| Saturday, December 27, 2008

The dialogue that's been going on here recently has been very interesting.

Believing in Myths (religious ones in our context)  is not necessarily problematic, according to me. Unless these myths are causing significant harm, then who is to protest? I believe in freedom of thought and that includes believing that the earth is 5768 years old.  Secondly, I don't believe there is a need to align everyone's beliefs with my own. As I've said, for the most part, I rather like the diversity.  Thirdly, constantly mocking the beliefs of others certainly won't do any good, in fact it will probably do more harm. Those that are convinced by mocking, are rarely satisfied in their new lack of belief, and those it doesn't convince will find the mocker to be just some jerk who mocks the beliefs of others. Besides all that, the mocker generally ends more and more like the ones he is mocking only with different beliefs. 

I've been using the term myth... that's generally what you call ancient or unpopular beliefs that are not considered as tenable. Pretty much everyone else's beliefs but your own are called myths. I used this term so as to assure the skeptics that I don't believe in the traditional OJ beliefs of TMS, etc. and that in a way, I'm on their side. On the same token, I wanted it to be known that I feel that many of their beliefs, in certain respects, are myths as well (e.g. that Science is, for all intents and purposes, God, and that with a little more Critical Thought, we can surely usher in the messianic age.) 

Orthoprax preferred to use the term ignorance. This is a very difficult term to use nowadays in this context. In 21st Century America, it's hard to claim ignorance in regards to the claims of both science and religious fundamentalism. They are all readily available to all who wish to inquire. Surely my critics don't believe that, aside from the farthest extremes, those that believe in religious myths are the equivalent of a tinok sh'nishbah (a jewish child that was captured and never told of it's Jewish identity) with regards to the claims of science? Most people are not ignorant of the issues, they simply have a different view.

Jewish Sceptic and SOS mentioned that the beliefs of Orthodox Jews can indeed cause significant harm and in many cases I'm forced to agree with them. However, I don't want to make sweeping generalizations here or bring random not-so-nice quotes from the Rambam which few OJs are even aware of or subscribe to. I used to do that, and thank Goodness I saw the light. Even if there are those that profess to believe every word of the Torah b'miluehah, they generally find away to get out of uncomfortable halachot and VERY few actually act on these types of beliefs. Plus, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews that find inspiration for life and goodness in the belief that God wrote the Torah, etc. and would have a hard time finding life worthwhile without those beliefs. Just because there are a few that use these same beliefs to spread hate, will you blanketly rob the harmless to assure yourself that you're saving the few? And who is to say that you will be successful in convincing such a person with your powers of critical thought and that you won't in fact be fanning the flames of hatred? Some people are sociopaths and are better left alone or locked up. 

SOS and others mentioned that most people wouldn't want to believe in their beliefs if they knew they were not true. This makes the assumption that everyone values or ought to value truth above all else.  I highly doubt that most people value truth so highly, neither do I think they ought to. From the simple example of lying to your spouse about their good looks in the morning, to the more extreme example of not robbing the cancer-research-scientist of her inspiration in Elvis's return to rock and roll, I think we can see that at the very least, there are cases in which the truth should not be called upon. 

Another point that Orthoprax brought up namely that Critical Thought should be popularized ,  I agree with in principle though I don't feel as strongly about it, nor do I feel that believing in myths and tolerating the myths of others is necessarrily at odds with it. I don't feel as strongly because I feel there are a large number of things that are more or equally important such as morality, politics, creative thought etc. It's not necessarily at odds because most people, including myself, believe ( or at least pretend to believe) in a fair number of myths. I pretend to believe in the Exodus when I celebrate Pesach with my family. Many others pretend to believe in Santa Claus when they track Santa on google maps or when they give their kids gifts signed "From Santa". There are countless other examples but I hope that I've proven this point.

I hope that my critics enjoyed this conversation as much as I have! Even if nobody agrees, at least I've given a different POV and shown that not all Jewish Skeptic Bloggers agree, and that's a good thing?

| Monday, December 22, 2008

Continuing the conversation from the last couple of posts and the comment threads that followed thereafter, I want to address a point that the blogger "Orthoprax" mentioned.

OP (Orthoprax) and others were a little shocked and perhaps even disappointed that I was "in favor of obscurantism and ignorance." (A very important side point should be made about the choice of vocabulary that's been thrown around, even by yours truly, on this subject in particular... but more on that later.) But I feel that they are dramatizing or somehow mis-understanding the point I'm promoting.

I'm NOT a kiruv rabbi, trying to sell their version of Judaism. I'm NOT a Kannoi from Meah She'arim blackmailing residents into buying my brand of esrogim, the only kosher one, of course!

However, I don't feel that there is a reason to fight a war for Reason. I don't think Reason much cares. Reason is probably secure about it's identity and doesn't feel the need to be liked by all. 99.99% of the world makes on without it 99.99% of the time.

Please don't get me wrong... I believe in education, I believe in Science, I believe in freedom of inquiry and all that. But in regards to politics and policies on a personal and public level, ask yourself, "Do I have a moral obligation to align other's beliefs with my own?" (i.e. spread the value of scientific skepticism[or OJ or Christianity or Hinduism or Islam] using whatever practical methods available to me) Or maybe... just maybe... we can embrace diversity and democracy and allow others their guilty pleasures, so long as they aren't too terrible.

Surely not all myths are created equal and though Ignorance is Bliss, it's not always benign. But are we really in a constant struggle against ignorance? Or perhaps our wicked Western society has come to realize that totalitarianism is undesirable, even if it's got all the facts straight. Sure, we have our nutcases and extremists, and we disagree with 90% or more of the world, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Another issue that I'd like to weave into the mix, is that of dealing with those with whom you disagree. There are lots of options... Ignoring, dialogueing, conversing, debating, mocking, fighting, warring etc. The option you choose will need to be appropriate. You don't start a war with a whole country for no good reason. Similarly, you don't ignore someone who makes constant atempts at puncturing your vital organs. Mockery, bashing, and constant criticism can be fun and useful at times but it has an awful habit of changing the subjects into objects. (The Mocker becomes more like the mocked...)

In regards to Ignorance, much of it can be ignored. Most of the vital problems with ignorance are dealt with by our Genes (wouldn't do much good for our survival if they were completely ignorant now would it?). Most of the remainder are reined in by education and culture. In today's day and age, in free countries, are we honestly in a struggle against ignorance on any meaningful level?

| Friday, December 19, 2008

XGH is at it again.

After writing this post, a heated discussion ensued between two anonymous people, XGH and someone who went by "Anonymous." I found myself agreeing almost entirely with Anonymous.

XGH thinks the destruction is cool and Anonymous thinks that living beautiful lives enhanced by myths is cool.

But XGH values Truth above all else and with sadistic joy, runs to sacrifice the beliefs of his fellow man on it's altar. Does Truth care? That doesn't matter. Are there real live human beings that are currently holding their guts in their hands wondering what to do next, thanks to his zeal? Yep.

Remember back when the Godol made fun of the kannoim, because they ruined Noson's life?

I wonder how many whose lives are effectively ruined because of... oh well... Truth is a jealous God. Thou shalt have no other gods before it.

There is only one Truth and XGH is it's prophet.

No one can come to the truth, but by XGH.

Why do I care? Hmm... That's a good question. I guess I'm kind of a hypocrite. How do you protest protesters? How do you convince people of perspectivism, without being written off as just one guy with a perspective?

Oh well... Let the record reflect. Fundie bashing is naughty (though it can be so damn funny!) Believing in myths... everybody does it... Scientists, Philosophers, Skeptics, Fundamentalists, Moderates, Conservatives, Liberals... So myths are probably ok, so long as they aren't harmful.

Of course, Kiruv is bad too. But that goes without saying.


Is there anybody out there?

Wait a second... she heard me? How 'd that work? Huh?

Is that my imagination playing tricks on me? How in hell could I ever tell?

Excuse me, mam, could you pinch me? Thanks... yeah, I felt that. Just making sure.

But... maybe... maybe that's just me again. I mean, if I can imagine people listening to me, then surely I can imagine someone pinching me. That should be pie.

Damn it!

Errr... Professor, how can I prove to myself that I exist?

You're just consciousness. You can't.

How come I can't fly like in the Matrix?

It doesn't work like that...

Huh? Why not?

Wait... how am I able to ask questions? How can I hear think these thoughts?

Wah? OK... I'm sorry I just don't get it.

| Monday, December 8, 2008

People need something to believe.

Skeptics and Atheists try to destroy what most of the world believes.

Skepticism and Atheism offer no beliefs.

Destroying peoples' beliefs is generally immoral especially when you don't replace that which you've destroyed.

Therefore Skepticism and Atheism is generally immoral.

I need something to believe. In some ways, I wish it could be some version of Observant Judaism, for the simple reason that I have friends and family that believe in it (and lots of shidduchim offers). But I have a nasty feeling that that's pretty much impossible. Orthodox Judaism is pretty awful in my book and it's hard for me to imagine Judaism outside of Orthodoxy. I'm reading "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut. It's about believing in useful lies. I'm starting to wish I could do that.

Of course religion isn't the only thing to believe. There are lots of other things, but the skeptic in me finds pretty much everything pure vanity. "Hevel Havalim, hakol havel!" as the Preacher said.

Most Religious claims have been debunked time and again. Philosophy has been destroyed by the likes of Nietsche and Rorty. Science offers nothing but cold observations (not that many aren't turned on by that sort of thing. )

I could be like most skeptics and atheists and just decry religion and superstition. That seems to give fulfilment to 90% of them. But that's just lame. I mean, honestly!? What kind of losers spend significant portions of their life, pointing out what they perceive to be nonsense?

It's hard to find something to believe.

| Saturday, November 29, 2008

I just finished watching Ben Stein's Movie. My expectations for this movie were lower then low. After watching Dawkins and Myers discuss the movie, hearing all the rants, raves and protests from the atheists and skeptics community I expected it to be the worst film and at the same time the best propaganda film ever to be made.

If Dawkins and Myers are correct, and they were fooled into believing that the movie was something other then it turned out to be, then that is a damn shame. Others have pointed out all the flaws in the film but what follows is my personal opinion.

Ben Stein made constant analogies between what he called the "Darwinian Scientific Establishment" and Nazi Germany. He also had a huge segment that made Hitler and Darwin seem like Lovers in a plot to destroy all that is good in humanity.

However, the movie was very well produced and besides for looking dull, (which is Ben Stein's natural expression) I didn't feel like vomiting after watching it. I skipped most of the parts about Hitler, which was a sizeable amount of film, because I simply couldn't stomach it. I can't watch Holocaust films in general. He did a very good job of making Richard Dawkins look like perhaps the most intolerant fundametalist atheist alive. PZ Myers didn't look that bad but he was the lead off into the segment which showed the "Darwinian Scientific Establishment's" intolerance, hatred and will to destroy religion.

I couldn't help but compare this movie to Religulous and I hate to say it but Ben Stein made a much better film. The production was better, it was more moving and while it was poking jabs at Darwin, (a straw man, to say the least,) he made it seem that all he wanted was freedom and transparency in science. (Don't we all?) The only thing I got from Bill Maher was Religion is stupid and evil. No positive message.

Anyhow, the movie wasn't that bad, but if it has any effects, they will be horrific. Science will have to continue to fight against religion, a fight that shouldn't need to be fought. What makes this all the worse is that the most naive people, fundamentalists, both religious and atheistic, are making much ado about nothing. Neither feel any need for subtlety and interesting discussion.

| Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I’ve been a seeker since 1999. Then, early this year and oh so mysteriously, I figured out that theism isn’t necessary to lead a good life, and that it’s actually a miracle that those with fundamentalist beliefs aren’t all insane, serial killers. There are very few fundamentalists that really believe, I mean the kind of belief that forces you to action, in the stuff that they say that they do. Thank Goodness! Most Humans have a conscience and some good common sense that keeps them in check, even when they say really believe the Bible or the Koran is the literal word of the Almighty God.

It was right after this realization that I decided to become a skeptic. No more professing to believe in anything that could come close to being portrayed as a lie or even an untruth. I didn’t want to be duped again… no, that had been happening all my life and there had to be a line drawn somewhere. So I started reading books on critical thought. Of course, religion of any sort was out of the question. I wanted to learn about “objective” stuff like science, logic and math. I’d read books by Dawkins and blogs by skeptics. This was where it was at. This is where the truth had been buried. I could know stuff and know that I knew it or at the very least , know what was not true. Does it get any better? I mean, scientific skepticism brought us out of the dark ages, cured diseases, helped us conquer the earth, explore the universe and all kinds of other wonderful stuff.

“Subjective” subjects, you know… like morality, the meaning of life, values, happiness, well being, literature, music, the arts, social, political and economic issues, well... that’s not really important. You can’t know any of that for sure, or at least you can’t prove it, like you can prove a syllogism or a mathematical equation. Everyone has an opinion and there’s no telling who is wrong or right, right?

But then I started reading philosophy, mostly because I couldn’t accept moral judgments being in the same league as judgments of food taste. Morality was just too damn important. It had to be objective like the other important things. You know… science, math and logic.

Thank Goodness I started reading philosophy, and probably more importantly, some history of philosophy. It helped me to realize that different subjects need to be discussed in different terms and that the most important things in life are often the most difficult to pin down.

| Monday, November 10, 2008

My last post got a lot of positive responses... until XGH saw it.

You see I was under the impression that Orthopraxnicks wished to remain a part of the Orthodox Community in real life and just have secret clubs on blogs and other clandestine affairs in which they consider themselves Orthoprax. Even if they wanted to remain a part of Orthodoxy and just create another sub-sect of a sub-sect, my previous post would still be applicable. So to those, my previous post still applies. But...

It turns out that XGH wants nothing to do with "idiot fundies," as fundamentalism is "dangerous," and has even gone so far as to consider "giving up wearing a kipah, or maybe getting one with the word 'Orthoprax' on it." He tells people he's Orthoprax and seems to be working on starting Orthoprax communities. Somehow he thinks that Orthopraxy will remain compatible with Modern Orthodoxy but Modeh B'Miktsas pointed out something that even XGH recognizes as a problem.

As I wish to see more unity and not less, XGH's new sect is no good. But I'll have to write more about that later.

| Sunday, November 9, 2008

For those that are still unfamiliar with the term, Orthopraxy has something to do with not believing in the dogmas or standard doctrines of Orthodoxy, yet, for various reasons, practicing the rituals and standards of Orthodoxy. It's applicable to a number of religions but for the sake of our discussion we will limit it to Orthodox Judaism.

The definition itself is subject to a lot of controversy. According to the illustrious DovBear, pretty much everyone is Orthoprax. I think that's suits Orthodox Judaism well, especially in the light of Marc Shapiro's book, "The Limits of Orthodox Theology." Defining Orthodoxy by the 13 Principles of Faith as Formulated by the Rambam, leaves you with very few ma'aminim (believers) and it's even questionable if the Rambam himself accepted the Principles of Faith the way your average Orthodox Jew believes them today.

Which brings me to my next point... There is, and I suspect there always has been, a difference in belief between the elders and the people. Because religion is typically defined by it's leaders, as opposed to democratically, the followers rarely have the same understanding of the religion that they follow as do or did it's leaders. And this is not just in matters of belief, but also in matters of practice. For example, most of the gedolim since time immemorial have said to learn through shas before you start doing pilpul but nobody does that. And so it is that many of the great thinkers of Judaism are considered heretical by their colleagues past or present. Though the Rambam's Principles of Faith have been accepted as those Doctrines which loosely sum up Orthodoxy, much of his thought is considered heretical today. The Moreh Nevuchim was banned and the book was never really able to lose it's stigma. In many Orthodox Circles the book is frowned upon, or at the very least it's readers are.

Despite all the differences of opinions throughout the ages on even the basics of Orthodox dogmas, or lack thereof (see R. Hirsh), in each time and place there have been beliefs that will render it's adherents heretics, at least in certain circles. Though the Orthodox Community is probably split into more sub-sects then ever in history, there are those, especially in the Hareidi Circles, that feel it necessary to brand certain beliefs as heretical. For recent examples, think of Rav Kook and Noson Slifkin. (I can't believe I just mentioned those two in such close proximity!)

However, if you keep your cards close to your chest, have a seder in learning, go to shul on Shabbos, live in a community that is modern or not-so-nosey, you can believe whatever you like and still be a part of the Orthodox Community. And now we have finally gotten to the point I've been wanting to make.

The label of Orthopraxy is divisive and unnecessary, especially when it's adherents are in the closet. Take James Kugel for example. His beliefs concerning the authorship of the Torah are far from the party line. Yet he has consistently protested those who wish to cut him out of the Orthodox community by giving him the ominous and heretical label of Orthoprax. If he is successful in his protests and insists on being Orthodox he will surely be more successful in expanding the limits of Orthodox Theology and allowing for more pluralism within Orthodoxy itself. That would be absolutely terrific.

The authors of blogs like Orthoprax and Modern Orthoprax feel that there is meaning and value to the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Yet they have given their blogs and this "movement" a name which divides them and puts them at odds with the community in which they wish to remain a part. Surely they don't wish to start their own gated communities with "Kofrim Only" signs posted.

I have a few ideas as to why there are those that reject and those that embrace Orthopraxy as a label. Take a liberal like DovBear. He doesn't like the term one bit and I think that's because he's a liberal that is open to a lot of different ideas (despite his snarkiness towards GOP Jews). Pluralism trumps right opinions. XGH on the other hand is a fundmentalist at heart, though he has been showing some huge improvements of late. He recently supported the gedolim's ban on sexy sheitels and Intellifundies used to really bother him. People having right opinions and the Truth have a very high value to this man, and even though he knows that "Truth" has little value to many people, he holds of black and white distinctions between facts and Truth, things of that nature and values and meaning. A guy like this will embrace the label Orthoprax because pluralism isn't such a high value to him. Being right, even if it means being separate, is more important. XGH would likely support set doctrines that would define Orthopraxy even though the movement was birthed out of rejection of other doctrines.

Besides for a few extremists like Jacob Stein, the Orthodox Community is not suggesting witch hunts to discover who amongst them adheres to the party line. And so it is that the label Orthopraxy is counter productive. Slowly, slowly, pluralism can spread even within Orthodox Judaism. There's no need to jump the gun and hang yourself. My advice to those that are satisfied with the Orthodox Lifestyle but dissatisfied with some or all of the 13 principles of faith, is to be patient, talk to your Rabbis, talk to your chavrusas, but there is no need to be confrontational or to rock the boat, especially on silly issues like the authorship of the Torah. And there is certainly no need to label yourself a heretic. It's counterproductive.

| Tuesday, November 4, 2008



or vote for someone else but VOTE!

| Monday, November 3, 2008

Barack Obama's Grandmother died. This is truly tragic. Just 24 hours away from witnessing her grandson become elected president of the United States of America.

There is a new blogger. Check out the Yeshivish Atheist.

| Friday, October 31, 2008

I can't understand them. I can't.

It's hard enough for me to try to understand conservatives as it is. I purposely go out of my way to listen to Christian Radio now and again, to read blogs from Conservatives, and listen to Conservative Talk Radio. I don't want to get stuck in a moral matrix in which I'm surrounded by like-minded people so much that I can no longer understand others' POV. It's hard and I get frustrated but that makes me want to try all the more. However, when they bring religion into the mess, it goes from difficult to impossible.

See this post by Harry Maryles. Then watch this clip. To me, it's pure paranoia. Can someone explain this to me?

| Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who is having the bigger overall effect of a choteh umachti, Hirhurim or Mis-Nagid? It seems obvious, now doesn't it? Clearly, the cantankerous "frum" atheist Mis-Nagid is the proverbial Yeravam ben Nevat of the blogosphere. You may be able to see the comparison of our favorite retired kofer, Mis-Nagid, to a cow worshipper, but Gil Student, the epitome of what modern, sophisticated, straight and true Orthodox Judaism stands for?! How could I possibly even think of such a thing?

Well it wasn't my idea. I really wish I could take credit for it but I do wish to bring the redemption closer and so I will give unto Caesar (here, an anonymous commentator on Hirhurim) that which is Caesar's. But allow me to provide something of a backdrop.

Now look, as Barack Obama would say, there is more then one way to skin a cat, my friends, as John McCain would say. If you wish to influence and persuade people, you can come runnin' at 'em, guns a blazin', as John McCain would, or you could whisper softly in their ear, as Barack Obama would. There is a time and place for everything and sometimes a hatchet is required while other times a scalpel would be better suited for the job. Yet there is another way to persuade someone, and this time it's unintentional. You can introduce someone to your opponents view and try to show how and where it's wrong. If your arguments are weak, or better yet, if they are socio-economically and psychologically unattractive to the person, then you've just defeated your purpose.

Mashal l'mah davar domeh? A plumber, let's call him Joe, makes over $250,000 dollars a year. He is looking to vote in the upcoming election. An Obama supporter comes up to Joe, thinking he makes $125,000 a year, like most plumbers, and says "Joe, under Obama your taxes will go down! McCain wants to give tax breaks to the wealthiest 1% and nothing for the middle class like yourself." But Joe, a Democrat by default, fits in to Obama's wealthy American tax bracket and has now been convinced to vote for McCain so he doesn't have to pay more taxes.

Gil Student is that Obama supporter and Joe is the average reader of Hirhurim. The documentary hypothesis, logical argumentation for belief in God, and other general, somewhat heretical, secular ideas are like tax policies. I think it's safe to assume that most Hirhurim readers, or at the very least, a significant group, are run of the mill Orthodox Jews with little to no subjection to secular perspectives on religious subjects, especially those free from YU or similar filtering. Gil writes about some subjects that are controversial in the world of Orthodox Judaism, thereby introducing them to these ideas but by doing so, I would like to suggest that he is convincing more people to vote for McCain, or rather, adopt non-Orthodox ways of thinking.

Here is the quote that inspired this post, edited [brackets mine] for brevity and clarity.

"I'm sure you'd rather not post on the DH [documentary hypothesis and other similar subjects] at all... Every post you do... on it probably introduces more people to it than it convinces against it. I mean, this post contains a link to a book on it, something that will spawn more than few sales...

Furthermore, I'll bet most readers don't find your counterarguments any more convincing than you do..."

In summary, I'm accusing Gil Student of being a choteh umachti b'shogeg. The more he tries to prove his point, the more he persuades his readers in the opposite direction. Mis-Nagid couldn't hope to subtly sow the seeds of skepticism so splendidly.

Overall, I would like to point out that it seems one can be most influential by gentling prodding people from the inside of the group, rather then shouting at them from the outside. Take for another example, the recent retiree XGH. Surely XGH was more effective at convincing people of heresy when he was "Godol HaDor" than when he switched to being XGH. By then, most of his readers knew that he had gone off the deep end. You can attract more flies with spoon of honey then a barrel of vinegar.


Update: XGH is back... again.

| Sunday, October 5, 2008


Now that's out of the way, there were two good parts in this 100 min. film. In one part he loses patience with a Neturei Karta Rabbi and basically walks out on him. Mad Props. Even Bill Maher has his standards.

Second he shmoozes with this Father/Priest/Cardinal (I can't keep track of Catholic titles), by the Vatican. This man was very open and honest about his religion, unapologetic, and gave me a hearty laugh. He was my favorite person in the whole movie.

Bill Maher is an idiot. He can be funny at times but he is utterly clueless about religion. This movie is comparable to someone like Ben Stein making a movie about Evolution... Oh... wait, he did that. Lameness she'b'lameness. (Translation: The epitome of lameness).

My 8 year old cousin could have pieced together a better presented documentary with Windows Movie Maker.

If you aren't a believer there is somewhat of a chiyuv (obligation) to see it but don't waste the $10 to see it in the theatre like I did.

Oh... and at the end he attempts a moving diatribe against religion to convince his watchers religion is irrational and evil. It made me cringe with disgust. My advice to Bill... Don't quit your day job. You suck at movies about religion.

| Friday, October 3, 2008

Was it just me, or was Palin unapologetically playing up her folksiness? Here are some quotes that might have been attractive if they weren't coming from a VP candidate.

"And I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also."

"Oh, yeah, it's so obvious I'm a Washington outsider. And someone just not used to the way you guys operate."

"Say it ain't so, Joe...Now doggone it, let's look ahead..."

"Darn right it was the predator lenders..."

She said "Maverick" six times before Biden shut her up on that detail. She said "reform" 13 times. She mentioned Energy about 28 times.

The General in Afghanistan's name is McKiernan, not McClellan.

Palin was creeping me out with her lack of blinking and constant smile.

However, on the whole, I think she "succeeded beyond our wildest imaginations." She successfully dodged every question she couldn't or wouldn't answer and kept drumming away on her talking points. I was hoping for a gaffe heap from Biden and hours of run-on, nonsensical sentences from Palin but both played by the "Harm None" rule. Booooorrriiiinnng.

| Monday, September 15, 2008

I can't believe it! Obama strikes back with an ad calling shenanigans on the Republican sleaze campaign. Repent all ye sinners, for The End of Days is near!

| Thursday, September 11, 2008

Religion was my world. But then it turned out to be something other then I had imagined it. Then Truth became my God and my imagination of Truth was nearly as illusory as God. Then politics wooed me and I thought for a moment that politics was about debating political issues, but the sophists had it right. It's about convincing people to vote for you no matter how dirty, misleading, contradictory or war hungry.

Anybody know of anything else I can be enthused by, only to be disillusioned shortly after?

| Sunday, September 7, 2008

Palin err... McCain is leading in the polls. Seems I was totally off with this Palin pick. I guess I didn't realize the Republicans were such sex addicts. (For those who don't get it, that line was a parody on Jacob Stein)

If this keeps up and the American people decide that Palin err... McCain is who they want for president, anybody know of a good job and a cheap apartment in Canada? Or maybe I should make aliyah?

| Thursday, September 4, 2008

I hate being out of the loop! Click, and Click.

I hope to update my list soon. Any others, please let me know.

| Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I don't know what John McCain was thinking picking Sarah Palin. He looks uber hypocritical for picking on Obama's "lack of experience" now. Her "family values" will be scoffed at by the media because of her 17 year old daughter's pregnancy outside of marriage. She doesn't seem to add anything to the ticket but youngness (something he previously scoffed at) and femininity, neither of which are convincing reasons to vote for a person. The GOP ticket hasn't had it's bounce from the convention yet and I wonder if it will come at all.

The DNC was terrific. I still haven't watched all the speeches but what I saw I liked. Obama's speeches are less inspiring and more serious. His hair is getting greyer by the day it seems. Biden has his pros and cons.

Sarah Palin makes me dislike McCain even more. She is FAR too conservative. She wants Creationism taught in science class. She's pro-life. BTW, I hate that term. It makes any position other then that which regards the fetus as a human with equal rights from the moment of conception seem like a murderer. What bothers me more is that many Frum Jews purport to be Pro-life and that is NOT the halachic position. See the Tzitz Eliezer for an old Yerushalmi's view on the matter. If somebody knows the exact source please put it in the comments. Needless to say he's very lenient on the matter. He was a well known Rabbi at the hospitals in Jerusalem and of all the frum opinions that I've heard on the matter, I respected his the most. Please note that I'm not well versed on the matter, politically, scientifically, or halachicly. I think that abortion should be curtailed as much as possible (who doesn't?) but that it should be left as an option in certain cases.

Obama continues to impress me and has done it yet again, this time in regards to science. Click to read more.

I'm a skeptic of Obama's financial plans but for those that subscribe to the liberal spenders and the frugal conservatives stereotype, click.

| Thursday, August 28, 2008

It keeps popping up everywhere as I trounce around the blogs and the comment threads. There are many believers that honestly believe that atheists have little to no reason to be moral and are therefore less trustworthy. There is also this idea that atheists are somehow backwards in their thinking as well. If they would only think clearly, surely they could see the obvious truth of God's existence and his moral mandates. On the one hand it's comical because there are many atheists that think similarly about believers. On the other hand it's devastating because there is so much distrust and misunderstanding on both sides of the fence.

Atheists have had a bad name since time immemorial. The Psalmist calls the atheist a fool. Heresy has been a taboo since the beginning of our species because as I see it, heresy is just an extension of the in/out group. If the group believes in God and someone doesn't then that someone is out. And so it is today. If you believe in God, and for many it doesn't seem to matter how you define God, you're in. If not, then you're out.

The thing is, from the tone of many of the anti-religious books that have come out recently, atheists don't have too high of an opinion of believers either. They recall with magnified detail all the horrific and devastating tragedies that have been wrought in the name of God. They decry the suppression of scientific progress at the hands of religious fundamentalism. Much time and effort is spent debunking the claims of pseudo-sciences like creationism and ID. All bumps in the road of human progress are blamed on the heavy hand of religious superstition.

It seems that when an atheists thinks "religious believer", they think of Kent Hovind wearing Torquemada's red devil suit and when a believer thinks "atheist", they think of Stalin pressing the button and watching smugly from his bunker 15 miles below the surface of the Earth as our planet explodes in a complete nuclear holocaust.

Even though our brain distinguishes different light wavelengths into colors, we seem to think of our fellow humans in black and white terms. We place each other in neat little boxes based on labels that we've given each other, whether or not the individual fits into them. If we would pay a little more attention to each other, we'd see that we aren't all fundamentalists. If we'd pay more attention to deeds then to particulars of belief, surely there would be less distrust and misunderstanding.

I think it's horrible to condone or praise wholesale human slaughter whether you did it because of your reading of the Bible or your reading of Karl Marx. I think you are terrific if you are kind to your family and respectful to others, whether you did so because that's what you think God wants from you or because such acts are in line with your personally chosen moral values.

Now I don't mean to downplay the differences too much. Creationism doesn't belong in science class for the simple reason that it's not science. The religious right can't argue for their values in the political realm by quoting from the Bible for the simple reason that doing so is fallacious argumentation. However, I find the atheists that are trying to take plaques of the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms and to remove "In God We Trust" from US currency, to be overly petty. There are other things that I find wrong that are on some atheists agenda, like trying to get rid of Christmas and marginalizing all religious believers, just because they're religious believers and not specifically marginalizing any fallacious arguments no matter what the source may be. There are a number of real political problems that need to be duked out in the public square. But there is a significant population, the large majority, of religious believers that aren't biblical literalists and suicide bombers and condemn such things. And there are a significant percentage of atheists that wouldn't dream of supporting, and willingly condemn, the likes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

In summary, while I think that there are real arguments that need to be duked out, assuming all religious believers are Kent Hovind or Kiruv Klowns and assuming all atheists are Stalin or Brian Sapient, isn't very accurate and isn't very helpful. And for the literalists out there, the examples I used were purposefully extreme, exaggerated stereotypes.

| Tuesday, August 26, 2008

XGH closed down... again.

These are the reports thus far.

Frum Heretic

Torat Ezra

Baal HaBos


I hope XGH finds happiness.

There are some newbies on the Jewish Skeptic blogosphere.



But me... I went to a simcha recently. Simchas are emotionally traumatic for me. It takes me about a week to recover.

I've been reading Richard Rorty. He is surprisingly convincing.

| Thursday, August 21, 2008

It seems that I wasn't very clear in my last post so I wanted to try to fix that a bit.

As I see it, knowledge of the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth is out of our reach as humans in the 21st century. There are still marvels and mysteries yet to be discovered, and I think that by definition, Truth, in this sense, is like God and ultimately unknowable.

What Truth is, I don't know if I could, or even if it's possible to at all, capture in words, yet we all use the word Truth, and we all know what we are talking about (or do we?). When we talk about Truth, it seems that we are talking about a combination of different things. We talk about our beliefs that match with Reality, we talk about ideas that are Good, and beliefs that have shown themselves to work, to help us cope with our perceptions of reality. We experience and then we try to sort these experiences out. We question, reason, "tetris-ize" into our other beliefs, give tentative answers and through this we come to know and believe certain truths. It seems that the sum total of what we know and believe from all of the aforementioned, we also call Truth, even though it seems that Truth is also used more broadly to include what only an all-knowing God could know.

Everybody wants to know Truth, many people think they are already the proud owners of Truth. Some of us have been programmed to believe that our particular system of belief is true and gives VIP access to Truth and of course personal contact information to the author of Truth, God himself.

But then some of us are privileged to have Truth poke it's horned head through our facade of what we believe is Truth. There are many different reactions at this point. Some of us follow it, others don't recognize it. Some of us see it but pile on the bullshit to varying degrees. Yet others bury their heads in the sand.

When this happens there are different emotional reactions. For some, Truth is our savior and we are madly in love, even if in some respects our previous lover's delusions brought us more happiness. We are comforted and satisfied to know that those delusions could only bring us a false and ultimately shallow happiness.

Our relationship with Truth is necessarily piecemeal and incomplete. Some of us want as much as we can get. Some of us feel obligated to sacrifice ourselves to this, and some go willingly as Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. The sacrifice is not always so great and others go willingly because they have little, if anything, to lose and so much to gain.

However, we are mere human beings. We have hundreds of interests, some of which may be in conflict with our search for Truth. How far down the rabbit whole are we obligated to go? The skeptic that questions his or her religion in search of Truth, though he or she may find freedom from the tyranny of religious ignorance or bullshit, at times finds him/herself in emotional distress. We've all had moments when Truth had forced itself upon us and made us feel uncomfortable. These moments can last for a long time and while in the midst of them, we wish with all our hearts that we had never taken our relationship with Truth this far. Truth can have tragic effects that extend throughout our lives and even to our human relationships. After all, aren't humans more important? Isn't our own happiness more important?

Now you may be thinking that the alternative is "Ignorance is Bliss" and surely that isn't good. But life is not so black and white. We aren't forced to make a choice between 100% Truth, no matter what, and complete and utter ignorance. Perhaps something a little less committal would be good for some people. For those of us that do not find Truth to be the end all, be all, Truth can be viewed as an obstacle to other interests. We aren't all ready, on multiple levels, to sacrifice everything for the sake of Truth. In fact it's quite clear that Truth, to varying extents, is bad for many of us.

In light of all this, does Truth Trump? Is it the Royal Flush in Spades that beats all other hands? Or perhaps Truth is not like this, and other hands are indeed more important.

| Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I’ve been questioning the importance of seeking Truth.

In my humble opinion, being a good person is the most important thing for us social animals and happiness and well-being is the most important thing for us as individuals in this sea of humanity.

Taken to extremes, if you have an intelligent scientist that is constantly defecting in the moral game we play, it doesn’t really matter if he understands quantum physics, natural selection or all the mysteries of the universe for that matter, he’s still a shmuck and I wouldn’t want anything to do with the guy. On the other hand, we have a guy who believes in silly things like demons, angels, heaven and hell, and a 5768 year old universe, but is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, donates time and money to the less fortunate, and takes care of his wife and kids. It’s quite clear which is the superior human being.

Now there are those that would argue that we have some kind of moral obligation to seek the truth. However, I question if this should come at the expense of other perhaps more practical and human needs, wants and desires.

XGH is a prime example. The poor guy is absolutely miserable now that he’s lost his faith. This could be but a passing storm but in the here and now, looking back, he’d probably rather be believing in the fairy tales of the Torah, and happy, personally and socially, than having the “satisfaction” of successfully debunking the Kuzari argument for the hundred millionth time. Now he knows the truth but at what expense?

Of course if we could have truth and happiness then there’s no question. But how much do you push for the truth? How much do we give in to Truth? At what price is it still worth the decrease in our happiness and wellbeing? Is Truth our god, that we must sacrifice our mind and body, our family and friends to it? In the beginning there was mutual consent but if we are now forced against our will, how is Truth any better than a rapist?

| Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Are all delusions bad?

What about illusions?

What's more important, truth or happiness?

Is it important to believe in something greater then yourself?

What's the best philosophy?

Why do people pick on religion and mysticism, but poetry, art and music command our respect?

Maybe religion, mysticism, and philosophy are just like poetry, art and music...

I like the idea of language games.

When you sense that you are reading this post, you don't doubt it. When you see the walls melting while on an acid trip, you realize later that you were hallucinating. When a mystic feels at one with the Universe, which sense experience is he having?

I haven't been able to come to any conclusions of note recently so I thought I'd just post these thoughts.

| Monday, August 18, 2008

I've done some chazara recently on my thoughts from not too long ago.

How embarrassing!

I have a lot to learn...

There are so many ideas out there. So much too process. Science, Philosophy, Religion, Politics, Ethics, and more, all with lifetimes worth of study.

When I think of the 15 billion years or so that this universe has been in existence, then think of the tiny chunk of time that humans have graced (or terrorized?) this planet, then think of the time that humans started making something of themselves, then think of the how long it took us to get to the Enlightenment, then for Charles Darwin to be born and discover evolution, then my pitiful existence and all the time that it took me to get to this point, I feel very small and insignificant. Humans weren't developed to think about all this. We're just one step in the cosmic chain of existence, just one species amongst millions of life forms on this planet alone. In evolutionary time we've barely begun to stop swinging from the trees. Who knows how far other civilizations may have come by now?

If you take a "God's eye view" of space and time, then zoom in to our petty little arguments over say, the truth of a God given book, or taxing people that make more the $250,000 a year, it kind of makes you wonder.

And yet here we are, small biological machines, trying to survive and find happiness in that pursuit... trying to get as far from our biological roots as we can, trying to escape from the cruelty of Natural Selection, from the very evolutionary process that has given us our very existence. We spit in the face of our cosmic parents. Thanks Natural Selection, you've gotten us this far, but err... we don't really like you anymore. We want to be nice to the weak, not mercilessly destroy them like you've done since we crawled out of the primordial soup. We want to look ahead and plan our own existence, not give in to short term gains like you've done. Sure without you we'd have never gotten here, but you almost wiped us out awhile back and you don't give a damn about us anyhow. Piss off. Be happy with the rest of the life you've given birth to, that you've fashioned in your mindless cruelty. We want to create our own standards.

And Natural Selection just sits back and laughs. You pitiful fools. You can't change who you were born too. You can't just stop a ball from rolling that's got hundreds of millions of years of momentum.

Oh, but we can try and we can pretend. You gave us those very abilities.

| Friday, August 15, 2008

The Chief and Renaissance have disappeared without a trace. Their blogs are down. What happened? Where are you? Is everything OK? Did they up your dosage and steal your blog?

| Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In my last post I suggested that God be used strictly in the theistic sense, for very the simple reason that this is how most common people, even most theologians, thus far in history have used the term God in this sense.

I read most of Paul Harrisson’s book on Pantheism last night and I’m on the verge of a recant! But I hope to write more about that later.

Many of you objected to this narrow usage of the word God and some mentioned that atheism is a problematic term as well. This is very true. The “New” atheists are trying to use the term in what I consider to be a more accurate, at least etymologically, to mean a lack of belief in a conscious, intervening God. However, this is not how the term was used historically. When Spinoza or Paine spoke of atheists, they had something else completely in mind.

Words are a tricky thing… Gay no longer means happy, it means homosexual. Dennet is trying to do a similar word high-jack with the term Bright. The new atheists are trying to change the historical understanding of atheism. Some Pantheists want to use God, though theists would consider their view heretical and horribly wrong.

So what’s the solution? I suppose for the sake of this blog, I’ll use the philosophers technique and simply clarify what I mean when using a word that may be confusing. What’s an effective solution for honesty and clarity, without cumbersome explanations, in daily conversations? Perhaps you just have to play it by ear. Any suggestions?

| Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bruce recently did a post about God. He is another in a long list of people that are redefining God from the character of our various holy books and folk superstitions to something even atheists believe in. Bruce steers the God question in the direction of goodness.

Clarity is one of my highest values so naturally Bruce's God game won't do for me. But let us not single out Bruce. There are many bloggers that play this game as well.

XGH has tried dealing with God by making that word a reference to Meaning, Morality, and Spirituality.

B. Spinoza
redefines God as Reality.

And other skeptical bloggers struggle with God. Some, like Orthoprax, have "given in" and now are quite willing to answer in the affirmative when asked the question, "Do you believe in God?"

What struck me as intriguing is what appears to be the uncontrollable human need to make something of the idea, belief, or even just the word "God." What is it that is so compelling, that makes the belief in God practically mandatory for normalcy? Why do people go through such great lengths to avoid the taboo that is an atheist? Even I will only hesitantly declare that I am an atheist. I'd much rather say something dishonest like "I believe in Einstein's God," even though I feel that using God in such a way is like calling the atmospheric discharge of electricity, Zeus.

But there are two values that come in to conflict for me, concerning God.

1) Clarity and Honesty
2) Social Cohesion and steering clear of confrontation

Fact of the matter is, many Americans think atheists are immoral scum. Everyone believes in God except people like Stalin and Mao, right? But it certainly won't do any good to continue to sweep the God question under the rug for all eternity, will it? Perhaps it is a good idea to simply allow the God notion to evolve as it has and continues, from the vindictive sky daddy to the unknowable abstract concept promoted by the your average monotheistic theologian. Now panentheism and other abstract and objectively meaningless understandings of God are being copied and spread amongst believers. Surely there is no need for ME to ruffle feathers. But what about clarity and honesty, my other beloved values? Don't they obligate me to ask for a definition? But is that even practical? Everytime I talk about God, must I clarify that and say... oh I don't know... the God that writes books and answers prayers. Even these things are being redefined in abstract and meaningless ways. God didn't actually write the bible per se. God was the inspiration that caused it's authors to strive for meaning, morality and spirituality through it's text. And God doesn't answer prayers or wreak supernatural miracles. Rather we gain insight into ourselves by the glory of nature and speaking out our minds to... well that doesn't really matter. It's the working things out by speaking that is what prayer is all about.

Now of course, some people believe that God is most accurately described in their particular terms, whatever they may be. They honestly don't see themselves as playing word games. I, of course, would rather do without the headache. I don't feel any attachment to God as a being, belief or word. I'd rather just talk about goodness, reality, meaning, morality, spirituality, and inspiration or whatever the next thing for which we use God to be a synonym.

| Thursday, July 31, 2008

I want to thank all those who were so kind to share their thoughts so extensively in my previous post, AgnosticWriter, Michael Fridman, e-kvetcher, B. Spinoza, The.Signifier, and Da Candy Man. I look forward to hearing more from you. Anyone else, don't be shy. You probably know far more than I do ;o)

I'd like to summarize what we've discussed and I've discovered through this conversation. Any comments on this too would be appreciated.

1) There can be passion and fervor outside of religion, (thank goodness!) inspired through art, poetry, oratory, music, athletics and dance, contemplation and study of the universe and human nature, culture, human interaction and social activism, mysticism and meditation, ideologies, and mass movements.

2) There can be religious experience and passion, even in a religious setting (i.e. UU ) without the dogmatism. Though I do find UU to be a HUGE step in the right direction, it's not for me as superstitious and primitive beliefs are not criticized. Though I am open and tolerant toward everyone no matter what their personal beliefs may be, I reserve the right to remain critical of the dogmatic, irrational, superstitious beliefs themselves.

3) Religion is multifaceted and very difficult to define. Different personalities will be drawn to different aspects. The facets of religion are in short: worldview, ideology, philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, mysticism, community, social and political structure.

4) There may be dangers to a religious type of fervor. It seems that a healthy skepticism could keep this horse in reins. Perhaps these dangers should be fleshed out a bit more.

5) I am still a little fuzzy on the quantity and quality of this type of fervor that is available to the skeptic in particular. Will someone who once was motivated by religious belief be able to capture the same fervor once it is rejected? AW, mentioned this and I'd like some more clarity and suggestions.

6) Art, mysticism, and community seem to have reoccurred throughout. I am especially interested in mysticism. I'm wary of community because of the influence of group-think and social constraints. I like art but it's not "my thing," as they say. However, I do NOT mean to shut down these other parts of the conversation as I feel that discussing these ideas will keep me open and help me to understand and relate to others. (Always selfish, aren't I? ;-)

7) It has been suggested that mysticism transcends beyond culture, time and place in a particular way, perhaps better then or in ways unavailable to secularism, and to complete what may be an incomplete scientific, materialist worldview. Though I want this to be true, I am still very skeptical. It seems too vague and frankly, too good to be true. What is its relationship with science and what is it's function for the individual and humanity? I hope to get more clarity on this as well.

Finally somewhat summed up in AW's three questions,

1. (How) Can we reap the benefits of religion, without planting its lying seeds?

2. (How) Can we find deep engagement outside of religion?

3. (How) Can we find deep meaning/mission outside of religion?

Religion, the thing that anthropologists study, is a human universal and seemingly fills critical human needs and functions. I have no desire to fall back into it's superstition and false ideologies or in being a part of a particular religious community in the traditional sense. I wish to move beyond strict cultural\religious boundaries. Yet I do not wish to deny myself of any benefit or fulfillment that may be rescued from religion.

Just a triple bypass heart surgery is all. Join in the fun!

| Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Well can you?

Reading goes ever so slowly with me. I can't just read a book. Mulling it over and thinking about a book's ideas, reading tends to be a very emotional experience for me and thus a slow process. Unfortunately, this does little for my memory, as I forget almost as soon as my eyes leave the page. The reason I mention this is because often I feel what I can most accurately describe as religious euphoria while reading certain books. Not too long ago, I read Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" and my mind was blown and I was ecstatic so often while my eyes feasted on its pages. Not seldomly, the book would lie on my lap closed, with my finger in it so as not to lose my spot, as I shook my head, then stared blankly, reveling in exultation at the ideas to which I had just been introduced. This is a common experience for me, especially when reading books of the scientific milieu.

Orthoprax introduced me to pantheism and I was immediately enthralled. I read several articles about it and was especially keen on Paul Harrison's outlook on the matter. It seemed to be the gateway back into religious fervor and awe, without having to sign a bill of divorce to my newly beloved scientific skepticism. But emotionally, the scars were too fresh from the thorn of religious belief that had finally been removed from my side. I swiftly returned to my quest to make it known to whomever would listen that religious beliefs were false and bad for humanity. This quest was reactionary and all but futile. It does little good for my well being and is largely unnecessary, as my views on religious belief as evil and the recognition that there are millions of false beliefs polluting the consciousness of humanity, many of which are FAR worse, have been treated by time with temperance.

So the question that arises is that which the title of this post purports. Can you have Religious Fervor without Religious Beliefs? And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, can Religious Fervor be a co-wife with Scientific Skepticism? I have some thoughts of my own but I would like to hear what my readers have to say on these questions. Please comment uninhibitedly.

| Tuesday, July 22, 2008

AgnosticWriter is probably my favorite commentator on the Jblogs. I really wish that he (or is it she?) would write his own blog. Here is a quote from him that I had to repost.

"A lot of skeptical dialogue focuses on debate and logic. And this is appropriate to some degree. But what many with more warm-hearted temperaments are seeking on some level and don't find there (as they may not have found in the Beis Medrash) is the soulful, the poetic, and the inspiring. Having a soulful/philosophical bent, I try to access that voice now and then, and cast some seeds into cyberspace."

Though I couldn't say for sure, it seems that many/most of the skeptical Jblogs and commentators are former yeshiva bochurim (rabbinical students), and I was one myself. We tend to view the blogs as our cyber beis medrash (house of study) and engage in long, strung out debates over excessively minor points. Also, as in the beis medrash, nobody really wants to know what the other person is saying except to shlug him up (prove him wrong).

What about the more/most subtle things in life? Though the yeshiva student may spend hours a day shvitzing over a blatt gemara (sweating it out over a page of the Talmud) but the in-between times are spent giving over shtickel toireh (inspiring words on the Torah.) It seems that in every yeshiva there was always that one guy talking to that one rebbe (at the very least) exchanging pshetluch (short words of Torah) in the hallways.

“Ah, did you see what the kli yakar says in this weeks parsha (weekly section of the Torah)?”

“It can’t be as good as the pshat I heard from the Ohr HaHaim!”

And who can forget the vorts and divrei Torah that we share, without fail, around the Shabbes table? Not to mention the songs, the shnapps and the local guy who is serving chulent and beer late into the night where you sing yet more songs and exchange yet more words of encouragement and inspiration.

But now that you’ve looked behind the curtain it all seems childish and quaint. I think I can hear the snickers in the background already. You know that you loved it and miss the days when you experienced the sublime feeling divine inspiration.

So what is to be done? How can we regain the soulful, the poetic and the inspiring?

| Monday, July 21, 2008

I’m trying to break free from the “bash religion” scene and it's been a real struggle.

The only thing I know anything about is religion. It’s been my whole life’s passion, my whole life. Even though there are other blogs and other subjects that interest me, I can’t comment because I’m completely ignorant on the subject. Making blog posts is very difficult as well because if I want to do a post with a little thought, (something I admittedly haven’t done much of recently) then I have to do quite a bit of research first. But of course this takes effort and I find myself slipping back into my comfort zone of religion bashing.

It is my desire to break free, even though it’s difficult. I’m young and there is no need to get stuck in the rut of bashing my childhood religion for the rest of my life. Religion certainly gets a stranglehold on you. When you are in it doesn’t let you go, and if you manage to break free, then it leaves you so bitter that you feel this urge to rage at the machine for the rest of your life.

But life still goes on
I can't get used to living
without, living without
Living without you by my side
I don't want to live alone, hey
God knows, got to make it on my own
So baby can't you see
I've got to break free

I've got to break free
I want to break free, yeah
I want, I want, I want, I
want to break free
Ooh yeah
I want to break - yeah yeah


| Friday, July 18, 2008

What the hell are you waiting for?

Besides for being a friggin awesome film, there are MUCHO lessons in morality and moral psychology in this movie. But I don't want to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it.

| Wednesday, July 16, 2008

OK so it's only for a minute or two but you have to hear this.

Starting at 1:57 and continuing for the next minute or two.

Update: I thoroughly enjoyed this talk and would recommend it if you have the time to sit for nearly an hour and a half. Most of the talk is about physics which is by far the most magnificent, awe-inspiring field of science. What I wanted to mention in particular was that in the 7th video of the series, both Dawkins and Weinberg get all soft and emotional about religion. I've heard Dennet do the same thing in some random interview that I can't recall right now. Dawkin's reveals his favorite book of the Bible, and it happens to be the only book of the Bible that I've read since I got out of yeshiva. But you'll have to watch it to find out.


There is a mantra that is developing in silence of my thoughts.

The government is evil.

Our formerly free country has enrolled us as slaves with all these taxes and what do they give us in return? Whatever it is, its not nearly what we are giving to them. Americans praise capitalism to high heavens, but can we say that we are really capitalists, with all these taxes?

Lechatchila, (as a first choice) I would go for something like laissez-faire capitalism, but that ain't gonna happen, at least not in America. But since we are already signing over our paychecks to the government anyhow, couldn't they give us a little something in return? Maybe a free education, or free health care? But of course as soon as that happens our education will get even worse and our relatively decent health care will plummet, from lack of competition. (There's always vouchers... but that's another can of worms.)

I hate that we allow our government to steal our hard earned money only to give us sardines in return and I especially hate that we stride the fence that divides capitalism from socialism. I mean pick one already. We are chasing the red herring of "capitalism" and meanwhile, we are being robbed.

| Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The study of philosophy seems like a big waste of time to me. But everyone has some kind of philosophy. It gives a person a context to interface with the world. I think it is safe to assume that there is an objective reality and that we can understand it to some extent, but our understanding of objective reality is almost immediately translated, as it were, into our own subjective interpretations.

For all we know there are multiple universes, multiple dimensions. The reality that is perceived through our evolutionarily evolved senses often deceive us. But it is the recognition of human fallibility where the split occurs. Some reject the notion of reality and existence, others work with what we have and try to make the best of it using the best tools we have created, while others still stick with ancient mythology and religious texts to align their perceptions to.

There are pros and cons to each of these crudely outlined philosophies. On the one hand are the anti-realists, which may in fact be the most accurate when all things are considered but from that point of view, I see little difference between the illusion of reality and non-reality, the illusion of existence and non-existence etc. We are trapped in the illusion that our minds have created and our illusions can only have so much effect on reality, or our illusion of reality. On the other hand, to stick our heads in the sand, or the past, as it were, is to disallow ourselves the pleasures of the use of our best tools for understanding the world around us and the freedom to interpret freely conclusions that may come from them, all to the best of our abilities.

And so we are left with taking certain practical metaphysical assumptions. I think that they should be kept to a minimum and that they should be in line with our best tools for understanding reality. What these assumptions are, I currently don’t have the capability to elaborate on. I’m exploring some philosophical thought, to give meaning to what I assume and perhaps shine a little light to enable me to polish some of them and shed others, and to allow me the freedom of communicating with others at this level. Right now, it seems that some form of objectivism will fit the bill.

Whatever your particular philosophy maybe, what is most important is that we govern our relations to each other on a common ground. This is where I feel that a little secular pragmatism will do us well. In order to maintain cohesive relations, we have to put our differences, our personal beliefs aside and work together to find out what works. Exclusive religious claims or any other intolerant ideology will never allow for it. We must try to allow for as much individualism, or if desired collectivism, as possible. Recognizing our distinct humanness and our unique role in this vast universe, we should be able to make our state of consciousness happy and worthwhile.

Debating the issues and coming to a certain level of clarity can be enjoyable and very useful. But at the end of the day… it is tolerance that allows individuals to interact.

| Thursday, July 10, 2008

As I hope you all have noticed, I am no longer FedUp with religion.

What I hope you all are wondering is why? But you probably don't give a damn. I'll tell you anyhow.

In the beginning, that is at the start of the conscious awareness of my new relationship with religion, I felt fed up. I had been struggling to justify my beliefs in the claims of Orthodox Judaism for some time and when I finally realized that they were not only bogus but unnecessary I felt a feeling of fed-up-ness. I started commenting on XGH's blog almost immediately and used the alias fedup.

But like most reactionary feelings, this feeling started to wane. After a while I realized that I no longer actually felt fed up but I perpetuated that feeling by commenting under that alias. It's amazing how your actions can have an effect on your feelings.

Another thing you might have noticed is that I was having a hard time with my profile. I must have changed it half a dozen times and I've only been blogging for a few months.

I got a kick out of fulfilling the stereotype of the arrogant militant atheist. I'm really no such thing but it was fun. Now don't get me wrong. I was under the false impression that there were believers out there that I could have a discussion with and essentially get them to reject their outrageous beliefs or at the very least get them to admit that they believed them in faith, despite strong evidence in the other direction.

Back in late April, early May of this year, I had a go round with RJM. I had discussions with him for several reasons. His "If only you knew like I do... " claim is just laughable on its face. His, "When you show me solid proof of any ANE nation or culture that..." claim makes so many false assumptions about the ANE religion that became modern day Orthodox Judaism. I mean RJM believes that the Ancient Israelites rejected magic! No really! Sure, if you define magic as magic done by anyone but Moshe, Aaron, and all the Jewish Magicians afterwards then yeah Judaism rejected magic. But come on... Now of course I believe in magic as much as I believe in fairies, but let's call a spade a spade. They believed in magic. However the main reason I had my discussion with RJM was because I had never really "duked it out" with a Rabbi. I had seen that RJM had some respect amongst the bloggers and was willing to discuss things with skeptics like Orthoprax and Littlefoxling so I gave it a try myself. At the time, I felt I owed myself that discussion. I recently looked back at that discussion and I noticed more then a few mistakes and a few more holes I should have poked in RJM's arguments. The main thing is that I learned something from the experience and enjoyed it while it was happening.

In the meanwhile I got into a couple of discussion with HH, Daganev, and Yus. Oh and there was one really embarrassing one with mevaseretzion that I royally fucked up on. I bit off WAY more then I could chew but newbie skeptics tend to do that. They think that since they don't believe in religion therefore they know everything. HA! if that ain't a non sequitor... Yus and Daganev were frustrating but I remember enjoying discussions with Holy Hyrax.

I've already mentioned my discussions with evanstonjew, though I think they came out too negative in my last post. My conversations with ej have always been good. When I read ej I just think, "Wow, isn't ej cool?" No really... I think ej has an awesome writing style. Even if I can't always understand everything ej writes, it's still leaves me with the impression that ej is one cool cat. ej was the only one that could make me fill guilty about playing the militant atheist, but only in the kindest way and has helped me to get out of the mentality of "Let's go shoot clay pigeons for the rest of our lives!" only the clay pigeons are religious claims.

Then as I was preparing to make the change from FedUp to something else I was possessed by a demon to go try commenting on Hirhurim. Hind sight is 20/20 to be sure but why did I keep going back? I must have tried 3 times to get comments posted on his blog and they were almost indefinitely deleted. I said really vague stuff like, Aren't we being biased towards chazal? and Shouldn't we make a critical analysis at the claims of OJ to come to the best conclusion on the matter? But Gil accused me of missionizing... oh well. I guess we define the word differently.

I think it was shortly after that round about with Gil that I finally got it. Move on! You are WASTING your time trying to talk to people about things they refuse to hear.

And now as to why I've decided on Freethinking Upstart.

As I mentioned earlier in this post I was having problems with my profile. All these new labels that I felt the need to sort threw and place on myself. Atheist, Bright, Naturalist, Scientific Pantheist, yada yada yada. I don't like these types of labels especially the one "atheist" and after reading a bunch of the definitions given on the atheist meme by those that didn't consider themselves atheists, I was feeling even less comfortable with the label. It seems that atheism has never really shed it's poor conotations. Why the hell should I want to sanctify such a word? I mean it tells you absolutely nothing about a person. The word God is meaningless to almost everyone. The strong definition is what most people identify atheism with and I only ever considered myself a weak atheist. Plus, people like Jacob Stein and Vox Day are constantly creating myths about atheists and there is the ever present question, "Well weren't Stalin and Mao atheists?"

So anyhow, I wanted to communicate something with my name so I decided that it should be more of my attitude toward ideas. Freethinking seemed to fit. It's pretty vague but generally positive.

I chose Upstart because I'm young and stupid but I'm not afraid to speak up, even if I make a fool of myself. I just hope that someone will be kind enough to correct me when they see that I'm in error.

| Wednesday, July 9, 2008

While observing some of the more “sophisticated” debates between the moderate religious sector and the “new atheists” I’ve often wondered if all that the moderate religious leaders are arguing for is religion as poetry or do they still believe these “sophisticated” beliefs the same way that the religious right believes that the universe is 6-10 thousand years old.

Every now and again I get into discussions with PoMo believers, particularly with evanstonjew and more recently chardal. They tend to be very intelligent, very polite and understanding, though not without spice. Yet almost without exception, we end the conversation talking past each other. We come to an impasse, and from my POV they are essentially speaking another language. But this isn’t another language with which I could learn to communicate or at least so it seems. Oh no, for every time I try, and Lord knows I try, all I hear is Charlie Brown’s teacher. Their language is so abstract to my ears as to become completely meaningless. I find it ironic that Postmodernism talks so much about meaninglessness, abstract language, and irony.

From where I stand, here on planet earth in the year 2008, there is the real world that we can discover and understand using the scientific method and healthy skepticism and then there is how we humans interpret that information into our subjective existences, through music, language, culture and the arts in general. I feel that we should each choose, as it were, to interpret them in a subjectively meaningful way. While I feel free to look at the universe in a romantic sort of way, I realize that things are only that way when I have my glasses on, that my rosy painting is but an illusion and I am quite comfortable with it. However, never do I wish to forget about the indifferent objective reality of the universe and existence in general. My subjective interpretations of the universe and existence may not be meaningful for most other people, otherwise I'd try to market them and make some cash on my ideas. As a skeptic, I try to keep a one way street from objective to subjective. I derive inspiration and awe from the advancements that we are making in our understanding of the universe and human nature but I try keep my beliefs about objective reality free from bias and subjective interpretation.

I am highly optimistic and idealistic, so when I hear a pomo thinker say that life is absurd, I think they are absurd. What are they thinking? What planet do they live on? Life is so freaking awesome that I can’t think about it too much, for fear that my heart will explode in sheer delight. In the immortal words of the Psalmist [adapted by yours truly]

When I consider the universe,
The moon and the stars,
What is man that he was privileged to be mindful of it,
And the son of man that he should care about it?
Yet he has become a little lower than the gods,
He crowns himself with knowledge and wisdom!

With the advances of science, and by science I mean the entire enterprise of human reason and advancement, we have bought ourselves the time to contemplate the vast universe in both scientific and poetic ways, to contemplate the meaning of life, what we feel our purpose is, how to fulfill it, and how to make this world a better place. We no longer have to scratch in the dirt, filling our futile existence with mere survival. We can live longer, healthier and more fulfilled lives. If only our ancestors could see us now. No longer do we have to speculate about the dragons in the dark and shadowy corners of our existence. Gone are the days when we were controlled by our superstitions.

Now don't get me wrong. Though I revel in our progress and experience bliss at every falsehood slain, it is the mystery that is yet to be discovered, that flaming curiosity that engulfs our very being that can afford us perhaps even more pleasure then the satisfaction knowledge so lovingly bestows. The joy is in the journey as they say.

| Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bruce is a conservative Jew. Don't worry guys, he's cool. Together we can DESTROY fundamentalism. I mean, why else would I plug a believer on my EVIL MILITANT ATHEIST blog? (I'm joking... relax... geez... you guys are so uptight)

Anyhow, Bruce is undertaking a project about the Torah and the Documentary Hypothesis. Ladies and Gentleman you are about to witness history in the making! So don't just sit back and watch the smart people like littlefoxling show off their high IQs and crystal critical thinking skillz. Join the damn discussion. Heck, if someone as stupid as I am can type a comment, then surely you can.

Oh and by the way you will want to click here, here, here, here, and here, and here is the general link to my favorite religious blog, to get yourself up to speed. Now go learn!


here and here and here

From Overcoming Bias


For those of you that are interested in my views on morality and the discussion I was having with littlefoxling you are going to have to check out his blog and the comments there.

Also, turns out Daganev and Chardal are Post Modernist believers. Chardal and I got into a conversation on Holy Hyrax's blog. Check out the comments between Chardal and me starting here.

Though I can't help but laugh at the basic philosophical underpinnings of PoMo, it's certainly an improvement (practically speaking) on fundamentalism. I had no idea that there were so many believers that were PoMo... I find this oh so fascinating. It's like they are playing leap frog with philosophy. Medieval Philosophy and the Rambam? I can dig that. Enlightenment and the Haskala? No way! Post Modernism and Rav Kook and Rav Tzadok? Hells yeah! What's the common denominator? It fits my religion!

All this Post Modernism... I hope I don't have to get conversant in this nonsense.

| Monday, July 7, 2008

Mishnayoth Hagigah 2:1 "Whoever speculates about four things, it would have been better for him if he had not come into this world: what is above, what is below, what was before, and what will be afterwards."

You see? Epistemic Angst and Post Modernism is bad for you!

| Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Definition of Subjective

  • Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
  • Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.

Definition of Objective

  • Of or having to do with a material object.
  • Having actual existence or reality.
  • Uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices: an objective critic.
  • Based on observable phenomena; presented factually: an objective appraisal.

I think the question is not whether morality is subjective or not. Everything is subjective as soon as it is experienced or thought by a human being. The question is whether or not morality is or can be objective or not.

Morality obviously isn't a material object. However it could have an actual existence or reality in a platonic sense. There are no numbers that we can point to in the material sense; they exist in our minds in some kind of platonic reality. Morals may be the same way. I think that this can be argued from the mere fact that the average human being has an instinct that can be developed to understand morality, much as we have can understand numbers.

Can we say that abuse is objectively wrong, meaning that whether or not certain individuals feel that abuse is wrong, it is still factually wrong? How could we prove this?

Whether or not actions can be objectively wrong, all societies since the dawn of society have acted this way and we've made laws to ensure that people behave with in certain guidelines. All societies of note have discovered the silver rule (NOT doing to others that which they wouldn't want done to them [as opposed to the golden rule which is active and intrusive.]) Now this is not to say that everyone has had a correct understanding of humanity or even reality as to know with whom they should behave with the silver rule. We are gaining a better understanding of this as science and history brings us more and more clarity. As we understand ourselves and each other through the various means of science, language and other communication, history etc. we can know in more then just a subjective sense, dare I say it, an objective sense, how we ought to behave.

I don't think that one has to have the answers to all questions of morality to say that there is an objective morality. I don't know all the answers to every manipulation of numbers possible but that doesn't mean that there aren't objective answers to these questions.

I also don't think that an objective morality is binary. There may be more then one right course of action, and I don't think that this takes away from objective morality. It seems that all actions may be categorized as moral and immoral but that you can compare moral actions amongst themselves and say that that action X is moral but this is more moral. Much as you would say that 1>0.1 but 2>1 is also true. Different societies may interpret action X as being greater then action Y but objectively we can say that both X>Z and Y>Z though we may disagree at about the relation of X and Y. I don't feel confident about this and but if all else fails I think that this may pass for an argument for moral objectivity.

There is a struggle to get from ought to is but I don't think that it needs to be so complicated. If you want to find out x in x+x=2 then you ought to do the math and you ought to say x=1 because that is what it is. Similarly if you want to find out if action x is moral or immoral then there is an answer that you ought to give and therefore a way you ought to act if you wish to align yourself with the reality of morality. This is not to say that you are incapable of saying or even acting as if action x is moral even when in fact it is immoral. I could say x=3 even though in fact, in reality I’d be wrong.

Now the study of morality isn't as developed as mathematics. Mathematics is easy to study as there are no reasons for personal bias. I have nothing to gain if I say that 1+1=3, but as a white male in the deep south 150 years ago, I have a lot to gain by saying that enslaving blacks is perfectly ethical. But we cannot let personal bias hold us back and I don't see any reason to believe that we are enslaved to bias, so much so as to make us incapable of being morally objective. Is morality somehow intrinsically different then other objective fields of study that it must be categorized under the arts?

I honestly can’t see how morals could be comparable to a taste preference in the arts. We don’t say that it’s just the opinion of the Islamic suicide bombers to blow themselves up on buses filled with innocent civilians, as we might say that it is just your opinion that the Red Sox are the world’s greatest baseball team or that country music is god awful. I can’t see that any human being could compare the two. The fact is that humanity is not nihilistic. We lock up sociopaths because they are a threat to the reality of human society. We could never have become the dominant species of the planet if we thought that human behavior was just a matter of taste. We have a natural instinct to live and to live with other people. Only short sighted self destructive creatures are or can be nihilistic. Our very ability to see into the future in regards to human behavior, our capability for empathy, the inherent logic of zero sumness in almost all of human relations, the progress and spread of cosmopolitanism… all these point to objective moral facts.

Now some will argue that there are considerable differences across societies in regards to morality therefore it isn’t objective. However there have been arguments about everything and not everything is subjective. On the contrary, there has been a growing consensus concerning morality and this would point to moral objectivity.

Others will argue that since morality isn’t a material object it can’t be objective but neither are a lot of things that are objective like gravity, the speed of light, the origin of the universe, numbers, etc.

Some will argue that there has to be an objective law giver for morality to be objective. I don’t think that this works because no one would say this for gravity or numbers or any of the inherent laws of the universe. I mean if you want to say that then knock yourself out. I have no problems with positing something that authored the laws of the universe, I just think that this answers a question with a question and doesn’t help us out at all.

Others will say that we can’t figure out morality using science so therefore it’s subjective, but I say nonsense. We can use science to understand human nature (for example evolutionary psychology) and human relations (for example anthropology) and we can use those very important tools to find an objective morality.

There are many questions yet to be answered, and I’m not a moral philosopher. These are just my thoughts on the matter. Critiques are welcome.

In conclusion, when I speak of an objective morality I'm speaking of an ideal code of human behavior that is encoded, as it were, into the way things are, into nature, the Universe, reality. We can learn more and more about it as we study human nature and human relations.

| Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Daganev said, "I don't know which is more disturbing...people like Fedup..."

and in response to one of my comments, "Yeah, thats what scares me most about these people."

Gadfly said, "You guys are scary."

Yus said, "You're an even bigger fool than I thought you were."

and here,"The only redeeming factor to your presence here is that you make the skeptics look bad."

and here, "You must love those anti-semitic sites."

Avrum68 said, "FedUp.. deserves a bit of an ass kicking."

and here "FedUp...you shit on things that people hold dear."

and "I place you in the "Jews for Jesus" camp. A group of people that should be exposed as frauds and no friend of the Jewish people."

There's been more but I thought that should get the point across. Don't you love em?

hat-tip to littlefoxling who gave me the idea to make a post out of all this love.