| Tuesday, April 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

| Thursday, April 2, 2009

This is continued from the previous post.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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