Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Fools for Faith

The Torah emphasized in last week’s reading, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), that the Tabernacle in the desert was to be held up by planks of acacia, or shittim, wood. Hasidic tradition notes that the verbal root on which that Hebrew word is built appears also in the word for foolishness, shtut. The Talmud has it that sin is committed through foolishness. But more benignly, a willingness to be found foolish is an essential ingredient of religious life. We like to think we have rational grounds for belief, and I think we do up to a point, certainly more than evangelists for secularism would have you think. 

Yet one takes a considerable chance, in identifying with any spiritual teaching, of being totally mistaken in the end. Something I find incredible about certain versions of Christianity is the threat of eternal torture if despite the best intentions, and having earnestly sought to discern God’s will in the Bible, you nevertheless get things wrong. The idea that God could come up with such an “economy of salvation” is pretty hard to believe. In fact, the image of the Tabernacle, designed by God himself, suggests the opposite: that faith fails if you can’t take the chance of being mistaken in the end.
William James said as much in his famous 1896 lecture, “The Will to Believe”:

He who says, “Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!” merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys…..I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world….Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf.

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posted February 24, 2010 at 3:45 am

“But more benignly, a willingness to be found foolish is an essential ingredient of religious life.”
Do you really mean to say it this way, or do you really mean “a willingness to live a religious life despite others considering you foolish is an essential ingredient…”? Don’t we really want to be considered wise and understanding? –>
Deut 4:5,6 Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord, my God, commanded me, to do so in the midst of the land to which you are coming to possess. And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, “Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. ”

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Mark L.

posted February 24, 2010 at 5:00 pm

You’re right, David, in your critique of the Christian view of salvation. There’s a vicious intolerance built into it. Judaism is far more humane and in line with the way G-d views us.

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posted February 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm

To Mark L:
As a Noachide and a former fundamentalist Xian myself, I understand what you are saying, but think it should be worded differently. The word should be “perfectionism” rather than “intolerance,” since Fundamentalist Protestant Xianity assumes that G-d must damn anyone not as perfect and sinless as Himself (they appear to believe that G-d created us His equals in perfection and purity) unless someone takes each individual’s place and is damned on his behalf. And btw, “vicarious damnation” exists only in Fundamentalist Protestantism. More ancient versions of Xianity reject the idea. Yet harsh as it sounds, it still makes more sense then their own theories of the “atonement,” none of which make any sense whatsoever.
Further, “intolerance” isn’t really a bad thing other than to ueber-liberals. All forms of monotheism are, by definition, intolerant. Judaism is more intolerant than Xianity because G-d will have no partner whatsoever. The G-d of Israel is the original Jealous G-d, and that’s actually a good thing.
Finally, Fundamentalist Xians who insist on “eternal damnation” (G-d forbid!) probably think that Judaism is “primitive” for prescribing punishments–including capital punishment–for sins in this world. Yes, I know that the criteria for executing someone are very demanding, but Xianity per se has no such legal system but merely accepts the pagan legal systems that preceded it.

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