whisper

Why All Our Arguments Will Never Whisper To The Soul

faithIn the comments section of my previous meditation, a number of people debated over their various theological beliefs and offered a number of “proofs” to support their points of view. At about the same time, I read an article called “Why is there no evidence of G-d” at Chabad.org. This inspired a few thoughts about the nature of “truth” and why (probably) no one person or religious organization has the complete corner market on truth. But in the sidebar of the aforementioned article was a series of links to related articles. I clicked the one that said What Does it Mean to “Believe in G-d”?.

The statement, “I believe there is a G‑d” is meaningless. Faith is not the ability to imagine that which does not exist. Faith is finding relevance in that which is transcendent. To believe in G‑d, then, means not that you’re of the opinion that He exists, but that you have found relevance in Him. When a person says “I believe in G‑d” what s/he really means is “G‑d is significant in my life”.

In discussing our relationship with G‑d, the question we first need to ask, is, Who cares? In what way is He relevant?

For some people, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the origins of existence. For others, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the afterlife, and faith is a prerequisite for getting to heaven. Finally, for others, G‑d is relevant because they believe that life has purpose.

Certainly Christians convince others to come to faith because of the promise of the afterlife (“If you died tonight, do you know what would happen to your soul?”). The Church convinces “sinners” to convert to Christianity based, at least initially, on the fear of going to Hell and suffering for all eternity, and that by being “saved,” they are promised they’ll avoid Hell and ascend to Heaven when they die to be with Jesus.

That seems kind of cheesy. It’s like we have faith in God because it’s all about us and our salvation. Even coming to faith so we have some “grounding” in the origins of the universe, people, and the existence of everything still seems kind of self-centered.

But what about believing because we want life to actually mean something?

In Judaism, particularly in Chassidism, the interest in G‑d comes from the conviction that life has meaning. The recurring question in Chassidic thought is: Why is a soul sent into the world to suffer in a physical body, for 80, 90 years? We know there is a purpose, that G‑d is the author of that purpose, and we want to know and understand it.

One who lives by his heart exclusively, trusts only what he feels. One who lives by his mind exclusively, trusts only what fits. But neither of these tells you the truth. The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah. Because the soul is a part of the Divine — and that is truth. When we have faith, when we find relevance in G‑d, we are trusting that instinct in the soul that tells us that G‑d is the purpose of life.

In pragmatic terms, the mind, the heart and the soul must each fulfill their function: when we know all that can be known, when we come to the edge of knowledge and logic itself tells us that we have reached its outer limits and it cannot handle what lay beyond this point, faith enters. Where the mind is no longer adequate, the soul responds to truth. This is faith.

Let’s look at the central message:

The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah.

soulIn an ultimate sense, we can use evidence to support facts but not the truth. Being nice or being smart don’t really lead us to truth, but then we have a problem. How can you or I convince another person of “the truth” since that exists only in the purview of the soul?

This is why in Chabad-Lubavitch it is our approach to invite a Jew — even one who claims not to believe — to do a mitzvah, before we engage them in a discussion on faith. Because in consideration of the existence of the soul, we can assume that we don’t have to convince people of life’s Divine purpose. We just have to get them started, and with each mitzvah they do, their neshama asserts itself more, and questions become answered of themselves. By way of analogy, if a woman’s maternal instinct appears to be absent, you don’t argue the philosophy of motherhood with her. Just put the baby in her lap and her maternal response will emerge.

I can’t even imagine how a Christian would evangelize using this method. In Christianity, doing only matters after believing and is only a reflection of believing. Granted, the Church has a strong practice of charity and service to others, but it’s not the driving force that causes a person to convert to Christianity in the first place (could you imagine being a Christian and approaching a “sinner,” inducing them to join the Church with the promise of a lifetime of service to God and humanity?).

However, that’s more or less what Rabbi Manis Friedman is suggesting in his article. That’s why the Chabad will ask a Jew who is not at all religious to perform at least one mitzvah. Because the mitzvot are what connects a Jew to God.

To encounter God is a transcendent experience that goes beyond thought or emotion, but in order to “operationalize” that encounter, a Jewish person “does”. That is, he or she connects the soul to the author of the soul by performing mitzvot. This isn’t to say that prayer and worship don’t connect Jewish people to God, but at least from the Chabad’s perspective, it all starts with performing a single mitzvah, and then another, and then another, until they are living an increasingly Jewish life.

Christianity has the opposite approach in that reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping come first, and then eventually as the believer’s life is transformed by their faith, they come to the place where they are “doing” Christianity by helping other people.

argumentWhen we argue with each other for the supposed purpose of correcting what we believe others have gotten wrong about the Bible, about God, and about Messiah, and we say we are doing so because we care about those people, we are missing a vital element. We can’t reach their soul, at least not directly, with logical arguments or by appealing to their emotions.

Whether it’s by a Christian having a person they’re evangelizing praying to be saved, or by a Chabad representative having a Jew lay tefillin, the appeal is to the soul, and although we have different actions we put people through to make this happen, it’s really God who is speaking to the neshamah. That’s why, except in very rare instances, our blog conversations will never really be able to convince someone to admit that their theology is wrong, to change their minds, and to adopt a different religious discipline.

Speaking of changing religions, I found this article and it seemed relevant.

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14 thoughts on “Why All Our Arguments Will Never Whisper To The Soul”

  1. I wonder what you would think about what Jesus said concerning what he said in John 6 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me” did he really mean all?

    Also, in the same chapter he said “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” … really… “no man”?

    “Certainly Christians convince others to come to faith because of the promise of the afterlife ”

    How can a Christian convince others outside of those two statements of Jesus and is it even important?

  2. Certainly Christians convince others to come to faith because of the promise of the afterlife (“If you died tonight, do you know what would happen to your soul?”). The Church convinces “sinners” to convert to Christianity based, at least initially, on the fear of going to Hell and suffering for all eternity…

    That seems kind of cheesy…

    But what about believing because we want life to actually mean something?I can’t even imagine how a Christian would evangelize using this method. In Christianity, doing only matters after believing and is only a reflection of believing…”

    I know after a meditation about arguing, I should only offer my .02 by affirming these unflattering characterizations of Christianity, and I know this is the position of some in the MJ movement, but as a lifelong Christian I must tell you that I don’t recognize the Christianity you write about. Perhaps that’s how it seemed to you in your breif stay in a Church, or in whatever churches you attended, but this is not an accurate portrayal of the great men and women of the faith.

    History shows the earliest Christians opposed infanticide, infant “exposure” that was quite common, they also nurtured the sick regardless of who they were. The surrounding pagan culture:

    “Thrust aside anyone who began to be sick, and kept aloof even from their dearest friends, and cast the sufferers out upon the public roads half dead, and left them unburied, and treated them with utter contempt when they died” Works of Dionysius, Epistle 12.5

    He (Dionysius) said this was not true of the Christians who ignored danger to themselves and cared for the sick, dying, and abandoned.

    Lest we not forget, although some try to minimize this, hospitals are a Christian innovation. As is public education and higher education. No, I’m not ignoring the fact that Christians were influenced by Jews and their values (duh! 😉 ), but it is non-Jewish Christians who took these principles to America, and the world. Read “Setting The World Ablaze” for some examples of how Christianity and Christians influenced the formation of America and it’s institutions. (Even though it is depressing to see how far we’ve fallen away from the ideas and ideals of our great founders).

    How about we bring up Abolition, Liberty and Justice for All, Charity, the sanctity of human life, and the impact of Christian ethics and the elevation of sexual morality, that also literally changed the pagan world?

    Have you ever read about William Wilberforce? At detriment to his own health, he valiantly stayed the course and after 20 long years of fighting in Parliament against the slave trade in England, he literally changed the world. He was righting horrific wrongs to humanity, spurred on by his faith and not trying to win souls to his church. He also founded SPCA and I doubt there were selfish or cheesy motives involved.

    The Great Commission is primarily what drove these folks to spread Christianity. And they were “doing” to the world, and we have all too soon forgotten what we would have looked like without Christianity.

    You’re correct that Christianity focuses on changing the heart as opposed to an outward action that doesn’t seemingly benefit anyone outside of the individual Jew who does it (to use your example of laying tifillin) but that is for a very good reason: When your heart is changed so will your behavior. Christians would most likely point out that God himself said that it is a contrite heart that God desires, not sacrifice, and other such verses, to show that deeds done with impure heart and intent are not what God asks for or desires. But then you must contend with R Catholicism who do believe strongly in performing “deeds”. This is far from complete, but it’s already too long.

  3. Good article. The WSJ article was behind a paywall, but 20% of all Americans will change their religion and this doesn’t include movements from one Protestant denom to another. I suspect it is less about religion or being convinced that one is right over another, than a desire to reinvent oneself and religion is one of the easiest ways to do it as you have a ready made, convenient support system. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, (TINSTAAFL). When one needs the free lunch, it is difficult to them cut the cords when the free lunch becomes too costly or growth stunting.

    We know that Hebrew is based upon verbs; Judaism is more about what one does than what one believes. Research has demonstrated that often a person’s beliefs conform to their actions, not the other way around, as it would appear.

    This might explain why when people like Hegg or Staley argue with Christians about keeping Sabbath, they are going about it all wrong, using Greek methods to encourage Jewish practices. It would have been better to invite their ideological opponents to a Shabbat meal, so they could experience the beauty and benefit. Ever wonder why stores offer samples?

    Christianity is based upon Western, Greek thought, which focuses on logic, rationality and convincing via argument. However, it is interesting that Christianity evolved much ritual to appeal to the emotions/senses, and the most successful evangelists appeal to the emotions. It is not just about a fear of Hell and relief of heaven, but about forgiveness, hope for a new and better life and a community of people who will support you as you do it. Research shows that we make decisions emotionally, and then justify them rationally. One research psychologist put it this way: If the emotions are an elephant and the rider is the intellect/rationality, often the rider turns into an attorney to defend the elephant, rather than acting as one who steers. Christian apologists don’t convince skeptics; they are preaching to the choir to keep the choir.

  4. @Steven and Sojourning:

    I was attempting to compare and contrast how a Christian and a “Chabadnik” would initially approach someone (anyone in the Christian’s case and any Jew in the Chabadnik’s case) and convince them to convert in the Christian’s case and become more religious in the Chabadnik’s case.

    Obviously, I’m not Jewish so no one from Chabad is going to try to get me to perform a mitzvah in order to connect to God, but I do remember the encounter that eventually lead me to profess faith in Christ.

    This was many years ago when my children were still quite young. My brother-in-law had just gotten married and left for his honeymoon. My family and I were staying in his house in California for one more night before driving back to Idaho. Since my brother-in-law had a rather large home, his house guests included the youth pastor from his church and the pastor’s family (they were having a new house built and needed a place to stay until it was ready).

    This pastor’s initial approach to me and my wife was (these might not be the exact words it they’re close) “If you were to die tonight, do you know where your soul would go?” Granted, the conversation proceeded from their but his initial appeal was the fate of our individual souls upon our deaths.

    I agree, that doesn’t even touch on the essence of what it is to live a life of faith and certainly I admit to the richness of living faithful lives, both in Judaism and Christianity. But the point of my blog post for today is that, in all reality, neither logic nor emotion are adequate to turn a person’s heart toward God, certainly not in the blogosphere. Turning toward God is an act of the soul. Hence, all of our “arguments” on the web debating one person’s theological point of view over another’s aren’t going to yield much fruit.

    Ultimately, living a life of faith isn’t what we get out of it as individuals, even if we benefit (whether in this life or the world to come). It’s what we do with our transformed lives in service to God and to other human beings.

  5. Obviously, I’m not Jewish so no one from Chabad is going to try to get me to perform a mitzvah in order to connect to God, but I do remember the encounter that eventually lead me to profess faith in Christ.

    I wonder why it is that Jews, Chabadnik or not, do not reach out to non-Jews to reach those people that they meet, as Christians do to everyone if they are of the evangelistic temperament.

    I am not fond of evangelizing, so I simply talk to complete strangers about my relationship with G-d just as most people speak of their wife or children when they fall into conversation with someone. Those I speak with either respond, or don’t, but I figure that that is up to G-d, once I have raised the question in their mind. I don’t have a handy backup church or synagogue to invite people to, but the one thing I do have, I share…my constant communion with G-d, and how it makes my life good now, and how I perceive that G-d has altered my life for the better, even if it was a painful journey.

    I don’t ask people to do anything except have a chat with G-d, for to me, all things follow from the relationship, not from the religion and rituals. I am indeed fascinated by what comes after this life, but threatening someone with hell is not a friendly way to open a conversation…it is confrontative, and designed to focus the victim’s mind on a remedy to a condition of sin they did not really know they had, and if called on their sinning nature, the object of such evangelism might rather blame you for even bringing it up. I know that it is an effective way if done well and kindly to raise an important question, but if the recipient of such methods is not receptive to that approach, getting them to hear anything about G-d, rather than sin and Hell, and the need for Yeshua, is considerably lessened after that point.

    I was one such victim…terrorized at the only bible school lesson I attended the year I was seven years old, with the teacher telling me I must be perfect, or I would go to Hell. Since she had a multi-coloured chalkboard covered with a drawing of something out of Dante’s Inferno, you can be sure I never forgot what was said. It didn’t draw me to G-d in any way, but it encouraged a tendency to perfectionism in me that I have been fighting all my life. It also gave me a strong distaste for Hell and Damnation preaching. Still, G-d drew me to Himself, in books, and history, and the Bible, which I read from the beginning, rather than the middle as is presented in Christian Churches.

    Presenting a Jew with a chance to do a mitzvah as means to leading to more of the same is at least positive action, but in the end, it is G-d that draws people to Himself, and we but the tools used. For one friend with a truly wicked and criminal past, it was a young boy simply asking my friend if he knew Yeshua. That was enough to kick start the engine, so to speak, getting my friend to begin asking G-d questions, and asking G-d to prove He was interested in my friend. Since my friend was rather hardcore at the time, YHVH obliged with a miracle each of the three times my friend set out a fleece…but it is not G-d’s way with everyone.

    As for persuading anyone to change their views? Information is always valuable to a seeker with a truly open mind, and I have found on this blog enough to alter some of my views, or clarify them. Other people’s life journeys, difficulties and achievements are always valuable to people looking for truth. Once having the truth, however, action is all that counts.

  6. @ Sojourning: I was born and raised in evangelical Christianity. Hold a Bachelor’s from an accredited evangelical college and served vocationally in evangelical churches. James’ portrayal of Christianity is highly accurate. Christians can be quite tedious in attempts to “get people saved.”

    @ James: Skip Moen wrote on this issue yesterday and I found it fascinating. In short he points out that religious people expect others to examine deeply held beliefs but are not willing to do the same themselves.

    Here is that link:

    http://skipmoen.com/2015/03/05/paul-and-paradigms/?mc_cid=edf6adacb6&mc_eid=75e9a8654a

  7. “religious people expect others to examine deeply held beliefs but are not willing to do the same themselves.”

    An apt discription of those John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles tried to teach the truth. “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you”

    I’m always amazed at the ways G-d spreads the good-news and what people will respond to. Takes a brave man to judge G-d and this methods. It reminds me of the verse, “For after that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom did not know God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”

  8. There are Jews, and others, who are open to encouraging others to grow spiritually and fulfill their divine purpose without seeking to convert them to their own viewpoint, but this is not common. The local Chabad rabbi I spoke with mentioned that it is not their practice to seek to turn people into Jews, but to encourage them to serve God wherever they are. I assume many Jews would just ignore a non-Jew as not relevant to their goals. Antimissionaries do seek out a marketshare among evangelicals and HR, not among other brands of Christianity.

    This boils down to TANSTAAFL. Those who are willing to reach out to people and invest their time and resources into helping them likely have an agenda to also exploit them, although they might never view it that way. Those who are free of an agenda aren’t highly motivated to make the sacrifices and invest themselves.

  9. Here is something that might shed some light on the subject:

    A new story “India: Celebrating a Bold Faith”

    A widow in India is being remembered following her death from a heart attack for her bold faith — a faith that led her to help numerous women in jail — including one of her guards — find freedom in Christ.
    Vani, a 31-year-old mother of an 8-year-old daughter, spent 15 days in jail roughly 10 months ago for sharing her faith. During her time in jail, Vani shared her faith with more than 70 women — 14 of whom became Christians. Even her jailer encouraged her to continue sharing her faith after witnessing a dramatic change in several other prisoners who accepted Jesus.
    “She was really sweet,” said a VOM field worker who met with Vani earlier this year. “She had a lot more wisdom than her age suggested.”

    Read the full story on Persecution.com

  10. Steven, I didn’t know people were put in jail these days for sharing faith in India. I knew there was and is a lot of harsh behavior in general there, but that’s a little different.

    Chaya, I read what you linked to. I also linked on, to another topic from the list on the right. These seem to be sort of bight-size articles (with a lot more work and info behind them). Also, I was kinda happy to see Yeshiva University along with the name of the author of the second article I read there. I recently saw a Yeshiva University sign in passing while watching a news story concerning The Innocence Project.

  11. @Daniel:

    ” I was born and raised in evangelical Christianity. Hold a Bachelor’s from an accredited evangelical college and served vocationally in evangelical churches. James’ portrayal of Christianity is highly accurate. Christians can be quite tedious in attempts to “get people saved.”

    “Evangelical” is the common thread in your remark and also the key to your perspective. However, Christianity is not only evangelical, that is but one expression and perspective and doesn’t address anything I wrote in my response.

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