In the last week I've run into a few discussions as to the basis of our religious beliefs/practices. Over at this thread at Three Jews, Four Opinions I had an exchange with Evanston Jew which turned on the basis for a sustainable Judaism.
I won't focus as much on what brand of Judaism is sustainable in the long run (if any). What I want to explore is the reasons we believed/believe in whatever religious beliefs we have/had. I had a discussion with a former Chossid last week, and we were talking about why we were Frum. In the end it came down to the difference between our upbringing; he was a Chossid, I wasn't. Now let's backtrack, why are/were we Frum, or better yet religious, regardless of particular orientation.
For the purposes of this discussion, I will combine the possible reasons for belief in two categories:
1) Because one believes in the truth claims of, and evidence for one's religion, which logically brings one to follow it since it is the right path based on the truth.
2) Because one feels a spiritual/emotional connection with his religion. It speaks to him, it fulfills some need in his 'soul' if you will.
Within the two categories may lie a wide variety of people, laymen and clergy, the more and less intelligent, the old and the young, newcomers and people born into their faith. Let's explore each category separately. In the first category we have people who believe in the historical claims of their faith, be it God's existence, revelation, an afterlife, divine providence and so forth. Based on these beliefs, they understand that they have an obligation to follow the prescriptions of their faith. Going against their faith would mean defying God, and doing harm to oneself. It must be noted that people in this category need not be mechanical robots. They could have a very thorough understanding of how and why the practices of their religion are meaningful and carry a weight that gives them an actual impact on reality. Nevertheless, the basic foundation of their belief is the factual truth claims of their faith, in which they believe. Why they believe in these claims varies from person to person. Some simply take it as a matter of tradition or authority, others have taken it upon themselves to investigate the matter, and have come to the conclusion that the tenets of their faith are logically deducible. Regardless, the deciding factor in their belief is a conviction in the truthfulness of these claims for whatever reason.
In the second category we have people who feel that the spirit of their faith speaks to them. They get some inner fulfillment from their religious practices or beliefs, or the see their faith as some manifestation of how they see and feel the cosmos. Here we also have a wide variety of people. For example some have a strong desire in helping their fellow man. They see this as the ultimate goal in man's life, and their religion is the channel through which they express this goal. Others may think of God and his connection to man, and employ their faith as an arena where this manifests itself. The common thread is that these people feel that their faith fulfills them in some way, which is independent of the particular truth claims of their given religion. In other words, if they were to become convinced of the falsehood of positions their faith holds as true, and that all the particular facts that it puts forth as proofs of its veracity in fact never happened, they would still be left with the basic reason for continuing with their religion. It would still speak to them on some level.
The differences are not as easy to perceive as it may seem. For example people in the former category can be stereotyped as those that get hung up on insignificant details at the expense of internalizing their faith's main message. The latter group can be generalized as those who are floating in the clouds, without a grasp on reality. But the opposite may in fact be true. Certainly these generalization are often true. Nevertheless, some people may be very pedantic in their faith, thinking that these minor details carry some cosmological significance (Mekubbolim for example). Others may have a very rationalistic approach to their faith, which is solidly built upon the findings of their investigation. And in spite of believing that all the laws and practices of their religion are a product of God's will, they may attach little importance to them, preferring to focus on the fundamentals.
Now which faith is stronger, more sustainable. It would certainly seem that the latter kind of faith, which is based on the heart and is part of the person himself rather than some external reasons, which are always subject to change. But it isn't that simple. For some, the latter path is not an option. There is no inner feeling that is strong enough to nurture a whole religion. There simply isn't anything there. This is the type of faith I had. Truth be told, it was very strong in its time. Why, because I truly believed in the main tenets of the Torah, and as a logical consequence felt obligated to follow the Torah. I did have somewhat of a connection to the religion on an emotional level, but it was very insignificant. Consequently, when my conviction that the Torah's claims about revelation, history, and God were either false or a guess just as good as anyone's, the floor was taken from under my faith. I remember that the only tough time I had on an emotional rather than intellectual level during my transition, was when it hit me that there is no afterlife. I couldn't eat or sleep for three days, but after that I was as fresh as spring flower. But this was the only faith I could have had. And when the foundation went, I was left with nothing but hot air.
This is how I am, and I know that there are others who would say the same for themselves. If someone is to say that it's shallow, I won't argue. I will say though that the other way is too speculative. I don't mean to trade barbs. I mean to point out that it depends on the person. What for me was based on a clear and (what I believed then) an airtight logic, is to you shallow. And what for you is a life based on spirituality and an inner sense of self and the world, is to me baseless speculation and Chalomos.
EJ, on the aforementioned thread seemed surprised at my remark, and wrote:
"No one, not one, ever says what you say "I am or was religious but not spiritual."
Well you have one, and I think that there are more. I won't argue with you if you meant that no one ever says that "I was religious but not at all spiritual" but you seem to be implying that spirituality is an important and even self sustaining factor for everyone. With this I strongly disagree. Some people are decidedly "nonspiritual" in the sense that it plays a very minor if any role in their life. By spiritual, I mean something that can't be grasped either by the senses or the intellect, something in the soul (again, for lack of a better term).
I hope I got the main idea across, it's a hard line to pinpoint. For this post, I ask the readers to comment more than other times, because I think we can clarify the issue with a view from different angles.
Simchas Toirah Drasha
1 week ago