Sunday, September 25, 2005

My Truth

I've gotten some nice feedback on my previous posts, and I've discovered, as is frequently the case, much of what I wrote was misunderstood. Many conclusions were drawn that should not have been. This probably happened because my disclaimer at the top was disregarded. I'll repeat it here: It shouldn't be assumed that the quotes I provide from my side of the dialogue fully and accurately reflect my sentiments on the issue being discussed. I made that disclaimer for a reason: Because it's true. In the discussions, I was rarely presenting my own comprehensive views on the issues. It was not meant to be a thorough and exhaustive review of the theological and ideological viewpoints of Da'as Hedyot (I don't think even I know that). Like an attorney who might defend a cause he doesn't fully support, I was just trying to deflect EYG's points, and the manner in which I did so shouldn't be construed as a basis for understanding how I myself feel about the issues. When I challenged his premises, I did so by sometimes positing a well known objection (but not one that I necessarily put much stock in), sometimes throwing out an idea that I think has some merit, but not that I am absolutely convinced of, and at times also occasionally presenting a view that I personally subscribe to.

Many people viewed the exchange as a fierce and fiery debate between a believer and a non-believer, each staking their claim to the truth. I didn't think of it like that at all. It's more just a simple dialogue between two Jews: One, a staunch proponent of black-hat Judaism who never really examined the foundations of his beliefs or the choices he's made, yet feels compelled to impress upon his friend the truths that he holds dear. And on the other side is a guy who just wants to be left alone, but if pressured enough will give his colleague a run for his money, demonstrating that many of his assumptions are at best unfounded, at worst, mistaken, but most of the time simply not as universally agreed upon as he thinks.

A lot of the comments got me thinking about the issues more and motivated me to work on writing up a clearer picture of how I personally feel about them. One particular (anonymous) comment was really very thought provoking and after thinking over the objections he raised, I started responding to the comment, but when I found my (typically wordy) response stretching to two pages, I realized it warranted a post of it's own, which I'm presenting here. Before continuing further, go back for a moment and read this fellow's interesting comment.

(By the way, EYG called back again, but thankfully I wasn't home.)



Your comments were very interesting and got me thinking quite a bit about what I had written. But some of your objections were quite surprising to me. I wasn't aware that I was professing the things that you were claiming I was. In fact, I had to read over the posts a few times just to make sure I really wasn't. I believe that you raise some really good issues in your comments but after reexamining my words and my thoughts, I think that you've drawn certain conclusions that are simply wrong. One simple explanation for that might be that you didn't see the disclaimer that I put at the beginning of the post. Please go back and read that carefully. Additionally, I think your own biases on the issues are causing you to draw certain unjustified inferences. In fact, hearing the conclusions you jumped to reminded me of some of the same assumptions that EYG made in my discussion with him.

> Should we really just act like animals that do whatever pleases them? Surely, someone has probably told you this before, but what you are espousing is hedonism.

As I understand it, hedonism is a philosophy of gratifying oneself primarily through physical pleasure. Contrary to what you read into my words, I never espoused that (except in the ridiculous idea I threw out as a red herring). What I'm after is not a life of pursuing pleasure. It's a life of genuine meaning and fulfillment. Pursuing pleasure is not synonymous with pursuing fulfillment.

> If you really believe this, I hope you'd have no problem with a serial murderer who tells you that killing people gives him a tremendous sense of fulfillment.

Comparison to murder is obviously ridiculous as what I am doing has no significant bearing on anyone else's life but my own. Even if I was out to just satisfy my physical desires (as you claim, not as I ever did), I'm not harming anyone in my pursuit of that lifestyle. The analogy is way off. Advocating a life of pleasure seeking (which I'm not) does not logically lead one to accepting the legitimacy of a serial murderer who claims to be happier killing people.

For the fun of it, I'd just like to point out that one can make the murderer argument the other way too. If you claim that one should only do what they truly believe is true and right, especially when it is instructed by God, then you have to accept the approach of those who claim a divine mandate to murder. Taking your own words of...

Therefore, realize that if you accept the dogma of "it makes me feel good" you also have to accept the serial killer.

...and applying your position to that statement, changes it just slightly:

Therefore, realize that if you accept the dogma of "you must follow the divine law of God" (as one truly believes it) you also have to accept the Islamic suicide bomber.

> I'm honestly surprised that you're willing to admit to yourself that you live the way you do without regard to the truth.
> say that truth doesn't matter is, to say the least, astounding....

I was quite surprised when reading this. Do I really not care about the truth? And all this time I thought was an honest guy! I believe you're implying ideas from my statements that I never alleged. I looked over the posts and tried to find what it is I said that could lead you to that conclusion. I found two possible culprits. The first one was when I said, "Caring about the emes is not the issue." It should be obvious that I never claimed here that I don't care about truth. I simply was pointing out that IMHO, objective, intellectual truth is not the deciding factor in why a person ultimately chooses a certain path. Not that it doesn't matter at all or that it doesn't matter to me.

The other possible statement I found was in a comment where I said, "but if all they can prove to me is that the other lifestyle is "more true" than I don't really care too much". I can see how one might conclude from that what you did, but it is mistaken nonetheless.

I care very much about truth. One of the truths I hold dear is that we all are entitled to live a life of genuine fulfillment and goodness. And (barring certain unique circumstances) that no one should be forced to live a life that they find unfulfilling, objectionable, or one which causes them endless misery; that it is cruel and unjust to force a person to adopt a lifestyle and/or values incongruous with who or what they know themselves to be.

When I say "I don't care", I don't mean that I don't care about truth. What I meant is that I don't care about proofs. I say this for a number of reasons. Firstly, I know that many great minds have debated the issues for thousands of years and no one has ever been able to conclusively "prove" anything one way or the other. Additionally, over the years I've had so many people "prove" tons of things to me that later on I discovered were just outright falsities. I simply was not smart enough to see the error of their position. As you might suspect, most of those people were religious figures that were trying to push their particular agenda on me. So when someone comes to me claiming some religious truth I just can't help being a bit skeptical, even if they seem to have the most convincing proofs ever.

But I think the main reason I don't trust proofs is because I don't believe that truth exists in a vacuum. Just because someone can prove an idea in a theological or philosophical test tube does not really prove it as true. Truth also has to be consistent with an inner conviction. I believe that I'm entitled to pursue a life that brings me genuine meaning and happiness. When I say and mean that "I believe", I'm saying that I consider that ideal to be true. If you were to somehow "prove" to me that that's not true, it doesn't matter. That truth is felt deep inside.

I can see that I'm not really explaining myself too well. The best way I can think of to explain my point is to examine why many homosexual people have a problem with halacha. A truly homosexual person knows that this is who they are. But the torah apparently says that this way that they are is wrong, is an abomination (yes, I know that it only speaks about the act, not the person, but the point still stands, there's a part of them that is supposedly immoral according to the torah). They can't accept this. It doesn't matter how "true" the idea is, how "proven" it can be, how black-and-white indisputable the claim is, or how authoritative the source of the idea is, a person can not accept an idea as truth when it is fundamentally objectionable to who they are or what they believe inside.

Ultimately, no matter how incontrovertible the evidence seems to be, the truth has to be consistent with what we feel inside ourselves to be true. The values which we hold dear are truths too. Whether it be the pursuit of justice, or compassion, or human dignity, or equality, or the value of human life, or education, or freedom, or morality - those values are truths too. And intellectual arguments to the contrary will not sway a person who truly believes in those values, no matter how convincing.

(That's not to say that intellectual debates about these issues are not worthwhile. Sometimes an honest discussion will show a person that what they once valued so much is not so supreme anymore. Other times, a confrontation with a convincing opponent will motivate a person to try to intellectually back up their inner convictions. Oftentimes, forcing a person to closely examine their values will reveal that they don't truly believe all that they thought they did. But at the end of the day, if the person truly values the idea as a deeply held inner conviction, I don't think logical arguments are going to change the person's views.)

> And if you really don't care and think Judaism is unimportant or irrelevant...

Another claim that is unfounded. Where did I ever say this? Maybe you drew that conclusion when I said, "I found that observing many parts of the torah did not provide me with any fulfillment or meaning whatsoever. It does nothing for me." If so, please understand that "many parts of the torah" does not mean Judaism as a whole. And "did not provide me with any fulfillment or meaning whatsoever" does not mean unimportant or irrelevant. For example, a person can not want to keep shabbos because it does nothing for them personally, yet still appreciate the contribution that shabbos can have on other people, on families, and on society as a whole. (Also, while I'm at it, I might as well mention that "I'm hungry" doesn't mean I'm about to die of starvation, and "she's pretty" doesn't mean that I want to marry her. Just in case you might misunderstand that too. :)

Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate your insights and welcome any other comments you have on my writings.

For all those of you who really are wondering what I believe or don't believe when it comes to the intellectual issues that were raised......sorry, I'm not going to tell you. And why should I? It really doesn't matter. The stuff I write here is what I want to share, not what other people want to know (unless of course, I want to share what you want to know). I also haven't told you my favorite movies, eateries, about my recent job promotion, how my phone line got turned off, the politician I met at the car wash and so many other varied and sundry aspects of my personal life. This blog is not about those things. And it's not even really about me personally. For those who haven't figured it out yet, when I do write a piece, even when it is presented in the first person, it's not meant to be focusing on me. When I write my views about aspects of Jewish society or thought, it's also about how many other people like myself see things. When I write about how I am a certain way, or feel a certain way, due to experience X or idea Y, it's not meant to be a self-indulgent kvetch, but to show how those parts of Judaism can have consequences that so many don't want to face. The things I share here are not meant to help you get to know me better. They're to help you get to know us better. And your society better. And your Judaism. And maybe even yourselves.

Edit: Um, I just realized that last paragraph isn't entirely accurate. I actually do write about my personal experiences sometimes. But didn't that whole shpiel at the end sound so impressive? My ego sure thinks so! I can't just delete such a fantastic finale! I think I'm just going to overlook that minor detail and leave it all in (after all, as the commenter said, I have no regard for truth!). Your allowing me to indulge my grandiose fantasies is greatly appreciated.


Jimbo said...

Regarding your idea about a truth in your heart that can't be swayed by logic, here are two relevant quotes from Blaise Pascal:

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.

Ben Avuyah said...

I really enjoyed this series of posts, hedyot, I have never been in the same situation, and I don't know what I would do if someone really came after me for the purposes of re-converting me back to my former frumkeit.
After these few months I have spent on the blogoshpere it begins to occur to me that arguing religion or lack thereoff is about as much fun as banging one's head against the wall.

Don't be so quick to give up on logic and proof, though. Rationality as all we have to guide us through the darkness. When you let that go untended you end up tying red strings around your wrist, and baking challah's as segulas.

If you trust your logic that far, you can't trust it to help you through some of the difficult questions of religion. It won't always give you an answer, but it can help you identify what is a reasonable approach and what is not.

I'm glad you kept the last paragraph, it was a real zinger !

reader said...

hedyot I just wanted to wish you a gmar chasima tova, and may the new year bring you peace and happiness

sharona said...

I understand people not wanting to be very very frum. But I also think that Jews in general should not go to the other extreme either and become secular but should see that they can be both frum and modern.

I wish you a gmar chasima tova and health and happiness

justme said...

a gmar chasima tova, and best wishes for the coming year