Martin Buber for Non-Believers

Maurice Friedman just died (NYT).  The great scholar and biographer of Jewish Philosopher Martin Buber (who died in 1965).

As a Philosophy student in college, emerging from the evangelical faith of my youth, I found Buber to be a compelling voice for unrestricted thinking across a much wider landscape of faith.  Beginning with his Tales of the Hasidim, where I met the delightful and disturbing characters of early rabbis whose stories took their place alongside the parables of Jesus, I went on to have my mind blown by Buber’s psychological/philosophical/mystical works like Between Man and Man and of course the classic I and Thou (a book I carried on my backpack trip all across Europe).  I wrote a paper in Existentialism I titled, “Martin Buber and Soren Kierkegaard in Dialogue.”  The emphasis on the human person and human experience, especially in radically inclusive community, pushed and pulled me from the box of my belief.  This was pragmatic wisdom that mattered, that altered lives and brought diverse experience together into the creation of true relationship. . .the I and Thou, the “We” that my faith and my emerging philosophy badly needed.  For a large number of years after college I utilized basic Buberian thought in my counseling and “presence ministry” as a Chaplain.

All these years later I still own my copy of I and Thou and the Tales of the Hasidim.   Though “mysticism” and the “spiritual dimension” are no longer a distraction for me, I continue to honor Buber’s influence and his still radical attempt to cross the boundaries of human experience and, in some sense, evaporate “faith” and “religion” and even “god” in a very secular present.  In significant ways I think Buber’s philosophy remains helpful to both believers and non-believers alike.  In fact, elements of his thought could serve to assist “sacreds and seculars” to have not only meaningful “dialogue” but actually work side by side to do something creative and constructive.  At least I pose the question.

Here’s a nod to the work of Maurice Friedman, and a smiling bow to someone I almost felt was a personal friend, Martin Buber.


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