Logotherapy, Torah Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism: God, man and God-man

In my post “The Spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism”, I said that Rabbi Tani Burton was a reconstructionist Jew. He posted the following question:

… how did you decide that I was a Reconstructionist Rabbi?

My reply:

I’d like to give you a comprehensive response, for two reasons: 1. I am very interested in how you incorporate Logotherapy into your Judaism, and 2. (which is pertinent to your question) in your “About” on your site you don’t come across as a Reconstructionist Jew, but in much of what you say in your “Disillusionment” post you do come across as one, and in one instance as a mirror image of one. For now, let me explain why you are a mirror image of a Reconstructionist. I will give you a more comprehensive reply in my next post or two. For now, a Reconstructionist Jew believes that God is a piece of our souls, whereas you, in your “Disillusionment”, believe that our souls (neshamos) are a “a piece of G-d Above”.

As I said in my reply to Tani Burton above, I am interested in how he incorporates Logotherapy into his Judaism. I also said at the end of my reply that I would give a more comprehensive reply in “my next post or two.” It has turned out that the comprehensive reply has turned into double that number – on Logotherapy I called Tani Burton a “Reconstructionist rabbi.” let me briefly describe what kind of a Rabbi this is. Rabbi Bronstein (see my “The Spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism”) says,

Tradition tells us that the Torah was dictated by God to Moses, and then transmitted through the generations. Reconstructionist Jews see the Torah as the Jewish people’s response to God’s presence in the world (and not God’s gift to us). That is to say, the Jews wrote the Torah.” (My underlining).

I don’t think Tani Burton believes that the Torah is (purely?) man-made. His post on “Jewish disillusionment” does, happily, give me some idea of his Jewish beliefs. In his post, he is dealing with the disillusionment that many Jews must have felt with Jewish leaders who had – or appeared to have – gone astray.

Excerpt from Tani Burton’s “Jewish disillusionment” (I underline parts for discussion)

Retreating into the psychoanalytical shelter of a mechanistic view of people, one might simply dismiss these cases of corruption as manifestations of primal human drives towards lust or power. After all, these people are just human.

Logotherapy gives us a new vocabulary to combat this dim view of humanity. There is no “just human”! In the words of Victor Frankl, “no one will be able to make us believe that man is a sublimated animal once we can show that within him there is a repressed angel.” (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, 2000) A human being is not merely a higher primate who is simply predetermined by his drives, but is rather a majestic being who, when he rises to “full human stature”, he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.

The aforementioned statement perfectly sums up an idea in Logotherapy, that one can and must take a defiant stance against meaninglessness. We can take such a stance by remembering the following three things. First, G-d is eternal and unchanging. He is the Source of everything, all holiness, and all purity. He remains unaffected by the corruption that has reared its ugly head down here. His Torah is not defiled.

Second, our neshamos (souls) are holy and pure, and they remain so no matter what, being as they are “a piece of G-d Above”. Third, Eretz Yisrael remains precious, holy and pure. It is G-d’s land, and we have been invited to dwell in it. It cannot be defiled by a corrupt government, no matter what.

Let us be defiant against the devolution of values and meaning, and not allow ourselves to become jaded, desensitized and sarcastic. We can still connect to G-d, to our souls, to the Holy Torah, and to the Holy Land.

End of Tani Burton’s excerpt.

When Tani Burton says “G-d”, I can’t be certain if he really believes that “In the beginning G-d…” (Genesis 1:1). What makes me doubt is his faith in Logotherapy. I see Logotherapy as antithetical to Orthodox Judaism. For example, as I said above and argued in “God in Viktor Frankls’ Logotherapy,” Logotherapy promotes the “god within you,” whose creative force is the “will to mean,” which is another way of saying “make the best of it” (Frankl’s term). I find it difficult to reconcile Frank’s ideas about man and God with Tina Burton’s man is a “piece of G-d above.”

There are Jews such as the Ropshitz dynasty (see also the “Ropshitzer Rebbe”) who became famous for seeing God in everything. The Torah says the opposite. I wonder why the Jews excommunicated Barnum Spinach for saying that God was in everything. I suppose because he saw the contradiction between being a pantheist (pantheistic?) and a believer in Genesis 1:1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and opted not to live a double life.

Tina Burton’s first rule of comfort is: “First, G-d is eternal and unchanging. He is the Source of everything, all holiness, and all purity.” This is the same G-d that Tina Burton says we are all a “piece of,” which, although is not the same thing as saying that humans and G-d are all “of a piece”, does sound like seeing God in every person, if not in every thing. To see God in everybody, isn’t that the same as seeing God incarnate in everyone, or if that is going to far, a piece of God incarnate in everyone?

Tina Burton then encourages disillusioned Jews to remember that “Erect Disraeli remains precious, holy and pure. It is G-d’s land, and we have been invited to dwell in it. It cannot be defiled by a corrupt government, no matter what.”

I wonder about that. The Tanaka is a long litany of defilement of the land. Why, because of the people in it, whose whoredoms (זנותים znutim – mentioned more than 30 times in the Tanakh) the Holy One of Israel, their “husband” had to endure. The books of Ezekiel, Hosea, Nahum, and on and on are bursting with the defilement and corruption of God’s chosen people, and ipso facto defilement of the land.

And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, וַתְּטַמְּאוּ אֶת־אַרְצִי (vatetam’u et-artsi) and made mine heritage an abomination. The priests said not, Where [is] the LORD? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after [things that] do not profit. Wherefore I will yet plead with you, saith the LORD, and with your children’s children will I plead. For pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing. Hath a nation changed [their] gods, which [are] yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for [that which] doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, [and] hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

How is the “land”, that is, the people of Israel different today? No different. No different from the whole earth. But, I must leave “the land,” because the main question that concerns us here is the compatibility of Logotherapy with the God of the Torah.

Tani Burton quotes an excerpt from Frankl’s “Man’s search for ultimate meaning” (Frankl, V. E. (1975). The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Originally published in 1948 as Der unbewusste Gott. Republished in 1997 as Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning). Burton says:

Logotherapy gives us a new vocabulary to combat this dim view of humanity. There is no “just human”! In the words of Victor Frankl, “no one will be able to make us believe that man is a sublimated animal once we can show that within him there is a repressed angel.” (Frankl, Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, 2000) A human being is not merely a higher primate who is simply predetermined by his drives, but is rather a majestic being who, when he rises to “full human stature”, he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.”

I’d like to flesh out this “repressed angel” idea with an examination of Frankl’s view of religion, taken from Goerge Boeree. I number and underline the parts that I shall briefly comment on:

It should be understood that Frankl’s ideas about religion and spirituality are considerably 1.broader than most. His God is not the God of the narrow mind, not the God of one denomination or another. It is not even the God of institutional religion. God is very much a 2.God of the inner human being, a God of the heart. Even the atheist or the agnostic, he points out, may accept the idea of transcendence without making use of the word ‘God.’ Allow me, says Boeree, to let Frankl speak for himself”:

This unconscious religiousness, revealed by our phenomenological analysis,is to be understood as a latent relation to 3.transcendence inherent in man. If one prefers, he might conceive of this relation in terms of a relationship between the immanent self and a transcendent thou. However one wishes to formulate it, we are confronted with what I should like to term “the transcendent unconscious.” This concept means no more or less than that man has always stood in an intentional relation to transcendence, even if only on an unconscious level. If one calls the intentional referent of such an unconscious relation “God,” it is apt to speak of an 4.“unconscious God.”

It must also be understood that this “unconscious God” is not anything like the archetypes Jung talks about. This God is clearly transcendent, and yet profoundly personal.He is there, according to Frankl, within each of us, and it is merely a matter of our acknowledging that presence that will bring us to Supra-meaning. On the other hand, 5.turning away from God is the ultimate source of all the ills we have already discussed.: “…6.(O)nce the angel in us is repressed, he turns into a demon.”

In the light of the above points, I now contrast Torah Judaism with Logotherapy’s (Frankl and Tani Burton) idea on spirituality. There are other movements in Judaism such as Reconstructionist Judaism that are far removed from Torah Judaism. and which share many of Frankl’s ideas on spirituality. See my “The spirit of reconstructionist Judaism,” “Tefillin: the seal of love as strong as death”, “God in Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy”.

Here are my observations based on the Synergy-foundation passage on Frankl above:

  1. Frankl’s religion is “broader” than most, including Judaism.
  2. Frankl’s god is the god of the heart. In Judaism, the “heart” (the deeps of thought and feeling) is a vital organ, but it is not where God originates nor where He ends. The Torah God is a terrible – yare יָרֵא – majesty (Job 37:22).

(Unfortunately, the original meaning of “terrible” has been watered down to mean “horrible”, which itself has been watered down to mean “so very not nice”).

  1. Frankl speaks of the “transcendence inherent in man.” In Judaism, man has a spirit but it is not transcendent in the sense that man’s spirit is more than a human spirit. Tani Burton says man is “a majestic being who, when he rises to “full human stature” (quoting Frankl), he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.” So, for Tani Burton man is a “piece of G-d because he is created in the image of G-d.” Nowhere does the Torah, or any other part of the Tanakh say that man is a piece of God. When the Bible says that man is made in the image of God, it simply means – perhaps too prosaic for the lofty heights of Kabbalism – that he is human – never a god, never a potential god. Here is a (potted?) description of what (Lurianic) Kabbalah teaches:

Ein-sof (literally the “Endless” one – so, no beginning and no end) begets a world so that He, as the source of all meaning and value, can come to know Himself, and in order for His values, which in Him exist only in the abstract, can become fully actualized in humanity.Ein-sof is both the fullness of being and absolute nothingness, but is not complete in its essence until He is made real through the spiritualizing and redemptive activity of mankind (my underlining).

Contrast this with Isaiah 6:

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Is this God in Isaiah one who is “not complete in its essence until He is made real through the spiritualizing and redemptive activity of mankind” (Kabbalah passage above). Am I hearing things? God is waiting for mankind to redeem Him” It’s so very not like the Judaism of the Bible.

Isaiah then hears a voice (now how many Jews belief he really heard a voice?)

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Send him to tell the people what?

9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
” ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

And for how long”

11 Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.

So, LORD, you’re always talking about remnants; can we at least expect you to guard the status quo and not evolve into something we can’t deal with? Sorry, not this time.

13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

This is not Viktor Frankl’s God.

The 4th point in Frankl’s view of spirituality.

4. Here is Frankl: “… it is apt to speak of an “unconscious God.” It must also be understood that this “unconscious God” is not anything like the archetypes Jung talks about. This God is clearly transcendent, and yet profoundly personal. He is there, according to Frankl, within each of us, and it is merely a matter of our acknowledging that presence that will bring us to Supra-meaning.”

The Holy One of Israel is never unconscious; he doesn’t even take forty winks. I’m reminded of Heidegger, Sartre, Spinoza and so many more philosophers, which I poured over during my years of philosophy studies at the University of Cape Town.

Frankl’s 5th point”

5. “.. turning away from God is the ultimate source of all the ills we have already discussed.”

No Torah Jew, not even a Reconstructionist Jew, would disagree with this one. In fact, only the most evangelical of atheists like Dawkins and Hitchins (Christopher, not Peter his brother) would rant about point 5. Of course, it all depends what you mean by “God.” For Frankl and Reconstructionist Jews like their founder, Mordecai Kaplan, “God” is a human creation. For a Kabbalist, God can find no rest for His soul until Kaplan or Frankl, or preferably someone alive makes a determined effort to redeem Him.

And last but not beast, point 6.

  1. (O)nce the angel in us is repressed, he turns into a demon.”

Frankl relates (in “Man’s search for ultimate meaning” 1975, p. 59) that some prisoners in he concentration camp came to realize that they were repressing the feeling that they were much more than animals, that there was something in them that transcended the flesh and the rational mind, a being struggling to burst out of the darkness, a “repressed angel.” The Freudian term or concept of “repressed” doesn’t exist in the Bible, whether in humans, angels or demons. Angels in the Bible, don’t get depressed or repressed.

Demons, in the Torah, are fallen angels. Fallen and unfallen angels can never be human, except in the great man-made literatures of the world, where they not only consort with man, but are often a metaphor for man. You can find cohorts of repressed angels and demons cavorting through the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Shakespeare, Baudelaire – and of course, everyone’s favourite, Dan Brown. None of these writers think that man himself can be a literal angel or a demon, though there’s nothing wrong with turning – though, it can be quite remunerative, as Dan Brown has proved – humans into repressed angels; or psychotic demons.

Andrew Reid Fuller, in his Psychology and religion: eight points of view,”, p. 266, says that “[u]nconscious religiousness is also found to break through unexpectedly in the lives of psychotics.” Unconscious religiousness can be found in anyone who feels some deep experience; a sunset, or, after arriving from a busy day at the office, plunging your face into a warm froth of kitty fur. But seriously, if one really believes the Bible to be God’s revelation, I can’t see how one can reconcile it with Logotherapy. Logotherapy fits the world like a warm glove; the Bible, like a soggy sock. Frankl gives the world what it wants, what it needs, what it wants to need. Meet clients, patients, parishioners where they are at. If they like talking Torah, encourage them to make the best of it.

Logotherapy and Torah Judaism have very little logos (meaning) or therapia (methods of cure) in common, and in many ways the one is a distorted image of the other. In a similar way Reconstructionist Judaism is a distorted image of Torah Judaism. Logotherapy and Reconstructionism are in essential agreement. One may object that they are different because Reconstructionism is about the meaning of being Jewish, whereas Logotherapy is about the meaning of being human. What do I mean, then, when I say that Reconstructionist Judaism is, in essence, similar to Logotherapy? I mean that they both believe that “God” is of human origin. There is, however, this difference between them. In Reconstructionist Judaism, the Jew creates “God”; in Logotherapy, man is a repressed angel .

Tani Burton agrees that man is a repressed angel, but he also said (at the beginning of this piece) that “when [man] rises to “full human stature”, he is recognizably created in the image of G-d.” But we saw that for Frankl this repressed angel is not only man himself but “may justifiably be called God” as well (Frankl). A trinity of three persons: man, angel and God, all sharing the same essence or nature.

Ultimately, in Logotherapy, man is not “just human;” far from it. For the Logotherapist, there is no Being more ultimate than man, who, with the will to mean good can become a Man-God.

Ultimately, in Torah Judaism, there is no Being more ultimate than the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who fashioned man from the dust and breathed into him a living soul.

Two radically different and irreconcilable views of God and man. But, no, says man, not necessarily irreconcilable, for what is impossible to God is possible to man – a mirror image of “what is impossible to man, is possible to God.” The reader may ask: Where in the Tanakh can look up this last quote?” It’s not in the Tanakh, dear reader, I can Luke it up for you in my New Testament; while you’re waiting, I can tell you that they are the words of another God-Man, the real Mckoy.

In Psalm 116:5, we read: יָקָר בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה הַמָּוְתָה לַחֲסִידָֽיו׃

“Precious יָקָר (yakar) in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones לַחֲסִידָֽיו (lechasidayv – from which we get “chassid”).

Christians would say that Christ is precious (yakar) because he was pierced (דקר daqar – in Jeremiah 12:10; ). Jews will say that “pierce” in Jeremiah 12:10 refers to the “stabbing”, “thrusting through” of Israel? of unbelievers?, which will occur when Messiah comes at the beginning of the Messianic age. Whatever way you cut it, suffering attracts deep respect and, in case of Frankl’s suffering, almost awe.

This is what may attract religious people to Frankl’s Logotherapy: He’s deep; mainly because he has suffered more than any of the religious people who read him. Beauty is truth and truth is beauty, says Keats. What is truth? Pilate asks Jesus, and then promply? walks out (John 18:38) . But many people claim to know the answer. Suffering is truth. It seems that for followers of 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 the former major biblical themes? Therefore, think Frankl, think tsores, much tsores; and think tsores, think truth. (See my “The seal of truth as strong as death”).

In Hebrews 2:18, we read “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” 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.

Could it be that Christians and Jews are attracted to Frankl, not so much because he suffered so much, but because he dislocated the God of compassion from the God of wrat. More, because he replaced the God in the Heavens with a god in the heart?

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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.

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.



Frankl, Jossl and Voltaire make the best of it.

I am reading Victor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” (ebook). In the second part of the book (p. 101) appears Frankl’s “crashcourse” called “Logotherapy in a nutshell” (which Frankl translates as “meaning” therapy). This crash course is followed by a postscript “The case for a tragic optimism.”  I want to say something about Frankl’s advice “make the best of (it)” at the end of “The case for a tragic optimism.” But first I need to mention another “make the best of it.”

In my “Siblings” post, I mentioned an incident with my brother Jossl (Joe) when I visited Israel in 1997. I had visited Israel 25 years earlier. On this latest visit in 1997, I stayed at Joe’s flat on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. (He had settled in Israel a few years earlier). We were sitting in his lounge. I suggested we visit Haifa the following day. Was that movement of the head a yes or a no; or a yo? He said nothing and went to his bedroom. Were we going or were we not going to Haifa tomorrow? A few minutes later, I went to Joe’s room to clear up the matter. He was sitting on his bed wrapped in a large silky blue and white talit (prayer shawl).  It was Friday evening Shabbat (Sabbath). I asked Joe: “What do you think of it? I was referring to my suggestion to Joe of visiting Haifa the following day.  He didn’t answer. I returned to the lounge and sank back into my book. A page or two later,  Joe struts into the lounge sans talit. He explodes: “What do you mean ‘make the best of it’. I’m making the best of YOU here.

What Jossl meant, I think, was that although he found me unbearable, he was going to grin and bear it. Now, here is the passage from Frankl’s “The case for a tragic optimism”:

Let us ask ourselves what should be understood by “a tragic optimism.” In brief it means that one is, and remains, optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad,” as it is called in logotherapy, a triad which consists of those aspects of human existence which may be circumscribed by: (1) pain; (2) guilt; and (3) death. This chapter, in fact, raises the question, How is it possible to say yes to life in spite of all that? How, to pose the question differently, can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects? After all, “saying yes to life in spite of everything,” to use the phrase in which the title of a German book of mine is couched, presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable. And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive. In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation.” (My emphasis).

In my post “The Eternal, History, and Reform Judaism”, I mentioned Voltaire’s novel “Candide, or Optimism,” usually referred to by the shorter title “Candide”. I gave the full title because it links in with Frankl’s “optimism” (in his paragraph above). In “Candide”, the main characters experience all the great horrors of the few centuries of European history before 1759 (the date of publication of “Candide”). The final horror was the great earthquake and tsunami that devastated Lisbon in 1755; an event that shook the faith of many Christians, as the Holocaust shook the faith of many Jews about two centuries later. Today most Jews remain on shaky religious ground1 One compensation – many Jews would say a new start – is that they can now do their shaking on perhaps more solid ground – the Land of Israel.

Voltaire’s “Candide”, in contrast to Frankl’s book of hope, is a stinging satire. Candide concludes with this quietistic advice (quietism means “accept the world as it is”): “Work then without kicking against the pricks,” said Martin; “it’s the only way to make life bearable.”

If Voltaire lived after 1945, he would have included the Jewish Holocaust as one of these main horrors. Victor Frankl didn’t only live through the Holocaust, he was a prisoner in four concentration camps, and his family was killed in them. Where Voltaire is biting, Frankl is heartrending; where Voltaire is satirical, Frankl is (in his words above) “positive and constructive.”In the last few lines of “The case for tragic optimism” (p. 154), Frankl admonishes us once again to do our best:  “… the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.” That is the common thread running through all forms of Judaism and all kinds of Jews – and all mankind, “responsible” mankind, Frankl would say.

Later I’ll take a closer look at Logotherapy because – as I said in a comment to Tani Burton, a rabbi as well as a logotherapist, I am interested how he incorporates  Logotherapy principles into his Judaism. Sadly, we’ll never know how Frankl incorported his tragic optimism into his (secret) Judaism. Tani Burton relates:

“In 2003, Dr. Shimon Cown, a Lubavitch Australian expert on Frankl, went to visit his non-Jewish widow, Elenor, in Vienna. She took out a pair of tefillin and showed it to him. “My late husband would put these on each and every day,” she said to him. Then she took out a pair of tzitzis he made for himself to wear. At night in bed, Victor would recite the book of Tehilim (Psalms). You get it? On Yom Kippur nobody saw him in shul, but a day of tefilin he did not miss. When they asked in interviews whether he believed in G-d, he would usually not give a direct answer. But a day of tefilin he would not miss! What a Jew!”

If I read Tani Burton correctly, his reaction is the opposite of mine, which is: What, a Jew! By Jew, I mean – and I think Tani Burton means – a very religious Jew.

 

1For example, the Reform and Reconstuctionist Jews. See my Reform Judaism and my Reconstructionist Judaism posts, here and here

“… the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.” That is the common thread running through all forms of Judaism and all kinds of Jews – and all mankind, “responsible” mankind, Frankl would say.