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Embodied in the great medieval universities founded by the church, faith in the power of reason accordingly infused Western culture, stimulating the rise of science. Early thinkers believed in finding out what was not already known about God’s will. The Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century set out logical “proofs” of Christian doctrine; he argued that humans had to reason their way to knowledge step by step as they lacked the ability to see into the essence of things.

Both Christianity and Judaism, however, have struggled to reconcile reason with revelation. Without doubt, there have been deep conflicts between modernity and Jewish religious thinking just as there have been with Christianity. The principal difficulty has been reconciling Judaism to the key characteristic of modernity, the culture of individualism: personal choice over truth, autonomy over authority and self over society.

Nevertheless, Christianity is rather more vulnerable to the attack against religion than its Judaic parent. And that is arguably because of the intrinsic differences between their respective claims to rationality.

Judaism, the true fount of Western rationalism through its assertion of an orderly universe, can lay reasonable claim to being the most rational of all religions. Unlike Christianity, Judaism is all about this world, not the next, and is firmly grounded in man’s deeds, in historical memory and in the here and now.

It is not concerned with proving the existence of God. As Eliezer Berkovits has observed, the foundation of Judaism is not that God is, but that he cares about mankind and the world. That concern is made known through the encounter between man and God. The Hebrew Bible is not a textbook of philosophy or metaphysics, but a record of man’s encounter with God. Jews are not taught “this is what we believe”; they are taught “this is what happened to us”. They are not taught dogma but remembered collective experience. Faith and experience are thus indissolubly linked.

At Sinai, the children of Israel are described as seeing and hearing the revelation of God’s commandments. The Biblical account does not purport to show or describe God, but describes a participatory event that happened. So the big question is whether this encounter did actually happen. Those who don’t believe God exists say it could not have done; but Judaism always proceeds on the basis that what the evidence suggests is most likely to have occurred.

Berkovits observes that according to the logic of Immanuel Kant himself the non-existence of God cannot be proved any more than can his existence. And the encounter with God was witnessed by the prophets of Israel, men of unimpeachable integrity and courage; more important, the entire Jewish nation experienced this encounter through the Exodus, the revelation at Sinai and the journey through the wilderness. The experience of that sustained encounter was so seismic that it defined the existence of the Jewish people and caused it never to surrender to other cultures despite unparalleled attempts ever since to eradicate it. The evidence would seem therefore to support the idea that what was said to have happened was more likely than not to have actually happened.

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Gavin Stoffberg
March 14th, 2018
3:03 PM
Thanks for a great article. Loved it!

Madge Hirsch
March 14th, 2018
10:03 AM
It is obvious that Melanie Phillips has never bothered to aquaint herself on any but the sketchiest level with Hinduism. One could argue that the order of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu were an example of evolution just as much as anything to be found in Genesis.I would suggest that the arrested development of science in Hindu India has a lot more to do with the devastation caused by neverending Islamic invasions and the reduction of the Hindu population to dhimmi status rather than cyclical notions of time. As for the tyranny of atheism there was plenty of tyranny around before the 20th century.And just look what that wonderfully vibrant Bible Belt has produced- a great deal of hypocrisy, lots of people who believe the earth is only 6,000 years old and Trump for POTUS. As for asserting that the stuff in the OT is more factual than the so called miracles of Christianity because "it happened to us"- pathetic.

Naomi King
March 12th, 2018
7:03 AM
The comments above simply prove that atheism is irrational and stupid.

Elisabeth Holland
March 12th, 2018
2:03 AM
The Hebrew Bible reveals that God is holy/pure/ righteous/just and as such is the true judge of sin. It is very hard for us to comprehend the holiness of God and just how bad sin is. Sin always perverts truth. There are so called Christians who deny the resurrection of Jesus but this is to fail to recognize the nature of God as holy, the creator and redeemer who indeed makes rational the resurrection. The Hebrew Bible points to redemption of our sin-sick sorry world through the unexpected means of the death of Jesus and its story is brought to fruition in the New Testament, but we need to read both books carefully as ask God to reveal himself to us as we do.

Claire Khaw
March 10th, 2018
10:03 PM
Judaism - Thesis Christianity - Antithesis Islam - Synthesis It is disappointing that Melanie Phillips does not mention at all the absurdity of the doctrine of the Trinity which requires all who wish to identify as Christian to say they believe that Christ is the co-equal of God. From this requirement flows cowardice, irrationality and hypocrisy leading to Westerners throwing out the morality of Christianity with the bathwater of the Trinity. explains the irrationality of Christianity rather well, I think. Tertullian’s views are those of a fanatic. But they have not been without influence. A certain strand within Christianity has always applauded this posture, and its echoes continue to be heard down to our own day. We find a similar position, in which Christian faith is taken to be “an absurdity to the understanding,” being advanced in the writings of Kierkegaard, for example: What, then, is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up, etc., has come into existence… as an individual human being…. [in other words,] the absurd is precisely the object of faith, and only that can be believed…. Christianity… has required the inwardness of faith with regard to what is… an absurdity to the understanding. In the same vein, C.S. Lewis speaks of the things that Jesus asks mankind to believe, if judged by human standards, as “asinine fatuity” and “lunacy”: [Y]ou will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips…. asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give…. in the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history…. a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said… would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of Hell. Christian faith requires belief in things that are repugnant to human reason, which permits contemporary commentators to speak of biblical faith as though it purposely stands in opposition to the dictates of human reason.

David MacKenzie
March 10th, 2018
8:03 PM
A fascinating article, and well worth the read. As an evangelical Pastor, I appreciate the Jewish and Torah apologetic. It's interesting to hear arguments from your perspective.

March 10th, 2018
4:03 PM
The more corrupt the character, the more they hate the idea that they will face God for judgement.

David Anon
March 9th, 2018
10:03 PM
I wonder, Laurence, what future generations will make of our enlightened society's attempts to eliminate the likes of ISIS?

Rev., DAvid Morgan
March 9th, 2018
7:03 PM
Excellent and brilliant argument for the fundamental belief in the Holy Scriptures (OT and NT) the source of our 'weltanschauung' and shalom! Thank you Melanie.

March 6th, 2018
6:03 AM
Regarding the Richard Dawkins quote: how exactly is this a "wildly untrue, ignorant and perverse reading of the Hebrew Bible"? Every one of those adjectives can be justified by stories and quotes directly from the Bible. You can't get away with lying about your holy books these days Melanie- we know whats in them!

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