Friday, December 21, 2007

Letter to a Skeptic

The news is getting a bit depressing and I'm feeling overwhelmed. As its almost shabbat, I thought that I would share with you a response that I recently wrote to an agnostic friend of mine. Enjoy and shabbat shalom.

Dear Skeptic,

I cringe whenever Judaism is reduced to a simply 'be nice' humanism. Judaism is more than just about being an ethical person. Christians can be ethical, as can Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists or even atheists. Rather, Judaism is about inviting G-d into the world, making this world a more holy place. We are called upon to elevate the material into the spiritual. You write :" It makes no difference if there is a god or not, we are called to higher moral accountability by our faith, we are made to think about each and every action and act we engage in, no matter how trivial, and we are called to invest these actions and all our thoughts and deeds with "holiness" which, to me does not mean anything related to a deity, but holiness in the sense that it sets us apart, makes us think, makes us different than animals who merely exist and consume and procreate." However, I don't see how any of that is true without G-d. Why should I bother myself to help others? If we believe that we are simply evolved animals in a struggle of 'survival of the fittest', it is not in my best interest of helping somebody 'less fit' than me. Why should it be wrong to steal or right to give charity. If anything, if I am stronger, I have the right to take what I see fit. As for chairty, I shouldn't weaken myself for another as this contradicts our most basic drive to survive. In short, there is no 'good without G-d'. In the atheist world, one cannot say that murder is 'wrong' or kindness is 'good'. Not to insinuate that atheists are bad people, G-d forbid, but according to atheism, morality is simply a social construct which can change with time. During the time of the Greeks and Romans, weak babies were discarded in forlorn mountains and left to die. The Roman write Tacitus remarked with wonder that among the Jews 'It is a deadly sin to kill a born or unborn child'. See how morality is subject to change with time but with Torah, a G-d-based morality, it is fixed! In the atheist world, there is no accountability for our deeds and no real reason to do good as opposed to evil (or even if good and evil exist at all!).

Of course, religion has been used as an excuse for violence throughout history. Nontheless, the greatest of history's murderers and perpetrators of atrocities were motivated by atheism. Hitler (yimach shemo) said " The Jews have inflicted two wounds on the world: Circumcision for the body and conscience for the soul. I come to free mankind from their shackles." Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, all were no believer in G-d. None of these people felt any remorse for what they did because they had no fear of accountablity to a Heavenly Deity. Atheism offers no hope for a better future but only offers despair at a meaningless world deaf to your prayers. Without religion, people will find many more reasons to kill each other, whether it is race, colour or over a parking spot. The concept of world peace was only introduced to the world by the prophets of the Jewish people. The prophet Yishayahu (2:4) offers a beautiful future in which "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." He speaks of (11:6) the time when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea."

Nobody can answer for G-d why there is so much suffering in this world. However, the fact that this suffering bugs us means that deep down we know that a Just G-d must exist who rules His world in fairness. Otherwise, against whom are we upset. Do we cry 'where are you?' to the emptiness of the godless universe? Questioning does not imply doubt. Avraham said to G-d "shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" (Bereishit 18:25). Moses cried out "Lord, wherefore hast Thou dealt ill with this people? Lama hareota la'am haze?" (Shemot 5:22) And yet, these were the greatest of believers. When Iyuv asked G-d to explain the suffering, G-d responded "Where were you when I laid the Earth's foundations...Can you send an order to the clouds for an abundace of water to cover you?... Can you hunt prey for the lion and satisfy the apetite of the king of the beats. Is it by your wisdom that the hawk grows pinions, spreads his wings to the south?" You may call G-d's answer a cop-out but I think that we should remember that, just like someone who sees a second of a movie cannot judge the entire film, so too we can't judge G-d's Justice from our limited viewpoint. We must question, ask for G-d to explain Himself, but in the end we need faith.

"The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man. For G-d shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Kohelet 12:13)

I'm also sorry to bend your eye. I can go on and on too.



Cross-posted to Goat's Barnyard


WomanHonorThyself said...

stunning response..youre brilliant..God be with u and Shabbat Shalom Bar!

Yehudi said...

It was a great fantastic letter, BK...Well done. It is pure folly to go through life not believing that G-d exists... I believe it's a form of rebellion. Atheists are usually people who really believed at one point in their life, but then G-d didn't 'answer one of my prayers and my bunny died so there must not be a god.'

I talked to one a week ago on the train here. It was so funny because she's Russian, (not that that has anything to do with anything), but she's an avowed Athiest, but teaches her kids about G-d, " case they marry someone who is religious, they won't seem strange to them." I said, "How interesting that must be for teach your children about the One in Whom you don't believe!" She didn't think that was as funny as I did! We talked for awhile, (the train ride is an hour long), but she just wouldn't meet with my rabbi. Great post, BK!

Papa Frank said...

"Nobody can answer for G-d why there is so much suffering in this world. However, the fact that this suffering bugs us means that deep down we know that a Just G-d must exist who rules His world in fairness."

Though you don't adhere to the christian Bible here's a verse that describes what you are talking about here. Please accept the truth of the words even if you don't accept the source.

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. - 1 Cor 13.12

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