Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thirteen Principles of Faith for When I Take Over Judaism

Chris Smith of Mild-Mannered Musings tagged me to list ten random things that I believe. I have decided to take advantage of the opportunity to turn this into something slightly different that I had been intending to write about. Maimonides famously lists his thirteen principles of the Jewish faith. If I were to take over Judaism and construct my own list of doctrines here is what would be on it. These are actually fairly similar to Maimonides’ own list of doctrines with some of the more radical implications of Maimonides’ thought made more explicit.

I believe with perfect faith in one God, who is the ultimate cause of the universe and everything in it. He acts through the laws of nature that he put in place such as Newtonian mechanics and Darwinian evolution

I believe with perfect faith that that God is not a physical being nor should he be described in physical terms. This includes not only a physical body (hands, feet etc.), but also terms such as “true,” “just” or “kind” unless they are meant in the negative sense to deny that God possesses any of the human deprivations included in their opposites.

I believe with perfect faith that God, as the ultimate intelligence who is outside the physical universe, is omniscient and omnipotent. This does not mean that he is actively aware of individual human beings and their actions or that he is likely to involve himself in specific human affairs, only that all life is within the scope of his knowledge and his will.

I believe with perfect faith in the value of prayer and that God is the only being to be prayed to. It is permitted to pray in the general direction of a physical object like a Torah scroll and meditate upon it as long as one acknowledges that such objects have no actual power. Similarly one can consult with knowledgeable people such as rebbes and ask for spiritual advice. To go to a rebbe for anything beyond this is prayer and hence idolatry. Prayer to God serves not as magic or as a mechanism to affect God’s will, but as a means for human beings to reach a greater understanding of God and align their will with his.

I believe with perfect faith that God is the source of the moral law written in our hearts and that he has done so in order that we become moral beings in his image. God would never command us to do something immoral like massacre innocent unbelieving women and children simply to demonstrate our faith in him.

I believe with perfect faith in human reason as God’s law written into our heads as a means for us to come to know of him. This includes logic, the scientific method and the historical method. God wishes us to value all conclusions that come from the use of these methods and would never ask us to go contrary to them on a leap of faith.

I believe with perfect faith in human prophecy. As God does not speak, prophecy does not involve God actively communicating with man but man coming to an understanding of God and his law.

I believe with perfect faith in the Torah (Old Testament), the Oral Law (Talmud) and those elements of Jewish tradition that do not explicitly go against monotheistic belief as the word of God in that they are valid expressions of God’s will put into human terms. By following these things I come to a greater understanding of God’s law than I would if I were to pursue the matter merely through my own intelligence.

I believe with perfect faith in the value of ritual practice as a means of teaching about God’s law, creating a community of believers and transferring spiritual experiences from one generation to the next.

I believe with perfect faith that God is an unchanging being and that his will does not change. Our understanding of him and his will is part of an ongoing process in which every generation brings its own experiences to a conversation that spans the ages. Since we are including past generations as part of our faith community, the past maintains a powerful veto over all decisions.
I believe with perfect faith in the value of other cultures and systems of belief even those that go against our own. I therefore strive to respect all beliefs and the people who hold them as beings created in the image of God even as I strive to advance my own beliefs as doing more to advance man in its knowledge of God.

I believe with perfect faith that human beings are responsible for each other’s welfare. This includes social justice for those living today as well as caring for the environment for the sake of those generations yet to be born.

I believe with perfect faith in the continuing progress of mankind in its knowledge of God and that one day all mankind will openly acknowledge God.

The practical implications of an Orthodox Judaism run along these principles would be Modern Orthodox Judaism opening up its doors to traditionally observant Conservative Jews while kicking out Haredim. Essentially it would become ok to take a liberal stance on the divine authorship of the Bible, but the moment you imply anything physical about God or that you can go to rebbes for blessings or gain specific benefits from kissing a Torah scroll you are out. For example I know a Haredi rabbi with a long beard who, in a story-tape for children, told a story about the Baal Shem Tov trying to get to Israel where the Baal Shem Tov attempts to sacrifice his daughter to the angel of the sea in exchange for safe passage. This rabbi was implicitly endorsing the notion that human sacrifice to angels is permitted. In a Judaism run by me this rabbi would suffer a worse fate than even if he had snuck into his story “hey kids the Baal Shem Tov, having nowhere else to turn, went and accepted Jesus as his personal savior.” In order to ever be allowed into a synagogue again this rabbi would have to publically recant his words and do penance. No matter what this rabbi would never be allowed into a position of authority again. I would not trust him not to spread his heresy among children. There is a prominent Haredi charity called Kupat Hair, which claims that rabbis such Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky will bless donors with all manner of physical benefits. This would count as heresy and the donors and the rabbis who have endorsed this would be out of Judaism. Rabbi Kanievsky is also likely a supporter of at least soft core geocentrism. Since support of the use of reason, including the scientific method, is an article of faith, this would also now be not just bad science, but heresy.

If you took over and were made pope of your religion what doctrines would you put in place that those who went against them would be expelled from the religion?

I tag Miss S., Bray of the Fundie, E-Kvetcher and Cory Driver.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

"God would never command us to do something immoral like massacre innocent unbelieving women and children simply to demonstrate our faith in him."

So, how do you understand Amalek?

Izgad said...

Amalek in the Bible attacked us. I would see it as implied that Amalek in the time of Samuel did something to cause God to "remember" what they did to Israel.
Today all we have is the war with a spiritual Amalek.

The Bray of Fundie said...

He acts through the laws of nature that he put in place such as Newtonian mechanics and Darwinian evolution


Precisely. Just as He (maleness sounds physical to me. You ought to use "It")did when turning rivers to blood, slew thousands (millions???) of firstborn at the same instant and cretaed 12 distinct dry-to-the-foot-touch paths through the sea of reeds.

“true,” “just” or “kind” unless they are meant in the negative sense to deny that God possesses any of the human deprivations included in their opposites

How are these physical? If they are how can you be so theologically sure that G-d doesn't possess their "opposites"?

The Bray of Fundie said...

as far as being "tagged" call me a comment Wh**e but I am disinclined to even think about it until/unless I see a minimum of 5 comments from you on some of the many high quality posts on my most excellent blog

The Bray of Fundie said...

I'm busy now but hope to get to some of the rest of your Iqarim later bl"n.

Izgad said...

Bray

I am okay with calling God with male gender terms since there is nothing physical about it. Male, female and, in some languages, neuter, terms or grammatical constructions and having nothing to do with what sort of physical private parts someone might possess. For example the German word for young girl uses the neuter tense. Justice and strength are terms we associate with God in some sense. These terms can be viewed as “male” so we use male grammar for God. While I happen to be reading a book called God’s Phallus, I do not believe that he has one of any kind.

My belief that God is not a liar or a sadist is I admit a complete leap of faith. To believe in an evil God would be a cliff dive into insanity. That being said it is important to maintain God’s goodness and flee from anything that would imply that he is not good, like saying that God allows people to die because of the length of their skirt.

The Bray of Fundie said...

it's not the length of the skirt that is evil but the height of the knees.

The same skirt on a woman/girl with lower knees would be life-affirming.

O and BTW a 58 second visit to my blog just doesn't cut it.

The Bray of Fundie said...

How are you with a G-d that demands being hurled off a cliff for throwing a raw carrot into a pot of boiling water on the stove on Saturdyas?

The Bray of Fundie said...

That being said it is important to maintain God’s goodness and flee from anything that would imply that he is not good,

An Oxymoron as the definition of "good" means anything consistent with G-d's will and the definition of evil is anything inconsistent with same.

Aveira Lishma and Limud Torah ahl M'nas L'Kanter get tricky.

The Bray of Fundie said...

but as a means for human beings to reach a greater understanding of God and align their will with his.


How would you distinguish prayer from Torah study? I thought that the purpose of Torah Study was to serve as a means for human beings to reach a greater understanding of God and align their will with his?

The Bray of Fundie said...

This includes logic, the scientific method and the historical method. God wishes us to value all conclusions that come from the use of these methods and would never ask us to go contrary to them on a leap of faith.


havdala oblivious, even for a putative rationalist. See here:

http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2006/12/boundaries-of-rationality.html

This is getting a bit tedious and one of my comments was lost so it's finis for now.

The Bray of Fundie said...

G-d Almigh-y do I miss the real time conversations over on DovBear.

Izgad said...

Bray
I hoped you were being just a little tongue and cheek about the whole comments deal making thing. I was going to ignore it but you went back to it. I read many different blogs including yours, which I have looked at numerous times. I occasionally comment if I feel like saying something. I am not the sort of person who will comment simply for the sake of commenting. I am not about to sit around scratching my head thinking of something to put in the comments section. We seem to look at the favor issue from opposite angles. When I tagged you I did it as a favor to show you that I was aware of you, was interesting in what you had to say, and was grateful to you for putting up a link to my blog even though I had never actually commented on your blog. You put a link to my blog so I took advantage of the opportunity to put a link to your blog. On the flip side I see allowing comments as a favor that the author of a blog does for readers. Commenting on a blog allows you to put a link to one’s own blog. One of the things that I like about blogging is the chance to make new friends who are interesting into talking about the same ideas that you are interested in even if they may sometimes take different stances. I did write a comment and I may write other comments on your blog in the future if something strikes me, but I am not about to engage in some sort of mercenary relationship to artificially make my blog appear to be more popular than it is. It is dishonest and anyway I have no problem remaining a small time blog.
I have a very serious problem with throwing someone off a cliff for boiling a carrot on the wrong day. I do accept that if you are going to operate a theocracy where authority rests on everyone following the state religion. Anyone who goes against the state religion even on trivial issues like boiling carrots is guilty of attacking the authority of the state, a capital offense.
As to your blog post on DovBear on Maimonides, my post was not about kicking people out for lack of rationality per se (a loaded term for another discussion), but on the issue of kicking people out for not being monotheists by Maimonides’ definition.
I believe in a morality outside of God and which we can hold God accountable to. If I believed that good simply meant whatever God did, it would not be meaningful to call God good and I certainly I am trying to maintain God as a being who is good in some meaningful sense.
You actually are quite on the button in terms of Torah study. In their ideal forms Torah study and prayer are the same things.

The Bray of Fundie said...

*SIGH*

Miss S. said...

Hey, I like that brand of Judaism; sign me up please! :-D

The Bray of Fundie said...

one from column A and one from column B

The Bray of Fundie said...

On the flip side I see allowing comments as a favor that the author of a blog does for readers.

Couldn't disagree wit hyou more but that's probablt because of my low-self-esteem issues. IMO

יותר ממה שבעל הבלוג עושה אם הקומנטר הקומנטר עושה עם בעל הבלוג

Chris said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for doing this. I rather like your version of Judaism, which is quite Platonic apart from the (non-literal) Torah-observance and strict condemnation of idolatry/anthropomorphism. I'm a Platonist some days myself. :)

I'm a little curious, though, why a God who is as impassive as the one you describe would care about Torah or idolatry or anthropomorphism at all. Your God does not speak, has no attributes except negative ones, and is not actively aware of human beings. It seems to me that given such a God, we would be left with a basically rational morality. Is there a rational ground for negative theology and anthropomorphism that I'm not aware of?

Thanks,

-Chris

Izgad said...

I am in good company as a Platonist who believes in the value of literal ritual practice and condemns idolatry, Judah Philo’s.
In terms of the issue about what God cares about. It is not a matter of what God cares about; certainly not a matter of what God will send people to hell over. What is at stake here is our human ability to come to the greatest understanding of God possible. (I will leave it as an open issue for another time as to the role this knowledge of God plays in gaining some form immortality for the soul.)

Chris said...

Hi Ben,

I can agree that monotheism and negative theology can lead to greater understanding, and that ritual practice is useful. I just don't see a rational moral basis for excluding other forms of spirituality than these.

I have to say I approve of your rebbes, though... Philo and Maimonides are pretty fantastic. Pseudo-Dionysius is another of my Neoplatonic favs.

-Chris

Izgad said...

I like Pseudo-Dionysius as well. He is an excellent example of how one can engage in a meaningful discussion about God while working from a negative theology framework. He was influential in this sense on one of my favorite Christian medieval texts, the Cloud of Unknowing.
I do see certain logical problems with other forms of spirituality. Having God as the creator of the universe as the prime mover forces you into a non-physical God. If we take this seriously makes all attempts to talk about him using our terms very problematic. I grant you that to maintain negative theology you have to talk about God. Talking about God’s actions as being good is one way to go. It would also be theoretically possible to use a term like good as an x that applies to God and that our notions of goodness are pale imitations of.

robert said...

"I believe with perfect faith that God is the source of the moral law"

I have a major problem with this one. This states that there is an objective basis for morality. Using this line of thought, theocratic societies can and do commit attrocities such as executing people for engaging in consensual homosexual sex, or for consensual adultery.

I would prefer if we left God out of morality, and let morality be subjective to individuals points of view. The world would be a much better place.

Izgad said...

Robert
I acknowledge the risk. I am attempting to balance that risk against my fear not just of people who believe that there is “no law and no judge,” but even more so of people who believe that the very concept of moral law is meaningless. It is important for me that when I tell people that they are doing something wrong by treating homosexuals as second class citizens that I mean something more than just I do not like their taste as I might not like their taste in ties or haircuts. This means that I have to appeal to something more than just my personal feelings or genes. I need some sort of universal law, a universal law that even our homophobes agree to. Once I acknowledge a universal law then I am hard pressed to avoid acknowledging a universal law giver.
To minimize the risk that this acknowledgment of a universal law turning into a religious theocracy it is important to keep this universal law to things that have been at the center of all societies. For example the imperative to be consistent and treat other people according to the same moral rules that you believe that other people should treat you with. Hence we get “love thy neighbor” and Kant’s categorical imperative to behave in such a way that you would have turned into a universal law.

robert. said...

Izgad Said:
"It is important for me that when I tell people that they are doing something wrong by treating homosexuals as second class citizens that I mean something more than just I do not like their taste as I might not like their taste in ties or haircuts. This means that I have to appeal to something more than just my personal feelings or genes. I need some sort of universal law, a universal law that even our homophobes agree to."

Izgad,

I do not understand your line of reasoning. In my understanding, morality is a subjective concept. Framing morality as objective will not help as you attempt to persuade others that killing homosexuals is wrong. In fact, it can hurt your cause for they will say that due to objective morality, it is perfectly OK and even desirable to execute homosexuals. After all, It was God HIMSELF, the author of objective morality, who instructed us in HIS bible that homosexuality (and consensual adultery) is an abomination worthy of execution.

So I do not understand what you are gaining by use of objective morality.

No matter what you say, they will believe that that due to objective morality, homosexuality is wrong and must be punished in the name of morality. It would be best if you can persuade them that there is no such thing as objective morality, and that it is extremely wrong for societies to compel people to act in certain ways in areas which should be left up to the individuals to decide for themselves.

I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this, in particular how objective morality can lead to a better society. As I mentioned, I am strongly opposed to the concept of objective morality.

Izgad said...

The argument from universal morals only works with claims that both sides agree are universal truths. This is an important defense mechanism. It allows us not worry about people who think that God commanded them to persecute homosexuals. I do not buy into that claim so we are at an impasse. Now I turn around to make my moral case. Our homophobes may not believe that there is some sort universal law not to persecute homosexuals, but they likely do believe in the principle of the strong shall not persecute the weak and that one should not take the law into one’s own hands. This allows me to say that, regardless of what they may personally feel about homosexuals, it is still wrong for angry mobs with pitchforks to lynch homosexuals. My homophobes may choose to ignore this argument or try to find some excuse to get around it, but I have at least said something coherent in defense of my moral ideals.
You wish to tell our homophobes that there is no universal morality and that therefore they should just agree to live and let live. Why do you assume that tolerance is the conclusion of no universal morality as opposed to the law of the jungle, the strong consuming the weak. Our homophobes are attempting to build a society so they will collectively be stronger. They have differing views on health care and abortion, but the one thing that they can all agree to is that they hate gays. So they gather the mob together and lynch some local homosexual. Everyone, except for the homosexual who is now dead, is happy and there is much in the way of brotherly feeling in the air. All the frustrations that could have caused other conflicts have been put aside for the moment. Homosexuals have now been sacrificed for the greater good. What grounds do you have to tell people that they are wrong for pursuing such a practical solution to their problems?
May I suggest that you do believe in some sort of universal value, tolerance.