As in the Exodus, we must raise our children to be "the vanguard" of the redemption, teaching them about it and imbuing them with a yearning for it. - The Rebbe - Likutei Sichos, Parshas Shmos, V.1 and V.6
Believers, the Children of Believers
If you were to stand outside a church on a Sunday and ask the people there if they believe in G-d, what would they answer? "Of course," "Halleluy'ah," "Why else would I be here?"
And if you were to ask people attending a mosque on a Friday if they believe in G-d what would they be likely to say? "Obviously," "G-d is great!" "Absolutely."
And if you were to stand outside a synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar, and ask someone walking in the same question, what kind of responses do you think you would get? "What do you think I am, a philosopher?"
"So if you don't believe in G-d, what are you doing here?"
"It's Yom Kippur, where else should I be?"
Someone once defined a Jew as someone who believes without knowing it. If that is true, it would explain a lot of things. For example, why is it that throughout history so many non-practicing and even irreligious Jews chose to suffer death rather than convert to another religion? Subliminal faith could account for that.
But how did we get that way? Is it nature or nurture? It's hard to pin this "Got G-d" gut feeling on education or indoctrination when the atheists, agnostics, skeptics and secular among us, including even those who grew up that way, wake up when the pressure is on to sacrifice their lives for their faith.
Where do they get that conviction? For those who believe in a soul, the answer is ready at hand. The Jews are "believers, the children of believers." Via our Jewish souls we have inherited our faith. It may be eclipsed under normal circumstances but when challenged to the hilt, it won't back down.
On the other hand, those skeptics who doubt the existence of the soul may have a somewhat harder time accounting for such behavior. What's driving the urge to connect to G-d at all costs?
Enter the scientists. As usual these days, science provides a bridge between secular skepticism and traditional faith, as has been prophesied in kabbala for our very times. Increasingly, scientific studies have been coming to the conclusion that people, in general, are hard wired to believe in G-d. In other words, faith is innate.
Dr Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind, claims that children have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being because they assume that everything in the world was created with a purpose. He says that young children have faith even when they have not been taught about it by family or at school, and argues that even those raised alone on a desert island would come to believe in G-d.
In one study, six and seven-year-olds who were asked why the first bird existed replied "to make nice music" and "because it makes the world look nice".
Another experiment on 12-month-old babies suggested that they were surprised by a film in which a rolling ball apparently created a neat stack of blocks from a disordered heap. Dr Barrett said there is evidence that even by the age of four, children understand that although some objects are made by humans, the natural world is different.
He added that this means children are more likely to believe in creationism rather than evolution, despite what they may be told by parents or teachers. Dr Barrett claimed anthropologists have found that in some cultures children believe in G-d even when religious teachings are withheld from them.
"Children's normally and naturally developing minds make them prone to believe in divine creation and intelligent design. In contrast, evolution is unnatural for human minds; relatively difficult to believe."
So here we have it. Faith is natural to the human condition from childhood. So why is it that as adults, so many of us drift away from it? I think that among the reasons for this, intelligence must rank highly.
The very same brain that naturally assumes that there is a cause and purpose for everything can also be indoctrinated into the very opposite notion - that things can simply exist uncaused and order itself is one of those things. Order, some clever adult might say, simply exists and no ordering causal principle needs to be evoked.
Never mind that the logic here is elusive (if there is any here at all). The point is that only a clever adult brain could come up with such a thesis - that abandoning cause-and-effect reasoning makes more sense than keeping it.
Tradition has it that when the Almighty intervened in ancient times to take the Jews out of Egypt, it was the children who recognized Him first. In our times once again redemption is in the air, and once again it's time for the sophisticated adult minds to take note of the children and the elegance of their logic: That there is purpose and meaning to everything that happens and we are the focus of the One Above's plan.
To some, it may look too good to be true, but is the alternative really better - to say that reality must be without purpose? The scientific method, all things being equal, seeks the simplest explanation to cover the facts and that simplest explanation is G-d. The only complexity that arises from that fact is rising to the occasion to accept it. There was a time when faith needed pressure to emerge. Today, it's enough that reason gives permission to believe. After all, we are hard wired for faith, being believers, and children of believers.
Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To contact, read more or to book him for a talk, visit www.arniegotfryd.com or call 416-858-9868