Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Orthodox Lewish
Ha. Here's some gems from C.S. Lewis; obvious caveat in order, since not all of my reader (singular is the closest I can get to nil...because I have no proof anyone reads this) may be clear whether I am of xtian orientation. I'm not. This is such a great exposition I think Yahadut could easily be exchanged for Christianity here;

"Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience [experience being the tape-measure applied beyond all reason by overzealous "skeptics"]. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probably. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependant on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith. The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change. The next step is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately haled before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and church going are necessary parts of Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their Faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?"..."Now I must turn to Faith in the second or higher sense: and this is the most difficult thing I have tackled yet. I want to approach it by going back to the subject of Humility. You may remember I said that the first step toward humility was to realize that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness -- they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it... (Mere Christianity, HarperCollins, 2001, p.140-2)

To anyone who's read the book before, I very clearly left off the last bit of the final quote, which was an exposition that J.C. was fully man, fought temptation and never yielded, and is thus the clearest exposition of this idea. For a christian idea to be the fulfillment of a Hebrew Biblical idea - it must fully-fill it! This depiction of J.C. as the fulfillment of a Biblical idea i believe fails in several crucial ways; it only depicts tempation as something to be triumphed - but continues by claiming that inhuman perfection is what mattered (once and for all mattered, if you are a Christian), in complete disregard of the centrality of Teshuvah in the cosmos and The Hebrew Bible - as behind the cosmos itself. It is human perfection, not inhuman perfection that matters. EVERYone who sincerely does teshuvah is this very sort of figure; ones slate is wiped clean by the Ribbono Shel Olam! This last bit required italicizing, as this human perfection is not of human origin; one strives and G-d takes care of the rest. This part of his book didn't sit well with me, as elsewhere he is clear about the worth of human failings and strivings. The next bit jibes wonderfully with Torah, and I think echoes well with our times, in the aging boomers, wrestling Gen-Xers and the 'at risk' crowd;

"In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, `I've no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I'm a religious man too. I know there's a God. I've felt Him out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal !' [a baby boomer if I ever heard one!!! epiphany, epiphany, all is epiphany...] Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map [i.e., certain aspects of Torah sheBal Peh?...] is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. [NOTE; this goes incredibly well with G.K. Chesterton's saying that Tradition is like a
Democracy of the Dead]. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America [very much like Roger Walsh noting the value of "altered traits" over merely "altered states", momentary epiphanies and 'encounters' with God, where all of life 'in between' such moments - when we so privilege Peak Experiences - is considered nothing; we are to consciously create new selves, not merely be stimulated by new experiences, physical or spiritual].
Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines [not l'hdl, unlike 'only' learning Torah - Gemara really], if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion-all about feeling God in nature, and so on-is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.
In other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. [really applies well to why we should learn emunah and hashkafa, not just read it, in seminaries and yeshivot] Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones - bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties to-day are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the popular religion of modern England is retrogression - like believing the earth is flat." p.153-55

I'H I will have what to say on this last bit later.


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