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Thought for the Day: The Difficulty of Conversations with Adherents to Derivative of Torah Judaism

The word "apikorus", it is claimed, is from the Greek "Epicurean".  The word "Epicurean", in turn, means one who is an adherent to the world view originally promulgated by the Greek philosopher Epicurus.  According Wikipedia, his world view can be summarized as follows:
For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia—peace and freedom from fear—and aponia—the absence of pain—and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and therefore should not be feared; the gods neither reward nor punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space.
I like that summary.  It is a simple statement of the facts without passing judgement.  While many might shy away from being labeled as an epicurean, I don't think they would argue too strongly on this statement.  There are, of course, adherents of the derivative religions from Torah Judaism, though, who would not want to deny a life after death.  However, even they would most likely ascribe to a reformed view that says that death ends our physical state, but the soul lives on forever.  That one change will make a difference in particular decisions, but it doesn't change the essence of the philosophy.

That is, both the orthodox and reform epicurean would agree that short term pain -- exercise, refraining from smoking, chemotherapy, and whatnot -- is a worthwhile trade off for longer term ataraxia and aponia.  They would also agree that there is no sense at all to pursuing  goal that brings no benefit.  They would argue on things that don't bring a benefit in this world, though they might have very similar practices.  They might both help in a soup kitchen, for example.  Why?  The orthodox epicurean gets a good feeling -- a pleasure he enjoys; whereas the reform epicurean feels it is good for his soul.  They might both go to a symphony.  Why?  The orthodox epicurean is experiencing the peace and absence of pain that he always seeks.  The reform epicurean, though, may feel that by relaxing and "recharging his spiritual batteries" he will better perform whatever service he needs to perform in service of getting a beautiful life after death.

They understand each other and they understand their differences.  Both believe they are correct and the other is being naive, but it is an understandable naiveté.

It has taken me years to realize that such discussions between us Orthodox/Torah Jews and the adherents of derivative faiths is just not like that at all.  I have often felt frustration, in fact, with not being able to have conversations as above with those adherents.  I finally realized the source of the frustration and the near impossibility of bridging the gap.  The problem is twofold.  First, our motivations are not quantitatively different, the are qualitatively different.  The Torah Jew is not motivated by ataraxia and aponia; not in any way shape or form.  While we may hope for something like that, may even strive for that in this world (within the bounds of permitted behaviour, of course).  But ultimately our motivation is to do what HaShem wants as He has revealed to us in His Torah and transmitted to us by our sages.  Really; that's it.  That's one problem.

The other problem is that we use the same words for completely different concepts.  Take the word "angel".  We know them to be spiritual/transcendental forces that carry out HaShem's Will something akin to the way a printer carries out your will when you want a document printed.  To at least one major derivative religion (class of religions, actually), angels are some sort of super being who sometimes even rebel against their creator.  To them angels are not much different than the gods of Greek and Roman mythology. (In fact, I would argue they are, in fact, just an adaptation of that mythology to terms more palatable to the reader of the "Old Testament" [sic].)  Imagine talking to someone about chemistry when he suddenly says, "Oh?  In your belief system protons and neutrons don't have free will?  How strange!  I mean, then how to you explain radioactivity?!"  Once you see that he refers to "your belief system" and "neutrons having free will"... he is just not seeing the world as you do; he is not asking how you explain radioactivity, but explaining to you how your "belief system" is obviously and patently wrong.

You would think this epiphany would stop me from trying to have those conversation.  Sigh... I am still working on myself.


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