Apostasy and Emunah

Turning away from unreliable and untrustworthy belief systems.



Musings on the notion of Apostasy, the turning away from a long-held or widely held belief.


We live in troubled times, where it’s hard to know who or what to believe any more. From nonexistent WMDs in Iraq to nonexistent stem cell lines in South Korea, the heroic authority figures of our time are revealed to be purveyors of fraudulent and unsupportable claims.

Turning away from some broadly held political, cultural, religious, or scientific belief is rapidly becoming an everyday occurrence.

And so we have dissidents, infidels, nonbelievers, critics, antagonists, detractors, deniers, iconoclasts, free thinkers, rebels, sceptics, debunkers, heretics, whistleblowers, and apostates, all of whom depart and turn away from some widely held belief.

I’ve never met anybody who both understood Taoism and then turned away from it. I suppose if that ever happened, they’d write a best seller called The Pooh of Tao.

I’m rather fond of the theological notion of Apostasy, as the term lends a certain dignity to the process of turning away from a previous belief.

Turning away from a popular belief is an unpopular move, which is probably why erroneous beliefs remain popular long beyond the point where their falsehood has become manifestly apparent to those who bother to critically examine their blithe presuppositions.

If there is an Intelligent Designer, I wish he would make an appearance and nudge people in the direction of designing more reliable belief systems.


Emunah is a Hebrew word. It’s sometimes translated as Faith, but the meaning is closer to Trust than Faith.

When one makes an agreement, one expects the parties to the agreement to keep their word. Emunah is the kind of faith or trust one invests in such a covenantal agreement. We are more likely to use the phrase Good Faith to distinguish this kind of trust from religious faith, where one adopts an unproven belief on spiritual grounds.

I bring up these nuanced notions of hope, faith, and trust because they are very much in the air these days, at all levels of society, from the personal to the political.

George Bush is scrambling like mad to preserve what little faith and trust his constituency still invest in his tottering judgment and leadership.

The turning point for loss of faith and trust in self-styled leaders is some liminal moment of disappointment, when one’s expectations fall below the ground floor, below which only the hopelessly deluded would cheerfully go on.

I’ve never actually seen an ostrich stick its head in the sand, but the metaphor is apt.

Even an ostrich eventually sees the light of day if the shifting sand beneath its ruffled feathers erodes fast enough.

A Covenant Worthy of Trust

In his controversial new book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine, Yale University’s towering literary critic, Harold Bloom, expresses despair over the Covenant of Moses — an agreement between the God of Moses and his erstwhile followers, the long-suffering Jewish people.

Bloom grimly observes that neither side could be trusted to keep their half of the bargain.

Nowhere is this disappointment more starkly expressed than in this poetic lament in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust:

“At Sinai we received the Torah, and at Auschwitz we gave it back.”

Bloom closes his slim volume with this wistful muse:

“Will [God] yet make a covenant with us that he both can and will keep?”

If our most revered deities cannot be trusted to jointly craft durable covenants with us pathetically slip-sliding carbon units, how shall we ever craft intra-species covenants that we can confidently rely upon?

Life and politics is rife with broken promises and bitter disappointments. Now Harold Bloom observes that we can’t even trust God to keep his sacred promise to those who pledged to have faith in his guidance.

Perhaps it’s time to replace the Pledge of Allegiance with the Dithyramb of Doubt.

1 Comment

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  1. Robert Ketterer


    Some covenants in the Torah were conditional, depending on what the Jews did, and some were unconditional and carried out regardless of what the Jews did. As far as faith goes, it is a belief in the evidence of things not yet seen, and rather than trust but verify, I tend to trust what I know about a person and base my decision on that about the person, not the same as with God who is always blamed for man’s fallibilities, but we never stop to think that he gave us free will to choose, and what we sow we shall also reap.

    Yours Truly,

    Robert R. Ketterer

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