Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Perplexed by Maimonides

I'm in the midst of reading his Guide to the Perplexed and am, thus far, perplexed rather than guided.

I can understand why he would feel that those who have studied philosophy, like his student to whom this is addressed, would find God as characterized in what even we lapsed Christians call the Old Testament to be a rather unsatisfactory deity.  The reader of Aristotle and Plato (addressing the philosophical greats of the time) would think the capricious, jealous, angry, sometimes joyous but more often relentlessly oppressive God of the Hebrews less than divine.

I suppose he really has no choice in attempting to defend that God but to maintain that metaphor is the answer, i.e. that much of what is written cannot be taken on its face, but is rather a series of parables.  He seems to claim that this is necessary because those always present and ever-dull common people (those not schooled in philosophy) could not comprehend what is really intended, and so must be led cheerfully by the nose, as it were, through the employment of this engaging artifice.  This is not an unexpected conceit on his part.  But he also seems to claim that the assorted metaphors, tales and parables--the careful effort made to avoid any direct, straightforward, clear statement of the attributes and intent of the deity--is necessary regardless; is needed even for the benefit of those trained in philosophy.

I find this sort of thing troubling.  Defending the unclear on the ground that it must be unclear seems rather weak, even evasive, though it can certainly be convenient.  But we shall see.  I suspect I'll never be satisfied by any defense of religion or religious belief, and it may simply be the case that there can be no reasonable defense.  Religion, in other words, may not be reasonable.  If it is not, the question to be addressed is--should it be reasonable?

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