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The Fantasy Fix and Childish Religious Beliefs

April 8, 2014

Slifkin has been on a crusade to shore up and speak out on behalf of the Rationalist Tradition, but I would like to look at why the anti-rationalist position is so popular among the masses and many of their leaders. I have always thought that most people, some to a lesser extent, some to a greater extent, have a need to explore and imagine. The literature, and later, the motion pictures, dedicated to Science Fiction and fantasy have always been the biggest draws because people need their fantasy fix, or their escape. Now, normal, healthy children and adults could get their fantasy fix in nice, small doses, a Narnia novel once in a while, or a Superman movie once in a decade, and then they are ready to return to the normal world, the real world where animals don’t talk, people don’t fly, and the laws of nature hold fast day in and day out. But, there are among us those who do not have access to such regular escapes, or worse, they are even led to believe that those outlets are to be avoided, possibly forbidden, and yet, their very human minds need the occasional fantasy fix.

Enter their religious beliefs. For many, the weekly Torah readings and the Holidays are their outlets. Take the story of the Exodus, for instance. I always teach the angle that the miracles as described in the Bible are phenomena that are within the bounds of nature, and their miraculous nature is due to their timing and placement. This allows room for non-beleivers and Pharaohs to continue to tell themselves that they have not seen the Divine Hand. However, there are some who need to add the unnecessary and supernatural to accounts that are mainly supposed to show God’s guiding hand in history. They need Pharaoh’s magicians to have had powers. They need the giant frog, and they need every major biblical figure to be aware of every future event in history. All of these are not part of the plain meaning of the texts, and all of these were not considered to be parts of history by Hazal and many Rishonim.

Eventually, the fantasy fix steps beyond its occasional bounds, and starts to inform a whole society’s worldview. In a world that is increasingly rational, secular, and scientific, where man’s understanding of the Universe on the macro and micro scales has exceeded anything imagined in the past, the religious faithful feel obligated to adopt the endangered fantastic as part of their own creed.

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