Friday, May 22, 2009

O Ye of Little Faith

by the Bray of Fundie

How much would we do to avoid a lower score on our credit rating? What if, in attempting blackmail, a hacker said to us; “With the push of a button I can drain every one of your bank accounts and change the title on all of your real estate holdings unless you _____________” how far would we go to fill in the blank? What demand on his part would it take for us to tell the hacker “I’m sorry. I can’t do that. Push the button”. What lengths would we go to in order to avoid disease? To avoid being party to an ecological disaster?

Now how about sin? To what lengths would we go to avoid it? Most of us pay lip service to Maimonides 11th principle: “I believe with a perfect faith That God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings”. But how many of us have true yiras khet= fear of sin? And even if we are too sophisticated to imagine Divine retribution in terms of Dante- Reishis Khokhma –like boiling pitch and innumerable floggings sin is still is something we’d, sensibly, want to avoid at all costs. If "hell" means a step down a slippery slope that will ultimately rob us of our humanity, if it means an ineffable loneliness, if it means a burning humiliation without surcease, if it means alienation from all that makes both temporal life and eternity worth living, if it means the sorrowful shock of recognition that never subsides of the dissonance between our actual lives and our unfulfilled potential and if we REALLY believed any of this on a visceral level, we’d me MORE afraid of sin than if it’s wages actually were boiling pitch and innumerable floggings.

The Halakha demands that we forfeit our last penny before being ohver a lahv d’Oraysa= transgressing a Torah level garden variety negative commandment . But how many of us would be equal to the test of telling the hacker “I’m sorry. I can’t do that. Push the button” if his threat to us was “With the push of a button I can drain every one of your bank accounts and change the title on all of your real estate holdings unless you don that wool-linen jacket”

What triggered this screed was some give and take I had with JS yesterday over the relative merits and demerits of living in a society with advanced technology that minimizes hunger and disease but in which atheism and agnosticism are rampant vs. living in a a low-tech but high faith society. IMO the discussion was skewed. We were talking over each other rather than to one another. Because neither of us truly fears sin as the existential threat that it is.

Today, on some level or another, we are all green. Until we all appreciate that sin is like pushing a button that, at minimum, sets off a metaphysical Exxon Valdez type cataclysm there is no common ground upon which to conduct the debate.

Much has been made of my resistance to facts and empiricism and how it proves my cowardice. Its futile to try to defend myself against such charges. But is it too much to propose that the more we have bought into the facts on the ground the more we’ve lost sight of, and lost faith in, the facts off the ground?

In the past life was precarious. Existential threats abounded. Bad weather resulted in bad crops that resulted in financial ruin or even starvation. Infant mortality and childhood disease pandemics could wipe out whole families, floods and fires, whole cities, unanticipated volcanic eruptions, whole civilizations. In a word for most of human history the proverbial "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life dominated. Science and Hi-tech have empowered modern man. Never before in human history has humankind as a whole and individual men and women had such self-sufficiency and control over their food supply, shelter, protection from extreme weather, avoidance of natural disasters and their own physical health and well–being as they do today.

The question is from a SPIRITUAL standpoint are we really better off?

There is a famous Torah from the Ri”m. He asks: What sort of curse was it for G-d to tell the snake וְעָפָר תֹּאכַל כָּל-יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ. = "and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life". This would seem to be a blessing rather than a curse inasmuch as the snake’s food supply is abundant, accessible and labor-free. He answered that the curse is precisely this: That being able to sustain himself on a food supply that is abundant, accessible and labor-free the snake is utterly independent of G-d. The snake can dispense with both faith and prayer. Being completely self-reliant has obviated the snakes need to be the least bit G-d-reliant.

This is my main gripe with evolutionary theory. Quite apart from all the scientific breakthroughs that it has wrought the very notion posits too many degrees of separation between man as creature and G-d as Creator. From there it is a very short jump to another form of man-/G-d alienation. From man as law-abider / fulfiller and G-d as legislator. To me it is no wonder at all that in our post-Darwinian era we consider mitzvahs to be extra credit and sin to be innocuous.

Tomorrow when we bentsch Rosh Khodesh maybe we should pray for "life informed by the fear of heaven and the fear of sin" with the visceral conviction that sin equals catastrophe. And that ain't no Parseltongue.

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