Milton Steinberg

This Jewish thinker and Reconstructionist leader asked: Does belief in God make sense?

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Steinberg sets out to answer the question: 'Does believing in God make

sense? Or is religious faith something for the ignorant, the muddleheaded, those too wishful, lazy, or cowardly to think the matter through?'

His reply is that belief in God should be seen as a hypothesis capable of being tested like any other hypothesis. The way of testing the religious hypothesis is to note the telling reasons for maintaining that Deity rather than Nullity moves behind and through the universe.

For Steinberg the traditional arguments for the existence of God should not be seen as proofs or knock-down arguments but as pointers to the Reality, making better sense of human experience than any rival theory. As Steinberg puts it in formal philosophical language:

'Religious faith is a hypothesis interpreting reality and posited on the same grounds as any valid hypothesis, viz., superior congruity with the facts, greater practicality, and maximal conceptual economy.'

Bad Things, Good People

The problem of evil is, indeed, a severe obstacle to belief in a benevolent Creator but attempts have been made by religious thinkers to show how the existence of evil can be compatible with the existence of God. There is, indeed, no completely satisfying solution to the problem but, then, the atheist has more questions to answer than the theist.

How would the atheist account, asks Steinberg, for the existence of natural law, the instinctual cunning of the insect, the brain of the genius and the heart of the prophet?

Steinberg disagrees profoundly with Kierkegaard's 'leap of faith' and his idea of the 'paradox,' believing the ideas of religious existentialism to be largely of Christian rather than Jewish interest, since, as Christians themselves proudly declare, the basic Christian dogma is beyond the power of reason to penetrate. Judaism is a religion that does not glorify the unintelligible.

At the same time, Steinberg does not believe Judaism to be a religion of reason after the fashion of a Maimonides or Hermann Cohen. Judaism has its mysteries and non-rationalities and it has even had its quota of anti-rationalists.

Oddly enough, in the light of his general discussion of traditional Jewish ideas regarding the nature of God, there is only a single and casual reference to the Kabbalistic doctrine of En Sof and the Sefirot and very little about the general mystical approach to religion.

Jewish belief in the Hereafter is hardly touched upon in Steinberg's writings. There is also very little about the meaning of religious language and the challenge presented to religious faith by modern linguistic analysis.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.