Several years ago a devout Jewish friend of mine shared this parable. I don’t know if it has I name, so I will call it “The Tale of the Young Archer”:
A hunter was walking through the woods when he spied a boy with a bow and arrow in a clearing. Across the clearing were five red targets, and in the center of each target, incredibly, was an arrow.
The hunter could hardly believe his eyes. He went up to the boy and said, “I have never seen such incredible skill. I have been using a bow all my life yet I cannot do what you do. Please tell me how I can have an achievement like yours?”
The boy proudly told the hunter, “It’s very easy. I just shoot the arrow first, then I put the target on afterwards.”
According to my friend, the story illustrates why we need the Torah. Living your life without the Bible is like putting the target around the arrow. But when you start with God’s word and use Him as your target, you are always aiming for the right thing.
I always thought this was a good example of the metaphors that guide the worldview of Orthodox Jews: Torah and God (called Hashem) are clearly the right target. The story is so effective because it has an assumption, quietly built-in, that God and the target are the same thing. In other words, He is the best target to aim for. That’s what targets are for, after all.
I think the real value of the story is that it shows what happens when people adjust evidence to fit their desires. The boy wanted to be seen as a flawless archer, so he put targets around his arrows no matter where they landed. But the same thing happens in the religious world: whatever happens, God is at the center of the answer. No matter what, God is the reason.
It’s confirmation bias, basically: make up your mind first, then create an explanation to fit. And for the devout, every explanation boils down to God:
Three catastrophe arrows, and three God targets placed around them.
But life isn’t all tragedy. God is the reason behind countless everyday occurrences too:
Every day, things happen: great things, terrible things, and unremarkable things. Like the boy with his targets, insisting that God is the ultimate reason makes it impossible to consider anything else. Those who are convinced of the divine are at a disadvantage because certain explanations are simply forbidden.
The Young Archer story is meant to illustrate what’s wrong with the secular worldview. In fact, it is an indictment of blind belief. It teaches us when we choose explanations that fit our preferences, we are unable to deal with the world honestly. We lose the ability to reckon with things that are complicated or hard, opting instead for something easier and more comforting.
But accepting a conclusion based on truth and evidence is a major life skill. It’s essential to becoming a complete person. When we stop practicing that skill, we stunt our personal growth. To reach our potential, we must look at the world, then decide what is true... not decide first then choose a pleasant reason.