Thursday, August 21, 2008

Chatting with Moses, Vol. 2: Agnosticism & Revelation

Had some more fun with a rabbi over @ Once again, I've removed the rabbi's name for the sake of anonymity:

Me: In G-ds view, is it worse to be an atheist, agnostic or idol worshipper?

Rabbi: Welcome. I'll be with you in a moment...what's on your mind*

Rabbi: I really do not know

Rabbi: because ultimately each of those 3 are worshipping themselves

Me: I would assume that the worst would be to be an idol worshipper since it involves an act.

Me: How is agnosticism equivalent to worshiping one's self?

Rabbi: because they cannot bring themselves to worship a higher being that they claim they cannot understand

Rabbi: so they are worshipping themselves

Me: But to worship something means to hold it as a holy object or deity. Agnostics don't do that. They don't worship at all.

Me: Whereas idol worshipers do.

Rabbi: We are still connected. As I am currently chatting with 5 people please be patient.

Rabbi: yes they do worship, they worship what they think is their intellect

Me: But that's like saying a doctor (regardless of if he's frum or not) is worshiping himself if he's unsure as to how to perform a certain procedure. I don't understand the connection between uncertainty and self-worship.

Rabbi: uncertainty is a gimmick the agnostic uses, he cannot let go of himslef to believe, nothing to do with uncertainty

Warning : You have been inactive for 4 minutes. Unless there is a resumption of activity, in one minute you will be automatically disconnected from the AskMoses chat system.*

Me: Well, if the agnostic is not certain of any particular theology, what else is he besides "uncertain"? Perhaps this person has difficulty in believing something that he or she is unable to experience, be it physically or spiritually. What else is that person to do but be uncertain?

Me: In other words, I don't think that just because someone finds it difficult to believe in G-d, that they are automatically "caught up in themselves".

Rabbi: I have not forgotten about you. We are currently experiencing high volume of traffic, please continue to hold.*

Rabbi: that is an excuse. Agnostics go to the doctor and take medicine on pure faith, they have no idea if it will work or how it will work. An agnostic uses faith on a daily basis, just when it comes to G-d all of a sudden they don't know and can't go further

Me: What? I don't think there's even a comparison! The results of medicine can be proven in numbers and other statistics. The existence of G-d can not.

Rabbi: they maybe can be proven, but the patient has not studied these proofs

Me: But the doctor has. And the doctor can assure the patient that all will be well if he or she takes the medicine.

Rabbi: but the patient is still working on faith

Me: Yes, but it's not faith in some deity which can't be seen. It's faith/assurance in a doctor which can directly tell the patient the benefits of the medicine, person-to-person.

Rabbi: what difference does it make in what the faith is, it is still faith for that person

Me: But it's a different kind of faith. Faith in science isn't really faith. It's about probability. If I tell you there is a 99.999% chance that a certain medicine will help you, you'd probably take it if there is verifiable proof of this claim. G-d, on the other hand, doesn't work like that. No numbers are given. It's all on you. It's quite a burden. And many people aren't willing to take that blind step.

Me: I guess what the root of my question is this: How is an agnostic expected to find G-d if he or she is the kind of person who values rational thought over faith?

Rabbi: is history faith

Me: In certain ways, yes.

Me: At least the re-telling of history.

Rabbi: so you do not believe in history?

Rabbi: did George Washington exist

Me: I'm doubtful about certain parts of history.

Rabbi: how about Aristotle, did he exist

Me: I don't see why not.

Me: Sure.

Rabbi: why do you say he existed

Me: Because to my knowledge there are no respectable claims that he DIDN'T exist. The claims that he DID exist far outweigh any possible claims that he DIDN'T. Plus we have books written by him, books by others which quote him etc.

Rabbi: how do you know he wrote them, maybe they are a fraud

Me: Maybe they are. But most qualified historians would argue otherwise.

Rabbi: and what makes them qualified

Me: Knowledge of what is known of history, which has been passed down throughout the centuries.

Rabbi: and how is the Torah any different?

Me: Fair point. But then I would ask: How is the Qur'an any different?

Me: (And the Kur'an is more recent)

Me: *Qur'an/Kur'an however you spell it

Rabbi: I have no knowledge of the Koran and for all I know it may not be different, a totally irrelevant issue to what we are talking about

Me: It's not irrelevant. You're saying that the Torah was passed down through history and should thus be considered fact because of this. I would then put forward the instance of the Koran, or even the recent books of Scientology. I'm not debating whether or not these books existed, if that's what you're asking.

Me: An agnostic would say that the Torah is a part of history just as the Koran is; just as the story of Humpty Dumpty is etc.

Rabbi: I said nothing of the Torah being passed down, these are your views and you are trying to impose them on me

Me: Okay, okay. What then was your point in asking "How is the Torah any different?" Maybe I didn't understand your line of questioning...

Rabbi: BTW, how is Humpty Dumpty part of history

Me: Because it's folklore. It's a part of a culture.

Rabbi: last I checked folklore is NOT history

Me: Well, is the "blood libel" against the Jews part of history? Yes. Just because it's a made-up story doesn't mean it's not a part of history.

Rabbi: the blood libel is not folklore, and the libels were not based on fact, but they still happened

Me: Correct. But the story that Jews would kill a Christian boy to make Matzah (absolutely bizarre and unfounded) existed. And that was the basis for the libels.

Me: Thus making it a PART of history.

Rabbi: correct, and so what

Rabbi: so you had a few anti-semites making up a story

Me: Couldn't the same be said about the nonsensical book of scientology?

Me: ...or Islam? ...or Christianity?

Me: And with this following of logic, the agnostic has a justifiable claim to believe that Judaism may be dubious as well.

Rabbi: no comparison whatsoever

Rabbi: may I ask you how many people allegedly saw jc resurrected?

Me: I know very little about Christianity. I don't know.

Rabbi: 5

Rabbi: allegedly claimed to have seen this

Me: Okay. What's your point?

Rabbi: how many people heard the revelation that started the mormon religion?

Me: 1, I believe.

Rabbi: correct, Smith was the only one

Me: Okay...

Rabbi: how many people saw the revelation at Mt. Sinai?

Me: Good point, and my friend countered that with this: How many people saw Abraham go on the mountain to kill Isaac and NOT Ishmael (or vice versa)?

Me: In other words, how can we prove that the Muslim claim is wrong and the Torah's claim is correct

Me: There's no way, really.

Rabbi: I am not talking about Abraham and it makes no difference to what I am saying

Me: I think it does, but okay..... The whole nation of Israel saw the revelation @ Mt. Sinai.

Rabbi: how is it relevant, please

Me: Because the Torah could say that ____ saw this. But another book can say that ____ saw that. I use the example of Isaac & Ishmael because it's a conflicting opinion between the Torah and the Koran. One says Avraham binded Isaac. The other says Avraham binded Ishmael. The lay person would find difficulty is laying claim to one over the other.

Rabbi: Judaism is not based on Abraham taking Isaac or Ishmael, it is based on the revelation at Mt. Sinai

Me: Fine. But the notion of conflicting stories between the Torah and Koran comes up, meaning that if one is proven to be true, the other holy book is thus rendered false and made-up.

Me: So suppose the Abraham/Ishmael story is somehow proven to be true, then that means the Torah is false.

Rabbi: how do you propose to prove something that happened over 3000 years ago, either way

Me: I don't! Not at all! But a lay person (not bound to either Judaism or Islam) judging between the two stories can come to the conclusion that since there are conflicting narratives which alter the religion itself, AT LEAST ONE of these religions is automatically false (by process of elimination).

Me: 2+2 = 4 & 2 = 2=5 can not both be true.

Me: * 2+2 = 4 and 2+2 = 5

Rabbi: but the Abraham story is not the basis of Judaism, so it is not relevant

Me: But if there's even ONE story in the Torah which is untrue, that essentially renders it completely false since it comes from G-d and should thus be "perfect".

Me: This applies to any other presumed holy book which "comes from G-d" be it the New Testament, the Koran etc.

Rabbi: you are fixating on this and it has nothing to do with the revelation at Mt, Sinai

Me: Okay. What's the point you're trying to prove regarding the revelation @ Mt. Sinai

Rabbi: I asked you about that event and you throw in this side issue that cannot be proven one way or the other

Rabbi: that it was an event witnessed by three million people

Me: That's my point!

Me: Neither can the revelation!

Rabbi: you are changing your tune now

Me: Neither Akeidat Yitzchak NOR the revelation can be proven.

Me: Wouldn't you agree?

Rabbi: before you said, "good point"

Rabbi: now it is not a "good point"?

Rabbi: you changed your mind pretty quickly here

Me: No, it's still a good point.

Me: But it leads to my connection with the Akeidah.

Me: Whether it's an entire nation or 0 people, neither story can be proven true.

Rabbi: so how do you compare an event witnessed by 3 million people to the Akeidah which had 2 people

Me: Because neither of the two can be proven to be true.

Rabbi: so where is the "good point"?

Me: The good point is that, like I said, whether it's an entire nation of 3 million people or 2 people... the story can still not be proven to be true.

Rabbi: you have an amazing ability to twist words to mean whatever works for you at the time

Me: Okay, okay, let's back up for a second.

Rabbi: Aristotle was seen by how many people?

Rabbi: but you have no problem BELIEVING he existed, or at least that is what you said before

Rabbi: of course you can now show me that is really not what you meant before

Me: It's not a question of belief in the same sense that it would be with an invisible deity.

Rabbi: so I will be patient and wait to hear your new interpratation of Aristotle

Rabbi: did Aristotle exist?

Rabbi: yes, no , maybe or "I don't know", which one is your answer?

Me: I don't have a new interpretation of Aristotle. Generally speaking, there's one solid belief that Aristotle existed. Theology on the other hand, has thousands if not millions of different opinions.

Me: I don't see the connection you're trying to make.

Rabbi: of course you don't, because you do not want to, but I will perservere, if you want me to

Rabbi: did Aristotle exist?

Me: Sure. If you've got the time.

Rabbi: Aristotle, yes, no, maybe? Which one?

Me: I rely on the proof that he did. So I would say "Yes".

Rabbi: and the proof is based on a number of people seeing him, correct?

Rabbi: plus things that he allegedly wrote and people claiming that he indeed wrote them

Me: Correct.

Rabbi: correct?

Me: Yes.

Rabbi: so, let's say that 10,000 people saw our friend Aristotle, I have no idea of a real number, but let's use that number, that is for you (and me) pretty good proof that he was real?

Me: It's not necessarily the number of people who saw him that's of importance.

Rabbi: so what is important?

Me: For instance: If 0 people see a hermit who lives alone in the woods, does this mean the hermit does not exist?

Me: Quality/Quantity. I think that what is important is the quality of proof.

Rabbi: zero people does not prove or disprove, how does that help our friend Aristotle?

Rabbi: and what proof do we have for Aristotle?

Rabbi: quality wise?

Me: Sculptures. Writings by himself and others. New ideas attributed only to him.

Rabbi: and why could not a small group of people get together and perpetrate a hoax and he really never existed?

Me: Technically they could have.

Rabbi: OK, so why do you believe that it is not a hoax?

Me: That's where you get into conspiracy theory region, and most would label you crazy.

Rabbi: many people have labeled me crazy, I can handle that :)

Me: Ha!

Me: Okay, but then the same could be said about 9/11 and so on...

Me: It's a very marginal opinion.

Me: Another example: There are still people who believe that the earth is flat.

Rabbi: but why is it marginal, how does something go from being marginal to being mainstream

Me: That's a difficult question to answer.

Me: Proof, I suppose. The more proof you have for something, the more support you have for your claim.

Rabbi: how do you have more proof

Me: Well suppose you have hearsay/word of mouth of something... That's not enough. But if you locate a document or sculpture of something, that proof has more validity and credibility.

Me: Levels of proof, I suppose.

Rabbi: really does not take away from the conspiracy theory, does it

Rabbi: ultimately you say if it sounds plausible and you have no great reason not to believe that it is true, it is probably true

Me: In other words, if I tell you that Mr. X said "such and such" You might believe me. But if I bring you a video of him saying it, you have more proof.

Rabbi: videos definitely help, but we had no videos back then

Me: Maybe G-d should have waited a few more years... ;D

Rabbi: plus today banks will not accept attached documents in an email but they will acceopt that document as a fax, one is easier to forge than the other

Rabbi: wouldn't have much free will then, but that is another discussion that we are not going there now

Me: Okay.

Rabbi: as it is very late

Me: Am I keeping you?

Rabbi: so, ultimately, things that happened a long time ago are hard to prove

Rabbi: yes?

Me: Is it too late?

Rabbi: but if they sound plausable and we have no reason to think there is a hoax going on, then we tend to believe, yes?

Me: Sure.

Me: There still might be a doubt in the back of your mind, but you push it aside.

Rabbi: I am filling in for another scholar for the last 3 hours, so yes, it is late. Soon I will conk out, sorry

Rabbi: correct

Rabbi: so, all I am saying is that the more people that witness an event the more likely I am to believe that that event happened

Rabbi: John Smith is one guy, I am skeptical

Rabbi: the 5 apostles, only 5, I am skeptical

Me: But none of those people ever spoke to you.

Me: The 3 million.

Rabbi: teh Koran, no clue as I have no knowledge about it

Rabbi: none of the people who saw Aristotle spoke to me either and I will take a wild guess and say that they did not speak to you either

Me: True, but we have documents from the people around them. The 3 million Jews who witnessed the revelation left nothing behind.

Rabbi: last I checked, the Torah scroll looks like a document to me

Me: Yes, but it wasn't written by the 3 million Jews.

Rabbi: imagine the following scenario

Rabbi: you are at a rally. There are 20 people that showed up.

Rabbi: The next day the paper says that there were 2000 people, you say, wait a minute, that is a lie

Rabbi: they can't get away with such a brazen lie

Rabbi: the Jews were at Mt, Sinai and they told there children and grandchildren the same story

Me: Well, technically they can.

Rabbi: otherwise we have an amazingly big conspiracy that has never been carried out by any other group

Me: Can you prove it was 3 million and not 30?

Rabbi: every religion known to man has started with a handful or less of people claiming a revelation, Judaism is the ONLY one which has the 3 million people claim

Rabbi: prove, sure, the same way I prove Aristotle

Rabbi: and it is now midnight and I am actually beyond tired, and I can prove that by collapsing now, but you cannot see me collapse, so I hope you believe me

Rabbi: COme again, but I really need to go now

Rabbi: sorry

Me: Heh. Maybe I'll come back another time and we can pick this up.

Me: Sleep well!

Rabbi: it was interesting chatting with you, even though it does not seem that I got anywhere

Me: It's still nice to be able to talk to someone about these things. Few people could bare dealing with so many questions without giving up within 10 minutes.

Me: ;D

Rabbi: w ehave been doing this for 100 minutes

Rabbi: come again

Rabbi: take care

Me: Thanks.

* automated/computer response

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chatting with Moses, Vol. 1: Voting & Democracy

Had some fun tonight with a rabbi over @ I've removed the rabbi's name for the sake of anonymity; anyways, check it out:

Me: Who should I vote for? Barack Obama or John McCain?

Rabbi: Welcome. Please type your question and I will respond shortly.*

Rabbi: How do you know that I am the right person to ask?

Me: Halachically speaking, that is. Politics aside.

Rabbi: The shulchan aruch says nothing about it

Me: Clearly. But based on the knowledge gained from studying the Torah and other sources, which of the two are the "better" choice. Who would Moses vote for? ;D

Rabbi: Moses didn't believe in democracy

Me: That's true. I've once been told by a rabbi that in fact, democracy is incompatible with the Torah to begin with.

Me: So does that mean that frum Jews shouldn't vote? I believe the Pirkei Avot also mention straying from government, correct?

Rabbi: We don't give voting advice here one way or the other

Me: I'm not really asking for advice. Strictly based on the blueprint set forth by halachah of various sources, is it preferable that we disassociate ourselves with government and/or voting, or should we in fact get involved (by voting, supporting candidates etc.)?

Rabbi: We are still connected. As I am currently chatting with 5 people please be patient.*

Rabbi: I have not forgotten about you. We are currently experiencing high volume of traffic, please continue to hold.*

Rabbi: I will not give opinions on this matter

Warning : You have been inactive for 4 minutes. Unless there is a resumption of activity, in one minute you will be automatically disconnected from the AskMoses chat system.*

Me: But I thought you said that Moses opposed (or "didn't believe in") democracy. So that would lead me to believe that we should oppose it too. Right?

Rabbi: I just made a statement it wasn't meant to direct you on your voting

Me: Fine. So forget voting, then. On the issue of democracy: is it true that it is incompatible with the way in which the Torah and other scholars teach us to structure our lives as a community

Me: ?

Rabbi: In some ways yes

Me: How do we reconcile this conflict?

Rabbi: We don't have a choice in the matter

Me: What do you mean? Even Yisroel is ruled as a democracy, and that's supposed to be our homeland. Would it be too far-fetched for frum Jews in Yisroel to demand the abolishment of democracy in the homeland?

Me: Surely we have a choice in THAT matter: Israel.

Rabbi: I really don't want to continue this conversation

Me: I understand it's an uncomfortable topic of discussion, but wouldn't you admit that it's a fair question to be asking? The fact that no one is willing to answer these questions (I've asked other Rebbeim as well) is very unnerving...

Me: Hello?

Me: Alright..... well, shavua tov........... ;-|

* automated/computer response