Religious Maturity, Or The Atheist Avrech and You (Part Two)

In the previous post, we discussed how the stage of religious adolescence is not a purely negative phase in life. Like any other form of adolescence, it can lead to great religious heights, not just abandonment and wholesale rebellion. However, in order to do so, the religious adolescent must be allowed to go on his/her own journey. This journey might include unofficial ‘vacations’ form Mitzvot or at least laxity. It might involve searching for different experiences or reading sources outside of the accepted canon.

During this stage, the religious adolescent must answer two questions to his own satisfaction:

1)      What do I believe? What can I believe?

2)      Do I want to continue being Shomer Torah Umitzvot and why?

While the two questions sometimes overlap, they are not the same. To truly pass this stage in religious development, the religious adolescent must answer both questions to his/her satisfaction. Indeed, in my opinion the second question is just as important as the first, if not more so. I will explain why in the next post. In the meantime, let us examine the first question.

The Search for Truth

The formulation of the first question might seem a little strange. Shouldn’t it be more like “what’s true?” or “what can be proven?”? Aye, therein lies the rub. As I have tried to demonstrate with my series on Rav Avraham, seeing this as a purely intellectual search using solely reason and analysis is fallacious at best. While analysis and reason do play a big part, they are by no means decisive.

Nowhere is this more evident than in discussion of God and His attributes. As I mentioned before, belief in God is a synthetic a-priori statement. It is a factual belief about the world that comes prior to experience and reason and cannot be disproven thereby. As such, a theist and an atheist have nothing to talk about, since both have different a priori beliefs about God.

When it comes to axioms such as this, the religious adolescent does not aim to “prove” axioms, but rather discover for himself/herself which, if any, synthetic a priori statements he/she believes are true. To do this, he must examine the various synthetic approaches and see which ones make the most sense to him. Hard analytical “Proof” in this case takes a back seat to the intuition and common sense of the adolescent.

This is why you have so many different approaches to the how and why of belief, regardless of religion. It is because different people have different synthetic a priori beliefs and understandings of the world, each according to their individual understanding, temperament and world-view. The religious adolescent must search for what they believe, irrespective of what is expected of them for good or bad.

Ah, but what of the many questions that can (at least theoretically) be proven or disproven based on reason and hard proof? What of the question of biblical authorship and historicity, or religion and scientific statements?

The arguments on these subjects have been discussed elsewhere. Suffice to say that there are a range of faith-based options to deal with these issues, some mainstream, some less so. There are plenty of extreme solutions, such as the Leibowitzian option or the Goldmanian option, which one can take if necessary.

All of which brings us to the second question: OK, it’s possible to find solutions for the hard and fast issues – but why would I want to go through all the effort?

Now you see the importance of this question, which I will deal with in my next post.



Hi, my name is Avi Woolf. I'm an American-Israeli MO Jew living in Israel. I have a background in Israeli (as in Land of Israel) and Jewish History and an insatiable need for knowledge. I also have professional experience as an editor, translator and indexer. Enjoy the ride! If you are interested in using my services or just want to drop me a line, contact me at:
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