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Rational Theology of Judaism - Introduction


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Rational Theology of Judaism - Introduction

  1. 1. ‫ב”ה‬ A Rational Theology of Judaism by Boris and Hella Schapiro Schapiro Center for Jewish Studies Kluckstr. 25, 10785 Berlin Tel.: +4930 797 3446 or +49172 300 8947 SynopsisWe are concerned here with the instruments of human thought and with the awareness of Godwithin a rational framework. Both were part of fundamental theology in the Middle Ages. Wecontinue the rational theology tradition with the help of paradigm theory.We define paradigms as metaconcepts, in the most general sense, as generative processes ofbeing. The representations of paradigms in the feature space of the individual observer consti-tute, in their totality, a universal, metaconceptual instrument for apprehension, assessment andcreation. We focus on decision paradigms and ultimately consider God as the universal, ideal,autopoietic decision paradigm, thus as “self-creating creator”.We maintain that the entire process of being, God, the world and mankind, cannot be adequa-tely apprehended with traditional conceptualization. They can, however, be understood withthe much more powerful, metaconceptual instrument – the representations of paradigms.Our work is directed at those with philosophical, theological, scientific or generic interest, atreaders searching for rational answers regarding their own beliefs, at members of all religionsas well as at atheists.1. Maimonides Theological ApproachTo begin, we present an example of the clasic Jewish rational theological approach from theMiddle Ages:“Know now, my son, that as long as you concern yourself with the mathematical sciences and logic,you will belong to those who walk around a palace in order to find the entrance. If, however, you stu-dy natural science, then you have already entered the forecourt of the palace. And when you haveentirely completed these and and engage yourself with metaphysics, then you have entered the palaceof the king and wander in the corridors of the forecourt. This is the stage of the sages. These, also,achieve various levels of perfection. But whoever, after achieving perfection, concentrates all his thin-king upon the godhead, gives himself completely to God, turns his thoughts away from all else anddevotes all intellectual faculties concerning existing things to achieving awareness of God throughthem and to perceive how God rules all things, is among those who have truly entered the palace ofthe king. ” Mose ben Maimon (Maimonides), The Guide for the Perplexed, (1180/91), Third book, fifty-first chapter,4. Paragraph, page 343 in the translationwith commentary by Adolf Weißpublished by Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 19952.The German version of our book see under
  2. 2. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of Judaism2. IntroductionFor quite some time we have asked ourselves how we can make belief believable for modernman. We, also, had doubts, atheistic negativism, fear of saying yes to God and to ourselveswhile growing up and maturing. We, too, went through phases of arrogance and dismissal ofthe liturgy as theatrical profanation and manipulation of emotions. We, too, were influencedby primitive materialism and considered religion a purely social and psychological matter.With accumulating experience of life, however, we realized that God is not belief’s problem,but rather the lack of an adequate conceptualization of God, one that satisfies the rquirementsof the science-oriented world on the one hand and, on the other, does not simplify and distortGod to the point that God can be neither trusted nor believed in. We also lacked plausiblecriteria with which to test the perceptions of the sages in order to verify convincingly howmuch of what they conveyed actually described the essence of God and what was simply atribute to the ruling tenor of the times because they lacked suitable tools for rational analysis.This essay is the first chapter of an as yet unpublished book of the same title.3. Ancient Concepts of God and the Modern WorldviewInnovations in science and technology continue to disprove time-honored and trusted beliefs,bringing about a new understanding of mankind, its history and its future. Scientfic advances,especially in the West, have made the question of God superfluous for an important part ofsociety today. For many, God no longer fits into a modern world view.Vigorous resistance against such an atheistic conviction is growing in movements such as the“creationists” and among the proponents of so-called “intelligent design”, among others. Withspeculative, pseudo-scientific arguments and a massive amount of social engagement, suchand similar crusades intend to reinstate God to His position as “creator of the universe”.4. The Goal of Rational TheologyAs long as God is not defined as a specific complex of characteristics within a feature space,one can make neither an empirical nor a theoretical judgement concerning His existence. Formany, the understanding of theology is similar to the task already posed in fairy tales: “Gosomewhere, I don’t know where, and bring (apprehend for) me something, I don’t know what,but do it fast, do it right and, above all, keep it simple”. This is either nonsense or a task thatany thing will satisfy.We, on the other hand, understand theology to be a doctrine concerning the entity God, theresults of which should be a usable cognizance of God. Rational theology should provide sucha cognizance of God. Ideally, it should be an operationally verifiable theory of God.5. The Personal Decision Concerning the Existence of GodIn our opinion, the existence of God is neither a theological nor an empirical question today.It is a question of decision. The modern, scientific view of the world does not include the ca- Page 2 of 8
  3. 3. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of Judaismtegory “God”. All philosophical proofs of God’s existence have proven themselves inconsis-tent. Even the classic reasons for believing in God such as ancestry, family, social status,sickness, aging, death or general fear of life no longer provide a compelling reason to ackno-wledge God. This question each individual must decide personally.Our God-given free will can be truly and completely realized only when employed to makepersonal decisions about God. Atheists also employ their free will when they decide aboutGod; for example, that He does not exist.With this personal decision, one either binds oneself to God and becomes a constitutive partof Him. Or one excludes oneself with a kind of megalomania, thereby defining oneself as so-meone who has nothing to do with questions concerning God, at least consciously, and whohas therefore put himself in the position of being unable to judge externally what he cannotexperience internally because of his decision.6. The Rational MethodIn order to move beyond social and psychological aspects relating to the question of God, weemploy the rational method in examining the cognizance of God. Our question is very direct:Who or what is God? We address this question in four steps:− First we determine the appropriate category for God. Our conclusion is that God is an idea.− Then we construct the entity God within the selected category. Based on our life expe- rience or decisions, we consider God as the ultimate decision paradigm. The decision concerning the entity God is made within the context of the person making the decision. Thus one decides about God and man simultaneously.− Next we construct functionally specific hypotheses concerning God, man and the world, as well as their relationship. With their help, we attempt to integrate the formulated concepts arrived at into real life. Should this be unsuccessful on a rational basis, we then change the hypotheses until integration is achieved. If all attempts at hypothesis correction have been exhausted, then we attempt a new construction of the entity God and endeavor to achieve rational integration. Should these efforts fail as well, we then attempt to rethink the categorization of God and repeat the entire cycle until a rational integration into real li- fe of the formulated concepts is achieved. One of the most important criteria for genuine success is the prediction and control of reality.− Ideally, success will enable us to explicate the paradigm God. This should then provide us with a theory of God. Should success not be forthcoming, all we can do is continue to improve and develop ourselves in the hope that the enlightenment after will be achieved sometime.If one decides, for example, that man is a slave, then God is the ultimate slave master. If onedecides that man is a living being just like every other, determined by the laws of nature, so-ciety and psychology, in short, that man is a biological and social automaton, then one needsno God. If one decides that man is a child, then one seeks a father in God. If one sees manaesthetically and classifies him according to functional and aethetic optimization, then oneneeds God as “the measure of all things” and thereby as “most perfect being”.Arguments for and against each concept of man and God can be constructed and checked for Page 3 of 8
  4. 4. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of Judaismconsistency. We decide consistently that God is very powerful, but not omnipotent. For us,God is “only” powerful enough to play His part in the covenant with mankind conscientious-ly.7. The Gnostic TheologemGenerally speaking, a person can decide among various concepts of God and man. Thus, notonly one but many decisions can be consistent in principle. For this reason, consistency is anecessary but by no means sufficient attribute of its truth. Therefore one can not deduce thevalidity of a concept of God based solely on the fact of its consistency.The existence or nonexistence of God is therefore exclusively the result of a personal deci-sion. We, too, must and want to decide at this point. We acknowledge this issue with theadoption of the Gnostic Principle: God wishes to be known and understood. Therefore, Hecan be known.From a philosphical point of view, the Gnostic Principle is a principle. From a theologicalpoint of view, the Gnostic Principle is the first – gnostic – theologem of rational theology.Hardly anyone wishing to be taken seriously and not be considered a fool would deny that theidea of God exists in one form or another even among those who deny his existence. For us,this is sufficient basis for deciding in favor of the Gnostic Theologem. The Gnostic Principle,that is, the Gnostic Theologem, and its axioms are the foundation for our decisions concerningGod, ourselves and the world.8. The Decidability TheologemWhy are qustions concerning being, God, the world and man even decidable? Was not eve-rything already decided in the first seconds of evolution, that is, creation? Does the process ofbeing not proceed according to the unalterable laws of nature? Since ancient times, all thesequestions involve the deterministic hypothesis in one form or another, sometimes ideally, aswith Plato, sometimes materialistically, as with Democritus.In modern times, many natural scientist and philosophers transmute their version of the de-terministic hypothesis with the reductionist principle. According to the reductionist principle,all events on one of the world’s organizational levels are always causally reduceable entirelyto events on lower organizational levels, such as economic, social, psychological, medical,biological or physical.Our answer to that is: the fundamental questions concerning God, the world, mankind andbeing in general are, in principle, decidable, because we have decided on this decidability.This metadecision concerning the decidability of fundamental questions comprises the se-cond theologem of rational theology. We call this theologem the Decidability Theologem.We rebut the arguments concerning the undecidability of fundamental questions from thestandpoint of the deterministic hypothesis or the reductionist principle with the insight thatthe reductionist principle is a context-dependent hypothesis. It is valid only in specificcontexts and for specially defined issues, but is not universally valid. Page 4 of 8
  5. 5. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of JudaismWe would like to point out in advance that the relationship between the Decidability The-ologem and the Gnostic Theologem represents an anticipatory illumination of the theologemconcerning the nature of (theological) man, based on biblical texts. Namely, the “biblical the-ologem” know as Zelem Elohim maintains that the essential nature of man resembles the na-ture of God, as “God created man in his own image” Bereschit (Genesis) I, 27. In the Hebraicbible, this generic God-man relationship which is the basis of the Similarity Theologem, isembodied in the expression ‫.צלם אלוהים‬9. The Decision TheologemThe potential to make decisions is, in principle, already inherent in the physical foundationsof the material world. In addition to the material constituents of the universe and the relati-onship between cause and effect, known as natural laws, there exist further operative elementsof the process of being, namely sumjects. We derive the word sumject from the Latin expres-sion sum = “I am”. In short and still unprecise, sumject is a generalisation of the terms “sub-ject” and “object” in regard to the universal characteristics of action and self-action.With the term sumject, God can be characterized as “self-moving mover”, rather than Aristot-le’s “unmoved mover”.As mover, especially as self-moving mover, God makes decisions concerning others andconcerning himself. Thus the God paradigm must be a decision paradigm at the very least.Viewed paradigmatically, God is the highest decision paradigm (Decidability Theolo-gem). As such, He enables our own capacity to freely decide. With this capability, we canfree ourselves from our biological and biographical constraints and make decisions concer-ning ourselves – whether we should accept the Gnostic Principle or not, for example. Beforewe decide on acceptance, it is the Gnostic Principle. After we decide to accept it, it beomcesthe Gnostic Theologem.10. The Theotrope TheologemEmploying paradigm theory enables the positive and constructive awareness of God. Consis-tent therewith is the emergence therefrom of the theotrope principle as an answer to the teleo-logical question of the meaning and goal of evolution and all creation.The Theotrope Principle (Theotrope Theologem) asserts that the goal of all creation and thedevelopment of the world is the emergence of God.11. What is Benefit of Theology?Why does one need a theology? One can believe intuitively, without detailed conceptualiza-tion, without doubt, without questioning oneself or one’s faith. How convenient! Theologyaddresses precisely such uncomfortable themes such as doubt and the correctness of conceptsand articles of faith, making life tedious but, in turn, responsible. It impedes impetuous actionand blocks the widespread fallacy: “If B follows from A and B is convenient (agreeable, use-ful, advantageous, etc.) then A is true (right, reasonable, etc.)”. Page 5 of 8
  6. 6. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of JudaismNone of the world’s fundamentalists of whatever stripe rely on a theology or only pro forma.They believe they possess the absolute truth and consider the lack of any doubt to be a virtue.The consistency of their views blinds them, rendering them incapable of making independentdecisions in the complex process of living. Instead, they become compliant marionettes, allo-wing their religiosity to be misused for politcal and extremist purposes.Generally, extremist fundamentalists bring death and defile human dignity, completelycontrary to the religion in whose name they act. Without a well-developed theology, theyreach a very simple decision which makes them slaves. In the name of God, they turn them-selves into murderous and suicidal automatons in the service of dubious earthly interests.We need theology to protect ourselves from the misuse of our own wills.12. The Covenant TheologemWhen we speak of the rational theology of Judaism, we by no means intend to imply that ra-tional theology exists only within Judaism. Rational elements and endeavors exist and haveexisted in all major religions. The Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism, for example,provides a rational approach to religious and mystical experence. The newly arisen Christian-ity of Paul is based primarily on the Hellenic philosophers. It was especially popular withphilosophically educated women for whom the near eastern mystery religions were intellectu-ally inadequate.The Mithras cult of the Roman soldiers appears in a clear light when one learns that the name“Mithras” means agreement. An agreement as the basis for the relationship between man andGod is entirely rational. Gnostic trends following Plato and Plotinus developed vast panora-mas of the world and the soul. A rational approach to questions of belief was declared a prin-ciple by the Kalam movement in Islam during the early Middle Ages. All these provided thespiritual backdrop and the historical context for classic rabbinical Judaism, which had develo-ped previously and in parallel.The religious paradigm of Judaism is based on the covenant between God and the peopleIsrael, represented by every individual Jew. The convenant is a agreement. It implies thatboth parties have free will as well as the capacity to make decisons and enter agreements.(Covenant Theologem).13. The Brotherly Love TheologemIn rational theology, the concept of God emanates from the transcendence of God. Here,transcendence should be understood as a mathematical term. Rather than the traditional andwidespread belief in the absoluteness of God, what emerges from paradigm theory is the re-cognition that God is “absolutely” context dependent. Therefore, all the omni qualifiers suchas omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc. cannot correctly be applied to God. Only thuscan God be a personal God who can manifest within the context of each individual. (ContextDependent Theologem).The day has come for the insight that the center of every Jew’s life is the personal decision forthe covenant with God as well as the corresponding actualization of this decision in his perso- Page 6 of 8
  7. 7. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of Judaismnal life. The content of this agreement, generally speaking, is devoted to life and the preserva-tion of human dignity. Hillel’s maxim “Do not unto others that which you would not havedone unto you! ” remains a central, binding message of all Judaism. Confucius taught thesame thing 500 years earlier. This message is the fundamental doctrine at the heart of theTorah, Wajjikra (Leviticus) XIX, 18: “Seek not revenge nor bear any grudge against the chil-dren of your people, but rather love your neighbor as you love yourself... ” In Verse 34 of thesame chapter we find: “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one bornamong you and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Mizra-jim (Egypt).” The Golden Rule (Brotherly Love Theologem).14. The Soul According to Rational TheologyA rational theological view of the soul and the constructive integration of mysticism and mys-tical experience into the rational theology paradigm are additional important themes. Thesoul, as we undeerstand it, is a functional organ, that is, without substance, with which abeing may perceive God and itself, thereby actualizing life within itself. The soul is thevital principle and embodies the connection between the ideal and the material. Just as Godis the root of all existence, so is soul the root of individual life.God and self cannot be completely apprehended with the aid of material appearances alone.The “soulful” and the “soulless” person are differentiated solely by their conduct, by the deci-sions they make and whether and how they implement these decisions. A being’s soul canalso be considered an abstract “projection of essence” of self and classified according to itsconduct.The soul is a mystical phenomenon. We will address further important themes such as love,justice, mercy and many others from a paradigmatic perspective in an expanded version.15. Some Articles of Our FaithIn keeping with tradition, we list a number of articles of faith for our understanding of therational theology of Judaism. They correspond to our theologems in a shorter, simpler form.By no means is there a consensus within Judaism about these articles of faith, even thoughthey are deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.(1) We decide that the Lord wishes to be known and understood and that therefore He can be known.(2) The Lord is our God. God is One.(3) God is the goal and purpose of all existence and being.(4) God is powerful enough, but not omnipotent.(5) God violates no natural law.(6) God keeps His promises. He abides by commitments He takes upon Himself. Page 7 of 8
  8. 8. Boris und Hella Schapiro A Rational Theology of Judaism(7) God acts through His Name and His example.(8) God made His decision for existence and for the good. For Him, life is holy.(9) Every person is free to make his own decisions in keeping with God’s example once he decides he has freedom of choice.(10) When a person decides for the good, he enters into an agreement with God. In the ag- reement between God and man, both are unequal but have equal rights.(11) He who accepts the covenant between God and the people Israel is a Jew, whether by birth or by decision.(12) The people Israel is obliged to accept personal responsibility for its own survival with God’s help and to hand down its legacy.(13) When all the world’s decision makers make their decisions within God’s purpose, then the messianic time will come. Page 8 of 8