Thursday, August 16, 2007

Apikoros and Epicurus

Is idolatry logical? By that question I mean, if we would not have witnessed the revelation at Sinai (or personal revelation in the cases of the Avos and others), would the intelligent person be worshipping idols, or G-d??

This may sound like a silly question. Didn't Avraham prove in the midrash that it makes no sense for a person to bow down to an idol which is only a day old, when they themselves are many years older. Or as Avraham said to Nimrod - don't worship the result, look for the cause (water extinguishes fire, so it must be a better 'god').

But, silly idols aside, I think the logic of monotheism vs the sensibility of idolatry may be an argument between Rishonim.

It appears that Rambam, in the blue corner, is firmly on the side of idolatry being foolishness (he refers to it many times in hilchot avodas kochavim as a 'mistake'). In contrast, Avraham, who was the pinnacle of logical thought, discovered G-d:

As soon as this giant was weaned his mind began to roam. Even while he was still young he would think day and night. He was amazed. How was it possible for the planet to be constantly moving, without some mover. Who was spinning it? It is impossible for something to spin itself. He had no teacher nor informer, but was sunk in Ur Kasdim amongst the stupid idolaters, including his mother and father. All the people worshipped idols, and he worshipped with them. But his mind was wandering and comprehending, until he reached the true path, and understood the way of righteousness through his correct reasoning. He knew that there existed one G-d, who moved the planet. He had created everything and there was no other god in all of creation but Him.

(Rambam Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 1:3)

In the red corner we have the Ran, who seems to accept that Epicurus is correct logically:

The early nations would see that idolatry was worthy and necessary, and that contemplation itself brings to it…. This is because their philosophers thought that G-d has no desire or influence on His creation, but everything exist and continues by itself…. They knew certainly and surely that the planets and stars controlled the lowly world, until each nation has a particular star… and they thought with their wicked logic that serving that star would bring them success.
The result of this was that everyone who worshipped stars felt that this was G-d’s will and desire, since He had given power to each star. They felt it was also appropriate to worship the planets and the stars to receive their blessing, and they set up their laws according to their wicked logic.
There is no doubt that logic brings a person to think like this, were it not that the Torah had enlightened us.

(Derashot Haran 9).

Were it not for revelation, the smart money would be with the idol worshippers (or some more sofisticated version of idolatry).

Epicurusheld that an infinite deity would not be able to interact with a finite world (by definition).

1. A blessed and indestructible being has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; so he is free from anger and partiality, for all such things imply weakness.

(Principal Doctrines)

If G-d would need the world, or be involved in a changing world, He would no longer be infinite (lacking nothing) and unchanging. Therefore Epicurus rejected belief in any god, trusting only science and his senses.

The Ran seems to hold that this is the basis of idolatry, and seems to agree that it would be logical, were it not for revelation.

What difference does this machlokes make? There is a mishna in Avos (2:14) "know how to answer an apikorus". If we translate apikorus literally, as Epicurus, we have to know the answer. And here I think these two Rishonim would necessarily have to differ.

Rambam, surely, would answer Epicurus by telling him he is begin stupid. The way to answer an apikorus is by thinking and learning to think rationally.

The Ran would say, 'but what about Sinai?' The answer to an apikorus must be revelation and remembering Sinai.

So - how would you answer an Apikorus?

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