Sunday, December 11, 2011

Faith vs. Knowledge vs. Truth

From the Introduction of Lev Shestov's Athens and Jerusalem comes relevant thinking to current political activities in Yesha:-

The task which I have set for myself in this book, Athens and Jerusalem, consists in putting to proof the pretensions to the possession of truth which human reason or speculative philosophy make. Knowledge is not here recognized as the supreme goal of man. Knowledge does not justify being; on the contrary, it is from being that it must obtain its justification. Man wishes to think in the categories in which he lives, and not to live in the categories in which he has become accustomed to think: the tree of knowledge no longer chokes the tree of life.

In the first part…I try to show that, in pursuing knowledge, the great philosophers lost the most precious of the Creator's gifts - freedom;...The second part, the most difficult,…reveals the indestructible bond between knowledge, as philosophy understands it, and the horrors of human existence;…In the third part,… the fruitless efforts of the Middle Ages to reconcile the revealed truth of the Bible with the Hellenistic truth are dealt with. The fourth part…begins by assuming that the truths of reason perhaps constrain us but are far from always persuading us and that, consequently,…[what] flows from them not only do not find their solution in the intelligere but, when they attain a certain tension, enter into a struggle against the intelligere - a terrible, desperate struggle - and sometimes overthrow and destroy it. Philosophy is not a curious looking around, not Besinnung, but a great struggle.

A similar purpose underlies all four parts of the book: to throw off the power of the soulless and entirely indifferent truths into which the fruits of the tree of knowledge have been transformed…and consequently lead to the true philosophy. To speak as did Pascal: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not the God of the philosophers. The God of the philosophers, whether he be a material or ideal principle, carries with him the triumph of constraint, of brutal force. That is why speculation has always so obstinately defended the universality and necessity of its truths. The truth spares no one, no one can escape it; it is this, this alone, that has enticed the philosophers…But Jerusalem holds only to this truth. The constraining truths, and even the truths which seek the approbation and fear the reprobation of autonomous ethics - those eternal truths which, according to Leibniz, were introduced into the mind of God without asking His permission - not only do not persuade Jerusalem but are, on the contrary, the abomination of desolation. Within the "limits of reason" one can create a science, a sublime ethic, and even a religion; but to find God one must tear oneself away from the seductions of reason with all its physical and moral constraints, and go to another source of truth. In Scripture this source bears the enigmatic name "faith," which is that dimension of thought where truth abandons itself fearlessly and joyously to the entire disposition of the Creator: "Thy will be done!" The will of Him who, on his side, fearlessly and with sovereign power returns to the believer his lost power: . . . "what things soever ye desire . . . ye shall have them."

…Can we "understand," can we grasp, what the prophets and the apostles announce in Scripture? Will Athens ever consent to allow such "truths" to come into the world?... Faith, only the faith that looks to the Creator and that He inspires, radiates from itself the supreme and decisive truths condemning what is and what is not. Reality is transfigured…

…The power of the biblical revelation - what there is in it of the incomparably miraculous and, at the same time, of the absurdly paradoxical, or, to put it better, its monstrous absurdity - carries us beyond the limits of all human comprehension and of the possibilities which that comprehension admits. For God, however, the impossible does not exist. God - to speak the language of Kierkegaard, which is that of the Bible - God: this means that there is nothing that is impossible. And despite the Spinozist interdictions, fallen man aspires, in the final analysis, only to the promised "nothing will be impossible for you"; only for this does he implore the Creator. It is here that religious philosophy takes its rise. Religious philosophy is not a search for the eternal structure and order of immutable being; it is not reflection (Besinnung); it is not an understanding of the difference between good and evil, an understanding that falsely promises peace to exhausted humanity. Religious philosophy is a turning away from knowledge and a surmounting by faith, in a boundless tension of all its forces, of the false fear of the unlimited will of the Creator, that fear which the tempter suggested to Adam and which he has transmitted to all of us. To put it another way, religious philosophy is the final, supreme struggle to recover original freedom and the divine "very good" which is hidden in that freedom and which, after the fall, was split into our powerless good and our destructive evil. Reason, I repeat, has ruined faith in our eyes; it has "revealed" in it man's illegitimate pretension to subordinate the truth to his desires, and it has taken away from us the most precious of heaven's gifts - the sovereign right to participate in the divine "let there be" - by flattening out our thought and reducing it to the plane of the petrified "it is."

...Human wisdom is foolishness before God, and the wisest of men, as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, however unlike each other, both perceived, is the greatest of sinners. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. As for the philosophy that does not dare to rise above autonomous knowledge and autonomous ethics, the philosophy that bows down will-lessly and helplessly before the material and ideal "data" discovered by reason and that permits them to pillage and plunder the "one thing necessary" - this philosophy does not lead man towards truth but forever turns him away from it.

Shestov's development as a thinker lead him to undertake a vast critique of the history of Western philosophy which he saw broadly as a monumental battle between Reason and Faith, Athens and Jerusalem, secular and religious outlook.

As Czeslaw Milosz writes:

Shestov opposed Jerusalem to Athens in a most radical, uncompromising manner. Those names stood for faith versus reason, revelation versus speculation, the particular versus the general...

and this from John Bayley:

Before he died, Shestov realized a longcherished dream when he was invited to lecture in Jerusalem, where his grandfather had been buried and where in his old age he was hailed as one of the great Jewish thinkers of the century.

To such a thinker God's existence is no problem, for a Jew's existence is that of Godhead. Where Kierkegaard had to strive and suffer to realize himself as a "knight of the faith," Shestov could identify himself tranquilly in that faith with the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, which had made Jews so much hated and feared by Christians who had come to realize-consciously or unconsciously-that their God was mortal and had no resurrection. Shestov insists on a logic which only his race could command. "Man must himself become God"- (as the Jews once did) -"create all things out of nothing; all things, matter together with forms, and even the eternal laws."

And this by Bernard Martin:

In his last years Shestov brooded incessantly over what he called, in a letter to Bulgakov, "the nightmare of godlessness and unbelief which has taken hold of humanity." He was convinced that only through "the utmost spiritual effort," as he termed it, could men free themselves from this nightmare. His own life was concentrated on a passionate struggle against the "self-evident" truths of speculative philosophy and positivistic science which had come to dominate the mind of European man and made him oblivious to the rationally ungrounded but redeeming truths proclaimed in the Bible. This struggle is most fully reflected in his last and greatest book, the monumental Athens and Jerusalem, on which he worked for many years and completed just a year before his death.

In it he set himself the task of critically examining the pretension of human reason to possession of the capacity for attaining ultimate truth... This pretension, he concluded, must be firmly rejected...Shestov repeatedly insists in Athens and Jerusalem...European man, according to Shestov,[18] has languished for centuries in a hypnotic sleep induced by the conviction that the entire universe is ruled by eternal, self-evident truths (such as the principles of identity and non-contradiction) discoverable by reason, and by an everlastingly unalterable and indifferent power which determines all events and facts. This power is commonly known as "necessity."...To resist the self-evident truths of science and philosophy, to stop glorifying and worshipping them, however, is not necessarily an exercise in futility.

If man will attend to the ancient message of the Bible, Shestov maintains, he will find there a conception of God, of the universe and of himself that not only lends meaning to such resistance but also makes of it the first and most essential step in becoming reconciled with God and regaining his freedom. For the Bible, in opposition to Western science and philosophy, proclaims that God is the omnipotent One for whom literally nothing is impossible and whose power is absolutely without limits, and that He stands not only at the center but at the beginning and end of all things. God, according to the Bible, created man as well as a universe in which there is no defect, a universe which - indeed - He saw to be "very good." Having created man, God blessed him, gave him dominion over all the universe and bestowed upon him the essentially divine and most precious of all gifts, freedom.

...There can be no reconciliation, Shestov contends,[23] between science and that philosophy which aspires to be scientific, on the one side, and biblical religion, on the other. Tertullian was right in proclaiming that Athens can never agree with Jerusalem - even though for two thousand years the foremost thinkers of the Western world have firmly believed that a reconciliation is possible and have bent their strongest and most determined efforts toward effecting it. The biblical revelation not only cannot be harmonized with rationalist or would-be "scientific" metaphysics but is itself altogether devoid of support either from logical argument or scientific knowledge. For biblical man based his life totally and unreservedly on faith, which is not, as has often been suggested, a weaker form of knowledge (knowledge, so to speak, "on credit," for which proofs, though presently unavailable, are anticipated at some future time), but rather a completely different dimension of thought. The substance of this faith, emphatically denied both by science and philosophy, is the daring and unsupported but paradoxically true conviction that all things are possible.

I think the relevance of Shestovian thought is apparent to in the genuine approach of the Tesha residents.


1 comment:

yoni said...

i wish i could say this was pure gobbldygook; it is not: it is highly adulterated gobbldygook. like most writings of this nature, a 3rd of it may be refuted by logic, a 3rd of it by religion, and one 3rd remains as "things worthy of debate, but certainly not found here for the first time". and the whole of it may only be refuted by a tome of similar length and density, which will also make no money for it's harried author, which is why such a refutation will never be written- certainly not by me.