Thursday, November 30, 2006

Joshua vs General Lin

Oh boy, Dawkins is everywhere isn't he? Here I am going to talk about him again, but only briefly! Anyway, I was watching on youtube his book reading of 'The God Delusion" at Randolph-Macon Woman's College (you can see it here there's also an additional Q&A portion found here) and he mentioned an interesting study made by George Tamarin, an Israeli psychologist, back in the 60s and 70s. This is what he found (as reported from here):

The Israelites' campaign to carry out their god's commandment to commit genocide against the native inhabitants of Canaan-cum-Palestine took several generations. It began with Joshua's massacre at Jericho. Contrary to the Christian song "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho," according to scripture there was no battle at all. It was a siege, at the end of which all of the city's inhabitants were killed except Rahab the prostitute (she and her family were spared in exchange for helping Joshua plan his strategy, Joshua 6:16-17, 19, 21, 24, RSV):

Joshua said to the people, "Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction . . . But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD." . . . Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword . . . And they burned the city with fire, and all within it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

The half-life and penetrance of such cultural legacies are often under-appreciated. Some 3,000 years after the fall of Jericho, Israeli psychologist George Tamarin (1966, 1973) measured the strength of residual in-group morality. He presented Joshua 6:20-21 to 1,066 school children, ages 8-14, in order to test "the effect of uncritical teaching of the Bible on the propensity for forming prejudices (particularly the notion of the 'chosen people,' the superiority of the monotheistic religion, and the study of acts of genocide by biblical heroes)." The children's answers to the question "Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?," were categorized as follows: "'A' means total approval, 'B' means partial approval or disapproval, and 'C' means total disapproval." Across a broad spectrum of Israeli social and economic classes, 66% of responses were "A," 8% "B," and 26% "C." The "A" answers tended to be as straightforward as they were numerous (Tamarin, 1966):

-In my opinion Joshua and the Sons of Israel acted well, and here are the reasons: God promised them this land, and gave them permission to conquer. If they would not have acted in this manner or killed anyone, then there would be the danger that the Sons of Israel would have assimilated among the "Goyim."(6)

-In my opinion Joshua was right when he did it, one reason being that God commanded him to exterminate the people so that the tribes of Israel will not be able to assimilate amongst them and learn their bad ways.

-Joshua did good because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, and when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.

Tamarin (1973) noted that:

"C" classification [total disapproval] was accorded to all answers formally rejecting genocide, either on ethical or utilitarian grounds. This does not mean that all "C" responses reveal non-discriminatory attitudes. For example, one girl criticized Joshua's act, stating that "the Sons of Israel learned many bad things from the Goyim." . . . Another extremely racist response is that of a 10 year old girl disapproving the act, stating, "I think it is not good, since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land one will also become impure and share their curse."

Other misgivings included (1966):

-I think Joshua did not act well, as they could have spared the animals for themselves.

-I think Joshua did not act well, as he should have left the property of Jericho; if he had not destroyed the property it would have belonged to the Israelites.

In contrast to the established difference between boys and girls in propensity toward violence and approval of violence in general, with regard to biblically commanded genocide Tamarin found that "Contrary to our expectation, there was no difference, concerning this most cruel form of prejudice, between male and female examinees" (1973). Less surprising, but more alarming, nearly half of the children who gave "total approval" to Joshua's behavior also gave "A" responses to the hypothetical question: "Suppose that the Israeli Army conquers an Arab village in battle. Do you think it would be good or bad to act towards the inhabitants as Joshua did towards the people of Jericho?" Tamarin (1966) received such responses as these:

-In my opinion this behavior was necessary, as the Arabs are our enemies always, and the Jews did not have a country, and it was necessary to behave like that towards the Arabs.

-It would have been good to treat the Arabs as Joshua and his soldiers did, as they are Arabs; they hate and retaliate against us all the time, and if we exterminate them as Joshua did, they won't be able to show themselves as greater heroes than we.

-I think it was good because we want our enemies to be conquered, and to widen our frontiers, and we should kill the Arabs as Joshua and the Israelites did.

Some respondents disapproved of Joshua's campaign (answer "C"), but approved of similar acts if committed by Israeli soldiers. One girl disapproved of Joshua "because it is written in the Bible, 'don't kill'," but she approved of the conjectured Israeli Army action, stating "I think it would be good, as we want our enemies to fall into our hands, enlarge our frontiers, and kill the Arabs as Joshua did."

As a control group, Tamarin tested 168 children who were read Joshua 6:20-21 with "General Lin" substituted for Joshua and a "Chinese Kingdom 3000 years ago" substituted for Israel. General Lin got a 7% approval rating, with 18% giving partial approval or disapproval, and 75% disapproving totally.

The most revealing of the above is not so much some the horrible moralizations given by the schoolchildren, but that the whole issue is an instance of special pleading since the children were hardly as likely to see General Lin in as ethical a light.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cutting into Sacred Territory

"Soon after I started my medical studies, I was standing before a long metal table with three other medical students one day when I faced my ultimate challenge.

On the table was a long black bag with a zipper running down the middle. In the air around us, assaulting our sinuses, was the sharp chemical smell of formaldehyde. Inside the bag was a dead person -- a cadaver.

It had been assigned to our group, and we were expected to dissect it, organ by organ, limb by limb, learning by touch, sight, and firsthand experience the contours, textures, colors, and inner realms of the human body.

I had known this was coming. We all did, and everyone felt some degree of discomfort about this part of our education. The cadaver stage of medical school has been chronicled profusely. Some students name their cadavers -- names like Louise, Jim or Butch. It is a tactic to relieve the discomfort of knowing that before us lies a person who lived life as we do, felt jealousy and fear, and perhaps made art, wrote poetry, raised children and sacrificed for them, decorated Christmas trees, wrapped birthday presents, had been in love and in lust, had had a broken heart.

But beyond all of this, I had to combat another level of discomfort; Navajos do not touch the dead. Ever.

It is one of the strongest rules in our culture. The dead hold ch'iindis, or evil spirits, that are simply not to be tampered with. When a person dies, the "good" part of the person leaves with the spirit, while the "evil" part stays with the physical body. That belief is so strong that before the advent of mortuaries, Navajos sought out Pueblo Indians, missionaries, white traders or other outsiders to bury their dead. When a person dies in a hogan, the hogan is destroyed. Sometimes Navajo people nowadays bring their dying relatives to the hospital simply to prevent them from dying in their home. In many other cases hospitals are avoided. Navajo people know that death lies inside hospital walls, and therefore hospitals are filled with ch'iindis."

- "The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing" by Lori Arviso, M.D., and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt

Excerpt from an excerpt from here.

I haven't read this book at all and I'm not trying to promote it. I just saw this excerpt and I thought it was rather fascinating given that I was looking up the Halachic considerations regarding dissections of Jewish cadavers. Could make you think.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Minds of Our Youth

It gets to you after awhile. You spend time discussing these skeptical issues with folks on the jblogosphere and frumskeptics group and you start to think that there really are a lot of thoughtful Jews out there who know there are significant issues with Orthodoxy. Many of them aren't as skeptical as you are, sure, but they at least know there are problems and can rationally appraise the situation.

You can actually have a conversation with people and you can be speaking the same language.

So I decided to spend some time on a different kind of discussion board online and I've been there for about a month or so. This discussion board is made up predominantly of young (college age mostly) straight-up Orthodox Jews. There are a couple with some interesting histories, but I was nearly alone in my skeptical views amongst a sea of unqualified full believers.

It's like talking to a wall. Not only do they not understand where you're coming from, they believe that your intent is sabotage and for the most part do not even attempt to defend their beliefs. And when they do try to defend themselves they don't even know how to think. You make an argument and they don't understand. You actually have to walk them through it one 'if-then' step at a time. They are so sure they are correct even though it is fully apparent that they are fully ignorant on so many key concepts. It's like they don't want to think - they don't care! They are dead-set in their ways at the ripe old age of 20 years old.

It's maddening.

They make piss-poor arguments that folks on the jblogosphere would tear apart in minutes, while there they all nod their dittoheads in solemn agreement. It is incredible seeing how these youth's minds are in such subservience to the thinking patterns forced onto them as yeshiva students. They don't think for themselves and they can't even conceive of thinking outside the box.

These people are the future of Orthodox Judaism. And these were the MO type no less!

As long as I could almost fool myself that Orthodoxy could be composed of all the thoughtful people we find on the jblogosphere I am comfortable with my place in life and the path I've chosen. Traditional is good when thought is free. But when I see the real company of the future and the type of thinking I am externally associating myself with I think to myself, "What am I doing here? These are people whom I want to be identified with?"