Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Jerusalem and Athens

Shulem Deen's Memoirs
I am often asked why I tolerate atheists on my blog. They have a tendency to try and justify their belief that there is no God and that the Torah is a man made document. In fact Chazal tells us to rebuke and reject the non believer. 

I do not see modern day atheists that way at all. I was once explained that there are 2 types of atheists: Strong atheists and weak atheists. A strong atheist will deny the existence of God with absolute certainty. You can refute them by asking them to prove God does not exist. They can't. Weak atheists are more like agnostics. They do not believe in God, but if someone were to prove God's existence, they would. They just don't think it's possible and conclude that God does not exist. I believe that most rational atheists are weak atheists.

I see them as intellectually honest people who have come to the wrong conclusions. Conclusions based on accepting rationality as the only legitimate way to find truth. I firmly believe the ‘Pintele Yid’ – the tiny spark of Judaism exists in all Jews, no matter how far one has traveled away from their faith. Even to the point of atheism.

For me, Teshuva is always an option – even when there is apparent certitude in the voice of the non-believer – denying that he will never ‘go back’ to his former belief system. I reject that claim. And there is no better argument for that rejection than the one made by one of the more famous atheists, Shulem Deen.

Shulem has written a Forward column about his faith. That’s right. You read that correctly. Don’t get me wrong. He is still an atheist. Or so he claims. But he goes to great lengths to explain that there is something outside of the rationalism that guides the atheist mindset. Most atheists reject the existence of anything spiritual. That of course includes God, the ultimate Spiritual Being. And yet he conceded that he has faith in something that is entirely not part of the rational world. He mentions a conversation with Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore, an old family friend.  Here is what he said: 
“There is historical truth,” Eliezer said. “And then there is mythic truth.” Reality, Eliezer suggested, could not be condensed to rationalism. To scientific facts. To history. There are areas of life that can only be addressed with myth… 
What is mythic truth?  
“Living with mythic truth,” Eliezer told me, “is to live with the wisdom that cannot be spoken.” All those areas of life that transcend the rational: love and relationships and friendships and acts of kindness and generosity and seeking connections of all kinds; all those experiences that spill over into song and poetry and art and literature, because they are there, and they must come out, but they must be experienced to be understood, to be truly felt. Above all, to live with mythic truth is to live with faith. 
I am uncomfortable with the use of the word myth. It implies something that does not really exist. But in the context used here, it does exist. Shulem then goes on to concede the concept and applies it to his own non believer sensibilities and daily life. His  faith is what inspires him to act in ways that cannot be explained with rationality.

I believe that this is his ‘Pintele Yid’ talking. Although I’m sure he would deny it, Shulem has a Jewish soul. Which yearns expression in tangible ways. Expression in thought and in deed. That he is still a resolute Atheist, his reasons for becoming one have been challenged by a concept that he now accepts,the idea that there is a reality that exists beyond rationality. One that is intuited. He calls it myth. I call it the beginning of mode of thinking that can lead to his return.

Now I’m sure that Shulem would vehemently deny this. He has long ago ‘figured things out’ and his new faith is decidedly not a faith in God or the truth of the Torah. But once you’ve entered (or re-entered in Shulem’s case) ‘Jerusalem’ from his current residence in ‘Athens’ you have conceded its existence. And in Shulem’s case its high value.

(I should add that Shulem’s description of the Maccabees (Jerusalem) is highly unflattering - versus his description of the Greeks (Athens) which is far more flattering.  I am obviously in profound disagreement to this characterization but beyond the scope of this post.)

Indeed, as I have said many times, the truth of God’s existence cannot be proven via the scientific method. You can’t prove the spiritual from the material. But as I have also said, rational thought is not the only way to find truth. Among other considerations in finding truth is something Shulem himself subscribes to - intuition.

As I have also said in the past - each element that one utilizes in finding God and the truth of His Torah - by itself is not going to convince anyone. But when those elements (which among other things include (non conclusive) evidence, history, rational thought, education, and intuition) are taken in the aggregate, they present a very strong case for belief in God and His Torah. Especially to someone that values intuitive thought the way Shulem does. Which gives me hope that ‘those who leave – can and will eventually return’.

As always when matters of belief are discussed here, I will not allow arguments against belief in God or his Torah. This is an Orthodox Jewish blog and I do not want to be responsible for anyone losing their faith here through those comments. Any attempt to do so will be deleted.