| 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.