Last week, Charles Krauthammer, one of America’s most incisive and influential political analysts and a profound thinker on issues pertaining to Judaism and the Jewish people, passed away at the age of sixty-eight. In 2016, Krauthammer engaged in an extended conversation with Roger Hertog based on his 1998 essay “At Last, Zion,” on the future of the Jewish people in American and Israel. At the conversation’s end, Krauthammer elaborates on a remark he once made that “I don’t believe in God, but I fear Him greatly.” (Video is available here.)
Long ago, when I was very young, I went from being a fervent believer to being not so much a non-believer as a skeptic. My theology can be summed up [thus]: the only theology I know is not true . . . is atheism. Everything else I’m unsure about. . . . The idea [espoused by] Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins that . . . there is nothing except what we see, and that’s it, is to me the most implausible, arrogant. It just can’t be, because things don’t create themselves. . . .
I have a deep belief in a transcendent “out there.” I don’t particularly believe in the mythologies that are told by any of the religions. I have an enormous attachment to the Jewish tradition and to the depth and the subtlety of its understanding of life, morality, and of metaphysics. I’ve always been interested in it, and to me . . . it is important for Jews to try to continue that tradition, to make sure it lives, and to make sure that culture is nourished. . . .
As to my own idea [that even if there is no God], “I fear Him greatly,” it’s because I believe in transcendence, some transcendence. [Since] I will never—we will never, as a species—be able to grasp what it is, there is a certain trepidation. In Judaism it’s called the fear of heaven. . . . I’m not really afraid, but in some ways you tremble when you look at the universe and you think, “I think I understand things.” . . . Human beings need to tremble when looking at the universe. If not, they don’t understand what’s going on. That’s sort of the key: to understand how little we can understand. . . .
[But] I didn’t raise my son to believe that. . . . The religion of the family was Judaism. I wanted him to have exactly what I was given, which was traditional, orthodox, literal. You’ve got to learn the texts; you have to know the Talmud; you have to be able to read Rashi; you have to know what’s there. . . .
[W]hat I myself believe would mean the end of the Jewish people. . . . It’s not satisfying. You try to teach a respect and love for the tradition, and a respect for the majesty of the culture, but that’s a pretty abstract and detached idea, it’s not something you can transmit.