Sunday, May 18, 2008

Originally, the name of this post was going to be "Religions that ain' t that Bad" but one of the comments I had from Al Knight and after trying to understand the fascination that XGH and other's have with EvanstonJew I decided to write this preface.

When I say that I'm Fed Up with Religion, I am referring to a very specific definition of religion, the one with which I was born and raised. It includes, but is not limited to, the idea that there is some being above and beyond conception that created the universe. This same being is one and the only one yet he is highly jealous and will severely punish those that deny his existence or acknowledge the existence of other similar beings. He did not reveal himself to mankind and waited millennia for a man named Avram to figure out that he existed. Later, Avram's descendants were forced to Egypt by a famine that God sent, and endured over a hundred years of brutal slavery by the Egyptians. One of these descendants was named Moshe. He was miraculously saved and adopted by the princess of the evil empire of Egypt. As Moshe gets older, he realizes that he is kin to this slave nation and, after killing an Egyptian, flees to the desert. After a long absence, God reveals himself to Moshe in a burning bush and tells him to "Set my people free!" Well, ain't that nice! But God doesn't want his people to go without a significant show of power. Through Moshe and Aharon, God absolutely lays to waste the world power of the time through a series of ten plagues, which included killing women, children and animals. God was able to turn water to blood, bring fire and brimstone, but he couldn't get his people out of Egypt without Pharaoh’s permission. Finally, Pharaoh decides enough is enough and lets God's people go.

God lead them out of Egypt but apparently had a bad sense of direction because he sent them straight to a dead end, or so we thought. Pharaoh was missing his slaves already and decided to bring them back. The Ancient Hebrews were stuck between a rock and a hard place. But never fear, God split the Yam Suf and created a way where there was no way. Hurriedly, God's chosen people rushed through on dry ground and Pharoah's army, apparently unfazed by this miracle, followed right into the sea on dry ground. When the Ancient Hebrews got to the other side, God let the sea follow it's natural path thereby destroying what was left of the Egyptian Army.

49 days later, God decides to have us sign the contract that would bind us and our future generations till the end of time. This contract included 613 laws that included laws to commit genocide on the Amalekites, how to keep slaves, laws that did not allow husbands and wives to cohabitate or even touch each other during certain times, and asked us to slaughter animals to give him a sweet smell. This contract was delivered with some very awe-inspiring natural occurrences and Moshe told us the God gave us a sneak peek of 10 commandments of more that were to come. According to tradition, we accepted.

Now, the written Torah left some things unclear including how to keep some of these mitzvoth. So hundreds of years later, our spiritual leaders let us know that there was an Oral Torah that filled in the blanks and otherwise explained the written legacy that Moshe Rabeynu had left us. You thought you had 613 commandments? B b b Baby you just ain't seen nothing yet! Here's something you never should forget. But this Oral Torah was too complex to make it through yet another exile and the Oral Torah that was never to be written down was, by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and his students. Ladies and Gentleman I present to you the Mishna.

But the Mishna too, left a lot of unanswered questions and intentionally so. So a few hundred years later the Mishna was combined with an extremely complex commentary known as the Gemara, which formed the Talmud. Around this time, Jewish spiritual leadership was separated in Jerusalem and Babylon and so there were two Talmuds, the yerushalmi and the bavli, the latter coming later. Though the Talmud is filled with differing opinions, the leaders by locale informed their followers of the correct approach known as the Halacha.

It seems that the Torah's assumed shorthand influenced our writings because we never could or perhaps never wanted to write a book that expressed exactly what God wants from us. Differing opinions multiplied in worldwide Judaism from its philosophy to its law. However, in the 1200s, there was a brilliant thinker by the name of Moshe ben Maimon that attempted to set the record straight. The Rambam's effect on what is now Orthodox Judaism cannot be underestimated. Though he was, and is, argued on by just about everyone, this shows his influence; if you want to say something in Jewish Thought or Law, you have to contend with the Rambam.

Since the Rambam, there has been a plethora of books from thousands of authors each attempting to explain and interpret that contract we made with God on Mount Sinai. Yet, in Orthodox Judaism there is this concept of a living, yet unchanging and unquestionable mesorah (tradition) that goes all the way back to Moshe on the mountain.

It is this view and others like it, of God and what he wants from us that I am not only fed up with but vehemently oppose. Religious belief has made unfulfilled promises, exaggerated historical claims and unverifiable, unfalsifiable assumptions. It has stifled opposition and is self sustaining by forbidding and cutting off heresy. I no longer care to be part of Orthodox Judaism or any other movement that lies to itself about its fundamentals and doesn't allow for critical thinking. Those that are deceived themselves have deceived me and this is where I’ve drawn the line.

From the standpoint of science and reason, it is quite clear that Orthodox Judaism and any other fundamentalist religion is not true. However, Judaism is so much more then a dogma with cruel, outdated laws. There is a national history, legacy, culture and so much more. These, I do not want any Jew, or any person interested, to miss out on.

Returning now to the start of my post, there is a yet another sphere of religion known as religious experience. It is something that is empirically proven and of which there is no doubt; there is something very real being experienced, which from a subjective viewpoint may seem more real then anything science and reason can tell us. These experiences though, do not require us to lock up our minds and accept religion’s dogma with blind faith. Oh no, it is something that is open to all and would be better off with a certain detachment from its superstitious origins. I am referring to the numinous and to meditation. Though these experiences can certainly be of good, a certain measure of caution should be practiced.

There is something that religions give that atheism and free thought cannot give you and that is a ready-made historically tested way to live a fulfilled, meaningful life. Personally, I am uninterested in buying a such a guide to living life and I would encourage everyone everywhere to use the tool of free thought wherever life may lead them. I am very greatful for a healthy, young mind and I wish to use it to develop a tailored understanding of life and the universe. I’ll draw on truth where it can be found and try to apply it to my daily life. But for those that have social and familial reasons or simply a personal inclination, with this preface I will bring a listing of religions that aren’t that bad.