Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Defending the faith, Maimonides style

I'm studying some medieval philosophy this quarter, and so far the star of the show is clearly Maimonides, a leading Jewish jurist and philosopher (and a member of a Jewish community which flourished under Arab, Islamic rule - something worth keeping in mind for those who think that religious differences (particularly those involving Muslims) are an irremediable threat to the public peace).

Maimonides' major philosophical work is The Guide of the Perplexed, which deals with, among other things, the problem of people who raise objections against scripture. At one point, he addresses a representative example (of someone who criticizes the story of Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden). Never mind the substance of the objection and Maimonides' response - just feast on how he prefaces the response:
O you who engage in theoretical speculation using the first notions that may occur to you and come to your mind and who consider withal that you understand a book that is the guide of the first and the last men while glancing through it as you would glance through a historical work or a piece of poetry - when, in some of your hours of leisure, you leave off drinking and copulating: collect yourself and reflect, for things are not as you thought following the first notion that occurred to you, but rather as is made clear through reflection upon the following speech. (Guide, I, 2)
Sadly I was unable to "reflect upon the following speech", for I was laughing too hard at the time. (Maimonides presents this as something he actually said as part of a real conversation. If only we could go back in time and bring him into the present to have a chat with Richard Dawkins.)

And here is a diagnosis of why some people are limited in their abilities to understand religious matters:
There are, moreover, many people who have received from their first natural disposition a complexion of temperament with which perfection is in no way compatible. Such is the case of one whose heart is naturally exceedingly hot; for he cannot refrain from anger, even if he subject his soul to very stringent training. This is also the case of one whose testicles have a hot and humid temperament and are of a strong constitution and in whom the seminal vessels abundantly generate semen. (Guide, I, 34)
One of those is, in fact, a major difficulty I have faced throughout my own studies.

1 comment:

who me? said...

Gee, you should really do something about that anger problem.