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Is G‑d an Agnostic?

Is G‑d an Agnostic?

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Question:

Can an agnostic still be good Jew? I'm convinced that there cannot be any compelling proof for the existence of a benevolent creator of the universe. Is there room for me in Judaism?

Answer:

You're just an agnostic about G‑d. I'm still not convinced about the whole of reality. Which is why, personally, I think G‑d is also agnostic. He sits there perpetually wondering whether He exists or does not exist. Out of His questioning, a whole world is generated—with beings like us that go around asking, "Is this for real, or what?"

Now you're going to say, "That's nuts. Why on earth—or heaven, or whatever it is that does or does not exist—would G‑d (if He exists) be unsure of His own existence?"

G‑d sits there wondering whether He exists... Out of His questioning, a world is generated Well, consider this: Who came up with this whole idea of existence to begin with? Of course, the atheist assumes that existence just is. He doesn't imagine there could be no existence. That's atheism in a word: Things just are. (Okay, three words.)

But since you're asking a rabbi, I'll tell you that nothing has to be. G‑d came up with the idea of existence. That's actually a fair translation of G‑d's name in Hebrew, as I wrote to some-other-poor-soul- who-also-thought-he-could-get- a-simple-answer-out-of-me- and-ended-up-just-as- confusicated-as-you're-going-to-feel- by-the-time-you-finish-this-responsum: G‑d in Hebrew means "The Isifier"--as in we is and He ises us.

G‑d came up with the idea that some things would exist and others would not. Call it A and B. Then He had to determine whether He would be one of those of category A or B. And that's where the whole problem began: G‑d has yet to determine whether He is playing this game of existence and is a part of our world or if He has better things to do with His time. (Actually, time is also another of those category A existence things. But the line sounded good, so I used it.)

If G‑d would "exist" then something would have had to existify Him - which means He wouldn't be G‑d... It's not so far out: Maimonides, the great 12th century codifier of what-we-believe- and-what-we-don't- just-so-everybody- can-argue-about-it- for-the-next-thousand-years writes that G‑d cannot be called an existence. An existence has some sort of definition, as in "exist as what?" If G‑d would exist, Rabbi M says, then something would have had to existify Him—which means He wouldn't be G‑d. So G‑d, by definition, does not exist.1

Neat fact: Did you know that when the Romans would sentence a person to death for becoming a Jew, the crime was called, "atheism"? Since the Jewish G‑d cannot be seen or described, they considered this person to be without any god at all. Turns out that Judaism is closer to atheism than most people's theism. As Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch once put it, "The G‑d the atheist doesn't believe in, I don't believe in either."


Here's more evidence that G‑d is an agnostic:

1) Free Choice. Free Choice means that G‑d does not exist. If He would exist, then—being the all-encompassing, all-powerful being that G‑d is—He wouldn't leave any posssibility for my free choice. There just isn't room for the two of us. Free choice, in other words, means that I exist, I make my own decisions and run my own life. And if so, G‑d does not exist.

But hold on: What is it that I have free choice to decide? After all, there has to be something of meaning to decide in order to make a choice. Meaning, purpose, inherent value—those are just other code words for G‑d. So the choice is whether I do what G‑d wants me to do or not. Which means that G‑d exists. Turns out that Free Choice is very agnostic.

2) Evil. What is evil? If G‑d exists, there cannot be evil. Because evil is the absence of good—and if G‑d is here and G‑d is good, how could there be anything here but good? So the existence of evil means that G‑d does not exist.

But wait: How can there be evil if there is no G‑d? What's evil about it? It just is like anything else. So the existence of evil assumes that G‑d exists.

Once again, G‑d both exists and does not exist. The idea of morality is also very agnostic.

3) Existence. Let's get right down to the core of the quandary: Existence. How does anything exist? Only because it is sustained by G‑d, the great Isifier (as described above). So, for anything to exist, G‑d must exist.

But not so fast: What is it that the Isifier, blessed be He, is isifying? Whatever it is, it is not Him—because if it were Him, then He hasn't isified a thing, has He? Existence must be that which is not G‑d. Reduce that to: G‑d does not exist.

"The G‑d the atheist doesn't believe in, I don't believe in either..." So existence itself is an agnostic state, another one of Schrodinger's cats sitting in the box neither alive nor dead and not even a little bit in between. What the quantum physicist calls "qubit entanglement" or "an indeterminate state." As G‑d is agnostic, so is existence.

Another neat factoid: Take all the radiant energy in the universe (such as light, heat, etc.) and subtract all the negative energy (such as gravity) and what do you get? Zero. So does the universe exist or what?


Now that you're just as confused as the rest of us and know it too, tell me, please: Who will untangle the qubits, open the box, determine the state of the world and of G‑d and relieve Him of His grand conundrum? Who will let Him come into His universe and exist here along with us?

There's only one hero of the story I can think of and that is us. In effect, we are G‑d's conscience deciding whether He should live in this place we call reality or not.

So if we decide that this is a G‑dless place where every man can do whatever he likes, the strong swallow the meek, the conniving consume the naive, beauty is just an artifact of human senses and instinct, things just happen because they happen and eventually the whole place is going to fizz out anyways ever since they enacted the law of entropy—so that's the world we decided to live in and that's the way our world is. Like the Torah (Leviticus 26:23-24) says, "If you go about life haphazardly (meaning, as though there were no G‑d), then I will treat you haphazardly (meaning, I will not be G‑d and things will just be because they are)..."

It's up to us to convince G‑d to believe in His world, in us, and in His own existence But if we decide to be genuinely ticked off with injustice; perturbed by G‑d's lack of presence, obsessed with the beauty by which He shines into His world; fascinated and amazed at every cell of life and being like a ten year old boy on his first visit to Radio Shack; and yearn for an ultimate future where G‑d, purpose, meaning and life will be screaming out from every twig, rock and photon...

...then we will have convinced G‑d to believe in His world, in us and in His own existence. Then our world will be a real world.

That's the choice called Judaism. So are you on the bus, or what?

Footnotes
1.
See the perplexing Guide for the Perplexed, chapter 57. Also see the wild and wonderful dissertation of the Rebbe in his 1975 Hadran on Maimonides.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Benzion Waldman Millburn, NJ January 8, 2017

G-d exists and believes in Mankind Rabbi:
That Ha'Shem exists is beyond reproach. Their magnificent creation the Torah shows what they believe in: Mankind. G-d created man in their image. They gave man Earth and everything in it. They gave man freedom of choice to build anything their heart's desire. Above all, Ha'Shem gave man the ability to love. Man should try love Ha'Shem the same way Ha'Shem loves man. Reply

Anonymous March 8, 2016

A question Something that I noticed you said is that God is perpetually always good and if evil exists than god doesn't exists. I was wondering, even if you subtract all the bad stuff that happens in the world that still means there's no free will. If you did something bad you are completely and utterly godless but if you do something good it wasn't really you who did, it was god. Not only that, but what you are trying to summarize in this article is to basically be good and give up free will. I've talked about the free will part already but it also raises another question. If Judaism is about the all encompassing god, what about all other religions that believe the same thing about themselves. The christian, who believes it's jesus. The hindu, who believes it's buddha. Does this mean that they've been evil or godless. Does it mean that God's created several different fake religions? Does it mean you could be a fake religion. What if there isn't even one god at all, but several? Reply

Yitzchak Chaim April 9, 2015

If you believe in love, you believe in G-d My ten year old brother came to me and said "so G-d had to create Himself, right?"
I just smiled and said yes. Sometimes a simple answer is the best one.

We are made in G-d's holy image and when we are alone, we get bored and lonely. We love to be loved, cared for, and caring towards those we love. G-d infinitely loves Himself. His mission in creation is to expand this love for Himself through our separation, desire, and our eternal path back toward His complete oneness.

Ever since the big bang, the universe has been exponentially expanding. This is because G-d has created light in the form of potential waves that spray outward like multiple pebbles thrown into a pond. It is only when we see light or measure it in some way that it conforms from a potential wave of infinite particles into physical photons. This shows us that G-d loves us so much that He directly involves us in defining ongoing creation. Without HIS IMAGE, G-d would not have a mirror to admire HIS beauty and love. Reply

Tzvi Freeman April 18, 2014

For Yochanah Here is a rough translation of Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 1:57:

It’s known that existence is a state. Each thing could be or not be. If so, a thing’s state of being is not the thing itself—there is the thing, and there is the fact that it exists (or does not exist). This is clearly the case with everything that exists out of some cause—its existence is an additional factor to what it is.

But that which has no cause to its existence—meaning G‑d, who is glorified and transcendent alone—for this is what we mean when we say about Him, may He be exalted, when we say that He is a necessary existence—His existence is His very being and reality, and His very being is his existence.

He is not a being in a state of existence—which would imply that existence is an additional factor to His being. Rather, since He is always the necessary existence, no event occurs to Him, nothing happens to make Him be. If so, we could say that He exists without existence. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel April 18, 2014

G-d's Existance The idea that creation must precede existence is incorrect.

According to modern science, the creation began with the so called Big Bang. This can be seen as an act of creation by G-d, but with the following addition. That time also was created then.

So there is no "before creation" possible and the idea that the Creator was around before His creation defies logic but allows for his existence without a prime cause! In other words, G-d existed even without time being created (and we don't need to ask when?) Reply

Yochanah April 17, 2014

OK so let me try understand this...

Gd cannot exist because to exist you must be created?

Yet we derive the very essence of life from him

is the term 'exist' a realm?


I'd really like to know more on this topic do you have an article in even more detail?

Yavo Moshiach soon in our day!! Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati March 24, 2014

This is cute but it doesn't work Try this.

We can "be" but our "be-ing" is contingent. Our reality is contingent on Gd's decision to cause us "to be".

Gd is not a "be-ing"--not even a "Supreme Be-ing"--because all "be-ing" is contingent on Gd's Will.

Instead, Gd EXISTS. EXISTENCE has ABSOLUTE reality.

Gd's existence is eternal & w/o contingency, independent of anyone's decision.

Gd has always existed & always will. Gd's existence is independent of anyone's decision. Gd's reality is absolute.

But our reality is contingent. First it is contingent on Gd's calling us into "be-ing".
2nd, our reality is contingent on Gd's willing us to continue "be-ing".

I have read that our reality gains some of Gd's independent reality by doing Gd's will.

We are like persons in a computer game.

Except that we're self-aware.

We can choose to partake in the ABSOLUTE reality of Gd by OBEYING GD. Reply

Chaim Cinncinnati March 24, 2014

"Anonymous" advocates "meta-thinking". That is certainly one way to rise above the contradictions inherent in logic.

Logic automatically includes impossible statements, such as "All generalizations are false" (among legions of other such statements). By this I mean that if such a statement is true, then, logically, it must be false. The question of predestination versus free will is another such logical problem. But if you stand above it and say it is both true and false, perhaps you can escape the pit to which logic condemns language. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel March 24, 2014

Deliberate Lack of Logic in our Thinking Process I find the whole free-will or pre-planned arguement to be confusing and I believe this confusion is due to our failure to use a language which is not self-contradicting through its employment of our thinking process. This situation may be expressed by a simple problem. If free-will exists then it must do so. In other words this situation is pre-determined and is not exemplefying free at all!.

This failure of logic make me wonder if we ever will be able to "double-think" any better. Instead of "simple facts" we must consider the concept and its opposite as occuring simultaneously.

However this kind of confusion does support the suggestion of an agnostic attitude towards G-d. Reply

Cathy Dyer March 23, 2014

What is your educational background? Rabbi Freeman do you have a chemistry or physics degree? You have such a good understanding of quantum physics. Reply

Ruth January 27, 2014

comment Thank you for this article, it is very pertinent to so many secular Jews and excellently written. Reply

Anonymous September 18, 2013

According to Professor Thurman's translation of 'Vimalakirti', compared to Judaism Judaism is an eastern religion. Judaism is not a 'western' religion. Christianity has been tightly controlled by totalitarian anti-Israel politicians and agents for much too long...but I digress.

I find it interesting to compare the Rabbi's concepts with that of a sutra translated by Professor Thurman of Columbia University, called the Vimalakirti sutra (I hope I spelled that correctly.)

There is a line of text from that Sutra which states, 'All things are neither existent nor non-existent'. Meditate on that! Transcend that statement and enjoy reality as much as possible! In other words, actual history does in fact exist, but myth also exists. Physics exists, but yet dreams exist as well. The future exists, even though technically speaking, it is impossible for the future to exist, only 'now' exists.

Dualistic thinking of the self-other paradigm is self-defeating. Transcendence of mindcontrol is what will enable all of us, the people of Israel to defeat our enemies.G-D=enigma Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel December 13, 2011

I still think this subject is Crazy After all the comments all I can conclude that the author of the article Tzvi Freeman has a need to challenge us the readers to show how we can be sure that G-d exists. His arguements about the way this existance is not necessarily so are incomplete, but since the subject is a belief type and not a proof type, one would not expect to see more than this anyway. Certainly there is a place for showing doubt and I believe that this doubt is part of the unknown nature of G-d that makes him unique. (Logic aside!) Reply

ted palo alto, ca December 12, 2011

Here we go again - another Rabbi knows what what G-d must be thinking. Reply

Eileen NY, NY August 18, 2011

This is one of the most amazing things I've ever read. Not a very profound statement on my part, but I'm still trying to recover from "The Feeling of Truth Goosebumps." Thanks, Rabbi. Reply

Zero-Equals-Infinity Toronto, Canada June 18, 2011

Free will is a persistent illusion. Even the most diehard deterministic behaves as though free will exists, even though it cannot.

Free will implies a de facto separation between the individual and the universe which (s)he inhabits, otherwise there is no wiggle-room to permit any degree of independent action.

Lack of free will in fact does not imply freedom from responsibility and accountability. Socially, the belief in free will arises and is subjectively persistent. Even so, the illusion of having an independent "self" which thinks and behaves freely is persistent.

All that is, is necessary and contingent by the fact of its existence. Being that I am, and am in the universe, I am necessary and contingent. The universe could not be except as it is, and that is all bound up in the properties and initial conditions at t=0.

(To play with an old Beatles song: "We all live in a singularity, a singularity, a singularity.") Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel July 6, 2010

Existance and Free Will The question about G-d being agnostic is rediculous. How can a being so profound as G-d not believe in Himself? His ego must by necessity be so great that the mearest tiniest doubt is impossible.

Now the free-will arguement needs some definitions about what it is and how it works with pre-destination. This subject is one for which BOTH concepts appear to be contradictory yet apply together. Of course we must believe in free-will, is there any choice?

It could be that on small-scale things we can choose but when it comes to heavier issues we have to go the way of the Almighty. But if so where is the division?

This means that the Divine Plan must exist and we are able to make changes to it. But due to our inability to be both sure and unsure of it, we cannot possibly work out what it will bring.

One is tempted to want to live for the moment hedonistically, but like the problem of free-will, this too in inconceviable in concrete terms and it is also good to plan ahead. Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY/USA November 1, 2009

this essay keeps me off the Jewish "bus" Why this essay keeps me off the Jewish "bus" --

Essayist Tsvi Freeman states:
"G‑d came up with the idea that some things would exist and others would not. Call it A and B. Then He had to determine whether He would be ... [in] category A or B."

To create an idea or to make a decision, the idea-creator must first already exist. (Non-existent people -- or non-existent "anything else"s -- never have an idea or a decision. They don't think or decide anything, because they don't exist.)

To decide whether /A/ to exist or /B/ not to exist, the decider must exist (for at least long enough to make that decision). The idea of a non-existent decider contradicts itself, like the idea of a triangular sphere. Reply

Jaki December 25, 2007

Zero Equals Infinity Wow!
What a great handle!
Wish I'd taken it first! Well done!

I'm Jaki, which could be a nickname for Jakheved or for Jakob or for John which is English for Jean and so it could be a nickname also for Jeanne. Reply

Zero-Equals-Infinity Toronto, On December 25, 2007

Without beginning ... A fractal equation exists and is complete whether it is instantiated or not. Beginning is meaningless vis-a-vis the equation. It only has meaning from a perspective that is local and bounded within the limits of the instantiation of the equation, (as we are within the universe.)

Ironically, no instantiation need ever actually occur. The fractal equation contains all that is possible to unfold via instantiation. Hence without beginning, all that is, is resident and bounded by an equation. Reply

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