Us Jews are sooooo cool

  • Yay for Jews! A recent poll shows that Jews are more supportive of same-sex marriage than any other religious group in the USA (55% in favor), and another 30% on top of that favor civil unions.

    What happens a generation from now, when the large majority of synagogues recognize gay marriage? Eventually, this is going to come down to a question of why Evangelical marriages are universally recognized by the law but Jewish marriages aren’t.

  • The same poll also found that strong majorities of every single religous group in the USA – which is to say, the entire US population – favors taxing the wealthy to fight poverty. (pdf file - see page 19) Jews moreso than everyone else, but still – it was striking that there was such universal agreement.
  • The same poll (see page 27) also found that 24% of Evangelicals, even when given the choice of saying that abortion should be legal in just a few circumstances, prefer that abortion should be illegal in every circumstance. Who cares if the mother dies? Psychos.

    In comparison, not one (0%) Jew said that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. Again, us Heebs are in the right.

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88 Responses to Us Jews are sooooo cool

  1. 1
    lucia says:

    I keep seeing statements to the effect that Judaism is about reading Jewish texts and arguing about what they mean. The name for that type of activity is literary criticism, or literary analysis.

    And to a large extent, my friend’s religion classes seemed more similar to sitting in on literature or history classes at my RC high school, than to my religion classes. Much more similar in fact.

    Surely you’re not suggesting that that is all there is to the religion of Judaism.
    I wouldn’t suggest that. However, there were quite a few agnostics in the class, and the way the classes were run, that worked out ok. You could doubt, and still participate in the classes. (That said, I’m sure the goal was not to create agnostics.)

    In contrast, if expressing agnosticisms, or taking heretical positions often drove the Nun’s visibly crazy. (Given the number of idenfiable heresies, vis-a-vis Roman Catholicism, it’s pretty easy to take a heretical possition. )

    Obviously, Judaism is a religion, and obviously, the Old Testament includes a lot of revealed teaching. How one looks or processes that can, and does vary.

    In any case, as an agnostic who leans toward atheism, I think I’d be flattering myself if I convinced myself that I rely on reason more than all religious people. Some yes. All, no.

  2. 2
    Don P says:

    Tara:

    Don’t you see that when you insist on us ascribing one specific meaning to “religious” Judaism, you are basing yourself on a Christian template??? It is not necessary or appropriate to artificially divide Judaism into “religious” parts and “non-religious parts.” It just does not work, and it’s not fair of you to expect Jews to align themselves according to your conception of what constitutes “religiousness.”

    See, this just makes no sense to me. Are you really saying that you see no difference between, say, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and a secular, non-believing, non-observant Jew like Albert Einstein. Einstein certainly considered himself a Jew in the sense of having a Jewish ethnic and cultural and familial heritage, but he was not at all a Jew in the religious sense. He was not an adherent of Judaism. He didn’t believe in any kind God who is involved or interested in human affairs. He didn’t believe in prayer. He didn’t believe the Jewish scriptures were sources of knowledge about the world. He didn’t go to temple. He didn’t do any of it. He was about as thoroughly irreligious as a person can be.

    So if Einsten was a Jew in every sense that an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi is a Jew, what can Judaism possibly mean as a religion? Your answer seems to be: nothing.

    In any case, one significant difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Judaism and Jewish laws are for Jews, and not for everybody else. There is no expectation that everybody OUGHT to follow Judaism. There is no conception that non-Jews are going to hell or something like that. What that means is that even Jews who would consider same sex marriage forbidden to Jews, or under Jewish law, could still support same sex marriage under state law.

    Well, that’s better than the Christian position, but it’s still pretty awful for gay Jews, isn’t it? I think it must be almost as bad to grow up gay in an Orthodox Jewish community as to grow up gay in a conservative Christian one.

  3. 3
    Don P says:

    Lucia:

    I grew up Roman Catholic, but my best friend in high school was a conservative Jew. Because we lived in different towns, we spent weekends, and I went to her religious classes from time to time. As far as I could tell, students were not taught to suppress their faculties of reason and conscience when studying the Torah.

    Any appeal to faith, revelation or religious authority in support of a claim of knowledge or moral truth is the suppression of reason and conscience. Again, if Judaism doesn’t do this, how does it differ from a secular, rationalist, empiricist philosophy that rejects faith and revelation as valid sources of knowledge? Is Judaism a religion or isn’t it?

    I keep seeing statements to the effect that Judaism is about reading Jewish texts and arguing about what they mean. The name for that type of activity is literary criticism, or literary analysis. Surely you’re not suggesting that that is all there is to the religion of Judaism. So what else does it involve? What beliefs? What behaviors? Presumably, the statement “I am an adherent of the religion of Judaism” is meant to convey something about what a person believes or how he behaves that is more than just the desire to be known as a Jew. So what is it?

  4. 4
    Don P says:

    Ripley:

    I’m about as anti-religion as Christopher Hitchens, but I’d have to alter a word in “the fundamental source of anti-gay sentiment in western countries is the teachings of the Christian and Jewish scriptures” to make a statement I see evidence to support.

    The evidence is the content of the texts and the explicit and implicit appeals to those texts, and to the traditions of Christianity and Judaism, to justify anti-gay belief and behavior. The weight of this evidence is overwhelming. Ask anyone in a western nation who thinks that homosexuality is wrong why they think that it is wrong and they will almost certainly cite religious–and most likely, Christian–teachings.

    You’re giving the homophobes too much credit if you accept their claim to be motivated by adherence to the Bible.

    What alternative motivation do you propose, then, and what evidence do you offer for it, and against the claim that the Bible and Christian/Jewish traditions motivate homophobia?

    Obviously, if they took the Bible seriously, they’d behave very differently. Plus there’s a lot of controversy over whether even Paul actually endorses homophobia.

    That “controversy” is extremely recent, and is largely confined to small moderate and liberal Christian sects. The ones that are dying out the fastest. Virtually every Christian denomination holds that homosexual sex is a sin, that it is against God’s will. This is absolutely mainstream Christian teaching.

    As for the superior record of atheists, China and Cuba aren’t looking too good (Okay, that’s not a fair argument, inasmuch as Marx’s endorsement of heterosexual monogamy in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 probably has the force of scripture for those countries).

    Right. It’s not a valid argument. Communism is an irrational doctrine rooted in a pseudo-scientific reading of history that is more akin to a religion than to a secular philosophy rooted in the principles of the Enlightenment.

    My point is, that if you’re gonna look for a source of anti-gay sentiment, and compulsory heterosexuality, you might look elsehwhere.

    Well, I’m asking you. If you claim that Christianity and Judaism do not inspire homophobia, and that something else does, what is that other thing? What evidence do you offer for it?

  5. 5
    leen says:

    I know it’s not what everyone else is talking about, but re: the whole “taxing the rich” thing…

    It was pointed out to me recently that taxing the rich is never really going to work, because they are precisely the people who have the means and motivation to find (or create, if need be) loopholes to get out of it. Which is sort of a bummer, but it makes perfect sense. That’s what corporations and trusts and all those other legal entities are for.

    Not that I have any better ideas, but it is food for thought.

  6. 6
    Don P says:

    mythago:

    So it’s OK to treat a text as a source of knowledge or moral truth, as long as there’s no supernatural imprimatur?

    Yes. In a scrict sense, no text is a source of knowledge, it may just be a repository or record of knowledge. The problem comes when people claim that a text is a record of knowledge from some supernatural agent, like God. Those claims tend to lead to persecution and killing. As Burke or someone said, men never kill so cheerfully or so certainly as when they kill in the name of their God.

    And again, you’re defining religion through one narrow viewpoint–that of faith.

    Then again I ask, what does it mean to be an adherent of Judaism? If it’s not a matter of faith, what is it a matter of?

    But Buddhists are still following that whole durn religion thing!

    Yes. And Buddhism isn’t a source of knowledge or morality any more than Christianity or Judaism are. It’s just less anti-gay than they are.

    (BTW, there is a lot of disagreement, even among religious–not just Orthodox–Jews about the meaning of anti-gay passages in the texts,

    That doesn’t alter the fact that the sacred writings of Christianity and Judaism have inspired and continue to inspire prejudice, bigotry and discrimination against gay people, and it’s not hard to see why if you actually read those texts. The Christian Old Testament is largely a catalog of atrocities ordered, perpetrated or condoned by God. It should therefore surprise no one that Christianity has inspired so much atrocious behavior.

    And the central religious motivation of the 2,000-year history of Christian persecution of Jews is the Christian belief that Jews reject (and killed) the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is only in the very recent history of Christianity that it has begun to treat Jews with anything like dignity and respect, as you must surely know. This is the poisonous nature of religious belief. It addles people’s minds. It blinds them to reason. It blinds them to conscience.

  7. 7
    Tara says:

    Don’t you see that when you insist on us ascribing one specific meaning to “religious” Judaism, you are basing yourself on a Christian template??? It is not necessary or appropriate to artificially divide Judaism into “religious” parts and “non-religious parts.” It just does not work, and it’s not fair of you to expect Jews to align themselves according to your conception of what constitutes “religiousness.”

    In any case, one significant difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Judaism and Jewish laws are for Jews, and not for everybody else. There is no expectation that everybody OUGHT to follow Judaism. There is no conception that non-Jews are going to hell or something like that. What that means is that even Jews who would consider same sex marriage forbidden to Jews, or under Jewish law, could still support same sex marriage under state law.

    And plenty of Jews that probably even you would be willing to call religious understand Judaism to permit same sex marriage. They feel that they are participating authentically in the Jewish tradition (of interpretation of sacred texts/of ethical behaviour/of social justice etc).

    As far as abortion, this is my understanding: it is clear that Jewish law requires abortion when the mother’s life is in danger, at any point in the pregnancy up until the baby is coming out. Not permits, requires. That is why %0 of Jews anywhere in the world want to prohibit abortion. There are different opinions on the extent of the danger required, and whether it’s only danger to physical health, or danger to emotional and mental health that must also be considered.

    The Jewish tradition does not consider the fetus a person. In the Talmud, at one point it is said that for the first forty days, the fetus is like ‘waters’. If a person injures a pregnant woman so that her baby died, he is not responsible for murder, but for injury. All this give plenty to support the idea that Judaism permits/should permit abortion. On the other hand, there is a tradition of discouraging abortion except in cases where it is required. This seems to me more a cultural than legal stance, but tradition also plays a strong role in determining Jewish norms.

    All of what I have written is most relevant to “religious” Jews who base their understanding of Jewish observance on Halacha, Jewish law. That is the mainstream of traditional Judaism. There are orthodox Jews who feel that the Judaism practiced by reform Jews, who don’t centralize Jewish law in their conception of Judaism, are practicing an inauthentic form of Judaism.

    They’re free to their opinion, and me to mine, and Don P. to his, however uninformed it may be.

  8. 8
    lucia says:

    It teaches people to suppress their faculties of reason and conscience

    I grew up Roman Catholic, but my best friend in high school was a conservative Jew. Because we lived in different towns, we spent weekends, and I went to her religious classes from time to time. As far as I could tell, students were not taught to suppress their faculties of reason and conscience when studying the Torah.

    Obviously, this is just one personal experience. But, I can say, different religions have very different approaches to the relation between reason and religion! You can’t assume religion always surpresses reason for the sake of faith.

  9. 9
    tim gueguen says:

    No doubt some racist twit someplace will look at that poll and shout “See! We told you the Jews are conspiring to destroy the Christian family!”

  10. 10
    Lauren says:

    I have been told that it is written (somewhere – don’t remember where) that the soul doesn’t enter the body until the head is crowned during birth. So there’s no reason for abortion to be wrong – it hasn’t got a soul yet.
    Is that true?

  11. 11
    pseu says:

    The thing about Judaism as a religion that drew me to it was that even within the framework of “faith” there is still a lot questioning and argument about the actual meanings of passages and words in the Torah and other religious texts. It’s not about blind adherence to some literal application of something written thousands of years ago. When one studies Torah, they also study “midrash” or commentary by rabbis throughout the ages who very often disagree about the meanings of various passages.

    And the spiritual, moral application of Judaism is not about behaving a certain way to get a good seat in the afterlife. It’s about doing good in *this* world (tikkun olam, which means “healing the world”) because it’s the right thing to do.

    Sure, there’s a lot of variation in the practice of the Jewish faith varying from ultra-orthodox to ultra-reform and everything in between. I’ve mostly been exposed to Reform Judaism, but it’s my understanding that even among the ultra-orthodox, the idea that we should question and wrestle with and come to our own conclusions as to the meanings of the religious texts is prominent.

  12. 12
    Mr Ripley says:

    I’m about as anti-religion as Christopher Hitchens, but I’d have to alter a word in “the fundamental source of anti-gay sentiment in western countries is the teachings of the Christian and Jewish scriptures” to make a statement I see evidence to support. Either “source” to “rationalization” or “scriptures” to “leaders.” You’re giving the homophobes too much credit if you accept their claim to be motivated by adherence to the Bible. Obviously, if they took the Bible seriously, they’d behave very differently. Plus there’s a lot of controversy over whether even Paul actually endorses homophobia.

    As for the superior record of atheists, China and Cuba aren’t looking too good (Okay, that’s not a fair argument, inasmuch as Marx’s endorsement of heterosexual monogamy in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 probably has the force of scripture for those countries). My point is, that if you’re gonna look for a source of anti-gay sentiment, and compulsory heterosexuality, you might look elsehwhere. Claims of scriptural sanction are in this case among the tools used by demagogues to create and exploit prejudice as a strategy for consolidating power.

  13. 13
    mythago says:

    The problem arises when the text is treated as a source of knowledge or moral truth, the word of God, or Allah, or some other supernatural agent

    So it’s OK to treat a text as a source of knowledge or moral truth, as long as there’s no supernatural imprimatur? That would make it much more reasonable to be an Objectivist fanatic than a Jewish Reconstructionist.

    I’m talking about being a Jew in the religious sense, in the sense of being an adherent of the religion of Judaism.

    And again, you’re defining religion through one narrow viewpoint–that of faith. It’d be like saying “No, I don’t want to discuss Catholics when I talk about Christianity.”

    or have only a much weaker teaching, such as Buddhism

    But Buddhists are still following that whole durn religion thing! (BTW, there is a lot of disagreement, even among religious–not just Orthodox–Jews about the meaning of anti-gay passages in the texts, and I would really doubt that even a skewed sampling would be ‘comparable’ to fundamentalist Christian groups.)

    But we’re getting a bit away from Amp’s point.

  14. 14
    Don P says:

    mythago:

    There you go again…because one can be a Jew without being religious.

    But I said I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about being a Jew in the religious sense, in the sense of being an adherent of the religion of Judaism. What does it mean to be a Jew in that sense? What beliefs does it entail? What practises does it involve? What’s the difference between being a adherent of Judaism, and not being an adherent of Judaism? Or is it impossible to identify such a difference, because everyone just makes it up for himself (in which case, I would say, the distinction is effectively meaningless, just a label).

    It’s not merely literary criticism; some believe the written Tanakh was literally dictated by God, some that it was inspired by God, some that it was a purely human invention (and most serious scholars are pretty clear on the fact that there were multiple authors).

    Then those who believe that it was dictated by God or inspired by God are making claims of truth or morality on the basis of faith, revelation or authority, rather than reason and conscience. And that is the harmful influence I described. One man’s faith is another man’s heresy. One man’s revelation is another man’s belly laugh. If it were all just an abstract intellectual exercise, with no real-world implications, it wouldn’t really matter to me. But it’s not just an exercise. People persecute and kill one another over differences of religious faith and revelation and authority. They always have. Jews themselves have of course been subjected to especially harsh and long-lasting religious persecution. I think that fact helps to explain why religious Jews tend to be less arrogant and certain in their religious claims than Christians.

    Honestly, the closest thing I can give you is Constitutional analysis; people can spend their lives arguing about the Ninth Amendment. That doesn’t mean they are automatically blinkered, does it?

    No, of course the fact that someone spends a lot of time analyzing or thinking about a text doesn’t mean that they are “blinkered,” whether that text is a religious scripture or the works of Shakespeare or the U.S. Constitution. The problem arises when the text is treated as a source of knowledge or moral truth, the word of God, or Allah, or some other supernatural agent.

    When you strip away the layers of rationalization, the phony “rational” arguments that religious homophobes devise to try and justify discrimination against homosexuals, the fundamental source of anti-gay sentiment in western countries is the teachings of the Christian and Jewish scriptures. That is why atheists/agnostics, and adherents of religions whose traditions and sacred writings lack an anti-gay teaching, or have only a much weaker teaching, such as Buddhism, are so much more supportive of gay rights than adherents of Christianity and Judaism (and also Islam).

    (And yes, I know that the Pew study found high levels of support for gay rights amoung Jews, but that’s only because American Jews in general are so secular and irreligious. I’ll bet if they broke out orthodox Jews, the opposition to gay marriage and gay rights would be much higher, comparable to that of traditionalist Christian sects).

  15. 15
    mythago says:

    What does it mean to be a Jew (in the religious sense, rather than the ethnic or familial sense)?

    There you go again…because one can be a Jew without being religious.

    It’s not merely literary criticism; some believe the written Tanakh was literally dictated by God, some that it was inspired by God, some that it was a purely human invention (and most serious scholars are pretty clear on the fact that there were multiple authors). Honestly, the closest thing I can give you is Constitutional analysis; people can spend their lives arguing about the Ninth Amendment. That doesn’t mean they are automatically blinkered, does it?

  16. 16
    Don P says:

    mythago:

    Huh. I don’t remember that part in the Sekrit Jewish Training Camp.

    Really? Then what’s the difference between what they teach you at “Sekrit Jewish Training Camp” and a belief system based on reason and conscience rather than faith, revelation, authority or other sources of knowledge and morality claimed by religion?

    More along the lines of spirited debate, arguing about the meaning of the text, all that jazz. I hear the Buddhists are also into contemplation.

    Well, anyone can argue about the meaning of a text. It’s called literary criticism. There’s obviously a difference between arguing about what a text means and attributing to that text some supernatural or divine significance.

    Be careful of assuming “fundamentalist American Protestantism” is the template for all religion.

    In what ways does the religion of Judaism differ from that template, then? If it doesn’t involve claims of morality or truth based on sacred writings, divine revelations, or other religious sources of knowledge, what does it do? What does it mean to be a Jew (in the religious sense, rather than the ethnic or familial sense)?

  17. 17
    mythago says:

    It teaches people to suppress their faculties of reason and conscience

    Huh. I don’t remember that part in the Sekrit Jewish Training Camp. More along the lines of spirited debate, arguing about the meaning of the text, all that jazz. I hear the Buddhists are also into contemplation.

    Be careful of assuming “fundamentalist American Protestantism” is the template for all religion.

  18. 18
    Don P says:

    Yay for Jews! A recent poll shows that Jews are more supportive of same-sex marriage than any other religious group in the USA (55% in favor), and another 30% on top of that favor civil unions.

    That really ought to be, Yay for atheists and agnostics! The study found that non-religious Americans–atheists and agnostics–exhibit a greater level of support for gay marriage (and for gay rights in general) than any religious group, and by a huge margin (almost twenty percentage points). I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Religion, all religion, is a bad influence. It teaches people to suppress their faculties of reason and conscience and to accept claims of morality or truth on the basis of faith, revelation or authority instead. The biggest single obstacle to equality for gay people in our society, and virtually everywhere else in the world too, is organized religion.

  19. 19
    Dan J says:

    Judaism as I have experienced it makes no claim to the delivery of objective knowledge. How could it? As the list of questions above so astutely points out, the true defining qualities of Judaism are completely subjective. However, I would take issue with the idea that being subjective renders it meaningless. Not all meaning is objective, surely. Now, it could very well be that what makes a Jew is completely meaningless to non-Jews. A number of readings of Jewish intellectual traditions suggest that very thing. But isn’t that true of every religion? At the very least, couldn’t it be?

    And as far as religion being dangerous, it seems that if a given religion makes no claim to objective truth, then any reading that suggests it does is a function only of the belief of the reader. In other words, religion isn’t dangerous. People who believe that they know the objective truth about anything are dangerous. What does it matter where that belief comes from? The problem is people.

  20. 20
    Don P says:

    Ampersand:

    Don, you make some good points, but please try to dial down the belligerance several notches.

    You should be saying that to Tara and NancyP.

    I do see a distinction between a religious Jew and a nonreligious Jew.

    You see it, I see it, and virtually everyone else sees it. Tara is the only person I’ve ever known to claim that it’s a false or inappropriate distinction.

    Religion can be both a positive and a negative influence;

    The negative far outweighs the positive. As I said, religious claims of truth may sometimes be correct, but only by chance. Most of the time, it’s wrong. That’s why we now look increasingly to science and reason to learn about the nature of the world (including ourselves), not religion.

    I certainly agree with Don that religion’s influence has been extremely negative, historically, for lesbians and gays. But it’s also clear that which religion (or which branch of which religion) we’re discussing makes a large difference.

    The Abrahamic religions–Christianity, Islam and Judaism–have profoundly homophobic scriptures and traditions. Christianity and Islam together claim half the world’s religious adherents. Other religions are less homophobic, some not homophobic at all, but they have other problems. It’s not simply particular religions or particular religious doctrines that I am attacking, it is the assumption that religion is a valid source of knowledge or morality at all.

    Since I don’t think getting rid of religion entirely is in the cards, I’d rather focus on trying to encourage the positive developments.

    Well, if by “getting rid” of religion you mean some kind of coercion or force, I would strongly oppose that. Religion is nonsense, but people have a right to believe and practise nonsense. Religion should be attacked, but the weapons to use against it are knowledge and reason and argument and education, not force.

    Religion is gradually dying out in the west as it loses its relevance and value to people’s lives and as it is increasingly marginalized by the advance of science. The U.S. is a bit behind the curve compared to other western nations, where the decline began earlier and has been more rapid, but the same basic trend is evident throughout the western democracies. I think we should work to support and accelerate this secularizing trend. If religion is growing anywhere, it is in the developing world.

    In July, the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center published a new finding from its General Social Survey. The survey found that in the very near future, for the first time since the pilgrims landed 400 years ago, Protestant Christians will no longer constitute a majority of Americans. In fact, their transition to minority status may have already occurred. I have been rather amazed by the lack of attention this development has received from the media. I’ve barely seen it reported at all. But then I think the American media has a religion-boosting bias, which may help explain the lack of reporting.

    (Where are all the Protestants going? Not to the Catholic Church, and not to Judaism. Some are joining non-traditional religions–Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age, etc. But most are abandoning organized religion completely, and no longer identify with any religion).

    The proportion of the American population that identifies as Jewish, by the way, has remained relatively constant, but tiny–around 2%. And this figure likely includes many people who identify as Jewish for cultural/ethnic reasons but who are not in any meaningful sense religious.

  21. 21
    Ampersand says:

    This has been a really fascinating thread to read.

    Don, you make some good points, but please try to dial down the belligerance several notches. (Or if you’re not being belligerant, try and find a way to make that clearer in your writing style – you’re coming across as belligerant).

    I do see a distinction between a religious Jew and a nonreligious Jew. A religious Jew is someone who consciously tries to follow at least some of the religious laws set down for Jews by tradition and by the various books. How that’s interpreted varies from Jew to Jew; I include both the Reform Jew who attends services on high holy holidays and the Orthodox who davens three times a day. (Note that it’s perfectly possible to be an Orthodox Jew and at the same time be agnostic about God’s existence.)

    Religion can be both a positive and a negative influence; I certainly agree with Don that religion’s influence has been extremely negative, historically, for lesbians and gays. But it’s also clear that which religion (or which branch of which religion) we’re discussing makes a large difference. Since I don’t think getting rid of religion entirely is in the cards, I’d rather focus on trying to encourage the positive developments.

    Tara, hi! Great to see you here. I hope you stick around. :-)

  22. 22
    Tara says:

    Nancy,

    I think you’ve written a lot of really interesting things, and I would be happy to read more, but I don’t really think it’s really worthwhile engaging with Don any longer.

  23. 23
    pseu says:

    “#8. “Goyische kopf” is literally “Gentile head”, and means “In this movie, a bunch of gentiles get into trouble because they do things that no self-respecting Jew would ever consider doing. This usually involves either infidelity or dangerous feats of physical prowess. The Clooney movie I had in mind was “The Perfect Storm.” Under the theory of “goyische kopf”, the Jew would have simply stayed home when rain was predicted, thus negating the whole point of the movie.”

    BWAHAHAHA! This is the best, most succinct review of that movie I’ve ever seen!

  24. 24
    alsis38 says:

    I still have no damn clue how I’d fit into the damn poll. I consider myself both Jewish and Atheist, for a number of reasons.

    Good discussion, though, especially from Tara, whom I don’t see much since the demise of a certain feminist board elsewhere. :)

  25. 25
    Don P says:

    NancyP:

    DonP: agnostics “do not know” (a-gnosis) if there is such a thing as God. They acknowledge that this issue is not susceptible of proof in either direction.

    Right. The word “agnostic” has various nuances of meaning, but the basic idea is that we do not know, and perhaps that we cannot know, whether or not God exists.

    I gather that you, as a self-proclaimed atheist, “believe”, without proof, that there is no God. Theists “believe”, without proof, that there is God.

    One of the nuances of meaning in the word “atheism” that you are apparently unaware of is that some atheists disbelieve in particular Gods and others in all Gods. With respect to the God of Christianity, I consider myself a strong atheist. I believe that the God of Christianity does not exist. I base this belief on the evidence of my observation and experience of the world. I do not claim that my belief can be proven to be true. I do not claim that my belief is certain to be true. I do not claim that the existence of the God of Christianity is impossible. I do claim that the evidence strongly implies that the God of Christianity does not exist.

    The concept that biology will be able to explain all religiosity, aesthetic preference, and many other complex manifestations of consciousness is fine for amateurs, but if you talk to real biologists, you will find that this is a non-trivial task.

    I am talking about “real” biologists, as well as other “real” scientists in other disciplines (specifically, cognitive scientists). And yes, acquiring a detailed understanding of the biological basis of human emotions, moral preferences, aesthetic preferences, religious beliefs and so on is a non-trivial task. Most important scientific questions are non-trivial tasks.

    The biological explanation of why opera fan #1 favors Bjoerling over Pavarotti and opera fan #2 favors Pavarotti over Bjoerling is a will-o-the-wisp to biologists who are just now trying to map and clone genes involved in gross psychiatric abnormalities such as manic-depressive disorder and addiction.

    I assume “is a will-o-the-wisp to biologists” is supposed to mean something like, it’s a difficult and as-yet unsolved problem. Our scientific understanding of the relationship between genes, brains and minds is still in its infancy. Scientists have made enormous progress over the past few decades in this area and expect to make much greater progress in the coming decades, aided by new tools and technologies such as the Human Genome Project and new brain-imaging technologies.

    As for the preference for one particular operatic tenor over another, this may not be a matter of genes or biology at all. It may be a matter of culture or other environmental influences on aesthetic preferences. The kind of question more likely to involve biology is why people like music at all, why they like some kinds of sounds and not others. Ditto for other kinds of aesthetic preference, in the visual arts, the performing arts, literature, and so on. The biological basis of religious and moral beliefs is also a fertile area of research.

    This kind of scientific research is very threatening to many people who consider themselves religious or “spiritual,” because demystifying the human mind and explaining things like the emotion of love, or the experience of beauty in terms of natural processes like evolution undermines their cherished belief that these phenomena are somehow beyond the power of science and naturalism to investigate and explain, and have some special connection to God or the Divine or some other kind of supernatural agent or realm. They want to maintain the mystery because mystery helps sustain their irrational religious beliefs.

  26. 26
    Jew says:

    #6 means “Quiet, please.” In your first grade Hebrew school class, the teacher will say it to quiet the class. The class will respond to its “Bah bah bu-dum bum bum” rhythm with a rousing “Hey!”

    #8. “Goyische kopf” is literally “Gentile head”, and means “In this movie, a bunch of gentiles get into trouble because they do things that no self-respecting Jew would ever consider doing. This usually involves either infidelity or dangerous feats of physical prowess. The Clooney movie I had in mind was “The Perfect Storm.” Under the theory of “goyische kopf”, the Jew would have simply stayed home when rain was predicted, thus negating the whole point of the movie.

    #13: To the Tune of “Bridge over the River Kwai”

    Hitler, he only had one ball.
    Goering had two but they were small.
    Himmler had something similar.
    And Goebbels, had no balls, at all.

  27. 27
    Tara says:

    That is hilarious! Thanks for posting it.

  28. 28
    NancyP says:

    “Jew”: please translate #6 for this midwestern Gentile. And I am dying to know the answer to #13, since “nuts” were the first answer springing to my dirty little mind. What *was* Clooney’s last movie, and why is he some other part springing to my dirty little mind?

    DonP: agnostics “do not know” (a-gnosis) if there is such a thing as God. They acknowledge that this issue is not susceptible of proof in either direction. I gather that you, as a self-proclaimed atheist, “believe”, without proof, that there is no God. Theists “believe”, without proof, that there is God.

    The concept that biology will be able to explain all religiosity, aesthetic preference, and many other complex manifestations of consciousness is fine for amateurs, but if you talk to real biologists, you will find that this is a non-trivial task. The biological explanation of why opera fan #1 favors Bjoerling over Pavarotti and opera fan #2 favors Pavarotti over Bjoerling is a will-o-the-wisp to biologists who are just now trying to map and clone genes involved in gross psychiatric abnormalities such as manic-depressive disorder and addiction. Most practicing scientists don’t expect to be able to explain every last detail of highly complex systems.

  29. 29
    Jew says:

    Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith.

    You are a Jew if you answer “yes” to at least 10 out of 13.

    1. Do you find it interesting and noteworthy when you discover that some person who you used to never care about (e.g., Paula Abdul) is, in fact Jewish?

    2. When you eat a ham sandwich, do you think to yourself, “This isn’t kosher”?

    3. Does the concept of “Jews for Jesus” make you about 100 times angrier than the concept of “Jewish Buddhists”?

    4. When you hear a Jackie Mason shtick, do you think to yourself, “Too Jewish”?

    5. Do you feel obligated to defend your right to have a pro-Israel position when talking to non-Jews? (Alternatively: do you feel obligated to defend your right to have an anti-Israel position when talking to Jews?)

    6. Sheket b’Vakashah! (Answer ‘yes’ if you just yelled “Hey” out loud.)

    7. When you are in a crowded room, do you ears automatically picks out the conversation where the word “Jew” or “Jewish” is used, just as quickly as if someone said your name?

    8. If you asked for a review of the last George Clooney movie, and the response was “Goyische kopf,” would you know what that meant?

    9. Do you have a strong opinion about Woody Allen (either way)?

    10. Has a non-negligible percentage of your wine consumption been produced by Manischewitz?

    11. Does the word “Ladino” mean anything to you?

    12. Can you identify exactly one (no more, no less) ruling from Vatican II?

    13. “Goering had two, but they were small.” Do you know what “they” are?

  30. 30
    Don P says:

    jam:

    the debate concerning the relationship between faith & reason has been going on since the inception of Buddhism. the main reason for this debate is the fact that the Buddha claimed to have achieved enlightenment through intellectual reasoning as much as through intuitive or “mystical” insight – in other words, his enlightenment partook equally of both a priori & a posteriori knowledge – the pursuit of knowledge in many different fields (including physics, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, astronomy, mathematics & biology) is honored & encouraged within many if not most of the schools of Buddhism.

    What is “enlightenment,” as you are using the word? What knowledge has Buddhism provided us with through “intuitive or mystical insight?” What knowledge has Buddhism provided us with through faith? Give me some examples. And how have you determined that these claims are knowledge rather than merely hopes, wishes, guesses, etc.?

    And what is “intuitive or mystical insight,” anyway?

    it seems to me that this whole notion of reason being a system of inquiry that somehow doesn’t partake of or is independent of belief is more than a bit questionable.

    Of course reason isn’t independent of belief. Reason is an intellectual faculty that both rests on and is a source of belief. So what?

    sure, it’s an interesting, powerful & extremely useful way of dealing with the world for certain things. but it is a system of thought like any other, bound up, permeated, penetrated & interwoven with all the historical, psychological, political, & multitude of other conditions within which it arose & which continue to affect & transform it today.

    Yes, human reasoning is colored by politics, history, and so on. Again, so what? Is that observation intended to be a defense of faith or “mystical insight” as sources of knowledge? Or what? It’s hard to know what your point is.

    Yes, human reasoning is imperfect. Yes, human beings are fallible. Yes, reason and science are vulnerable to political, social, emotional and other influences that can distort them and lead to false conclusions. But the fact that science and reason are imperfect and that human beings are fallible does not support the claim that faith, “mystical insight” or whatever are valid sources of knowledge.

    it’s not as if “reason” or “science” have simple definitions, or meanings, or histories, do they? so why would one expect the same of something which has arguably a much much longer history, such as Judaism?

    I don’t think Judaism has a simple definition, meaning or history. That’s one reason why I reject Tara’s and Dan J’s claim that Judaism means, essentially, proclaiming oneself to be a Jew.

  31. 31
    Don P says:

    NancyP:

    DonP is a fundamentalist atheist, just as some theists are fundamentalists. Both stances assume that it is possible to precisely define a single truth, covering all of existence, that is as simple as stating, at 3:57 PM in Boston Harbor at global positioning system coordinates xyz, the water temperature 12 inches below the surface is 18.4 +/- 0.4 degrees C.

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Atheism has nothing to do with “defining truth.” Atheism is a position on the question of the existence of God. The term has various nuances of meaning, but it is generally understood to refer to disbelief in the existence of God, or belief in the non-existence of God. I don’t know what “fundamentalist” atheism is supposed to mean, or how it is supposed to differ from garden-variety atheism.

    Agnostics and non-fundamentalist theists are a little more humble about their ability to Explain Everything, and a little more willing to accept that there may not be a single “right answer”.

    Again, agnosticism and theism have nothing to do with claims about our ability to “explain everything.” The terms relate to the question of the existence of God. I’ve never heard of an atheist or agnostic who would claim that we can “explain everything” and I have certainly made no such claim. I suggest you read what I write more carefully, and stop attributing to me beliefs and positions that I have not expressed.

    There are plenty of scientists who acknowledge that while science is a wonderful tool for understanding much of the world, it is an insufficient tool for asking existential questions.

    What are “existential questions?” What “tool” can ask (or answer) them?

    What knowledge do you claim religion has provided us with? Give me some examples of this alleged knowledge. Not guesses. Not hopes. Not passions. But knowledge.

    Unfortunately, we humans seem to ask those questions with no “right answers”, and we have used religion, poetry, music, art, storytelling, and other analogical and abstract functions to do so. It is certainly possible that religiosity, love of music, love of visual stimuli, etc are “biologically based”, but how does one separate that from Homo sapiens “consciousness”?

    We can learn the biological basis of the human tendency for religiosity, for the enjoyment of music, art, etc., through scientific study. This is a very active area of research in cognitive science. “Consciousness” is an another aspect of mind and is also subject to scientific study. I don’t know what you mean by “separating” religiosity from consciousness, or why you think that matters. You just seem to be confusing and conflating different aspects of mind and different questions about the nature of mind.

  32. 32
    NancyP says:

    DonP is a fundamentalist atheist, just as some theists are fundamentalists. Both stances assume that it is possible to precisely define a single truth, covering all of existence, that is as simple as stating, at 3:57 PM in Boston Harbor at global positioning system coordinates xyz, the water temperature 12 inches below the surface is 18.4 +/- 0.4 degrees C. Agnostics and non-fundamentalist theists are a little more humble about their ability to Explain Everything, and a little more willing to accept that there may not be a single “right answer”. There are plenty of scientists who acknowledge that while science is a wonderful tool for understanding much of the world, it is an insufficient tool for asking existential questions. Unfortunately, we humans seem to ask those questions with no “right answers”, and we have used religion, poetry, music, art, storytelling, and other analogical and abstract functions to do so. It is certainly possible that religiosity, love of music, love of visual stimuli, etc are “biologically based”, but how does one separate that from Homo sapiens “consciousness”?

    Don’t drive a nail with a saw blade. Don’t cut a 2 x 4 with a hammer.

  33. 33
    Don P says:

    Richard Bellamy:

    Since Don appears to have cherry picked some stats that favor agnostics over Jews, I think I would do the same to show that Agnostics and Atheists have an irrational faith in “reason” and in insufficient belief in social justice.

    I didn’t “cherry pick” anything. Ampersand specifically cited the issue of same-sex marriage, which the study found is supported by atheists/agnostics more than it is supported by Jews by a factor of almost 20 percentage points.

    As for the other issues you mention, in several cases the differences in levels of support found between atheists/agnostics and Jews are so small as to be statistically insignificant, and in other cases I would argue that it is not at all clear that a higher level of support is the better position. I would probably favor greater overall government spending, for example, but it is not at all clear to me that those who oppose such a policy are either irrational or lacking compassion. I think government defense spending, for example, is probably far too high.

  34. 34
    Richard Bellamy says:

    Since Don appears to have cherry picked some stats that favor agnostics over Jews, I think I would do the same to show that Agnostics and Atheists have an irrational faith in “reason” and in insufficient belief in social justice.

    % Democrat

    Jews: 68
    Agnostics/Atheists: 54

    Want More Gov’t Spending

    Jews: 43%
    Ag/Ath: 32%

    Environmental Regulation Good:

    Jews: 67%
    Ag/Ath: 66%

    Tax The Wealthy:

    Jews: 80%
    Ag/Ath: 78%

    Gov’t Should Help Disadvantaged:

    Jews: 72%
    Ag/Ath: 64%

    Death Penalty Should Be Replaced With Life in Prison:

    Jews: 49%
    Ag/Ath: 39%

    Define as “Liberal”

    Jews: 46%
    Ag/Ath. 44%

  35. 35
    jam says:

    one additional thing to my post above:

    it is worth noting that despite the pronounced emphasis on reasoning within much of Buddhism, homophobia and especially sexism are still very much present.

  36. 36
    Don P says:

    Tara:

    Well, there you go, Judaism is meaningless as a religion because it doesn’t work the way Christianity does.

    No, that’s not what I said. I said that your conception of Judaism as a religion is worthless because it equates being an adherent of the religion of Judaism with who your parents are, or with what you call yourself. As you put it yourself, being an adherent of the religion of Judaism is the same thing as self-identifying as a member of the “tribe” or community of Jews. Nothing else is required. No particular beliefs. No particular practices. Nothing. And this makes sense to you? This is a definition of the religion of Judaism that you consider substantive and meaningful?

    I say that your conception of Judaism renders it meaningless, nothing more than a word, a label, a name, that signifies nothing other than a desire to be known by that name.

    You think Einstein didn’t identify as a Jew?

    No, again, that’s not what I said. I said that Einstein identified himself as a Jew because of his heritage and ethnicity, but denied being an adherent of any religion, including the religion of Judaism. In fact, he said that the only sense in which he could be considered a religious man was in his experience of awe and mystery at contemplating the universe.

  37. 37
    jam says:

    in terms of religions that do not rely on ‘revealed’ faith, word and revelation… Buddhism would be an interesting example to contemplate.

    the debate concerning the relationship between faith & reason has been going on since the inception of Buddhism. the main reason for this debate is the fact that the Buddha claimed to have achieved enlightenment through intellectual reasoning as much as through intuitive or “mystical” insight – in other words, his enlightenment partook equally of both a priori & a posteriori knowledge – the pursuit of knowledge in many different fields (including physics, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, astronomy, mathematics & biology) is honored & encouraged within many if not most of the schools of Buddhism.

    this is not to say that there are not schools of Buddhism that emphasize faith over reason (though ironically they sometimes claim to have arrived at this reliance on faith through reasoning). still, a cursory overview of the earliest texts of Buddhism shows a pronounced emphasis on the faculties of analytical reason & intellectual debate. Buddha repeatedly encouraged others to rely upon their own powers of observation & insight to realize truth.

    it seems to me that this whole notion of reason being a system of inquiry that somehow doesn’t partake of or is independent of belief is more than a bit questionable. sure, it’s an interesting, powerful & extremely useful way of dealing with the world for certain things. but it is a system of thought like any other, bound up, permeated, penetrated & interwoven with all the historical, psychological, political, & multitude of other conditions within which it arose & which continue to affect & transform it today.

    it’s not as if “reason” or “science” have simple definitions, or meanings, or histories, do they? so why would one expect the same of something which has arguably a much much longer history, such as Judaism? Linnaeus might have helped us make sense of things by putting them into little boxes, but that doesn’t mean that everything in the world will fit so nicely.

    a good example, again, would be Buddhism. now, one can say that Buddhism has been around since 6000BCE. one can also point out that the term “Buddhism” is a European invention, an attempt to generally categorize the myriad of beliefs encountered across the span of Asia. the common element? they all talked about some guy called Buddha. there. nice & tidy. nice little entry in the dictionary & encyclopedia… meanwhile, people across the span of Asia & the world continued to practice & transform & redefine the “Buddhism” they ascribed to. suddenly, one turns around & there’s all sorts of things going on under the name Buddhism! despite the definition recorded originally in the dictionary! who would have ever thought?

  38. 38
    Tara says:

    Well, there you go, Judaism is meaningless as a religion because it doesn’t work the way Christianity does. Great, at least we know where you stand.

    You think Einstein didn’t identify as a Jew?

    No, there is no difference in BEING a Jew. There are differences in practices of Judaism.

    But of course, *you* know that the true Judaism is orthodox Judaism. Or whatever it is you picture in your mind as orthodox Judaism.

    If you could just bear in mind when speaking about Judaism or anything Jewish that you’re coming from a place of both ignorance and closed-mindedness, that would be very helpful.

  39. 39
    Don P says:

    NancyP:

    The elephant metaphor was an apparently not very humorous way of illustrating that people who start out with a stated faith in God (whatever that may be) can come up with different conclusions since they are starting from different positions/experiences/cultures.

    What reason is there to think that faith is a source of knowledge at all, regardless of any distorting effect on faith of individual experiences and cultures? Let’s say you believe through faith that X is true, and someone else believes through faith that X is false. Why is your faith better than that other person’s faith? Why is your faith a more reliable guide to truth than someone else’s faith? How may we test these conflicting faith claims to determine which, if either, is correct? Christians say that Jesus is the Son of God. Jews and Muslims say that he is not. Who is right? How can you tell?

    Furthermore, if they believe in a transcendent God, an entity/state of being with features not 100% graspable by human reason, it is entirely expected that they would come up with different conclusions.

    Well, if their belief is a product of their imagination or culture or individual experience, then yes. But if it’s the result of some kind of communication from God, then why is there so much disagreement? Why isn’t the existence and nature of God as clear as the midday sun? Why isn’t a theology a science? The huge diversity of conflicting claims about the existence and nature of God is itself evidence that such claims are a reflection of subjective feelings—passions, hopes, wishes, guesses—rather than objective fact.

    The St. Paul’s Cathedral metaphor is new to me and rather pointless. So what if there are 2 accounts of creation, both metaphorical? ie, “representations”.

    The problem is that the two accounts conflict with one another. Which, if either, is correct? If neither is correct, what is the correct account of creation? How do you know?

    The fact that there are multiple conflicting accounts in almost everybody’s version of Scripture or sacred story is old hat.

    The fact that it is “old hat” doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. Which one is right? How can you tell?

    I would like to get back to the original question, “Is religion bad for the (fill in the blank)?”

    Yes, religion is bad. It’s bad for humanity. It claims to be a source of knowledge, but it’s not a source of knowledge. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

    “Religion” is not merely a set of ancient beliefs to which one must adhere without question – it is also praxis, it is also reinterpretation of those official beliefs by the individual believer, who often doesn’t care what the denominational Official Theologian says. “Religion” should be seen as evolving, because its human practitioners are evolving – “Religion” as verb, as action, as behavior observable by sociologist or historian.

    I just don’t know why you think this is relevant. Here is what I think is a good working definition of religion. Not perfect, but it captures the essential nature of religion as it is generally understood and practised:

    Religion consists of beliefs, actions and institutions predicated on the existence of supernatural entities with powers of agency (that is, gods, angels, demons, etc.) or impersonal powers or processes possessed of moral purpose (the Hindu notion of karma, for example) which can set the conditions of, or intervene in, human affairs.

    I reject religion because we have no knowledge that such entities or powers or processes exist, and because even if they do exist we have no knowledge of their nature, purposes, desires, etc. Obviously, various religions claim such knowledge, but claiming knowledge is not the same thing as possessing knowledge. These false claims to knowledge inspire actions that have caused an untold amount of human suffering and misery, and that have suppressed or perverted legitimate efforts to acquire knowledge through reason and science.

  40. 40
    NancyP says:

    The elephant metaphor was an apparently not very humorous way of illustrating that people who start out with a stated faith in God (whatever that may be) can come up with different conclusions since they are starting from different positions/experiences/cultures. Furthermore, if they believe in a transcendent God, an entity/state of being with features not 100% graspable by human reason, it is entirely expected that they would come up with different conclusions. And of course faith is a leap in the dark. This is not news.

    The St. Paul’s Cathedral metaphor is new to me and rather pointless. So what if there are 2 accounts of creation, both metaphorical? ie, “representations”. The fact that there are multiple conflicting accounts in almost everybody’s version of Scripture or sacred story is old hat. Modern Biblical criticism dates from the early 1800s. The multiauthor hypothesis is old-old-old. Maybe all the authors are deluded, not up to me to say.

    I would like to get back to the original question, “Is religion bad for the (fill in the blank)?” Answer: depends.

    As I described in my earlier post, African-Americans descended from slaves have experienced religion as oppression AND as liberation. Currently most glbt experience religion as oppression much of the time – certainly that is the case in my region, which passed an anti-SSM amendment after much acrimony. It is also true that some (not all) glbt experience religion as liberation, empowerment, radical equality. I am going to guess that at least some of the desire for SSM is not just related to gaining concrete legal benefits conferred by the state, but is motivated by a fundamental need to proclaim equality, from a desire for non-theistic abstract justice or from a desire to claim that which is due to all people created equal by a Creator.

    “Religion” is not merely a set of ancient beliefs to which one must adhere without question – it is also praxis, it is also reinterpretation of those official beliefs by the individual believer, who often doesn’t care what the denominational Official Theologian says. “Religion” should be seen as evolving, because its human practitioners are evolving – “Religion” as verb, as action, as behavior observable by sociologist or historian.

  41. 41
    Don P says:

    Tara:

    Here is a primer for you. One is a Jew because one was born a Jew or converts to Judaism. One is born a Jew if one’s mother at the time of one’s birth is Jewish, or, according to Reform Judaism, if either of your parents was Jewish at the time of your birth and you identify yourself as Jewish. Think of it… as a tribe. A tribe with religious and cultural practices that are passed down over time, but membership doesn’t depend on ‘adherence.’ Where all of us feel like we have some stake in the future of our people and some power in determining what our future should look like. Where we have different practices and different beliefs, different secondary languages and cultures even, but still feel a ‘tribal’ connection.

    Thank you for finally providing an answer. But again, I think this just shows that your conception of Judaism as a religion is worthless. It has nothing to do with belief. It has nothing to do with behavior. It’s just a matter of who your mother or father was. If the term “religion” is to be meaningful and useful, I think it has to denote something more than who one’s parents were. I think the claim that Albert Einstein, for example, was an adherent of the religion of Judaism is preposterous. He would certainly not have agreed with that claim.

    It is a characteristic of Judaism that learning and studying Jewish texts is integral to the practice of Judaism

    But it isn’t integral to being an adherent of the religion of Judaism, according to you, is it? Because you just told me that you don’t recognize any difference between being a Jew in a religious sense and being a Jew in any other sense. I can’t believe that even most Reform Jews would agree with you, let alone most Conservative or Orthodox ones.

    And you know what? Faith isn’t a source of knowledge. Faith may tell you where to look for knowledge.

    How does faith tell you where to look for knowledge? How does it differ from just guessing about where to look, for example?

    For example, if I have “faith” in Judaism, I may look for knowledge in Jewish texts.

    But why do you need faith in Judaism for that? Why shouldn’t non-Jews also look for knowledge in Jewish texts? And why shouldn’t Jews also look for knowledge in other texts as well, like the Christian Bible, or the Koran? What does faith provide that would not be there without it?

  42. 42
    Dan J says:

    Don,

    As a more direct answer to your question, though one which will probably disappoint you, what distinguishes Jews from non-Jews is the fact that Jews consider themselves to be Jewish. That’s all. Doesn’t sound like it fits the definition of a religion? So what? It’s lots of things to lots of people, and you won’t get a concrete, straight answer from anyone. Only more questions.

  43. 43
    Don P says:

    Dan J:

    As a more direct answer to your question, though one which will probably disappoint you, what distinguishes Jews from non-Jews is the fact that Jews consider themselves to be Jewish. That’s all. Doesn’t sound like it fits the definition of a religion? So what?

    So, it’s essentially meaningless. If all it means to be a Jew, to be an adherent of the religion of Judaism, is to call yourself one, if belief and behavior and everything else have nothing to do with it, then Judaism is meaningless. It’s just a label that doesn’t mean anything.

  44. 44
    Tara says:

    Don,

    I feel like you’re really not listening. No matter what Amp’s stats say, no matter what I say, no matter how many millions of Jews feel, you’ve decided that your understanding of orthodox Judaism IS normative Judaism, and go on to say how *you* think orthodox Judaism should define the word Jew. Sorry, you’re just wrong.

    Here is a primer for you. One is a Jew because one was born a Jew or converts to Judaism. One is born a Jew if one’s mother at the time of one’s birth is Jewish, or, according to Reform Judaism, if either of your parents was Jewish at the time of your birth and you identify yourself as Jewish. Think of it… as a tribe. A tribe with religious and cultural practices that are passed down over time, but membership doesn’t depend on ‘adherence.’ Where all of us feel like we have some stake in the future of our people and some power in determining what our future should look like. Where we have different practices and different beliefs, different secondary languages and cultures even, but still feel a ‘tribal’ connection.

    And, yes, learning and studying about Catholicism is distinct from practicing Catholicism. That is a characteristic of Catholicism. It is a characteristic of Judaism that learning and studying Jewish texts is integral to the practice of Judaism – “even” according to your beloved orthodox ‘norm’.

    But that’s not good enough for you, is it? You want me to tell you that in order to be a “true” Jew, one has to believe in a personal and involved God who reaveled Godself to the entire Jewish people, living and future, at Mount Sinai. And practice constitutes a certain set of moralistic rules and praying on regular intervals to that deity and that’s it. Because that would match your Christian idea of what constitutes a religion.

    And you know what? Faith isn’t a source of knowledge. Faith may tell you where to look for knowledge. For example, if I have “faith” in Judaism, I may look for knowledge in Jewish texts. Of course, these texts are so incredibly diverse and knowingly contradictory on many points, so I will have a very exciting and fruitful journey on which I will no doubt learn a great deal, includindg a lot of sexist, homophobic junk. If I have faith in philosophy, I may look for knowledge in philosophical texts (possibly even including Jewish philosophical texts) and will no doubt learn a great deal, including a lot of sexist, homophobic junk. In fact, I challenge you to find a single intellectual field that is free of sexist homophobic junk…

  45. 45
    Don P says:

    NancyP:

    Faith vs. rationality in religious practice: Four blind folks encounter an elephant, and try to figure out what it is. One feels a leg, says, “tree”. One feels the trunk, says, “snake”. One finds the belly, but doesn’t test to see if it goes to the ground, and says, “boulder”. And the fourth unfortunate blind person misses the elephant by a bit, but is standing behind it when it breaks wind, and says, “swamp nearby”. All four believe that there is a real phenomenon to be apprehended, noone agrees on the true nature of that phenomenon. So people can have faith in God without being able to explain “God” in terms that would be accurate, or agreed upon, or logical.

    I love these kindergarten-level Christian metaphors that are supposed to make sense of nonsensical Christian teachings. I remember being taught as a child a metaphor that likened the Book of Genesis to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Genesis contains two contradictory creation stories. Ah, but they’re only apparently contradictory, I was told. It’s not a contradiction, it’s only a paradox, I was assured. It’s like a man standing inside St Paul’s looking up at the dome, and another man flying in a helicopter above it and looking down. Each sees a different image of the dome, but they’re both looking at the same dome. Viola! Contradiction resolved. QED.

    I wasn’t very impressed with this type of argumentation as a child, and I’m even less impressed with it now. In answer to your elephant metaphor, I would say that none of the four experiences can be likened to religious faith. Each man is experiencing a sensory perception that provides a very incomplete picture of the elephant. This is like a group of scientists making observations of some natural phenomenon, where each scientist’s observational data is incomplete. If they combine their data, they may be able to acquire an accurate understanding of the phenomenon.

    This is nothing like faith or revelation. In your metaphor, faith would be like a fifth blind man arriving and being overcome with the conviction that the object is purple with pink spots. This isn’t any kind of observation, like the others are making. It’s an act of faith. A leap in the dark. And that’s what claims about God are, too. There’s no more reason to think they’re true than that the elephant really is purple with pink spots.

  46. 46
    Don P says:

    Tara:

    Yes, it is very difficult to be homosexual in almost all orthodox Jewish communities. I personally also think it is very difficult to be female.

    Well then. And that is an example of the destructive nature of religious belief systems. It just seems absurd to me that you would deny that Orthodox Jewish teachings about homosexuality and women do not involve matters of faith, revelation or religious authority.

    If you believe (as some but not all Jews do) that a text has divine origins (whether direct complete revelation, or the record of a people’s experience of the Divine or a handful of inspired individuals writing), then reading and discussing and arguing is going to be super important.

    The belief that a text has divine origins is one of the beliefs I am criticizing, because it is exactly the kind of belief that tends to lead to persecution and harm. On what basis do you think Jews who believe their texts to have a divine origin hold that belief, if not faith? Do you seriously think they reasoned their way to that conclusion?

    And for Jews who don’t believe the text’s origin is divine, why pay so much attention to it? Sure, it may contain wisdom, but then do might the Bible, the Koran, Bhagavad Gita, and other religious texts. And so might the Constitution, and the complete works of Shakespeare, Homer’s Odyssey, and so on. So why not give as much weight or more weight to those?

    If your answer is that Jewish texts have a special significance to Jews because they document the social and cultural history of Jews’ ancestors and community, fine. I think it’s great to be interested in the history of one’s own “people,” especially if that people have a history of persecution and dispossession, as Jews do.

    But I don’t see how that interest or study in any meaningful sense constitutes adherence to or practise of a religion. I mean, my own ancestors on my mother’s side were (Catholic) Irish peasants who were persecuted by the British and who have an interesting and colorful history that might be especially interesting to me because they are my ancestors. But reading and learning about my heritage is not a religion, as I understand religion. I don’t think studying that history makes me an adherent of Catholicism.

  47. 47
    karpad says:

    yeah… I’m gonna stick with my self-hating jew stereotype.
    after all, gay and women’s rights are a good thing to be on the right side of, but I’ve decided it’s more trouble than it’s worth trying to have a sensible discussion about Israel with my brethern.

    I’m not exactly surprised, as the cliche is that jews are liberal (neo-cons excluded). I might actually start going back to schul if any mentioning of Israel wasn’t expected to have unwaiving support of everything that is Eretz Yisrael.

  48. 48
    Don P says:

    Trey:

    it seems several (Don P) seem to fall into the trap of brushing all ‘organized’ religion (I’d hardly call Judaism ‘organized’ in comparison to say.. Mormonism) with the brush of ‘fundamentalist theology’.

    There’s nothing “fundamentalist” about the Christian (and Jewish) teaching that homosexual sex is wrong. It’s absolutely standard, mainstream Christian doctrine. It is only in the very recent history of Christianity that the teaching has been seriously questioned at all.

    I tire of seeing liberal Christians and their apologists attempt to rewrite history to pretend that anti-gay teaching is not a standard piece of Christian doctrine, but merely some bizarre addition that is limited to “fundamentalist” Christian denominations and sects. It’s not unorthodox. It’s not non-standard. It’s not “fundamentalist.” It’s absolutely standard, mainstream Christian teaching.

    Many faiths and religions decidedly to not rely on ‘revealed’ faith, word and revelation.

    Which religions are those?

    In fact, most of the mainline Christian churches (Centrist and Modernist Protestant and even Modernist Catholics in the Pew study) specifically hold that reason, collective wisdom (scripture), tradition, and faith are the guides to truth.

    Huh? The claim that faith and revelation (whether communicated in the form of sacred scriptures or through the pronouncements of a religious leader such as the Pope or Joseph Smith or in some other way) are valid sources of knowledge is precisely the claim that I am attacking. Those are not valid sources of knowledge.

    One without the other is considered blinded faith (even ‘reason’ alone), kind of like using one person’s viewpoint of the elephant instead of listening to them all.

    I understand faith to be belief unsupported by evidence. If you have evidence, you don’t need faith. As such, all faith is “blind” faith. All faith is a “leap in the dark.” If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be an act of faith. If you disagree, what definition of faith do you propose?

    Faith claims have the same epistemic status as hopes, wishes, desires, guesses. They’re not a reliable source of knowledge or truth. They may happen to be correct, but only by chance.

  49. 49
    Don P says:

    mythago:

    My answer doesn’t affect the survey Amp cites.

    No, of course it doesn’t affect the survey. But it is relevant to your suggestion that I am wrong to say that being an adherent of Judaism involves the suppression of reason and conscience in favor of faith and revelation and religious authority. I say that Judaism, just like other religions, does involve that. It’s one of the defining characteristics of virtually all belief systems that are generally recognized as religions. You apparently believe that it doesn’t apply to the religion of Judaism. You’ve told me what you think Judaism isn’t, so tell me what you think it is. What does it mean to be a Jew? What do adherents of Judaism have in common?

    By the way, I’m not heterosexual, so while I appreciate the lecture about the plight of gay Jews, I promise, the issue has occured to me a time or two.

    Well, I gave you the lecture because you seemed reluctant to acknowledge that gay people growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community are likely to experience considerable pain and suffering from the teachings that their sexual desires are sinful or sick and that acting on them is forbidden by God. I somehow doubt you’d be reluctant to acknowledge that about gays who grow up in a conservative Christian community. Religious anti-gay bigotry is religious anti-gay bigotry, whether the religion in question is Christianity, Judaism, Islam or something else.

    There are agnostics and atheists who base their homophobia on evolutionary biology, or neo-Freudian psychology. One needn’t point to God as an excuse for one’s bigotry.

    The point is that, as the survey showed, atheists and agnostics are much less likely to be homophobic than Christians or Jews, the obvious implication of which is that there is a causal relationship between those religions and homophobia, a relationship that is even more obvious if you look at the content of the traditions and sacred writings of those religions. The fact that the correlation between religiosity and homophobia is not perfect does not alter this.

    The whole point of having a thinking religion is to question what the text says and what God’s word really is

    What makes you think there’s a God in the first place? Surely that is the first belief that should be questioned.

    (after all, does it make sense that God would make somebody gay if being gay is evil?)

    Not to me. But I don’t see that problem as any more difficult than reconciling the claim of a benevolent and omnipotent God with the existence of suffering more generally. Why did God create a world with so much disease and so many natural disasters, if he is good? Christianity and Judaism don’t really have an answer. The best they can do is to claim (through faith!) that the existence of natural evil is somehow necessary in order for God to ultimately bring about the greatest good. But if that’s true, the suffering of homosexuals may just be a part of that necessary suffering, and isn’t any more difficult to explain than the suffering of little children who die from dieases or earthquakes.

  50. 50
    trey says:

    I will not speak to Judaism, because my knowledge and experience is limited compared to others here,

    but after reading the comments here, it seems several (Don P) seem to fall into the trap of brushing all ‘organized’ religion (I’d hardly call Judaism ‘organized’ in comparison to say.. Mormonism) with the brush of ‘fundamentalist theology’. Many faiths and religions decidedly to not rely on ‘revealed’ faith, word and revelation. In fact, most of the mainline Christian churches (Centrist and Modernist Protestant and even Modernist Catholics in the Pew study) specifically hold that reason, collective wisdom (scripture), tradition, and faith are the guides to truth. One without the other is considered blinded faith (even ‘reason’ alone), kind of like using one person’s viewpoint of the elephant instead of listening to them all.

    Even as a scientist, someone who holds reason very dear, reason alone in dealing with human relationships and meaning falls very short sometimes. I’m not so sure I would put it up on such a high pedestal. Many of those who use ‘reason’ alone can come to some quite cruel conclusions and historically have.

    And if you look at the study, Modernist Protestants and Catholics fall pretty much into the Jewish and Atheist views of things.

    ANd please don’t fall into the trap of agreeing with the fundamentalists that if you aren’t ‘fundamentalist’ you aren’t ‘religious’. I am religious and a modernist Christian. Its getting a bit weary to hear the ‘well, if its not whole hog bible innerency or revealed truth it’s not religious’ comments from both my fundamentalist and atheist friends.

  51. 51
    NancyP says:

    Re: abortion *required* if woman’s life in danger – yes, the ultra-Orthodox Jews believe this, at least according to an ultra-Orthodox gynecologist I know.

  52. 52
    Don P says:

    Tara:

    Nowhere in your last post do I see an answer to my basic question about the meaning of Judaism. You criticized me for describing Judaism, along with Christianity and Islam, as a religion that makes claims of knowledge on the basis of faith or revelation or religious authority. You said that this is a Christian “template” for religion that is not applicable to Judaism.

    So, if Judaism doesn’t necessarily involve such beliefs, what does it necessarily involve? I’m quite well aware that there is a great diversity of belief and practise amoung people who identify themselves as Jews (just as there is amoung self-identified Christians). You don’t need to keep explaining that. The issue here isn’t what divides Jews, but what unites them, what distinguishes them from non-Jews, what they have in common. What does it mean to be a Jew, an adherent of the religion of Judaism?

    What do adherents of Judaism have in common that makes them adherents of that religion, and that distinguishes them from the adherents of other religions and from people who have no religion?

    It seems to me a pretty clear question. I can’t think of any clearer way to ask it. But I don’t see any answer.

  53. 53
    mythago says:

    My answer doesn’t affect the survey Amp cites. If I say “Jews are X,” that doesn’t tell me a thing about the opinions of those who, in responding to a survey, called themselves Jewish.

    By the way, I’m not heterosexual, so while I appreciate the lecture about the plight of gay Jews, I promise, the issue has occured to me a time or two.

    There are agnostics and atheists who base their homophobia on evolutionary biology, or neo-Freudian psychology. One needn’t point to God as an excuse for one’s bigotry. Nor does being a devout Jew mean being homophobic. The whole point of having a thinking religion is to question what the text says and what God’s word really is (after all, does it make sense that God would make somebody gay if being gay is evil?).

  54. 54
    NancyP says:

    “Is religion bad for the (fill in the blank)?”
    Here we are talking about glbt. Let’s switch.

    Let us consider African descent U.S. slaves. From Genesis, they were considered the Children of Ham, destined by the sin of their forebears to be enslaved. From various Pauline letters, they were considered to be a normal part of society and were supposed to accept their lot as slaves in order to be good Christians. It might be noted that chattel slavery and/or bonded servitude predate the Hebrew scriptures.

    Did the slaves accept these selected readings of the Old and New Testament? No. What is the #1 story of African-American Christian religion (aside from Christ’s story)? Moses and the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery. This story inspired countless people with hope for a free future, and some, like Harriet Tubman of the underground railroad, explicitly imitated Moses. The theme of deliverance is still strong within African-American Christian religion, still mostly ignored by white-dominant Christian congregations, and the passages about Ham and about how slaves should obey their masters have been either ignored or re-interpreted by all.

    People focus on varying small fractions of an often contradictory multi-author opus, and then apply varying analytic methods to their selected passages. Is it “literal truth”? Is it an analogy, to be analyzed rationally? Is it poetry, to be apprehended with the emotions? Are historical specifics intended to be applied for all ages, or is it safe to say that slave-owning is now obsolete and cannot be justified by Biblical passages?

    “Religion” is both dogma (scripture and “official” theology) and practice. The practice may be liberalizing with comparison to dogma (90% of US Catholics have used birth control) or may be harsher than dogma. The conservative Christian use of the story of Sodom seems to be one of these instances.

    The story of Sodom in Genesis is of two male angels visiting the foriegner Lot in Sodom, the native inhabitants of Sodom get incensed at foriegner Lot admitting two other foriegners, and the locals decide to rape the two foriegn angels as they would any other foriegner they captured in battle (Abu Ghraib?). All the Prophetic and the New Testament references to Sodom basically refer to the inhabitants as stingy bastards who are happy to see their neighbors starve (sound familiar?), and don’t mention sex with male angels or humans. Paul does not use this Sodom story in his condemnation of homosexual behavior. I might add that most mainstream denominations no longer regard the story of Sodom as being about consensual sex.

    So where did the conservatives get this Sodom = homosexual sex between humans interpretation, which is not to be found by a literal reading of teh passage? They interpreted it the way they wanted it. Why? Filled some need. Not engaging in homosexual acts was one of the zillion boundary setting characteristics that distinguished Jews, and later Christians, from other semites and Romans and Greeks. Currently, the “sin” of homosexuality is the KEY boundary marker between the conservative Christians and the rest of the US, many of whom don’t like homosexuality but relegate it to the status of “icky”, not “sin”. Heterosexuals who tolerate the existence of homosexuality are considered sinners by the conservatives.

    Now, many Christians no longer feel the need to feel superior to the outcaste group of lgbt. The U.S. religious picture, practice and dogma, may look very different 50 years from now with regard to lgbt persons, just as the religious picture 50 years after Emancipation no longer included explicit support for slavery, and the religious picture 130 years after Emancipation no longer included the Ham story as religious justification for considering people of African descent inferior (yes, there are a few thousand Christian Identity white supremacists who use the Ham story, but that’s 0.0001% of the population).

    Faith vs. rationality in religious practice: Four blind folks encounter an elephant, and try to figure out what it is. One feels a leg, says, “tree”. One feels the trunk, says, “snake”. One finds the belly, but doesn’t test to see if it goes to the ground, and says, “boulder”. And the fourth unfortunate blind person misses the elephant by a bit, but is standing behind it when it breaks wind, and says, “swamp nearby”. All four believe that there is a real phenomenon to be apprehended, noone agrees on the true nature of that phenomenon. So people can have faith in God without being able to explain “God” in terms that would be accurate, or agreed upon, or logical.

  55. 55
    Tara says:

    Don,

    Yes, an ultra orthodox rabbi and Albert Einstein are both Jews. And any ultra orthodox rabbi would agree with that statement. Because Judaism does not exist as a religion in the Christian model of religion, where you are one if you believe in some tenet that the religious authorities decide is central and not if you don’t.

    As I said before, Orthodox Jews might say that Reform Judaism is not a proper form of Judaism at all (which doesn’t mean that Reform Jews are not Jews – different template, remember). I personally don’t grant to Orthodox Jews the right to decide what is authentic Judaism and what isn’t. I think history will decide what authentic Judaism is, but in any event it will be influenced, and already has been strongly influenced, by all kinds of reform versions of Judaism (of which Hasidism was one – whom we now call ultra orthodox). Some Jews may really see themselves as secular, but plenty of Jews who see things very differently from an ultra-orthodox rabbi see themselves as religious.

    What I understand you as saying is that we ought to choose one definition of religious Judaism, presumably an Orthodox one, and consider all Jews and Jewish practices against it. That would not be so easy. Within “orthodoxy” there is a wide range of approaches to… most things. For example, Steve Greenberg considers himself orthodox, he has smicha (he is recognized as a Rabbi), and he is openly homosexual. He has a halachic argument as to why homosexual behaviour is not prohibited under Jewish law. There are many different conservative halachic arguments to that same effect. Reform communities don’t rely on halachic arguments, but they have their own understandings of why a thing is or isn’t okay.

    BTW, even orthodox Judaism is divided about whether belief in God is a commandment. The important thing is observance of the commandments, as they understand them. If you observe them, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in an impersonal God, in a personal God, in no God at all, in revelation at Sinai, in continuing revelation, if you’re really not sure anyway etc. Again, you are applying a Christian religious model – the centrality of belief in a certain religious figure – to Judaism.

    Yes, it is very difficult to be homosexual in almost all orthodox Jewish communities. I personally also think it is very difficult to be female.

    In any case, don’t you see what you are doing on this topic??? Amp makes a post about Jews, and you say it doesn’t apply because “Jews” doesn’t mean all the people who identify themselves as Jews, participate in whatever way in Jewish communities and life, rather, “Jews” means “Orthodox Jews.” The rest of us don’t count. Even the “Orthodox Jews” don’t tell us this!

    Um, thanks.

    You ask “What does it mean to be Jewish?” You are not alone in asking this. Many people over long periods of time work on this question. You’ll be in a better position to explore the question if you haven’t already decided what the answer is.

    Reading Jewish texts and arguing about what they mean isn’t literary criticism. In fact, literary critics could have learned their craft from us. We call it Torah. When I go to Yeshiva to learn Jewish texts and argue about them and try to understand them as different people understood them in different times and as I want to understand them now, it’s called, “Learning Torah” If you don’t believe texts are important, there’s no point in spending time discussing them. If you believe (as some but not all Jews do) that a text has divine origins (whether direct complete revelation, or the record of a people’s experience of the Divine or a handful of inspired individuals writing), then reading and discussing and arguing is going to be super important.

    Here’s one of the most traditional approaches to the Torah for you, chew on this: The Torah is divine – from God. Everything in it is in there on purpose. God doesn’t make typos. Therefore, every thing you are capable of reading into it, interpreting from it, gleaning from it, is in there on purpose. Every letter, every dot, every word.

    Argh! I know this is long, and I hope it’s not boring. I hope it’s informative. I find it kind of ironic that someone who claims to be beyond “religious” truth claims refuses to see except what comes garbed in Christian clothes.

  56. 56
    Don P says:

    mythago:

    Don, Jews have and continue to argue about the question “Who is a Jew,” and to what degree Jewishness encompasses religion, ethnic identity, and culture.

    What’s your answer? What does it mean to be a Jew (in the sense of an adherent of the religion of Judaism), in your view? What distinguishes Jews from non-Jews? Or do you think it’s all so muddy and vague and ambiguous that the question has no answer?

    That’d depend on what sort of gay Jews they are, what movement they are affiliated with, that kind of thing.

    Well, I assume that love and sex and marriage and a partner are generally as important for gay Jews as they are for gay non-Jews. These things are basic human desires. I’m sure there are a small number of gay Jews who find a life devoid of love and sex and romance perfectly adequate and fulfilling, just as there are a small number of gay Christians who are happy to live that way. But the vast majority are not. And growing up in a religious community that teaches you that those desires are sick or sinful and that forbids their expression in sexual and romantic relationships must surely be awful whether you’re a Jew or a Christian.

  57. 57
    mythago says:

    Don, Jews have and continue to argue about the question “Who is a Jew,” and to what degree Jewishness encompasses religion, ethnic identity, and culture. The survey Amp is citing did not, however, tell people “Don’t tell us you’re a Jew unless you are deeply religious; you don’t count.”

    but it’s still pretty awful for gay Jews, isn’t it?

    That’d depend on what sort of gay Jews they are, what movement they are affiliated with, that kind of thing. There is no Jewish Pope. One Orthodox gay man I know asked his rabbi if he’d be welcome, as a gay man, at the synagogue. The rabbi’s response? “I have people who drive on Shabbat. Come to services.” And there will be some proudly irreligious culture-only Jews who are homophobes.

  58. 58
    Don P says:

    Lucia:

    And to a large extent, my friend’s religion classes seemed more similar to sitting in on literature or history classes at my RC high school, than to my religion classes. Much more similar in fact.

    Well, then. You can call a certain type of literary criticism a “religion” if you like, but that doesn’t seem a very useful label to me. It just confuses rather than clarifies.

    Obviously, Judaism is a religion, and obviously, the Old Testament includes a lot of revealed teaching. How one looks or processes that can, and does vary.

    But what are the common elements? What are the shared beliefs? What are the shared behaviors? What do Jews (and again, I mean “Jew” in the sense of “an adherent of Judaism”) do or believe that distinguishes them from non-Jews?

    If it’s just a matter of “every man for himself,” with no identifiable shared beliefs or behaviors (other than self-identification as a Jew), then it seems to me essentially meaningless.

    In any case, as an agnostic who leans toward atheism, I think I’d be flattering myself if I convinced myself that I rely on reason more than all religious people. Some yes. All, no.

    I’m sure you don’t. Being an atheist/agnostic is no guarantee against irrationality. It’s more a consequence of a certain approach to claims of knowledge, about how to answer questions about the nature of the world. I argue that any claim to knowledge based on religious sources–faith or revelation or religious authority–is invalid and is therefore dangerous, whether the religion is Judaism or Christianity or anything else. I think the record of religion in human history provides overwhelming evidence of this.

  59. 59
    Don P says:

    jam:

    you state that reason & science – of course, simplifying both down to abstract concepts instead of real world practices –

    Um, I was responding to your claim that science and reason rest on a foundation of faith. That’s a claim about science as an “abstract concept” instead of a “real world practise.”

    … are based upon first principles that “we” hold “to be true through rational reflection and common assent.” whaddya mean “we,” paleface?

    I mean we. People. Society.

    i’ve read enough in both the history of “science” & “reason” to know that both are hardly bastions of unassailable truth.

    No one has said that science or reason are bastions of unassailable truth.

    it would be helpful if you actually responded to the complete content of people’s statements & posts.

    I don’t have time to respond to everything everyone here says. I responded to what I understand to be your central claim, that science rests on faith just as religion rests on faith. The claim is nonsense for the reasons I explained. Do you have a response?

    I’m also still waiting for you to provide some examples of knowledge that you believe Buddhism or some other religion has provided us with.

  60. 60
    Don P says:

    karpad:

    don P, you aren’t allowed to reject lineage definitions of judaism,

    Um, I’m “allowed” to reject any definition I like. Since we don’t live in the Dictatorship of Karpad, you’re not allowed to decide what I am allowed to reject.

    since, well, it’s one of the primary definitions of judaism in and of itself.

    Nonsense. Lineage may be one of the “primary definitions” of the identity of being a Jew, but being a Jew in the sense of being genetically related to a certain historical group of people is completely different from being an adherent of the religion of Judaism. If that were not the case, it would impossible for people with no such lineage to convert to the religion of Judaism from another religion, or from no religion. If you still dispute this, show me a definition of the religion of Judaism from a reputable source that states that lineage is a sufficient condition for being an adherent of that religion.

    Ironically, your argument is even more harmful to Judaism than mine. The claim that the only condition a person needs to satisfy to be an adherent of the religion Judaism is to be the child of a Jew so trivializes that religion that it becomes essentially meaningless.

  61. 61
    Don P says:

    By the way, I’m glad Charles and you admire Wikipedia, because the very first sentence of its entry on “Jew” makes the same clear distinction between being a Jew in the sense of being a member of an ethnic group and being a Jew in the sense of being an adherent of the religion of Judaism that I have been describing:

    “Jew is a term used in a wide number of ways, but generally refering to either a follower of the Jewish faith, a child of a Jewish mother, or a member of the Jewish culture or ethnicity. This article discusses Jews as an ethnic group; for a consideration of the religion, please refer to Judaism.”

    I would add that I think it is profoundly insulting and patronizing to people who consider themselves to be Jews in an ethnic or cultural or familial sense but who also reject the religion of Judaism–people like Albert Einstein–to insist that they are wrong, that the distinction is not “appropriate or necessary,” and that they are an adherent of the religion of Judaism just like the most ultra-orthodox rabbi, simply by virtue of who their parents were.

  62. 62
    NancyP says:

    DonP isn’t Jewish because he clearly is posting on the Day of Repentance (Yom Kippur), a day held for more important duties.

  63. 63
    karpad says:

    I, for one, don’t see harm in people having differing opinions and accepting status within a larger group.
    you know, the same way I can call myself a liberal and disagree with someone about this or that policy.
    same thing goes for judaism.
    and no, Don, you aren’t allowed to reject definitions that the word includes.
    all TV sets are TV sets. you aren’t allowed to say “only color TVs count, and any black and white TV isn’t REALLY a TV.” Since we don’t live in the dictatorship of Don P, you have to use the english language the way the rest of us do. that’s how language works. if everyone makes up or changes definitions of a word the way they wish, no one understands anyone.
    otherwise, I could redefine “jew” to mean “a peice of overcooked toast.” Jew has both a racial AND religious connotation, and if you meet EITHER qualification, you’re a jew.
    you might think that religions HAVE to be faith based. that really shows you’ve grown up in a christian society.
    the destinction isn’t relevent. at all, don. If Einstien, or myself, wants to distinguish myself from a homophobic, ultra-conservative rabbi, we can do it easily, because not EVERYONE assumes that “jew” means you are an ultra-conservative rabbi.
    after all, if “jew” meant “ultra-conservative rabbi” then WHY would the phrase “ultra conservative rabbi” exist?

  64. 64
    Tara says:

    Some compromise, Karpad, since they use *your* definition! :)

    (for that reason, too).

  65. 65
    karpad says:

    not entirely.
    my definition also includes “anyone who would willingly CALL themselves jewish”
    because, well, it doesn’t really matter how aryan you are, if you CALLED yourself a jew in nazi germany, you had a problem.
    Israel is a bit more picky than that.

  66. 66
    Tara says:

    Karpad,

    That’s true, you’re right. What I also don’t know is whether Israel considers Karaites as Jews for immigration.

  67. 67
    Charles says:

    Tara:

    Israel does indeed consider Karaites Jews for purposes of both immigration and also for the tighter standard of identification cards and marriage.

    I just went from having no idea who the Kararites were to finding the answer
    in the wikipedia. Has anyone else noticed what an amazing resource the wikipedia is gradually turning into?

  68. 68
    karpad says:

    Wikipedia is a lovely browsing resource.

    Israel also tends to be a bit more difficult on people who claim jewish heritage who don’t happen to be white. (there are quite a few more than you’d expect.)
    without spending way more time than interest allows, I’d rather not attribute it to out and out racism, but I have no doubt that somewhere in the decision it is at least a factor.

  69. 69
    Crys T says:

    You know, as an atheist who believes not only that there is no God, but that there are no gods, I’d like to say that your own dogma about religion makes me uneasy.

    It all sounds quite…well….fanatical. You may not believe in those systems called “religions” but you’ve made your own religion out of anti-religion, and your strict Fundamentalist adherence to that is blinding you to some of the concepts others here have been trying to get across. Like the definition of “Jewish” for example, and what that means to Jews and within Judaism. You can’t just dismiss something as “meaningless” because you personally don’t get it, or because it clashes with YOUR definitions of what “meaningful” must entail.

    And what’s the obsession with labelling religion “good” or “bad” anyway? I thought atheism was, at least in part, supposed to free us from the need to make such absolute moral judgements? Obviously, I’m not too keen on religion, especially in its more organised forms, myself, but I’ve spoken with too many people and learned too much to make such blanket judgements.

  70. 70
    Crys T says:

    “you state that reason & science – of course, simplifying both down to abstract concepts instead of real world practices – are based upon first principles that “we” hold “to be true through rational reflection and common assent.” whaddya mean “we,” paleface? this statement is so simplistic & abstract as to be meaningless. i’ve read enough in both the history of “science” & “reason” to know that both are hardly bastions of unassailable truth.”

    Damn straight! I think that making a religion out of science, especially, has led to injustices and suffering in exactly the same way adherence to conventional religions has. It was, after all, the science of its day that legitimised racism & misogyny, but name but two societal ills, and it is through science that the defenders of the status quo are currently working in order to legitimise & protect their own positions of power.

  71. 71
    NancyP says:

    I still think the best moment of this thread was the “how to tell if you are a Jew” list #13: What two small items did Goering have. Answer:

    #13: To the Tune of “Bridge over the River Kwai”

    Hitler, he only had one ball.
    Goering had two but they were small.
    Himmler had something similar.
    And Goebbels, had no balls, at all.

  72. 72
    karpad says:

    don P, you aren’t allowed to reject lineage definitions of judaism, since, well, it’s one of the primary definitions of judaism in and of itself.
    it doesn’t matter how closely you observe all the rules of orthodoxy. you can keep kosher, you can observe the sabbath and take the day off to pray in a synagogue on the high holidays.
    if you didn’t have the conversion ceremony (a more or less three step process) you aren’t a jew, no matter how well you follow the laws.
    at the same time, if your parents are jewish, unless you renounce your faith, you are and always will be a jew.
    you can order a pepperoni pizza on friday nights, join the neo-nazis and have gay sex all you want, and it doesn’t matter how much the orthodoxy frowns upon it. unless you actually renounce your faith, what you’re doing doesn’t unmake you a jew. it’s just sinful.
    a catholic who gives a blowjob doesn’t stop being catholic, just a sinner who needs to go to confession. and if they say “screw you, there’s nothing wrong with oral sex” then the clergy is free to say “then you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell.”
    judaism doesn’t have excommunication, so, if you’re born jewish, and you get your ba- mitzvah, that’s it. you’re a jew until you die or until you actually quit.

    allow me to provide you with with an analogy, see if you can spot the flaw in the arguement:
    Men exist (by “man” I don’t count “male humans above an agreed age of majority” I only accept the definition “human beings who beat their wives”)
    Amp doesn’t beat up women. he’s all respectful and decent and whatnot. also, I don’t know if he’s married, so there may not be a wife to beat, even if he weren’t respectful and decent and whatnot.
    Amp, therefore, is not a man. beard, wang and the insistance of anyone you ask aside.

    if one meets the ostensible definition of a term (jew, wifebeater, or man) it really doesn’t fucking matter that you say “the ostensible definition doesn’t count, you only count if you meet some criteria that I agree on”
    Amp is a man not because he’s a wifebeater, but because he’s a jew and had his barmitzvah.
    in fact, I’d go a step further: you don’t have to be born jewish to count as a jew. if the nazis would have rounded you up and sent you to a camp with a yellow star on your lapel, you count as far as I’m concerned.
    so we have your vote, “only orthodox jews who have a bunch of people swearing up and down how strict they are count” and mine “if you look a bit yiddish and/or have at least one grandparent who was jewish”
    so, let’s compromise and say “the standard definition that the state of israel uses to determine the right of return.”

  73. 73
    jam says:

    well, it’s been fun – actually, let’s call it “fun” because y’know debating with someone like Don P can’t really be called fun in any normal sense of the word… i know, i know, it’s not about fun, or “fun.” it’s about winning!

    you state that reason & science – of course, simplifying both down to abstract concepts instead of real world practices – are based upon first principles that “we” hold “to be true through rational reflection and common assent.” whaddya mean “we,” paleface? this statement is so simplistic & abstract as to be meaningless. i’ve read enough in both the history of “science” & “reason” to know that both are hardly bastions of unassailable truth.

    but it’s hard to see the point to continuing. i think maybe Tara was right in her earlier advice to Nancy P…

    Don P-

    it would be helpful if you actually responded to the complete content of people’s statements & posts. instead, you ignore the things that perhaps you don’t have a quick & contemptuous answer for in favor of those that you do. you’ve ignored most of what i, as well as Nancy P & Charles & others have said here. oh, wait, i’m sorry, i forgot you don’t have “the time or patience to wade through” such nonsense (which makes me wonder why you continue). of course, your arrogant & belligerent tone just make it that much more “fun.” btw, saying something is “nonsense” over and over and over again does not qualify as legitimate form of rational debate.

    sorry, Don P, you didn’t make a convert of me. actually i think i learned something from everyone here, except you. so, off i go a-wandering, lost in the demon-haunted world, deprived of the wisdom you tried to impart. ooops…. wisdom? what nonsense! knowledge!

    pray for me….

  74. 74
    Don P says:

    NancyP:

    I can’t say that I think that “religion is bad” or “religion is good” are helpful stances, because people tend to view “religion” as an unchanging and absolutely uniform object AND have different concepts of what “religion” is.

    Huh? So what if people have different concepts of what religion is? So what if people tend to view religion as unchanging and uniform (a claim that I seriously doubt is true, anyway). I think the working definition of religion I offered earlier encompasses virtually all belief systems generally recognized as religions, and certainly describes the major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hunduism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc.). Those belief systems are bad for the reasons I have explained.

    By the way, I completely reject the claim that a person qualifies as an adherent of the religion of Judaism if his mother or father was an adherent and/or if he calls himself a Jew. That definition equates religious adherence with labels and family history, and I think that’s a meaningless definition.

    When I was younger, I used to be an obnoxious atheist. Opiate of the people, and all that. Priests just grubbing money out of the public. Voltaire squared. With more life experience, more friendships with people of different backgrounds, more reading in history and sociology and psychology and comparative religion, I can see that the phenomenon of lived religious experience is highly diverse, and can be constructive as well as destructive.

    The fact that religious experience is diverse is irrelevant to whether religion is good or bad. A diversity of nonsense is still nonsense. A diverse collection of bad moral teachings is still a collection of bad moral teachings. I tire of seeing mindless invocations of the characteristics of diversity or pluralism or complexity, especially by religious apologists, as if these qualities somehow turn a bad thing into a good thing.

    And the fact that religion is sometimes constructive also does not mean that it is good. Nazism was in some ways constructive. It inspired a sense of unity and common purpose amoung the German people that helped bring Germany out of economic and political chaos. Communism was also in some ways constructive. It led to the industrialization of the Soviet Union and a massive increase in the standard of living for most Russians. But the bad of Nazism far outweighed the good. The bad of communism far outweighed the good. And the same is true of religion. Few if any human institutions are uniformly good or uniformly bad. What’s most important is their overall effect.

  75. 75
    gay sex says:

    Nice blog, just wanted to say I found you through Google

  76. 76
    Don P says:

    jam:

    ka-click! that is the sound of a loaded question i believe. insofar as you have been speaking of knowledge… sorry, knowledge as being the product of rational / scientific inquiry i don’t think anything i could say here would count, would it? now, if knowledge could perhaps be conceived as a wider category than “just the facts, ma’am” then we could possibly talk about what in the world could folks find so interesting about a huge bunch of nonsense?

    What do you conceive knowledge to be, then? I could give you thousands of examples of knowledge that we have acquired through science and reason. Give me some examples of knowledge that you claim Buddhism (or any religion) has provided us with. Not guesses. Not wishes. Not hopes. Not stories that make some people feel good. But knowledge.

    As for why so many folks find religion interesting, science again provides explanations to account for that observation. The fact that religion is popular does not imply that it is a source of knowledge or truth. It doesn’t imply that religion isn’t nonsense. Lots of nonsense is popular, from astrology to creationism.

    ahem… i guess i thought it would be pertinent to point out that both reason and science, despite some grandiose claims to the contrary during the 18th century, are based upon certain premises that cannot be proven by their own methods & so must be accepted, on faith. like religious claims. which you’re saying are absolutely invalid, because they base their claims to knowledge on premises that must be accepted, on faith. sorry. i thought it seemed relevant….

    This is a repetition of Charles’ claim that religion and science/reason both rest on a foundation of faith. The claim is false for the reasons I explained in response to his post, and I find it hard to believe that you really believe it yourself. If science is based on faith, why isn’t it a religion? Or why isn’t religion a science? Why isn’t theology taught in high school science classes along with physics and chemistry and biology? If, say, evolution is ultimately a matter of faith, why isn’t the teaching of evolution in public school science classes a violation of the principle separation of church and state just like the teaching of biblical creationism? If evolution and creationism are both only as good or true or correct as the faith that you claim is required to believe in them, why should one be favored over the other as an explanation of life? Can’t you see the absurdity of this “science rests on faith, just like religion” claim?

    The reason you make this nonsensical claim is because you want to assert that at some fundamental level, science and religion are equal, of equal epistemic status, that one isn’t necessarily any better than the other. To use the phrase fashionable amoung liberal religionists, you wish to promote the idea that science and religion are just different “ways of knowing.” But it’s nonsense.

  77. 77
    NancyP says:

    I might add, I have been around the Genome Project and its precursors (feeding off data for my own research purposes, not generating large scale genetic or radiation hybrid maps or sequence contigs) since about 1988. That’s why I have a notion of what science is able to do at the moment, and some skepticism about projected ability of science to explain all human higher cognitive function in detail.

  78. 78
    JM says:

    Psychos?

    If calling President Bush a ho is sexist, then calling Randall Terry a psycho contributes to prejudice against persons with mental illness. Less, but significantly.

  79. 79
    NancyP says:

    I am modestly curious to know what people think about the lgbt-originated (Metropolitan Community Churches) denomination, the denominations that explicitly recognise lgbt rights such as ordination and unions (UU, UCC, Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism), and reconciling wings or individual congregations of denominations that do not have a denomination-wide policy of lgbt rights (most mainline Protestant denominations, American Episcopal Church being the most prominent recently due to its ordination of a gay bishop and consequent threatened schism of traditionalist American Anglican congregation group that objects to gay and women priests). Although these lgbt-friendly religions/congregations account for a minority of the US religious scene, they are not negligible, and they are growing within the general category of non-conservative, non-Fundamentalist religion.

    Religious and secular ideologies and practices modify human behavior.

    Humans modify religious and secular ideologies and practices.

    I can’t say that I think that “religion is bad” or “religion is good” are helpful stances, because people tend to view “religion” as an unchanging and absolutely uniform object AND have different concepts of what “religion” is.

    When I was younger, I used to be an obnoxious atheist. Opiate of the people, and all that. Priests just grubbing money out of the public. Voltaire squared. With more life experience, more friendships with people of different backgrounds, more reading in history and sociology and psychology and comparative religion, I can see that the phenomenon of lived religious experience is highly diverse, and can be constructive as well as destructive. I see that other people’s beliefs and non-beliefs should not be condemned out of hand if those people behave in a civilized and kind fashion.

  80. 80
    Don P says:

    Charles:

    Your post is a mess of disjointed, unorganized questions and claims, many of which I find incomprehensible, irrelevant, unjustified or simply wrong. I don’t have the time or patience to wade through them in detail, so I’ll focus on some of the things you say that I think are most relevant to my own claims and argument.

    To my mind, faith can be considered as little more than the thing that makes it possible to work from first principles.

    Science rests on a foundation of reason and logic. We hold the first principles of logic to be true through rational reflection and common assent. If you want to call this “faith,” fine. But I just think it confuses the debate to fail to distinguish faith from reason. Reason is clearly different in kind from faith in the religious sense, from faith as belief unsupported by evidence. This is one of the fundamental differences between science and religion.

    1) When you first fell in love, how did you know you were in love (I am not asking what symptoms that you experienced corresponded to your culturally/ biologically based template for “being in love.” I am asking why you believed your cultural/biological conditioning, or more directly “why were you in love with that specific person at that specific moment?”

    Scientists don’t yet have an understanding of love that is sufficiently detailed to allow them to explain or predict every particular instance of that emotion, but they do have a set of theories that explain why the emotion exists and that account for its various manifestations (as parental love, romantic love, love of kin, etc.).

    We know when we are “in love” through our subjective experience of that emotion.

    The experience of falling in love is intuitive or mystical insight.

    I don’t know what you mean by “mystical insight” or why you think love is a “mystical insight.” I don’t what you mean by “love is intuitive.”
    Love is an emotion and the experience of love is the experience of that emotion. Emotion is an aspect of mind. Other aspects of mind include reason, perception and memory.

    Remember that the decision to get up this morning and go and shoot all of your neighbors is just as easily made by rational argument as it is by intuitive insight (take a look at the last century again if you disagree).

    I don’t know what you mean by “intuitive insight.” And obviously, rational argument can be used to justify bad behavior if the argument is based on bad premises. My claim is that a morality based on conscience and reason is far more likely to lead to good outcomes than one based on faith, revelation and religious authority. And I think the evidence for this from human history is overwhelming. The most moral human societies are those organized on the principles of liberal democracy. The foundation of liberal democracy is the principles and values of the Enlightenment–the rejection of religious authority in favor of secular authority, the rejection of claims of knowledge based on revelation in favor of claims of knowledge based on reason, the rejection of religious codes of morality and ethics in favor of civil codes of morality and ethics.

    The main thing I get from your post is a basic hostility to scientific or naturalistic approaches to understanding human nature. You would rather wallow in the mystery than acquire an understanding of why human beings think and feel as they do, preferring to believe that such things as the emotion of love and the experience of free will are somehow ineffable and unexplainable by science and reason, and describing them using murky terms like “mystical insight” that hint at some reality or understanding that transcends the natural world.

  81. 81
    karpad says:

    actually, since it’s been asked (behold the power of a full year of research on a topic):
    “enlightenment” is the full understanding of mysticism derived insight, specifically as that mysticism pertains to buddhism.
    and since you asked what “knowledge” is gained from this insight, causality. at it’s core, buddhism is a fundamental belief in the absolute nature of causality.
    one might say “so what? science does the same thing, and it’s based on real priciples, not a bunch of crazy men sitting up in a monastery” although it’s not really the same thing.
    when I say absolute, I truly do mean absolute. few people consciously think of cause and effect, particularly in freak occurances. but you know, the falling meteor wouldn’t smash your car if you parked somewhere else. hell, it might not have fallen at ALL if your great, great great grandfather hadn’t been a professional juggler.
    while framed within a hindu construct (reincarnation) buddhism revolves around the idea that nothing is arbitrary, either through some divine will or simple luck, that everything in the world is just like a large billiard table, and every action is a result of a previous one, and leads enexorably to the next.
    the buddhist moral principles derive from belief in reincarnation, and amount to a kharmic variant of the hippocratic oath.
    to call it a rational, scientific philosophy isn’t entirely accurate, but it does score points for consistancy.

    and, just so you know, buddhism IS a philosophy, the religion didn’t spring up until centuries later, and it bears little resembalance to the teachings of Siddharta Guatama.

    that doesn’t mean that people who follow the buddhist religion AREN’T buddhist, just that they practice it differently. and the same holds for non-practicing jews. orthodox may look down on them as being inferior, but that doesn’t make them any less jewish. Religions are allowed to have sects without being a different religion, and it’s silly to claim otherwise. if orthodox jews are the only real jews, because they’re the only ones who follow the book exactly as written, then the only definition of “religion” you accept is that of a cult. no definition of religion requires a slavish repetition of dogma. individuals are allowed to have their own opinions, based on prior teachings of members of the church and their own feelings.
    if it did require slavish devotion to tradition, then Vatican II would be a supreme heresy, for challenging the authority of the prior heirophants. but CALLING Vatican II a heresy would in itself be heresy, as it challenges the supreme authority of the current pope.
    thus, different preists have different rules. some still perform the latin mass, others choose not to, and still others have blends of the two. people are allowed to choose which they prefer to attend, and neither choice is seen as sinful.

    religion is a framework in which one lives their life, and it’s up to the individual to choose how rigid that framework is, and no choice is inferior to another. orthodox or reform are labels used to pidgeonhole how loosely one applies the framework, not if it’s a different framework entirely.
    case in point: show me a male jew, ANY male jew, reform, orthodox, or otherwise, who isn’t circumsized. you won’t, because it’s one aspect of the framework that is applied universally among the jewish sects.
    show me a christian, ANY christian sect, who does not call his god “Jesus Christ” or some titular variant thereof. they might think the book of Mormon is a bunch of claptrap, but catholics recognise the same god as mormons do, no question.
    secular humanism, while an atheist philosophy, is a religion for tax purposes, and derives the same moral code from the value of human life as christian humanism.
    religion IS dangerous, the same way oxygen is. It’s corrosive, explosive when concentrated, and if you tweek it just a smidge, you get something highly toxic that causes cancer. but for the most part, it’s something humans have in common. this universality is worth acknowledging. EVERYONE has a philosophical framework in which they function. god’s will or natural law, it really doesn’t matter, as long as you respect everyone else’s right to have their own framework.

  82. 82
    NancyP says:

    I don’t have time to read all the long posts, but I must say, “Jew”, you made my day with the little ditty re: “Goering had two, but they were small”. BTW, this gentile gets 3 of 13 points (#4,9,11). Don’t ask me why I find Mason annoying and Allen hilarious. I refuse to be made to analyze the genetic and epigenetic causes why I find A funny and B not, or for that matter why I think Bjoerling a more pleasing tenor than Pavarotti.

  83. 83
    Charles says:

    Ack,

    Of course I meant Don P, not Don J, and certainly not Dan J.

    One more reason not to post at 5 am after getting up at 6 am the previous day, particularly while getting only 3 hours sleep before having gotten up.

    Sorry for the confusion. Hope it was the only one.

    Charles

  84. 84
    jam says:

    responses for DonP -

    >> What is “enlightenment,” as you are using the word?

    i was using it in a general sense. i’m not a practicing Buddhist myself, though i have studied it a bit. the easiest definition of “enlightenment” would be a state of mental freedom… a psychological/spiritual state of total lucidity. ack! that’s probably a terrible definition. unfortunately, it, like the term “consciousness” is difficult to define in any kind of definitive way. different texts speak of it in different ways, so it is possible that the experience varies from person to person. which, i know, makes it damn difficult to quantify, label & classify. sorry. though, this does not mean that Buddhists have not spent a great deal of time over the past several centuries debating & articulating various schema of classification for such experiences, & have produced a number of different analytical systems to understand the experience better. unfortunately, as you may have guessed, such an experience is, generally speaking, subjective. this hopefully doesn’t render it meaningless to you.

    >> What knowledge has Buddhism provided us with through “intuitive or mystical insight?” What knowledge has Buddhism provided us with through faith? Give me some examples. And how have you determined that these claims are knowledge rather than merely hopes, wishes, guesses, etc.?

    ka-click! that is the sound of a loaded question i believe. insofar as you have been speaking of knowledge… sorry, knowledge as being the product of rational / scientific inquiry i don’t think anything i could say here would count, would it? now, if knowledge could perhaps be conceived as a wider category than “just the facts, ma’am” then we could possibly talk about what in the world could folks find so interesting about a huge bunch of nonsense?

    actually, remember how i said the pursuit of knowledge in many different fields (including physics, psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, astronomy, mathematics & biology) is honored & encouraged within many if not most of the schools of Buddhism.? well, we could do a comprehensive overview of the contributions of Buddhists & Buddhist schools of thought to all these disciplines but a) it would be way too long a post & b) unfortunately, not all of them are of the cotton gin variety so they might not satisfy.

    >> And what is “intuitive or mystical insight,” anyway?

    well, i only put “mystical” in quotes originally. i did so because it’s a buzz word, most often coupled with the term “bullshit.” i personally don’t see much difference between the fuzzy catchall term many folks, including scientists, use – intuition – and various modes of contemplative insight & altered state of consciousness described by a wide variety of religious & spiritual traditions. also, i included that second part of the sentence: in other words, his enlightenment partook equally of both a priori & a posteriori knowledge, remember? intuitive = a priori… loosely, i know. sue me. you could also call it “thinking about something.” now, there are all manner of structuring such intellectual inquiry. reason being one, various forms of scientific endeavor being others. could there be more? or is humanity so impoverished that we will only ever need these two? hmmm….

    >> Of course reason isn’t independent of belief. Reason is an intellectual faculty that both rests on and is a source of belief. So what?

    sew buttons!
    ahem… i guess i thought it would be pertinent to point out that both reason and science, despite some grandiose claims to the contrary during the 18th century, are based upon certain premises that cannot be proven by their own methods & so must be accepted, on faith. like religious claims. which you’re saying are absolutely invalid, because they base their claims to knowledge on premises that must be accepted, on faith. sorry. i thought it seemed relevant….

    >> Yes, human reasoning is colored by politics, history, and so on. Again, so what? Is that observation intended to be a defense of faith or “mystical insight” as sources of knowledge? Or what? It’s hard to know what your point is.

    i’m sorry it’s hard. again, like above, i felt you were holding religious / spiritual / non-scientific claims of knowledge to a standard that neither reason nor science can lay claim to, i.e., being the only worthwhile mode of intellectual inquiry &/or human endeavor for understanding life, the world & everything (which might include more than just intellectual endeavor for all of us irrational agnostic & spiritual types – hopefully not to our doom).

    >> Yes, human reasoning is imperfect. Yes, human beings are fallible. Yes, reason and science are vulnerable to political, social, emotional and other influences that can distort them and lead to false conclusions. But the fact that science and reason are imperfect and that human beings are fallible does not support the claim that faith, “mystical insight” or whatever are valid sources of knowledge.

    so true! here’s another: the fact that faith, “mystical insight” or whatever is imperfect and that the human beings who have employed or indulged or explored or recommended or demanded or created them were & will continue to be fallible does not support the claim that all things whatsoever gained by such methods are invalid sources of knowledge (if, of course, we’re not using “knowledge” as a synonym for facts).

    i’ve tried to answer your questions as best i could. like i said above, i’m not a practicing Buddhist so take all the Buddha-stuff as you will. oh, i also realized that my suggestion of Buddhism was inappropriate after re-reading your definition of religion several posts back. i’m afraid it doesn’t qualify. it’s not “predicated on the existence of supernatural entities” – the whole point of the Buddha is that he’s an ordinary human being. nor is it predicated upon “impersonal powers or processes possessed of moral purpose” insofar as the Buddhist conception of karma is that of an amoral causal process. of course, they also believe that their minds are affected by causality, so whaddya gonna do? silly Buddhists! don’t they know that there’s no scientific proof the “mind” exists (if, of course, we’re not using “mind” as a synonym for brain)?

    btw, i agree with you concerning the damage organized religion has done, to both humanity & the planet. and i believe that people who subscribe to or support organized religion need to take responsibility for & work to eradicate such virulent pathologies as misogyny & homophobia, not to mention racism, authoritarianism, outright psychotics, etc. however, i just find the whole “religion is nonsense” line to be completely unsatisfactory. not to mention the equation of organized religion with that of all spiritual endeavor to be straight out sloppy thinking. organized religion has as much if not more to do with power (i.e., politics) as it does with any kind of spiritual effort or discipline. it’s one of those confuse-the-people-with-the-powers-that-be that really gets my pantaloons in a bunch. the entirety of religion/spirituality is not encompassed by popes & priests anymore than humanity is summed up by its kings & queens.

    as Charles eloquently laid out above, people are going to be asking such silly questions as “what is the meaning of life, the universe & everything” long after we’re all dust & faded away. perhaps you never feel such desires or longings or needs but it does seem like alot (alot alot) of other people do. of course, perhaps they’re all, the billions of them, across the planet & back throughout the centures, all completely deluded, & we’re living in a world where only a select few truly see reality. maybe…
    maybe not.

    i’l leave off this long long post with an example of wishful thinking:

    science has not solved everything yet… but great progress is expected.

    here’s another:

    and then finally everyone else will realize what idiots they’ve been.

    thanks everyone for a very interesting discussion. i’m thinking about stuff i haven’t in years (so excuse the rustiness).

  85. 85
    Tara says:

    Hi Amp and Alsis!

    It’s so nice to be remembered!!

    I’ve been hanging around here for ages, I’m not going anywhere soon :)

  86. 86
    Charles says:

    Forgive me for jumping in with a very long post that spins off of the very interesting discussion so far.

    To my mind, faith can be considered as little more than the thing that makes it possible to work from first principles. First principles, whatever yours may be, can not be argued to, only from. This is what makes them first principles. While one can argue extensively from first principles without having faith in the first principles, I think it is very hard to take any actual action based on rationally developed belief without having faith in the first principles from which the development must start.

    Personally, I think that one should take great caution in having faith in one’s first principles, and should accept that one’s first principles have no rational basis, no matter how much they may feel like they do. I also believe that one should try to bootstrap one’s first principles as much as possible by constructing variant belief systems based on different first principles and seeing if they lead to the original first principles as conclusions (thus suggesting that your beliefs fall within a larger system of mutually coherent beliefs). I also recognize that my belief that this is the case is largely based on a particular set of untestable first principles. To the extent that this knowledge leads to quietism, I demonstrate my belief in my deep first principles. To the extent that it leads me to believe that my belief system is reasonable, it demonstrates my belief in my shallow first principles.

    Perhaps some people have a larger set of first principles than others, and perhaps their belief system can be said to require more faith. Some first principles can obviously lead specifically to anti-rational positions, and a faith in those first principles could be seen as anti-rational. However, most first principles which seem to produce anti-rational results are only anti-rational according to the rational results of some other system of first principles (indeed, this could be seen to be inherently true, in that the basic structures of rational argument are dependent on specific first principles).

    Virtually any system that leads to broad categorical truth statements being held with near absolute certainty seems to me to be likely to be dependent on a relatively high degree of faith.

    As an alternate way of expressing this definition, faith is that which allows the moving of mountains…

    And returning to Judaism: Don J, none of the religious claims of objective truth that you listed (“There is a God,” “Jesus Christ died for our sins,” “After you die you will be reincarnated and inherit the karma you accumulated in this life”) belong intrinsically to Judaism. As has been repeatedly explained in this thread, Judaism (and yes, specifically Judaism as a religion, not just Jews as a people or Jewishness as a culture) does not require belief in God (and obviously that is the one you thought applied to Judaism). I do not know if religious Judaism can be described as having a fundamental necessary belief. No one here who seems to actually know much about Judaism seems to think that it does. If I, a non-Jew, may respectfully express my guess, I would say that perhaps it requires the fundamental belief that some (particular) system of thought which is derived from the Talmud or the Torah, and which the holder does not feel explicitly requires a rejection of Judaism, may be a personally useful method of participating in tikkun olam (if that is a reasonable phrasing, try living well, or doing good, or being decent, or something along those lines if it isne’t). However, that is a very weak fundamental belief, not a statement of absolute truth, and probably still too categorical to be satisfactory or complete.

    And on a further note: Don J, in response to your scare quoting “intuitive or mystical insight” and “existential questions,” here are some questions for you:

    1) When you first fell in love, how did you know you were in love (I am not asking what symptoms that you experienced corresponded to your culturally/ biologically based template for “being in love.” I am asking why you believed your cultural/biological conditioning, or more directly “why were you in love with that specific person at that specific moment?” Socio-biological answers do not suffice. Was it true that you were in love?

    The experience of falling in love is intuitive or mystical insight. The lived experience of being in love is the living truth of that mystical insight.

    If the relationship was doomed from the start, went horribly awry, and every since you have lived with the shame of the things you did and pain from the things your beloved did, then your mystical insight was in a similar category as the mystical insight that God wants you to hijack commercial jets and fly them into large buildings. It was not in the same category as the mystical insight that “All worldly life is unsatisfactory, disjointed, containing suffering. There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment or desire rooted in ignorance. There is an end of suffering. There is a path that leads out of suffering.”

    However, the thing that puts these insights in different categories is not that one is objectively true and two are not.

    That all three of these intuitive or mystical insights are the conscious experience of a bio-chemical-genetic set of events within a physical object is interesting, as is the possibilities that these events should eventually be describable with great precision and confidence, that their relationship to genetic-physical-social-cultural structures might imaginably be describable (and here we enter will-o-whisp territory: no current science actually clearly demonstrates the inference that the full description of these relationships is within the range of the knowable, nor does any current science clearly answer the question of whether there are bounds to the scientifically knowable). However, that knowledge will not change the experience of the intuitive or mystical insight, nor will it affect the truth of the experience or of the gained insight. Does the expectation that such a knowledge could be gained men that you weren’t in love? Does it prove that God doesn’t want you to fly jets into buildings? Does it prove that suffering can’t be overcome, or that life is not full of suffering?

    Is a life without intuitive or mystical insights really a better world than one with intuitive insights?

    Remember that the decision to get up this morning and go and shoot all of your neighbors is just as easily made by rational argument as it is by intuitive insight (take a look at the last century again if you disagree).

    2) Why are you here? How do you attain joyousness? How do you attain tranquility? Why is there suffering? How do you free yourself from suffering? Should you free yourself from suffering? Is it better to attain joyousness or tranquility? Is it better to live your life in an endless fury at the suffering in the world? Is it better to live your life in endless fury at the suffering in the world if this fury leads you to more frequently engage in acts of loving kindness to others? What if the fury leads you to lead a violent revolution that decreases the suffering of some while increasing the suffering of others? What if it leads you to lead a peaceful revolution that eventually increases the suffering of some and decreases the suffering of others? How much should you be willing to increase the suffering of some to decrease the suffering of others? To increase the joy of others? Is my vaunted tranquility worth anything if it leaves me unconcerned with the suffering of others? Does the sensation of free-will have value? Is the sensation of free-will undermined by the feeling that others claim that their system demonstrates that free-will is an illusion? Is the unexamined life truly not worth living?

    In case you were somehow truly unclear on the point (what’s an existential question?), and not just making a debating feint, those are (I would suggest) existential questions.

    They are questions that deal with the nature/ meaning/ worth of experienced existence. They are questions which simply will not be answered by cognitive science, even when cognitive science can show which genes are expressed during the moment of ecstatic union with the divine (an experience I whole heartedly recommend, even while I make no claims to understand it, and even while I will be fascinated and intrigued when 22nd century unified biosocial theory explains the details of the cultural-social-physical-biological-chemical-genetic processes involved).

    If you can suggest a broad line of experimental enquiry that you feel would begin to rationally and empirically answer these questions, I would be interested. If you can suggest one that is actually seems convincing, I will be very impressed.

    Apologies to all for a ridiculously long post. I hope that it was at least somewhat coherent (I have had 3 hours sleep in the last 42, so please forgive me if I was not).

  87. 87
    Dan J says:

    Hmm…

    Well, let’s look at it another way:

    Are the things you cited above, assuming you are culling those statements from religious texts, purporting to be statements of objective truth? Or are they merely declarations of a position on the part of their authors? It’s hard to say, as no one who is alive now was present at the time of their authorship. Does the text itself claim that the text is true? And if not, then how could a reasonable person, even one who believes in a God, infer from the text only that the text is objectively true? That seems like a tremendous leap. Granted, it’s a leap that several people have taken, but religion, like other scholarly pursuits, like science, philosophy, and law, is not for the intellectually lazy. People have used science and reason incorrectly to drive atrocities as well. Not as often yet, but then science hasn’t been the dominant mechanism by which the world is understood for nearly as long as religion was before it. Give it time.

    Don’t get me wrong; I think that the secularizing trend is the best thing that could possibly be happening given the large number of different approaches to living and apprehending the universe. But unless you can provide explicit, specific examples of a sacred text commanding that its adherents do atrocious things, I don’t imagine you’ll convince anyone who isn’t already convinced that religion is, in and of itself, a harmful thing.

  88. 88
    Don P says:

    Dan J:

    And as far as religion being dangerous, it seems that if a given religion makes no claim to objective truth, then any reading that suggests it does is a function only of the belief of the reader. In other words, religion isn’t dangerous. People who believe that they know the objective truth about anything are dangerous. What does it matter where that belief comes from? The problem is people.

    Gosh, where to begin with this. First, all, or virtually all, religions make claims of objective truth. “There is a God” is a claim of objective truth. “Jesus Christ died for our sins” is a claim of objective truth. “After you die you will be reincarnated and inherit the karma you accumulated in this life” is a claim of objective truth. Religion is full of claims of objective truth.

    As for your “the problem is people” claim, I assume this is supposed to be the suggestion that religion is merely a vehicle or excuse for bad behavior, rather than a cause of it. That people may do bad things “in the name of” religion, but not because of religion.

    I often see this claim from defenders of religion. But it’s nonsense. The first thing I notice is that the person making the claim rarely applies it to good behavior associated with religion. Apparently, religion deserves credit for good things that people do “in its name,” but doesn’t deserve blame for bad things that people do “in its name.” Thus, religion deserves credit for inspiring, say, the Abolitionists or Mother Teresa. But it doesn’t deserve blame for inspiring the Crusades or the 9/11 hijackers. No, those bad things were done by bad men acting “in the name of” religion, but not because of religion. The problem, we are told, is not the religion but the people, who have warped and twisted the religion to serve their evil ends.

    The self-serving double standard here should be obvious. But the real problem is that the idea that religion has no causal effect on human behavior is just preposterous. Of course religion causes people to do bad things. And, yes, sometimes it causes people to do good things. But the bad far outweighs the good. Religion is an aspect of culture, and culture has a profound effect on human affairs. So the idea that the problem is just human nature, or bad individuals using religion as an excuse for their bad behavior, is nonsense. It is religion itself that is also harmful.