| 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.