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Trust is not Blind Faith: Thinking In Jewish III

Trust is not Blind Faith: Thinking In Jewish III

Trust is not Blind Faith: Thinking In Jewish III

I trust science. I trust evidence. I trust questioning everything. I think that evidence always trumps ideology; when allowed to drop the ideological posturing even the ideologue will follow the evidence. Evidence cannot be self-serving. One cannot rely on one’s ideology and the documents of faith attached thereto as reasonable evidence because it leads one into a circularity of thought that refuses to admit any other evidence. The difference between science and ideology, between science and blind faith, is that scientists are always ready to be convinced of an alternative to their current position given the weight of new evidence.

What was true during the rule of the Roman Empire (Middle Ages, The Renascence, The Enlightenment — take your pick) is not necessarily true today (there are some things that remain constant in human life such as ethics, love, peace and understanding). Advances in science and in social science, in philosophy, in analytical approaches to both the collection of evidence and the interpretation of the evidence collected is the stuff of human progress. To ignore advances, to jump up and down about divine punishment if you believe in say, Darwin’s theory of Evolution, is to ignore the weight of the evidence supporting the theory itself. In fact, it also shows a profound misunderstanding of the very idea of what a theory is.

A theory is an invitation to seek evidence both for and against the position offered by that theory. Like anything else in science, the position of scientists is that if even one piece of the theoretical position is shown to be false, the entire theory collapses. When, for the past 130 years or so, biologists have always found the idea of natural selection (Darwin never said “survival of the fittest” a term adopted by Spencer in Social Darwinism) to be the best answer to the question of species development as well as species diversion into separate species. The fossil record as well as experimental evidence has never shown Darwin’s notion of natural selection to be anything but correct. This does not mean, however, that sometime in the future an even better answer can be found and if it is, the scientific community will adapt to and embrace such a new approach. That is the profound difference between relying on ideological claptrap and scientific evidence.

All this is prompted by my own desire to learn the conceptual framework for thinking in Jewish. As part of that journey I sat in a class with Rabbi Mendel last night. The discussion was both lively and productive. Rabbi Mendel works within a belief system that admits to the Torah being revealed to Moses at Sinai and passed down generation to generation until today; absolutely true and unchanging, the Torah is unable to be questioned, to be analyzed except for creating stories that help explain the contradictions contained therein. More words of interpretation have been written to explain what is held to be the absolute truth than are contained in the Torah and the remaining books of the Tanach including the histories, prophets and other writings that make up the Jewish holy scriptures.

I find this interesting on several levels. It seems that thinking in Jewish is, at once, an analytical exercise as well as an exercise in trying to explain the unexplained; the contradictions, the laws that appear on the surface to make no sense and other anomalies found in the basic sacred texts themselves. The part I find most interesting is the former and not the latter. The analytical approach to reading these sacred texts filled with humanistic metaphor is, at least as I understand it today, both universal in its approach to broader constructions of human life and is quite narrow and particular in terms of the law and the interpretation of that law. My interest is in the universal, the humanistic, the ethical and how these ancient scholars grappled with many of the same ideas that occupied the Greeks and their offspring, the philosophers of the West.

I am interested in the deconstruction of single verses, of words and their pluralistic meanings and the insights that come from said deconstruction. The difference, as I understand it, between the deconstruction of Torah sages and the post-modern deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida, is that the Torah sages had a self-serving ax to grind, they were true believers where the post-modern deconstructionists are not bound by ideology, rather they are driven by deep reading and a certain desire to reveal nuances in the text being interpreted that have never been addressed before.

At the same time, Rabbi Mendel, while an ideologue, is quite adept at zeroing in on a point to be made. While some of his points are straw-men, he nevertheless has a knife sharp point of view that wants to narrow the conversation to the point that is on the table. His approach embraces difference of opinion while, at the same time, putting his point of view sharply out there for consideration. He is a good listener and a good debater. Hooray. While I seldom agree with his faith based point of view, I admire his ability to analyze and to place his view out there for consideration. I am learning a great deal from this young man on a mission.

I am, of course, recovering from prostate cancer, retired and curious. One thing I learned through my relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous is that I am never cured, only recovering. That is an important consideration in my road to recovery. While I have overcome the worst of the disease, it is only because of early detection, fundamentally the probabilities were at work here and I drew the winning card on the river (a poker analogy for those not in the know). Had the original spike in PSA been found a month or two later the likelihood of a completely different diagnosis would be quite high. Nevertheless, it is what it is and what it is provides me with the time and the ever increasing energy to pursue the idea of thinking in Jewish. I will remain diligent in dealing with my health concerns, having PSA checked four more times in 2013 and once a year thereafter and, with any reasonable amount of luck I will remain cancer free. I will, however, always have prostate cancer lurking in the back of my mind.

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6 thoughts on “Trust is not Blind Faith: Thinking In Jewish III

  1. Torah Gen on said:

    It is interesting to read your perspective. I thought I would note: regarding the Torah sages’ “self-serving ax to grind,” that although you may view one side as biased and the other entirely unbiased, everyone brings some bias and motive to the table. Also, I am curious to hear what lead you to that particular conclusion about the Torah sages. I wish you a refuah shelemah and the best of luck on your quest for knowledge.

  2. Thanks for your comment. It brings much to this discussion. I absolutely agree that everyone brings a bias to the table. I am simply arguing that some biases are more warranted than others. Conclusions based on evidence that is repeatable and verifiable, that fit neatly into observed theoretical models and easily adapt to new evidence are warranted where conclusions based on faith, dogma or ideology are often repeatable but generally unverifiable; fit into an ideological model; yet are never open to new evidence and, therefore, are unwarranted. I choose to rely on warranted assertions rather than blind faith. That is my bias, one that is embedded in my training and my desire to question everything in order to better understand the existential world, the only one I know or can even be certain of. That being said, there is an important place for reading and understanding the ethical and moral lessons of Torah without having to subsume each and every word as revealed to Moses at Sinai. By embracing the uniqueness of the other along with the other’s point of view without reservation, by learning from the other in face-to-face encounters, there is always the possibility for a dialectical synthesis to emerge for both parties.

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