Ok, its not Shabbat that’s crazy. It’s me. Slightly neurotic, but also vulnerable by all the changes. After keeping it for 2 ½ months – something had to give.

I spent 2 weekends ago in Tel Aviv at a friend’s place – and being outside of a conducive environment, I saw how hard it was for me to keep. Its one thing in Jerusalem, and one thing in my own space here in Arad, but in someone else’s place, even with their hospitality, it wasn’t easy – but the difficulty wasn’t really the problem. The problem was how being out of context only pointed to my feeling that some of the more absurd Shabbat prohibitions didn’t really fly for me – which made me really stop and wonder what the heck I was doing anyway with this whole thing, and made me realize that I wasn’t ‘holding’ where I thought I was.

Here’s just one example of what I’m talking about…

He: Why didn’t you put the juice you bought in the fridge?
Me: Cause I didn’t want to turn on the light in the fridge when I open it.
He: But it will go bad.
Me: No it won’t, its just juice, not dairy.
He: What if I open the fridge and put it in for you?
Me: No, cause then I won’t be able to get it out.

After which he was nice enough to turn off the light in the fridge so I could retrieve my juice freely, but that’s not really the point. The point is, in this little encounter I realized how ridiculous I felt – Do I really think the creator of the universe gives a heck about the status of mini lightbulb in his refridgerator? Uh, no. Ok, yeah, a spark is created and that creative action brings something from nothingness, but, um, so what? I guess I realized how empty my observance was. (Note: not how empty the observance is, per se)

Naturally, I have to reconsider it all – the truth is I took it all on at once, which anyone will tell you is unhealthy, but how do you then ‘take parts off’?

The day seemed filled with little moments like that – of me realizing how meaningless some of the things I was doing felt. I washed a dish off and squeezed the sponge and remembered that wasn’t ‘allowed.’ I had ripped toilet paper but they threw it out not knowing what it was. The feeling was just a culmination of many little moments. Eventually, I went to the park on the river near his house to study Hebrew, but I found myself unable to concentrate and was just staring at the people – talking on their cellphones, playing sports, BBQing, walking their dogs, picnicking, and on motor boats, having a pleasant day, and I realized that here I was, trying to keep Shabbat, but I felt imprisioned by all the melachot – and even though some of these people were doing exactly what ought not to be done on a Saturday, I felt like they, in some ways, were having a more authentic Shabbat than me. This realization made my eyes wet. Later back at my friend’s place, his roommate was with her boyfriend in the living room, so I went into his bedroom in the back and just turned on the light – thinking sitting in a dark room for two hours wouldn’t help my mental situation. In a while they left and I went and stared out his big picture window for what seemed like forever. When my friend came back I had to buzz him in. Oops. But even more oops was that when he walked in I was sitting at his window drawing the view to relax a little. “What about the Shabbat?,” he questioned, and I think the cumlinating breakdown began with my answer which chimed something to the tune of, “F*ck Shabbat [sob, sob, sob…]”

Consequently, what it becomes for me is unclear at this point – I struggled with this question all last week. If I’m going to pick and choose which parts I want to keep, why do any of it at all? Maybe I shouldn’t. Is this the path that I really want? Isn’t what my family did when I was a child enough? Or isn’t it? Do I really believe this hubbub to be the absolute truth that it claims to be? Didn’t I spend like $80,000 on a college education that told me that there was no such thing as absolute truth? …

And then Shabbat came again – this thing doesn’t stop.

I read some books on Saturday to help clarify things. The book about Conservative Judaism enabled me to be able to breathe again. The Orthodox-perspective book on Shabbat then complicated the new found ease. But despite the dueling banjos, come the new week, Gd help me, the Shabbat anxiety persisted.

However, tonight I was making guacamole and things became a little elucidated. I think avocados have a tendency to do that. I thought to myself, “If Shabbat is a day where I make lovely meals and enjoy what I like, then, yes, I can do this. Maybe that’s enough for now.” Yeah, this is a good way to look at it – I like guacamole, so guacamole every week! It will be a Thursday night ritual. Yes, Guacamole. Guacamole=Shabbat, and I felt so much better.

But then I thought about the fat content…

About the author

alli

95 Comments

  • Wonderful thoughts! Struggle is good, in my opinion. I have known too many people who moved too fast into observance, only to slip and fall backwards. In Talmudic fashion, I’ll use a parable.

    A guy is walking near a beautiful cliff when he spies, near and on the top, rock climbers milling about. “How cool!” he thinks to himself. “The view up there must be amazing! Inspiring!” He is moved by the whole idea of scaling, conquering the rock, and reaching that higher spot. So, without further ado, he scampers up the cliff. He has no ropes, places no anchors, and doesn’t look back. He is focused on the beauty of being at the top. Unfortunately, the climb isn’t always easy. And, having carelessly climbed without firmly anchoring on the way, if he falls, he is liable to fall all the way. Sure, he might make it up faster, but how can he climb back down if he needs to back down a bit? Better to have paid careful attention during the climb, settling in at each point, than to lose it all when some rock comes loose.

    We are all supposed to be climbing in our personal growth and observance. But that doesn’t mean we should be careless about it. If we think things through, turn them over, and explore a bit before we move on up a bit more, we can discover something important: We find HaShem not in reaching the top and gazing out on the beautiful view, but in the careful placing of those anchors along the way. For each of them requires us to seek HaShem in the details and really come to some understanding. And if we fall a bit, and we all do, there isn’t too far to go. Then, we can pick ourselves up and find a slightly different path to ascend.

  • Thank you for sharing this with us. I think we all struggle with these and related issues. It is nice to see that our struggle is a shared one.

  • Alli,

    As for the specific Shabbat dilemma. Though I never like to hear someone going through a period of observance nihilism, I think that I can offer some little perspective.

    The most important question that you ask is: “Do I really think the creator of the universe gives a heck about the status of mini lightbulb in his refridgerator?” Why should we stop there? The real theological question is why should we believe that anything we puny little finite-lings do matters in any cosmic sense. Murder? Genocide? In the scheme of things, it is one tiny bit of matter, hardly measurable in universal (God-scale) terms beating up on another little bit of matter. Does HaShem care? Yet, when we extend it to issues of killing, we suddenly all (or almost all) agree that it is “wrong,” somehow universally, morally wrong. That somehow, in the fabric of our universe, causing pain to another being is improper. We do think that God cares about that. But, while to us, killing is a huge thing, in a cosmic sense, it’s not so different than, say, squeezing out your sponge.

    “Ok!”, you say. “but I can understand why killing is bad. But the sponge? Come on!”

    Touche! Let me propose that the little things matter precisely because we are the little things. We humans live little lives, doing little things, everyday. We make guacamole. We have barbecues. We sneeze. We fret. We build parking lots. That’s what we do. That’s almost all we can do.

    But. BUT!…

    There are a couple of ways that we can transcend our little-ness. One way is by sanctifying moments or actions. I could just stuff that bread in my mouth and chug that wine. Instead, I will stop and say a bracha. Or, I’ll wait to eat until I’ve done mincha. Either way, I am putting my little things into the context of something much larger–HaShem’s creation. Nonetheless, even with all those moments during the week, it can be difficult to break free of the day-to-day minutiae. Then, comes Shabbat. Shabbat doesn’t free us from the little things. We don’t transcend being finite people with finite activities. Instead, the laws of Shabbat force us to be extra cognizant of the activities that we usually take for granted. My kids will grow up thinking that everyone has a phone all the time, that every room lights up when you want it to, that food is always there to be cooked, that one can get from here to there just by hopping in a car, train, or transporter tube. That is, but for Shabbat. That is when they will learn that there is more to life than just going ahead and doing, making, planning. The little rules of Shabbat are no more petty than all the little things we do in life. Shabbat reminds us that the little things are what make up this life by forcing us to be more cognizant than we normally would be about what we normally do. Like the berachot, Shabbat helps us put our little lives in an infinite context.

    The Torah says: “U’vayom haShvi’i, shavat v’yinafash.” On the 7th day, God ceased work and rested. I like to read this slightly differently. “Shavat”, I take as related to sitting (layshayv), and “v’yinafash” to the soul (nefesh). That is, on the 7th day, God sat down in the world he had just made, thereby giving it a soul. Ceasing work and resting are all nice. We can agree on that. Even the folks barbecueing in the park on Shabbat like the ceasing work and resting. But Shabbat, and the little laws that we follow whilst keeping it, are not just about resting, but about imbuing the world with a soul.

  • Alli,
    Hang in there, Jerusalem isn’t being built in one day.

    I also started out experimenting and messing up in the beginning too. But I quickly learnt that half of respecting shabbat, is preparing for it beforehand, literally. It isn’t corny to make a checklist of things to do like choosing lights to leave on, or turning off and taping up the fridge switch, I even think aish has one list on their website. Spending shabbos with non-religious is still a challenge but got easier over time – making food ahead of time, bringing enough plastic plates, etc… even with two babies to eal with on top of that. Usually, most people are understanding. Some are unvoluntarily ignorant (how many times have we asked to leave the bathroom light on…), but real friends and family will accomodate as they catch on too. Sometimes there are larger screwups, and you’re stuck eating cold food, but then again, we’ve discovered that religious neighbours can be really understanding too.

    As for feeling deprived of things on shabbos; I hope that I’m not being cliche, but my wife and I really, truly believe that our ‘restrictive’ shabbat is more freedom than the non-religious have. One day a week and holidays too, we disconnect from virtually everything and return to ourselves and people in the flesh rather than phones, internet, and tv.

    Let it grow on you, be firm, and keep reading more. We went orthodox, just seemed more genuine. Sooner than later, you won’t even notice how awesome a shabbos can be and how you don’t want it too end (and not just because it means the weekend is over). It’s been more than six years or so from the last time I/we had that feeling that we couldn’t wait until shabbos was over. I think it would be insane to ever give this ‘right’ that hashem gave us.

  • Shabbat takes some getting used to. But keep up the good fight. You will be amply rewarded.

    At first, the need to abstain from performing the various melachot seems restrictive. However, once you accept that there are certain things you cannot do, you discover that there are many things you can do which you may never have thought of before. Taking a simple walk, reding a book, studying, having a nice Shabbat lunch with fellow-observers, discussing Torah, doing a little learning, spending relaxed time with your wife and/or children, taking a schluf. Before you know it, Shabbat is over.

    However, it is ineed very difficult to spend Shabbat with non-observant people. If the atmoshpere of Shabbat is not there, all you can see is the things you are not allowed to do, not the possibilities Shabbat offers. Shabbat by oneself is very difficult. Shabbat with your community is very easy.

    Yes, Shabbat creates a division between the observant and the non-observant. That is one of the reasons it exists. The psychological pain comes from trying to reconclie things that cannot be reconclied.

    By that I do not mean that Shabbat observers are automatically good and the non-observant are automatically bad. But it is very difficult to mix these world-views, especially on Shabbat.

  • You might be interested to know what the Karaites think about how Shabbat should be observed. Its on http://www.uhcg.org
    Not that I am planning on becoming a Karaite, but one wise sage once said, “From all my teachers have I learnt” or something like that.

  • Fabulous post, Alli.

    I love that you wrote — “And then Shabbat came — This thing doesn’t stop.”

    It reminded me of something my father used to say in those final moments before candle lighting on Friday evening. I’d be running around my room, trying to complete the last muktzah chores (dimming my light, putting up an away-message on AIM, whatever) and he would yell up to me, “Shabbat doesn’t wait!”

    Kind of annoying at the time, but I realized something as I read your post. It’s like, here we are, struggling with what to keep, what not to keep, pouring over it and pondering over it… but regardless of what we choose, it’s all still there for us. Even if one week you turned on a light, or squeezed a sponge, the opportunity to not do those things remains. It’s not like you have to pick and choose now and then that’s it. Shabbat’s going to come and go regardless of whether we keep the malachot or not… which I suppose means that you can always decide to keep more (or less) and yay for infinite opportunities to grow!

    It also reminds me of the Talmudic passage, kol bidei shama’im, chutz m’yir’at shama’im, roughly translated (in my words) — Everything is in the hands of god, except for the fear, or perhaps the belief of god. I take this to mean that whether or not I choose to see a godly presence in my life, kol bidei shama’im, it’s still going to be there.

    And moreso, I take this as comfort in my ever-growing struggle with Judaism as a viable way of life (for now, anyway). If I choose to believe in god, the opportunity to recognize shama’im is in ha’kol, everything. And if for now I live (admittedly) apathetic towards the mitzvot, then the passage is simply a reminder that nothing is permanent, and I can always choose to walk the derech later.

    Maybe some will see this is as just my “easy way out.” But, I don’t know, I have enough faith left over to say that it’s all going to work out the way it’s supposed to. Kol bidei shama’im.

    I wish you hatzlacha in your struggles… It wouldn’t really be Israel if it wasn’t kicking your ass, no?

  • Find yourself a rav. Go to a kiruv center (Aish HaTorah, Neve Yerushalayim….) Don’t struggle yourself and try to find the answer in an Artscroll style translation. Get authentic answers from dati people who understand the real beauty of Shabbat.

  • Alli,

    Oh how I know that “Damn this feels stupid and ridiculous” feeling. Sigh. And there are way too many times I’ve felt this while hanging out with observant friends. BUT…

    There’s a wonderful book by Adin Steinsaltz called Tshuvah. In it, he talks about “the struggle” and how we like to frame it as an intellectual and/or theological struggle. But he warns us of a huge error, there are times that these struggles are not theological/intellectual, but psychological, and that we have to (in the words of the big black man in Pulp Fiction) “work through that shit”. How do you figure out which witch is which visavis each struggle, how the heck knows, but it makes a difference when deciding to reject/keep a portion of a mitzvah.

    Fineline,
    I’ve always regarded Halachot, especially the small, seemingly irrelevant ones (uh, the whole umbrella thing…hello????), to be petty and spawned by men with too much times on their hand while hanging around their shtetyl. However your post reframes the “details” in a very profound way. And I forget that meaning does reside in the details (as a guitar player I know this. I mean, to most of my friends, that fact that I spend so much time trying to get a lovely delay sound seems ridiculous to them. To me, it’s pure heaven). Thanks for the post. And what a wonderful honest and necessary post this is.

    Oh, and Alli, I haven’t found an answer to this struggle. Regardless of Fineline’s post, and many discussions with Aish/Ohr/Chabad/Belz/Modern Ortho rabbis, I still find that I continue to scoff at certain Halachot that are an inconvenience (we all do this by the way. I don’t know of one Modern Ortho Jew who hasn’t fondled their love one(s) BEFORE marriage.). Good luck with the questions/searching. It’d be wonderful to have this conversation with you over one of those long ass summer Shabbats.

  • Ariela,

    “Everything is in the hands of god, except for the fear, or perhaps the belief of god. I take this to mean that whether or not I choose to see a godly presence in my life, kol bidei shama’im”

    The fact that you didn’t use a capital “G”…was this a Freudian slip/type, a theological statement, or is their peanut butter lodged in your computer keyboard?

  • You people are amazing. I wasn’t comfortable with airing such a vulnerable, personal, conflicted part of myself, but I’m glad I did. I really value all the comments…

  • Shtreimel,

    I certainly don’t consider my thoughts a final say on convincing anyone, including myself, of the value of all minutiae. Instead, it is one more of those anchors that I hammer in. When I have the same questioning thoughts that almost all of us here claim to have, I have that support to keep me going. You know? Anyway, I’m glad you found something profound. As for your delay sound analogy…it catches my point exactly.

    T_S,

    I think what many of us here have discovered is that those folks at kiruv centers with “authentic” views don’t always have good answers. I remember a rabbi, a frum-from-birth black-hatter from the Atlanta kollel, once telling me that he sometimes envies the baalei teshuva. As he said, those folks like himself, the Artscroll crowd, sometimes have trouble seeing the forest for the trees. They were fed the observance and mitzvot from birth and often have never bothered to look for the deeper meaning. Surprisingly. theology and philosophy are not big topics amongst black-hat crowd.

  • Shtreimel —

    i don’t capitalize god because it has no inherent value, it’s not a proper noun, it’s a concept. if i was referring to Buddha, i would capitalize the B cause it’s the dude. Same with Jesus, Muhammad, Vishnu, Siva, and a slew of other respectables.

    Good question. It is something I’ve thought about. No peanut butter keys. : P

  • Ariella,

    I’m going to take issue with your lack of capitalization entirely on the grounds of proper English usage. From a halakhic perspective, you are correct that the English word g-o-d is not a proper name of God. However, whether you capitalize it or not has to do with another factor. Consider the following:

    (1) I am going to pick up my mom at the airport.
    (2) Hey Sis! We need to go pick Mom up at the airport.

    In neither case is the name of my mother “mom.” However, in the second case, I am using “Mom” as a proper noun to refer to a specific person. Hence, it should be capitalize. In the first case, “mom” is a general concept, with the modifier “my” to make it specific.

    Likewise in the case of God. Even if you are talking in the abstract as above, we all know to “which god” you are referring. So, saying “I don’t believe in a god…” is fine. But, if you say “I don’t believe in God,.”–the word should really be capitalized, because you are talking about a specific deity that we all speak about.

  • Oh gosh, do we really want to get into the semantics argument? Oy.

    Well, I don’t want to dwell on this too much more, but basically two things:

    1. “I don’t believe in God” implies there’s only one to believe in, and that’s his name.
    2. At a time when I believed in “God,” as it were, I still didn’t capitalize god because i felt that was giving too much creedance to the English language. Like, to me, writing god in English is the equivalent of saying hashem. It isn’t really a name. It’s like the word we say instead of the name.

  • I’m still waiting for someone to provide one…ONE example of a Modern Orthodox Yid who stayed true to Shomer Negiah pre-chupah. Any frum male yids who haven’t, ever, engaged in self-pleasure? Mordechai Kaplan, founder of Recon movement, was bang on when he stated that all communities pick and choose their mitzvot. My feeling is that people are machmir about those mitzvah’s that benefit them (for career, sexual, psychological, social…reasons), and ignore the ones that infringe upon their deepest desires/needs/wants.

  • Ariela,
    I’ve enjoyed your honesty and writing style, so I’m wondering if you could shed some light on this:

    “At a time when I believed in “God,””

    and how it jives with this:

    “I have enough faith left over to say that it’s all going to work out”

    Can you provide a brief description of what/why you went from belief to, uh, something else?

  • Shtreimel,

    Consider the following explanation for the phenomenon of people not keeping mitvot that infringe upon their deepest desires/needs/wants: It’s simply much harder. It may have nothing to do with picking and choosing intellectually. It’s easy to choose not to worship idols. But sleeping with your hot girlfriend or avoiding masturbation is a lot more difficult even IF you know you are supposed to avoid it.

    Plus, people do actually keep family purity laws pretty rigorously, and those laws directly infringe upon our deepest desires.

  • Sthremiel, my guess is because she got wiser…

    As for semantics, is it the case that halakcha has the audacity to make rulings over which languages can name God? And what exactly is the difference between a name and a (non-dectic) referring term other than that one is introduced by a social convention and the other merely used in context to refer?

  • Fineline,

    I agree with you. But you know how it goes, every now and then an Ortho rabbi will take a shot at one of the other Jewish movement, about how they pick and choose, and I always bite my tongue knowing what I know (mostly from Ortho friends who tell me). In the end, I daven in Ortho shuls and learn with Ortho rabbis.

  • “Sthremiel, my guess is because she got wiser…”

    Ouch. Weird, because some of the brightest folks I’ve met are religous Jews. Guess they’re all misled and silly. I’ll tell ’em you said so.

  • shtreimel, i know one couple, one, and amazing they are. i sorta hate to believe it, cause it throws a wretch in my whole theory that its just plain impossible if you have any blood pumping through your veins, but it seems they are telling the truth.

  • Thanks! You do that! I don’t think that religious people are dumb. Or silly. Just wrong. I’m sure you’ve met plenty of bright atheists as well. So we now know that one group is getting it wrong and being, in your locution, ‘silly’…I don’t see why either group should be considered silly just because they were in error.

  • “i know one couple, one,”

    Heh heh, we all know one, huh? How does the joke go: “…99% are telling the truth and the other 1% are liars”. Nah, I’m sure they’re being honest.

    There’s a book by Ari Goldman entitled “My Search for God at Harvard”, where he relates how in Yeshivah (where he studied), it was well a well known fact that teen boys would play with each other. How prevalent this is I don’t know, but it was a shock to read it:

    a) in a NYT bestseller
    b) by someone who attended Yeshiva
    c) by someone who is fond of Judaism

  • er·ror n.
    An act, assertion, or belief that unintentionally deviates from what is correct, right, or true.

    Ok GM, I believe you said:
    “…just because they were in error”

    Prove that belief in God “unintentionally deviates from what is correct, right, or true.”

    This should be good.

  • Ummn…if you read what I said, I don’t really have to prove anything like that. What *I* said was that at least one of two groups (atheists vs. theists) were in error. We can be sure of that since the one group denies what the other group asserts Thus, one is in error. Thus, one group acts, asserts and believes someting that unintentially deviates from what is true. Since both groups are made up of bright people, its clear that getting things wrong is not tantamount to making you silly.

    As for whether or not there is a god, well, that is rather difficult to prove and I don’t think I’m going to attempt here. All I said was ‘my bet is she got wiser’. That’s because, well, my bet is that there is no god.

    Actually, maybe I can say a little more. Depending on the principles of reasoning you accept, I think it may be wiser not to believe in god whether or not there is a god. One principle that looks common to most reasoning is that if there is counter evidence to something’s existence, and absolutely no evidence whatsoever (or, to put it less tendentiously, not very good evidence) for it existence, you ought not to believe in that things existence. Thus, even if there is a god, the appaling lack of evidence for his existence makes it unreasonable (and hence, unwise) to believe in him. If there is a god, and you believe in him, you are basically getting lucky as far as I can tell.

    This line of reasoning isn’t foolproof of course; and if you think you have evidence for god’s existence (i.e. you’ve ‘experienced’ him or whatever) then I don’t think I can tell you much. And you can reject the principle, of course. But I’d like to see you find one other case where we act exactly in opposition to the principle I suggested. (the principle itself is rather rough and probably needs cleaning up, but you get the idea).

  • GM and shtreimel, Ultimately, the question should not even be about whether G-d exists. In order to discuss is existence, we must first discuss his nature so that we may extrapolate what we would observe in the world if he did exist. However, since G-d is transcendant, we can never really understand His nature sufficiently to test against observed reality. Consequently, His existence cannot really be tested by rational thought. It comes down to how you describe the indescribeable in the universe. Do you accept Ockham’s razor and embrace nihilism or do you accept G-d and stand in awe of his creation?

    The question should be about whether you will live according to a belief in him. Will you live according to the assumption that G-d created the unverse, free will, and the resulting choice between good and evil? Or, will you deny G-d, imagine the universe is uncaused, imagine your free will is an illusion, and make choices that please you? Those are the alternatives. Most of us are somewhere inbetween, but each of us decides how close to or far away from G-d we choose to live. Your decision is how you will live your life. G-d will exist or not exist regardless of whether you decide to accept His existence.

    By the way, A. J. Heschel is great to read if you are struggling with how you approach G-d or if you have given up on approaching Him.

  • Yisrael, I didn’t understand that chain of reasoning at all. Are you saying that no evidence could count for or against God’s existence because he is transcendant and (I didn’t get this transition either) not susceptible to rational thought? I thought the whole point of parts of the torah (like exodus) were that God descends (is that the opposite of transcends?) and shows himself by signs and wonders. I don’t set the bar all that high: that was the point of the principle just requiring evidence rather than conclusive proof. If the plagues returned with no decent explanation of their occurences, my credence that there is a god would go up. If I stood at the base of sinai and saw the fire on top etc., I’d be willing to give the god hypothesis a go.

    In any case, I can’t really understand how this isn’t irrational. If I claimed to you that there were 2 transcendant beings who were beyond any ability of ours to comprehend, that hypothesis should be beyond rational credence. As should the claim that there are 3…in fact, anything trasncedent turns out to be that way. Do you really think these views are all beyond rational criticism? If not, then transcendence itself can be a total bar to rationality. Anyhow, basically what you seem to be asking me to do is gie up on rationality to support a hypothesis that, if true, can’t be tested by rationality. If one wants to be irrational, that’s cool. I don’t know how you could ever prove something to someone like that (I guess that is basically your point). I just find it odd that unfalsifiability is supposed to be something we should embrace as a virtue of the god hypothesis.

  • Oy, we’re going down the philosophical/theological route…fine!

    Truthfully, mainstream Judaism holds a theist view, in which God is both transcendent and imminent. That is in opposition to the pantheist view in which God is only imminent and the deist view (watchmaker) in which God is only transcendent. So, Yisrael’s view can only go so far with the claim of transcendence.

    We all seem to agree that one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God in any rigorous fashion. Hence, we have to decide on our belief based upon something less than mathematical logic. But, Muffti, your argument which states that if there is more evidence that something doesn’t exist than does, or that there is no evidence of existence simply makes no sense here. How exactly can we define evidence of God’s existence or lack thereof? What measure can we use? You want to throw out the experiential (“I feel His presence”), in part because it is subjective. That’s not unreasonable. But, what if someone claims that nothing could exist without God…that God is the very source of all existence. By that definition, which says that God is the very source of being, existence of anything is evidence of God. So what standard do we use to say that evidence of God’s existence is present or lacking? That may be why Yisrael formulates the problem as an unapproachable transcendental one.

    I start with people at a more basic point. Almost all people, independent of religious belief or lack thereof, believe certain things to be right or wrong morally. That is, most people agree that independent of whether something is accepted by a culture, it can be morally incorrect. I, for example, believe that raping and murdering 5 year old girls is morally wrong. Fundamentally morally wrong. Not wrong because society has decided it to be a negative. Even if a society accepted child rape and murder as a perfectly acceptable practice, I would hold that it is wrong. Most people, even atheists, agree with that. But, the physical sciences and its picture of the universe has no basis in its models for such moral statements (trust me, I’m a physicist). Hence, anyone who believes that it would be immoral for humans to spread around the galaxy wiping out other civilizations (a la the aliens in Independence Day), believes that there is something inherent to the universe that transcends mere particle interactions. In my opinion, that simple belief is at the root of belief in God.

    Ask most atheists you know whether they think child rape would be OK is everyone approved. Those who say it would be disturb me at many levels. Those who don’t, believe in some universal morality…gasp!

  • Fineline,

    Excellent post. Moreover, and I swear this is true, I got into it once with a Concordia philosophy grad over this very issue (actually, sex with minors). In the end, when pushed into a corner (and in front of a few people at party), he said, if laws were changed, and the majority said it would be ok, having sex with whomever, whenever, regardless of age/race, etc., is ok in his books. The discussion came to a quick end.

  • “I thought the whole point of parts of the torah (like exodus) were that God descends (is that the opposite of transcends?) and shows himself by signs and wonders.”

    If you take the Torah in a strictly literal manner, that would be true, but the Jewish tradition (our tradion is from the more interpretive Pharisees and not the more literalist Sudducees) certainly has room to permit a less literalist view. (I should note that I am Conservative and do not pretend to represent the more Orthodox in this regard.) If G-d is transcendent, it is not unreasonable that writers would give Him anthropomorphic physical qualities to even begin to describe Him. I refer to G-d as “Him,” but I do not think he has a penis. I talk about G-d’s presence, but I do not think it is empirically observable. The limitations of language force us to anthropomorphize G-d if we are to talk about Him at all. Since we owe our existence to Him, most of us have a need to discuss Him and His influence despite the flaws of the language we use describe Him. That is why davening is so important in Judaism. I can not really tell you about G-d. You have to experience His presence for yourself and accept that you will not be able to ever fully communicate your experience to any other person.

    “If not, then transcendence itself can be a total bar to rationality.”

    That is right. At the very least, rationality is a poor and unreliable tool for appraising the value of the transcendent. But, we are forced to accept things without defending them by rationality all the time. I assume you believe in free will. But why? The premise-conclusion structure of reason requires a cause for every result and a reason for every conclusion. Free will presumes that a human is capable of initial causation in spite of prior events. You cannot completely accept reason and free will at the same time. Free will is something that transcends the universe in that is allows a free acting human to cause a shift in the order of the universe without a prior cause from within the universe. Nonetheless, most of us believe in it. We can only believe in free will if we believe that some things transcend reason. You have the alternative of rejecting free will, and saying we are just complicated robots and that free will is just the illusion of the finite human mind trying to grasp the overwhelming complexity of the human robot. I don’t think that describes the human experience and so I accept free will and the belief in transcendence required thereby.

    Additionally, most of us assume the existence of the universe. But, if the universe exists, it must have existed forever or it must have had a beginning. If it existed forever, then we could never have reached this point in time. To reach now, we would have had to pass through an infinite amount of time, which is impossible. If it had a beginning, then the cause of that beginning is transcendent for the same reason as free will. Only a transcendent force external to the universe can cause the beginning of the universe. Nonetheless, we all accept that the universe somehow came into existence. Admittedly, I have met some ardent post-modernists who deny the physicality of the universe, but they can only maintain such a position by arguing that the universe itself is transcendent.

    Accepting these things require accepting that some things transcend reason, and consequently can be neither verified or denied by reason. G-d gave us a powerful tool in giving us the power to reason. It is immensely more useful than faith in most circumstances. However, answering the ultimate questions of life require faith in the transcendent. That can be frustrating, but failing to recognize the limits of reason and denying faith is tragic.

    I have mentioned before that I am a convert. I was raised in an environment where people around me mostly believed that G-d walked on Earth 2000 years ago. That was easy to reject, even as a child, because the evil in the world, combined with basic reason, provides overwhelming evidence that G-d does not act so brazenly in the world. However, my atheism was never satisfying. After all, what is life about if there is not a transcendent reality? Hedonism and hedonistic humanism are the only values that are verifiable purely by reason and empirical evidence. But, the desires of men are not the glorious values that underlie the value of life. Without G-d, nothing is holy, and not having holiness is one’s life is incredibly dissatisfying to one who has experienced the holiness of G-d’s presence. That is why my atheism was never terribly satisfying. Even something as beautiful as making love to your wife is relatively empty when compared with making love to your wife before the presence of G-d. It makes those things that already appear beautiful and good into something holy. That is something I never understood as an atheist who rejected the transcendence of certain things. But, now that I have experienced G-d’s presence and stood in awe of His holiness, I cannot imagine going back to the emptiness of living a life where I presume His non-existence.

    Someone once told me that hell is living outside the presence of G-d. At the time, I thought, “fine, that is not so bad.” I was wrong.

  • fineline, I do not mean to be short on the imminent nature of G-d. I just cannot reconcile it against G-d’s transcendence. That is part of why I see reason as a weak tool for examining that which is transcendent. I personally experience G-d’s imminence, and in the form of human free will, I can see how the power of a transcendent force influences the universe. But, it is easier to explain the imminence of human free will because humans have physical bodies to make the transcendent imminent. I just have no way of explaining how G-d can be imminent, except through men. Consequently, I see G-d’s imminence as being more limited, though I admit that this may be as much a result of the limits of my ability to grasp G-d as it is a result of the limits of G-d’s imminence. Also, I was a deist before I decided specifically to become a Jew. It should not be suprsing that my deism brings some baggage into my Judaism. I’m working on it.

  • Man, oh man. In the immortal words of Butthead, ‘if I wanted to read, I’d go to school.’ Except, heh heh, I do go to school. Allright, let’s see. I’ll try to respond in part.

    Fineline. I don’t want to throw out evidence from experience: if I felt like I had an experience of God, I’d take that to be good (not conclusive, but good) reason to believe in him. I’ve never had such an experience so I guess I wouldn’t know.

    Second, the line of argument from ethics is interesting but, I believe, totally flawed. First, you foist on your opponent a view of ethics he may very well not accept. (i.e. Stremiel, your concordia professor was a relativist but he needn’t have been to maintain his atheism). One could be an atheist and simply think that there are some moral truths that aren’t grounded in anything deeper. (I don’t think this, but I don’t see why that’s any worse than thinking that there is a God who legislates them to make them true). One could be an atheist and think that what is right is what WE are disposed to do. Thus, if later people all changed their minds, they’d be doing something wrong because they wouldn’t be doing what WE approve of or are disposed to do. For myself, I think that humans tend to be born with a moral faculty and born with some notion of how physics works and we just turn out to be dead wrong on both those counts. But that’s an argument for a different day. Point is you can be an atheist and an objectivist about ethics. The principle I was trying to adumbrate said nothing about whether or not you should only believe the deliverances of physics; you may have evidence for instance that there are moral truths and more evidence than the counter claim, for example. Then I’d think it totally reasonable (though sadly mistaken) to believe in such truths.

    Third, and this is the real point, say we all agree that there are moral truths. That there are things you should do and things you should refrain from doing. Why does adding God into this picture help? Why is it better to think there is a God than to think that there are just moral truths simpliciter? I don’t see what God adds to that picture really other than a grand punisher for violators of the moral law. But surely our intuitons about whether or not there are moral truths can be taken seriously but our intuitions about whether or not there is a grand judge of our actions are at best wishful thinking.

    Afficionadoes may recognize the deep problem here, known as the Euthyphro problem (given to us by Plato). If Plato is right, appeals to god don’t help at all, in fact, we know a priori that they couldn’t. I’m too tired to explain the problem, but check here if you are curious.

    Yisrael, I guess we don’t disagree much, though I think the argument from free will and the argument from causation are both terrible arguments. (No offense, i just don’t think either are valid). First, if anyone has free will problems, its the theist since he has to explain just as much as anyone else how free will can be fitted into a universe that obviously displays overwhelming amounts of cause and effects. The atheist can say that there is free will; say it is some bizarre power of the agent to cause things in contravension to what the laws of physics predicts. OK, fine. Why does that commit me to a divinity?

    Second, the argument from moments in time is flawed. Say the universe does stretch back into infinity: so what? I don’t understand at all what the problem is supposed to be. Are you trying to tell me that there is conceptual incoherence in finding out that the universe had no beginning? That every moment has a moment that precedes it? A good book on this topic is Infinity by Jose Benardete. If you are interested, it’s a good clear read and dispels most of the fallacies invovled with such arguments.

    Other than that, I’m not sure we disagree. I don’t much understand one thing, though. If we can’t know god’s nature, why do we claim the christians got it wrong? Why do they claim we got it wrong? Why do we claim the buddhists got it wrong…if there is nothing comprehensible, why criticize eachother at all as though we had some insight into how things go?

  • “if anyone has free will problems, its the theist since he has to explain just as much as anyone else how free will can be fitted into a universe that obviously displays overwhelming amounts of cause and effects.”

    Not at all, the source of the entire universe is a transcendent thing, G-d. Thus the root of reality is transcendent and not subject to cause and effect or other worldly constraints. A theist may ask why G-d would love us so much that he would give us transcendent qualities, but the answer is simple for the theist, particularly the Jewish theist. G-d made us in his image and gave us a transcendent quality that separates us from the rest of his creation. The most significant manifestation of our transcendent qualities is the free will G-d gave us. We need only say that G-d made us special in this way. It is the rationalist approach that has difficulty explaining why humans are so unique. Evolution explains our complexity and intelligence, but it does not explain how we have free will.

  • “The atheist can say that there is free will; say it is some bizarre power of the agent to cause things in contravension to what the laws of physics predicts. OK, fine. Why does that commit me to a divinity?”

    An athiest can say this, but he is leaving a lot to the mystery of a transcendent reality. Our physical reality probably has an origin, a singularity. G-d is like the transcendent singularity. It makes sense that the source of transcendent reality would be a simple single thing, rather than a hodge podge of human free will events spawned out of the physical reality.

    “Are you trying to tell me that there is conceptual incoherence in finding out that the universe had no beginning?”

    Yes. While I haven’t read the book you referenced, I have read others. Most of the ways one “dispels” my objections involve various critiques that properly relate to Xeno’s paradox, but not the dilemma of infinite history. Infinite points of history are fundamentally different than infinite history. Infinite points in time from now can only exist theoretically, in mathematics. We can not actually reach a point that is truly infinitely in the future or in the past. Additionally, when one looks at the physics pointing to a universe with a finite beginning, the case is that much stronger.

    “I don’t much understand one thing, though. If we can’t know god’s nature, why do we claim the christians got it wrong? …”

    Because my argument for G-d rests on his being wholly transcendent. If Jesus is G-d, G-d must be substantially or at least partially non-transcendent. As for the other religions, it would require more research on my part. I suspect that Muslims believe in the same G-d as I do, so our disagreements would be in the detail of our faiths. It may be that they have a different covenant with G-d than I do. I cannot say that they are certainly wrong, though the manifestation of Islam in certain Arab countries is troubling. Hinduism, Mormonism, neopaganism, and other polytheistic faiths suffer from the same problem as Christianity. I don’t know enough about Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism to know if they are more like Islam or Christianity. I could have remained a non-Jew and still be righteous person. One can have different covenants with G-d than I do. Some relationships with the transcendent are permissible outside of Judaism. They just cannot contradict Judaism.

  • Just thought I’d point out that the word you guys are looking for is not imminent, it is immanent. If G-d is imminent, we have a problem because that means that while His existence or arrival may be just about to happen, He ain’t here yet.

    Ephraim is curious as to why GrandMuffti no longer refers to himself in the 3rd person. The Ephraim, he wonders if something has hapened to the GrandMuffti.

    If Hashem does not exist, there is no reason to be Jewish. Everything of any lasting value in Jewish culture comes from the Torah. Without Hashem and Torah, we are goners. We can’t alwyas rely on the anti-Semites forefully preventing us from becoming something else.

  • Grandmuffti,

    I was not arguing that given the presence of objective moral truths, one needs to turn to God for answers. However, once one accepts the existence of objective morality, it does open up an entire can of worms scientifically, philosophically, and theologically. Many modern atheistic scientists, and I know quite a few, are reductionists. They believe that the physical world–its laws, interactions, and components–are the sum total of reality. No metaphenomena. No gestalt concepts. And certainly no deity or objective morality. So, I argue that the acceptance of any of those non-physical elements opens up a region of reality which transcends the physical, and that amongst the concepts associated with that transcendence is God.

    The morality argument is not proof, of course. But I disagree with you that one can accept a true objective moral principle (i.e. one which is wrong here, there, and everywhere and when) and not accept something transcendent about the universe.

    Again, though, I point out that there is no way to prove God, and you know it. It is silly to hide behind the argument that you don’t personally have any proof of God. What? You want to hear a voice? It could be a hallucination. It could be aliens, or the kids next door. You saw a miracle? Eh, once in a lifetime or many lifetimes events do happen. It’s not proof.

    I think that the closest thing I can get to proof of God’s existence, and it still ain’t very close, is the simple fact that our brains seem so tuned and ready to relate to morality and some larger meaning and presence. The fact that I have a large section of my brain devoted to sight is a strong indication that objects external to me exist. The fact that I have brain regions devoted to hearing suggests that sound is a real phenomenon. We do know, from experience, that there are regions of the brain which seem related to transcendent experiences. Like sight and sound, one can externally create a religious hallucination by properly stimulating these regions. To me, that is suggestive of something very interesting…

  • Yes, Ephraim, it is indeed a pleasure to see Muffti write in the first person. It is almost enough to make one believe in g-D.

  • Woo! I missed a lot in the 12 hours I was away… : )

    To briefly answer Shtreimel’s question (though I appreciate Fineline’s attempts at answering it for me).

    It’s not that I believed then and I don’t now — It’s that there used to be a struggle, and now I’m content with just living as is. I accept that Orthodox Judaism probably holds the best way for me to reach god in a formalized setting (mostly because I was raised that way, and therefore I have a head start on the whole ‘knowledge’ thing) but for now I’ve found that a lot of the mitzvot that are considered less-visible (and therefore more minor?) in terms of Judaic movements, are the ones I’d like to focus on.

    When we ask someone, “Are you Orthodox?” What that usually means is “Do you keep kosher? Do you keep Shabbat?” If the answers are yes and yes, then the person is Orthodox. How about asking, “Do you make attempts to stop speaking lashon hara or do you give ten percent of your earnings to charity? Do you have an open door for the hungry and do you try to eliminate your judgements of your neighbors?” To me, those things are a much more visible tikkun. Non-Jewish friends may look at a Jewish dude keeping Shabbat and say “Wow, that guys really religious.” But it’s my conservative friends who work daily on social justice projects and community building (with a Jewish foundation) that cause people to say, “Wow, those Jews are really active and cool.”

    See the difference?

    The thing is, though, I think Orthodoxy, or at least Traditionalism, really has something valuable. If I want to find a connection with “god” in whatever sense, taking a day out of my week for introspection, good food, and admittedly, a nap or two, definitely creates a separation in which I can find spirituality.

    Same thing with Kashrut. My mother says Kashrut is about “energy,” and I would have to agree. Think of the consciousness that goes into eating a McDonalds cheeseburger, and then think of the consciousness that goes into washing a head of lettuce six times, and looking through a magnifying glass to make sure all the bugs are gone (which, by the way, my mother does). Whether or not I believe there’s a logical value in Kashrut is irrelevant — but I definitely agree there’s inherent value in being conscientious (by the way, this is a concept that works in many religions, but Judaism was given to me from birth, so we’ll stick to that).

    For me, for now, I’d rather focus first on the mitzvot everyone can relate to, and maybe in the future if I get the impetus to “find myself,” then I know I can turn back to the questions and beauty of traditional Judaic study. That’s why I said to Alli that “it’s always there.”

    When I pick and choose, it’s not between mitzvot that are easy vs. difficult, it’s between mitzvot that effect my community and myself vs. those that are bein adam le’makom. And I’ve found that a lot of the mitzvot that benefit the greater community in turn give me a sense of personal solidarity with hashem.

    (Ok, slightly longer than I expected, but this stuff is easy to get into, as you well know)

    Oh, I guess my brief answer to your question was a clarification of sorts. I say “When I believed in ‘God.'” That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in god now, it’s just that I don’t believe in ‘God.’ (not much of a clarification?) I think in that sense, I’ve actually gotten a little more wise in the ways of Judaism, where god is no longer the dude upstairs (one shaped by human history) but rather a very intense and abstract concept that I’m not entirely interested in exploring now, per se, but I realize is there to infinitely study later.

    Muffti–

    Did I mention I adore you? I do. Anyway, I don’t know about halakhic rulings on language, I just personally don’t think the English word “God” is the holy proper name of “Adonai.” It’s kind of left-over Yeshiva elitism. : )

    Oh, and I don’t know any shomer-negiah couples who kept totally hands-free until marriage, but I do know some girls who are sincerely interested in keeping it. I’ll keep you posted.

    (also shook my world, Laya)

  • Getting back to the host of this intellectual cocktail-party:
    Alli – please think about this:
    How much of the sense of “being restricted” was internal, and how much was external – driven by conscious or unconscious comparison with those around you? Or driven by the inconvenience of other people’s expectations – people you care for?

    In the aggregate, the laws of Sabbath observance create a special place and mood. If that speaks to you, then that is the justification for observing the Sabbath, and delving further.

    This is not necessarily a rational process, nor is each restriction a great philosophical point or spiritually transcendent experience. The light bulb in the fridge may be the hair on the tail of great ideas about G-d, Creation, and other things… but it is neccesary to keep it to get the full experience.

    Much of mitzvah observance works through its cumulative effect on the individual, and on the structure of society.

    The mitzvah system is an unparalleled way to insert Big Spiritual Ideas into the rhythms of human life – but that means that there will be mitzvot that are the spiritual equivalent of picking up the dry cleaning – not particularly rewarding, or amenable to scrutiny, but it has to be done to make the larger system work.

    Ben-David

  • 43 posts and counting…and not one mention of breasts. Shove us in the shallow water before we get too deep.

  • Heschel said “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair”.

    Like ariela i also often wish we had criteria closer to this to define who is religious. I really do, at my core, believe that God cares more about how i am down here, how well i can love others the way they need to be loved, and fight for justice, etc, than what my kvanna is when i wash my hands. But really, i have no idea. I WANT to believe this, mostly because it is compatible with the kind of God i want to believe in. I sometimes think that for us to say what God really wants is just ludicrous. I just hope s/he realizes what a spiritual darkness of conflicting voices we’re all stumbling around in and has some compassion at the end of the day.

    And yeah, this discussion rocks. I take everything back, i love this blog.

  • “not one mention of breasts.”

    Hey, I alluded to “foreplay” and mentioned masturbation. See, I keep with tradition.

    “The light bulb in the fridge may be the hair on the tail of great ideas about G-d”

    Or about a particular majority opinion in the Talmud i.e. Man. And that’s where I part ways with my Ortho friends. Theologically, I’m a Conservative Jew, practically I find much more meaning in an Ortho system. But I’m still very aware that I may not know as much as I think I know regarding Rabbinic law and how divine, or not, they are. And hence, I’m open to trying ’em and seeing where they lead me.

    By the way…love the Heschel quotes. When I started to rediscover (hell, what “re”, just discover) Judaism at 23, it was Heschel’s books that helped debunk many of my antiquated notions of God, prayer, etc.

  • Your honorable and touching struggle shows that one cannot do this alone! Your experience is important and authentic. I hope you struggle to EARN Shabbat, by getting some Shabbat-observant intimates. Your non-observant friends can stay your friends, but only friends of the second level. Your first-tier, clasp-to-bosom relationship(s) should be observant people! The struggle is a re-enactment of the 40 years in the desert, that we ALL have to go through, one way or another. I hope you do not pack it in and quit. An all-the-way, orthodox Shabbat is the only one, because, the others dwindle gradually, until there is nothing. Please believe! Belief is the point. YES, the Creator cares intensely what you do with the fridge. Oh yes. The Creator is rooting for you, and honors your struggle. The Jewish G-d is NOT up in the clouds, but right down here in the kitchen! Oh yes. Love, Leah

  • Hate to be grumpy, but Leah’s post (not unlike the cheering section at your local chabad) is what creates more problems, than solutions, for folks like myself.

  • Leah, re: ” An all-the-way, orthodox Shabbat is the only one, because, the others dwindle gradually, until there is nothing.”

    Or, others build gradually. I am satisfied knowing that there always will be more to be done in living a more righteous life. If I became shomer shabbat starting tomorrow, it certainly would not last and I would probably end up less observant for it. Life is about choosing a sustainable balance, where one is always trying to increase the holiness in his life without destabilizing the balance. It is better to be less observant and persistent in your struggle than to be more observant and uncertain in your struggle. That is the choice many of us face.

  • ok, saw some mention of the word adonai. i’m sure everyone else knows it but:

    can someone tell me about the etymology of the word and the greek god adonis? borrowed from hebrew?

  • Well, while this ain’t exactly the stream to be discussing the etymology of Greek deity monikers, the name “Adonis” does, in fact, derive from the Semitic root “adon” (lord or master). It appears that the “god” Adonis was Phoenecian in origin (sort of weird to talk about where a “god” comes from…if he or she moves to the States, do they become, like, a Phoenecian-American like a mortal would? Aaahh, polytheism, how you do make monotheism seem so logical.). Hence, the “adon” root may not be specifically from Hebrew, but from the same semitic root.

  • thanks fineline. yeah i know not the right thread. but been wondering for a while (since a twombly drawing with adonais scrawled across). of course i could’ve looked it up myself. :p

  • If there was a God, he’d reveal himself. Muffti would then admit he was wrong and not answer all these posts. Since his immanence and transcedence prefers to remain hidden (Muffti wonder what explains that fact), Muffti is gonna be here for a while..

    Ephraim: The Muffti is back to being the Muffti. He used the first person to try and woo TM back from his non-posting slumber.

    Ariella: Muffti loves being adored, ‘specially by pretty girls. When do you return to this awful state Muffti is stuck in?

    Fineline: You say

    No metaphenomena. No gestalt concepts. And certainly no deity or objective morality. So, I argue that the acceptance of any of those non-physical elements opens up a region of reality which transcends the physical, and that amongst the concepts associated with that transcendence is God.

    The atheist isn’t committed to non-transcedence. He’s committed to the non-existence of God. So Muffti doesn’t see why acknowledging one means acknowledging the other.

    Muffti has no real physics fetish either; he’s just as happy to be non-reductionist about lots of stuff. Furthermore, he’s not demanding proof. All he asked for was evidence that outweighed the counter-evidence. Why is that such an unreasonable request? If Muffti came out and said ‘there are multi-coloured sprites that push the planets around, not gravity, and you can’t name them in English, and they are transcendent, but don’t ask me for any evidence of their existence: you just have to feel them and submit your will to them, you would probably like a little evidence for the claim. All Muffti ever hears is ‘you can’t judge stuff by human standards/you can’t rationally discuss God at all/you have to feel his presence…’ In no other domain of human inquiry are we so lax about our standards of justification as this one.

    As for our brains being atuned to the moral order, that doesn’t seem like evidence for anything whatsoever. Why is it surprising that we can cause hallucination by tweaking parts of the brain? That whole line of reasoning completely escaped me. I don’t even see what it is supposed to suggest. You have a part of your brain that is devoted to imagination: is that suggestive to you that the things you imagine are real as well?

    Yisrael: You say

    Our physical reality probably has an origin, a singularity. G-d is like the transcendent singularity. It makes sense that the source of transcendent reality would be a simple single thing, rather than a hodge podge of human free will events spawned out of the physical reality.

    (emphasis Muffti’s). Muffti see no reason to think this whatsoever. First you tell the Muff that there is no rational way to make sense of transcendance. Now you are going to tell him that there are objective probabilities that govern transcendant events. Muffti sense some cross-purpose arguing here. You posit god, the atheist can posit a general ability – the ability to make uncaused choices. Since you think we have that ability, and you think that we are not constrained by God in excersizing that ability, you have to posit ‘a hodge podge of human free will events’ anyways. If anything, you are less parsimonious than Muffti. The atheist is free to acknowledge any level of transcendence he likes, just not God. In any case, Muffti’s principle remains intact: we have excellent evidence of free will (though, he thinks we have excellent evidence against it too, but thats for another occassion). So, we have excellent reason to posit some mechanism that operates outside of the domain of cause and effect (Muffti supposes). That gives us no indication of the divine.

    We can discuss the metaphysics of spacetime another time. Muffti doesn’t understand the relevance of saying ‘we can not reach a point that is truly infinitely in the future’. That is true, but it doesn’t follow that the future isn’t infinite. That is a straightforward fallacy: the number line is infinite but every number is a finite number of steps away from 0. Time can be just like that: for any point in the past there is a finite stretch of time between us an it. It wouldn’t follow that there aren’t an infinite number of points in the past. Maybe Muffti isn’t understanding the distinction you are making, but the claim that the universe has no start just seems to be the claim that there are an infinite number of moments prior to this one. No beginning but every point is finitely temporally separated from us.

    Anyhow, even if there aren’t, so what? Say the universe began 10 minutes ago. What’s the relevance to whether or not there is a god? If we know that there is a first instant, we know that time doesn’t stretch for ever into the past. What is that supposed to show about God? Unless you are speculating again about why the universe exists. And then it looks like you are, pace your earlier self, allowing reasoning about the divine. Either we can reason about the transcendant or we can’t: the was precisely Kant’s dillema and you seem to be embracing it all over again. Learn from his error and you will be fine.

    Moving on, Muffti is totally lost about why you can’t contradict Judaism and still be transcendent. If we can’t reason or get evidence about the transcendent, its not even clear that we can say that two transcendantly oriented propositions constradict each other. Why can’t Muffti claim there are two Gods who act in harmony but are numerically distinc? That clearly contradicts basic tennents of Judaism. If you deign to offer me any piece of evidence that is false, Muffti will be happy to recite your words right back to you. Mufft will say:

    In order to discuss their existence, we must first discuss their nature so that we may extrapolate what we would observe in the world if they did exist. However, since these gods are transcendant, we can never really understand their nature sufficiently to test against observed reality. Consequently, their existence cannot really be tested by rational thought.

    Recognize that? Please feel free to argue with your former self if you like. And whatever you offer will likely be an answer to whatever you are trying to get at now. If we can reason about God, we can demand evidence and rational interaction. If we can’t, Muffti invites you to the Temple of the Two Gods. Prayers begin late in the day because Muffti is lazy.

    Finally (phew), Muffti is really confused about your free will defense. That God made us in his image is real cop out. God is all knowing, and Muffti is pretty dumb. God is all powerful and Muffti can’t even get two people to understand what he is saying. God is all good and Muffti, well, never mind. God is non-spatial, Muffti takes more space than he’d like. God is non-temporal, but Muffti is stuck nearing a dreaded birthday.

    Sh*t, maybe it’s only Muffti that wasn’t made in his image.

    Point is, all you are doing is gesturing at something we clearly don’t understand, namely, being made is something’s image. That’s not a theory, it’s a crappy slogan that religious people hide behind to explain deep things they then backpeddle and say rationality can’t possibly explain coz it’s so cool and divine.

    Finally, and most importantly:
    Boobs, breasts, knockers, headlights, jugs, tits, boobies, bikini stuffers, fun bags, snack trays… (from Arianna’s Forum – Synonyms for Breasts.

  • As fabulous as this conversation has been (and it certainly has been), I must recognize how much better it was made by the Edie Brickell (sp) and the New Bohemians reference.

  • Ahhh, Muffti,

    Your arguments are like a really sharp knife with a nick in it. They cut well, but still cannot make a “kosher” argument.

    We could argue all day about what consitutes proof or suggestion about God. Actually, we sort of have argued all day about that. Hmmm…. Anyway, you have not answered my argument that the whole “proof” bit is a red herring…for two reasons.

    One, you cannot–simply cannot–have proof of an infinite, transcendent deity. Ok, you philosphers would say that we can’t have real proof for anything, that all of science is simply data-supported, not proved. That’s true, but you an I agree that there is a different standard held up in the world of science than in the world of religion. Let’s analyze your planet-moving sprites for a minute. Are they provable (testable)? Well, we could certainly argue that there is a better model for planetary motion. Then, we could ask whether the sprite model provides any predictive power. Supposing it does not, we have not disproved the sprite model, only uncovered it to find it unscientific. One could still believe it, though. I wouldn’t, simply because it doesn’t make sense to me either scientifically or theologically.

    Now, what about proofs of God. Again, anything that you or I could comprehend without our heads exploding (see the Infinite Perspective device in one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books) is going to be necessarily finite: a sound, a sight, a touch, a strong feeling, whatever. You have to admit that even a preponderance of such finite phenomena cannot come close to proving something all-powerful, knowing, and infinite. It’s like saying: “I can see really far down that road, so I have proved that it is infinite.” Proof for God is an utterly non-sensical concept. Anything which could come close to letting you or I KNOW God would be incomprehensible to us.

    So, your claim that we are so “lax on our standards of justification” is just silly. My belief in atoms (and I do believe…oh I do!), my belief in other planets, my belief in my ability to speak all have a standard that is inherently different than my belief in God. They must, because they are so very different from the concept of God.

    With all things, we decide how much proof we have and then decide whether to accept it or not. What you seem unwilling to do is the intermediate step, which is deciding how much proof I could possibly have or expect. In issues of transcendence, all I can muster are my “transcendent” values: aesthetics, order, etc. Those things lead me to see the universe as a unified thing, with a beginning, and some transcendent values inherent in it. All those things, interestingly, parallel our modern, scientific view of the universe. No proof here. But, you cannot prove that a painting is beautiful either. This, my friend, is a matter of belief. And, a very coherent, attractive one at that.

  • Regardless of whether there is one G-d or many, I must admit that I find the assumption of an eternal and pre-existing universe to be more problematic than assuming it was created (by a divine being or something else). Unless we are living in a complete dream world, it appears that the universe does have a physical existence, and while I am not a scientist, if I understand the popular explanations of scientific theories, it appears that examination of the universe indicates that it is aging and that it did have a definite starting point.

    If the universe actually has a starting point, then assuming it was created doesn’t seem so odd. If it was created, then it must have been created (or set into motion, or whatever) by some force that exists independent of it. How is this sillier than just shrugging and assuming it has always been here and will always be here? Or, let us dispense with the idea of creation. Let us assume that it spontaneously created itself ex nihilo. How is this any more logical thanany other explanation?

    If the universe is aging and if scientific research appears to favor the idea that it was created at a specific point in time (or started at a specific point in time), then this posits some force that set it in motion. From this springs the idea of a force that people have called G-d, at least as a working hypothesis.

    This does not necessarily mean, therefore, that Hashem as He is understood in the Jewish tradition is the G-d we are talking about. But assuming that the world was created, and that threfore someone or someting must have created it, seems no more silly than just assuing without a second thought that the world has always existed.

  • “If there was a God, he’d reveal himself.” Why? I do not think that is something that G-d does. In fact, as a transcendent thing, I don’t think it is something he can do, at least not in any physical form.

    “All he asked for was evidence that outweighed the counter-evidence.” But there is no direct evidence one way or the other. All the evidence is subjective and indirect. What you rely on is the view that the lack of evidence is the lack of existence.

    “Now you are going to tell him that there are objective probabilities that govern transcendant events. ” No, a singularity is physical phenomena. I was just comparing physical phenomena to trancendent phenomena. Language is crude in its analysis, but it is all we’ve got.

    “you have to posit ‘a hodge podge of human free will events’ anyways” True. But, I can ascribe them to a single transcendent source. You have to point to millions of physical sources for this transcendent phenomena. My explanation is simpler, both because of the form of the source, and the number of sources, and therefore, more reliable.

    “No beginning but every point is finitely temporally separated from us.” But that cannot be the case if there is no beginning. An infinite future is possible in an ordinate logic system because all future events can be caused (all points have an ultimate cause). That does not work if time is infinite in the past, unless time reverses its direction at some prior point. But, if that is the case, time still has an origin at the point where time changes direction. There either must be an ultimate cause or a circular cause, either of which must be unsatisfactory to reason.

    “Recognize that?” Yes, but as with the reasoning above, a simpler explanation is that there is one source of the transcendent. That is why I will grant the general validity of monotheism outside of Judaism, and am open to the validity of Islam and other truly monotheistic faiths. I may disagree with some of their details, but I will admit that the proof on the details of the transcendent G-d and his nature are weak.

    “Sh*t, maybe it’s only Muffti that wasn’t made in his image.” Ok, I assume your point is made in jest given the tone, but I will note, just in case your serious, that being made in G-d’s image refers to a part of man. We are not gods and there are a lot of differences. The similarity I noted is that part of each of us is transcendent.

    “all you are doing is gesturing at something we clearly don’t understand” That is right. It is unfortunate, but at one time people couldn’t understand that things are made of atoms that are mostly filled with a vacuum. We didn’t understand and people would have rejected such an apparent absurdity. That it was absurd at the time did not make it untrue.

  • Re Shabbat observance: All we can do is our best. Nobody is a saint! It is a gradual but steady improvement. The all-or-nothing, obey totally or you’re doomed, mentality, is an unconscious borrowing from another religion, Christianity. We have rules, but, we also have a sinewy flexibility, which is our unique mark! We should just keep trying, without driving ourselves nuts. Every little mitzvah you can manage is one more penny in your divine account. They add up. That metaphor may seem tacky but it makes the point. The more you want to feel it, and want to understand, the more you will do, gradually. There is also a variety of custom among observant Jews! If you can’t do some religious duty, just say “Not yet”. “Yet” might be when you are ninety. We Jews are released on our OWN recognizance. But I re-affirm that one needs like-minded company. Especially, when where you are staying is NOT your own house. I also re-affirm we should aim, eventually, for complete Orthodox observance, if or whenever it becomes possible, as a goal. We have Yom Kippur, to repent our failings! The best and the brightest are all weeping at their failings on Yom Kippur. Don’t be hard on yourself. Pray for the ability to pray. Love, Leah

  • Leah said, “An all-the-way, orthodox Shabbat is the only one, because, the others dwindle gradually, until there is nothing.”

    Leah said, “The all-or-nothing, obey totally or you’re doomed, mentality, is an unconscious borrowing from another religion, Christianity.”

    Are there two Leahs here, or is the first post a too-subtle-of-a-joke-for-my-brain post?

  • Fineline, please, Muffti will only say this once more. He doesn’t require proof. All he wanted was some uncontroversial evidence (i.e. not that the torah says so). So far as he can tell, there is none. Muffti means, he can’t prove there are rabbits because any evidence that doesn’t entail it can be possibly be misleading. But he believes in tables. He’d be willing to believe in god if there was any evidence, or at least better evidence than counter evidence. If you thought about it for a while, you’d realize that it wasn’t an unreasonable demand.

    Yisrael, Muffti will deal with you later. He’s haning with friends for St. Patty’s day. Interesting comments. But you are just plain wrong about the nature of infinity (and everything else, including importing a rather contentious use of simplicity.)

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Go have some drinks! I am!

  • Muffy…er…Muffti,

    I just had an interesting thought. (That’s what happens when you are up late cooking for Shabbat and your wife is trying to get a sick little boy to bed…you think too about God, or blogs, or blog comments about God, whatever.) First, though, let me clarity something.

    Forgive me. As a scientist, I understand that there is no such thing as proof, only evidence. That’s why even our most established scientific principles are often overturned. A scientific theory, and this applies outside of science, too, is usually treated as “proved” when one can provide “uncontroversial evidence.” Uncontroversial evidence means evidence that all reasonable folks accept point to a particular conclusion. Enough of that, and we say “It’s proved.” So, as I needle you about proof, know that I am including your uncontroversial evidence, also.

    Ok, so here goes. Let’s think of lots of various ways that we would agree that there is evidence of God (in the Jewish, infinite, all-encompassing, creator, etc. fashion). Maybe everyday at noon, clouds in the sky shift to spell: “Hey, I’m God. You know the one from the Bible. Just thought you should know I’m watching. Now please go back to work.” Maybe we all hear a voice every few days teaching us moral principles. Maybe every time we pray to get better, it actually works. Whatever, we can all come up with some good ones. Now, what if instead of God, though, we found out that the source of all these messages and miracles was simply our Galactic Father. Just a really, really powerful, Milky Way-based pseudo-deity. He has many of the features that we attribute to God. He can control nature within the Milky Way, he knows all that happens in the Milky Way, and he sets all sorts of moral codes for our galaxy. Still, he’s just another creature. Quite a bit more powerful than us, true. But hey, I’m quite a bit more advanced than a bacteria, and we both came from the same great-great-great-grand-blue-green algae. This Galactic Father, it turns out, has some really cool powers that you and I cannot fully comprehend, but he’s still just a part of this universe. Come to think of it, despite his seemingly awesome powers, he’s about as insignificant in a universe of billions of galaxies as we are. Yet, everything that you and I could possibly agree would be uncontroversial proof of God, could, in fact, just be OGF (“Our Galactic Father”) checking in on us. It doesn’t matter how we scale this scheme up. Controlling beings for galactic clusters? No different really.

    God, in the Jewish concept, is not just a really big part of the universe, but a “being” or “source of being” that exist as part of and independent of the universe. Hence, evidence of such a God will fall into one of two categories: (1) Things which could just as easily be the result of OGF or some other being just as small relative to an infinitely dimension God or (2) circular definitions and tautologies. (God is defined as the continual source of all existence, so of course God must exist). Category 2 includes some beautiful thoughts, to be sure, but cannot be used as proof. Category 1 could never prove God. Since we have experience with created, finite beings, the most logical explanation for any miraculous phenomena must be that another, different, powerful created finite being caused them.

    That leaves you requesting evidence in a matter that seems quite reasonable at first. Look deeper, though, and you are waiting for appropriate data that cannot possibly exist. That is where our aesthetics, experiences, and beliefs come in, allowing us some (often tenuous) connection to God.

    Now, let me see if the cats have stolen my Shabbat chicken before I could break myself away from the screen to actually cook it.

  • Muffti, here is a more detailed description of the problem of infinite history.

    First, let’s begin with what we know. This moment in time (“Now”) exists (“Premise One”). Also, we know that prior points in time must occur before later points in time may occur (“Premise Two”). Now, let’s imagine two theoretical points in time. One point is infinitely in the past (the “Past Point”) and the other is infinitely in the future (the “Future Point”). The reason these points are theoretical is because, as has been pointed out by the Muffti, for any two real temporal points, a finite distance separates them in time (“Premise Three”). Definitionally, the Future Point and the Past Point are an infinite distance from Now.

    The actual nonexistence of the Future Point, creates no problems. The existence of Now is not affected by whether the Future Point actually exists. Of course, Now must exist in order for the Future Point to exist, but since we all agree the Now does exist (Premise One), nothing we observe denies the existence of the Future Point (although we can recognize that we will never actually reach the Future Point).

    The actual nonexistence of the Past Point, creates problems. The existence of Now is affected by whether the Past Point actually exists. Premise Two requires that the Past Point actually exist. Now exists (Premise One), and the Past Point is prior to Now. Therefore, consistent with Premise Two, the Past Point must exist if Now exists. However, since the Past Point cannot exist, given Premise Three, we have a dilemma.

    To resolve this dilemma, we must either reject infinite history, and therefore the existence of the Past Point, or we must reject Premise One, Two, or Three. To me, Premise One, Two, and Three are reasonably verifiable from empirical evidence. We have no empirical evidence for the existence of infinite history (none of us was there), so that is why we should reject infinite history. QED

    If you believe alternately that one of Premises One, Two, or Three are incorrect, I think you need to offer a reason, or resort to the statement that you believe such on faith alone.

  • Muffti is a little hungover. But let’s see what he can say.

    Yisrael: You are a little all over the map. As Muffti said before, why do you get to use standards like Occham’s razor and probability distributions when you think that the transcendent is immune to logical explanation? You are talking out of both sides of your mouth when you do this. Oh well. In any case, you say ‘I can ascribe them to a single transcedent phenomena.’ True, but I don’t really see the advantage of positing the source at all. when we excersize our free will we exercise a capacity of ours and we, in your lingo, transcend. here’s the sample dialogue:

    Atheist: When we excersize free will, we transcend. Sure. Where does God enter into this?
    Yisrael: He gave us free will. Why else would we have a transcedent ability?
    Atheist: I don’t know. Why am I required to explain why we have it? all we have is evidence that we are free.
    Yisrael: My explanation is simpler. After all, I posit one source you many.
    Atheist: That’s not true. I posit just what you do, minus God. In fact, YOUR explanation is less simple since you have an extra entity in it, God. Occam’s razor, which you seem fond of, tell us not to multiply entities beyond necessity.
    Yisrael: But this is necessary. We need to explain where we got free will!
    Atheist: Why think we got it from anywhere? For all I know we just evolved to have certain capacities. Maybe we have souls and they are the seat of consciousness and Descartes got it right. Are you saying we would need God to supplement this picture to explain why we have souls?!?
    Yisrael: yes, coz that would be a simpler explanation.
    Atheist: there is no non-contentious sense of simplicity being appealed to here. We both need to say that we have free will. We both say that excersizing it invovles transcendent. All you have done is tack on an ‘explanation’ (which is really no explanation at all) which means, actually, that you are more likely to be wrong since you commit yourself to more than I do

    Muffti doesn’t know how to procede on Yisrael’s half from here.

    Anyhow, you say

    Ok, I assume your point is made in jest given the tone, but I will note, just in case your serious, that being made in G-d’s image refers to a part of man. We are not gods and there are a lot of differences. The similarity I noted is that part of each of us is transcendent.
    Sure, great. But this is precisely what makes the explanation total bullshit. Imagine there is a guy who has facial properties A, B, and C and decides to do draw portrait that is in his image. Then imagine he imbues the portrait with property A. It isn’t much of an explanation of why he gave it A to say that ‘he gave it A because he wanted to make it in his image’ because that explanation, in the absence of more explanation, predicts he would have given it B and C as well. It really comes down to saying ‘he gave it A because he wanted to. He didn’t give it B or C coz he didnt’ want to.’ That explanation doens’t invoke the ‘self portrait’ aspect of the scenario at all.

    Antother things that keeps bugging Muffti. You seem to require the transcendent to do an awful lot but you keep slipping on one point. Question: can the transcedent interact with the physical world or not? There is a dillema here so please pick which horn you like and stick with it.

    Option A: The transcedent does not interact with the physical world. This seems to be what you wanted to say when you said we couldn’t have evidence of the transcendent coz it’s so, you know, transcedent. But the free will considerations suggest otherwise. If we are free it is because our decisions can affect how we act. But we’d have no evidence of free will if there wasn’t free will faculty-physical world interaction. Thinking God is the cause of the universe also suggests the possibility of such interaction. But if God can make things happen despite his transcendence, then there’s evidence that we could get.

    Option B: It can interact. But if it can interact with the physcial world, then why shouldn’t there be evidence of that interaction? And if there can be evidence, why don’t we have any?
    (You see fairly well educated so you will probably recongize Descartes’ dillema here: say that the soul is totally distinct from the physical: how can it cause anything? If there is a mechanism – i.e. for Descartes, the Pineal gland! – then we can see evidence of interaction there. Otherwise, why should we think that the soul can do anything to the physical at all?).

    So which is it, Yisrael? Or has (as is so often the case) Muffti misunderstood?

    Finally, you say:

    But that cannot be the case if there is no beginning. An infinite future is possible in an ordinate logic system because all future events can be caused (all points have an ultimate cause). That does not work if time is infinite in the past, unless time reverses its direction at some prior point. But, if that is the case, time still has an origin at the point where time changes direction. There either must be an ultimate cause or a circular cause, either of which must be unsatisfactory to reason.

    This is really just clearly confused. If you are complaining about the flow of time, then we’ve already demonstrated where things go wrong. If you are worried about causation, the claim to an infinite past would be that there is no first cause, nor a circular cause. Its just a chain that leads to the past with no first cause. So far as Muffti can tell, all you are doing is smuggling a demand for a first cause and then giving a false dillema to support it. But whence the need for a first cause? The following are perfectly consistent:

    a) The world’s history stretches back into infinity.
    b) Every point has a cause.

    Maybe you are using classical scope ambiguity to get this going. i.e. Maybe you are confusing the reasonable claim (b) which IS consistent with infinity with the less reasonable, more contentious (b’):

    b’) There is a cause that every point has.

    That is clearly different. It’s like the difference between:

    a) Everyone has a mother.
    b) There is some mother that everyone has.

    The first is (probably) true, the second obviously false since we have different mothers. Anyhow, Muffti can’t see why (a) and (b) aren’t enough to satisfy the demands of reason. Why should reason insist that every event ultimately terminates in a single cause?

    Fineline: These are interesting considerations but Muffti (hehehe) doesn’t buy the conclusion. Let’s see. You say:

    Now, what if instead of God, though, we found out that the source of all these messages and miracles was simply our Galactic Father. Just a really, really powerful, Milky Way-based pseudo-deity. He has many of the features that we attribute to God. He can control nature within the Milky Way, he knows all that happens in the Milky Way, and he sets all sorts of moral codes for our galaxy. Still, he’s just another creature.

    OK, Muffti will put his cards on the table. If it were the case that every time we prayed, we got better etc. his subjective probability that there was a god would rise rather quickly. See, this is the whole point of wanting evidence rather than proof. (Muffti appreciates you acknowledging the distinction but isn’t sure you respected it.) Think of it this way. Imagine you found a beer cooler and didn’t know what kind of beer was in it. Take the hypothesis that they were all Heinekens. Well, you can take out 10 and see they are all Heinekens, know that there are some left over and still refuse to believe that they are all Heinekens. But as you pull out more and more, presumably you would think that you had gotten evidence that they were all Heinekens. It wouldn’t follow by deductive logic, of course: its pefectly consisten to think that the next beer won’t be a Heineken. But at least you would have evidence of a reasonable source. Similarly, if the OGF evidence came about, no atheist would be forced into thinking there was a God, but the evidence would be pretty clearly piling up. It would at least look reasonable to believe in God at that point.

    However, my point all along is that we are far and away from having anything like that. In the beer cooler example, we are much more like the person who has the hypothesis that they are all Heinekens but hasn’t checked any of them yet. So, that leaves Muffti disagreeing with you when you say:

    That leaves you requesting evidence in a matter that seems quite reasonable at first. Look deeper, though, and you are waiting for appropriate data that cannot possibly exist.

    Muffti agrees that no evidence would be absolutely convincing (which, to be quite frank, he never understood why this wasn’t troubling at all to the theist, that he shields himself from stupidity and absurdity by deducing that no evidence would ever count as proof.) But we can see how some evidence sure would help. If the putative OGF told Muffti that he met the God as described by the Torah to a nearly perfect fit (where the properties God is ascribed aren’t seemingly contradictory), Muffti would believe it. Muffti would pray to it and worship it and keep kosher if he was asked. Muffti is happy to acknowledge evidence, even weak, evidence. He just wishes that his opponents would face up and admit that they have absolutely none.

    Muffti hopes your cats didn’t steal the Shabbat chicken.

  • Oy Yisrael!

    I’m with Muffti, here. Your whole infinite time argument is kinda loopy. There is no single point infinitely in the future, and if there were such a point, it would not be at infinity. Such logical arguments for the infinite nature of the universe are silly…and unnecessary, given that science and Judaism do actually agree that the universe had a beginning. Plus, we do think that space is infinite. The same arguments that you make for the infinite time can apply equally well to space…and result in contradictions with our scientific understanding. What’s the point?

    Shabbat Shalom!

  • No, those were the same Leah. The point is: full compliance is a cherished goal, never dilute that ideal, while, at the same time, be patient! G-d is patient with us, as long as we are REALLY TRYING. Isn’t that how YOU treat people YOU know are struggling with something? G-d isn’t any meaner than you. But He is not a fool either, any more than you are. Indeed He is much nicer than any of us. Judaism is DOING, not philosophy class! “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews,” says the proverb. There is “remember” and “defend” the Shabbos: when we can’t manage “defend”, at least we “remember”. For instance, when an Orthodox guy’s wife needs a doctor on Shabbos, he dials the telephone with his LEFT hand, to “remember” even at the moment he cannot “defend”. G-d understands, and the guy is in full compliance. (The Ten Commandments were given twice: one time said, “remember” and the other said “defend” the Shabbos, for a reason.) I re-affirm: you MUST have some like-minded company! NOT alone! Shabbat Shalom. Love, Leah

  • Muffti appologizes to Yisreal: your post came in while Muffti was drafting.

    Anyhow, now you’re talking the language Muffti likes with premises and conclusions and entailment. But, unfortunately, there is still a fallacy lurking in your argument. To recap your argument:
    P1. This moment of time exists.
    P2. Time is linear: every point is either before or after another one.
    P3. Every point is a finite distance away from every other point.
    Definition: Future Point is an infinite number of points away from now, Past Point is an infinite number of points backwards away from us.
    (Suppressed) P4: If something is infinitely away from now, we can never reach it.
    C: We could never reach a Future Point (by the defintion and P4).
    P5: By similar reasoning a Past Future point could not be reached.
    C1: By P1 and the definition and P5, our current time wouldn’t exist since we’d never get here.
    C2: Reject a premise or reject the existence of a Past Point.

    Nifty little argument but it all turns on requiring that the thesis that the past is infinite requires the existence of a past point. But there is no entailment there. Muffti need not acknowledge a past point in order to say that the past is without beginning. He keeps stressing the following analogy: take the negative numbers. Start with 0 and start counting backwards: -1, -2, -3…Every number on this line is a finite number of steps away from 0. The cardinality of the set is infinite: you can put it into a one to one correspondance with some of its proper subsets. But it in no way follows that there is an infinite number, or a number that is an infinite number of steps away from 0. (this would correspond to your Past Point).

    So, your argument comes down to the following inference principle which everyone in their right mind should reject:
    Principle: If the past is infinite, then there is a past point.
    Premise: There is no past point.
    C: Therefore, the past is not infinite.

    The principle is false. The past may well be infinite even though there is no past point because every point in the past is a finite number of points from ‘now’. There’s just no end to how many points there can be that display the property of being finitely many points from now. So, ultimately your argument falters due to the irrelevance of the Past Point (and, for that matter, the Future Point).

    Muffti isn’t sure how much more clearly he can put this.

  • Wow, Fineline and Muffti agree on something. Glad to be in the intellectual shade of a scientist for once, rather than locking horns with him(?) over the nature of faith and evidence.

    By the way, out of curiousity, when did quoting Heschel become a way of resolving argument? As for Laya and Ariella, Muffti has little stake in picking out who is religious and who isn’t. But if he had to, he’d probably side with Arielle and Laya. What’s the big deal about being called or known as religious anyways?

  • Muffti, I’ll get to more later, but my P2 was not “Time is linear: every point is either before or after another one,” but rather that time is directional AND linear. The past is a pre-condition for the future, but not the other way around.

    fineline, re: “Plus, we do think that space is infinite” could you point me to a source why this is so? I know we don’t want to get into the mathematics of spacetime curvature, blue shift, red shift, etc., but I would be interested in examining the issue. It has been a while since I was in school to study this, but I had thought that there was evidence suggesting a curved and closed universe.

    By the way, I don’t think these arguments are required to believe in G-d, I simply believe that they are arguments that point to a transcendent G-d that exists even in absence of the universe.

    And, even if I am wrong on all issues, I still believe that a life lived based on a belief in G-d and transcendent reality is qualitatively superior to a life lived based on a belief in his non-existence and only material reality. Even if observation points to say a 1% chance of His existence, I would prefer to live consistent with that one percent probablity.

  • Yisrael, Muffti appologizes about the misrepresentation. It doesn’t really matter, though. P2 wasn’t the problem since just about everyone agrees to P2. The problem was in thinking that infinite time entails a Past Point.

  • Muffti,

    I didn’t quote Heschel, so I presume that you weren’t talking to me there. On the other hand, as a religious fellow who has read a bit of Heschel, I think that I know why people are quoting him in these threads. After all, the gist of my argument is that the whole evidence thing is a distraction, taking our eyes off the deeper issue of seeking meaning and purpose in the universe. Heschel addresses just those issues, formulating a foundation for modern belief that does not rely on any pseudo-logical argument. Belief and a connection to God is not illogical. It is merely outside that realm. You are trying to pull it squarely into that realm. Those quoting Heschel are grabbing it back. Tit for tat, by boy, tit for tat.

  • Ummmn…Fineline, it was so nice to agree with you briefly. Oh well. Look, do what you like. Seek your meaning and pat yourself on the back for heroically trading of reason and successful modes of inquiry for total self-delusional bullshit flights of fancy into a realm where logic doesn’t apply. Muffti has read Kierkegaard et al. He realizes that there is a real divide between faith and reason and that the two are virtually incommensurable. He’s just not sure why everyone is so proud of themselves for turning their back on the latter and going all googly eyed when the topic of God comes up. Perhaps my friend’s cat is a better spiritual person in that regard; she barely exhibits any patterns of reasoning at all.

    Oh, and while you’re at it, why don’t you try to bear in mind that this lovely, picturesque lodging outside of reason and logic is exactly what suicide bombers strive for when they have faith that virigins are coming to them in heaven. Now, look all angry (Muffti can feel ck rolling his eyes hundreds of kilometers away) and tell me why they are wrong. And, try not to cheat by using ‘logic’ and ‘reasoning’ since those are the very dirty words you guys are so happy to trash when you are gazing into the nature of the universe and pretending you are getting somewhere. Shabbat Shalom, y’all.

  • fineline, “Belief and a connection to God is not illogical. It is merely outside that realm.”

    Well put, but still it is hard to leave it at that. The inclination to prove or atleast indicate His existence logically, is a mighty inclination.

    Muffti, “that this lovely, picturesque lodging outside of reason and logic is exactly what suicide bombers strive for”

    Yeah, but belief in G-d is just that, belief. How you process any belief and turn it into action requires a lot of reasoning. Even reading the Torah from a religious perspective requires a lot of reasoning. Suicide bombers suspend reasoning (or have a twisted application of it), but most of us theist Jews simply acknowledge the limits of reasoning. There is a big difference. For example, you probably rely on your senses for much of what you know. Reason cannot see, smell or touch things. Reason has limits that are partly filled by your senses. That you rely on your senses when reason cannot give you such information is not a rejection of reason, it is just a way to respond to the limits of reason.

    Besides, your position is similar to the positions of godless atheists who applied reason to everything, like Hitler, Mengele, Lennin and Stalin. My analogy is mean, unfair, unreasonable, and offensive, and so is yours. I don’t think G-d could ever give me license to mass murder. The negotiation between G-d and Abraham regarding Sodom and Gemorrah are probably the best example that even what combating evil, one must take into account the risk to innocent life.

  • Muffti wonders why you keep violating your own principle. How exactly does a suicide bomber ‘suspend’ reasoning? He has a belief (based on faith) of what he ought to do, justifies it by that faith and then does it in hopes that his beliefs are true. Sure that requires reasoning but the point is that the majour premise in the argument requires a leap of faith exactly of the same nature you seem to advise taking. Calling names doesn’t change that one iota, unfortunately. Saying his application of reason is ‘twisted’ is just silly. Where has he gone wrong in his reasoning? Faith justified a belief and the practical syllogism he used to perform the action was, as best Muffti can tell, flawless.

    Of course reason has limits, in the sense that reasoning is just a way that the human processes information that comes in. Obviously, reason doesn’t make the information. Muffti wanted to know what evidence there was that would help reason churn out reasonable conclusions about god etc. Then Muffti was told by everyone that this is impossible.

    And what the hell are you doing speculating about what God could or couldn’t give you license to do? Is he transcendent and beyond the grip of reason or not? If so, why do you get to have beliefs that are any more reliable than the suicide bomber? If not, well, then why can’t we reasonably talk about evidence for his existence? (let us remember that you were the person who claimed the torah was a large metaphor, way back when Muffti was pointing out that the torah contains plenty of instances where people get evidence for God via physical means: Sinai, the burning bush, the ten plagues…)

    As for my position being similar to Hitler and co., Muffti doesn’t care that the analogy is mean, unfair, unreasonable or offensive. He just wishes it wasn’t so obviously false. There’s no evidence that any of those people applied reason to everything.

  • “what the hell are you doing speculating about what God could or couldn’t give you license to do?” Because G-d “speaks” to me, and I can “hear” Him. Forgive the anthropomorphisms, but hey, my sense of righteousness is not as objectively shared as my sense of hearing.

    “why do you get to have beliefs that are any more reliable than the suicide bomber?” My beliefs tell me to treat people with respect, preserve life, repair the world, and bless G-d for the beauties of life. Do you really doubt that my beliefs are more valid?

  • Well, if God speaks to you, there’s isn’t much Muffti has to say. If God spoke to Muffti, he would believe in him too. As for your beliefs being more valid, of course Muffti doesn’t doubt that. What he was doubting was that all the earlier talk about transcendence and freedom from logic and reasoning that God exhibited was consistent with that. In effect, he wsa wondering what gave you the right to say such things. Muffti’s ethical beliefs are firmly in place and he needs no God to offer pretend justification for them.

  • “What he was doubting was that all the earlier talk about transcendence and freedom from logic and reasoning that God exhibited was consistent with that.” Faith does not give you freedom from logic and reasoning. Faith cannot contradict reason, but it can address things outside of the scope of reason.

  • It has become quite apparent, Muffti, that you are a “fundamentalist.” You are locked into one line of reasoning and logic and able to do little more than mock and belittle those who follow a different line. Attempts at logic and reasoning are really of no more use to a secular fundamentalists than they are to a religious one. It makes for very boring conversation.

    I’d like to think that I can understand the secularist viewpoint quite well…even make a few good arguments for it. Yet, when you respond to a comment on faith with an accusation of “trading of reason and successful modes of inquiry for total self-delusional bullshit,” it reveals the true colors of a fundamentalist. Can’t persuade…insult!

  • “t has become quite apparent, Muffti, that you are a “fundamentalist.”

    Actually, I’m surprised at how much time he dedicates to this site. I mean, there’s a ton of secular-ish Jewish sites out there. Why spend so much of your time on one of the more God/Observant friendly ones? Muffti, are you flirting with a lifestyle change?

  • “Muffti’s ethical beliefs are firmly in place and he needs no God to offer pretend justification for them.”

    See, you do have some appreciation for G-d, you just do not recognize them as such. Ethics come from somewhere, and you certainly cannot have empirical evidence for normative reality. You can see that there is objective good without seeing the holy, but both emanate from G-d. Good is good and holy is holy, but whether or not you see the god that is behind them does not change that they are justified. I noted before, that even the probability I ascribe to G-d’s existence falls 1%, it should not change your actions and ethical considerations. Even if you think the probability is 0%, it would not change your actions and ethical considerations if you can “hear” G-d’s word without knowing He is the speaker. I think this probably describes the Muffti. He “hears” G-d’s word and thereby can develop an ethical schema, but denies the existence of the speaker.

  • Shtreimel, this is Jewlicious, not ObservantJudaismBlogging.com. We all have a seat at the table. I think Muffti has done a fine job here, but reason and faith do not always blend well so this debate cannot really be resolved.

  • Now that everyone’s descended to psycho-analyzing, Muffti guesses he’ll give up this line of discussion. Otherwise everyone will just start telling he’s in denial or something like that. Anyhow, Fineline, sorry about being insulting. Sometimes Muffti kids when he’s getting annoyed at not being understood. Truth be told, he doesn’t really think you know what you are talking about but so be it. Muffti hopes it keeps you happy.

    Sthremiel, Muffti posts on jewlicious coz ck is one of his best friends. He’s spending too much time here because he’s kinda lazy today (post st. patty’s day recovery).

    Yisrael, Muffti neither believes in objective good nor thinks that if he did believe in objective good that it would ‘have to come from somewhere’ any more than you believe that God has to ‘come from somewhere’. Ontological dependance has to end somewhere, Muffti supposes, and he doesn’t see why it shouldn’t end with ethics being basic rather than with God. In any case, the reverse parody argument goes just as well: Muffti is reasonably sure that if you stopped believing in God, your actions would probably remain fairly similar to how they are now (minus the praying and kashrut Muffti imagines.) They are conceptually independant and its only theists that demand they be ontologically dependant. Muffti mentioned the Euthyphro problem a ways back to show that positing God wouldn’t help anyways. If you haven’t taken the time to read it, then feel free to go on postulating whatever you like and thinking it helps.

  • Muffti, compared to a lot of people here, I am actually a fairly liberal Jew who believes in G-d. But, was wondering, do you celebrate Jewish holidays? Given some of your answers, I wonder how you find them meaningful? I was particularly thinking about Hanukah, and then Yom Kippur, but then I realized that those are just some of the ones that jump out first.

  • “He hopes it keeps you happy.”

    Eh, it’s pleasant. But, I find that it isn’t inherently pleasurable being an observant believing person. Unless you choose to simply ignore arguments which contradict your own views, belief is a constant struggle…a tug-of-war with God. It just so happens, I find more theological power in that struggle than in a simple-minded acceptance of dogma, religious or secular.

    I like to remind myself that there are and were people far more intelligent and educated than I will ever be who believed strongly and fully in a personal God. Heschel, Soloveichik, and Hirsch all studied high-level philosophy at German universities. On the other hand, there are and were people much more intelligent and educated than I ever will be who are staunch atheists. It doesn’t come down to how smart or superior you, Muffti, or I may feel. You have a firm belief. I have a firm belief. You cannot prove yours, though you try to use logic and reason to support it. I cannot prove mine, though I try to use logic and reason to support it.

    Doh. Almost candlelighting….

  • Muffti! We’re in Adar, right, you know the whole purim story, right? so the whole point of that is to see God where he is Implicit in the narrative of the world.
    I went through a period a while back where i tried to break down all of my extraneous beliefs and see what i still had at my core, and at the end of the day, all I’m certain of is that some sort of higher force (call it God if you want) exists and that there is something special about the jewish people. We, the jewish people, our continued existence, our history which defies all reason or logic, we are my proof of God.
    Hag Sameach!

  • I wonder, why does one believe in universal human rights and not in G-d? I used to believe such, but today, I cannot really defend the former without making the same arguments as defending the latter. I suppose universal human rights are more apparently useful, but I have never heard a good argument that usefulness of an idea makes it correct.

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