mankind. You douche.

I guess this post is mostly space filler while I debate attempting to sleep- lately I've been questioning why I bother to blog.

The really big questions in life seem to dwarf the men who try to give the answers. The orthodox rabbis I know have neat little packages tied in bows for every question you could ever ask. The fact that their answers are less than satisfying to anyone with a modicum of rationality or sense of history does not phase them, but has taken a heavy toll on me.

Here is a list of things that irk me about Orthodox Judaism:

1. Leadership is hereditary.
Why is it so important that a rabbi have yichus and why is it essential that his children take over the family business? Given the scarcity of true rabbinic talent, what are the odds that a rabbi's son will be his equal? I don't recall Einstein's children achieving at the same scale of their father.

2. The Bible is so obviously a collection of edited myths, it boggles the mind that people who believe in them literally are taken seriously.

3. The Oral tradition is obviously a hodgepodge of disparate views, few of which are actually connected to the religion practiced by the Ancient Israelites.

4. Heaven. Heaven seems to be pretty important to the adherents of Orthodox Judaism. Why the devil wasn't it mentioned in the Bible? How does one experience heaven? All our senses are derived from physical organs.

5. Resurrection. Again, omitted from the Bible. One of the mantras of Orthodox Judaism is that an oral tradition is needed to explain the Written Law. Great, what text requires tekhiyat hameitim?

6. The idea that Judaism contains some sort of secret wisdom. If you look at diverse belief systems, you see recurring themes. Example of this include asceticism, dietary laws, and messianism. What exactly is the great innovation of Orthodox Judaism. The monotheism thing was a long time ago, and wasn't necessarily new back then either.

7. The idea that Judaism is immune from historic time. Things change over time. The idea that Orthodox Judaism resembles in anyway (from blekhs to bedika to Borsalinos) is laughable.

I am not so foolish as to think that I can add anything to a debate that dates back to the beginning of human existence. It's fun to live the debate though.

UPDATE: The list is hardly comprehensive, even as I hit "Publish Post" I thought of a few others, but I will save them for a different day.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Promises to Keep

Posting has been light due to a myriad of commitments and some R&R. Regular blogging will commence shortly.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I Hate Blogger

Between Firefox's instability and Blogger's inability to recover posts, I'm working on a post for the third time. I'm writing these things in word processors now.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Chanukah Wrap Up

Why is it that the most erudite rabbis insist that the Macabees fought the Greeks?

They were Syrians! Although Antiochus was driven out of Judea by the Macabees, he was eventually checked by the Romans of all people.

Also, why does the blessing over the Chanukah lights read " You commanded us," when it is clearly a rabbinical requirement?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Secular New World

"All say, 'How hard it is that we have to die'-- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live." -Pudd'n Head Wilson

When I first read this quote, I thought that it was more of Twain's later, pessimistic view of life-- as though death is a release from the troubles of this world.

But I think there is a more uplifting message here. Life is such a rare thing, that the price of death is as paltry as it is necessary.