06 February 2007

I'm going to live forever

A short while ago, we had lengthy discussions about R' Elchonon Wasserman's "Maamar Al Emuna" (Essay on faith). Apparently, Ed and anonymous believed this was so powerful as to give skeptics pause as to their beliefs.

Ed asked me to read it and post my thoughts. I started out with a lengthy exposition describing exactly what REW states, but after a while, it became really tedious. So I erased all that.

In truth I have very little to add to what has already been said.

R. Wasserman comes to the conclusion that the philosophers are crazy. This is without presenting any other side of the debate or evidence. In other words, they're crazy because he says so. Not once does he debate the issue nor mention that the same difficulty, of where the world came from, can be applied to God. He just takes God as a given. I hate to say this, but it reminds me of what Jacob Stein said just today "As far as truth goes, any imbecile can see that Judaism is the truth."

I can understand him believing in God. But he presents his side of the argument and the premise of the essay, in great "Talmudic & Halachic detail". He includes Rov, Shochad, Noahide laws, Rambam, etc. But he does not present even a limited discussion of the non-believers' evidence & claims.

The whole maamar is a 5 page restatement of what Chazal said "Lo Uvdo Avidah Zarah Ela Lhatir lahem Arayos". Loosely translated - "People deny God for the sole purpose of living an immoral life".

Almost every statement that he does make is taken from the Torah & Talmud, which of course makes no sense to a non-believer.

So let's discuss "Lo Uvdo".

Lo Uvdo Avodah Zara? My own personal experience shows this is not a universal truth. I now feel free to dismiss this out of hand. I used this concept on myself for many years to keep myself in check. But it's false. I might be wrong about TMS. But my beliefs come from my intellect and experiences. It has nothing to do with desires.

The problem is that "Lo Uvdo" is an easy claim to make. Way too easy. Like all religious claims, it's almost unfalsifiable. In reality, it's childish to claim the I really believe but I'm denying it for limited earthly pleasures. I know that I am not going to live forever. I always function with the future in mind. I started saving in an IRA when I was 25. Why would I do any less when faced with missing out on the prospect of Eternal Bliss in the company of the Shechina?

REW compares the lure of this world to bribery and thus states it clouds one's judgement. Sure, it's possible. But the bottom line is that everyone has bias. It's inescapable. REW's bias is no less than mine. What's important is to know and acknowledge your bias. And then make your life's decision with that knowledge. And then make your decision with the understanding that you alone are responsible for your actions. But you also affect others with your actions.

In conclusion, I must say that the Maamar is totally unconvincing. In defence of R' Wasserman, a man with great intellect (I don't know about his WW2 judgement)I must come to the conclusion that he intended this essay for believers. This was not intended as an argument to sway the non-believer like me. What shocks me is that believers hold this up an example of a good argument for belief.

(Irene Cara - FAME) I'm gonna live forever. I'm gonna learn how to fly (High) ... I'm gonna live forever. Baby, remember my name (Remember, remember, remember, remember) ...

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