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A delusional relationship December 17, 2010

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Religion.

According to Rabbi Alan Lurie in The Huffington Post, all those debates about the existence of God — the ones where skeptics keep demanding evidence — are missing the point:

arguments and experiments can not prove the existence of God because God is not an hypothesis. For human beings, God is the experience of a transformative relationship with creation itself, in which we know that the Universe is inherently meaningful, that we were created for a staggering purpose that will unfold over eons, that love and gratitude are the essential actual materials of our lives and that we are holy beings.

The experience of a relationship with God is not one of religious doctrine, does not come from statistics, experiments or argument, and is certainly not in conflict with science and reason in any way. It is also not about righteous certainty or judgment. The experience of God expands the possibilities for our lives and increases the feeling of mystery and intellectual curiosity about the world.

I’m certainly in favor of love and gratitude and intellectual curiosity, but wait a minute: if God is merely an experience, then he cannot be an entity who writes books and listens to prayers and cares about what we eat or whom we sleep with. In what sense can Lurie call himself a theist, much less a religious Jew? Lurie is simply equivocating on the definition of “God,” emptying it of all the characteristics attributed by religious people (without which religion makes no sense), while still recommending a relationship with God (which somehow allows him to know that we were all created for some staggering purpose).

I hate to break it to you, Rabbi, but it seems that you’re stuck in a delusional relationship. You need to let go.



1. Reshef - December 17, 2010

Hi Ezra, I think you may be missing the point. You take religion as a monolith object, and try to refute it scientifically.

However religion can be parted into at least two distinct issues, although the line between them can sometimes be fine. These are religious belief, and a religious way of life, or tradition (there is another issue of religious ideology, but let’s leave that for now).

Religious tradition is not much different from other traditions – you do it because your parents did, and because it makes you part of a certain society, which shares the tradition. The fact that sometimes people try to find “scientific justifications” for one tradition or another is understandable, also in fact many traditions (religious or not) had good reasons in the time they were formed. Some can even be regarded as “scientific” when you consider the knowledge that was available to people at the time.

Religious belief is completely outside the scientific scope. Here I must agree with the Rabbi (a view also held by Prof. Leibovitch) although I am not a believer myself. It might be the term “belief” (as in modal logic) that contributed to this confusion. There is simply no objective standard here. Very similar, and related, to the question whether something is “good” or “bad” – it is a subjective question.
Note that many religious people (not all of course) an sympathize with the religious belief of others if if they do not share the same tradition. Further, this is the type of religious people that I find easier to live with. They tend to be less imposing and more tolerant. They are not trying to prove anything, and therefore I do not feel the need to prove them wrong.

The fact that people use their belief as a justification for their own traditions does not bother me as long as these traditions are not hurting anyone. As I said, I’ll leave ideology and fanaticism to another argument.

Ezra Resnick - December 17, 2010

I know very well that “religion” can mean many different things, and that is part of the problem: many believers manage to hide their dogmas from criticism by constantly shifting their claims around and refusing to be pinned down to any explicit definitions (e.g. of “God”). I have no automatic problem with traditions; my problem is with people believing things which are very likely untrue, even if some of those beliefs might seem to be harmless. You would like to ignore all the needless suffering perpetrated daily in the name of God, but one reason it persists is because of the “cover” provided by attitudes like Lurie’s. By presenting religious faith as a good thing, and admonishing us not to criticize it, he tacitly sanctions the continued sectarian division of our society into Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. — most of whom believe incompatible things about God, and many of whom are willing to kill each other over it. None of the good things people get from religion require accepting anything on insufficient evidence. As long as we continue to give respect to religious faith our world will continue to be divided by competing religious certainties.

By the way, I have no idea what you mean when you say there is no objective standard for belief. Either the Bible is the word of the creator of the universe or it isn’t; either Jesus rose from the dead or he didn’t; either our consciousness will survive our death or it won’t. Such beliefs have consequences, which really motivate people. And do you truly think there is no objective good and bad? Is executing homosexuals and heretics and blasphemers not objectively bad, for instance?

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