The Proof Delusion
I just finished reading Bondage of the Mind by R.D. Gold. If nothing else, the book is a fantastic example of why books which try to disprove the claims of religion are a waste of good ink and paper (and, in this case, bad cover art).
The fundamental problem with these books, which seek to provide rational formulations to disprove religious claims, is that they are an argument in search of an audience. For those who don’t believe in orthodoxy, the beliefs which Gold challenges are obvious mythology, and they certainly don’t need a book to prove it – any more than Orthodox Jews need a book to ‘prove’ that Mormonism must be false. And for those who do believe, there is no book on earth which will challenge that belief.
I suppose that there may be a tiny group somewhere who really are scouring through mountains of archeological scholarship to figure out whether or not to sleep through the shabbos hagodol drasha (no offense to Baal Habos). And, to be sure, there is an entire industry devoted to churning out kiruv literature, much of which focuses on arguing the other side of the same issues raised by Gold. So perhaps, if nothing else, this book acts to counterbalance those hackneyed polemics.
But it amazes me that the author, who clearly has a strong grasp of the dynamics of Orthodox Judaism can be so completely clueless about the nature of belief. To listen to him argue, it seems that the premise is that the Orthodox are poor, uninformed deluded souls, and, if we just educate them about modern science, anthropology and literary analysis, they’ll all snap out of their haze and rejoin reality.
And what information is he imparting that is so compelling? That most archeologists, zoologists and bible critics don’t believe in the divinity of the Torah? Well that’s going to be quite a news flash to the Orthodox community. Anyway, let’s face it, if you dug up the authentic Ten Commandments and found that there were eleven, it wouldn’t change Orthodoxy the slightest bit.
The book has the chance to provoke some deeper thought in its discussion of Orthodox morality – an aspect of religion which one can certainly take issue with. If I would project myself back to my Orthodox days, I would lose more sleep about building a monument for Baruch Goldstein than about doublets in the Torah. Gold starts out competently enough in his treatment of the problems in the Orthodox system, and does a good job dispelling the often-heard ‘subjective morality’ argument. However, he ends up exhuming and recycling the familiar list of Orthodox scandals and abuses. This device (to me, at least) undermines the entire discussion. There is no weaker an argument against the moral nature of any society than to judge its worst element.
It is still easy for me to read this book from an Orthodox perspective and to gauge how I would have reacted in my religious days. At best, I would gain some insight into how the secular community is able to explain away the extraordinary phenomenon of the Torah – by creating alternative theories which they claim to be ‘scientific’ and which they attempt to support by imposing their own subjective interpretations on archeology and biblical writings. At worst, the insult to my intelligence and trivialization of my beliefs would be too offensive for me to garner anything useful from this book.