The Underpinnings of Canada’s Civic Religion

The Underpinnings of Canada’s Civic Religion

by

Howard Adelman

Last week in Ottawa, I attended an interfaith conference called, “Our Whole Society: Religion and Citizenship at Canada’s 150th.” My talk, indeed the panel I was on, addressed the issue of immigration and refugees. A short report on my talk can be found in Peter Stockland’s article, “How Faith Fosters Civility,” in the magazine, Convivium, 19 May 2017:  https://www.convivium.ca/articles/how-faith-fosters-civility. I will elaborate on the talk I gave in a subsequent blog.

There are five in this series:

  1. Underpinnings
  2. Undercutting and Reinforcing
  3. Democratic Deficit
  4. Political Communication
  5. Canada’s Civic Religion

In this blog, I want to deal with the presumptions underpinning my observations of Canada’s civic religion. If you are disinterested in philosophical grounding, skip this blog. In subsequent blogs in the series, I will point to the conclusions of various communication sciences to indicate why the values of Canada’s civic religion, as best articulated in interfaith dialogue, will not save Canada from the disaster afflicting America. Only then will I provide a more comprehensive articulation of the norms of that civic religion and offer a critique.

The term “civic religion” may seem inherently contradictory. After all, we live in the Western world where there is a strict separation of religion and the state. Civic, in the sense used here, refers to civic duties of citizens of a state. Thus, we have a moral duty to vote, not as an inherent belief of one’s religion, but as a member of a democratic polity. Civic duties are about this world. Religious duties are often conceived to be about the world to come or about the transcendental power of a divine being that manifests itself in different beliefs and practices and, indeed, worship. Reason is purportedly the language of politics; faith is the language of religion. That religion has values which are used to inform conduct in this world. However, it is precisely this separation of the religious and secular worlds that is in play.

Immanuel Kant wrote that his efforts were undertaken to define the boundaries of reason and of knowledge to make room for faith. But his perspective shifted over his period of intellectual development. After the peak of his intellectual output for which he is best known, his voluminous three Critiques, published between 1787 and 1790, propounded the view in the preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason that, “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge, in order to make room for faith.” Subsequently, his definition of limits to reason and knowledge to make room for faith began to make room for a more subversive position. He asserted that religion was and had to be rational and had to provide the foundations of our values. Religion permeated civil and political society to constitute the core values of a society. God emerged from this intellectual journey as immanent rather than transcendent. This series of blogs is an exploration of how this took place in Canada.

There are many reasons offered for this shift, including non-rational ones, such as his resentment against the Prussian Junkers under Frederick William II for attempting to censor his writings on religion – Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. There were also cultural influences – his initial pietism stressing biblical study and moral behaviour, but later rejection of the side of pietism that celebrated external religious displays. His inherited Enlightenment convictions concerning the rule of reason led first to his rejection of creationism, and later his rejection of the belief that religion, and even science as a pursuit rather than a method, could be founded on reason alone. He became convinced that a rationally-based religion was not possible; religion was a matter of non-rational faith and had to retreat to make room for the universal truths of Newtonian science as he pursued the goal of rooting science in reason alone independent of an omniscient and perfect divine being. Finally, there was also the influence of Hume’s scepticism that rooted both religious faith and even scientific pursuits on habits forged by history and culture.

How are the dimensions of reason and empiricism, as well as reason and faith, reconciled? As he articulated his doctrine in his triad of great books, the Critiques, the reconciliation lay in the necessary preconditions for both faith and reason, of both empirical (the premise of causation) and deductive methods. For all were rooted in the necessary conditions for any thinking as revealed in his unique transcendental method that allowed for faith outside but ethical behaviour within the bounds of reason. Scientific reason, moral behaviour and practical judgement, even as they relied on experiential input, were all based fundamentally on a priori premises that were universally valid and a precondition of any thought whatsoever.

What emerged was the development of an ethical religion. For an adherent, it did not matter whether one was a Jew or a Lutheran. Both could worship the same God in defence of the same set of values that were themselves as universal as any religious creed. Establishment Jews in large numbers in Germany – the Polanyi, the Stern, the Baum families, abut whom I have been writing – converted to Lutheranism to practice the common ethical moralism of German society, ignoring entirely the deep roots of antisemitism in the writings of Martin Luther, the founder of that church. Of course, conversion also was opportunistic since the formal rules often banned Jews from taking up professorships in universities at one time. Karl Polanyi would develop an ethical economics, Fritz Stern an ethical history of Germany, Gregory Baum an ethical sociology and theology. Kant had introduced a seismic revolution for both Christianity and Judaism to allow both to live on the surface in imperfect harmony.

The superficiality of that harmony was revealed by Hegel and was ripped asunder by Friedrich Nietzsche. Emil Fackenheim, in The Religious Dimensions of Hegel’s Thought, pointed out that Hegel’s central critique of Kant was that the latter had failed, and failed absolutely, to reconcile faith and reason. And not just in thought, but in political and religious institutions. Kant facilitated mindblindness. Revolutionary forces were underway and Kant provided a rationale that allowed a positive ethical external religion to provide a cover that left the dynamics of ecstasy and action as well as the enthusiastic creative energy of spirit behind. Life throbbed. Kant only offered lifeless thought.

Hegel showed that philosophy, rather than being divorced from history in abstract thought, was, and had to be, understood as thoroughly rooted in context. Time and space were not abstract dimensions of sensibility and thought, but the experiential realities from which even barren thought arose. History was about resolving incongruences, not just the abstract ones at the core of Kantianism. History was about desire and passion, about power and economic needs, and, in the end, about conflict between old, outmoded institutions and the demands (and shortcomings) of the new. Philosophy was historical, not ahistorical. Further, life and philosophy were inherently religious as will become clear by the end of this series of blogs. And the comprehending activity of religion had itself to be critiqued and comprehended. The absolute was with us in every age and time and we comprehend the divine and the shortcomings of our comprehension through the examination of the absolutes of our time.

All our gods, all our absolutes, have failed and must be resurrected anew for each period. Judaism, unlike the Christianity of Kant’s Prussia or the Weimar Republic over a century later, understood that all these gods were different aspects of the one God that revealed himself in history while Christianity was a repeated effort to flee that insight, to flee its basic foundation, in favour of Greek abstract and ahistorical thought and theology. In reality, God descends, becomes immanent and sacrifices Himself in different modes in different times. Those who dub this as a progressive transformation are blind to the destructive forces let loose by the process of transformation as we experience at each stage the death of god and are required to go through a period of suffering and sacrifice.

In Hegel’s time, and in our own almost universally, man has once again repeated the ultimate sin, the sin of idolatry, the sin of narcissism, the sin of regarding and worshipping himself as divine. The alternative to the vision of an omniscient and omnipotent god need not be worship of the self and the ability of the individual to engage in self-realization and self-transformation. The latter sin and that idolatry, as well as the cover up for it, must be observed in the particulars of our time and the thought in which and through which history is understood and reflected. What we must search for and uncover is the partiality of all thought. Every attempt to comprehend it all will be doomed to be shattered as much as we may have faith in its overarching vision. Spirit itself as revealed in time is always partial and explains why we can never see and confront the face of God head on.

At the very beginning of the nineteenth century, Hegel defended twelve theses at a formal Disputation to earn his right to offer university lectures. The problem of philosophy was not the search for eternal and infinite wisdom, but the effort to reconcile the vision of the perfect with the reality of the imperfect, insisting that Kant had become frozen in carrying through the radicalism of Hume’s scepticism and had carried rational philosophy to a dead end by finding an absolute in itself, and becoming uncritical of itself.

In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the last section follows the section on Spirit with a portion on Religion, that discusses how we manifest our abstract religious beliefs and values in everyday life. Consciousness is institutionalized. And consciousness is merely the reflection of and reflection into human experience. Morality that is certain of itself becomes the distillation of that religious consciousness.

If Marx became the anti-Hegel by sacrificing religion in worship of the material realm, Nietzsche became the anti-Hegel by sacrificing religion to save spirit. Nietzsche’s enemy was Christianity, that element of and phase of Judaism that failed to recover from its exile in Babylon and return. Instead, Judaism turned inwards and became frightened. Nietzsche challenged the retreat into oneself in favour of the transvaluation of values, in favour of radical inversion of morality managed solely by the heroic individual. Instead, he opted to return to a form of paganism as he expressed in Ecce Homo, the need to develop a new breed of men, an elite, not one that led the workers of the world in revolt, but ones dedicated to taking humanity to a higher level. The premise, which challenged both the Judeo-Christian precepts and Kantian morality, was a denial, not simply as Hegel contended that humans were unequal in different ways at different times in their spiritual epic journey, but that salvation, as Marx insisted, depended on an avant-garde, an elite that led humanity into transforming itself fundamentally.

In Nietzsche’s view, Judaism once embraced this spirit of conquest, this consciousness of the necessity of power, both over others and to transform oneself, and the joy and hope to be found therein. But that spirit of self-transformation had been lost with rabbinic Judaism and its turn inward to legalism and with Christianity in the absolute submission of man in service of a divine Other. It was then that Jews sold themselves short and sold out to legalism and were sold out in turn and subsequently became the victims of persecution of those who rejected the rule of law in favour of suffering and sacrifice and the need of a scapegoat to escape that outcome for themselves. Diaspora Jews, who could and were in a position to save humanity and resurrect the life spirit according to Friedrich Nietzsche, largely cowered in fear and accommodated themselves to the dominating force of authority instead of expressing their historical dynamism by returning to nature, by returning to their roots in the land to once again become the strongest and toughest people on earth. Nietzsche did not live to see the rise of Zionism.

How were humans to accomplish this? Not by receding from history in service to the eternal and not by accommodating the dominant ethos of the status quo. Nor by expressing resentment concerning a disillusioned secular world, a world that had lost its sense of enchantment and awe to find deliverance either in the ecstatic escape of unreason or an escape into reason, individualism, self-making and self-overcoming.

Hitler declared, and Donald Trump now concurs, that, “The national government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. Christianity is the foundation of our national morality and the family the basis of national life.” Hitler and Trump offered a mystical brew of pseudo-religion and purported self-interest that would soon reveal itself as the interest of the few and the deception and seduction of the many. What we need to examine is how, following Hegel, the dialectic of history has come to be interpreted pragmatically in the form of a set of overriding Kantian values for our time, and how that set of values, while inspiring high moral accomplishments, also blinds us the weaknesses of our own position as we are appalled at the values that we see articulated by Hitler copycats.

In Hegel’s time, it meant that Protestant clergy remained hostile to the truly liberal state as well as to Jews who refused to convert. Today, it means that this clergy embraces the values of the liberal state as well as their Jewish brethren. They have thrown overboard the doctrine of supersession in favour of shared beliefs, not only with Judaism, but with all other faiths. Some commentators believe that Democrats believe that all American Democrats need to do is copy Canadians and articulate the core values of the American civic religion in terms of historical connections and metaphors that touch their constituents.

An examination, first of our underlying nature and of various sciences, especially those involving communication, will try to show why that will not work (tomorrow), while, in the final blog in this series, a critique of Canadian interfaith values will try to delineate the shortcomings in terms of the population they do not reach and the declining power and efficaciousness of the civic religion of Canada.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

75 Trump Aphorisms

An explanation. The following aphorisms or statements are not ones Trump Two-Two would or could make. Nevertheless, they are intended to represent what he thinks even though he is incapable of articulating any one of them. As his surrogate,Kayleigh McEnamy, said after the first presidential debate that Trump Two-Two had with Hillary, his reactions are all visceral rather than reflective. I have tried to be empathetic and make his beliefs conceptually clear. Of course, if Donald ever talked that way, he would lose at least half of his supporters.

75 Trump Aphorisms

by

Howard Adelman

An aphorism is a terse summary of a maxim used as a guide to life and purportedly representing what is held to be generally true or acutely observed by those who repeat the sentiment. “Saying what is on your mind is easy, especially when you are mindless and cannot see what is in front of your nose,” is an example of an aphorism in the form of an insult. Short statements also represent positions taken. Since I do not consider Trump Two-Two capable of expressing a principle or a considered policy – he is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of guy who speaks in simple and too widely held beliefs, all too frequently uttered twice – I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and act presumptuously as his speech writer. I have written a few beliefs, many in the form of aphorisms, that Trump Two-Two can be presumed to hold, in part to show that I do believe that I can get inside his head and demonstrate that I do not write from a bias. I do hope you get the irony of some of them.

On Facts, Truth, Reason and the Self

1. Some say there must be common sense if we are to have a sense of the commons. A common touch is better than common sense.
2. When reason, used to unravel the riddles of the universe, is also used to make the universe a riddle, unreason takes the stage to unravel common sense.
3. Hyperbole is a white lie designed to bring out a deeper truth than common sense.
4. If truth is not absolute, all thought is subjective; any idea is as good as any other.
5. An idea is only valid if it can be sold, not in the market place of ideas, but in the economic market.
6. Autonomous thoughts, loudly and repeatedly expressed, are as valid as any conclusions of the chattering class.
7. Disregarding logic and evidence is not nonsense but pretense.
8. When philosophers dance on the dais of doubt, anxiety spreads to provide an opening for the fabricator who promises deliverance.
9. Fabulism is the freedom to forge new realities; realism is obsessed with facts and enslaved to what is rather than what can be.
10. When there is no given truth, fabulism deserves equal time with realism in the name of fairness so that the possible can be as plentiful as the actual.
11. Reason not seasoned by common sense needs to be spiced-up by a dose of the blasphemous and the banal.
12. Physical blindness means we cannot see; mindblindness means we cannot know.
13. Do not overrate intellect and underrate imagination. It takes imagination not intellect to appreciate the pleasures of a $500 lunch.
14. Self-consciousness, like the penguin, is overrated.
15. Sturdy individuals are always to be preferred to the studious and the supersensible.

Politics

1. Politics should not be a program of implementing prevailing strategies, but an exercise in demonstrating how nimble you are.
2. The politics of grievance based in resentment energizes both the politics of illusion and the overthrow of the establishment.
3. America is a sea and air power; it need not be a land power. Our army is surplus to our needs. That means that we are free to use our armed forces to expand our wants lest we lend its use to the needs of others.
4. When an ordinary bloke like me can know more about dealing with our enemies than our generals, know more about dealing with our rivals than our diplomats, then we are better off entrusting defence and diplomacy to an artful dodger and a double-dealer. Would you rather have a leader who is tasteless and insipid or one who is openly unsavory?
5. Instead of gab-fests from experts who talk down to you while they ask you to donate blood, instead of an international meeting offering a smorgasbord of non-options, instead of meetings that suck the energy out of you leaving you impotent, attend one of my rallies.
6. Politics should be generous, not uptight. Politics should reach out rather than be hermetic. Politics should be self-regarding rather than being drowned in a concern for others. Politics should be fun and not a Methodist burden.
7. An international meeting is not a place for high mass or for Kol Nidre. It is a squash court rather than a restaurant mistaken for a church.
8. As the refugees in Kakuma Camp must be returned to Sudan, as the refugees in Dadaab must be returned to Mogadishu, as the refugees running rampant in Europe must be returned to the Middle East and Africa, so must the Hispanic illegals in America be returned to the other side of our southern border. The territory of a nation is a refuge for its citizens and not stressed-out strangers.
9. Drop cement reef balls in the sea to allow marine life to flourish instead of placing a moratorium on fishing and expanding the class of enforcers who are such a burden on the lives of ordinary citizens.
10. Instead of treating natural pride as if it were an allergy and acting akin to forbidding peanut butter in lunch boxes, allow all infants to be exposed to peanuts so they can develop their own immune systems and enlarge their national pride.
11. National pride is not a shameful expression but a shameless exercise in exuberance.
12. Tell Senator Elizabeth Warren or Pocahontas that the option is not denial of past crimes towards the indigenous people of America; the option is not exposition and atonement; the option is not redress. Offering members of indigenous people opportunities to participate in an economically expanding nation is the only option.
13. Unpredictability is as virtuous in playing at international politics as in playing poker or making a real estate deal.
14. Would you rather have a leader trained for thirty years to play in the women’s softball league or a man who has played hardball in the major league of international finance?
15. If you have been disenfranchised, I am uninterested in you; if you feel disenfranchised, vote for me.

On Society and America

1. A society’s strength is not founded on guilt and shame, but on guts and shining a light to illuminate success.
2. Lateral inclusion in the name of vertical inclusion sabotages the latter; lateral exclusion ensures vertical exclusion and the “best” will rise to the top.
3. Sound bites and snap shots are necessary to prick the balloons of the bloated pretentions of the high and mighty.
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour is a dictum for allowing a stranger to become your neighbour.
5. When the measure is neither man nor God and the belief grows that there is no measure, mischief-makers prosper.
6. I like Jews; they pretend to be waiting for the messiah while they get on with the business of life by treating life as a business.
7. Branding is a virtue as a self-regarding short hand signal to expand the self.
8. In this new age, a leader must be the origin of perception for a whole society to once again allow the spirit of a nation to live in our backyards and driveways.
9. America does not stand for equality; it stands for upward mobility – for the “best” of us. The best is defined by my example – climbing upward while giving anyone who wants to follow me a kick-start.
10. If we are to be immersed in who we are and who we can be, amelioration is insufficient.
11. We need a foundational faith in an America that was once great and can be great again based on being born again, but through self-transcendence rather than grace.
12. A country willing to send troops abroad to participate in a pretend peace instead of willing to fight to the death for victory is a country neither to be admired nor respected.
13. America is a country in crisis; I am the coach that can supply the steroids.
14. America is in freefall towards political obscurity; a superman is needed to swoop down and save it from crashing down to earth.
15. America is at a crossroads. Either it proceeds burdened by carrying a cross or it becomes cross and gets rid of the unfair burdens it carries.

On Doctrine, Values and Lifestyle

1. Sidhartha Mitter characterized my doctrine as “a prosperity gospel for white grievance.” Lauren Collins characterized my doctrine as “the prosperity gospel for male grievances.” White grievances and male grievances are genuine, justifiable and mutually reinforcing.
2. We are at the end of our modern Axial Age. The vision of Yahweh when He proclaimed that, “My house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples,” is dead. Universalism based on care and compassion for all will finally be buried. On the mound of its ashes, I will erect a very tall flagpole recognizing me, my followers and the renewed greatness of America.
3. Meat eater or grass cutter, that is the choice.
4. Ezra cast out foreign wives and children. Follow his guidance, otherwise the assimilation of strangers, who include enemies among us, will threaten our survival.
5. The claim that individuals have responsibilities as well as rights justifies denying the latter in order to impose the former.
6. In the age of sound bites rather than sound arguments, victory goes to he who speaks most and says the least rather than to the one who speaks best.
7. Don’t sabotage yourself in search of perfection; serve yourself to avoid abjection and dejection.
8. Have a good time rather than a good conscience.
9. Aspiration is not hope; aspiration is a promise followed by performance.
10. Be in the moment rather than in bondage to bureaucracy. spontaneity trumps preparation every time.
11. Nostalgia is only valuable when it helps pay the bills.
12. Gut instinct is superior to gut wrenching; the latter leads to torturing yourself while the former allows you to torture others.
13. It is better to trust a crook who you know is a crook than one who is a crook but denies it.
14. Mendacity is a virtue in the hands of a spinner of tales.
15. A man beholden to none is responsible to no one.

On My Persona

1. I am not the messiah. He will be anointed by God. I have anointed myself and ask voters to join me in the ritual.
2. Being boastful and bombastic is a cover for really being pontifical and portentous.
3. Would you prefer the vernacular or the effete?
4. I know what it is to seduce naïve wannabees and the nouveau riche with crispy tongues of sea urchins under yuzu sorbet instead of an excellent hamburger.
5. At Mar-a-Logo, we do not offer detailed descriptions of every dish, thus interfering with conversation; we do not offer fact checks to interrupt your pleasure; we do offer intermissions to enhance your joy.
6. I am affable. I am gracious. I am not an ass-licker; I prefer my pleasures to come from the other side.
7. There may be a difference between pomposity and pretension, but I see none.
8. I would rather offer ostentation than pretension.
9. I attract ambition. I attract talent. I expand my palette to offer everyone a chance to move up – as long as I am at the top.
10. I want my broads to be delicious. I want my food to be delicious. I want my politics to be delicious. Life is not a monastery for monks forced to take part in a public world.
11. I inspire rather than trying to make an impression.
12. I refuse to cater to technique at the expense of terrain; technique must be tamed to secure and expand terrain.
13. Hillary and Barack still live in an analog world; I belong to the digital age.
14. Testosterone may make you a bull in a china shop, but that is infinitely better than estrogen used in selling that china.
15. My ambition in life has always been riches and bitches; since politics is a bitch, seduction is required, especially if the latter enhances the pursuit of the former.

The Reasoning of the Heart.09.05.13

The Reasoning of the Heart                                                                09.05.13

by

Howard Adelman

“Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point,” Blaise Pascal Pensées

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.

This is a widely quoted idiom and is usually understood to mean that there are limits to what reason can know. Immanuel Kant once wrote that reason was limited in order to make room for faith. Blaise Pascal’s earlier quote was written with this in mind as an apologetic for his Christian Jansenist beliefs to explicate their fight with the Jesuits and not, as it is often used, to mean that reason is limited and cannot understand passions or emotions. Sometimes the sentence is used to explain a mad passion that makes no sense otherwise – such as the Duke of Windsor’s love for the American divorcée and philanderer, Wallis Simpson.

Wallis Simpson used the phrase as the title for her own evidently atrocious autobiography, The Heart Has Its Reasons: The Memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor. Pascal would have been appalled at the appropriation by Wallis Simpson, the epitome of those who spend their lives as slaves to distractions and consumerism which he so despised as the escapism for the wretched who refuse to face their “nullity, loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness” and the depths of a soul that tries to disguise its profound boredom. The proposition was created by the mathematician (inventor of probability theory), scientist and profligate inventor (the syringe, for example, and the calculator) to explain Christian faith to the sceptical and new-born secularists of the seventeenth century. However, the quote actually says that the heart has its own reasons. The heart is not irrational but somehow its particular rationality is not directly accessible to cognitive reasoning. However, I use the sentence in its literal rather than connotative sense.

I write this because I have no clue about what is going on in my heart. This morning I am going to the hospital to have a cardiac angiogram, an x-ray using a special dye and a fluoroscope to visualize the blood flow in my heart. Last month I had a less invasive procedure, a cardiac MRI. My whole body was inserted into a large stainless steel tube to take 3-D pictures, first without a dye and then with a dye.

In the second part, when they inserted the dye, I immediately reacted to the dye and had to push the emergency button to be pulled out so I could vomit – unfortunate for the technician who was splattered. Evidently, reacting to the dye is very rare. I tried — and succeeded — in not sitting up and moved very little when I brought up so that I would not have to come back again to repeat the whole procedure as, if you move, this becomes necessary. It is very hard to vomit while lying on your back. I was a success and they proceeded with the test.

As a result of the test I learned that I had once had a heart attack. I had no knowledge of having had a heart attack. As a result of that attack, part of the heart muscle had died. The intent of today’s procedure is to determine whether arteries to the healthy parts of the heart are partially blocked or even occluded. If they are, an angioplasty will be performed essentially using a tiny balloon to squeeze the plaque and compress it against the sides of the artery. The plaque is not actually flushed out so the analogy to the work of a plumber that my late brother Al claimed to be is a little far-fetched. Angioplasty is now a fast and relatively straightforward procedure, but in one-third of patients it is only of temporary help in easing the flow of blood.

I am familiar with this procedure because I watched my late brother perform two angioplasties. He was in and out of his patient’s coronary arteries in both cases in just fifteen minutes. It is scary to watch but he never had a problem in all his years of practice. He had gone to California to master this new procedure and introduced angioplasty to Canada years ago. He trained many of the current practitioners, including the doctor who will take the cardiac angiogram and possibly perform the angioplasty on myself.  I am also familiar because we once did a TV show on angioplasty in a Jerusalem hospital when we were producing the television show, Israel Today. We were allowed to videotape the whole procedure.

All of this is preparation for another procedure to be undertaken at the end of the month, a non-surgical ablation, using the same procedure as in an angiogram to send a catheter inserted in the groin area up the femoral artery to the heart. That procedure is not intended to clear coronary arteries but to treat my atrial fibrillation in which my heart seems to skip some beats every minute, a process that may or may not have caused the heart attack of which I had hitherto been totally unaware. In that procedure, the cardiologist becomes an electrician rather than a plumber “flushing” out drains. In an electrophysiology lab, the specialized cardiologist directs electrical energy through the catheter to “zap” small areas of the heart muscle where the abnormal rhythm is located to disconnect the source of the abnormal rhythm. Presumably, after that procedure, the arrhythmia will be overcome, the beat will resume its regularity and my heart will function better.

My only symptoms seem to be the shortness of breath that I recently developed. If I have pain, I seem to be oblivious to it. Since both procedures are now routine, I expect no problems at all. However, I do have fears about having the dye inserted and I feel embarrassed about the prospect of vomiting over another poor technician who has the bad chance to be on my case.

Why is regulation of the beat, regulation of the rhythm of the heart, so crucial to both life and music, so mathematical yet the heart is referred to as the key organ for understanding faith. What is the relation of precise numbers to faith? To return to Pascal’s quote, it is worth offering the full citation. ‘Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. On le sent en mille choses. C’est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison. Voilà ce que c’est que la foi parfaite, Dieu sensible au cœur.” (Pensées 233)

“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.”

Pascal argued there were two fundamental errors, the error of reason which takes everything literally and the error of the faith which takes everything spiritually. For Pascal, to accept the profound truths of faith does not negate the profound truths of empirical observation. In my discussion of the procedures in store for me today, I am not taking everything literally, just perversely playing with Pascal’s wordplay and bracketing the figurative meaning.

Tomorrow I will write on the parashat for the day rather than procedures, Parashat Bamidbar when we begin to read the book of Numbers (1:1 – 4:20). This is, appropriate to Pascal, the numbers man par excellence concerned with faith. The parsha is about the numbers of heads of households who could do battle, the over 600,000 that I wrote about last week. What do precise numbers, the product of what is most basic to reason, counting, have to do with faith, the reasons of the heart? Though the section also deals with the duties and responsibilities of each of the clans of the Levites with respect to the Tabernacle, I will not be discussing the division of responsibilities.

 

TOMORROW: Counting and Faith – Reasons of the Head and Reasons of the Heart

Parashat Bamidbar: Numbers (1:1 – 4:20)                                                      11.05.13

NEXT WEEK: Resumption of Discussion of the Economics of Israel