Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Religious Liberals

I don't get the religious left. I'm not talking about politically, but in terms of religion. These are the people who call themselves religious believers but still find that their religions must be reformed. How can a Catholic believe that homosexuality is just fine? It's completely contradictory. If their religion is wrong how can they have faith in it? How can they believe something is the word of God and yet also see it as wrong?

They would seem to have two options here for a coherent view of the world. They can believe they are hyper-conservative wherein their "true" religion has been misinterpreted for centuries and that the original form of their religion has been forgotten. What they are advocating are a return to the old old ways. You see this with these "innovative" interpretations of Biblical verses.

Or they can admit that they are simply partial skeptics and that they do not believe that stuff which God supposedly commanded were actually divinely ordered. The problem with this for people is that most folks do not want to make that step. They want to believe in their chosen religion. But religious liberals want to have their cake and eat it too. Their religion is true, they say so, but God's word needs adjusting for the modern world.

Come to think of it, there's another way to resolve the religious liberal mind set. It's the fulfillment approach. God made certain rules but only for that time and He expects us to fulfill the spirit of the law by changing it for the modern world. But besides being completely ad hoc and intellectually unfounded, I don't think most religious liberals think about it that deeply.

In any case this all relates to me because although I applaud many of the efforts of the religious left to draw the masses away from fundamentalism, I completely disagree with their incoherent view of the world. God, the Omnipotent, has rules which needs reform? It really doesn't make any sense to me.

The religious left are those who enjoy the warm feelings of religion but don't really apply any criticism to their religious beliefs. These are the people who'll say ridiculous things like that "all religions are true." No, that's absurd! Either believe in something or don't, but don't play these games in this incoherent middle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Who's Assuming about the Bible?

Some opponents of the Documentary Hypothesis of the Bible like to say that the hypothesis is only supported because such people make the assumption that the Bible was not written by God and therefore they look for human sources. But really now, allow me to demonstrate why not assuming the Bible to divinely written is not a crazy assumption made by people with an agenda.

Suppose you hand the Bible to a guy in the middle of Africa who has never heard of Judaism or Monotheism of any kind. He is completely free of preconceived notions towards the Bible. He starts reading it. You think he's going to jump up and start screaming that he knows he's reading the word of God? I doubt that. It's just a book to him with some nice stories.

Unless they were socialized into that belief from childhood, it takes convincing to make someone believe that the Bible is divine.

It is a lack of assumptions from which the Documentary Hypothesis springs. I see a book here, I know people write books. Do I know if God is real, do I know if God writes books? No, I don't. The fewest assumptions lies with not assuming the book to be divine.

As an abductive scientific hypothesis it is made with the fewest assumptions. Those who created it are not assuming that it is not divine, they simply do not have any compelling evidence to convince them that it is. And they have a better explanation for the book with all its various textual oddities for which the divine origin argument has difficulty explaining. Weird textual anomalies are expected in the Documentary Hypothesis but need explaining with divine writing.

Which Ten?

Take a close look and read Exodus 34. Moses is writing the new tablets after he broke the first ones. God speaks to Moses and says all these things:

1. Do not serve foreign gods.
2. Do not make molten gods.
3. Observe the Festival of Matzos.
4. Redemption of the Firstborns.
5. No working on the seventh day.
6. Festival of Weeks.
7. Festival of the Harvest.
8. Do not sacrifice the offering with chametz or leave it until morning.
9. The first fruits are to be given to the House of God.
10. Do not cook a kid in its mother's milk.

Then after God finished he says, 34:27 - "...'Write these words for yourself, for according to these words have I sealed a covenant with you and Israel." And Moses, 34:28 - "wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments."

So...are these ten the real Ten Commandments since the first were broken?

Friday, April 08, 2005

Shabbos stands for?

Last week I went to a Friday night shabbaton in my school's Hillel. It was nice and all, kinda small though. Anyway, the whole program seemed to be geared towards an outreach type of ideal. They gave these booklets out which had a summary of all the events of the evening and nice little explanations of things like "What does Kiddush represent?"

I looked around and all I saw were a bunch of yeshivah graduates. I thought that was pretty funny so I turn to a friend of mine and I say in jest, "What does Shabbos stand for?" He looks at me strangely for a second (clearly not getting my facetiousness) and answers "It means rest."

I say that I know what it means, what does it stand for? He thinks for a minute, it doesn't stand for anything! So I say, still in jest, how can you say such a thing? Shabbos doesn't stand for anything?!

So my recently married friend thinks for another minute, gets a sneaky grin on his face, glances at his wife and says, Shabbat stands for Shtooping Between Tefilot!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Blaming the Victims

"However, my point was that antisemitism is a result of many complex factors and that we are culpable for some of it."

Just about every culture or society or religion you have ever heard of has a superiority complex. They all think they're better than everyone else and Jews are hardly an exception to that rule.

In Western societies you'll see that orientals are often more standoffish than Jews. There's a Chinatown in most great American cities. They're generally quiet people but also very insular.

Were unfavorable Jewish statements about non-Jews the cause of antisemitism you should see similar negative feelings towards most other human societies, etc. But Jews are singled out. Ever heard of antisinoism?

Did all those Koran quotes come to fore from nowhere or did they follow after negative feelings for Muslims began to rise?

The quotes serve to fan the flames, but they didn't start them.

Maybe Jewish insularity, feelings of superiority and quotes to show the same helped spread antisemitism to some degree, but ever were those things not present, I do believe that antisemitism would still exist. Either that or Jewish life would not. Without such insularity, Jewish life would have been quickly subsumed by the larger European culture. It is also all those centuries of non-conformity which aided antisemitism's growth.

It was the fact that Jews were around which caused antisemitism. It didn't matter what the Jews actually thought of gentiles, the gentiles already assumed much worse. Don't try looking to blame the victims here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Oldest Hate

In the Frum Skeptics Group forum one of the members brought up a recent antisemitic event is Russia (no surprise there) and questioned the cause of antisemitism and supposed the possibility that some statements in classical Jewish texts are xenophobic towards non-Jews and show a sense of superiority for Jews. This thing in Russia is some sort of petition being signed saying that Judaism is a racist ideology because of certain statements taken from a newly translated Russian version of the Kitsur Shulchan Aruch. My response is below.

Stuff taken from Jewish texts, like the Talmud or this Shulchan Arch is used as fodder to promote antisemitism. It is not the cause.

Nowadays antisemitism is merely the continuation of antisemitism from centuries ago. It slid into the social fabric and stayed there even after the initial reasons were no longer relevant. Consider it vestigial hatred.

Its story begins when Christianity begins. I know many religious Jewish views like to make it seem like it began in the time of Pharoah and Amalek, but really not. Those types of acts were not directed at the Israelites because they were Israelites but from much different reasons. Pharoah needed slaves. Amalek was attacking strangers. The anti-Jewish edicts of Antiochus Epiphanes were due because the Jews were seen as strange and he wanted to naturalize them into Greek culture and to set himself as "God-King" as opposed to the revealed God in the Bible. It wasn't because they were Jews that he went after them but just a contingent fact.

Seeing the difference here is key. Yes, Jews have been different and strangers in many areas of the world and have thus received flak from many cultures. But antisemitism means that Jews are hated for no reason other than because they are Jews. Hating strangers is xenophobia and Jews can be as much a victim of that as anyone. But antisemitism is specialized which is why it has a special name.

The beginning of this true antisemitism, as I mentioned earlier, began with the onset of popular Christianity. Christian leaders felt it necessary to separate more from their Jewish origins and with membership ever growing and them gaining power in the capital of Rome, edicts were passed forbidding all sorts of Christian dealings with Jews. This was straight, simple religious discrimination. Not really yet true antisemitism. Religious discrimination happens everywhere.

However, later on as the Jews were being looked on as second class citizens (or not citizens as the case may be) throughout Christian Europe, they gained classical stereotypical impressions and uncomplimentary views on them. As the Jews refused to conform they were seen as aliens living within Christian lands. Unworthy, lowly squatters taking advantage of the generousness of their Christian betters. Jews became demonized in popular culture.

It is from this melting pot, ideas about Jews fermented and stories like the wandering Jew, blood libels, horns, and the like sprung. This was antisemitism. This was seeing Jews _because_ they were Jews in uncomplimentary stereotypical ways. Sure, religious discrimination was still a factor, but Jews were not seen the same as pagans and such. They were given special categories of "evilness."

If you note, antisemitism was largely absent outside of Europe during the Middle Ages. There were some incidents in the Islamic world, but again, the reasons were mostly incidental to them being Jews, not because they were Jews. Jews were oddballs in the Islamic Empire and were subject to the various negative effects of xenophobia which can be found in all cultures. Christians got it as bad, if not worse, than Jews in the Islamic Empire.

Later on, national movements in Europe only exacerbated this fermenting process. If Italy was for the Italians, what the hell are these non-Italian, Jews, doing here? Nazism, extreme nationalism, makes that extremely clear.

Today, much of the classic antisemitic stories and sentiments has been exported from Europe and making the rounds in the Islamic world. This is due to negative feelings in general towards Jews because of the State of Israel. But these antisemitic feelings and stories can be traced back to Europe.

These most recent cases in Russia are nothing new. They are a continuation of the classical social fabric of the past many centuries. You cannot hope to understand antisemitism without knowing that this most recent expression of it has much deeper roots.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Action Judaism

I know it's late, but I've just been struck by inspiration and before I chuck it in my mind as unfeasible or impossible I'm going to say it here and get the idea out there for others to mull over.

Whereas Judaism as a beneficial meme is in severe trouble in the modern world; and

Whereas some belief in the Jewish theology but without traditional activity in the customs has proven untenable after a few short generation as seen in the Conservative and especially Reform movements; and

Whereas the only available alternatives is to enter the Orthodox world in order to have a sustainable culture; and

Whereas there are many among the Orthodox who have severe doubts to what they have been led to believe and yet cannot feel that they can freely express their thoughts; and

Whereas the future of some continuous Jewish traditions and Jewish life are important to many Jews; and

Whereas excessive splitting into sects among the Jewish people is unlikely to be maintainable in the long term because the worldwide Jewish population is rather small and division weakens us;

A new sustainable non-Orthodox form must be created. I suggest a novel form of Judaism that can be an umbrella for the many disparate forms and may be acceptable to most or all. This would be an act-based Judaism. Total prax, no dox necessary. No dogmas, no fear of science, no dedicated beliefs, no heresy.

I introduce Action Judaism (tentative name only). The movement would support the continuation of traditional customs and practices, though perhaps with a few notable exceptions - details to be worked on later (perhaps a basic suggested prax that would be the minimum but allow other stricter forms for whatever the people feel most comfortable), but would claim no authority on metaphysical truths. Each individual can be free to speculate and theorize without fear of consequence. It would be supportive of bringing estranged Jews back into this sustainable Judaism. The focus is on bringing Jews back to Judaism but without forcing any necessary stories that they would need to accept.

How’s that sound?