James Allen Walker for WORLD

Mystery tour

Q&A | Jeffrey Satinover's belief in deeper truths led to an appreciation for Christianity

Issue: "The Purge," Sept. 12, 2009

We've received a lot of mail concerning WORLD's Aug. 15 interview with Jeffrey Satinover, the multi-talented physician, psychiatrist, and physicist, but several writers wanted to know more about his faith.

With Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year's Day, beginning at sundown on Sept. 18, here's more Satinover. It's worth noting that his involvement with Judaism but interest in Christianity is shared by many Jews, yet a sledgehammer approach to them generally has less effect than relationship­building over time. (The conversion of Paul is one of the notable exceptions.)

Q: What is your religious background? My mother grew up in an Orthodox household. My father came from a long line of Jewish scholars in the 1700s-1800s pushing the Enlightenment, but within the context of Judaism. . . . Ever since I was a kid I always had this very strong feeling about this great mystery that is just beyond the physical. We were intensely Jewish, but nominally religious. . . . I was Bar-Mitzvahed, and I valued the ethical component of that, but it didn't have profound spiritual meaning for me.

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Q: Did your sense of mystery lead to your interest in physics? The physics of relativity and quantum mechanics, because of their mysterious nature. The idea of a kind of dead mechanical device that's just unfolding according to impersonal laws-not only did I not like that idea, I didn't feel it captured some deeper truth. But that deeper truth is so subtle and so hard to grasp.

Q: Do you think anyone grasps this? Aspects of Judaism, Christianity, and Sufism touch me very deeply and I have a sense of them pointing to a deeper truth, but at the same time I don't like the idea of just throwing up my hands and saying, "Well, all religions are the same and they all point to the same thing." I think there is actually a specific set of truths. I just don't know specifically what they are.

Q: When did you start reading C.S. Lewis, and what was his effect? Probably in the '70s or '80s. If you consider Christianity an addiction, he was the gateway drug. He opened the door to my ability to see that there are very profound truths in Christianity, in an extremely gracious and psychologically sophisticated way. His writing didn't have the feeling of somebody taking a preexisting, fixed set of theological principles, hammering you over the head with it, and saying, "You've got to accept this."

Q: What came next? I went through a time when I was very interested in art, and for some reason I painted crucifixions. It didn't strike me as offensive or contradictory to my being Jewish. Marc Chagall painted lots of crucifixions, and as I learned about Chagall I felt, "Here's a kindred spirit." Obviously he was a serious artist and I was not, but looking back now, I've come to understand that the ability to establish a relationship with a suffering savior touches an essential need in the human soul. It may very well be that the Christian formulation of that is the best. . . . It's God speaking to the human heart using the exact language that the human heart needs to hear.

Q: What in Judaism is similar? There is an explicit, very ancient legend in Judaism, certainly not part of reformed Judaism but part of some Orthodox and especially Hasidic upbringings, about the suffering Messiah. This just individual has a special relationship to God and bears the sins of his people.

Q: So you think Christianity got that right? Yes, I do.

Q: What else do you think Christianity gets right and what do you think it gets wrong? Christianity has a very well-developed ethical and moral code that goes beyond the Ten Commandments. The Christian notions of justice, weakness, the role of humility, transforming the will to power into the desire to serve; many aspects of Christianity are correct. As to what Christianity gets wrong, I'm a little loath to stand above and criticize.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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