Part I here.
The conversation with my erstwhile yeshiva friend did not just end that night. He called me up twice more after that. The second time he dived right back in, swinging as hard as he could but sadly, hardly ever making any solid contact.
Not all of his arguments were so terribly weak. Some were ok, but were just so misdirected that even though they made some sense, they really had no bearing on the specific issue being focused on (as best as I could tell). I can't really claim that my defense was so outstanding. For the most part, the assault that I was up against was practically ineffective all on it's own. There were some arguments that I conceded to him, but invariably they were predicated on some presumption that I totally did not agree to. For instance, many of his arguments were preceded by the statement, "Let's say, hypothetically, that you agreed that..."
Very often, when presenting his positions, he would employ a mashal (an analogy) to make his point. On the one hand, I was unsurprised to hear these familiar arguments, as I knew they were standard fare when discussing these topics. On the other hand, this was quite surprising to me, as they were all the same infantile, simplistic analogies that I had heard from rabbeim years ago. Did he really not have anything better to offer than those same tired arguments that were used on us when we were gullible, unthinking high school kids? The very fact that he was utilizing tactics that I knew were straight out of the yeshiva rebbe's playbook made me have even less respect for the ideas he was proposing. (And the fact that I wasn't able to easily squash every one of them made me have even less respect for my own critical thinking abilities.)
I definitely did not mount such a brilliant defense. I didn't perform as impressively as I would have liked. Not that I cared too. I really didn't. I would have liked to, but it didn't really matter that much to me. After all, I hadn't initiated this whole debate. Our dispute did not end with him being overwhelmingly crushed by my dazzling and unassailable logic. I deflected his attacks adequately, but it was by no means a knockout.
All in all, in my opinion, a very sad performance, from all sides involved. Below I share some of the more memorable moments of our sad and pathetic exchange.
(Disclaimer: 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. They are just brief snippets of conversation, meant to draw attention to a particular point, and not wholly representative of my full view on the specific issue.)
DH: I don't think that everything in the Torah is false, but some things definitely are.
EYG: How could you say such a thing? The toirah is kulo emes! If you believe parts of it are true, then obviously all of it is true! It can't be both emes and sheker!
(Could I have asked for a better example of The Black & White Principle?)
DH: I really don't have time to keep talking about this endlessly. I have to hang up already.
EYG: No, wait! Don't hang up!
DH: I really don't have time for this! You've kept me on the phone for 2 hours already!
EYG: But what if I was offering you a chance to get a million dollars? Wouldn't you give me another 15 minutes for the chance to get a million dollars? Wouldn't you?!
At one point I tried taking the offensive a bit:
DH: You know, you keep claiming that I should try out torah and mitzvos again, that I should speak to people that have answers to my questions, that I'm throwing away what's important, etc. Well, I'll tell you what: I'll do that if you do something for me. I want you to speak to people that will show you the problems in your beliefs. People that will clearly demonstrate the falsity of so much of your way of thinking and way of life. Okay? How about it?
EYG: Well, the Rambam says that a person shouldn't discuss certain inyanim unless he's ra'ui (fit) to understand them properly.....
DH: So basically you're saying that you're not interested in discovering truth. You know exactly where the answers lie. But you're only allowed to search them out if you're trusted to end up where they want you to. Is that right? Have you ever heard of intellectual honesty?
EYG: Um, no. But I think I understand what it means.
EYG: Do you find yourself happier now than when you were frum?
DH: Yes. I really think so.
EYG: I think the real reason you think you're happier now is because as the gemara says, "Mayim g'nuvim yimtaku." Stolen waters are sweeter.
That one really left me speechless! And I still have no idea how I to counter such a brilliant argument! How does one respond to such stupidity? Where to start?
DH: I found that observing many parts of the torah did not provide me with any fulfillment or meaning whatsoever. It does nothing for me. All it contributes to my life is headaches and hassles.
EYG: The toirah promises that following the mitzvos is the best thing for you. If it doesn't seem so good now, that's only because you sometimes have to wait a little before the good part comes. Not all good things come right away. You're only 30 years old! If the richest guy in the world asked you to do a few things for him in exchange for a billion dollars, wouldn't you do it? If he didn't give you the money right away, would you tell him you're not interested in it anymore?! If it got a little difficult at some point, would you just say you don't care anymore?! You'd have to be a meshugene to do that! No?!
Very often when I did give him a point that he didn't know how to answer, he replied with:
EYG: Look, I'm not claiming to be the Godol Hador. (I know that. He is.) I don't have all the answers. But I guarantee you that there are experts out there than can answer your questions. You really should speak to them.
The discussion just kept on going nowhere. He kept coming back to every little point, trying to convince me that my perspective was wrong, that my understanding of torah was wrong, that my questions could be answered, that I was making a mistake, and on and on. Eventually, at the end of our second discussion, I realize that he's not ever going to give up on this. Not until he gets me to admit the error of my ways. So I figure I'll just throw out a ridiculous idea, one which obviously wasn't true but which didn't give any recourse to debate:
DH: You know, you're right. It's not about sfeikos (doubts). I still believe the torah is true. But if I followed the torah then I wouldn't be able to have sex 3 times a day with 15 different women! I'm living the life I am to satisfy my taivos (desires) and give in to my yetzer hara (evil inclination). That's the real truth.
It was quite obvious that I stated this with exaggeration, and it was clearly intended to just send the message of leaving me alone and ending the debate, but the next day, when he calls me up and tries to go at it again, he starts off by telling me that he wants to respond to what I said at the end about the relationships I have.
DH: Huh? (I honestly had no idea what he was talking about.)
EYG: You mentioned about how you have some kind of relationship with certain ladies.....
DH (trying really hard not to laugh): Oh, that! Um, okay. What about it?
(I was really tempted to play dumb and force him to elaborate what he was referring to. It was plainly obvious that the guy was deathly afraid of repeating what I had said and he was probably even uncomfortable with saying the word sex. But I let it go. I'm just too nice.)
And then he goes into this rambling mussar shmuez which sounded something like this:
EYG: I'm not sure if you were serious about what you were saying, but you should know that just because you're oisek in aveirois....you can always do teshuva.....ain tzadik b'aretz asher loi yecheta......everyone gets involved in chatoyim.....hashem is noisein yad lapoyshim.....especially now that it's elul.....yoim kippur is mechaper on all sorts of aveirois.....
It went on for quite a while until I told him he was wasting his time again. But it was really something to hear!
After lamely sparring with each other for over an hour over various intellectual issues which I feel give one a basis for doubting every ikkar of today's accepted frum hashkafa, I finally tell the poor guy that he's just totally barking up the wrong tree. First of all, his arguments are entirely unconvincing. But more importantly, these issues really are not the crux of why I've chosen to live the way that I am. So even if he was somehow effective in his presentation, it wouldn't really matter. The path I've chosen in my life is not (primarily) due to any of these intellectual issues.
DH: Enough already with all these irrelevant and abstract issues! First of all, you've clearly demonstrated to me that you have no freaking idea what you're talking about in any of these areas. So please, please, shut up already. (At this point in the conversation my patience has begun to wear thin and I'm getting kind of snappy.) Secondly, it really doesn't matter to me one way or another.
EYG: What do you mean? Don't you care about the emes?
DH: Caring about the emes is not the issue. People aren't frum because they believe the torah is true. Yes, I know that's why they claim they're frum. But it's not the real reason. You need to understand that the reason people choose to live their lives a certain way is not solely because of logic and truth. It's a combination of factors involving beliefs, community norms, personal values, familial and social expectations, trust in the system, lifestyle choices, education, indoctrination, and other complex factors.
Understandably, this idea offended him a bit. Frum people like himself are fiercely proud of the fact that they are living their lives out of a heartfelt devotion to the truth. He asked me to amend my comment by saying, "For some people, the choice is based on these factors." Fine, I really don't care if he agrees with me or not. I'm trying to help the guy out by giving him a better understanding of why I am the way I am, and he's telling me he doesn't like my perspective. Amazing.
So this drags us into another pointless debate which has him bringing out proofs from rishonim, pesukim, gemaras, all sorts of stuff that I just am totally not interested in. Eventually, I've had enough and tell him he's barking up the wrong tree again.
DH: Look, you obviously have no idea what you're doing here. You don't understand that pesukim, rishonim, the Rambam, gemaras, the Rashba, R' Shach, or whoever it is - they're irrelevant to me. I have no interest in what they have to say. None whatsoever. If you want to convince me of anything it's not going to happen by bringing me proofs from torah sources. I'm living as I am because it works for me. I'm happy. I feel I have more genuine joy, achievement, goodness, meaning and fulfillment in my life this way than what you are proposing to me. If you want me to give this up, you have to show me you're offering me something better. Not something that has proofs that it's true! I'm always interested in improving my life. If you think you have something that can do that for me, I'm willing to hear about it. You need to approach me as someone who knows nothing about torah, does not care what rabbis have to say, and am only motivated by my own enlightened self-interest.
(Basically at this point, I'm giving him advice on how to better present his case to me!)
EYG: I hear what you're saying. I hear you. (...thinks to himself for a little while...) Okay, so can you tell me what you're looking for in life? What is it that you want?
DH: You've got to be kidding me, right?! You're trying to sell me something, claiming that it's so great, will fulfill my greatest desires, and you don't have any idea what my desires are! How can you even believe that torah will give me what I want if you have no idea what it is that I want?
He tried to appeal to me from this angle, but as I suspected would happen, it was an even more dismal case than his intellectual one. The presumption that a frum person obviously has a better life than anyone not frum is so ingrained and so taken for granted by a person with his outlook that he really has no idea how to even broach the subject with someone who disputes it.
I tried (unsuccessfully) getting him to realize that I'm a big boy and do not need his help:
DH: Why can't you just leave me alone already? Don't you understand that I'm not a kid? I'm an intelligent, responsible adult that is entitled to make his own decisions about his life. My choices in my life are none of your business.
EYG: Well, imagine if you had a friend who wanted to commit suicide. Wouldn't you want to help him out? What if he really believed it was the right thing for himself? Would you just leave him be to hurt himself like that?
I tried another tactic:
DH: The fact that you know nothing about life outside your constricted world should make you realize that you are not qualified to speak about these things. How can you judge another person's life, or values, or choices if you don't have the slightest inkling or appreciation for what may bring a person to such conclusions?
EYG: Well, what about terrorists? You know about terrorists?
EYG: There are terrorists all over the world. Ready to kill other people. To blow themselves up. To hijack airplanes and smash them into the twin towers. To shoot innocent Jews. To go into a restaurant with a bomb strapped to their waist. To teach others hatred. To...
(He keeps going on with his analogy for a few minutes, until I interrupt him and tell him to make his point already.)
EYG: Well, don't you think they're wrong? Can't you think they're wrong even though you don't understand what it is that makes them do what they do? They claim that what they're doing is right, based on their values and understanding, so is it then ok with you?
There was so much more. But I think it's finally over. At the end of his third phone call, I think I finally got the message across that nothing he has said to me has had any positive effect whatsoever. In his own words:
EYG: I see that there's no pesach in your mind for discussion...
DH: Huh? Pesach? What does Pesach have to do with anything?
EYG: Not Pesach as in the yontif. A pesicha. An opening. There's no opening in your mind...
I implored him once again to please drop the whole subject, to just stop calling me already and to leave me be. Hopefully, he'll listen to me and finally leave me alone. Even if he does, I know there's still hope for me, because before saying goodbye, he asked me my Jewish name (as in the name to use when davening for me), so when I finally hung up the phone, I did so secure in the knowledge that maybe one day, with enough siyata d'shmaya and heartfelt prayer, my soul may still be saved.