Originally published in The Inquirer (18 May 1968).
Rabbi Jacobs’ Defence of Theism
A defence of theism addressed to doubting Jewish readers? A Jewish defence of theism addressed to Christians? Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ new book Faith (Vallentine, Mitchell, 42s.) may be one or the other or neither or both or something else. No matter, it is an excellent book for Unitarians, many of whom I have long suspected have lost confidence in theism without acquiring the confidence to be humanists instead.
In four parts, Rabbi Jacobs covers the ground with great clarity calling upon all the resources of thought we would expect to find and adding to them evidence and argument from Jewish sources which will be new to most of us. After an introductory part on the nature and meaning of faith which makes good use of the distinction between “belief that . . .” and “belief in . . .” we are led through chapters on Ways of Faith the conclusion of which I quote at the end of this review. Objections to Faith (the existence of evil, the Marxist attack and the Freudian attack) are disposed of rather briefly to make room for a final part on the Life of Faith. There are two appendices, an ample bibliography and an adequate index.
I found the part dealing with Ways of Faith of most interest. The way of reason, the leap of faith, the way of experience, I recognized at once and noted a similarity in the exposition to some Hindu teaching. The way of tradition, however, is one to which we pay little (perhaps too little?) regard and it seems fitting that a Jewish writer should challenge one to think about it. Rabbi Jacobs is a good teacher in that he usually starts from where we are and leads us by degrees on to his own ground. In most chapters we go from the views and arguments of Christians and their opponents to the various opinions of Jewish writers down the centuries. It is all very well done.
But in the end I could not escape the thought that it will strengthen the faithful without persuading the doubtful. Can it be that there is something in our natures which makes theism a treasure to some of us and worthless to others?