Friday, August 24, 2007

Littlefoxling, defender of Judaism

Mine is a difficult task.

I’m kofer-in-residence in Dovbear’s absence.

Pfeh! You say. Surely, the great kofer littlefoxling, known for spewing the most rabid acrimonious, bitter, spiteful, rancorous, unabashed kefirah in the blogosphere can easily compose a few kefirah posts.

But, no. This is dovbear, and acidic negative, aggressive molestation of the Torah won’t be tolerated. I must harmonize my kefirah with Torah True Judaism. That is a challenge.

So, instead, I’m actually going to defend Judaism from a classic skeptic attack. Skeptics assert that believers are biased on the following 5 grounds:

1. The evidence overwhelmingly undermines Judaism, suggesting people don’t believe due to evidence.
2. For FFB’s, leaving yiddeshkite generates psychological and social difficulties, creating a bias for FFB’s to stay frum.
3. Almost everyone in the world follows their parent’s religion. It is highly unlikely that this is due to coincidence. The more logical explanation has to do with indoctrination and bias.
4. The majority of Jews choose even their sub-type, or sub-sub-type based on their sect of birth. Thus, people with MO parents have a higher tendency to be MO than those born to UO parents.
5. Most OJ’s have never studied other religions; often other religions are flat out banned. This is no the behavior of unbiased inquiry.

OK, that’s the question, here’s my answer:

It should be obvious from the above that most people in the world do not expend much effort contemplating their religiosity. They simply accept certain dogmas and rituals and move on. This phenomenon, though, is not limited to religion, but really to any sphere of human experience beyond the personal minutia and emotions that comprise day to day life. Most people don’t think about ethics, philosophy, science, or culture at all.

I think the reason for this is that life just isn’t about philosophy, art, or poetry. It *is* about the day to day minutia and emotions that comprise the symphony of life. We are *not* philosophy textbooks, we are organisms who billions of years of evolution have programmed to be concerned with things like food and reproduction, not contemplation. Things like culture, religion, philosophy just aren’t things that concern the average person. They are the backdrop on which life transpires. But, the real story isn’t in the dogma which is taken for granted, but what is done with it.

Now, on some level, this already explains why people succumb to bias in the area of religion, because like most meta-issues, they just haven’t thought about it. To some extent, people don’t really even have a choice in the matter. Our weltanschauung is very much shaped by our frum upbringing and our ability to shake it is quite small. It is a part of us. But, here’s the key point: that actually is not a big deal. Life just isn’t about religion. Religion is just the backdrop on which life transpires and so it really doesn’t matter much against which landscape ours transpires. What’s important is how we live our lives.

But, still, you might ask, how does this justify religion? Just because people tend to accept things on faith doesn’t mean that religion is any more true.

But, here’s a novel thought: maybe religion actually isn’t about the meta-issues of God, the Exodus, or Sinai. Maybe religion actually is about every day life, about love, hate, fear, and ecstasy. If what’s really going on in life isn’t a conversation about God or Sinai, but a conversation about the human condition, about ethics, love, fear, things everyone can relate to, then it stands to reason that much of religious contemplation is about that as well. The thing is, the language people are using is a religious one because that is the backdrop of their culture, the fabric with which they can weave their contemplative tapestry, but it isn't what they really mean. Terms like Sinai or Moses aren’t meant to refer to actual historical figures, but to ideas that are actually relevant to people. So, for example, consider all of the ethical mitzvos. You could look at these as Divine edicts bereft of any relevance to the modern soul. On the other hand, you could look at these as general expressions of the moral imperative couched in religious terminology. In that case, it doesn’t matter so much whether we are using the language or Allah, Jesus, or H-sh-m. What’s important is the part which is relevant to every person’s day to day life. After all, that is the portion of religion that has any meaning to humans. The religious nomenclature is just the language to describe experiential reality as it is the framework of human cognition. Another example: consider all of the halachos that relate to nature. For example, when one sees a mountain one should bless “ose maaseh b’reshis,” a blessing to the Lord who created the creation of Genesis. You could view that as a specific praise to a guy with a beard in the sky, or you could say this is a contemplative, experiential, meditative expression of an aspect of human experience, the awe and wonderment we all feel at seeing mountains. The thing is that that emotion, the trite emotion that the person actually feels, is expressed in religious terminology. Take, even Shabbos which is “zecher limaaseh bireshis.” It doesn’t have to be about the guy in the sky. It can be about our own desire to celebrate the natural order.

Thus, religious people actually aren’t biased, nor are religions self contradictory. All religions are basically saying the same thing. It’s just that Jews use the language of Judaism and Christians use the language of Christianity since that is framework of their discourse. In other words, saying religious people are biased is like saying Americans are biased to speak English and French people are biased to speak French.

I offer the above as a defense for Judaism against the claim of bias, though I will admit I may have modified the concept of Judaism from its traditional understanding ever so slightly. So which is better? An indefensible Judaism that you grew up with, or a defensible one that differs slightly from what you are used to? The choice is yours.

Note: This post is adapted from a recent post on littlefoxling.

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