Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sinai as the Religious Experience of "the Person" Israel

Of recent in philosophy of religion, there has been discussion of the value of the "religious experience" for doxastic practice and epistemology, whether it has a place in the gauntlet of justifiable thinking (Alston, Plantinga, Clouser, etc). I'd like to see the collective experience of Am Israel at Sinai compared to these discussions of the meaning and significance of individual experiences. In part I'd like to ask it through 'evidence' - through ASCs (though they are only one aspect of the discussion of Religious Experiences, a hotly debated one at that); over the course of Yetziat Mitzraim, a lot of phenomena often described by individuals experiencing Altered States of Consciousness occurs regarding the entire nation Israel; synesthesia (crosswiring of the senses; hearing the lightning and seeing the thunder), Near Death Experience (a bit of a stretch, but isn't there Midrash about everyone dying?), etc. I wonder how such a comparison would affect the "Argument from Sinai", possibly refining it against certain kinds of critique.

I would also note that the 'standard' state of consciousness, lauded by 'rationalists' both 'secular' and religious - is regarded by the great number of historical human perspectives as being merely one of many, and often the least fruitful - Matrix-mind, a sleep state). The discussion of ASCs, Shamanic states (shamanism I think may be situated as "PreAdamic"), etc, deserves it's own post. See Charles Tart's website, links and similar recent discussion for implications pending me writing such a thing.

Also the equation of Israel not merely as a model nation, but as a model individual, collectively experiencing stages of human individual experience, growth and travail. There are those who say [sources to come] that of human entities, only Am Israel and individuals from among the Nations have Nefesh Ruach and Neshamah - the prerequisites to full engagement in Creation. Only they have an antiquity preceding Bavel, reaching to the First Man - before the nations were born. This could in part make a greater context for the phenomena of religious experiences, personal 'revelations', etc., throughout history while also limiting their significance beyond the individual stage.

[rambly bit]
The 'personal' nature of an encounter (also R. Eliezer Berkovits' lengthy discussion in God Man and history), as being no less real for being unscientific (though obiously not necessarily an encounter with 'the' Divine), for not being submitable to the gauntlet of the lab; also the inadmissability in Halacha of "Bat Kol", of insights that are not testable by others via argument, etc. similarly, personally experiences are submitted to communal 'testing' in many cultures (the famed Vision Quest, trances, etc). What could Sinai be compared to in the "marketplace" of human experiences? anything but individual religious experiences? How many nations, as such, were taken into Israel? Individuals could make "the connection", but as groups not a potentiality.

Such a comparison might also make things more 'interesting'; there are things we are Given by HKBH, that individuals of the nations achieve to receive - levels of refinement that are of one status in Torah rubrics that have a different status outside of it. Rav Kook notes the relatively low level of Olam Haba, since it is achieved by all Israel, even the lowest [emph mine];

I tend to think that the Rambam means to say that having a portion in the world-to-come is an inferior level (although it too is very great). Since even wicked and ignorant Jews attain it, it is–compared to [truly] spiritual levels–low. The Rambam says that intellectual awareness brings a person much closer to [understanding] the righteousness of God's Providence.
Therefore, having a portion in the world-to-come is a level attained by the righteous of the nations who have not attained an intellectual awareness, but who have rather accepted the faith simply, with heart-felt emotion, and have acted well, as a result of having accepted the concept that the commandments were given by God. But if a person has come to understand the seven Noahide commandments [*achieving, as a concept coorellary to the Noachide laws*] as a result of his own thinking, he is truly wise of heart and filled with understanding. Such a person is considered one of their wise men, for the trait of wisdom is very great. And it is superfluous to say that he has a portion in the world-to-come. [Indeed,] he stands on a holy level that needs to be spoken of with a fuller expression than "having a portion in the world-to-come."

Igrrot HaRa'ayah, v. 1, p.100

The Tiferet Israel notes distinction between the merit of Israel by inheritance and what those among the nations have by achievement;

"The advantage of the [other] nations over Israel is that they, through their own free choice and efforts made themselves – and this is certainly a greater [human] achievement than Israel, who were led toward perfection by the force of G-d and who therefore cannot claim the credit for what G-d did for them in the merit of their ancestors." Tiferet Yisrael to Avot 3:14

What has this to do with religious experiences? Individual religious experiences, achievements, may be of some import and even content, but not accumulate beyond the individual, and may not constitute much of a challenge - and not merely by dimissing all 'religious experience' as ultimately dillusional or epistemologically valueless. While we're at it, what is religious about religious eperience? Following Dooyeweerd's definition of 'religious' (as held by a great number of thinkers over the millenia), there is a profound poverty to the definition of religion as utilized in the secularist language game courts (and by the Kiruv people like to 'take them on at their own game'). Here and throughout my blog, I have gone at great length about 'religious', but I will just quickly say that the best definition of religious, the most perennially valid, encompasses the great number of theoretical systems of any complexity, including atheism, materialism, etc. That being said - 'religious' experiences of epiphany-type nature, of a sense of 'revelation', abound in secular realms of thought. Charles Tart has a nice site giving examples of such experiences on the part of scientists, but the sciences themselves are rife with incidences of dream-state revelation, non-rational cognition of central facts, etc, that have made for profound developments in the scientific endeavor[sources]. I only mention sciences, but these things have occured throughout human endeavors. None of this may need to be discounted to be nullified as challenges to Torah faith.

All this might relate to something I said a while back;

The various perspectives of the world - from atheist materialism, an 'after-life' or 'reincarnation' or whatever might emerge from a philosophy - could all be understood on their own terms as possible outcomes of lives lived in accord with their host philosophy - but they would neither amount to the state of Olam Haba, nor would they be related to it (I have considered this especially with "reincarnation" compared with gilgulim; perhaps gilgulim is an "upgrade" or souped up version of an otherwise natural phenomena known as "reincarnation"). This would make sense of the world of examples of "afterlife" phenomena of Non-Jews, including post-death contact, etc...as well as the phenomena of the Charedi Jewish kiruv literature on "Olam Haba"-related issues, which abounds with Non-Jewish source material about "afterlife" and "reincarnation"!!!

Perhaps in what is said above, we could exchange 'olam haba' for many other concepts and phenomena - distinguishing their value as products or experiences of individuals, or beliefs assented to by nations, vs. what we experienced at Sinai and how we believe or should be believing (also distinctions between 'assenting' to a belief vs actually grasping it, Rambam's perspective vs. those of others on it all, etc).

What is seemingly an infinitely tiny molecule in this immense universe (individual achievement), is (through Am Israel - not Am Israel as such), evidenced as the way to the source of the universe itself.

7 Comments:

At 6/07/2007 1:09 PM, Blogger Isaac Davidson said...

Have you ever read Huxley's "The Doors of Perception?" It's a quick read and it deals with your premise. His thesis is that in order for Religion to be truly fulfilling, it has to have a convergence of ritual and religious experience. Well, he advocates the use of halucinogenic drugs, which is not something that I would advocate. However, his main point is what I said above.

Note: The band, "The Doors," took their name from this work.

 
At 6/10/2007 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commented elsewhere about Jewish being sort of the "tribe of the world", and in a sense our doings (our combined experience as a people and our behaviors), are the Primal doings by which others doings are compared. also Huston Smith wrote a 'follow-up' volume to Huxley called "cleansing the doors of perception", which is much deeper comparison of entheogenic experiences and religious experiences. He also details the divergences and explicates more fully the difference between "altered states" and that which we should really pine for - altered TRAITS. religious epiphanies are not only tough to come by - they can also mislead, etc. we no longer have the *general* interpretive framework to digest into usefulness the kinds of experiences that previous gens might have been privey to. I say that regarding 'our crowd', and our mostly-lost ecstatic mysticism (we do still have 'something' via talmud torah, etc) - I can't really say how much for how entangled 'our crowd' can/should be in the general human spiritual inclination and possible routes to 'experience' on that path.

 
At 6/11/2007 7:15 AM, Blogger Isaac Davidson said...

Unfortunately, the nature of the religious experience is that it cannot be shared. Although I'm not clear whether the Nevi'im used allegory to convey their "altered" states of concsciousness or that they saw visions that were literally what they were describing, clearly - words could not fully express their experiences. In much the same way, any type of individual religious experience cannot be fully shared with another human being.

The best example that I can think of is a Purim seuda. Everyone is together in the same room, but everyone is experiencing the seuda (and reality itself) in a vastly different way. In a sense, the experience is shared - in that everyone is in the same room and eating the same food. Yet, each person is also in their own world, a world that cannot be shared with anyone else.

 
At 6/11/2007 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really meant accessing them in terms of shared technique of 'tuning in', not content per se. Like methods of learning.

 
At 7/29/2008 3:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, you have a rich and interesting blog here.

Alston, in 'Perceiving G-d', mentions the skeptical challenge to the epistemolgcial significance of religious experience: unlike in sense experience, the religious experience only happens to a single individual at a given time. This can be contrasted with, say, five people looking at a tree and all having the same experience.

I think that Alston successfully refutes this objection but, if the Sinai argument is successful, it constitutes an example of thousands of people having the same religious experience.

Personally, I think the greatest relevance of the epistemology of religious experience to the Sinai argument and belief in revelation in general relates to the prior probability one gives revelation claims.

I believe that Alston has shown convincingly that one can be justified in believing that one has experienced the Divine. If one has had such experiences and has a justified belief that G-d has 'appeared' to him, the prior probability of G-d revealing Himself to a nation will be higher than if this were not the case.

 
At 7/29/2008 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

pierre here; I agree with all you say, and I think maamar Sinai utilized experiences and processes familiar to many people as "religious experiences", the fuse a people as one person on a very deep level. Granted, the midrashim depict them as experiencing certain of it as individuals - but not a nation of blind men and an elephant. A lot of emphasis is placed on the temporal, sensoral phenomena, not 'merely' abstract internal sensations of "the sublime".

 
At 5/08/2014 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emphasis on IN HALACHAH...since it's
'fixed', established already.

 

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