Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Letter To A Philosophical Dropout From Orthodoxy II

R. Shalom Carmy was contacted by a former student who confessed that he lost his belief long ago and has become a confirmed Orthoprax Jew. Can Rabbi Carmy help him recover his faith? R. Carmy corresponded with this student and one of his letters has been published by Atid as a pamhplet, titled "Forgive Us, Father-in-Law, For We Know Not What To Think: Letter To A Philosophical Dropout From Orthodoxy."

The letter has four sections, each of which requires study before being fully understood. At first, I did not grasp the connection between the sections and even questioned many points as being counter-productive. But like all of R. Carmy's writings, the effort expended in trying to understand eventually paid off in dividends.

The first section directly addresses the former student's assertion that reason is his only standard for evaluating Judaism. If he cannot find a rational basis for believing then he will not. R. Carmy embarks on what I can only call a Post-Modern attack on this embrace of reason alone as the arbiter of truth. Do not intuition and emotion play important roles in our understanding of the world? Is the policeman's hunch not utilized on a daily basis in judging events? As R. Carmy eloquently argues, reason is only part of an intelligent being's arsenal of comprehension tools. (I might say that R. Carmy was playing Captain Kirk to the student's Mr. Spock.)

The next section flows directly from this critique of pure reason. Why does this student still desire to observe mitzvot if he no longer believes? Does he, perhaps, see truth through his non-rational faculties?

In the third section, R. Carmy dissects the classic Pascal's Wager argument for observing religious law "just in case." R. Carmy, drawing on a vast philosophical literature, demolishes this argument and even suggests that Pascal never proposed it as it is used today. How can this student adopt an observant lifestyle based on this terribly flawed proposal? Is it that his emotional intelligence has grasped something that his rational faculties have yet to accept?

The final section is very important. Do not, R. Carmy tells his student, mistakenly think that Orthodox scholars lack your knowledge or capacity to reason. They do not think less than you but more than you. They utilize a broader range of cognitive strategies - experience, emotion, intuition, etc. - and have based their decisions on these. Observe these talmidei hakhamim and how they live their lives. Observe the general Jewish population and look at their lives. Perhaps you will learn much more about people, life and the universe.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More