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Our Religeous Beliefs Are Meant to Be Trusted, Not Proven

Rabbi Dr. Marc Gellman is the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, New York, where he was elected to the pulpit in 1981. He holds an earned doctorate in Philosophy from Northwestern University and was ordained as a Rabbi by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Rabbi... Read More

Q: If we are God’s children and if God is our heavenly loving Father, I am having trouble believing the "loving" part. When the time comes and we die, we give up everything we hold dear and we are supposed to be moving on into an afterlife, so why is there no proof that this exists? I wonder why would God keep the afterlife as such a complete mystery? To me this appears more cruel than loving and it is certainly not the way a loving Father would treat his children. — P from Long Island, N.Y.

A: At the end of a prayer we say "Amen." Amen does not mean, "What I just said is true." Amen means, "I trust in what I just said." All religions teach us how to trust what we cannot fully prove to be true. The two main attempts to actually prove that death is not the end of us are NDEs and psychics. NDEs are Near Death Experiences reported by some people who have been declared dead but were later revived and who reported floating above their bodies or seeing a tunnel of light or similar out-of-body experiences. Psychics, or spiritual mediums, are of course living people who claim to have the ability to speak to dead people. I do not believe in NDEs, and I do not believe in psychics but I do believe in life after death for our souls. NDEs are, in my opinion, are just physical illusions caused by a dying brain, not actual perceptions of the afterlife, and psychics seem to me to be generally fraudulent exploiters of grief. But of course I could be wrong. Tommy thought I was dead wrong about psychics.

However, even if NDEs are real and even if psychics can actually speak to dead people, I would still not believe in them. I believe that faith must be built upon trust and not empirical evidence. I trust that I have a soul that is not material but divine in its essence. I trust that such a spark of God cannot be extinguished by death because it is immaterial. I trust that God will gather my soul to God after my body dies and I trust that I will see Tommy again. That trust, that faith, is not scientific but I believe it is true.

Empirical experience is what builds science not faith. Faith and science are what the late distinguished paleontologist and philosopher Stephen J. Gould called, "Non-overlapping magesteria." They are two different and non-intersecting realms of what we know. That is why faith cannot give scientific answers and why science cannot give religious answers. You cannot have scientific proof for everything you believe, and you cannot believe in something that you can scientifically prove. You, dear P, want a scientific proof for Heaven so that it is no longer a mystery, but Heaven is a mystery because mysteries are the realm of faith. The kind of proof you seek is the realm of science, and science and faith do not overlap. Faith-based science is as much a contradiction as scientific religion. Religion and science speak to two different realms of our life here on earth. That is why God cannot let science prove to you that Heaven exists. You must believe in Heaven, you must trust in Heaven because you must trust that God’s love for us is both real and breakable.

Many reflections on my column about the moral example of the late Detective Steven McDonald, who forgave the 15-year-old kid who shot him and turned him into a quadriplegic. This from G:

"I could understand the forgiveness of one ‘sick’ individual — the likes of Shavod Jones, who shot Steven McDonald; Dylan Roof, who killed members at the Baptist church; Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot Pope John Paul; and Charles Carl Roberts IV, whose murderous rampage killed five Amish school girls. They were all forgiven by their deeply religious victims. But, how do we reconcile Jesus’ commandment, ‘Love thine enemies’? Can we forgive such monsters as Adolph Hitler, and to a lesser extent, Charles Manson?"

I agree with you, G. I find it hard enough, but spiritually and morally necessary to forgive a penitent sinner who has injured you or someone you love. But forgiving an unrepentant mass murderer is beyond my moral or spiritual reach. I choose to think about Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount as referencing interpersonal forgiveness, not forgiveness of mass murder by purely evil monsters. I think it is actually imperative that we do not forgive them or obviously do not love them. Our condemnation without forgiveness for radical evil preserves moral outrage, fuels our necessary war against the forces of evil, and preserves the moral distinction between people who mistakenly lash out in a murderous rage and those who coolly plot terror and genocide.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)