The End of the Age of Reason — Revisited

An ultra-conservative friend of mine posted my article The End of the Age of Reason on his facebook page, eliciting some interesting responses from his ultra-liberal friends.  Here are three excerpts:

1)  Rav Dessler’s point of view that the Holocaust was divine retribution is so revolting as to be beyond belief. American Jewry was far worse in terms of abandoning religion in prewar times than German Jewry, which often gets far more exagerated (sic) descriptions than real ones. For one, reform judaism (sic) was far more widespread in america (sic) than germany (sic), and it was far more radical in america (sic) than in germany (sic). Since the greatest victims of the shoah were eastern european (sic) Jews, among them greatly pious hassidim and misnagdim, [Rav] Dessler’s view is all the more disgusting: this might have been true for a small fragment of German Jewry, but it certainly wasn’t true for the vast majority of working class and impoverished Jews in not only Germany, but Poland and beyond, and certainly is ridiculous when discussing the Jews of the Soviet Union.
    
2)  Sorry if I get a bit uneasy when anyone (of any faith) suggests to me that the [A]lmighty is playing with us as if a child would play with a doll. When the nut-cases like Falwell claim that hurricane Katrina was retribution for the sins of the homosexuals and abortion providers (as proof, he shows satellite images of the hurricane looking like a fetus…).
Only when we take responsibility for our own actions can we work to fix our worldly problems.
    
3)  We do not have true prophets to tell us what is devine (sic) retribution for our sins and simply disaster that we may have brought upon ourselves by not taking better care of our world that He gave us. I am not suggesting that G-d doesn’t care for a moment. I do believe that G-d does hand down retribution, but who decides what is retribution and what is not? are those who are suffering suffering because they deserve it? this is the danger of theosophy.

To my way of thinking, what is truly “revolting” and “disgusting” is the notion that G-d doesn’t care, that He created a world and, according the insidious Deist philosophy of the nation of Amoleik, takes no hand in man’s fate and really doesn’t care.  This was the error of Job, who could not explain the justice behind his own suffering and therefore concluded that G-d either isn’t in control, which is only one step away from concluding that He isn’t interested in our fate, that nothing we do makes the slightest difference at all.  How ironic that some people find comfort in such thinking.

It is fundamental to Jewish philosophy that even the most seemingly insignificant events are ultimately directed by Divine Providence.  Catastrophes of extraordinary magnitude, whether natural or man-made, provide us the opportunity to shake ourselves out of the illusion that life is either predictable or random.

This is the most profound way in which the Almighty communicates with us.  The late tennis star Arthur Ashe reported said, after learning that he had contracted HIV via blood transfusion, that if he asks why this happened to him, then he has to question everything good that happened to him.  As I’ve written elsewhere, he should ask both, as should we all.

I’ve also written elsewhere that the Hebrew word for miracleneis — also means banner.  Extraordinary events are meant to get our attention, not so that we can say authoritatively why they happened but to prod us toward more sincere self-reflection, both as individuals and as a society, to identify our own shortcomings and misdeeds.  Jerry Falwell discredits himself because he is seen (for the most part accurately) as responding with knee-jerk reactionism (or, perhaps, reactionary-ism) and not with reasoned introspection.

The sages tell us that all Jews are responsible for one another.  When a problem is systemic, even those Jews who appear neither responsible nor influenced by the problem will suffer because of it.  We are one people, and none of us can divorce himself from any other.  Rav Dessler witnessed first hand events too inconsistant with the rational cause and effect of history to be attributed to natural causes.  He saw the hand of G-d clearly revealed and searched for reason amidst the insanity.  Similarly, the events of our world today are becoming increasingly difficult to explain away as happenstance — if we view them with a discerning eye.

G-d does not play with mankind like a toy doll.  He speaks to us through nature and history, teaching us to take responsibility for our own actions so that He can shower us with His blessings rather than chide us with His rod of discipline.  Today this is called tough-love.  But it’s no cliche.  Responsible parents know that it is the only kind of love that works.  Irresponsible parents eventually learn the same lesson, the hard way.

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  1. #1 by scaryreasoner on November 24, 2008 - 12:04 am

    The problem here is faith. Faith, believing something to a degree of certainty which exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence, is inherently and inescapably dishonest, in that it involves lying to yourself about how certain you should be about whatever it is that you have faith in. Faith is not a virtue, faith is a failing. Faith is a lie you tell yourself: “self, It is good if I can believe that X is true.” Already you have failed, regardless of whether X is true or not. By telling yourself that it is good if you can believe X, you have deliberately biased yourself in favor of the conclusion that x is true. Put starkly, by doing this, you have lied already. It is neither good nor bad to believe some proposition X, it merely comports with reality, or fails to comport with reality. If you wish that your beliefs should comport with reality, telling yourself things like, “self, it is good if I can manage to believe X” is not a method which is likely to lead to beliefs which comport with reality. In short, and to put it bluntly, the very concept of faith is blatantly and in-your-face idiotic. It is a concept very obviously expressly designed to help convince a person to believe things which do not comport with reality.

    To put it even more bluntly, all religions are VERY VERY OBVIOUSLY idiotic, and if you’re a member of a religion, YOU are being VERY VERY OBVIOUSLY idiotic.

  2. #2 by torahideals on November 24, 2008 - 8:16 am

    I usually don’t publish comments that resort to name-calling, but this one is such a perfect example of the level to which “rational” debate has devolved that I can’t pass it up.

    As I’ve said again and again, the lengths of dogmatic illogic to which the anti-religious will go is truly breathtaking. Scientists have no explanation for how or why the Big Bang could have happened, no fossil evidence for macro-evolution, no reasonable theories for how life on earth began in the first place (aliens space-seeded the galaxy, some suggest, or amino acids expanded into life by “riding on the back of crystals”), no reasonable explanation for why there is far more energy in the universe than can be accounted for by stars and far more matter than can be accounted for by visible mass — but it is adherents of religion who are accused of intellectual dishonesty and chastised for their faith.

    This is the kind of twisted reasoning that was largely the subject of my post, which one has to wonder whether the commenter even read.

    For a more thorough discussion on this matter, please visit:
    http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0401/disorder.html

  3. #3 by Ronnie Fredman on November 24, 2008 - 11:23 am

    Herber Spencer wrote:
    “There is a principle which is bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance–that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

    The skeptic/cynic disguised in the garb of scientist and philosopher may respond, what in faith can we investigate? The obscurantist disguised in the pious robes of religion may ask while staring over his parchment, what is the use of science and reason?

    If faith asks us to define hope, purposefulness, and the moral measure of intention and action? If faith asks us to debate the ‘absolute’ meaning of justice and value? If faith demands that we strive to measure the infinite, that there is a personality so powerful and so great that this personality is concerned about and may even act upon or through the most trivial, does this not spark the imagination, the curiousity, the drive which inspires the arts and sciences?

    And if scientific reason cares to make Man the measure of the universe, with all our strengths and weaknesses; cares to cast reason into a void and derive a rule; cure diseases which have fouled us since the beginning; what can a man of faith argue? That man is too weak; but, a true man of science has humility, he should know that. That man is limited; just look up into the stars, we know that.

    But, how can man operate without faith, or hope, or a sense of right and wrong? And, why is the progress of mankind, whose qualities and features are open to debate, a worthwhile endeavor?

    I think where faith and reason border each other, curious things become curiouser. And, that is for the good.

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