Samuel Lebens: The Line Between Rationality and Mysticism

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SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Samuel Lebens – philosophy professor and author – about the interaction of Judaism with analytic philosophy and mysticism.

Samuel is an analytic philosopher, trained to analyze philosophical questions in a precise, almost mathematical framework. In his new book, The Principles of Judaism, he attempts to wed the foundations of Judaism to this framework, discussing the ways that one might formalize their Judaism on rational grounds.

  • How can one ground their Judaism in precise, rational terms?
  • How certain can one be of their Judaism?
  • What is the place of mysticism in a rational framework?

Tune in to hear a conversation about Judaism and analytic philosophy.

References:
The Principles of Judaism by Samuel Lebens
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Nineteen Letters by Joseph Elias
Covenant and Conversation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God by Jerry Walls, Trent Dougherty

Samuel is an associate professor in the philosophy department at the University of Haifa, as well as a rabbi and Jewish educator. Samuel holds a PhD in philosophy from Birkbeck College (University of London), and his academic interests cover the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of language. Samuel teaches at the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education and the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies. Samuel’s most recent book, of several, is The Principles of Judaism, a strikingly sharp analysis of the fundamentals of the Jewish religion. Samuel’s first book was a study of Bertrand Russell’s dynamic theories about the nature of meaning.

David Bashevkin:

Hello, and welcome to the 18Forty podcast, where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities, to give you new approaches to timeless, Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring rationality. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big juicy Jewish ideas. So be sure to check out 18Forty.org, that’s 1-8-F-O-R-T-Y.org, where you can also find videos, articles, and recommended readings. I mentioned earlier that I was skeptical, a little nervous about how this topic would resonate with our listeners. And while this does deal with some of those nitty gritty issues that maybe doesn’t reach a more popular audience, I’ve been quite heartened and moved from the amount of people who have been reaching out saying either they themselves or family members have been reaching out to this.

Somebody shared the first conversation we had with that anonymous guest on social media. It provoked a fairly profound discussion, and somebody pushed back a little bit and wrote to me as follows: “This sort of mindset,” they wrote, “might work to justify a lifestyle, but only in so far as that lifestyle is enjoyable and lends meaning, not if it is seen as imposing, restrictive, and suffocating. Thus, it seems to me it would work more commonly for the type of cultural Judaism than for Halachic Orthodox Judaism. But however it worked for anonymous, that’s great.” What they’re basically saying is that if you fail, so to speak, in your attempt to build this rational foundation for your convictions and your faith, then you may want to adopt a Jewish lifestyle, but shouldn’t it be the lightest most cultural lifestyle possible? You shouldn’t be observant of Halakha or anything else, just do what brings you joy, and pick and choose.

A similar listener, really somebody who I’m proud to call a friend of sorts though I’ve never met her in person, but I’ve always been quite moved by just the substance, intelligence, depth of the way that she analyzes issues. I do have permission to share her name. She’s not anonymous. Her name is Malka Svei. She is studying now, she tells us in this short message. She shared with me a similar pushback regarding when you’re trying to build that rational foundation, and even when you fail to do so, and you do rely on more experiential meaning, that can be very difficult to use to justify some of the moral consequences on which Judaism is built, or which Judaism may feel like towards others. This is the note that she sent.

Malka Svei:

I wanted to respond to a recent episode on rationality. I’m a first year PhD student in neuroscience. I did my undergraduate degree in psychology. And I’m particularly interested in questions of value and decision making. And coming from that perspective, I think that it’s really important for conversations around religion and rationality to start with the question of, what is the value that religious belief is supposed to provide? I had a pretty right wing upbringing. I grew up in Lakewood. I went to Beis Yaakov schools. And the approach to Judaism with which I was raised was that Judaism was supposed to be my way of understanding the world around me. And based on that, I was taught that the world was 6000 years old, and that the theory of evolution wasn’t real. And when I grew up, I found that those beliefs were irrational, that logical conclusions based on the evidence available to us would indicate that that’s not true.

And that was a problem because rational conclusions based on empirical evidence are the best way to understand the world around us. And so I found myself moving towards an approach to Judaism that said, wait a minute, science is the best way to understand the world around us, and that’s by using rational conclusions. Religion is supposed to provide meaning, and meaning isn’t something that you can rationally prove or disprove. And that’s definitely an approach that resonates for me because even though I don’t think I can prove whether Hashem exists, I do find meaning in my life through practicing Judaism and through keeping the Torah and mitzvos. But the problem is that meaning is not the only value we expect from a religious system. We also use religion as a basis for our morality. And I think we want to believe that our moral decisions are made on some kind of rational basis, that we can prove that what we’re doing is the right thing.

And so when I was growing up, I was often taught that the mitzvos were rational in the sense that they were a reasonable way to achieve some basic universal human values. But the problem is that if we’re going to take that argument, how do we deal with some halachic practices that we have that really can’t be justified by any rational justification and that cause a lot of pain? So a good example would be, why is it that homosexual relationships are assur? There’s all kinds of attempts to justify this rationally. They don’t hold up. It’s pretty easy to knock down any of these arguments. And honestly, the most honest answer that I’ve seen is from certain rabbanim of the past, who said, “Oh, this is wrong because everybody knows it’s disgusting.” Clearly they tried to come up with some kind of rational explanation and all they could figure out is to say, “Well, I don’t understand why this appeals for some people and therefore it’s wrong.”

I don’t think chas v’shalom that homosexuality is disgusting. And even if I did, I might think pistachio ice cream is disgusting. That doesn’t make it morally wrong. So there are certain things that we have to understand that the only way we can justify is by saying that we believe what the Torah tells us to do is right even if we don’t understand. And I struggle with that because I know that I can’t prove that the Torah is right and I don’t have conclusive evidence for it, but I also really can’t prove what I should or shouldn’t value. I can’t prove that it’s wrong to hurt people. I can accept the starting premise for a moral system and make decisions based on that.

And so if I accept the Torah as my starting premise, I know that it’s not good for people to be alone, and I know that I shouldn’t cause people pain, and I know that certain homosexual relationships are assur even if I don’t understand why. And it’s my job to try to make decisions that are consistent and coherent and live up to as much the Torah values as possible. And sometimes Halakha is black and white, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and other times there’s room to choose whether we’re going to be meikel or machmir, and we have to weigh all of these things in consideration. And I think we’re all living in a state of uncertainty, and the only thing we can do is be open about that uncertainty and not be afraid of these questions.

David Bashevkin:

And first and foremost, I welcome both questions. It means a great deal to me that listeners are reaching out thoughtfully, substantively, and respectfully. And that really means a great deal to try to begin this grand conversation as we grapple through these somewhat messy issues of faith and life. I think in many ways, I agree with both kind of… I don’t even want to call them pushbacks, they’re both insights. I think depending on the depth and foundation of your convictions is going to translate in many ways of what type of meaningful experience you’re willing to hold onto. I think for many people, if your experience within the Jewish community has been oppressive, has been difficult, it’s going to be very difficult to hold onto that no matter what sort of rational mechanism you use to justify the meaning that it provides, whether it’s Pascal’s wager, which we discuss in this interview, or any other form of grounding of rationality. The more discomfort that your conviction brings you, the stronger of a grounding you’re going to need.

And ultimately there’s a point of discomfort for many which I’m not sure any rational grounding is going to be able to justify. And we do find people leave and I wouldn’t call them irrational for leaving. Their experience was so painful and so difficult that no matter what their theological convictions were, no matter what their rational ideas were, that it just wasn’t providing the meaning that was going to continue their affiliation. And I think that, that’s an important idea to keep in mind in the mechanisms of affiliation itself. And I think for many, what you really need to figure out is that balance of some rational grounding for your faith, some way to justify and understand. I don’t even like the word “justify”. Some way to ground your conviction that this is real, that there is a realness to this. But the grounding of that realness doesn’t always translate to the same meaningful experience. For some, when the experience itself does feel suffocating and oppressive, I don’t think it’s wrong to reevaluate and figure out, how do I get the most meaningful utility from this conviction?

Maybe they need to reorganize which community they are affiliating with. And I think there are many organizations that help people transition from one Jewish community to another. I think people need to think about whether if they water down their conviction in very serious ways, are they going be left with the practices, with the beliefs, and with the community that are still going to provide them that meaning? These calculuses are rarely done explicitly, but I think they’re almost always done implicitly, balancing the credence of our convictions, the certitude of our convictions, and figuring out what is the level of experience that that should translate into? And I think we see people who, their convictions become very strong and they find communities that are able to reinforce the strength of their conviction. They move to communities, perhaps different from the ones that they were raised in, in order to find communities that can reinforce their own level of conviction.

And we see a lot of people moving to other communities, perhaps that are able to have an experience that more naturally and comfortably reflects their level of conviction. And I think those are healthy calculations, even if they’re not done explicitly, for people to make. You need to live your life in a way where your Yiddishkeit, where your engagement, both feels true and real, but also feels healthy and comfortable. To live your entire life either feeling like you are living a lie, or living your entire life to feeling like you are sacrificing any sort of healthiness and personal identity on the altar of communal expectations, is also not always justified. Though generations past have really sacrificed absolutely everything for their Judaism, we need to have the grounding in order to do so. We need to have the beauty of affiliation in order to be able to make those Herculean and heroic sacrifices.

And I think in order to do so, those aren’t contradictions. Meaning, somebody can live in a community and feel absolutely suffocated, and they’re not going to be willing to make heroic sacrifices for their Judaism because there’s been death by a thousand paper cuts. It’s been painful the whole way through. They’re looking for the exits. And then there are people who find the level of comfort, the level of meaning, the level of experiential affiliation that works to reflect their own conviction. But if, God forbid, the time came to make a heroic sacrifice, I think they would be willing.

I don’t think in generations past, when Jews had to make the ultimate sacrifice for their faith, they had this great deep grounding and this great rationalistic edifice with which they were willing to sacrifice everything for their Judaism. I don’t think that was the case. I think they built a life of comfort and meaning, and that literal sense of their sense of self being wrapped up and integrated with their Yiddishkeit in a very healthy, normal rhythm of their lives that when that moment come, they were actually able to make these great and heroic sacrifices.

But if you spend your entire life feeling like the glove of Yiddishkeit does not fit your hand, then you’re going to be looking for the quickest exit sign. And looking how to match up the communities, the family culture, the infrastructure of your lives to match with comfort and in a healthy way the conviction of your beliefs is a lifelong struggle that I’ve seen many people oscillate in different ways. And what I’m really trying to say is that I don’t think this generation is less willing to make heroic sacrifices just because they find it so much harder to find that comfort. I don’t think a conviction that Yiddishkeit should be comfortable is necessarily incompatible with the notion that Yiddishkeit requires sacrifice. I think that you need a comfortable relationship with your Judaism in order to sacrifice for it.

And I think in many ways, these negotiations are something that our guest, Professor Samuel Lebens, Dr. Lebens, who’s really incredible, and he did allow me to call him Sam, I think, and hopefully that’s not seen as disrespect in any way. Somebody once joked to me that people introduce themselves to me, like, “I’ve got six PhDs and a Nobel prize,” and my opening question is, “Do you mind if I call you Bob?” And then I continue my interview. But I do think sometimes I call people by their first names in order to build a more natural conversation. But Sam Lebens is really an incredible thinker, and I want to make this absolutely clear, more than this interview, what I think is so remarkable about him is this book that he has written, which I encourage anybody despite the terrifying price tag, if you are struggling with grounding your faith in a rational foundation, this book needs to be on your shelf.

It is called The Principles of Judaism, is part of the Oxford Studies in Analytic Theology. Professor Lebens, Sam, if I may, is an analytic philosopher trained really with the pedigree, with the language of analytic philosophy, yet finds a way to take all of that language of analytic philosophy, which is dense – you’re really proving, through the language of almost math and science, different tenets of belief. And he finds a way to weave a really moving testament to how we can build a foundation for our Yiddishkeit. Now, this book is going to disappoint some. They may think that he was a little too flexible in the way that he presents Jewish theology. He is quite clear that he’s trying to build a basis for Orthodox Judaism.

And I think he does a valiant effort in doing it, but there is a certain flexibility as he describes in his introduction that some may not be comfortable with. And secondly, others may find it just to be too dense. I think what makes this book so remarkable is three things. Number one is the language. I think so much of the struggle of people who are looking for a rational foundation of Judaism are struggling because earlier generations of Jewish thinkers, even contemporary rabbanim, scholars, Jewish thinkers, leaders, usually do not use the language of analytic philosophy to describe belief.

It is sometimes a very awkward fitting relationship to talk about God while also trying to prove Ps and Qs. And what Professor Lebens does is really so remarkable in that he weds the very foundations of Orthodox Judaism to the language of analytic philosophy. And I can’t understate how important that is because I think so often we are accustomed to adopting the language of analytic philosophy for our questions, but we do not have the language with which to answer on behalf of Orthodox Judaism in response to those questions, because it is very tedious, and it is very difficult. And there is no one better qualified than Sam Lebens to do that.

And the way that his book is structured is he really delves into what is sometimes known as the Yud Gimmel Ikkarim, the 13 principles of faith, as formulated by the Rambam, but he actually boils it down, as many commentators do, not to 13, but to the big three. I believe it was Rabbi Yoseph Albo who insisted that the 13 principles of faith of the Rambam, Maimonides, really can be boiled down to three principles. And those three principles are number one, creation, number two, revelation, and number three, redemption. Creation is about the existence of God and the world, revelation is about the authenticity of the Torah, and number three, redemption, is what is known about reward and punishment, and the fact that there is going to be some messianic redemption to the world. And these three parts are broken down into subcategories. It is immensely readable if you appreciate the language of analytic philosophy.

So the first thing that he does that I think is absolutely remarkable is the language. The second thing that he does, which we discuss on the interview, is he is not rigid in which sources he calls upon to build this foundation. As an analytic philosopher, I was quite curious in the fact that he really integrates a great deal of mysticism into the very foundation of rationality that he is building. He quotes quite often, and I love his articles on Izhbitz. He’s a student of Rabbi Herzl Hefter, who I have written about, and has done a lot of fantastic work in the world of Izhbitz. Though I’ve argued in print with some of it, he’s really an incredible scholar. And what Sam does is he brings in the world of mystical thinking and translates it into the world of analytic philosophy. He does not draw the very strong lines that some rationalistic thinkers do between mysticism and rationality.

And he grounds that in the very founder of analytic philosophy itself, arguably the very founder of analytic philosophy itself, and that is Ludwig von Wittgenstein. Of course, the running joke on this podcast is that I cannot pronounce any great philosopher’s names, and I am sure that I did not do Wittgenstein any justice. Wittgenstein was a student colleague of Bertrand and Russell, and together, they really ushered in this age of taking philosophical ideas and building foundations, in the early 1900s this was happening in math, this was happening in philosophy, as we discussed in our introductory video. And what Wittgenstein began to do is really plum the depths of language of what we can even describe, what are the limits of the foundation we can even build. And in his preface, what Professor Lebens, what Sam really contends with, is that there are limitations to what we can describe itself.

And he bases this in two readings of Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Please don’t laugh at my pronunciation, I did my very best. And he describes what he calls his reading of Wittgenstein as this therapeutic falsehood. This idea that language has limitations in what it can describe, yet that very limitation can still be the foundation for what we build. He bases this in the very ending of Wittgenstein’s classical text that builds the very foundation to analytic philosophy. He ends as follows: “My proposition serve as elucidations in the following way. This is how Wittgenstein describes the foundation that he builds. ‘He who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless. When he has climbed out through them, on them, over them, he must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up upon it. He must surmount these propositions, then see the world rightly.’” Almost building a foundation, getting to the top of the mountain, then finally being able to see clearly and kicking down the ladder itself and realizing that it’s useless.

And I think in many ways, stepping into the world of faith, even through the window of rationality, has a similar experience, where when you try to build this rational grounding for your life and for your belief, ultimately it is a ladder that you need to kick down and find out a way to approach the world and live your life. It is how Wittgenstein describes the very foundations of philosophy and language, and it’s what Sam, in many ways, uses to describe the purpose of his book. His entire preface is a back and forth of trying to justify how he can describe the very mission and purpose of his book.

And he lands with the following paragraph: “This book lays out the fundamental principles of Judaism. These principles may ultimately entail that what I say in this book is unsayable. To the extent that these principles therefore contradict themselves, I will at least have helped you to recognize our human fallibility and help you to exchange truth for verisimilitude as your ultimate goal for theological inquiry. To have some coherence, this is me adding in your life and convictions. Not withstanding,” he continues, “I can still say and plausibly hope that these principles achieve at least a high degree of verisimilitude.” Now, that’s a fancy paragraph, and pushing our listeners that if these are issues that you are grappling with, check out his book, because I think it is one of the finest in building this rational foundation in a very creative, brilliant, and flexible way, where the lines of the sand between rationality and what I would call mysticism are not drawn so deeply. It’s not this huge mechitza, this partition in the sky that you can’t see across.

He actually builds a rational grounding for so much of the unsayable experiential parts of our lives. And that’s why ultimately, his third contribution, aside from the language, aside from not drawing these partitions between rationality and mysticism, and I think that’s an important part of rationality itself and I think it’s an important part of mysticism. The third part that I appreciate so much is his humbleness. Is the way that he, as a trained analytic philosopher, is able to appreciate the limits of his own inquiry, grapples with the limitations of his own inquiry, and really embodies that great rabbinic aphorism attributed to the Rambam, I believe it’s said by others, but “Tachlis hayedia shelo yeida,” the paramount of knowledge is that we do not know. The ultimate knowledge is the realization of the limitations of our knowledge. The ultimate inquiry is realizing the limitations of our inquiry. And I know too many people who have spent their entire lives and discarded so many important things in their lives on this journey of this ultimate truth only to reach this Kafkaesque door and realize that the ultimate truth is in fact unknowable.

And I think what he does in this book is lead you on this journey, points you to the doors and the entry points of what we cannot know, and really highlights the parts of our lives that are ultimately unknowable. And what you, our listeners, myself, are going to do with that an ultimate unknowability that exists no matter how many philosophy books you read, no matter how many physics books you read, no matter how many Jewish books you read, there is an ultimate unknowability to life. And what you do when you reach that door I think depends on the utility, experience, intuition that you have built on that journey. And I hope throughout this journey on 18Forty, we’ve highlighted thinkers, people, and ideas that both lead you to doors of knowability, and lead you to healthy reactions when you ultimately confront the ultimate unknowability. So it is my absolute pleasure to introduce my conversation with Professor Samuel Lebens.

David Bashevkin:

Allow me to begin with almost a pedagogical question. You have somebody in their 20s. They are searching for the foundations of their faith and their affiliation with Orthodox Judaism. And your book, called The Principles of Judaism, does not mince words. It is about what I would term a mystical dash rational defense of Orthodox Judaism.

Samuel Lebens:

Mm-hmm.

David Bashevkin:

Where would you begin educationally with somebody who is doubting? Who says, “I look at the world, I do not see a God. The rational systems of science and math seems so much more compelling and reflecting of the reality that I live in. I don’t understand what the draw is, what is the problem that religious life is coming to solve?” How, as a philosopher, would you begin to address somebody who is grappling with the very foundations of faith? “Looking at the world, I’ve never spoken to God, I’ve never seen God. We’ve spoken poetically about talking to God in prayer, but I’ve never seen God, and the world doesn’t reflect, at first glance, a clear existence of God.” So where would you begin if you were talking to somebody who is really struggling with their faith in this way?

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah. I mean, it’s important to note the book that I wrote, that you mentioned, The Principles of Judaism, with Oxford University Press, it’s an academic work that doesn’t first and foremost seek to prove that Judaism is the truth, or represents God’s will, and therefore we should all follow it or convert to it if we’re not already Jewish. The project there was to isolate, what are the key principles upon which Judaism stands or falls, and to at least render them as plausible as I could. But not to prove that they’re true. So one thing I’d say is I wouldn’t start with my book in this conversation. I think a couple of things need to be differentiated. So the first thing I think is to understand what we mean by rationality. So we’re asking, is it rational to follow a Jewish lifestyle, to believe in Judaism? But what exactly do you mean by rationality?

And all the way back to Aristotle, there were two different conceptions, that both are important, but they just need to be kept separate. One, we call epistemic rationality, which put into more simple English is something like rationality of belief. What makes beliefs rational on the whole, I would say, following the mainstream of philosophers, is that they are proportionate to the evidence you have for them. So the more evidence you have for a proposition, the more you should believe it, the less evidence you have for a proposition, the less you should believe it, and that’s all that epistemic rationality amounts to. But there’s another entirely different conception of rationality called practical rationality. And practical rationality measures what it’s reasonable for you to do, given your interests, given your makeup, given what you believe, but also given what you want.

So for example, you’re going to the cinema tonight, or the movie theaters, as I think you call it in America. And depending on whether you want to see a comedy, or a tragedy, or an action movie, different things will be rational. And that has something to do with what you believe. It’s rational for you to go and see film X if you’ve been told reliably that it’s a comedy, therefore you believe it’s a comedy, and you want to see a comedy. It wouldn’t be rational if you believed it was a tragedy and you want to see a comedy. So beliefs are relevant to practical rationality, but they’re not the only thing. So you ask me. What would I be saying pedagogically, at the beginning of the conversation, with somebody, I guess in their 20s thinking about, is this for me? I’d ask them to think about first of all, what’s in their practical interest?

And this takes us back to Pascal. So Blaise Pascal argued that, “Even if you don’t have very much evidence for the existence of God, it’s overwhelmingly in your practical interest to commit to religion,” he says. Because if you dedicate your life to religion and it turns out God exists, then perhaps you’ll win a massive prize, the heaven, the afterlife, all this stuff. And if you lived a religious lifestyle and it turns out that you were wrong, no big deal, you die like everybody else, no one remembers, you won’t remember, that’s it. Maybe you had a nice life as a religious person. I hope we do have nice lives as religious people. Turns out we’re wrong, big deal, turns out we are right, well hey. But if we lived our lives perhaps as secular people then it turns out that we were wrong and the religion was right, we stand also to lose a great deal. So Pascal said, “It’s in your interests.” Now, Pascal’s wager I think is… I’ll let you speak in a minute. I mean, as I’m just giving a lecture, but –

David Bashevkin:

I love this. No. Honestly, I love your writing so much and I just discovered two minutes ago that you’re British.

Samuel Lebens:

Yes.

David Bashevkin:

Speaking for the first time. So honestly I’m entranced right now. So you can go forever, but please continue.

Samuel Lebens:

So just to finish the thought is, Pascal’s wager is often ridiculed by later philosophers. He makes it sound like we’ve got a single choice between being religious or irreligious, but actually there’s lots of religions we could choose between. So how do I know, “Is it my best interest to be Catholic, or Protestant, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish?” On a crude conception of Pascal’s wager, you might even think you should go for the religion that promises the best heaven and the worst hell, because you’re trying to maximize your chances.”

David Bashevkin:

Exactly. Your hedging of the best bet.

Samuel Lebens:

You’re hedging your bets, and that’s what practical rationality would demand. I argue in some of my work that Pascal’s wager can be rescued by becoming less ambitious. Instead of trying to convince everybody of a given religion, we should talk to certain audiences at certain times. Now, take the audience of people who I call… I have a book coming out with Maggid Press called A Guide for the Jewish Undecided. Take a group of Jews who I would call the Jewish undecided. What I mean by that is they know they’re Jewish, they have a strong Jewish identity, they belong to Jewish community, Jewish culture matters to them, all that stuff, they just don’t know whether they believe in God. Like, in my family, we used to drive to shul and hide the car on Shabbat, drive to an Orthodox shul and hide the car, right?

David Bashevkin:

Mm-hmm. Sure.

Samuel Lebens:

And loads of people in my family, they marry Jewish, they give their kids a Jewish education, but they’re not so serious about observance. I don’t know if they believe, I don’t know. Take that audience. Now, I argue that for those people, any religion but Judaism is practically unthinkable for them. The cost of converting to Christianity, let’s say if my sister converted to Christianity tomorrow, my mom would never talk to her again. She’d have to get divorced because her husband doesn’t like… The costs of converting to Christianity, or the costs of converting to Islam or Hinduism, because she’s culturally rooted, are very high. And that means, I think, it would be practically irrational to convert to any non-Jewish religion unless you had overwhelming evidence. Basically, you need even more evidence to counter all of these practical costs, otherwise it’s not practically rational.

So for her, my sister, let’s say, or me, or anybody who’s committed to their Jewish identity, there are only two live options, practically speaking: either religious commitment to Judaism, or being a secular Jew. Those are the only two… Unless you can give me overwhelming evidence that some other religion is true and then those other religions will become live options too. But until you give me overwhelming evidence, I think it’s practically rational for us to ignore them. In our practical deliberations we ignore loads of possibilities all the time. For instance, solipsism is the view that only I exist. Well, if that was my view, I wouldn’t go to the bother of having this conversation with you, David. I’d just talk to myself instead, right? It’s a possibility.

Solipsism is a possibility. It’s actually hard to discount philosophically. But it’s not a practically live option. I don’t weigh it up in my deliberations at all. So I have this fictional philosopher who was alive at the same time as Blaise Pascal, I call him Baruch Pascalberg. And Baruch Pascalberg, he was only interested in talking to people who already had a Jewish identity. And he says, “You guys, it’s really overwhelmingly in your practical interests to commit to Judaism because all of the other options are not live.” So I actually think Pascal’s wager would be a place to start with such people, David.

David Bashevkin:

I do love that answer. I know people struggle. You’ve rescued a lot of theories that maybe we can get in that have been ridiculed because I think immediately, when somebody is in doubt and is looking for foundations and you present something as a piece of evidence, our natural intuition is to pick apart that evidence.

Samuel Lebens:

Mm-hmm.

David Bashevkin:

And sometimes it’s easier to ask questions that poke holes in something than the rigorous philosophical work that you do in your book. And again, I want to warn readers that if you are not philosophically inclined, and also don’t have a little bit of a thick pocket book –

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah. Sadly, Oxford University Press do not price books for the public market, they price it for the academic.

David Bashevkin:

Well, it didn’t stop me. I have it right next to me over here. It wouldn’t stop me in a million years.

Samuel Lebens:

Oh, wow. I’m grateful to you.

David Bashevkin:

But God willing that Maggid book will come out targeted toward a larger audience.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

But let me ask you this question. We’re talking about the rationality of religion. And something that has always struck me in your writings is, you are, I believe, trained as an analytic philosopher.

Samuel Lebens:

Mm-hmm.

David Bashevkin:

You don’t write like a romantic, like a more… looking at the world and thinking about these existential problems, like a Kierkegaard. You are an analytic philosopher. Yet in your book, throughout your book, throughout your writings, you are quoting from Hasidic sources, from mystical sources, from the Zohar.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

Help me understand: you are an analytic philosopher, what are you doing? What does the world of Chassidus, of mysticism, provide you? I mean, somebody comes. They hear about this Professor Sam Lebens. They’re so excited, “Finally, someone who’s going to speak my language and present a real rational grounding,” and they open it up and you’re quoting Hasidic teachings and Zohar. Did you cross the line of rationality into mysticism? Is the line blurred for you? Is mysticism a part of rationalism?

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

Tell me how those two worlds talk to one of them.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah. So let me answer your question in two ways. So the first thing I’d want to say is a continuation of the previous conversation we just had about making Judaism rational, or appear rational, or to be in conversation with that doubting 20-year-old we just imagined. I think once you’ve pointed out that, “Look, the Jewish religion is the only live option for you.” Now, we need to see, is it completely ridiculous? Because if it’s completely ridiculous, then it might not even be worth betting on. And therefore, what I want to show is that it’s actually much less ridiculous than people might realize. I think in your first comment to me, David, at the beginning, you were about the world of mathematics and physics and contemporary science.

And if you’re rooted in that world, it seems like Judaism is just a whole bunch of fairy tales. I think that analytic philosophy provides a language that’s rigorous, mathematical, interested in logic, scientifically literate, and if I can articulate the principles of Jewish faith in the language of analytic philosophy, I can help that 20-year-old doubter to see that, “Oh, do you know what? Not only is this a live option, it’s not ridiculous. And therefore, maybe it’s worth betting on.” Now, to address the heart of your question though, is you’re absolutely right. I don’t recognize a hard and fast distinction between mysticism and rationalism. I recognize a hard and fast distinction between bad philosophy and good philosophy, and a lot of stuff that poses as mystical these days is just bad philosophy. I can see a difference between voodooistic magical wishful thinking and scientifically literate philosophy.

But I have a lot of respect for instance for Natan Slifkin and the battle that he has waged within the Haredi sector of Judaism against what he takes to be the forces of irrationality. I congratulate him for that. There’s a lot of superstition and irrationality. But I think he’s done some damage as well, because I think that he misunderstands… In some of his work, he tries to define what mysticism is, and he basically just defines mysticism as being incompatible with rationality. And I just think that’s a fundamental misunderstanding. And I suppose one of the things, so I take it that mysticism is more than any body of literature, by the way. Mysticism is actually a way of life.

David Bashevkin:

Why?

Samuel Lebens:

Because mysticism is interested in mystical experience. So if you want to define what mysticism is, you need to, first of all, think about what is mystical experience. And mystical experience is a certain way of experiencing the world, or experiencing God, or a certain kind of heightened type of sensitivity, or certain type of mystical ecstasy. And mysticism is a lifestyle that is aimed towards inculcating, having, and understanding those experiences.

Well, so far nothing irrational has been said in defining our commitment to irrationality. Now, where the tension comes is that very often the mystic suggests that the content of her experience, this mystical experience, is one that logic and language somehow can’t handle or do justice to. But that’s fine. To say that there are some things that language or logic somehow don’t encapsulate, or convey, or they somehow miss, that’s not inherently illogical, that’s not inherently irrational. It would be irrational to assert a contradiction, for example. To say that P and not P are true. It would be irrational to say that logic doesn’t matter or it’s okay to be illogical. But I don’t think that any of the mystical sources I quote suggest that, they just suggest that there are some things that we can experience better than we can understand through cognitive analysis.

The Izhbitzer on Purim. He talks about the distinction between binat halev, which is to understand something somehow intuitively, perhaps in a way that transcends the ability of concepts of language to cut up. So he has this thing, we’re supposed to drink alcohol on Purim, ad delo yada, until you don’t know the distinction between the blessedness of Mordecai and the cursedness of Haman. But the Izhbitzer suggests that just because you don’t know it, ad delo yada doesn’t mean that you don’t have some other type of cognitive grasp of it. He says you should have a binat halev, which is a deeper, more profound type of knowledge.

I just think it misunderstands the history of mysticism to say that mysticism is the embrace of the irrational, the illogical. Yes, there are some mystics who embrace the irrational and the illogical, but it’s not definitional of mysticism. And also, there are rationalists, like Maimonides in the Jewish tradition, and Wittgenstein in the analytic tradition. And I’m talking about the early Wittgenstein, who recognized that logic and language themselves point to their own limitations.

David Bashevkin:

Tell me about that. Meaning that’s a question that exactly I wanted to get to it.

Samuel Lebens:

Well, it’s interesting. So in Wittgenstein, al regel achas, and you can’t really do justice to Wittgenstein al regel achas, obviously, on one foot. But in his masterpiece, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, guided by mathematical logic, he tries to map out the ways in which language must relate to the world in order for it to be possible for language to represent the world. And one of the crazy conclusions he comes to based on this rigorous step by step analysis of language and its representational power, one of the conclusions he comes to is, “Oh, by the way, one of things that language would never be able to represent is how it represents the world.” And you put your head in your hands at that point, and you say, “Hold on a minute, Witt, this whole book has been an attempt to do that.”

And he says, “Yeah, I know. This book, if it’s true, is somehow self-defeating or contradictory, and somehow you learn through its failure something that language itself can’t discursively communicate. You learn something that language can’t say, but somehow language can show.” For instance, try to draw a picture that shows that it’s a picture. It’s really hard to do, right? So you draw a picture of me, right? Well, that’s just a picture of me. How do you show that it’s a picture? Well, you could draw a square around me to show that… But still the picture of me hasn’t changed, you’ve just put a square around the picture of me. But the picture of me itself minus that square, which is like an added material, that’s a picture of me and there’s no way of using it to picture the fact that it’s a picture. And Wittgenstein wanted to say that language has a similar problem.

Language pictures the world. As soon as language tries to picture the way that language pictures the world, you fall into certain problems. Now, I don’t care if Wittgenstein was right or wrong about that. What’s interesting is, he thinks, whether rightly or wrongly, that logic and language themselves point to their own limitations. You try your hardest to draw, in language, using logic, a picture of how language works, you’ll realize the limitations of language in logic. You’ll realize there are things beyond the limits of language, which you might experience somehow, but you can’t discursively describe. And I think the Rambam was in a similar situation because he thought that you can prove that God exists, he thought, but because the thing you’ve proven to exist is the cause of all things, that that God must somehow be above all properties and all categories, because he’s the creator of all properties and categories. But then all we ever do in language is describe things using properties and categories.

David Bashevkin:

Mm-hmm.

Samuel Lebens:

But the God we’ve proven to exist is the creator of properties and categories so he must be beyond properties and categories, and therefore must be such that language somehow fails to capture him. Even this language now that I’m using to describe him must be more or less false according to the Rambam. Now, does that mean the Rambam is a mystic? No. Well, yes. But it doesn’t mean that he’s not a rationalist, right?

David Bashevkin:

Mm-hmm.

Samuel Lebens:

He’s not a mystic of what you mean by mystical is irrational. So I hate this dichotomy of polar opposites that Jewish studies and certain public intellectuals like Natan Slifkin have tried to erect. And in the book, I tried to demolish it just by showing how, wow, I’m an analytic philosopher, and I’m using the Zohar, and I’m using the Izhbitzer, and I’m using the Tanya, because they have important things to say.

David Bashevkin:

Let me ask this question, which I don’t normally get to do when I’m talking to analytic philosophers, I don’t feel comfortable enough doing this. You are a professor.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

You are Sam Lebens, the professor.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

You are Sam Lebens, the Jew.

Samuel Lebens:

Mm-hmm.

David Bashevkin:

And you’re a practicing Orthodox Jew. And you are Sam Lebens… You’re a family man. You’re a human being. You’re situated. How does the rigor of your analytic philosophy practically affect your Judaism? I see how your Judaism affects your philosophy, your interest, the things that you write about.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

How would you say that philosophy has trickled down in your, Sam Lebens the Yid, Sam Lebens the Jew? And secondly, I’m almost more curious, because I always ask this question when I talk to these very rigorous philosophers, and they parse apart the foundations of every decision. And I almost want to know like, what was dating you like? What was –

Samuel Lebens:

No, you have to do a different interview with my wife, David. You’d love her. She’s great.

David Bashevkin:

But you hear my question. I’m not literally asking what the dating was like.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

I’m asking, how does this methodology of analytic philosophy, people who become enamored by it. And I find sometimes people become enamored by it before they have the capacity to really figure out how to integrate it and spread that analytic cream cheese across the entire bagel. How do you integrate these different selves, so to speak?

Samuel Lebens:

Well, analytical philosophers can be very annoying people to be around, because, you are right. We like to hair split, we like to… My daughter makes fun of, my sense of humor is all about picking up very small ways in which she may have misspoken and then following the entailments to ridiculous places. Well, that can make us quite annoying people. Eleonore Stump, who’s a really fabulous Catholic analytical philosopher from whom I’ve learned a great deal, she talks about how… And Rabbi Sacks was very keen on this notion too… talking about how the brain has two hemispheres. And the analytic mind is only one of the hemispheres of the brain. It’s the hemisphere that deals with breaking things down, analyzing them, scrutinizing them, syllogistic logic, reasoning through inferences. The other hemisphere of the mind is about putting things together, about experiencing things in the moment, not overthinking things, perhaps being intuitive, seeing the poetry of things, really being in the moment in a very deep way.

It’s the side of the brain that deals with art and romance. And I think that it’s important for human beings to be in possession of two hemispheres of a brain, right? So analytic philosophy is only one thing that I do, right? I also have the other hemisphere of my brain and it’s about exercising both hemispheres of the brain. I play piano, I go to art museums, I daven. I have a romantic relationship with my wife and a loving relationship with my family. So analytic philosophy is just one part of what I do and I try to exercise both halves of my brain, and I encourage your listeners to try to do that too.

David Bashevkin:

To nourish, yeah.

Samuel Lebens:

To nourish both sides of their brain and they’re in conversation with one another. My hope is that when you exercise each half of the brain in isolation, that they then come back together in life and enhance the other, so that my appreciation of the moment, of art, of music, of spirituality is rendered deeper by the fact that I spend some of my time tearing things apart and thinking very deeply about them. I also hope by the way that the process of thinking very deeply about things is enriched by the fact that I have some recognition of the beauty of life, of the mystery of life that’s present with me even as I try to analyze things down into their component parts. So that’s one thing. But I’d also say, I think I heard you discuss something similar with my good friend and buddy Aaron Segal.

David Bashevkin:

Yes.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah. Hebrew University. I think he said, and if he didn’t, I imagined him saying, and I’m pretty sure he would say, that striving to know God better and striving to know the world that God created is itself a holy activity. It’s part of avodat Hashem. So it’s not like something we do on the side. It’s like, that’s part of our Jewishness. It’s something, to some extent, we should all be doing to… We’ve all got different proclivities, different talents, and different tafkidim. Some people are more built perhaps for Gemara study, other people for Tanakh study, other for Midrash study. But to some extent, we’re all called upon to know God, and that requires using all of the cognitive machinery that you’re able to wield. So I hope that’s something of an answer to you, David.

David Bashevkin:

No. It very much is. We began this interview talking about a 20-year-old in doubt. I want us to imagine now, not the 20-year-old who’s already in doubt, but the teenager who’s in a Jewish school and a Jewish upbringing. I don’t know if you went to a specifically Jewish school when you were growing up, but specifically in the States, families send their kids to Yeshiva, and there is always a question about teaching the foundations of faith in Yeshiva. And I think there’s been a movement, which I frankly understand for a much more experiential, much more emphasis on these activities, programming, and much less on building out these foundations of faith. I guess, with the concern that when you lay out the foundations, it’s much easier to then use them as for target practice.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

For a questioning teenager.

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah.

David Bashevkin:

This book I’m sure has put you in touch with a lot of people who are searching, who are questioning. When you look at the educational system, what recommendations, given the people, and I could be wrong, that you’ve been put in touch with, and their recurring struggles, what do you think are the questions that need to be better addressed growing up in Jewish educational systems? And what do you think are the broad strokes approaches that we should be doing a better job of emphasizing?

Samuel Lebens:

Look, my experience has been… When I was in Yeshiva, because I already had my PhD in philosophy, when I was in kollel, and people used to… The rosh yeshivas used to send me the boys that were in midst of their crises of faith, “Oh, speak to Sam. He’s the philosopher.” And it tended to be that the philosophical problems, in my experience, were more often than not a hook upon which the young man was pinning something that was deeper, some sort of psychological discomfort, some kind of feeling of alienation or detachment from their family, their community, a way of life, and they were trying to intellectualize it. So they said, “Oh, I can’t understand how we’ve got free will if God commands. Oh, I can’t understand evolution.” And they would find some puzzle and they would hang it on.

But my sensation was, now you have to be respectful of these people and therefore engage with them where they’re at. So it’s important to try and give answers to the puzzles they’re raising. But it’s also important for the pedagogue to understand that there’s something deeper going on, some sort of psychological or social discomfort. And that’s led me to think the following: one, a schooling system that runs away from the deep questions and that doesn’t actively seek to provide people with the intellectual tools to articulate a robust Jewish faith in the face of the challenges of modernity, it’s a bad idea, because these people are going to be exposed to challenges, they’re going to see on the internet, in all sorts of forums, they’re going to be exposed to challenges. And if they were brought up with a kind of superficial Judaism that pretended there were no such challenges or pretended that faith was simple, as soon as they’re faced with the challenges, they won’t be equipped intellectually to cope with this, one thing. But the second thing is to recognize that actually the intellectual tools are not enough, okay? You said that fear is they’ll use these things as target practice. No, they won’t. They’ll only do that if they have some sort of motivation to want to do that. And why would they want to do that? Because they’re feeling uncomfortable, because they’re feeling their Judaism is a burden or a way to, for reasons X, Y, and Z, and then yes, they will use it for target practice. But if they feel comfortable in their Yiddishkeit, then they’re unlikely to. So that’s about engaging both hemispheres of the brain, again, right? Right from the beginning, you need to give them strong intellectual tools.

And frankly, the Orthodox world won’t have strong intellectual tools unless we create a cadre in every generation of philosophical theologians who are able to articulate boldly and proudly their Jewish faith in the idiom of contemporary science, contemporary philosophy. And that needs to start in our school education. These are not things to run away from, to be ashamed of, to think, “Oh, there’s a kfira warning to be attached to all these things.” No, if we project a confidence and a boldness, we’ll actually do more, I think, to protect ourselves from people running away from Yiddishkeit than we do by projecting a kind of protectiveness and a fear.

But because of the two hemispheres of the brain, it’s not enough just to be teaching theology and philosophy from an early age, we also need to be giving people those experiences that make a person feel rooted in their community, that make a person feel rooted in the rituals of Jewish life, that make the symbolic landscape of Judaism resonate for them with beauty and meaning. And then, the person will be rooted in that sense that Baruch Pascalberg is interested in, because that person’s now so rooted that even intellectually, rationally, the only option that’s going to be live for them, given their upbringing, it’s going to be Judaism or nothing. And I think it is a dereliction of duty for Jewish schools to rely only on one or other of these brain hemispheres. It needs to be both at once.

David Bashevkin:

I cannot thank you enough. And really that confidence in projecting and integrating those two hemispheres is something that I think so many Jews, myself in particular, I really owe a great deal of gratitude to you and your work for doing. I always close my interviews with a little bit of rapid fire questions.

Samuel Lebens:

Okay.

David Bashevkin:

My first question is, if you were to recommend a book, not your own, for somebody who is looking to ground their faith in God, does not have to be a Jewish book, but something that can really lay the groundwork of why looking out in this world, it makes sense to develop and want to develop a relationship with something more than just yourself, where would you send them?

Samuel Lebens:

It would depend a little bit on the person. So I’ll cheat and give you three, okay?

David Bashevkin:

Okay.

Samuel Lebens:

If the person is a very confident reader of romantic English of a very high poetic form, I’d say read The Nineteen (19) Letters of Rev. Samson Uziel Hirsch. If a person has a lot of time, I would tell them, read every single week, on the weekly parsha, one of Rabbi Sack’s essays in the Covenant and Conversation series, because it will give them a sense of what it means to live within the landscape of Jewish symbolism, and I think that can create a tremendous broadening of intellectual and spiritual horizons through reading his Covenant and Conversation in that systematic weekly way.

But if I were speaking to somebody who is really into their philosophy, there’s a really nice collection, I think it’s called A Dozen (or so) Arguments for God. It was put out by Oxford University Press relatively recently. And it’s got a really nice collection of really rigorous analytic philosophical discussions that on the whole, although there some atheists in that collection, are seeking to render belief or faith in God reasonable or rational in the face of contemporary scientific evidence.

David Bashevkin:

And I love –

Samuel Lebens:

David, let’s do some more quick fire later. I have to go. I’m so sorry.

David Bashevkin:

Can I do a ten second question?

Samuel Lebens:

Yeah, go. Quick.

David Bashevkin:

What time do you go to sleep at night? What time do you wake up in the morning?

Samuel Lebens:

I go to sleep at night at about… I start Daf Yomi at about 11:30 at night, and then I go to bed after that, about an hour after that. I wake up at about 7:15, 7:30 to get the kids to school and get to an eight o’clock Shacharit.

David Bashevkin:

Okay. Thank you so much. We will be in touch. I can’t thank you enough for your time.

Samuel Lebens:

Such a pleasure.

David Bashevkin:

And we will be in touch. Thank you so much, Sam.

Samuel Lebens:

Pleasure to talk to you, David.

David Bashevkin:

The work that Sam Lebens is doing is so important to so many and many of these people have reached out to me. There was a really powerful conversation I once had with a rosh yeshiva. I know a rosh yeshiva who had a family member who was struggling with some issues of rationality. And he tried learning with his family member, he tried bringing him in. And we were talking together, because I knew this member of this family himself, and he called me in, and he said something really remarkable and quite humble. He said, “The truth is, I and so many of my colleagues,” referring to other roshei yeshiva, these rabbinic leaders, “we are not trained to have the language to reach these people who are really trained to speak a different language about how they see the world and how they make decisions.”

And he said this with great humility. And he wasn’t discounting the importance and value of the language that he has and the ability of that language to inculcate and cultivate faith among so many Yiddin, God forbid. But what I really found remarkable was the humbleness acknowledging that there is a new language emerging, and for many people, it is important that we learn to translate our faith to help address the questions, journeys, and struggles of these individuals. And I think at the very center of rationality is the difficulty in which it strips down so much of the mystery and majesty of the things that we hold dear, and can sometimes be guilty of a reductionism that doesn’t allow us to appreciate our communal surroundings. On the flip side, what is sometimes very difficult with somebody who is more mystically inclined is that your very affiliation can feel like gas lighting.

And I think that this is a point that is really important to make. I think for many people who are surrounded by those who take maybe their affiliation, their convictions more for granted, or maybe they’re more mystically articulated in ways that do not resonate with them, they look around at their Jewish community and they feel gas lit. They feel like everybody thinks they’re crazy and everybody is just dismissing their very real doubts and concerns about the very foundations of faith. And I think both of these difficulties need to be approached with a great deal of sensitivity and dignity. On the one hand, I think that it is fair to say that the road of rationality cannot lead to an extreme level of reductionism where your very relationships are seen or anything that has any sort of social value that can’t be measured by this binary of true and false.

You can end up in this nihilistic or reductionist lens where you’re unable to appreciate the constructs, and that the very constructs of your life, while not strictly rational, have dignity and meaning. On the flip side, if you don’t learn to balance the truth and the pursuit of something real in your life, and it’s just about the sweetness and the beauty and the experiential meaning, then you can end up approaching those around you and making them feel like they’re being gas lit. And I know what that experience feels like. There are experiences in my own life where I felt like the Jewish, I felt like they’re gas lighting me, like, am I the only one who’s crazy here? Why am I the only one who’s really trying to find some measure of truth, some realness to the conviction of my life?

And I think it’s important to avoid both of these. And I think at the very end of Professor Leben’s book, he addresses this in a very beautiful way, particularly the dangers of reductionism. He writes as follows, talking about the importance and how difficult it is to maintain some level of awe and mystery in your very life. “Awe,” he writes, “is a relatively easy bubble to burst. It’s easy to make any situation feel absurd. All you have to do is stand outside of the situation for a moment. In anecdote,” he writes, “I remember sitting in a fascinating class by a gifted teacher. The room was packed and I was thoroughly enjoying the content of the talk when all of a sudden, looking at all of the people in the room, my attention was drawn to their heads. And I had the thought, ‘What a lot of skulls and brains there are in this room?’”

“The thought completely ruined my experience. The thought was transformed into a room full of skulls and brains. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. What we do in those moments,” he writes, “of perceived absurdity is to treat things merely as objects, and to strip them of their social statuses and their socially constructed properties. You treat a baseball bat just as a stick of wood, or a football as a bundle of pig skin, and then the whole surrounding social structure that is baseball or football just seems to collapse under the pressure of its own absurdity. There was a room full of people, but as soon as I saw them as skulls and brains, the situation became absurd. I didn’t see the people anymore. What you do when you make an experience absurd is to treat the things in that moment merely as objects.”

And I think the dangers of unmitigated rationality is that it can lead to a reductionism that you’re no longer able to see footballs and baseball bats and people, and you see skulls, and you see matter, and you just see the processes of neurons and chemicals firing, bringing you to the moment that you are in today. And I don’t think that’s a healthy way to approach the world and the mystery of the universe and the lives that we lead. And I think so much of the holiness and sanctity and the mystery of the human experience is learning, on the one hand, to understand, what is underneath the head? What does make a baseball? What does make a football? Not to be the teacher who’s gas lighting and saying, you always have the rebbe who’s… and I hate to blame rebbeim, but I think we’ve all heard this at one point of our life, “Oh, why is everybody so excited about football and baseball, just a bunch of people running around, chasing a ball?” And that’s gas lighting.

That’s not what we’re excited about. There is a dignity to the experience, there is something exciting about the sport itself, and it’s very easy to reduce any experience by just looking at it as a bunch of skulls. And I think there is a danger to that reductionism, and I think there’s a danger that you can gaslight any experience and make it seem absurd. But ultimately what we are trying to learn to do here is balance the two, to both see the truth of what in fact makes a baseball, what in fact are the underpinnings of a human being, the biology, the physiology, physics, chemistry, the mechanisms of the world, but not allowing that to undermine our appreciation of the mystery, holiness, and sanctity of the human experience.

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