Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


The Challenge to Judaism from…Judaism

posted by David Klinghoffer

My wife and I went out for dinner tonight and spent much of our conversation mulling over the challenge to religious belief posed by…well, religious belief and religious believers. I’ve often said that no obstacle to faith, for me, compares to that posed by other Orthodox Jews, even by Orthodox Judaism itself. I’ve been let down and disillusioned many times by the whole structure. Yet I know of no better answers to life’s hardest questions.

We talked about my (I will leave Nika’s part of the conversation out, because it’s her business and not mine to relate) many doubts and questions about Judaism. For example, we discussed the possibility that any religiously traditional parent has to confront, that your children won’t grow up to follow your path. Some of our kids seem more instinctively “religious” than others. I said that while a kid’s going off the derech, the path, would give me pain, I think I would be able to live with it pretty well philosophically. Why?
Because I’m really not so sure that my path has all the answers to life’s questions all tied up in a neat little bundle. I encounter far too much improvisational malarkey in Judaism, from Jewish teachers, to think that. As we were driving home, Nika pointed out that that’s not exactly the image I portray when I write for public consumption. For example, on this blog.

But I had to disagree. I don’t always write here or anywhere everything I think about faith — God willing, I’ll do so in time, it’s not a simple matter — but I don’t write things that I don’t think. I try to confront you with the truth about what Judaism says, whether what it says is ultimately right or wrong. 
There’s a fantastic amount of disinformation out there simply about the facts. A recent commenter here complained that I appeared to be pushing a Christian line of thought in advocating that we all keep our minds open to the possibility of there being scientific evidence friendly to a theistic viewpoint. The commenter, who identified herself as Jewish, seemed to think that openness to the idea of there being a creator in the world was not a Jewish way of thinking. Amazing!


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posted August 12, 2009 at 4:40 am


“A recent commenter here complained that I appeared to be pushing a Christian line of thought in advocating that we all keep our minds open to the possibility of there being scientific evidence friendly to a theistic viewpoint. The commenter, who identified herself as Jewish, seemed to think that openness to the idea of there being a creator in the world was not a Jewish way of thinking. Amazing!”
Given your tendancy to take thinks people write and then twist them beyond any semblance of the person’s intent in writing them to support some argument you have, I think it would be fair for you to quote what this ‘commenter’ said exactly so we can decide for ourselves if they were saying anything of the kind…



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 12, 2009 at 5:24 am


David, you are accused of pushing a “Christian line of thought” because you work for Discovery Institute.
ID has virtually no following outside of evangelical Christian circles, Discovery Institute’s money comes primarily from evangelical Christians.
http://www.baptist2baptist.net/b2barticle.asp?ID=147
Granted that Bill and Melinda Gates gave some money for the Cascadia Project; but everyone knows what Discover Institute fundamentally is about and who pays for it.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 12, 2009 at 5:52 am


The commenter, who identified herself as Jewish, seemed to think that openness to the idea of there being a creator in the world was not a Jewish way of thinking.
No, I believe the commenter REALLY said that belonging to an organization, the mission of which is to spread the idea that some unnamed intelligence, not necessarily God, is responsible for life on earth, is not a Jewish way of thinking.
Jews believe in the God of Abraham, not space aliens, not Cthulhu. They believe that Man’s MIND was made in the image of God, not his physical form. (“In Man that notion is that from which human apprehension derives. It is on account of this intellectual apprehension that it is said of Man, in the image of God created He him.”
The Discovery Institute is so carefully neutral-in court-about the nature of this unnamed designer, that a naive observer would think the lot of you are secularists. And then you look more closely, and you guys publish books with Regnery, speak at churches, hold professorships at Christian colleges and seminaries, testify in court on behalf of evangelical Christians wishing to “wedge” God into science classes (or accept $20,000 to testify and then bail at the last minute), write up detailed five-year plans for overthrowing “materialism” which talk about Christian outreach but don’t address Judaism at all, and describe intelligent design as “the Logos of St John’s Gospel in the idiom of information theory”.
No, why would ANYONE think that you were involved with pushing a Christian line of thought, David?
The DI fellows say “it’s all about science” in the public square, and they say “it’s all about Jesus” at church.
I don’t question your Jewish bonafides, David, but your day job seems to involve a great deal of Christianity, and it is not surprising you would draw these types of criticisms.
If I worked for a Communist think tank, and wrote books and gave lectures for Communist audiences, and wrote articles for Communist magazine, and most of my coworkers were Communists, then it would be downright unreasonable for people to think I didn’t have a great deal of sympathy for Communism. If I then tried to make a big deal about not being a Communist, people would think I was mercenary.



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Turmarion

posted August 12, 2009 at 11:56 am


Some of our kids seem more instinctively “religious” than others.
It’s interesting that Rod Dreher over at “Crunchy Con” noted the same thing about his kids awhile back. I have only one child, but looking at her compared to her friends and looking back at my childhood and my sister, this rings true. Children seem to have different temperaments that dispose them more or less to religion, for some reason. The longer I’ve been a father the more I’m convinced that it’s not as much about “nurture” in the nature-nurture debates as I thought at one time.
Because I’m really not so sure that my path has all the answers to life’s questions all tied up in a neat little bundle.
I don’t think any truly thoughtful believer in any religion who’s old enough to have experienced life’s vicissitudes would think other than this. Certainly, I’ve encountered plenty of “improvisational malarkey” in Catholicism, and I think adherents of lots of other faiths could probably concur for their own groups, as well! If God had so chosen, He could presumably have structured things such that one faith would be as obviously correct as gravitation. Moreover, He could have insured that there was only one faith to begin with. I tend to think that the various religions are part of God’s mysterious providence, in which I heartily concur with the Koran, 5:48: “Had God pleased, He could have made of you one nation; but it is His wish to prove you by that which He has bestowed upon you. Vie with each other in good works, for to God you will all return and He will resolve for you your differences.” (N. J. Dawood translation) It is sad that more Muslims do not live up to this verse. It’s sad that more members of the Abrahamic religions don’t live up to this, in fact!
This is why, unlike some of my co-religionists, I don’t believe that God sends members of the “wrong” religions to perdition on that basis. I think one’s faith is important, and I do think that some are obviously superior to others (certainly we can all think of various cults that are creepy). However, I don’t believe in the type of God who’d make adherence to the “right” religion an absolute prerequisite for salvation, and then create a cosmos in which figuring out what that right religion is is so maddeningly difficult.



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bryce

posted August 12, 2009 at 12:55 pm


“I’ve been let down and disillusioned many times by the whole structure. Yet I know of no better answers to life’s hardest questions…
Because I’m really not so sure that my path has all the answers to life’s questions all tied up in a neat little bundle.
Hi David, When you say “my path,” do you mean “Orthodoxy” or do you mean “my /particular/ path within Orthodoxy”? Or something else?



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comradesoul

posted August 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm


This amazes me also.
“There’s a fantastic amount of disinformation out there simply about the facts. A recent commenter here complained that I appeared to be pushing a Christian line of thought in advocating that we all keep our minds open to the possibility of there being scientific evidence friendly to a theistic viewpoint. The commenter, who identified herself as Jewish, seemed to think that openness to the idea of there being a creator in the world was not a Jewish way of thinking. Amazing!”
God by definition is the Cause of all causes. How can anything be in existence that is not a result of His original push.
I am no enemy of science nor is science somehow antagonistic to the idea of God. Many scientists are to be sure but then they are only seeing what they want to see in their science and ignoring the fact that every facet of this universe expresses God.
When I see a beautiful painting my first question is who painted such a marvelous thing. The idea of a self-manifested painting is so ludicrous it does not arise.There must be a person behind the canvas.
Same with a sunset which is a minute display of God’s artistic talent on display. And so on throughout every aspect of the universe.
True science only reveals the intelligence and power of God. This truth will undoubtedly conflict with many of our myths about creation but so what? I am attached to no myth. The message is the same… In the beginning God…!



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pk

posted August 12, 2009 at 4:07 pm


comradesoul:
Rather than making subjective judgements about what is beautiful and what must stand behind it, how about turning your eye to the pediatric intensive care unit of your local hospital and see what else is the “result of His original push”?



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comradesoul

posted August 13, 2009 at 2:05 am


“Rather than making subjective judgements about what is beautiful and what must stand behind it, how about turning your eye to the pediatric intensive care unit of your local hospital and see what else is the “result of His original push”?”
Are you suggesting that the beauty in the world is nullified by the pain?
If not what is your point? Please explain PK.
I acknowledge them both.



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pk

posted August 13, 2009 at 10:05 am


My point is that if “every aspect of the universe” displays god’s “artistic talent,” so does pediatric cancer, which is quite an odd judgement, to say the least.



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bryce

posted August 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm


Fine pk, let’s say he left out the word “every” and used “so many” instead. Now how would you respond?



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pk

posted August 13, 2009 at 4:49 pm


First, replacing “every” with “so many” destroys the argument, such as it is. After all, the comment says that God is responsible for every aspect of the universe, not only those of which we approve. Another problem is that treating the world as a created object on which to exercise our private aesthetic judgement begs too many questions–for example, who decides which aspects of the world are evidence of “artistic talent”?



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bryce

posted August 13, 2009 at 5:36 pm


PK, perhaps you’d like to see my comment here, at August 12, 2009 8:53 PM:
http://blog.beliefnet.com/kingdomofpriests/2009/08/a-heretic-in-jewish-terms-someone-who-denies-intelligent-design_comments.html
http://blog.beliefnet.com/kingdomofpriests/2009/08/a-heretic-in-
jewish-terms-someone-who-denies-intelligent-design_comments.html



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Turmarion

posted August 14, 2009 at 12:52 am


I’d say that comrade soul is being more poetic than anything else, and as such it is perhaps unfair to judge him by more exacting philosophical standards.
pk and bryce won’t really be able to come to any consensus. Theodicy, the branch of theology that attempts to justify God’s goodness, has plenty of practitioners and many, many arguments. I don’t think that most people are persuaded either way by the arguments. If you believe in a fundamentally good God, you’re going to believe that there is a reason for evil, whether we can understand it or not, and evil thus won’t undermine your faith. If you don’t believe in God, or in a good God, then the existence of evil will sum up the case for you. People do change their minds on this sometimes, but usually as a result of personal experience, not argumentation. I personally think that God’s goodness can be so justified; many don’t; and I don’t think, strictly speaking, that either side can “prove” its case.
Anyway, this is a great excuse for me to post the following (which I’ve done before, but you can never have too much Monty Python!):
All things dull and ugly, All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty, The Lord God made the lot;
Each little snake that poisons, Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom, He made their horrid wings.
All things sick and cancerous, All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous, The Lord God made them all.
Each nasty little hornet, Each beastly little squid.
Who made the spikey urchin? Who made the sharks? He did.
All things scabbed and ulcerous, All pox both great and small.
Putrid, foul and gangrenous, The Lord God made them all.
– Monty Python’s Flying Circus



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pk

posted August 14, 2009 at 10:30 am


I don’t think comradesoul’s comments can be waved off as being merely “poetic” and therefore exempt from scrutiny– these are pretty explicit claims: “God by definition is the Cause of all causes. How can anything be in existence that is not a result of His original push….every facet of this universe expresses God … every aspect of the universe.” If this is true, the God who created sunsets also created devastating earthquakes, and the God who created the mammalian eye also created neuroblastoma. Someone who claims that using his or her aesthetic or moral sense to judge the creation demonstrates something about its presumed creator has an obligation to consider all of it, not just the part he or she approves.
I agree that no one is likely to be convinced by this sort of discussion, though I do think that the burden of proof lies with folks who find that love and goodness can be rationally (as opposed to through non-evidenced based faith) attributed to the god responsible for the world. In any event, I also agree that one can never have too much Monty Python.



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Turmarion

posted August 14, 2009 at 10:58 pm


pk: “God by definition is the Cause of all causes. How can anything be in existence that is not a result of His original push….every facet of this universe expresses God … every aspect of the universe.” If this is true, the God who created sunsets also created devastating earthquakes, and the God who created the mammalian eye also created neuroblastoma.
Exactly so. Cf. Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the LORD, do all these things.” Whether by doing or creating nasty things directly, or by allowing them to be done or created by others (angels, demons, humans), God is indeed responsible for neuroblastoma, bubonic plague, earthquakes, and any and all other nastiness one may care to list.
In the same way, such things do express something about God. For dystheists, they express that God is a no-good, rotten, so-and-so. For atheists, they express things incompatible with God, and thus imply His nonexistence. For theists they express a God who allows a rather rough and vicious universe for mysterious reasons but who brings it all (ultimately) to a good end, though we cannot understand the whys and wherefores.
The point is that traditional theists believe that this fact can still be reconciled with God’s ultimate goodness. Thus, for such theists, admiring the glory of a rainbow does not deny or contradict the horror of neuroblastoma. Rather, one might say it gives hope that the rainbow tells a deeper, greater, ultimate truth about God than the neuroblastoma does. Many, of course, would disagree–which is OK. If theists are wrong, it doesn’t matter in the end, anyway; and if they’re right, I certainly don’t think God, having made the world as it is, has a problem with those who oppose or even blaspheme Him for that reason. And if dystheists are right, well then we’re all screwed, anyway.
I do think that the burden of proof lies with folks who find that love and goodness can be rationally (as opposed to through non-evidenced based faith) attributed to the god responsible for the world.
Once again, agreed completely. That’s why they’re the ones writing about theodicy. Whether any of them succeed or not is up to each individual to decide. Obviously neither side has conclusively or self-evidently succeeded (and probably can’t), but it would seem that those opposing a rosy view of God have a stronger prima facie case.
In any event, I also agree that one can never have too much Monty Python.
Very much agreed! :)



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 14, 2009 at 11:30 pm


Turmarion:Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the LORD, do all these things.”
A woman once told me how she narrowly avoided being raped because she had changed her plans for the evening. She found out in the news that another woman who was in that place at that time was raped. And she was grateful that God prevented her rape.
I remonstrated with her about this, gently. I said that ALL things that happen are part of God’s plan, the good and the evil. If she had been raped, would that mean God didn’t care about her or wanted her to punished for some reason? What about the woman who did get raped? Should you thank God for sparing you by making it happen to someone else? If God loves everyone and evil happens nonetheless to people who don’t deserve it, then you never have any reason to thank God for preventing bad things from happening to you, because nothing happens contrary to God’s will; He has His reasons and you are not privy to them.
God is the source of good and evil, and to think that He’s going to do you favors for some reason is superstition, not religion. This woman, who is genuinely religious, took my point.
There’s a passage from “The Mysterious Stranger”, a very bleak story by Mark Twain, about the difference between human judgment and heavenly judgment. Satan, an angel (named for his infamous uncle), has befriended some peasant boys, and intervenes on behalf of a poor village woman when they ask him to:
…after a few days we found that we could not abide that poor woman’s distress, so we begged Satan to examine her several possible careers, and see if he could not change her, to her profit, to a new one. He said the longest of her careers as they now stood gave her forty-two years to live, and her shortest one twenty-nine, and that both were charged with grief and hunger and cold and pain. The only improvement he could make would be to enable her to skip a certain three minutes from now; and he asked us if he should do it. This was such a short time to decide in that we went to pieces with nervous excitement, and before we could pull ourselves together and ask for particulars he said the time would be up in a few more seconds; so then we gasped out, “Do it!”
“It is done,” he said; “she was going around a corner; I have turned her back; it has changed her career.”
“Then what will happen, Satan?”
“It is happening now. She is having words with Fischer, the weaver. In his anger Fischer will straightway do what he would not have done but for this accident. He was present when she stood over her child’s body and uttered those blasphemies.”
“What will he do?”
“He is doing it now – betraying her. In three days she will go to the stake.”
We could not speak; we were frozen with horror, for if we had not meddled with her career she would have been spared this awful fate. Satan noticed these thoughts, and said:
“What you are thinking is strictly human-like – that is to say, foolish. The woman is advantaged. Die when she might, she would go to heaven. By this prompt death she gets twenty-nine years more of heaven than she is entitled to, and escapes twenty-nine years of misery here.”
A moment before we were bitterly making up our minds that we would ask no more favors of Satan for friends of ours, for he did not seem to know any way to do a person a kindness but by killing him; but the whole aspect of the case was changed now, and we were glad of what we had done and full of happiness in the thought of it.
After a little I began to feel troubled about Fischer, and asked, timidly, “Does this episode change Fischer’s life-scheme, Satan?”
“Change it? Why, certainly. And radically. If he had not met Frau Brandt awhile ago he would die next year, thirty-four years of age. Now he will live to be ninety, and have a pretty prosperous and comfortable life of it, as human lives go.”
We felt a great joy and pride in what we had done for Fischer, and were expecting Satan to sympathize with this feeling; but he showed no sign and this made us uneasy. We waited for him to speak, but he didn’t; so, to assuage our solicitude we had to ask him if there was any defect in Fischer’s good luck. Satan considered the question a moment, then said, with some hesitation:
“Well, the fact is, it is a delicate point. Under his several former possible life-careers he was going to heaven.”
We were aghast. “Oh, Satan! and under this one -”
“There, don’t be so distressed. You were sincerely trying to do him a kindness; let that comfort you.”



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pk

posted August 15, 2009 at 10:24 am


Tumarion: If theists are wrong, it might matter, if their beliefs have led them to public or political action that harms others (e.g., see: heretics, burning of). And according to some theists at least, it does matter very much if they’re right: People like me are going to hell. I’m hoping it’s a little like Fawlty Towers, just maybe a bit warmer.



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alex

posted August 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm


@Turmarion:Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the LORD, do all these things.”
The word that is translated as disaster should be translated as evil. I don’t believe the word “ra” which occurs hundreds of times in the Bible, is every translated as disaster elsewhere.
@pk: “I agree that no one is likely to be convinced by this sort of discussion, though I do think that the burden of proof lies with folks who find that love and goodness can be rationally (as opposed to through non-evidenced based faith) attributed to the god responsible for the world.”
Milton Steinberg might agree with you! He’s the one who wrote “The believer in God must struggle with one immense question: how to account for the existence of evil. The non-believer, however, must account for everything else.”



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pk

posted August 16, 2009 at 12:50 am


Actually, it’s pretty easy for the nonbeliever to account for everything else: It’s just there, so stop thinking that your existence is necessary, and just get over it. The believer wants to be assured that his or her existence is necessary.



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alex

posted August 16, 2009 at 10:44 am


“Actually, it’s pretty easy for the nonbeliever to account for everything else:”
With Rudyard Kipling’s “Just-so stories,” you’re right.
It’s just there, so stop thinking that your existence is necessary, and just get over it. The believer wants to be assured that his or her existence is necessary.”
Where did that come from? Believers don’t believe that God HAD to do anything.



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pk

posted August 16, 2009 at 11:12 am


Nonbelievers have no exclusive patent on just-so stories. Believers and nonbelievers both hold that something exists that is self-foundational. Believers attach a cluster of anthropomorphic attributes to their self-founded thing, which they would like to believe necessitated their own coming-in-existence because it wants them to be here and cares about them.



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comradesoul

posted August 16, 2009 at 12:56 pm


Tumarion: “The point is that traditional theists believe that this fact can still be reconciled with God’s ultimate goodness. Thus, for such theists, admiring the glory of a rainbow does not deny or contradict the horror of neuroblastoma. Rather, one might say it gives hope that the rainbow tells a deeper, greater, ultimate truth about God than the neuroblastoma does.”
Yes this is indeed represents my view. I noticed the posts following mine expanded the discussion beyond anything I intended to address. My point was simply that I see a Supreme Intelligence behind all the cosmic manifestation. Rather that Supreme Intelligence is all-good or not is another question to me.
Being someone who accepts reincarnation and karma as a reality of life us in this material world I understand the good and bad that come to us in this world as a result of actions in our past. Sowing and reaping.
Consider things this way has freed me from blaming God for allowing the manifold horrific events of this world to exist.
At this point we get into the nature of free will and the nature of the material world itself which I see as a dream state, real but temporary and nothing to become frightened over. We the immortal spirit souls who having partaken of the fruit of good and evil (material duality) have fallen asleep here but for a brief time.
When we awaken to our true selves as spiritual parts of God the dreams and nightmares we have experienced will be seen as meaningless just like the so many dreams we had last night and “nothing to get hung about.”



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