by Rabbi Gil Student
Is philosophy good for your faith or bad for it? It depends on the person and the circumstances. For some people, it adds depth and meaning to their faith. For others, it raises questions that undermine their faith. Our story tonight is about someone who fits into both categories.
Cheryl Berman, in her new book Reasonable Doubts: A Religious Skeptic Learns a Thing or Two about God, describes her own theological battle. As a philosophy major in an unnamed college on 34th St. in Manhattan, she began to doubt the existence of God. Explaining complex ideas in simple terms, she describes her travels through the major trends in Medieval Jewish philosophy. Her philosophy studies eventually led her to Kant, whose critique of philosophy up to his day demolished her religious convictions.
As she was struggling with her doubts, she was hit by a car that left her scarred – physically, emotionally and intellectually. As she worked to regain her functions, she gained greater appreciation for the limitations of the human intellect. She also learned more about the critiques of Kant. In her eloquently simple way, she explains the different philosophical views she studied and how they reflected what she was feeling and thinking.
In the end, she finds faith in the philosophy of Henri Bergson and a moving Yom Kippur experience (pp. 94–95):
When I think back on this Yom Kippur experience, I remember the religious problems that I had encountered prior to the accident. Kant had disproved the arguments for the existence of God. I remember how distraught I had become to learn of Kant’s criticisms of them. I remember how disillusioned I had been at this surgical separation of faith from reason. But I had missed the point entirely.
It suddenly occurred to me that Kant’s real point when he claimed to have saved faith by getting rid of reason was simply this: Faith and reason can’t occupy the same chair. And despite the fact that Kant’s view of God ultimately differed drastically from a religious perspective (he believed in God as a postulate of ethics), he did religion a huge favor by cutting it free from the fist of reason. It’s not that he couldn’t prove the existence of God, it’s that he couldn’t prove it the same way he went about proving everything else.
God’s realm is not in reason. It is in something deeper and more profound. It is in something I had to work a lot harder at.
The book has much more than just a discussion of God’s existence. The author takes readers through different approaches to the existence of evil and a creative account of the story of Iyov. Overall, it is a touching story of religious growth, told in a light style that educates about philosophy as it applies to the human condition.
The original text of the review may be found here.