Friday, June 26, 2009

The Intersection between Simple Faith and the Path of Reason

Recently Reb Harry at Emes v'Emunah posted on the issue of Emunah Peshuta in the face of challenges to faith. Insofar as I envisioned this blog as "An attempt at identifying the intersection between "Simple Faith" and the "Path of Reason"" I suppose I should make an attempt at explaining how I see them intersecting:

I am not inclined to accept the common dichotomy made between "emunah/faith" and knowledge. I do not believe that knowledge, even certain knowledge, of a matter renders it outside the realm of faith. Daily, towards the end of Pesukei d'Zimra, we recite the verse from Shemos that "the people had faith in Hashem and in Moses, His servant." (Exodus 14:31, Artscroll). This was, of course after the splitting of the Yam Suf and the Makkos, supernatural events meant to demonstrate that Hashem was the Master.

Indeed, I am highly skeptical about the possibility that one can "believe" in that which he simultaneously claims there is no "reason" or "evidence" to accept such a belief. I'm inclined to believe that either the faith, or more likely the aversion to supporting evidence, is feigned - consciously or otherwise. Show me any other example where a person can rightly claim to accept a position while negating any reason for doing so.

At any rate, this certainly does not seem to be the position of the philosophically inclined Rishonim. Indeed this statement of the Rambam seems to reflect the general approach: "But those who have succeeded in finding a proof for everything that can be proved, who had a true knowledge of God, so far as a true knowledge can be attained, and are near the truth, where ever an approach to the truth is possible, they have reached they goal, and are in the place in which the king lives." (M.N.3:51).

The approach of Emunah Peshuta, it seems to me, does not negate there being an underlying reason for accepting the existence of God and the Revelation of the Torah, but rather recognizes that accepting the Torah as Divine Truth means that intellectual speculation on relevant issues is superfluous at best. Emunah isn't a product of being a champion in the philosophical dialectic, it is from learning and internalizing the Torah. Free will, Providence, the nature of the soul and the afterlife, the proper conduct in life, these are not answered by philosophical speculation. Instead they follow from the axiomatic principle that the Torah is the Creator's Own explanation. It is a basic recognition that the natural world has very little too offer when it comes to evidence about the supernatural world, Revelation is the only plausible authority.

Implicit in the reluctance to answer metaphysical questions through philosophical inquiry is the recognition that not everyone is the smartest guy in the room. To accept false positions in the name of intellectual individualism is not seen as a virtue. Accepting that the Torah is truth, it is much better to submit to its instruction on the matter than to [risk] straying, and provided such an assumption is justified this is an eminently justifiable approach.

But while Emunah Peshuta would not promote participating in the Dialectic or recommend speculation as a path that will lead to Hashem, I do not believe that Emunah Peshuta precludes confronting doubts or challenges once they are confronted. What the philosophers saw as the path, emunah peshuta views as obstacles. When encountered one may need to deal with them but that doesn't mean one needs to go search them out.

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