Dialogue Between a Doubter and a Believer

Guest post by Eric Kaplan

I have a yearning to commit that has gotten me in trouble in the past.  For example I  once was the follower of a guru and later learned that her organization was unwilling to make their financial records public.  I once followed a rabbi and found out that was a conspiracy theorist.  I once fell in love with a girl and she didn’t love me back.  In each of these cases I had a desire to leap into something different, a more profound relationship with life and with myself.  I wanted to know a secret wisdom that maybe I had always known but had never articulated.  And in each of these cases I ended up burned.  So when I met Elad and found it he was a terrific writer and also a Chassid I was worried that this would happen again.

Eric: Elad, I said, your approach to life seems rich and holy to me but I can’t justify it rationally.  There are too many things you believe that just can’t be proved.

Elad: Of course that’s true.  But as you know Kierkegaard advocated taking a leap of faith.   You don’t know what the world will seem like to you when you commit yourself seriously to a religious practice.   Once you do, you will see the reasons, but until you do they won’t seem to be reasons to you.  It’s like psychotherapy, or Wittgenstein’s notion that to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life.  Until you are in the new life-form its language won’t make sense to you.

Eric: That argument makes sense but unfortunately it equally well applies to bad changes.  If I have never tried heroin the idea of taking heroin won’t appeal to me.  It might be true that if I take it it will induct me into a new-form of life and a lot of new things will be desirable that were never desirable before – like getting a fix.  But that would be a bad thing.  It’s almost as if you have a pattern in your brain and I don’t know until I accept it into my brain whether it’s a path to salvation or a mental disease.

Elad: I think I have a solution: I’m a computer programmer.  I will make a back up of your mind onto my hard drive – call it Eric2.  Eric2 can then convert to a life of serious religious observance.

Eric: A computer can’t keep kosher.

Elad: No but it can keep many mitzvot.  I will make sure it does not perform work on Sabbath for example, I will teach it to observe the halachot of speech and business dealings and so on.  Then if Eric2 is happy we can then copy it on to you.  You will get the  positive results of a religious conversion without the risk.

 

We tried it.  After two weeks Eric2 was very happy as a cybernetic baal teshuvah, but I was still afraid to copy it on to my mind.   It’s level of observance struck me as obsessive, its views on the relationship between the sexes medieval, and it’s approach to the hermeneutics of biblical texts naïve.  Maybe what works for him would not work for me.  I discussed it with Elad.

 

Elad: I don’t know what I can do for you.  Could we just talk?

Eric: I am afraid to even talk.  I don’t want to get converted  I don’t see a way out.

Elad: I think I do.  When you talked about your guru and your rabbi and your girlfriend you focused on the three of them, but the more important player in those stories was you.  Something about you wanted there to be a secret higher knowledge, or a path to transformation or at least something deeper than everyday life.   This is not really about your relationship to me – it is about a relationship between two parts of yourself.

Eric: That’s insightful.

Elad: Suspiciously so.  To be honest, I suspect that this is not really a dialogue you are having with me, but that you have written both parts yourself.

Eric: That reminds me of the concept in the Zohar that when Israel went into exile, God’s Presence went into exile too.    I’m afraid to believe you and that means there is a separation between God and his presence.  And once I am able to unify Eric2 and Eric1 then God and his presence will unify as well.

Elad: I don’t know if I would go that far, but there is an Elad1 and an Elad2 and I too would like to get those guys together.

Eric: I feel like talking to you has helped me unify parts of myself too.  Maybe all this talk about religion and God is just a path to some day unifying ourselves and ourselves with each other.

Elad: The prophet Jeremiah said a similar thing – once the world is unified we will stop teaching each other about God:

No longer will a man teach his neighbor,

or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’

because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”

declares the Lord.

Eric: Maybe instead of saying “Know the Lord” they will say “Here’s how I know him – how do you?”

 

Born in Brooklyn Eric Kaplan is a writer for the Big Bang Theory (and former write for Futurama) who is currently working on a dissertation on comedy at UC Berkeley.  His book “Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation” is coming out with Dutton in October and is available for pre-order on Amazon.  You can read more of his posts on his blog.

  • Greg Lauren

    this is great. awesome convo 🙂

    btw…he should listen to this 😉

  • Tzvi Schoenberg

    The idea of a discourse between a believer and a non-believer is amusing (or perhaps silly) in its own right. Yet, 2 or 3 notes with regard to the philosophical name-dropping:

    1) I am afraid you have attributed the wrong meaning to Kierkegaard’s concept of Leap of Faith. This term does not signify one’s commitment to a religious practice, but rather one’s semi-mystical-existential experience which can’t be reduced to language and acts. In fact, a commitment of a religious practice is a later and secondary result of that experience, a result which substitutes the Ethical Circle from which one had just transcended (towards the Circle of Faith), and which takes place once the experience had ‘evaporated’. Thus, the Leap itself is a unique a -historical ‘moment’ which can not be implicated in a concrete day-to-day framework of practice.

    2) As a result and in light of the above — the term Leap of Faith can not be used as an argument in favor of a religious life. It is not a term which can be used within a discursive structure.

    3)Wittgenstein’s notion of language is not relevant with regard to a discourse related to God (or Belief). Relating language to any form of a transcendent entity would be meaningless from Wittgenstein’s point of view. f I’m sure you are aware of the inadequacy of language in Wittgenstein’s perspective.

    • yossi

      I disagree about Wittgenstein — religious language is a language game. As for Kierkegaard I was using the leap of faith to describe how the world post-leap looks different from the world pre-leap and that this difference is incommunicable. So I think we agree on Kierkegaard.

  • Malka Hellinger Forshner

    This has nothing to do with this particular post, but what’s with all the guest “celebrities”? Elad, are you on vacation or something? That and the new format of email notification, it’s all so very confusing!

    • Rebecca K.

      I haven’t actually been getting email notification for the last several posts and only spotted them on my Twitter feed.

      • Oy, really? Good to know. Do you use Gmail by any chance? If so, it might have gone into your “promotional” tab. I’m getting more and more tempted to go back to the old system!

        • Rebecca K.

          YES! I bet that’s the problem! I’ll go change my settings.

    • Haha I keep forgetting that not everyone follows my Facebook page! I’ve taken some time off, but I’ll be back next week. I decided to use my time off to promote other writers, and I made this week a “guest post week”.

      BTW, do you not like the new email format? Does it bother you in any way?

      • Malka Hellinger Forshner

        doesn’t bother me at all, it’s just that it was “new” — I have extreme visual sensitivity, so I have to process it, get used to it, and all will be fine, iy”h!