Brett Williams's Reviews > The Lonely Man of Faith

The Lonely Man of Faith by Joseph B. Soloveitchik
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Remarkable impressions

Rabbi Soloveitchik, known as the Rav, presents interesting ideas concerning the dual nature of humans and the status of this nature in modernity. That status, says the Rav, is bleak because the practical self, recognized and valued in today’s world, is alienated from its spiritual self with little apparent utility.

Where the Rav does best is a reinterpretation of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. Their different order of creation separated by barely a page stymies the modern fact-checker like me. But the Rav’s view is richer. Ignoring details of creation sequence, he claims they’re both true. Referencing biblical text, the Adam of chapter 1 gets his marching orders to “harness and dominate the elemental natural forces and put them at his disposal,” writes Soloveitchik. Seeking how things work, Adam 1 strives “to vanquish disease, conquer space, forge political structures…” Adam 1 is victor over nature. (Recall, ancient Hebrews lived in a desert that will kill the unprepared. No wonder nature was a hostile).

But Adam of chapter 2 is instead overpowered to the point of unconscious, when he must sacrifice a part of his own body for something greater than himself and his achievements—Eve—the answer to his loneliness. Something Adam 1 is too busy to consider. Adam 2 asks not how the universe is the way it is, but why? Adam 2 “is aware of an endless past which rolled on without him,” writes the Rav. “He is aware also of an endless future which will rush on with no less force long after he will cease to exist. The link between the ‘before’ in which he was not involved and the ‘after’ from which he will be excluded is the present moment, which vanishes before it is experienced. In fact, the whole accidental character of his being is tied up with this frightening time-consciousness.” Beautiful. And so nice to know I’m not the only one seized by this realization.

For the Rav, this was the intension of God, to create this seemingly impossible gap, forcing humans to manage a way to live in both worlds. With a secular view, aware of how the Bible was collated, I wonder, did the ancients intend just what Soloveitchik claims? To enunciate our competing nature in the very first two pages? His argument is so convincing I’m inclined to think so.

This book raised another question as I read it. Was the Levantine’s full departure from nature religions—elements of them still part of surrounding cultures at the time—what created the seemingly impossible gap? Not the disconnect between Adam 1 and 2, but that 2 no longer had concrete access with a spiritual world as 1 had with his practical materialism. Once God was exiled from nature, God was no longer directly reachable in the outer world by Adam 2, but rather through the abstract inner world of prayer. By Louis Dumont’s Essays on Individualism this inward turn was part and parcel of all Axial Age movements, including Judaism.

Soloveitchik’s book left me with remarkable impressions: other ways to view human nature, our modern conundrum, and writings of the ancients.
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Reading Progress

December 25, 2017 – Started Reading
December 31, 2017 – Shelved
December 31, 2017 – Finished Reading

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