Jewish psychologists and the God within

 Rabbi Joshua Liebman says in his “Peace of mind” that religion is “at its best” merely “the announcer of the supreme ideals by which men must live and through which our finite species finds it’s ultimate significance.” If people were honest, says Liebman, “they would admit that the implementation of these ideals should be left to psychology.

Psychology can say much, obviously, about the psyche, but nothing about the God of the Bible. For Liebman, part rabbi, part psychologist, the ultimate aim of religion is peace of mind, which results from the discovery of ”ultimate significance.” To whom must a Jew run to find this ultimate meaning? No, not to the rabbi, says Liebman, but to the psychologist, preferably a Freudian psychologist. Oh the irony! Freud, the Jewish atheist is going to tell us how to find ultimate meaning.

The heart of religion is, says Liebman, “something outside ourselves.” I understand by that the existence of a transcendent being greater than ourselves. Alas, Liebman brings us back us back to earth that it is the job of psychology to make this something (someone?) outside ourselves incarnate. If that is so, religion then has little to do with the Bible, and everything to with the “Varieties of religious experience” (William James). Whereas the Scripture (Hebrew and New testament) says ”look up” Liebman says, “look within, because without’s within.”

If Liebman had been a Messianic Jew, he, firstly, wouldn’t have shackled religion to psychology, and second, he would have said that this making something outside ourselves incarnate is not the psychologist’s job but God’s; and this something made incarnate would be Someone, not something. (Some Messianic Jews, sadly, do not believe that God had a divine Son; so they don’t believe in THE incarnation)

 Gerald Jampolsky’s (Yogic) “transformation of consciousness” leads to inner peace. Deep below the dark regions of discord and strife lies the treasure without price longing to find you, the real you. Transform your consciousness and you will find your true self. This “transformation of consciousness” is the “foundation for inner peace” (which is also the name of the publisher of “A course on miracles” on which Jampolsky’s book is based). The “transformation of consciousness” is, of course, also the foundation of Eastern thought systems such as Buddhism and Yoga, which has become a key ingredient in Western psychotherapy. “Hatha Yoga brings about the Unity of the mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, the body is toned, strengthened and healed so that a transformation in consciousness can occur.”

Liebman says go within to find your true self, the real you; but not before you go outside – to Freud. For Jampolsky, in contrast, look within, and that’s good enough to find inner peace.

 

The Night of the Senses: Belief and Understanding in John of the Cross

Summary

All translations (no matter the language) of the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:9b is “If you do not believe, you will not be established (you will not last, abide). In contrast, translations of the Septuagint’s Isaiah 7:9b (the GREEK translation of the Hebrew Bible) have the following translation, which John of the Cross quotes (in Spanish, of course): 9b “but if ye believe not, neither will ye at all understand.” The Church fathers, for example, Augustine of Hippo and Anselm used this Septuagint translation to coin 
credo ut intelligam (Anselm of Canterbury) “I believe that I may understand” and  crede, ut intelligas (Augustine), “Believe so that you may understand.”

The Greek word in the Septuagint that is the occasion (the cause are the translators) of all the trouble is SINETE. There are two possible translations of SINETE: the first (because the more probable?) is “being together” and the second “understand.” In English, we say about someone who has miraculously not made a hash of his life that “he has it together.” The (Latin) Vulgate (which is a translation from the Septuagint) is the same as the original Hebrew, namely, si non credideritis non permanebitis “if you will not believe, you will not stand firm,” where “stand firm” is the FIRST meaning of the Septuagint’s SINETE.
So, the Vulgate took the first meaning of the Greek (Septuagint) word SINETE “bring together (having it all together, established, stand firm), whereas John of the Cross (Spanish) and several English translations use “understand.”

NOW THIS IS WHERE THE Theological TROUBLE BEGINS. Edith Stein following John of the Cross uses the translation “if you don’t believe, you will not understand” to maintain that if you want to understand (God) you have to “turn off the light of your knowledge.”

Did John of the Cross intentionally ignore the Vulgate rendition of Isaiah 7:9b in order to establish his “night of the senses” upon the Septuagint version. If John had used the Vulgate instead of the Septuagint he might have ended up with a “day of the senses.” But then that may not be so good for monks.

Introduction

Google “night of the senses.” Of the ten sites on the page, the first nine are about erotica. The 10th is my topic. 

I was reading Edith Stein‘s “The Science of the Cross,” which is a paraphrase of “The Ascent of Mount Carmel” of John of the Cross, when I came across this piece:

We can only accept, says Stein, what we are told by turning off the light of our knowledge. We have to agree with what we hear without having any of the senses elucidate it for us. Therefore faith is a totally dark night for the soul. But it is precisely by these means that it brings her light: a knowledge of perfect certainty that exceeds all other knowledge and science so that one can arrive in perfect contemplation at a correct conception of faith. That is why it is said: Si non credideritis, non intelligetis ‘If you do not believe. you will not understand.’ Isaiah 7:9.”

(Edith Stein is a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism). 

Edith Stein, Breslau, 1926

I was not familiar with this translation of Isaiah 7:9, for all the English translations say “if you will not believe, you will not be established/stand firm” or something similar. So does the Vulgate; so does the Hebrew Bible say the same.

When I investigated the matter, which involved the comparison of translations of different languages and reading John of the Cross, the journey led me much further than linguistic meaning (linguistic sense) but to another sense of “sense,” into the deeps of John’s “Dark Night of the Senses.”

 Faith and understanding, God created both. Which is the cart, and which the horse, which comes first? Is it true that credo ut intelligam (Anselm of Canterbury) “I believe that I may understand?” Augustine of Hippo was more imperative: crede, ut intelligas, “Believe so that you may understand.” 

There are two kinds of believing: believing that (something is true/real) and believing in (something or somebody), that is, trusting. You can have the first kind of belief (belief that something is true) without believing in the second kind (trust), but you cannot have the second (trust) without first believing that what or whom you trust (believe in) is true. Believing that, therefore, logically precedes believing in (trust). 

Believing in” in Hebrew is called emunah. A Jew (or a Christian) does not have to prove  the existence of Him in whom he trusts. “In the beginning” (Genesis 1:1) should be enough, and if not, then the person doesn’t have a biblical bone in his body. “Biblical man, says Buber, is never in doubt to the existence of God. In professing his faith, his emuna, he merely expresses his trust that the living God is near to him as he was to Abraham and that he entrusts himself to Him” (“Two types of faith” 1962). (See my Faith and Understanding: the Biblical view). 

Is it true that traduttore, traditore :“to translate is to betray?”  Is Robert Payne, Chairman of the Translation Committee of the American PEN Organization, correct when he says: “The world’s languages resemble infinitely complicated grids, and the basic patterns of these grids scarcely ever coincide. [Except] on some rare occasions translation does succeed – beyond all possibility.” And:“Whenever we translate exactly and accurately it is a coincidence–in the sense of the purest accident. And the task of the translator is to move sure-footedly among these accidents, he cannot do it by logic.” (Payne, Robert. “On the Impossibility of Translation”, The World of Translation. New York: PEN, 1971, pp 361-4). 

If Robert Payne is right, this would mean that the structure of a language defines the structure of thought. There is much research, however, to show that traduttore, traditore “to translate is to betray” is not as radical as the Payne claims. I think there is a bigger problem than the translation between languages, which is the miscommunications and misunderstandings between people who speak the same language/s. (See my Translation, transflation and betrayal: Plato’s Gorg(i)as). 

In this article, I examine a few problems in the translation of a sentence in Isaiah 7 “If you will not believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7:9b) which is one English translation of the Septuagint’s (Greek) translation of the original Hebrew. The Septuagint – also called the LXX because it was purported to have been produced by 70 knowledgeable and pious Jews – was used by the majority of Jews between 250 BCE and 100 CE. Most Jews at that time used Greek as their lingua franca, and were like the majority of modern non-Israeli Jews, whose Hebrew knowledge is at best, middling and at worst, piddling. 

My intention is not merely to take a linguistic excursion into the minefield of translation, but to explore how one’s theological or mystical presuppositions can turn dark into light, and light into dark. The “one” I am referring to is, according to Edith Stein and many Catholics, the greatest mystical mind of the Roman Catholic Church: the medieval Carmelite monk, John of the Cross, whom Edith and her Carmelite Order refer to as “Our Holy Father.” I shall focus on John’s “Night of the senses” in his Ascent of Mount Carmel, which contends that God cannot be reached through the (five) senses, and so, in order to understand faith and the cross of Christ, we have to flee the senses, without, I presume, taking leave of our senses. 

In section 1, I briefly explain the difference between word meaning, sentence meaning and discourse meaning, and then in section 2, I examine translations of Isaiah 7:9b (quoted above), which is pertinent to Section 3 where I examine John of the Cross’s argument that sense experience is enemy of faith and the Cross. 

1. The meaning of words, sentences and discourse 

The meaning of a word within a sentence often cannot be established without consideration of the other words in the sentence, and indeed, without consideration of the larger context (discourse). 

Discourse occurs when sentences come alive and function in communication. A sentence in isolation is inactive; it only has the potential to function. It is this potential which has to actualised in discourse. For example, the sentence “I am reading” is understood by anyone who knows English grammar and vocabulary. This is called the “meaning” of the sentence, which you can derive from a dictionary and a grammar book. When, however, this sentence comes alive in a communication (that is, in discourse) we have more than the meaning of the sentence but also what the speaker/writer means by the sentence – how a person uses the sentence. I gave an example (in Jacob Neusner and the Grammar of Rabbinical Theology (Part 2), where I showed that the sentence “I’m reading” in answer to the question “What are you doing?” may have a wide variety of meanings; for example, 1.“Please don’t disturb me,” or 2. “Get out of my face.” 

Geoffery Leech (“Pragmatics,” 1983) explains. There is: 

the meaning of a X (a word or a sentence),

which is the semantic/sentence/grammatical meaning (the three terms are synonymous),

and

what you mean by X ,

which is the discourse/pragmatic/sociolinguistic meaning.

To illustrate the difference between 1 and 2, I shall be using Isaiah 7:9b quoted by John of the Cross in the section “The night of the senses” of his Ascent of Mount Carmel. Here is Isaiah 7:9b in its larger context:  

 1. And it came to pass in the days of Achaz the son of Joatham, the son of Ozias, king of Judah,there came up Rasim king of Aram, and Phakee son of Romelias, king of Israel, against Jerusalem to war against it, but they could not take it. 2. And a message was brought tothe house of David, saying, Aram has conspired with Ephraim. And his soul was amazed, and the soul of his people, as in a wood a tree is moved by the wind. 3. And the Lord said to Esaias, Go forth to meet Achaz, thou, and thy son Jasub who is left, to the pool of the upper way of the fuller’s field. 4. And thou shalt say to him, Take care to be quiet, and fear not, neither let thy soul be disheartened because of these two smoking firebrands: for when my fierce anger is over, I will heal again. 5. And as for the son of Aram, and the son of Romelias, forasmuch as they have devised an evil counsel, saying, 6. We will go up against Judea, and having conferred with them we will turn them away to our side, and we will make the son of Tabeel king of it; 7. thus saith the Lord of hosts, This counsel shall not abide, nor come to pass. 8. But the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus, Rasim; and yet within sixty and five years the kingdom of Ephraim shall cease from being a people. 9a And the head of Ephraim is Somoron, and the head of Somoron the son of Romelias: 9b but if ye believe not, neither will ye at all understand; or: “If you will not believe, you shall not understand). 

I now examine some of the problems in the translation of verse 9b, where the main focus falls in the second part: “…you shall not understand.” 

2. Isaiah 7:9b, “If you will not believe, you shall not understand.” 

The English version of Isaiah 7:9b “If you will not believe, you shall not understand in John of the Cross, who writes in Spanish, is translated from the Septuagint. This English translation is not uncommon among translations of the Septuagint. Translations from the Hebrew text itself, however, such as English translations and translations into many other languages, rarely, if ever translate the original Hebrew as “…you will/shall not understand. Here is the original Hebrew of Isaiah 7:9b: אִם לֹא תַאֲמִינוּ, כִּי לֹא תֵאָמֵנוּ. im lo ta-aminu, ki lo tei-ameinu

 The triliteral (three-letter) root aleph-mem-nun אמן (as in aminu, ameinu), is a play on words. This root means to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe; hence “If not ta-aminu (if you will not believe), not tei-ameinu (you will not be established, remain, stand firm).” 

Here is the Greek Septuagint translation of the original Hebrew of Isaiah 7:9b: 

καὶ ἐὰν μὴ πιστεύσητε οὐδὲ μὴ συνῆτε

 καὶ AND/ALSO

ἐὰν IF-EVER

μὴ NOT

πιστεύσητε YOU(PL)-SHOULD-BELIEVE/ENTRUST-WITH

οὐδὲ NEITHER/NOR 

μὴ NOT

συνῆτε  1. YOU(PL)-WERE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH, 2. YOU(PL)-SHOULD-BE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH; 3. YOU(PL)-SHOULD-UNDERSTAND 

 The bit we’re interested in is the final word (underlined)

 οὐδὲ NEITHER/NORμὴ NOTσυνῆτε (sinete) (YOU(PL)-WERE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH, YOU(PL)-SHOULD-BE-BE-ING-TOGETHER-WITH;YOU(PL)-SHOULD-UNDERSTAND.

 As we see, there are two possible translations of sinete: the first (because the more probable?) is “being together” and the second “understand.” In English, we say about someone who has miraculously not made a hash of his life that “he has it together,” “he has a firm grip on things,” “he stands on his own two feet.” Other translations from the original Hebrew text (English, German, French), however, do not have “you shall not understand.” Here are the French and English translations of the Jewish Mechon Mamre’s JPS 1917 Hebrew text:

 French Mechon Mamre – Et la tête d’Ephraïm, c’est Samarie, et la tête de Samarie, c’est le fils de Remaliahou. Si vous manquez de confiance, vous manquerez d’avenir. In English – If you don’t trust, you’ll have no future.

 English Mechon Mamre – And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If ye will not have faith, surely ye shall not be established.

 The Mechon Mamre English translation, “you shall not be established,”is the most common of English translations. Other translations have a synonym of “not be established” such as “not stand firm,” “not remain steadfast.” Luther’s translation is at its pithy best:Gläubt ihr nicht so bleibt ihr nicht, literally, “believe you not, then abide/survive you not.” I am reminded of another of Luther’s gems, in connection with Roman Catholic indulgences; over the top, but nevertheless very telling: Wenn die Münze im Kästlein klingt, die Seele in den Himmel springt. “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” 

Here is a French translation of the Septuagint by Pierre Giguet, 1872)Et si vous ne me croyez point, c’est que vous manquerez d’intelligence. And my English translation: “And if you don’t believe me, it’s because you lack intelligence.” 

How did Giguet arrive at that translation? I think the reason is this: συνῆτε sinete is a combination of two parts, sin “with” and ēte “put/send.” Somebody who is not “with it” is “out of it,” he is not “together,” he is at a complete loss, he doesn’t think straight, he doesn’t understand; he’s stingily endowed upstairs. So, the idea of “not understand” is contained in “lacks intelligence.” Also, not to forget that it is the person’s own fault that he doesn’t understand, or lacks intelligence, and not the fault of his genes or external circumstances such as parental neglect or a falling out of a tree when he was three. 

Edith Stein, in her “Science of the Cross” uses a Latin translation attributed to St Augustine, si non credideritis, non intelligetis “if you will not believe, you will not understand,

” which is also a possible translation of the Septuagint. The Vulgate, in contrast, si non credideritis non permanebitis “if you will not believe, you will not stand firm,” which is another possible translation of the Septuagint. Permanebitis is the second-person plural future active indicative of permaneō, stay to the end, hold out, endure; last, survive, continue, persist, persevere. devote one’s life to, live by. A modern Spanish translation (Biblegateway.com) is similar to the Latin of the Vulgate: “no creen en mí,
    no permanecerán firmes,” which is understandable because Spanish, a Latin (Romance) language, is relatively close to Latin. In the last two words, we can see the English words “permanent” and “(stand) firm.” 

In our main text (Isaiah 7:9b), there are two kinds of “establishing”: holding things together in 1. your noggin and in 2. your life. They are, of course, complementary: if you can’t hold your thoughts together, life falls apart; and if things fall apart, it could very well be (but certainly not always) because you’re a klutz – you’ve lost your senses; which brings us to our main (dis)course.

3. Understanding the Night of the Senses in John of the Cross 

Here is Edith Stein’s paraphrase (in her “The Science of the Cross”) of John of the Cross’s understanding of Isaiah 7:9b, “If you will not believe, you will not understand (which I cited in the introduction): 

We can only accept, says Stein, what we are told by turning off the light of our knowledge. We have to agree with what we hear without having any of the senses elucidate it for us. Therefore faith is a totally dark night for the soul. But it is precisely by these means that it brings her light: a knowledge of perfect certainty that exceeds all other knowledge and science so that one can arrive in perfect contemplation at a correct conception of faith. That is why it is said: Si non credideritis, non intelligetis ‘If you do not believe. you will not understand.’ Isaiah 7:9.” 

Here is John of the Cross in the same vein in his Ascent of Mount Carmel Chapter 3:3: 

The light of natural knowledge cannot inform us of these things, because they are out of proportion with our natural senses. We know them because we have heard of them, believing that which the faith teaches us, subjecting thereto our natural light, and making ourselves blind before it: for, as it is said by St. Paul, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Faith is not knowledge that entereth in by any of the senses (italics added), but rather the ascent of the soul to that which cometh by hearing. Faith, therefore, far transcends the foregoing illustrations for not only does it not produce evidence or knowledge, but, as I have said, it transcends and surpasses all other knowledge whatever, so that perfect contemplation alone may judge of it. Other sciences are acquired by the light of the understanding, but that of faith is acquired without it, by rejecting it for faith, and it is lost in its own light. Therefore it is said by Isaias, ‘lf you will not believe you will not understand.’ 

To summarise John,  if you want to understand faith, you need to enter the night, the dark night, the dark night of the soul. (The only dark night most have heard of is the celluloid version, the Dark Knight). 

Theologians distinguish between three aspects of “faith” – information(notitia), mental assent to this information as fact (assensus) and belief (trust) in those facts. (See Two conversions: the mind (NOTITIA) and the heart (FIDUCIA) of faith in Blaise Pascal. John of the Cross would have no disagreement with that as long as the sense of hearing and seeing is confined to the cell of holy content; which is alright for a monk. What is more disturbing is what he says a little later: 

It is evident that faith is a dark night to the soul. and it is thus that it gives it light: the more it darkens the soul the more does it enlighten it. It is by darkening that it gives light. According to the Words of the prophet,’If you will not believe, that is, ‘if you do not make yourselves blind you shall not understand.’” 

In the discussion of “if you do believe, you shall not understand(Isaiah 7:9b) we were concerned with whether this was the correct translation. It now appears that John is using what he thinks is – and indeed seems to be – an acceptable translation of the Septuagint to promote his interpretation of it, namely, “if you do not make yourselves blind, you will not understand.” For John, unless you are blind, or rather, make yourself blind – to the natural world, you can never have any supernatural knowledge. The Bible, in contrast, says otherwise. There is no need to make yourself blind, for you were blind from birth, worse, dead from birth. Jesus comes to open the eyes of the blind because they cannot and don’t want to see unless Jesus makes them want to see. “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). That is why faith is an unmerited gift of God: 

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10 ESV). 

In support of his “If you do not make yourselves blind, you will not understand” John quotes Romans 10:17: 

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” I don’t see anything here related to “if you do not make yourselves blind, you will not understand.” Even less so when Romans 10:17 is read in context (verses 14-17): 

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?[c] And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

When Isaiah 7:9b is seen in the larger context of the whole of Isaiah 7, the Targum gets it right, even though it adds words to Isaiah 7:9: 

If ye will not believe; the Targum adds, ‘the words of the prophet;’ surely ye shall not be established, or remain; that is, in their own land, but should be carried captive, as they were after a time; or it is, ‘because ye are not true and firm’; in the faith of God, as Kimchi interprets it; or, ‘because ye are not confirmed’ (that is, by a sign).” (Targum).

Someone on the translation panel of the English Standard Version of the Bible liked Kimchi. Here is the ESV: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

 And John Calvin (on Isaiah 7:9b):

Hence we ought to draw a universal doctrine, that, when we have departed from the word of God, though we may suppose that we are firmly established, still ruin is at hand. For our salvation is bound up with the word of God, and, when this is rejected, the insult offered to it is justly punished by him who was ready to uphold men by his power, if they had not of their own accord rushed headlong to ruin. The consequence is, that either we must believe the promises of God, or it is in vain for us to expect salvation. (Commentary on Isaiah volum e 1 p. 183 – 184). 

Assume that the sentence “If you will not believe, you will not understand” is a good translation of the both the Septuagint and the Hebrew, this still doesn’t justify using it to change the larger (discourse) context of the passage, which is not about throwing your senses (in both senses of the term) out of the window of your blind soul,making it even blinder, but about the dire judgements of God on those who do not believe God’s promises. 

Conclusion 

Earlier we read in John of the Cross that “Faith is not knowledge that entereth in by any of the senses.”  Sense” has at least two senses as in “physical senses” and in “making sense.” If we don’t understand the larger (discourse) context of “If you will not believe, you will not understand” (Isaiah 7:9b), we may end up getting our theological wires crossed. It would, however, be foolish to write off John of the Cross or the mystical element in religion, for how else to describe union with Christ other than as a “mystical” union? John shows us, in the words of A. W. Tozer that man “has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him.” ( “The Great God Entertainment,”pp. 22-25. In Jeremy Walker). 

Our senses have indeed become parasites on the world, sucking the lifeblood out of its environs, unable to exist a day without the stimulation the world affords our senses. This fact, however, should not encourage us to flee, as occurs in all kinds of mystical systems, the world, for to do so is to flee from the historical, from the incarnation of God in history, God in the flesh, who did not teach us to shuck off our mortal senses but rather to use them in the way Christ and the Apostles make so clear – to me, at least. The bugbear of mystics, whether Christian, Buddhist or Sufi, is that “their yearning after God Himself can never endure the trammels of the historical.” (Wilhelm Herrmann, 1906,“Communion with God”). It’s not through the senses, of course, as John of the cross makes clear that we fulfill the deep “sense” of our need, but through faith in Christ and its corollary – “take up your cross and follow me.” It’s not, however, the use but the abuse of the senses – sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell – that drags us away from the light into the darkness. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13). But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

As far as the senses and the sense of God are concerned, I think another saint had it just right; Augustine’s “Confessions,” Book 10:

But what is it that I love in loving thee? Not physical beauty, nor the

splendor of time, nor the radiance of the light–so pleasant to our eyes–nor the sweet

melodies of the various kinds of songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers and

ointments and spices; not manna and honey, not the limbs embraced in physical

love–it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet it is true that I love a certain

kind of light and sound and fragrance and food and embrace in loving my God, who

is the light and sound and fragrance and food and embracement of my inner man–

where that light shines into my soul which no place can contain, where time does

not snatch away the lovely sound, where no breeze disperses the sweet fragrance,

where no eating diminishes the food there provided, and where there is an embrace

that no satiety comes to sunder. This is what I love when I love my God.

And what is this God? I asked the earth, and it answered, “I am not he”;

and everything in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the

deeps and the creeping things, and they replied, “We are not your God; seek above

us.” 

 

Josh Liebman’s “Peace of Mind”: Religion proposes, Psychology disposes

In 1946, Joshua Liebman, a rabbi and Freudian psychologist wrote his bestseller “Peace of mind.” A reviewer from Alcoholics Anonymous quotes a brief condensation from the book that appeared in the May 1946 Reader’s Digest, and again in the November 1962 issue.” The reviewer says, “(The condensation of the book) appears here because, in my fifty mumble (sic) years on this planet, I have–like the author, Dr. Joshua Loth Lieberman–come to the conclusion that Peace of Mind is the gift to be sought after most; that without it everything is Damn near Impossible, but with it everything is a given!”

Peace of Mind A condensation from the book by Dr. Joshua Loth Liebman

“Once, as a young man, I undertook to draw up a catalogue of the acknowledged goods of life. I set down my inventory of earthly desirables: health, love, talent, power, riches and fame. Then I proudly showed it to a wise elder. An excellent list, said my old friend, and set down in reasonable order. But you have omitted the one important ingredient, lacking which your list becomes an intolerable bur- den. He crossed out my entire schedule. Then he wrote down three syllables: peace of mind. This is the gift that God reserves for His special protégés, he said. Talent and health He gives to many. Wealth is commonplace, fame not rare. But peace of mind He bestows charily. This is no private opinion of mine, he explained. I am merely paraphrasing from the Psalmists, Marcus Aurelius, Lao-tse. ‘O God, Lord of the universe,’ say these wise ones, ‘heap worldly gifts at the feet of foolish men. Give me the gift of the untroubled mind.’ I found that difficult to accept; but now, after a quarter of a century of personal experience and professional observation, I have come to understand that peace of mind is the true goal of the considered life. I know now that the sum of all other possessions does not necessarily add up to peace of mind; on the other hand, I have seen this inner tranquility flourish without the material supports of property or even the buttress of physical health. Peace of mind can transform a cottage into a spacious manor hall; the want of it can make a regal residence an imprisoning shell. Where then shall we look for it? The key to the problem is to be found in Matthew Arnold’s lines: We would have inward peace But will not look within . . . But will not look within! Here, in a single phrase, our willfulness is bared.”

Liebman in his “Peace of mind” (Cedar book, 1957, p.18) says: “Psychotherapy is a method where we stop being someone we thought we were (or have been told we ought to be) and becomes ourselves.” He says that psychotherapy must be blended with religion. Only psychotherapy, however, can teach us to “become” ourselves. The inference is that religion has (should) have nothing to do with showing or telling us what we ought to be. If so, then religion has nothing to do with morality because the grist of morality is “ought.” For Liebman, though, religion has very much to do with the “subordination of our little egos to great moral and spiritual ends,” (p.19) namely, with telling us “who we ought to be.”

But if we read on in “Peace of mind” we find that religion is “at its best” merely “the announcer of the supreme ideals by which men must live and through which our finite species finds it’s ultimate significance.” If people were honest, says Liebman, “they would admit that the implementation of these ideals should be left to psychology.” Whereas the Scripture (Hebrew and New testament) says “Man proposes, God disposes,” Liebman says, “God proposes, psychology disposes,” that is, “look within.”

If the heart of religion is, as Liebman says, something outside ourselves that psychology has to make incarnate, then religion has little to do with the Bible. As Liebman is a Rabbi, let me restrict the scriptural ambit to the Hebrew scriptures. What is the first and greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God…” And: 1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your gain for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. 3 Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David…Seek the Lord while He is found, Call ye Him, while He is near…

“Ho” is a transliteration of the Hebrew word הֹוי. This Hebrew word is translated in other scripture passages as “woe,” “alas.” It seems that Isaiah in 55:1 means these meanings as well.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” (Hillel)

Where did Hillel get this from? Epicurus? Possibly. His Bible? Absolutely not.

The Hebrew Bible is clear; “incline your ear unto me,” not unto your self – whether it be your ego or, worse, you superego. And speak to God rather than mumble into your own carnal ear. Look up, and your soul will wax; look within, and it can only wane.

The Light and darkness of Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandela

I have written several posts on Viktor Frankl. One of my recent posts was about Nelson Mandela and his favourite poem ” Invictus,” which ends with the following words:

I am the captain of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

One writer makes the following connection between Frankl and Mandela:

“The power of the mind is a brilliant thing. We learning through science that our thoughts can, in fact, affect the physical world. Our reality is the effect of our thoughts. What is also amazing about thoughts is illustrated by two infamous gentlemen. Something VITAL that Viktor Frankl learnt whilst living through a concentration camp, and William Ernest Henley writes about in his poetry, is the fact that we have the choice to choose how we react to any given situation. We have the power to choose our fate, by choosing a positive way to react in any situation. That nothing external controls the direction we take our thoughts – it is our decision to choose our reaction.”

“Viktor Frankl said “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. He survived the concentration camp – the torturing, the starvation and the disease by keeping his mind positive. It was the one thing that the Nazi’s couldn’t take from him – his mind and power to choose his attitude. [Here is a] a brilliant poem by William Ernest Henley, which was also famously passed on from Nelson Mandela to the South African Rugby Captain, in the movie Invictus.”

Mandela used to recite this poem to his fellow political prisoners on Robben Island, seven kilometres off the coast of Cape Town. Here is the poem (my italics and bold):

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Mandela never discussed his religious beliefs. What is certain – if the last two lines of Invictus be indeed his leitmotif – is that, with Henley, he did not believe in the God of the Bible, and with Henley also shared a stoic resolve to rise above “the clutch of circumstance” and ”the bludgeonings of chance” to try to become the master of their fate, the captain of their souls. In the New Testament, there is a very different kind of captain, the Captain of salvation. ”For it became Him, of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, to make the Captain (Greek: archigos) of our salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).

In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, says Frankl, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. Et lux in tenebris lucet”and the light shineth in the darkness” (Man’s search for meaning, pp. 51-52). (See my The Light shineth in the darkness, but did Viktor Frankl comprehend it?

What Frankl did not accept was that this ”ultimate purpose” did not reside in man but in the sovereign God of the Bible. The overarching teaching of the Bible is the sovereignty of God, which can be summed in Isaiah 55:10-11:

”As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Man, therefore, according to the Bible is not the captain of his soul – God is.

There are “two groups of people, says my Jewish Phariseefriend; the ones who will not surrender themselves completely, and those who surrender themselves to the entity of their choice, are both making the same mistake. Both of these groups of people assume that it is their prerogative to surrender themselves when they chose and to whomsoever they chose. This is not the truth that is taught by the Jewish Bible. The Bible clearly teaches that we already belong, completely and totally, body and soul, to the One who brought us into existence and who is constantly sustaining every facet of our lives. (Psalm 95:1-7). It is not for us to choose to whom to direct our devotion to, nor is it for us to withhold our submission. It is for us to recognize that we already belong to the One Creator of heaven and earth.”

Frankl and Mandela’s light did shine in their darkness, but they did not understand – their darkness.

Love, Fear and the Foundation of Inner peace: Gerald Jampolsky’s “Love is letting go of fear.”

Is it possible to have peace without letting go of fear? Is it possible to love without letting go of fear? This question is from the title of Gerald Jampolsky’s, “Love is letting go of fear,” which is based on “A course in miracles” (published by the Foundation for Inner Peace). Jampolsky’s thesis is that once we learn to love without fear, we will find inner peace. But first we have to find our inner selves; we have to look within. Before, I comment on Jampolsky’s solution to spiritual illness, let us get more acquainted with him. Here are a few excerpts from his “Love is letting go of fear,” (1981 Edition, Bantam books):

“We have been given everything we need to be happy now. To look directly at this instant is to be at peace now (p. 7).”

“Today there is a rapidly expanding search for a better way of going through life that is producing a new awareness and a change of consciousness. It is like a spiritual flood that is about to cleanse the earth. This transformation of consciousness is prompting us to look inward, and as we explore our inner spaces, we recognize the harmony and at-one-ment that has ALWAYS (Jampolsky’s emphasis) been there. As we look inward we also become aware of an inner intuitive voice which provides a reliable source of guidance…listen to the inner voice and surrender to it…In this silence…we can experience the joy of peace in our lives” (p. 11. my underlining).

Deep below the dark regions of discord and strife lies the treasure without price longing to find you, the real you. Transform your consciousness and you will find your true self. This “transformation of consciousness” is the “foundation for inner peace” (which is also the name of the publisher of “A course on miracles” on which Jampolsky’s book is based). The “transformation of consciousness” is, of course, also the foundation of Eastern thought systems such as Buddhism and Yoga, which has become a key ingredient in Western psychotherapy. “Hatha Yoga brings about the Unity of the mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, the body is toned, strengthened and healed so that a transformation in consciousness can occur.”

Jampolsky’s “Love is letting go of fear” has the same aim as the physical practices of Hatha Yoga and of the Buddha (“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without”) of Mahatma Ghandi (“Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances”).

Jampolsky’s “transformation of consciousness” is not about, meditation, navels and third eyes. It’s about the singular goal of achieving peace of mind through giving:

“In brief, this is a book about self-fulfilment through giving (p. 13).” “To give is to receive is the law of love (p. 51).“Peace of mind as our single goal is the most potent motivating force we can have. To have inner peace we need to be consistent in having peace of mind as our single goal” (p. 23). These sentiments echo one of the biggest American best-sellers, “Peace of Mind” by another Jewish psychiatrist, Joshua Loth Liebman.

I am reminded of Philip Yancey’s remark about “peace through giving” on the radio programme “Unbelievable,” where he was discussing his book “What good is God”:“You don’t find your life by accumulating more and more; you find it by giving it away in service to others.”

Here is Jampolsky again: “To give is to receive is the law of love” (Jampolsky, p. 54). And what is the most important part of giving? Forgiving: “With peace of mind as our single goal, forgiveness becomes our single function ( Jampolsky, p. 24).

So far, I have described Jampolsky’s (moral) values. Next, I examine the philosophy on which Jampolsky bases those values. All values are based on a world view, on a philosophy. Whether the term refers to a world view, or an academic discipline, “philosophy” deals with three main questions:

    A. How should we treat one another? (moral values, ethics)

B. What are we and the world made of? And is there any “force” (or “God”) beyond the material world (Existence, or “being”).

B.What can we know and how do we arrive at what we know (principles of knowing).

How we treat one other depends on what we know about one another and about “God.” And what we know depends on the how we learn about it.

Jampolsky’s moral values of giving and forgiving are shared by all religious and psychological systems. What about his view of “God” on which he bases these values? For Jampolsky, love is another name for “God.” But “God” for him is not a personal God, which is the God of the Bible.

The source of love, for Jampolsky, is within the eternal inner man. When you discover that source – through transforming your consciousness – you will discover that your fear was a mere figment. Here is Jampolsky:

“…wouldn’t our lives be more meaningful if we looked at what has no beginning and no ending as our reality. Only love fits this definition of the eternal. Everything else is transitory and therefore meaningless…..fear can offer us nothing because it is nothing (p. 17)…all minds are joined…we share a common Self, and that inner peace and Love are in fact all that are real…Love is letting go of fear (.p.18)…we can choose our own reality. Because our will is free, we can choose to see and experience the truth (p. 21).”

Jampolsky’s God is the “Eternal common Self,” which is, of course, an Eastern metaphysic. “We can learn to receive direction from our inner intuitive voice, which is our guide to knowing (p. 28). The “inner intuitive voice” is the voice of the eternal common Self. And the essence of that self is love: “Let us awaken to the knowledge that the essence of our being is Love and as such are the light of the world (p. 131).The essence of God is also love. So, for Jampolsky God is the “Eternal common Self,” which resides in every human heart.

The nub of Jampolsky’s philosophy is this: Once we learn to love without fear, we will find inner peace. But first we have to find our inner selves; we have to look within. And here’s the rub – summarised by the Hindu guru, Swami Muktananda: “Kneel to yourself. Honour and worship your own being. God dwells within you as You.” As you transform your consciousness, you will begin to realise that you are God, and others are God, that “I” am “you”, which are sparks of the same eternal “I.” In this way you hone your giving, your forgiving, your love, and find peace.

Many of Jampolsky’s values are also Christian values. But the source of his values are not Christian at all. For one, ‘I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:18). Jampolsky says that “I” am the light of the world. But Jesus said that He is the light of the world. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). The New Testament describes human beings as dead in sin, in need of a Saviour, a Saviour who is outside the inner man. (See Tony Pierce on “Yoga and new trends in Christianity”).

In the Christian world view, how does the light and the treasure without price relate to each other?

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ” The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:21-23).

I understand this to mean that the source of true light comes from outside, from the Saviour, the Son of God. And so, if your eyes are clear, the Saviour will fill your  inner man with that light. If, however, you think that your inner man is the source of that true light, you are deceived, because this “inner light” is nothing but darkness, a darkness that your  fallen consciousness transforms into deeper darkness. But there is more, which is not spelled out in the above passage: all men are born blind.  It is the Saviour, Jesus the Christ, who opens the dead eye that it may see.

That Saviour is also the Creator, who creates out of nothing:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? “Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me! “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements? Since you know (Job 38:1-5).

Finally, what about Jampolsky’s main thesis that the foundation of inner peace is love without fear? The Christian response is twofold, where the one response is balanced – by the grace of God – in constant tension with the Other.

The one response is: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).

And the Other (Psalm 111:10):

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; (with regard to fear)
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments;” (with regard to love)

and so I conclude with the end of verse 10:

His praise endures forever.

Boris Sidis, Stuart Chase and Friedrich Hegel on the language of love

Ever since Darwinism gained a hoof-hold onto many organs of academia, the gap between science and philosophy has been growing wider. And to such an extent that many modern scientists “drivialize” philosophy. In the last two decades, the most famous spokesman of this view is the swashbuckling biologist, Richard Dawkins. In the 1930-40s, it was the economist-sociologist, Stuart Chase who, arguably, wore the same mantle that Dawkins wears today. Here is Stuart Chase on the 18th century German philosopher, Friedrich Hegel. Hegel claimed that his philosophical system surpassed all previous systems of philosophical thought. Stuart Chase in his personal philosophy, “I believe”, writes:

“A correspondent has sent me a quotation; Hegel’s definition of love. “Love is the ideality of the relativity of reality of an infinitesimal proton of the absolute totality of the Infinite Being.” (in “I believe. The Personal Philosophies of twenty-three eminent men and women of out time,” 1952 (first published 1940), London, George Allen and Unwin, p. 56).

“This, said Chase, sounds alarmingly like nonsense, but the influence of Hegel is profound…Whatever he meant, he was unable to communicate it to me. I doubt if it has ever been communicated to anyone. The verbal structure itself forbids communication. I could spend my life contemplating this string of symbols and receive no more reward than in contemplating “X is the A of the B of the C of an infinitesimal portion of the D of the E.”

“So, Chase continues, I cease to contemplate it. I pass it up, I pass up all such talk, from Aristotle to Spengler. It saves a lot of time. But the talk of Einstein and Planck I do not pass up. I do not understand all of it , but I know by diligence I could come to understand it. The symbols connect with real things. The talk checks with observable phenomena. Nobody can do anything but obfuscate himself with Hegel’s symbols about love…In reading, in listening, I try to separate talk which goes round and round from talk which refers to something outside my head.”

In sum, science is useful, philosophy is useless.

Stuart Chase and many others heckle at Hegel’s “tyranny of words.” Boris Sidis, a contemporary of Stuart Chase, and one of America’s most celebrated psychologists of the 20th century (and Jewish, of course) thinks that Hegel warrants a good laugh and so includes Hegel’s definition of love in his “The Psychology of laughter,”

We saw that Chase quoted Hegel’s definition of love:

“Love is the ideality of the relativity of reality of an infinitesimal part of the absolute totality of the Infinite Being.”

Sidis also quotes this definition, but with not exactly the same wording:

“Love is the ideality of the relativity of reality of an infinitesimal part of the infinite totality of the Absolute Being.” ( Sidis or Chase have switched “infinite” and “absolute” in the definition).

Whatever the correct “Hegelian” definition, Chase and Sidis would regard either as nonsense. Actually, the first definition contains more nonsense than the second, because “absolute totality” (first definition) makes no sense in either philosophy or science, whereas “infinite totality” (the second definition) makes good scientific and philosophic sense.

But wait. There is a difference between Chase’s and Sidis’ criticism. Chase believes that he is bashing Hegel’s definition of love. Sidis, in contrast, is knocking merely a “semi-Platonic, semi-Hegelian definition of love”, in other words, something that Sidis thinks could have come from the right half of Hegel’s brain, but is, however, not in fact from Hegel. Here is an important point: before making judgments, we need to ensure that we have the required background knowledge. With regard to higher learning such as science, linguistics, history and philosophy, each discipline has its own technical language (“jargon” if you hate the “tyranny”of words – recall Stuart Chase), which you need to master. With regard to Hegel’s philosophy, the demands are even greater, because he coined many neologisms (new terms), and with it came a swathe of difficult concepts.

Hegel’s “Idea-lism tried to synthesise the relative and the absolute in such a way as to explain the totality of being. As love is part of that totality, one could say the “Hegelian” definition of love (of this discussion) might apply. For Hegel, the love that carries greatest weight is the love that is “outside of myself and in the other.” (Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion). The question whether love is merely an infinitesimal part of the totality of being as in the definition, to wit:

“Love is the ideality of the relativity of reality of an infinitesimal part of the infinite totality of the Absolute Being.”

If we accept Hegel’s definition of (the purest kind of) love, namely, the love that is outside of myself and in the other, then perhaps “infinitesimal” does apply, because (total) selfless love is a rare.

Boris Sidis was a behaviourist in the mould of John Watson (1878 – September 25, 1958). Watson is famous for this dictum:

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years” (Behaviorism (1930), p. 82).

Sidis believed that with the right upbringing, you could make a genius of any child. Sidis’ son William turned out to be the greatest child prodigy of his time. He ended up a misfit and a wreck, and died at the age of 46; a prodigiously wasted – seemingly loveless – life. And Hegel? Was he better off devoting his genius to the Absolute Idea, to pure Ethical freedom? Let Augustine of Hippo have the last word:

“My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me. By your gift we are set on fire and carried upwards: we grow red hot and ascend. We climb “The ascents in our heart” (Ps. 83:6), and sing “the song of steps” (Ps. 119:1). Lit by your fire, your good fire, we grow red-hot and ascend, as we move upwards “to the peace of Jerusalem” (Ps. 121:6). “For I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 121:1). There we will be brought to our place by a good will, so that we want nothing but to stay there for ever” (Book 13 of the Confessions).

The Light shineth in the darkness, but did Viktor Frankl comprehend it?

In his essay on his personal philosophy, published in 1940, Havelock Ellis maintains that “personal relationships are despised today.” His “today” is the imminent disaster of World War II. He writes:

One must be fond of people and trust them if one isn’t to make a mess of life, and therefore it is essential that they shouldn’t let one down. They often do. The moral of which is that I must be as reliable as possible, and this I try to be….[Reliability on a personal level] is a matter for the heart, which signs no documents. In other words, reliability is impossible unless there is natural warmth. Most men possess this warmth, though they have often had bad luck and get chilled. Most of them, even when they are politicians, want to keep faith. And one can, at all events, show one’s own little light here, one’s own poor little trembling flame, with the knowledge that it is not the only light that is shining in the darkness, and not the only one that the darkness doesn’t comprehend” (p. 95-96, in “I believe: The personal philosophies of twenty-three eminent men and women of our time.” Fifth Impression 1952; originally published in 1940).

Havelock Ellis believed in the essential goodness of man, in the good will of man, which, if not for the “bad luck” of darkness would have made the world a much more enlightened and warmer place. One must not give up. Enlightened individuals can, and must, in their small way shine their light before men, dim as it may be, even if the darkness comprehends it not, in the hope that, by some stroke of luck, we may light up a corner of that darkness.

Havelock Ellis and Viktor Frankl share the belief that man can choose, can will, to dispel the darkness. What i would like to examine is Viktor Frankl’s understanding of  “the light shines in the darkness.”

“Dr Freudine,” takes on the persona of Victor Frankl (Freud’s altered ego?). She is in a counselling session with one of her patients. Here is the last bit of the session:

Patient:

Why should I live only to suffer in this world?

Dr Freudine:
Think of it this way, my young friend;
I survived three years of starvation and torture.
All I did was suffer a lot and…for what?
I didn’t think it likely I would survive until liberation.
But, my friend, life was still worth living.
I had nothing left except for my human dignity,
But that was enough to give meaning to life.
Why shouldn’t suffering be part of our humanity?

Patient:

Oh, I’m sure you mean well, Doc.
But your suffering was caused by outside agents
While mine comes from inside and..is caused by what?
Something must be terribly wrong with me, right?
And, Doc, don’t just say it’s my imagination.
I’d like to live if I only knew how.
So, tell me, is there a grand meaning of life for me?
Or am I destined to keep being a screw-up?

Dr Freudine

Listen, my friend, I know you’re hurting,
But man’s search for meaning is never finished.
Your life will change as will its meaning, that’s what.
Life is full of potential roads you can choose to travel;
look to your future, not to your past.
Either create, experience or change something through suffering;
meaning will then find you instead, okay?
You’ve got a conscience that shall guide you through life.

Has Dr Freudine captured the essence of Frankl? Is there more – besides all the philosophy and psychology – to Frankl than inner strength? After reading his inspiring and heartrending account of suffering, courage and hope, I have come to the sad conclusion that although he saw the light shining in the darkness, he didn’t comprehend it. The “bottom line” for Dr Freudine is that “Frankl’s religion was important to him, but he quoted existentialists and psychiatrists, not scripture; for example, Nietzsche: “If you know the why of life, you can bear any how of life.” Dr Freudine is right and she is wrong. Frankl did quote Nietzsche but he did quote scripture as well; the very Bible verse that seemed to indicate that he had discovered the “why” of life, and, therefore, was able to bear any “how” of life. “Et lux in tenebris lucet”and the light shineth in the darkness.

The Bible verse is very Judaean, but not from the Hebrew Bible. It is one of the profoundest verses of all scripture from one of the profoundest chapters of the whole Bible (Older and Newer Testament). Actually, the verse that Frankl quotes is only half the verse. It’s the second half of the verse, and its absence, that is telling. Here is the relevant passage from “Man’s search for meaning in which the fragment in question appears:

“Another time we were at work in a trench. The dawn was grey around us; grey was the sky above; grey the snow in the pale light of dawn; grey the rags in which my fellow prisoners were clad, and grey their faces. I was again conversing silently with my wife, or perhaps I was struggling to find the reason for my sufferings, my slow dying. In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. Et lux in tenebris lucet”and the light shineth in the darkness (pp. 51-52; Frankl’s italics, my emphasis).

The dramatic and divine irony of it! Frankl is quoting the first chapter of John’s Gospel, which is the chapter of the “divine Logos.” John’s Gospel was originally written in Greek. The word logos appears many times in the first few verses. The Latin quote is from the Vulgate, and the English quote is from the King James Version. Here is the context of “and the light shineth in the darkness” :

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2The same was in the beginning with God.

3All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

As I wrote in God in Frankl’s Logotherapy and “Teffilin: the Seal as strong as Love and Death”, Frankl did bring religious ritual into his secular philosophy – reading the Psalms and putting on Tefillin (phylacteries); but he did this in the darkness; in the privacy of his own home. Perhaps, he really believed the Teffilin and the Psalms brought him closer to the God of the Torah. If so, he was, it seems to me, leading a double life – a duplicitous life – believing one thing, namely, that God is the Supreme Logos (Meaning, Mind, Word) – divine therapy – while making a living by pushing the Supreme Logos, not only to the side, but out of the window, and placing man’s “will to meaning”centre stage. Here is Frankl on the “will to meaning”:

“Let me explain why I have employed the term “logotherapy” as the name for my theory. Logos is a Greek word which denotes “meaning.” Logotherapy, or, as it has been called by some authors, “The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy,” focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on man’s search for such a meaning. According to logotherapy, this striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man. That is why I speak of a will to meaning in contrast to the pleasure principle (or, as we could also term it, the will to pleasure) on which Freudian psychoanalysis is centred as well as in contrast to the will to power on which Adlerian psychology, using the term “striving for superiority,” is focused” (Fankl’s italics).

Logotherapy also teaches that all things work for good; there is, however, no outside Force (personal or impersonal) that is pulling at one’s heartstrings. In logotherapy, we pull our own strings and pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. There is no meaning – ethical, epistemological or ontological, or religious meaning – outside man.

Bulka, in his “Logotherapy and Talmudic Judaism”argues that logotherapy straddles religion and medicine: “Any attempt (he says in his Abstract) to correlate logotherapy with some religious group or set of religious ideals is fraught with difficulty, mainly because of the dimensional gap that indicates that logotherapy, as a psychology, and religion work from incommensurate frameworks. Frankl’s rightful; insistence that logotherapy is a secular theory and practice only accentuates the problem. Nevertheless, because logotherapy straddles the border between medicine and religion, it has attracted the theological attention of many religious groups.”

“Logotherapy (says Bulka) begins with the basic notion that ‘the striving to find meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man.’ This notion is complemented with the philosophical proposition pervading Frankl’s writings to the effect that life itself possesses unconditional meaningfulness in all situations” (Bulka, p. 277; he is quoting Frankl’s “Logotherapy in a Nutshell“ in Man’s search for meaning,” 1992, p. 104)

First to Bulka’s Abstract. He says that Frankl rightfully insisted that logotherapy is secular in theory and in practice, yet because logotherapy straddles medicine and religion, it appeals to religious groups. In spite of the fact (insisted upon by someone with the most authority to do so; Frankl, himself) that logotherapy has nothing to do with religion, and “rightly” so (Bulka’s word in his Abstract above), Bulka insists that logotherapy (which is Frankl’s logotherapy) has religious overtones. There’s more. Owing to Bulka’s “fact” that logotherapy strays into religion, religious groups have transplanted it into their systems, and are making hay of it – and out of it.

Religion, of course, involves man, but so do medicine, the human sciences (for example, psychology, sociology, anthropology) and the humanities (for example, history, philosophy, literature). What makes religion different to the human sciences and humanities is that religion involves the vertical dimension of “God.” In logotherapy you are responsible only to yourself and to others. In logotherapy, freedom is, like the air we breath, a given; given by nature, not God. But to make right use of it, we have to work at it, and when we do freedom becomes more than a “given”; it becomes a “taken”. We’re not, as in the Freudian system, a victim of drives, or a victim of circumstances.

The only “religion” that I observe in logotherapy is a modicum of religious imagery (for example, “the light shines in the darkness”) and religious terminology (for example, “saint”), and a reference to the Lord’s prayer (“Our Father who art in heaven) – all Christian references (perhaps the Catholicism of his second wife was an influence). Jews and Christians may object that I underestimate logotherapy and them; there is far more, they may argue, to logotherapy than Frankl’s rare forays into religious symbolism. “What makes logotherapy so interesting to us,” religious people may say, “is that it shares with religion notions such as the will to mean, selflessness, responsibility and the “courage to be” (the title of a book by Paul Tillich). These notions, I would counter, are what makes us human, not what makes us religious.

Frankl speaks of “spiritual life.” ThIn spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom . This has nothing to do with the supernatural. Here is how he uses the term:

“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom” (p. 47 of “Man’s search for meaning” ).

The “spiritual life”, for Frankl, is the ability to retreat from the pain and feed off their inner riches. God has nothing to do with it.

For the religious Jew (not as common a breed as non-Jews think), the overarching precept is Kiddush Hashem קידוש השם, the sanctification of the Name. This is done by becoming holy as God is Holy. In the sense of Kiddush Hashem religion there is no religion in logotherapy. There might be some religion in neo-logotherapy, if such an aberration exists, but not in Frankl’s logotherapy. This is what I think attracts religious people to Frankl (logotherapy): “He’s deep; mainly because he’s suffered more than any of the religious people who read him. Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, rhapsodises Keats. What is truth? Suffering is truth. (I’m speaking as an imaginary religious admirer of Frankl). In Frankl, suffering is truth and truth is suffering. The more you suffer, the truer you are. Truth comes through suffering, through grief, through affliction, through sorrow (Yiddish tsores) Aren’t these major biblical themes? Therefore, when we think Frankl, we think tsores, much tsores, and when we  think much tsores, we think truth.

Christians make the link between the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of Frankl. Who, in Christian eyes, has the greatest claim to truth, the most right to say “I am the way and the truth and the life”? Christians will say, Jesus. Was it because He suffered more than any human being could suffer? No, that is not the main reason. The main reason is because it was Truth, itself, Himself, that suffered. What makes Jesus’s suffering so unique was not the degree of suffering, but the kind of suffering, that only the True Son of God could seal: “The seal of G-d is Truth.” – Rabbi Hanina, Babylonian Talmud.

Religion, of course, involves man, but so do medicine, the human sciences (for example, psychology, sociology, anthropology) and the humanities (for example, history, philosophy, literature). What makes religion different to the human sciences and humanities is that religion involves the vertical dimension of God. In logotherapy you are responsible only to yourself and to others. In logotherapy, freedom is, like the air we breath; a given. We’re not, as in the Freudian system, a victim of our drives, or, a victim of circumstances, as in a stimulus-response behaviourism (Thordike). We have the potential (freedom), as Frankl says, to become a swine or a saint. The use of religious terms such as “saint” in Frankl are deceiving. “Saint” is one of many religious terms and quotations that have been secularised into quips, as we do with Shakespeare, who, himself, drew on biblical language. Frankl’s use of “and the light shineth in the darkness” – profound as it may be to Frankl – is one example. I say this because, by quoting only half the verse, he has missed its point, and mutilated its tragic import.

Did Frankl deliberately omit the second part – the clincher – of John 1:5, “and the darkness did not comprehend it?” I doubt whether he knew it existed, for if he had known, it’s hardly likely that he would have used “and the light shines in the darkness” to describe his profound discovery of the meaning of life, the greatest discovery of his life as well as the most moving paragraph in “Man’s search for meaning”; that he comprehended the “why” of the darkness, and “how” to find the light. I repeat Frankl:

“In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious “Yes” in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose. At that moment a light was lit in a distant farmhouse, which stood on the horizon as if painted there, in the midst of the miserable grey of a dawning morning in Bavaria. Et lux in tenebris lucet”and the light shineth in the darkness (pp. 51-52).

And Frankl comprehended it not.

In Psalm 22, darkness comes over the land. The crucified Messiah turns “the shining of His face away.”

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us” (Psalm 67:1).

Tefillin: the seal of love as strong as death

I mentioned in “God in Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy” that Frankl put on his Tefillin (phylacteries) every day. The Tefillin consists of two little back boxes (batim, plural of bayit “house”) each containing four sets Torah passages. The head bayit “house” (bayit shel rosh) has four separate compartments, one for each scroll, while the hand bayit (bayit shel yad) consists of only one compartment containing one scroll on which are written all four passages contained on the four separate scrolls in the head bayit. The head bayit is strapped just above the forehead (the cerebrum) and the other is attached to the left arm, which is placed near the heart.

The first verse in the Tefillin is from the Sh’ma in which (the rabbis say) Hashem commanded the wearing of the Tefillin. Here is the Sh’ma, the holiest verse in the Torah containing the holiest two commandments (mitzvot), (Deuteronomy, 4 – 5):

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (My emphasis).

Verse 8 refers to the Tefillin, and verse 9 to the Mezuzah, which I described in “Last will and Testament”.

Orthodox” (and “Conservative”) Jews maintain that verse 8, “tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” is closely connected to Song of Songs 8:6a, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. Frankl quotes this verse is his “Man’s search for meaning” (p. 50):

I did not know whether my wife was alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need for me to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, my thoughts, and the image of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I would still have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of her image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death.” (My emphasis).

Here is the passage in which “Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death” appears.

5 Who is this coming up from the desert
leaning on her lover?
Under the apple tree I roused you;
there your mother conceived you,
there she who was in labor gave you birth.

6 Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death,

its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

7 Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.

Reconstructionist” and “Reform Jews” do not wear Tefillin because they don’t believe that Deuteronomy 6:8 “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” is meant literally; consequently, they also do not believe that Song of Songs 5:8 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm” has anything to do with sealing the Torah in your hearts. For Reconstructionist and Reform Jews – and many modern Christians – the Song of Songs is read literally; it’s about love between a man and a woman.

Frankl lies between the ‘fish’ of Jewish Orthodoxy and the ‘flesh’ of Jewish Reconstructionism; he puts on Tefillin (Orthodoxy) but does it not because he wants to “contemplate” (his term in his quote above) the Holy One of Israel but the image of his absent wife. Frankl’s book is about loving – not loving yourself, but the other.

The Teffilin in the Torah is a command from God to build Him – who is both “Other” and “Husband” (Isaiah 62:5 -“And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over you”) – a bayit and to guard it close to one’s mind and heart. Frankl’s Tefillin, in contrast, seems to serve a different purpose: he has “reconstructed” and built himself another kind of bayit in which he binds himself with the cords of the Tefillin to the image of his beloved and seals himself up with a “love as strong as death” (Song of Songs 6:8b) within a bayit that no one can touch.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many bayits; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).

God in Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy

Did Viktor Frankl believe in God? Many progressive Jews (Reform, Reconstructionist, and of course, the myriad of agnostic and “ignostic”1 Jews) believe in a “force” deeper than themselves. Whether the force is within or without, they can’t be sure. The force is like the wind, but more primordial than the wind, because the force is everywhere and in everything; all the time. In a nutshell, the “force” is pandemic. Pan never takes a Nap. What is Frankl’s “God” like?

The 1992 Edition of Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning‘consists of: “Experiences in a Concentration camp” (82 pages), “Logotherapy in a nutshell” (34 pages) and “The case for a tragic optimism” (18 pages).(Download the free book).

Frankl explains the connection between the first two parts: “the theoretical part (“Logotherapy in a Nutshell”) boils down, as it were, to the lesson one may distil from the first part, the autobiographical account (“Experiences in a Concentration Camp”)”, where “Part One serves as the existential validation of my theories.” In this way, the two parts mutually support the other’s credibility. The “existential validation” is his personal suffering and the suffering of others experienced in a concentration camp, where the two key elements in “existential” are “personal” and “suffering.” The book (says Frankl, p. 18) does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again. It is the inside story of a concentration camp, told by one of its survivors.” I’m puzzled. It’s the “but” that confuses. What Frankl seems to mean is that (human) facts and events have no “existential” substance unless they are experienced. The connection between facts and experience is important in Frankl. I return to this issue later on.

There are five occurrences of “God” in the book. God” occurs twice in “Experiences in a concentration camp” (p. 89). God knows, I was not in the mood to give psychological explanations or to preach any sermons—to offer my comrade a kind of medical care of their souls. I was cold and hungry, irritable and tired, but I had to make the effort and use this unique opportunity. Encouragement was now more necessary than ever (p. 90-91). I said that someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours—a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God—and he would not expect us to disappoint him.”

In 1, “God knows” could be replaced by “the Pope knows” without changing its intended meaning. In 2, “a God” could be minimised to “a god,” where “god” could be anything you idolise without changing its intended meaning. So both these occurrences have no theistic meaning.

In “Logotherapy in a nutshell”, “God” appears once: “The crowning experience of all, for the homecoming man, is the wonderful feeling that, after all he has suffered, there is nothing he need fear any more—except his God” (page 101), whatever ‘God’ means to him – the cosmic police?

The fourth and final occurrence of “God” appears in “The case for tragic optimism” (p. 123). Frankl is counselling a rabbi whose first wife and their six children were gassed in Auschwitz, and his second wife turned out to be sterile. Frankl tries to show the distraught rabbi the bright side of this tragedy:

“Is it not conceivable, Rabbi, that precisely this was the meaning of your surviving your children: that you may be purified through these years of suffering, so that finally you, too, though not innocent like your children, may become worthy of joining them in Heaven? Is it not written in the Psalms that God preserves all your tears?” For the first time in many years he found relief from his suffering through the new point of view which I was able to open up to him.”

The psalm verse Frankl is alluding to is: “Thou has kept count of my tossings; put thou my tears in thy bottle! Are they not in thy book?” (Ps. 56, 8.). If I only had read Frankl’s “The case for tragic optimism”, I might have concluded that Frankl was speaking out of his personal experience of the Holy One of Israel. But when I come across the former biblical reference to God only after reading “Experiences in a concentration camp,” it seems to me that Frankl is doing what therapists (and many rabbis and priests) do, namely, meet the grieving rabbi “where he’s at”: The rabbi (ostensibly) believes in Adonai and Heaven, so what Frankl seems to be doing is “meet him where he is at.” When I was living in England (2007) and attending an Anglican church, I was talking to the priest who had to cut our interchange (my interrogation) short because he had to visit one of his dying parishioners. I asked– he was about to turn on his heel – “What do you say to the dying?” He replied, “I meet them where they’re at.” As he trailed off still within earshot, I let loose a parting shot: “Don’t you say anything about….. I’m not sure whether he heard the last word of the sentence: “Christ?” Mother Teresa did the same thing: she reconciled the dying with their “gods” The April 7-13, 1990, issue of Radio Times tells the story of Mother Teresa sheltering an old Hindu priest. “She nursed him with her own hands and helped him to die reconciled with his own gods.” I would imagine that Frankl would have called her a saint. (Maybe he did somewhere).3  The way the Anglican priest and Mother Teresa fulfilled the great commission (salvation through faith in Christ – evidenced by good works such as caring for the sick and the poor – is not the main thrust of the (Christian) Bible. Frankl – as all Jews and most professing Christians – would disagree, arguing that the “concrete” act of doing is far more more important than the “abstract” act of believing in God, that is, trusting and worshiping God for who He is, coming to Him in repentance.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah, 55:1-3.

Jesus alludes to this passage in John’s Gospel: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37,38).

There is one passage (pp. 118-119) in “Logotherapy in a nutshell” where Frankl does appear to believe in the God of Israel:

“Let me (Frankl relates) recall that which was perhaps the deepest experience I had in the concentration camp. The odds of surviving the camp were no more than one in twenty-eight, as can easily be verified by exact statistics. It did not even seem possible, let alone probable, that the manuscript of my first book, which I had hidden in my coat when I arrived at Auschwitz, would ever be rescued. Thus, I had to undergo and to overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own! So I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning” (p. 118).

“Not yet did I notice that an answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me, and that soon thereafter this answer would be given to me. This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber immediately after his arrival at the Auschwitz railway station. Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael. How should I have interpreted such a “coincidence” other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?” (p. 120).

Frankl’s phrase“Live my thoughts” reverberates in the Bible – in both Testaments. The Bible says much about thought and deed, faith and works. Has Frankl finally revealed his Judaic cards; can we ignore all Frankl’s impersonal references to God that we examined above and conclude that Frankl did indeed believe in Hashem Yisrael? (Hashem “the Name” is a Jewish way of avoiding pronouncing the Holy name of YHVH). Is the ultimate goal of Frankl to bring himself and his patients into communion with the Hashem of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who has commanded believers in his Name to have no other gods before them? The Logos in Frankl’s Logotherapy , as he says, means “meaning”, which is a far cry from the personal Logos in John’s gospel, which is closer, by far, to the Living Hashem than the noble product of human suffering. Jewish and many Christian theologians hotly contest that Logos in the gospel of John is a Judaic concept. They would say that Greek philosophy and Judaic thought are poles apart. Not at all. The very reason why John used “Logos” to explain to his fellow Jews  the relationship between Jesus the Logos and God was because most Jews read the Tanakh in Greek (the Septuagint).– because they were more fluent in Greek than Hebrew. Altough many of them couldn’t even speak or read Hebrew, they still thought Judaically. In linguistics, too much is made of the idea that language structures thought.

With regard to Reconstructionist Jews and Reform Jews, I am pretty sure than when they pray the Shema Yisroel, they are not praying to the God who irrupted into history, namely, the God of the Exodus, the God in the pillars of fire and cloud, the God who created them, for they don’t (as a rule) believe in supernatural beings period. Their idea of God is similar to Spinoza’s God, which differed radically from the Torah God of Maimonides; no one saw Baruch Spinoza saying a brokhe (a prayer of blessing) – which does not, by itself prove that he never did.

An “attribute” by definition is a consistent quality. One of the attributes of a world view or belief system should be consistency. So when “God” is included in that world view, the idea of “God” should also be consistent. There is no word as meaningless as the word “God.” Or to put it another way, there is no word with so many possible meanings that suffers more from what I call the disease of polysemia (polysemic in linguistics means “many meanings). One of the basic rules (that should be) taught in language class is that if a word has so many meanings that it can fit any context, including contradictory contexts, we say that the word is meaningless; too much meaning is no meaning at all.

“The word ‘God’ (says Francis Schaeffer in his lectures on basic philosophy)… has been made as a linguistic symbol to equal those things that are absolutely contrary to each other.” Linguistic analysis is a useful tool for understanding the connection between thought and symbol (words). Words themselves are products of thoughts, which themselves are a deep language (as I discussed in “Deep language as a semiotic system”). One can never arrive at an exhaustive understanding of the way words, thoughts and the things they refer to (referents) relate to one another. This inability, however, should not make it impossible to communicate. Linguistic analysis as a philosophy – in contrast, to linguistic analysis as a tool – holds the view that because we cannot know exhaustively how words, thoughts and things relate to one another, there’s no point in trying to find out how they do.

When the linguistic philosopher tells me that the word “God” cannot be fully understood, and that in fact all words contain, as John Locke said, knotty bundles of thoughts difficult to unbundle, I sigh (em)pathetically and sigh, “I know what you mean.” Socrates knows that he doesn’t know, while the worn-out linguistic philosopher knows that he can never know – because, alas he cannot know exhaustively. Paul Johnson (in his “The Birth of the Modern World Society,” 1991, p. 563) tells of a “curious episode during a dinner given by Charles Darwin’s brother, when Thomas Carlyle shut both of them up by discoursing throughout dinner on how much better mankind would be without speech. ‘After dinner,’ wrote Darwin, ‘Babbage [who designed the first computer], in his grimmest manner, thanked Carlyle for his very interesting lecture on the advantages of silence.”

In communication, less is more, which does not only apply to the quantity of words we use but also to its possible meanings4. In Frankl, we don’t know whether Arthur is Martha or Martha is Arthur; he (Frankl, not Arthur) swings between 1. a “God” who can be anyone or anything, and 2. elevating him/her/it to Hashem Yisrael. 5

So far in Frankl’s book, there’s no sure evidence that he believed in the eternal God who redeems (Psalm 56 – Frankl’s reference above), whom Frankl evoked (invoked? provoked?) to comfort the rabbi. The waters gets muddier in Frankl’s next paragraph that begins the section “Life’s transitoriness” which follows immediately after the session with the rabbi:

“Those things which seem to take meaning away from human life include not only suffering but dying as well. I never tire of saying that the only really transitory aspects of life are the potentialities; but as soon as they are actualized, they are rendered realities at that very moment; they are saved and delivered into the past, wherein they are rescued and preserved from transitoriness. For, in the past, nothing is irretrievably lost but everything irrevocably stored.”

Let me try to understand Frankl’s paragraph:

Every living being is potentially dead. That is clear to all. Then Frankl’s voice cries out that “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.” (Isaiah, 40:6). The reason why the grass withers and the flowers fall, says Isaiah, is because the breath of the LORD blows on them (Isaiah 40:7). Frankl might believe that “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:7), but his advice to the rabbi and the “coincidence” of the Shema Yisroel (in the rabbi’s pocket) is not enough to go on. Frankl tells the rabbi that his wife and children are waiting for him in Heaven. Suddenly, he changes more than a gear; he changes direction – a 180 degree turn – from eternity future (Heaven) to eternity past: “For, in the past, nothing is irretrievably lost but everything irrevocably stored.” That statement may be in tune with the Zohar, but totally antithetical to the God of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). The rabbi’s grief makes me think of Psalm 102:

“Hear my prayer, O LORD, And let my cry come to You. Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my trouble; Incline Your ear to me; In the day that I call, answer me speedily. For my days are consumed like smoke, And my bones are burned like a hearth. My heart is stricken and withered like grass, So that I forget to eat my bread. Because of the sound of my groaning. My bones cling to my skin.”

“I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. I lie awake, And am like a sparrow alone on the housetop. My enemies reproach me all day long;Those who deride me swear an oath against me. For I have eaten ashes like bread, And mingled my drink with weeping, Because of Your indignation and Your wrath;For You have lifted me up and cast me away. My days are like a shadow that lengthens,And I wither away like grass. But You, O LORD, shall endure forever, And the remembrance of Your name to all generations. You will arise and have mercy on Zion; For the time to favour her,Yes, the set time, has come” (Psalm 102: 1-13).

Frankl ‘s Ph.D. Dissertation (1948) was entitled “The Unconscious God”, which examined the relation between psychology and religion. One immediately thinks of William James’ “Varieties of religious experience that Frankl must have admired (Frankl probably says as much somewhere). The emphasis in Frankl and James is not what (the unconscious?) God can do for us, but what the conscious me can do for myself and others– a very Jewish – modern Jewish – idea. For both Frankl and James, the best thing you can do for yourself – and only you can do it is find meaning in your life and develop a positive attitude to the circumstances in which you find yourself. How do you find meaning? You will it; you will the courage to rise above your suffering, which Frankl considers to be the most noble thing you can do – the only thing you can do to cope with suffering. But is this what the Torah teaches?

In the privacy of his own home, Frankl (his wife relates) read the Tehilim (Psalms) every night and put on his tefillin (phylacteries) every day. It reminds me of Moses Mendelssohn’s catchphrase ‘be a Jew at home, outside be like everybody else.’

We see that the rabbi (above) believed in an eternal God, because, as Frankl relates, the rabbi found relief in his suffering for the first time in many years. Surely, reading the Psalms every night and doing Tefillin every day is evidence that Frankl believed in the same God that he believed the rabbi believed in. Not necessarily; Jews may read the Tanakh and put on Tefillin, and even “want Judaism to imbue us with a sense of responsibility for the righteous use of the blessings wherewith God endows us” (Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) but still believe with Kaplan that God is a product of man while also being some kind of (evolutionary) force outside man. What do many – probably most non ultra-orthodox – Jews think when they recite the Sh(e)ma Yisroel? They have an abstract (that is, philosophical) idea of Hashem, where “God” is a product of their own minds, and they may be happy to own up to this view of God. They, however, are not happy with the impersonal nature of such an abstraction; so they attach a personal term onto this super Idea and call it “He” (or “She” if you’re Reconstructionist Jew)). Then they can happily recite the Kaddish “Yisgadal v’yiskadash shmai raba. Magnified and sanctified be His great name.”

Frankl  is famous (not that he cared about fame)  for showing those who suffer how to control their inner lives. Most of mankind would consider his attempt one of the greatest contributions to humanity. The God of the Torah, in contrast, says that it is He who is the One that wills to control the inner life of every Jew, and of every human being. But that is so unJewish, irrational, unhuman, unprogressive. The modern Jew is the archetype of modern man.

“When Rabbi Adam Chalom stands before the Sabbath flames and sings the Hebrew blessing to welcome Shabbat, there is no mention of God. Chalom believes there are no prophets. He preaches that only hard work yields miracles. And until science unlocks life’s mysteries, his most honest answer to why people are here and where they go when they die is, “I don’t know.” God has nothing to do with it.”

It seems to me that in public, Frankl didn’t know or created the impression that he also didn’t know who God was. In private, however, thanks to his wife, we know that he did know the God of and in history: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And yet, who can be sure that when a Jew reads the Tehilim (Psalms) and  puts on Tefillin – even every day – whether he really leans on the central historical pillar of the Judaic faith: the revelation at Sinai.

The Reform Jew will say it’s just a story that teaches great truths; in other words,  a myth, like Sysiphus. In contrast, the Christian who believes that the Bible is God-breathed (inspired) will say with the Orthodox Jew (make that “ultra”-Orthodox Jew) that the event is as historical as the holocaust, if not as life-changing as the theophany (revelation of God) at Sinai, which taught in a very graphic way that God is sovereign. Why do I say “make that ‘ultra’-orthodox”? Because it’s not rare to find atheists even among “Orthodox” Jews. The Faculty blogger of the Faculty of Religion, Peace and World Afairs of Georgetown University, Jacques Berlinerblau, writes in his “In praise of Jewish Atheism.”

“Are there atheist orthodox Jews? Sure. I have met a few. Speaking off the record, one explained his godlessness to me by reference to the slogan “All you need is Torah love.” (The use of Beatles’ lyrics is, apparently, the most effective way to enlighten dimwitted secular co-religionists).” Why doesn’t  Berlinerblau rather choose a Jewish pop group – the Bagels?

Finally, I’d like return to Frankl’s statement (above) “The book  does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences…” and link it to Reform rabbi Adam Chalom’s statement that  “until science unlocks life’s mysteries, his most honest answer to why people are here and where they go when they die is, “I don’t know.” God has nothing to do with it.”

It seems to me that the problem with Frankl and the rabbi, and most Jews, and most people who reject the Bible as divine revelation, is that they have little understanding of  the science of history. They either underestimate history or discard it as fiction. Frankl emphasises personal experience; rabbi Chalom, science. They don’t see that The Tanakh, and the Newer Testament, reveal the most staggering and wonderful fact that God not only entered history, but also created and sustains it.  The lense of physical science or psychology is just too narrow to see this fact, this personal fact. For Frankl, the greatest personal fact , “the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart (is): The salvation of man is through love and in love.” This is true, but what, I ask, is the ultimate point of love and salvation if they are not of the Lord: “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah, 2:9).

1Here is a comment from a Jewish admirer of her rabbi. “Why is what is definitely not a new story “a big deal”? Not only has Humanistic Judaism been around for quite some time, but I remember decades ago a hooraw [a commotion] about a self-proclaimed “ignostic” rabbi .. He refuses to call himself “agnostic” because he thinks it is IN PRINCPLE possible to know whether or not God exists, just that we do not know. (A distinction constantly elided in the sacrosanct Popular Usage of “agnostic”).” I don’t follow; I thought that the “agnostic” simply believes that he doesn’t know; not that he claims that it is not possible to know. Most atheists claim there is no God because they claim to know that they can never know. If they go up in a space ship, will they find God! That settles it.

2A parallel would be the term “pantheism” which often has nothing to do with Pan being the body of Theos. “pantheism” often means – for Western “pantheists” – “pan-everything” – a cosmic car boot sale.

3Frankl (p. 154) mentions Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest who died in the concentration camp, as a “saint.” “There, (Auschwitz) – Frankl says – the ‘individual differences’ did not ‘blur’ but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints. And today you need no longer hesitate to use the word ‘saints’: think of Father Maximilian Kolbe who was starved and finally murdered by an injection of carbolic acid at Auschwitz and who in 1983 was canonized.”

4There are two basic kinds of meaning: the dictionary meaning (which Leech, in his “Semantics” calls the semantic meaning) and the what we mean by the word we use (which Leech, in his “Pragmatics” calls the “pragmatic” meaning. Why do mother tongue speakers of the same language, when in conversation, often ask one another, “What do you mean?” They are not asking for the dictionary meaning (semantic meaning) of the word but what the intention is behind the word they used. For example, the sentence “He’s clever” can mean the opposite, “He’s stupid” depending on what the speaker or the listener wants it to mean.

5Reconstructionist Jewish feminists love the idea that God is a “She” – so do many Christians. That is why “The Shack” , where “Pappy” (God) is a woman, is so popular among “liberal” Christians. Enough to make the tsitsit of a chasid’s talit stand on end (tsitsit “tassles; talit “prayer shawl”). I stand arm in arm – I should be so lucky – with the chasid on this one.