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Thought for the Day: The Kuzari Begins With Science and Rejects Atheism

These are my notes on learning the Kuzari. This is not a translation nor even a commentary, simply my notes and thoughts.

Synopsis
The Kuzari begins by giving a background story. The king of the Kuzars had dedicated himself to exacting service to G-d according to the strict dictates of his religion. One night an angel came to him in a dream to tell him that G-d was pleased with the king's intentions, but not with his actions. The dreams were persistent, and eventually the king decided that he would have to seek the true path to service of G-d.

With that as a background, the king first turns to a scientist/philosopher. (In those days anyone who pursued a career that was not involved in day to day living was called a philosopher. That eventually divided into natural philosophy -- which became science -- and supernatural philosophy. Hence, my use of the term scientist/philosopher.) The scientist tells him that of course there is a creator; but the creator is not involved in the creation. There is no relationship between creator and created other than cause and effect. Therefore, claims the scientist/philosopher, the highest level of human achievement is to become totally intellect driven (seichel ha'po'el). Never do anything because you feel forced by circumstances... i.e., my intellect is made to serve the physical. Rather the goal is that all actions should taken only upon council of the intellect -- the physical is subjugated to the intellect.

The king politely rejects this argument -- after all, that is precisely what he was doing when the dreams started. Therefore he dismisses the scientist/philosopher and decides to see what the Christians and Moslems have to say. He does not even think about asking the Jews, as they are a small and despised people.

Commentary
I first found it fascinating that the scientist/philosopher of 1000 years ago is presenting this idea of de facto atheism -- that is, that god doesn't interfere with our lives, he is simply rendered irrelevant other than as a historical curiosity -- as a modern idea. I had grown up thinking that this was a rather neat idea of our modern times! There really is nothing new under the sun; religion is always considered old-fashioned, and science (with grudging accommodation for a creator) is considered modern.

One additional and related comment -- why the need for the dream sequence altogether. I think that the problem being addressed is that there is no logical argument against the scientist/philosopher's position. One can do no experiment to prove him wrong, and it sounds very, very reasonable. The only answer to him is that we know he is wrong. There is right and wrong, absolute right and wrong. I may not know all the details, nor can I prove my position, but I know it none-the-less. I think the Kuzari may be telling us that one should start his exploration of reality by searching inward. We do have an inner voice, but we can only hear it after serious work to be sure we know ourselves and our mission. And then after that, we must seek outward; for spiritual truth cannot be made up anymore than physical reality. Reality is what it is. One cannot know reality by pondering made up fancies; one can only know reality by gather data and then pondering the implications.

Comments

Yehudi01 said…
Great post! I love reading through your blog because it's always intellectually stimulating...
I started a new blog that's connected to Jewish Pride and I'd like to invite you over to check it out. Let me know what you think!

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