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Thought for the Day: The Kuzari's rejection of Christianity and Islam

Synopsis

Having rejected the arguments of the philosopher/scientist, the king of Kuzar turns toward the "organized religion" -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He rejects Judaism immediately because is practitioners are few and despised. The king decides to start with the Christian scholar and gets a quick overview:
G-d revealed Himself to the Jews and gave them His Torah. On this point there is no argument; it is an accepted historical fact. At some point G-d decided to put Himself into human form and masquerade as a prophet; this was the messiah. Most of the Jews rebelled against the messiah, so G-d rejected them; leaving the messiah with only twelve followers. Those twelve followers became the replacement for the twelve tribes. Now everyone who follows after the messiah and his original followers are the real Children of Israel, even though none of them are actually descendants of Jacob. And even though we call G-d three, He is really one.

The king has a very short reply: that doesn't make any sense, and since I didn't grow up with that idea there is no way I can accept it.

Next the king turns to Islam and gets the following description:
We acknowledge that G-d is one and eternal, and that all men are descended from Adam and Noah. However, we have a book [ie, the Koran] that is obviously of divine origin, as no human could write it. That being the case, we are obligated to follow it. Our prophet is a true prophet; and as the most recent, his word overrides all previous prophets. Moreover, our book describes how G-d revealed Himself to the Jews and gave them His Torah. On this point there is no argument; it is an accepted historical fact.

The king replies: I don't know Arabic, so I can't tell how miraculous your book is. Moreover, if G-d is going to reveal Himself and make Himself and His law known to man, that would have to be done in a way that is open to everyone. As you say, only the revelation to the Jews has that quality to it.

The king is left with the realization that he needs to have a conversation with the Jews.

Commentary
First, I found a reasonable translation of the beginning of the Kuzari online. While the translation is stilted, it seems accurate.

Once the Kuzari king has dealt with and dispatched the philosopher/scientist, he realizes that there is no choice but to look to revealed wisdom. That decision leaves him only three choices.

I think this is an important point; there is, in fact, only one source of revealed wisdom. Only the Jewish religion (and some of its derivatives) even claim direct revelation; all other philosophies are based on man made logic. As inspired as they may be, and as great as their creative geniuses may be; at the end of the day, it is still human logic. As the Kuzari king has already dealt with that, he has no interest in any religion that does not claim literal divine revealed Truth -- not inspiration, not practical or expedient -- but actual revealed wisdom. The claim still has to be proved, but at least these religions have a chance to be true.

I think it is also important to note that the king is not at all giving up on logic. There is nothing at all illogical about knowing where the boundary of one's reasoning ability lies. In fact, it is quite illogical to do otherwise. For example, one can not reason out that the atom should be made of electrons, protons, and neutrons. One cannot logically derive the charge on an electron nor even the fact that like charges attract and unlike charges repel.  Those are observed facts that must be a reproduced by any physical theory. That is, every physical theory must at some point resort to checking itself against the real world for the basic facts; otherwise it just isn't real. That is the stand of the Kuzari king; go to reality for the basic facts, and then build a logical life and philosophy based on that revealed wisdom.

As far as I can tell, the next steps taken by the king is simple to explore the only candidates in chronological order of appearance. First the Jews. It can't be them because they are so small in number, lowly -- even despised.

Christianity is next, it fails the "logically self-consistency" test. G-d starts off by revealing Himself in a very public way to the entire Jewish nation as a totally spiritual experience, then hides inside a physical being, gives up on the Jews who fail to recognize this person as secretly divine, and prefers instead the masses who follow a few true believers -- none of whom have experienced anything openly divine; but they believe! Ok; that is an easy one; not logical, lets move on.

Next comes Islam. Islam must be true, the king is informed, because it can't be man made. When I taught physics, we called that "proof by blatant assertion"; a technique used when you can't do any better. It is good enough for freshman physics, but it doesn't fly in graduate school; and certainly is no basis for a belief system that is meant to encompass all of reality.

The king is now stuck. All options have proven to be dead ends. There is only one rational thing to do at this point, and that is to re-evaluate the rejections. The king's weakest counter argument was to Judaism. There was no argument against Judaism, the king just couldn't imagine that G-d would let the bearers of real Truth occupy such a low station. Lack of imagination, however, is no proof. The king therefore turns to the Jews for an honest and probing investigation.

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