Two-thirds down in the first paragraph of the Epilogue at the end of Fear and Trembling down to the first words of the second paragraph, and a few sentences of the third, the summing up of a fundamentalist creed is formed:
Whatever one generation learns from another, it can never learn from a predecessor the genuinely human factor. In this respect every generation begins afresh, has no task other than that of any previous generation, and comes no further, provided the latter didn’t shirk its task and deceive itself. This authentically human factor is passion, in which the one generation also fully understands the other and understands itself. Thus no generation has learned from another how to love, no generation can begin other than at the beginning, the task of no later generation is shorter than its predecessor’s, and if someone, unlike the previous generation, is unwilling to stay with love but wants to go further, then it is simply idle and foolish talk.
But the highest passion in a human being is faith, and here no generation begins other than where its predecessor did, every generation begins from the beginning, the succeeding generation comes no further than the previous one, provided the latter was true to its task and didn’t betray it…
Faith is the highest passion of a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further.
Of course, as a Jew I have an obvious grudge against this way of thinking: for Jews faith is the Call to Action. Our beliefs are not concretized if we merely think pious thoughts and never act on our best intentions. Yet I have a bigger problem with this thinking that may ring true even for Protestants. I believe that it is anti-Thought, and that it insists that a nine-year-old’s faith is as mature as a fifty-year-old’s faith need be either. To believe in Faith this way is to never learn.
A philosopher I like better, Whitehead, taught that God is an Evolving Being, and that humankind is in a sense God’s partner: for God is not defined as omnipotent and cruel to Whitehead. No, in Whitehead’s thinking it is God’s Creativity as well as God’s love that defines God. Therefore if a person studies the Bible–and Whitehead recommended the Jews as a very spiritually creative people–with the Commentaries of the Bible–his or her understanding deepens with time. This is whether their understanding is based on Talmudic sources; Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed; or books like Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament. More, a person’s life outside of the scriptures informs how a person reads them.
Is faith the highest passion? Though Jewish I will quote the Christian scriptures first,
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (Cor. 13:12-13)
In a world in which humankind lacks knowledge, says Paul, the defining trait of a Christian is love, not faith. Love can make up for all things; if a person loves, than even great character flaws can be ignored. Or to quote the Hebrew Bible,
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut. 6:5)
Love of God is not simple belief, “There is a God,” no, it is to embrace God with one’s intellect (the heart in Hebrew is the intellect); all one’s life force (the soul); and your earthly possessions (your might). Rabbi Akiba discovered the true meaning of this sentence when he was executed for illegally teaching Judaism to other Jews. Or at least, in the Ten Martyrs, which we read each year on Yom Kippur, it says so. He says that all of his life he wondered what it meant to love God “with all my soul,” and now in death he knew that giving his life back to God before his time was due was that. And so he recited Sh’ma before dying, “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad” i.e. “Hear Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” His last words went beyond the mere abstract credal statement: he loved, not he merely believed.
So it is that belief is only a part of what it is to be a Jew: practice of the religion is necessary. I have heard the claim made that Jews can ignore philosophy because for Judaism abstract belief is less important than the practice of Judaism. I hold this is wrong: though for the Jewish person belief is only part of our practice, to ignore the mind altogether is contrary to our tradition: the Talmud uses reason to explain and justify the law besides to quote verses from the Bible. Other Jewish philosophers like Maimonides try to defend faith and propound reason.
Yet Kierkegaard’s claim that reason be rejected–this is not Judaism. One “must go further” than simply believe to be a Jew.