Once, when I was teenager, my grandfather asked me if I wanted to go hear a lecture at our synagogue. When you’re a teenager, going to hear a lecture at the synagogue with your grandfather is hardly a “Top-Ten” priority. I told my grandfather I was watching hockey. My grandfather went without me.
The man I missed hearing that night was a visiting rabbi named Abraham Heschel. I know who he is now. I read a book of his and my breath was taken away by the wisdom. On Google, Heschel’s described as “The most important Jewish thinker of the modern period.” The Google entry also mentions that in 1965, Rabbi Heschel marched with Dr. King in Selma. When asked why he was there instead of ensconcing himself comfortably in the ivory towers of New York, Rabbi Heschel replied, “When I march in Selma, my feet are praying.”
I learned my lesson. Nowadays, when somebody’s speaking that I need to see, I go. Not that there are a lot of Heschels around; mostly, it’s Larry King, who I don’t go see, but that’s, generally, who’s speaking.
“Sioux Saint Marie. Hello!”
I like to know stuff. Not all stuff. I don’t seem to like to know scientific stuff. I take the long view on science. I like to let the conflicting scientific theories duke it out for a few hundred years, at which point I accept the winner’s position. I’m pretty much “down” with gravity. On the other hand, I remember this guy in the Eighties railing on The Tonight Show about overpopulation and our imminent running out of food. There’s still elbow room and we’re still eating.
Salt’s good for you, then salt’s bad for you, then salt’s not that terrible for you. It’s like “paper or plastic” at the supermarket. First, it was “plastic”. Then, it was “paper”; now, it’s “plastic” again. Or is it those canvas tote things you’re supposed to buy.
Scientific theories, to me, are like wet paint. I like to give them time to dry.
Generally thinking, science simply doesn’t hold my interest. Nor does math. After, counting, I don’t see the purpose of math. Measuring, that’s good too. But what else do you need? I know this is ignorant on my part. No, it’s more than ignorant; it’s stupid. The difference between “ignorant” and ‘stupid”, in my view?
“Ignorant” means, “I don’t know.”
“Stupid” means, I don’t want to know.”
When it comes to science and math, I admit, with a modicum maybe a modicum and a half of shame, I’m just plain stupid. You can’t know, or even want to know everything, I suppose, but that’s pretty much an excuse.
And it’s not that I think the people who are committed to science and math are throwing their lives away. I have a friend named David who engages in advanced mathematical activities, and I like him enormously. He’s smart and he’s funny and a loving and wonderful spirit. But when he talks about the math thing he’s working on, though I try my best to stay with it, not only do my eyes glaze over, my normally engaged brain cells simply up and quit on me. It’s like a brain rebellion. They refuse to want to know.
What I like are ideas. What people think and why they decided to think that way. On both sides, not just the side I agree with; I’m a fair guy. When I don’t agree, I need to know, “What is it in the way that guy’s thinking that leads him to come to that really wrong conclusion?”
I think thinking is important. It’s no accident that this blog is called Just Thinking.
I try to think whenever I can. As I wrote in a recent posting on our daughter’s birthday, when I’m driving, I have been known to slow down to think. This qualifies me as an active thinker. A thinker you never want to drive behind.
Why do I value thinking so highly? Well, it may not be the fact that I value thinking so highly as the fact that I have a deep and visceral fear of ignorance. Why?
In 1965, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, which is the Superbowl of hockey. I ran into the kitchen and screamed, “Mom, the Leafs just won the Stanley Cup!” Without batting at eye, my mother replied,
“Is that good for the Jews?”
Ignorance and the prejudice resulting from ignorance have never been good for the Jews.
So I go to these lectures, to find stuff out. The last couple involved two lawyers, a rabbi and an atheist. Sounds like the setup for a joke, but it isn’t. It’s just the rundown of the people I bought tickets to see.
These events weren’t actually lectures, they were “live” appearances, with a moderator asking questions and the featured guests responding to them. The evenings invariably ended with a question period, where the attenders have the opportunity go up to a microphone and question the guests themselves.
I never go up.
It’s not that I don’t have questions; I always have questions. I’m just afraid to ask them. What if my question’s stupid and the audience groans? What if it’s perceived by the guest as a hostile attack, and they respond by cutting me to ribbons? What if I get tongue-tied, or I’m not well-enough prepared and my question comes out long-winded or vague? What if they “boo” me? What if my fly is open? What if I talk and I spit?
Why do I need that kind of aggravation?
I’ve got three questions, questions that came to me during these events, but that I was too scared to ask. I’m going to ask them here, where it’s safe. If you’re a lawyer, a rabbi or an atheist, or you know a rabbi, a lawyer or an atheist, maybe you can offer up some answers. Don’t be shy. There’s no booing on the Internet.
Okay, here are the questions:
I went to an event featuring two famous criminal defense attorneys. If I’d been brave that night, this is what I would have asked them.
To the Defense Attorneys:
“Say, I’m on a jury, and I’m aware that it’s the sworn duty of the defense attorney to say whatever it takes to get their client set free. With this in mind, why should I, as a juror, believe anything a defense attorney tells me?”
I also went to an event billed as a debate between a rabbi and an atheist on the issue of the existence of God. Again, my courage was a “no-show”, but had it not been, I’d have walked to the microphone and said this:
“I have one question for each of you. To the atheist: What is the atheist’s proof for the certainty that God does not exist? And to the rabbi: Considering God’s performance during the Holocaust, what difference does it make whether God exists or not?”
These may not be profound questions. They may, in fact, be cliché questions, questions that have been asked and answered hundreds of times. I just haven’t been around when they were. I guess I was watching hockey.
You feel like helping me out?
Note: I know it’s Sault Ste. Marie, but I wanted to write it the way it’s pronounced. Call it “Phonetic Geography.”
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