By Israel Drazin
Most individuals accept what people in authority tell them to think and do without analyzing whether it makes any sense. I think that this is wrong and destructive. It stifles growth. The primary example is the demand to “have faith!” This is the paradigm of passivity. Sit back and wait for God to help you. This notion is not in the Hebrew Bible, which stresses action based on knowledge. Faith is a concept invented by Paul in the first century of the Common Era. The Greek philosopher Aristotle taught that humans differ from animals in that humans are able to think. Humans, Aristotle wrote, have an obligation to be human, to think, otherwise they act as animals.
Let’s take another example.
On Friday evening, many Jews sing a song just before the Sabbath meal based upon the legend that two angels accompany the Jewish man on Friday night from the synagogue; one stands on the man’s right side and the other on his left. If the man has a good table set for the Sabbath meal, the angel on the right blesses him that he have the same next week. If it is not set well, the angel on the left curses him to have the like on the next Sabbath. The four stanza song speaks about these two angels. In the third stanza, Jews ask the angels to petition God for them, grant us peace.
Now let’s think about this practice. Does it make sense? First of all, why do the angels only join the male? Second, why is the husband praised or cursed for Sabbath preparations; in most cases the wife did all or most of the work? Does this reflect an ancient negative view about women? Next, do we really believe in angels; does God need assistants? If angels exist, do we need them to intercede with God for us? If they do intercede, will God do what they request? Do we know of any instance where this worked? If we reject any of these ideas, should we stop singing the song, or delete the third stanza that requests angelic assistance? Or should we sing it even though we don’t believe in angels simply because it is a tradition and singing it lets us participate with other Jews?
But, you may ask, what is the benefit of asking all of these questions, and if the questions are asked, doesn’t it leave most people simply confused, unable to decide what to do? Isn’t it even possible, perhaps likely, that asking questions such as these questions may lead questioners to abandon Judaism?
Yes, this is a serious consideration. In fact it led the ancient Christian Church to forbid translations of the Bible into the vernacular, the language that people spoke. They did this because they felt that reading the Bible would lead to questions and the questions if not answered properly would lead to the abandonment of Christianity.
However, this notion of keeping the truth from people led to centuries of the Dark Ages, and ignorance of the Bible led to other ignorances, such as cleanliness, which in turn led to plagues. It was only when the period of the enlightenment began that civilization in Christian countries began to grow with people having a better life.
So there are dangers in asking questions, but after awhile, if questioners persist, they begin to figure out answers, especially if they search for answers from all available sources, not just the views of their own religion or people. For the truth is the truth no matter what its source.