Thursday, June 30, 2011

C.S. Lewis; "Obstinancy of Belief"

Might taste better with an earlier post on "blind faith";

"We have been told that the scientist thinks it his duty to proportion the strength of his belief exactly to the evidence; to believe less as there is less evidence and to withdraw belief altogether when reliable adverse evidence turns up. We have been told that, on the contrary, the Christian regards it as positively praiseworthy to believe without evidence, or in excess of the evidence, or to maintain his belief unmodified in the teeth of steadily increasing evidence against it. Thus a "faith that has stood firm," which appears to mean a belief immune from all the assaults of reality, is commended...

The purpose of this essay is to show that things are really not quite so bad as that. The sense in which scientists proportion their belief to the evidence, and the sense in which Christians do not, both need to be defined more closely...

And first, a word about belief in general. I do not see that the state of "proportioning belief to evidence" is anything like so common in the scientific life as has been claimed. Scientists are mainly concerned not with believing things but with finding things out. And no one, to the best of my knowledge, uses the word "believe" about things he has found out. The doctor says he "believes" a man was poisoned before he has examined the body; after the examination, he says the man was poisoned. No one says that he believes the multiplication table. No one who catches a thief red-handed says he believes that man was stealing..".

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Life is [just] a Test[?]"
"The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, the Book of Job because all life is a riddle...It is significant that in the greatest religious poem existent, the Book of Job, the argument which convinces the infidel is not (as has been represented by the merely rational religionism of the eighteenth century) a picture of the ordered beneficence of the Creation; but, on the contrary, a picture of the huge and undecipherable unreason of it. 'Hast Thou sent the rain upon the desert where no man is?' This simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our (from our), intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality as it is the basis of nonsense. Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook. The well-meaning person who, by merely studying the logical side of things, has decided that 'faith is nonsense,' does not know how truly he speaks; later it may come back to him in the form that nonsense is faith.
Chesterton, "A Defence of Nonsense."

Interesting application, to my mind, for OTDers of the Ashkenasi "rationalist" bend, or those drawn to and then away from religion via ostensibly "logical" propositions that often lead them at 'best' to leaps or forking roads of supposed-"faith", however short - having missed reason and faith all along. Also a good religious 'excuse' for Python-esque silliness and paradox in general! - as well as of course Science Fiction, Fantasy, surrealism in the arts, etc, etc.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How Now Shall We Live, II
R. Aryeh Klapper, "How Should Ethically Challenging Texts Be Taught?"

R. Jack Bieler, “The Representation of Non-Jews in the Talmud and Its Pedagogic Implications".
Prof. Solomon Schimmel, author of "The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs; Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth", an ostensibly wide-ranging discussion of 'unreasonable beliefs' that is largely a critical work on Orthodox Judaism, responds.

From a Conference archived here, check there for related lectures, lecture notes, etc.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Divine Abandonment II this is pretty dark and does not reflect the usual doings of angels, but it does give some chizzuk of an unusual kind; a higher being, a direct servant of God, speaks on "asking why";

Gabriel: I'm an angel. I kill firstborns while their mamas watch. I turn cities into salt. I even, when I feel like it, rip the souls from little girls, and from now 'till Kingdom Come. The only thing you can count on in your existence, is never understanding why.

I think, in a melodramatic way, this expresses something of my notation that words of questioning and uncertainty are expressed even as words of prophecy from prophets...and I felt like posting Walken!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Divine Abandonment
Obviously a question a trinity-abiding Christian asks - but kind-of similar questions easily raised about the Avot - but such a rich question to me;

"What does it mean to identify, as the definitive embodiment of God in human history, someone who declares himself abandoned by God?... If Jesus is the self-communication of God in flesh, then the cry of dereliction from the Cross is a communication of the selfhood of God: God is revealed when there is nothing to be said about God, nothing to be said about God by God incarnate."

This is fascinating, but Judaism also harbors a similar compelling voice - repeatedly, throughout Tanakh. Noah seemingly despairs, right after his salvation from epic destruction, and it's accounted a prophetic narrative (possibly even from Noach, if one accounts Sifre Avot). Avraham Avinu, as the embodiment of a human in covenant with God - argues with Him, Sarah laughs and lies! Yizhak and Yaakov either spoke or acted contentiously with God either by acting in ways that displayed a lack of trust or submission to God; the Psalms of David. But we account these seemingly human words as words of prophecy - ultimately from God. Judaism has mankind speaking to God with the Words of God - in abandonment, dissention and disputation! I'm not sure what 'place' von Balthasar's insight has, if any, in the line of "Judeo-Christian", but I find interesting the Jewish coorrelaries; they're precedent.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

I admit it. I despise having routines that are working for me, productive engagements and activities (volunteering opportunities, job advancement, graduate school, exercise, socializing, opportunities for athletic training and competition, etc, etc) get muffed by time-bound observance - Shabbat, Yom Tov, Pesach - anything that shatters the calendar I make or try to make. It whispers to me that Judaism isn't offering me something strong enough, compelling enough to nurture me despite the investments of time, money, soul, mind and energy I have made in it, that isn't changing me for the better, that it isn't functioning in some Kellner-Maimonidean "instrumental" manner towards "refining" me and formulating me in some "unrivaled" self-help program of Divine life coaching.

In talking about myself being instrumentally-altered for the "better", I can't help but play Devi's Advocate again over something I've noted repeatedly in recent posts; the world has not been transformed by a Divine message expressed exclusively in the [Masoretic] Tanakh and taught by [Rabbinic] Judaism; it has largely been transformed by religions that came out/up/away from Judaism. It can be argued that this only asserts certain universal principles Rambam held; Christianity and Islam did transform the world - in many ways arguably for the better (regarding intellectual principles Rambam held), but they are only preparing for what will come via the Jews.

Looking again, I might add Rambam's heroes of Islamic and Greek philosophy, upon which he bases the view of Judaism with Aristotlian thought - did not survive among Rambam's fellow Jews - it survived in publication, copying and dissemination in the Islamic and Christian worlds (yes, via Jewish copyists in many cases - Jews from communities that didn't share in vast consumption of the material or when they did have passed to history). Science - trumpeted as trumpeted by Rambam - was largely a product of the Christian West, not Yavneh.

Divorced from their Jewish accent, most of the non-ritual "ethical" or society-building mitzvot codified by Rambam are normative ethics shared in the West due to Christian "misreading" of scriptures in 'errant' translation - divorced from the exclusive and proper context of Torah she bal Peh - and the ritual objects, ceremonies and functions function in a patently sociological manner "didactic devices" to remind us of substantially political covenants and obligations and guide us toward 'proper' intellectual models. The benefits of following dictates as being Divine commands likewise understood.

But again, most people are familiar with "Golden Rules", Aristotle and Islamic philosophers and the lauded intellectual ventures as formulated expressed in Christian and Islamic society - not hidden away in a Jewish Oral Law, forbidden upon penalty of death from being viewed by Gentile eyes. What to answer?; "That's because Jews are to teach them to Gentiles, who shouldn't learn them on their own"?...Again, having learned these things on their own divorced from the four Amot of Rabbinic Judaism, Gentiles are precisely who've spread such Golden Rules and moral maxims, expanding the intellectual vistas and propounding notions of Divine Commands to the four corners of the world. Jews have done likewise - largely amongst themselves as Jews, and occasionally as Jews in the general world - in the main, after assimilation. One challenge of among many that could be offered is that Christians and Muslims have largely failed at the task of transforming the world as perfectly as it could be; if only they'd done 'tshuva' and turned to the proper derech, the world would be in accord with one of several competing and contradicting Jewish standards or expectations for the world.

I'm not sure how any such claim could be made in a non-Charedi tone and without Charedi presuppositions that would NOT be shared by Rambam. I'm sure some can be made - I say only I can't imagine how, without considering some form of pluralism which Kellner avows Rambam could not abide nor could any philosophy considered respectable by the aforementioned.

I guarantee that I am in error in certain of the things I've presented above, or in supposing that Rambam is, or is regarded as, that much of a benchmark for modern Jews or Modern Orthodoxy. I spoke as the Devil's Advocate, and thus offer my views precisely for critique. But I digress, as is I am want to do, in talking about me.

So back to myself! Having to do these apparently universally-manifest good things in the specifically or exclusively-"Jewish" manner has simply made me neurotic and impulsive, compulsive and obsessive. It has whittled me down to a nub. Nay - a neb, plain and simple; a Jewish word for a Jewish archetype. I can be uncertain about some of my sweeping statements above, but I can be relatively certain I could be anything, nothing, definitely something outside of these confines - or outside of some of these confines. But not inevitably a neb. Blogging away in obscurity and isolation...

This post should mostly be read with Lewis (yet again, an amazing insight from outside Judaism...), on the affect of shifting, transient moods, from which I suffer with humanity.

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