| Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Many of my recent posts have been the "stream of consciousness" variety. I found this really awesome writing tool called DarkRoom. When I saw the screenshots on the download page, I was highly skeptical. It looks like something out of the Matrix. But I sat down and started writing with this program and my thoughts just flowed. It was pretty close to magic. I don't know how it works, and I don't think I fully understand why it works (something to do with no distractions and better focus) but it does.

The one downfall that I did notice is that I write at a lower educational level. My writing is more how I think and talk, which is naturally not as academic as I'd like to pretend to be.

The point that I've been leading up to, is something that I've been thinking a lot about recently. I think this style of writing, exacerbates something that I've noticed recently. It started out when I started reading PoMo writings and Colonial Philosophy in general. The subject comes up again in some books that I've been reading on NLP, Magic and Mentalism, and other Psychology books. Let's put that aside for now though.

It's a constant source of surprise to me how people understand my writings and I wonder if others feel the same way about the way their readers understand their writings. The Rambam comes to mind. I can't think of the exact quote offhand but something about, "If God's writings can be misunderstood, then mine certainly can." I try to be clever in my writing, I try to make it an interesting reading experience. I make subtle hints, and inside jokes that only I could possibly get, wondering if anyone out there will pick up on them. There's generally a sense of playfulness and/or sarcasm behind the words of my blog posts.

As I've written before, I don't believe in the magic of a rational mind, wherein all rational people will surely understand things the same way, if they use the equally magical tools of reason and logic. Of course there can be consistency to a point, but life in general and it's specifics are far too complex, and our minds are far to complex and varied to think that we could possibly answer the worlds problems if we would all just think "rationally."

That said, there will naturally be variances of opinion when humans try to understand something, in our case, writing. NLP talks about maps and territories. It works under the premise that there is a something called a territory, what others might call reality but that we all have our own maps that we superimpose on the territory. These maps are shaped by our beliefs and values which have effects on how we view the territory. I find this to be a useful metaphor. The way we view the world is effected on so many levels by so many factors such as our psychological and philosophical dispositions.

I had more to say, but this has gone on too long already. In summary thus far, try DarkRoom, my writing has been easier but less sophisticated, and your readers will interpret your writings, these interpretations being effected by their beliefs, values, etc.

| Friday, June 5, 2009

Some people ask what the meaning of life is.

Some people ask how they are going to make it through the day and they are referring to different things when they ask that.

Some people ask how they can better themselves.

Some people ask how they can better treat their fellow humans.

Some people want a philosophical answer, others want practical advice and still others want to hear it straight from the mouth of God.

Some people say there are philosophical underpinnings to these questions, others say it has to do with our psychology which is a result of our genes or our culture and upbringinging or some combo of those ingredients, others still say this is our soul crying out for a connection with its source.

Just pointing that out.

| Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The latest outrage from a popular Habad Rabbi.

Here, and here, then condemned here, here, here, and here and probably a bunch of other places.

| Monday, June 1, 2009

Alot of people think about meaning, morality, and spirituality.

I used to think about spirituality. That was when I was a firm believer. I thought about being connected to God, doing actions and thinking thoughts that would increase that connection. This was not supported by most of my rebbeim who saw that connection to God comes through learning Gemara b'iyun. I tried to combine the two, but I still tried to take my time during Amidah and turn at least parts of it into a deep meditation. Sometimes I had very interesting experiences.

Then, as I started to become more skeptical, morality began to take over the background of my thoughts. I wrote about this recently.

But I've never had time to think about meaning or purpose. I just wrote about what I think the purpose of life was, but I've never put much thought into it. Meaning seems so silly to me. I suppose I believe in the Taoist or Zen understanding of Meaning, namely just experiencing the moment. Meaning is inherently retroactive. If you are just living in the moment, you have no time to search for meaning. The moment you look for meaning, you are reflecting on your past, something that I don't make any time to do. I don't enjoy reminiscing and I don't feel the need to give my past experiences meaning.

If someone came to me looking for meaning, I'd tell them to read Frankl's book. I've read it a couple times... mostly on Tisha B'Av. That's about the only time I think about meaning and that's only because Frankl's book is sufficiently depressing to be read on such a tragic day in Jewish history, albeit with a positive outlook.

To be perfectly honest, meaning has no meaning to me. At this stage of my life, I'm too busy working, learning about different stuff that interests me at this point in time, working out, finding a girl, reading blogs, keeping in touch with people via facebook, twitter, texts, etc. that I have no time to think, "What is the meaning of it all?" The question just seems so absurd to me. I'm not sure if this makes me partly socio-pathic or just really lucky. Is existential angst akin to a psychological disorder or a feeling that any thinking human being feels.

Thanks to Mark (aka AcherHaKoton) for inspiring this post. To read his great post click here.

| Thursday, May 28, 2009

Based on my last post, if you take the two axioms as a given:

1) Knowing the purpose of life is a mark of Truth

2) Being first at something makes you the one and only, all other's being mere imitations,

Then Judaism, which knows the purpose of life (that is, to be fruitful and multiply) and was the first one to figure it out (God told us on our first day of existence) is the one True religion.

Ahh, but Genesis is mostly myth, you might argue. Meh, it's not a kashe. Its still our myth and we still made it up first. Ahh, but God spoke to the first humans before Judaism really came into the picture. Still not a kashe. Haraya that the Torah (aka the book with the secret to the purpose in life) was offered to the umos haolam first and since they all rejected it, it became distinctly Jewish. Like it says in the Medrash, God looked into the Torah and Created the world and if nobody would have accepted it, the world would have reverted to tohu uvohu. Its because if the humans wouldn't have accepted the purpose in life, then there taka wouldn't have been any life. And without life you have what? Tohu vavohu!

Hatzair Hakoton,
Freethinking Upstart

May we soon see that the purpose of life will soon put us out of a purpose if we keep pursuing our purpose uninhibited, with the coming of Mashiach Tzidkeynu, b'mhera!


I was just thinking about nihilism and the purpose of life.

There is a purpose to life and God told us what it is, only to be discovered by Charles Darwin thousands of years later. It is (drum roll please)...

P'ru u'vru... Be fruitful and multiply.

Think about it. Tell me what you think.

| Friday, May 22, 2009

I just got back from a gathering with frum people.

I can understand why some skeptics are particularly vitriolic towards them.

Generalizing is bad, but it's oh so hard not to do.

As he was speaking, I could begin to feel my blood boil. It started out slow, and of course I disagreed with most of what he was saying. I kept thinking, "Bullshit, Cough, Cough," to myself. But this is religion. It gives these people meaning. Who the hell am I to take this away from them?

Then the subject switched to politics. The conspiracy theories about Obama started surfacing. I had heard rumors that there were those that believed these sorts of things, but I guess I didn't really believe it. Someone seemed to start to compare Obama to Hitler, and I finally started to speak up. "Wait, wait, wait," I started to say. I'd been getting more and more frustrated by what people were saying as the night grew on. Fortunately, I had a nice buzz going on, so my reaction time was slow. He interrupted me, "Just listen to my point! I'm not comparing Obama to Hitler."


"So all these people, Hitler, Stalin, they all convinced people with their words."

Forget it, I thought to myself. It's pointless.

But then the conversation got more and more conspiratorial, and more and more racist. My body started to betray me. I closed up. My arms folded. I put my head down, trying to resist speaking out, all the while trying to convince myself that I should stand up and say something. For God's sake! WTF are these people thinking?

I realized I was being irrational. "It's much better to face these kinds of things, with a sense of poise and rationality."

But I was surely going to avoid these gatherings like the plague. I can't have myself realizing that there are billions of people that believe ancient writings were dictated by a supernatural superhuman-like being, that Obama has something up his sleeve, and that, by whispering the right words at the right time the redemption of humanity is somehow effected. No. It's much better to crawl back in my liberal hole and look at all the benefits these beliefs offer to people. Yes. Now that's much better.

My advice to those that associate with RW and/or Religious fanatics, STOP! GET AWAY! You will eventually go mad, or become very bitter. Heck, you probably already are.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled writings from a young man, highly influenced by liberal academia. One that looks benevolently on religion and even the more extreme religious people. Who am I to judge? I mean, come on! Religion, even religious belief, has a lot of good stuff to offer. Sure, it's not for me but neither is country music and I don't see anyone decrying that! Whew... That feels much better.

*Disclaimer: This post is reactionary. I just needed to vent. That loud music on the ride home didn't do the trick. But some coooool lyrical jazz almost did. If it weren't for those long comercial breaks, this post might have never been.*

| Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This blog started because I thought I was a very holy "secular humanist" and cared more about what matters, i.e. the well being of humans, and less about silly arguments on the existence of God or Divine Revalation. XGH deleted some of my comments, so I started my own blog. I was itching to start my own blog for awhile. I thought I had something interesting to say... Boy was I mistaken... So this blog was off to a reactionary start.

At the time, RJM was commenting and blogging on some of the blogs I was reading, particularly on XGH's now defunct extreme reincarnation. I had heard that he was the "Go To Rabbi" for skeptics. He actually dignified them with conversation. I thought I was smart, and wanted to talk to a Rabbi about skepticism and the incredibility of Orthodox Jewish beliefs. Looking back, it's embarrassing. How amazingly arrogant? I thought I was immune to bias and credulity because I was a skeptic and believers were Divinely blinded to the obvious truth. I remember being shocked time and again that Rabbi Maroof couldn't see it.

There were a few posts about arguments against religious beliefs. Again, since I was a skeptic, I was an expert on religious claims and able to see through their smoke and mirrors. What a joke!? After reading "The God Delusion" and a bunch of articles from "Talk Reason," I was an expert in my own right, duty bound to show believers (said scathingly, with only a slight effort to hide it) the crookedness of their ways. Of course, I’d done more research on the subject than that but I’m no expert, not by a long shot. Secondly, this feeling that I need to spread the Gospel of James Randi and Michael Shermer far and wide is an interesting one. I don’t think it’s a traditionally Jewish one. According to some Midrashim Avraham did a little missionary work for the one true God but I’m sure you can put that into context and make better sense of it. Someone with better historical knowledge should correct me if I’m wrong but Jews haven’t done missionary work within or without for thousands of years until the Lubavitch movement and then the Kiruv Movement with Ohr Somayach and Aish. From the evolutionary standpoint, I don’t think this would make it into the category of a Good Trick as far as memes go, but I find this notion of spreading the gospel to be in bad taste. Sure, everyone talks to others about what they think is good, but many Christians, Skeptics, and Kiruv workers take it a bit too far.

Getting back to my roots as a holy "secular humanist" I decided to embark on "The Morality Project." But after reading a few books that touch on the subject from Evolutionary Biologists, I soon realized that I'd have to study philosophy to get the whole picture of morality. But of course that takes some real effort and thought. Why put effort into building new intellectual capital when you can destroy the intellectual capital that you already have? Needless to say, that Morality Project didn't get very far. I was in WAY over my head and was unwilling to do the real work to understand the various arguments from the various schools of philosophy.

There were a few posts on politics. I clearly didn't put much thought into them, mostly because I didn't have any thoughts on the subject to put into these posts. Like many in my demographic, this was my first interest in politics, due to the vibrancy and eloquence of Barack Obama. Some of the posts were more fan-boy-ish then others but the good thing was the entire ordeal sparked an interest in politics and I ended up learning a bit about the subject in general and read a bit about the President himself.

God was another subject I wrote about. I never went into the popular arguments like the ontological, teleological etc. because it was obvious to me that you had to have a definition of God before you could argue whether or not it existed. The God I believed in wrote the Bible and answered prayers, two things that I clearly didn't believe in and so my God no longer existed. The popular arguments didn't discuss the God in which I previously believed. A new definition of God was out of the question. In fact, I was rather opposed to coming to a better or at the very least different, understanding of God. Pantheism was attractive to me for a spill but it didn't last too long. Feelings of awe, reverence, and love toward a higher or greater something, even something as harmless as the Universe, were strongly related to the God I didn't believe in anymore, and plus, Pantheism is monistic, of which I'm a bit skeptical. Nowadays, God doesn't up in conversation much, so I don't have to give the idea a lot of thought. When it does come up, I just imagine what God would be like if there is one and continue the conversation as if God is. It makes life a lot easier, and I think it's all around a much more useful way to talk about God.

I wrote a lot about my handle switch in an earlier post, and I don't have much more to add to that so I'll be brief here. When I finally realized that Atheists weren't immoral scum, I decided that was the best position to hold. I soon became a typical atheist/skeptic of the I-know-nothing-which-is-more-then-you- know variety. This didn’t last long either. Turns out everyone else had the same feelings toward atheists that I had before I decided to be one. Perhaps the term Atheist could lose its stigma and be sanctified to be a term that smart people everywhere would want to call themselves but too much need to be done. It’s bad enough that atheists kvetch about strong and weak atheism. Weak atheism was the rational variety but who wants to be called weak? I mean, atheists are NOT Christians. They don’t believe Jesus when he says, “Blessed are the weak,” or “Blessed are those that tease you because of your really lame label.” At about the same time, I was losing interest in the whole concept of God so why bother with trying to come up with a label that describes your stance towards God.

I enjoyed reading religious literature, so I embarked on a trip through some of the Apocrypha, Gnostic writings and some of the rarer midrashic literature. I enjoyed this, but not for long. My attitude towards reading this genre was to further enforce my feelings of disgust towards religion in general. I was slowly starting to realize that this was an unhealthy way to live. Believing believers to be blind began baffling the brain. How could the overwhelming majority of humans on the planet not see the obvious objective truth? There had to be more to this discussion then truth claims.

At about this time, there was a general disdain in my tone towards philosophy. "Sophisticated Philosophy Bad, Simple Skepticism Good," was my credo as I moved away from reading about religious claims and moved towards schools of philosophy. In a way, this was in protest to a side of me that was highly impressed with evanstonjew, arama and a few others. There had to be something there but my simple mindset kept trying to squeeze everything into black and white truth claims.

After a conversation over at Holy Hyrax's blog with Chardal, my jumps to conclusions started getting a little more reluctant. I started talking about some of the benefits of religion. I started taking Philosophy a little more seriously. I started exploring some postmodern thought. The problem with this was that my intense ignorance began to overwhelm me. This slowed my writing down, but worse discouraged me from furthering my intellectual pursuits.

As I read through brief Histories of Philosophy, I began to realize that our hopes for finding Truth were in vain. It’s been more than 2000 years and the greatest minds have come up with elaborate theories only to be rejected or shlugged up by their students. This scenario is replayed over and over again throughout history. My thoughts about Truth were matching my thoughts about God.

With all my favorite subjects, namely religion, God, and Truth, gone or irrelevant I really had nothing to study, let alone write about. I enjoyed writing and loved the feedback that a blog provides. So I just wrote whatever popped into my mind, which wasn’t much by this time.

What bothers me the most now is something that I have written about a few times, something that evanstonjew pointed out. I keep watching Orthodox Judaism from my computer, reading frum (including Orthopraxnicks) and ex-frum blogs (like the Hedyot's), even commenting now and again. When I'm not sitting at my computer, I don't even think about it. I don't keep Shabbes or Kosher... those things don't even cross my mind. Most of the people I socialize with are either not Jewish or Jews that don't talk much about frumkeit. I haven't picked up a sefer in months. Yet, 30% of the blogs on my RSS reader are frum or ex-frum, and those are the ones I read the most religiously. Why do I keep lingering in cyberspace, having conversations about frumkeit?

evanstonjew mentioned a lack of intellectual capital. There's got to be more to it than that. Maybe it's the pintele Yid... Who knows?

With all reflections must come desires and goals for future. And it is also here that I am at a loss.

One of the things that I've come to realize from my bout with my vision of Orthodox Judaism and the philosophy that I've read, is that a theory of everything is an absurd notion. Looking back at Orthodox Jews, I realize that many don't really believe that they know the theory of everything and that it's encoded in the Torah. For some it might be there, but we'll never understand it. Lo alekha ham'lakha ligmor, or something along those lines. The point is not to know or pretend to know everything, but to struggle with it. But I can't persuade myself to believe that there is such a thing and therefore struggling for such a notion seems futile. This further discourages me from intellectual pursuits. For someone that grew up believing that I was constantly discovering pieces to a puzzle that somehow fit together, the conclusion that the pieces don't really fit, and even if they did, there's no way we could possibly recognize that they do, can be disheartening. Science gives the appearance of progress and may well be making progress. But even “rock-solid ” fields like Physics get complete overhauls from time to time (if that even exists…) There’s a distinct possibility that experiments at the LHC will send physics back to the drawing boards. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, that will give Physicists something to do for awhile. Plus, Scientists love coming up with theories that are bound to be completely destroyed. Is Science making progress? Well, in applications such as Medicine and Technology they surely are. People are living longer healthier lives and I don’t know how people survived before the invention of the BlackBerry. But at the theoretical level of science, it’s absurd to think that some intelligent primates that, on an evolutionary scale, are barely out of the primal grasslands could ever wrap their minds around the vast and mysterious universe (or is it subverse?) in all its quantum wonder? Our puny brains are too primitive, our language plagued with paradox and contingency. We were built to pass on our genes, not to put the Universe into a box. We've made it thus far because we were endowed with genes that have adapted for survival on this heartless planet, not because we are masters of it. There’s nothing in our DNA, as far as I know, that shows us to be gods, though we may fancy ourselves as such. In fact, we share 99% of our genes with mere mice.

This hasn't brought me to existential angst... yet. I've just put the whole notion out of my mind. I try to balance, "Eat, Drink and Be Merry" with "Tzedek Tirdof". The first is pretty self-explanatory. I'm not the hedonistic type, but I do enjoy a good time in moderation. I’m not into prishus. I define Tzedek as avoiding cruelty, taking time to pay attention to the people I care about, and in general being a good guy.

That’s a long way to travel in only a year! In the end, the main thing that you should know about me from this year of blogging is that I have a short attention span, I don’t have the patience to learn anything well, (why bother trying to master something transient and filled with flaws?) and if I’m into something now, it probably won’t last for more than a few months. It’s the story of my life.

| Thursday, April 2, 2009

This is continued from the previous post.

After realizing that Sara didn't write anywhere that she left Judaism in general or Orthodoxy in particular for the reasons I erroneously supposed, what I was going to write became completely irrelevant to Sara's interview. Blatant bias is a sneaky bastard, always hiding around the corner, and I try to be cautious about it, or at the very least be explicit that I realize that I have a strong bias. As an example of how I try to be upfront regarding my bias, I wrote that it was my gut reaction to be shocked and dismayed regarding Sara's choice of Catholicism.

What's even more revealing is that I was still quick to believe that her reasons for leaving were as trivial as XGH cartooned them. Sure, I realize that he was merely being comedic about the situation, and I might add, did a darn good job at it, but I thought that part was at least semi accurate. It wasn't. In fact it was completely wrong. But I was more then willing to believe that it was correct. I didn't even double check till I was about to write about it. Much of the comment discussion on the Hedyot's blog and XGH's surrounded around that point. Some were quick to point out that all those things that she supposedly left Judaism for were readily available within Judaism. In fact, many Jews have been notorious for being activists, and obviously pants etc are a non-issue for many stripes.

I was going to write about being progressive within Orthodoxy and pushing the limits. I was going to write about reasons to stay and push the boundaries of Orthodoxy or leave to another stripe that already has the boundaries you personally are comfortable with. Maybe I'll still write about that. But the wind is gone from the sails.


There was a bit of a raucous regarding the Hedyot's recent post with Sara. I, like many, couldn't help but forget everything else she wrote once I read that she's part of the Roman Catholic Church. Something within me, aka my gut reaction, was shocked and dismayed that a Jew would seemingly completely drop their Jewish identity, and not only that but eventually trade it in for one that could arguably be called historically antithetical to a Jewish identity. If she would have become a Quaker, I still might have been saddened, but I don't think I would have felt abysmally dismal. Those of you that are familiar with various different Christian theologies will understand why I chose Quaker.

But who care's about history? I think that most people do to some extent or another. Historical Narratives bind people together and shared experiences make people feel connected at a very deep and personal level. I've heard of experiments with moral psychology that show people are much more willing to help strangers, even after a short conversation. Call it right, wrong or indifferent, history matters. What about forgive and forget? I'm sure there are plenty of objections and rabbit trails this conversation could go down, but that's for another time and place.

Before I go on, I should say that I'm just about as ambivalent toward Catholicism as I am towards most other religious sects. If it works for you, makes you happy, gives you meaning and helps you avoid cruelty, then, by all means, be a good Catholic. I have several Catholic friends, (the kind that go to mass every other Christmas or Easter ;-) and we have great conversations about our respective religious and cultural backgrounds. I'm even of the persuasion now that many religious stripes are good for most people. And not in a condescending way, along the lines of, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." I honestly think that many religious stripes are tried and true to offer meaning, a skeleton of morality and many other benefits.

At the end of the day, I think that Sara is making a great life for herself. She's in law school and seems to be happily married. Who cares about the religious stripe she's chosen?

After re-reading the interview, I realized that she never says that she left Judaism and eventually joined Catholicism to, as XGH characterized, "... wear jeans or shorts in public, eat what you want, shake hands with men, and even use birth control (although frowned on by the church) and advocate for gay marriage, and not be shunned by your community or have to hide or fake many of your beliefs." She was merely pointing out some of the things she's more comfortable doing now as opposed to when she was a frum Beis Yaakov girl. That's a very significant difference. If you asked me some of the things that I enjoy, now that I'm not frum, I might mention the delicious variety of Cheeseburgers at the local bar. But that's obviously not one of the reasons that I left frumkeit.

I just came to this revelation, and it destroyed the rest of what I was going to write about. Maybe I'll write about it later... I even had to change the title of the post.

P.S. Comment moderation is off for the time being.