Sunday, July 01, 2007

Religious Epicureans - Contemporary Mainstream Orthodoxy.

Continuing with Technician’s summary presentation: [my comments in brackets]

P1 - Al-Razi[1] – Aristotle’s fixed world is wrong, the Epicureans are true, and one [cannot] gain anything ethical from the natural order.

[I believe Technician was referring to the Kalam, school of Medieval thinkers, who quoting Pines in his introduction to the Guide (page cxxix) “ that there is no intrinsic reason why anything, from the world as a whole downwards, should exist at all, or exist in the way it does and with such attributes as it has.” If there is no logic to the way things are one cannot say that there is a “natural” ethics one can learn from the way things operate. There is no deduction from observation of nature to its provenance. In fact, any order we do see, any repetitiveness we perceive, is just random and unpredictable; it may change at any time. Epicurus negating religion saw this as just so, random nature. Kalam which accepted religion saw this as will of God. This school had a wide range of thinkers who tried to explain Epicurean philosophy in light of religion. At one end was the Ash’arites who believed that God was whimsical and man just has to serve Him to the Mu’tazilites who argued that God is just but man cannot understand or know how. This takes us to Premise 2.]

P2 – Sa’adyah- Olam Haba will be the place where things will show their order.

[Rav Sa’adyah Gaon (882-942) wrote one of the earliest philosophical treatises, Hanivchar Be’emunot Vede'ot. He was heavily influenced by the Mu’tazilite and accepted their premise that though God is just, afterlife is where that justice will manifest itself. Although many times we see justice done, it is not consistent. We see righteous suffer and as God is just by definition, it is either for some unknown minor infraction or so that they get a greater reward in the world to come. (See Emunot Vede’ot 5:3). This Jewish philosophical thought has been developed since and is nowadays the prevalent mainstream orthodox thinking.]

P3 – Modern Science- we agree with Al-Razi.

[Modern science basically agrees with the Epicurean philosophical model. Though science has found a system to randomness, explaining in a logical way the repetitiveness and predictability we observe, ultimately randomness prevails. There are therefore no ethical lessons to learn from nature and how it operates.]

P4 – Modern atheists say religion is unethical.

P5 – We are still scared and need guidance- the random world is scary.

P6 - Religious folk say there is no natural ethics, hence one needs a non-rational source of ethics.

Conclusion – we need to create an absurd religion outside of the natural order. Torah is now a non-natural lifestyle keeping you ethical. Hashem punishes us the way Zeus punished.

[I believe that P4 through Conclusion is self-explanatory. If otherwise please let me know through your comments and I will elaborate.]

Personal Note: This is the philosophy of religion I was brought up with and caused me, for many years, to painfully split my rational self from my religious persona. This theology has evolved and become quite sophisticated, taking on many variations, from the Yeshivish model to the Chassidic one, the underlying philosophy is the same. Many Chazal, when superficially read and at first blush, seem to support this way of thinking.

I remember when I first heard Marx’s comment, “religion is the opiate of the masses” I involuntarily concurred and felt guilty. I could however not explain why he was wrong. In fact, if we were to really look at this way of thinking, God is at the service of man, a quite Christian thought! We are scared; therefore, we need a God to hold our hand! Religion is not a rational; it is a crutch!

It also explains the disdain for science and facts that we witness nowadays in our community, the total dissonance between Torah and the world, the need for keeping the masses in blissful ignorance and disdain for “secular” education. It is “secular” because it is anathema to religion which is outside the natural order and supersedes observed reality.

[1]Professor Pines in his introduction to MN describes Al-Razi’s philosophy as Gnostic where the world came into being when the ignorant Soul attached itself to matter. When it gains knowledge, it will detach itself from it and all material existence will cease. I am not sure why Technician picked on him as the paradigm of a philosophy that sees the world as disorderly.

Here is how Rambam describes Al-Razi position on the prevalence of Evil (the only time he quotes him in MN):

MN3:12 – “Men frequently think that the evils in the world are more numerous than the good things; many sayings and songs of the nations dwell on this idea. They say that a good thing is found only exceptionally, whilst evil things are numerous and lasting. Not only common people make this mistake, but even many who believe that they are wise. Al-Razi wrote a well-known book On Metaphysics [or Theology]. Among other mad and foolish things, it contains also the idea, discovered by him, that there exists more evil than good. For if the happiness of man and his pleasure in the times of prosperity be compared with the mishaps that befall him,--such as grief, acute pain, defects, paralysis of the limbs, fears, anxieties, and troubles,--it would seem as if the existence of man is a punishment and a great evil for him. This author commenced to verify his opinion by counting all the evils one by one; by this means he opposed those who hold the correct view of the benefits bestowed by God and His evident kindness, viz., that God is perfect goodness, and that all that comes from Him is absolutely good.”

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