"At first glance, the question seems simple enough, especially since the concepts are straightforward and the terms familiar. But this apparent simplicity is deceptive, and to address the question properly requires clarity of language and careful definition of terms." The Rebbe
Questions from the Field (Part 2)
Here are some responses to questions posed to me by Chabad House rabbis. If you'd like your questions responded to here, please reply.
Q) I am looking for a way to explain to a scientist that his statement to the effect that science is an open-minded field while religion is closed-minded is, well, closed-minded!
A) My suggestion is to start the discussion by agreeing with him. It is true that science is always open to new ideas and observations that could revise its view of the world entirely. That's one of it's strengths, allowing it to grow and develop continuously.
Science is by definition conditional and tentative and a true scientist is therefore open to any propositions that are consistent with the data... even if such propositions are unobserved, unobservable and even counterintuitive. As long as it fits with the observations, "There is nothing too wonderful to be true," as pioneer physicist Michael Faraday said.
Modern physics has forced scientists to adopt many new beliefs, including: that matter is mainly open space, that time is not constant, that the shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line, that many meaningful questions can only be answered paradoxically, that causes need not happen before their effects, that the universe did indeed have a beginning and that humans are as necessary to nature and its laws as nature is necessary for us to exist.
Indeed it is specifically because science is open-minded that it has come to accept that ultimately, reality is not made up out of hard, predictable, comprehensible components as we used to think. The new view of nature allows for mystery and purpose, and communication between the indivisible wholeness that is the ultimate ground of reality and human consciousness that reveals it here and now.
And if that's science, what is religion?
So what are we arguing about exactly?
Q) What do you say to a literate atheist who doesn't want kids because of a lack of resources due to population growth?
A) His views are out of date. See what expert futurist George Musser says in an article called "The Climax of Humanity" in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American:
- "After several centuries of faster-than-exponential growth, the world's population is stabilizing. Judging from current trends, it will plateau at around nine billion people toward the middle of this century."
- "Meanwhile extreme poverty is receding both as a percentage of population and in absolute numbers. If China and India continue to follow in the economic footsteps of Japan and South Korea, by 2050 the average Chinese will be as rich as the average Swiss is today; the average Indian, as rich as today's Israeli.
Moreover, renewable resource technologies are proliferating so rapidly that global sustainability should be within reach within our lifetimes.
It's time to recognize that Malthusian gloom and doom forecasts of humanity's collapse under its population burden will never materialize. Better turn to a more 'fruitful' philosophy.
Q) How do you deal with questions about the Rebbe being Moshiach?
A) As a scientist, I like to be as objective as possible. If we start with standard definitions, there is little room for debate. My approach is to compare Moshiach to a mezuzah or to kosher food. Jewish law cites many necessary details for a mezuzah to be kosher or for a food to be kosher.
For a Moshiach to be kosher, he too needs to pass the criteria of Jewish Law. The uncontested source for Moshiach criteria is Maimonides' Laws of Kings. According to that, Moshiach needs to be human, Jewish, male, of patrilineal descent from kings David and Shlomo, scrupulously observant, a consummate Torah scholar, and a strong, spiritual leader for world Jewry, even in the face of formidable opposition.
During his visible life in this world, hundreds of rabbis have issued halachic rulings attesting to his validity as the presumed Moshiach, based on these criteria. After his passing, questions arose and, as rabbis do, they went back to the sources to clarify the issue. The Talmud permits Moshiach from the dead; Maimonides only disqualifies someone murdered for his sins; and many authoritative sources refer to Moshiach's passing and subsequent return.
Based on all this, hundreds of competent halachic authorities have determined that regardless of his passing, faith in the Rebbe as Moshiach is still 100% kosher.
But of course rabbis don't always agree... two Jews, three opinions. But whoever he is, let him come already. We need him more than ever.
To close, here's a cute story about my mother-in-law, of blessed memory. When Leah and I decided to marry, her mom was taken off guard. "You're going to marry who? Arnie? Why Arnie?"
Leah replied, "But mom, you always said, 'Why don't you go out with someone like Arnie.'"
Still in a bit of a tizzy, her mom replied, "Yeah. Someone like Arnie... but not Arnie."
Well, it didn't take long for us to get used to each other, and we really became one family, Baruch Hashem. Maybe that's how it will be when Moshiach comes... Someone like the Rebbe.