OR: A New Path

Celeste Marcus, University of Pennsylvania

Where are the whys?

Even on college campuses, it can be difficult to find eager interlocutors. Most people would rather just watch a ball game. So, of the endangered species of university student who truly wants to analyze, measure, assess and eventually agree or disagree with foreign ideas, where can they look for companionship?

OR seeks to create a community of thinkers. Those within it share a desire for God’s light – the light to which Plato and Tehilim allude. OR maintains that one student repeatedly asking the same questions, a simulacrum of Sisyphus, will never find answers. He will have subjected himself to an intellectual and spiritual exile. We want this community and our minds to expand.

As a student and a person of faith I am bound to seek truth, to grasp the infinite. I am impelled towards that search instinctually, as all people are. Egypt, addressing the same human appetite for intimacy with a being beyond us, deified its political leaders. Moses, raised in the rhythms of a society that encased divinity in flesh, asked to see what Reagan, in his famous Challenger disaster speech [1] , lamented we had not touched. Centuries later, Descartes[2] proved the truth to which Moses had already borne witness: The surly bonds will not be slipped. We cannot touch His Face, we cannot see His Glory. In a long, tenacious tradition in the face of certain failure, channeling the audacious Egyptian Prince, we keep asking. The hunger to fathom eats at us. We will never grasp the answers; we will never cease searching.

The Judeo-Christian and Western Traditions are conscious of and committed to that search; it is the light to which Tehilim[3] and Plato[4] make reference. It is also mandated. The Torah commands that I love God, demands a romantic union with a Thing I cannot understand.

The structure of that search shifted for me in college. Existential crises abound in my 17th century intellectual history course. Beginning with Bacon, our professor introduced us to the minds that catalyzed the enlightenment and, ultimately, the departure from a religious norm. Across the centuries these writers jeered at me. They demanded I fumble within myself for dispositive proofs that would legitimate subscription to an ancient – to them arbitrary – tradition.

Rousseau wondered that anyone would harbor an allegiance to a religious apparatus constructed by human hands. Shabbat morning, while dutifully regurgitating the rote religious rituals so oft repeated they hardly registered, his words reverberated: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.” And with them, the doubts: How could I know that my religion was imbued with divinity? What proof did I have? Does God love us?

This struggle is not antithetical to a fulfilling religious and intellectual life; grappling with the fundamentals of practice and faith is essential for the flourishing of both. But, for the most part, I agree with myself. The doubts lurking in the recesses of my conscience are blunt compared to the ones that would be raised by all those who don’t share my religious, political, intellectual or cultural orientation. I came to college in pursuit of those challenges. I wanted those conversations.

[1] “They slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God”

[2] Descartes, René. Discourse on Method, and Meditations. New York: Liberal Arts, 1960. Print.

[3] 36:10 כי עמך מקור חיים באורך נראה אור

[4] “The prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun……. the journey upwards is the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world” The Republic