In 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.
In 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.
When 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.