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Does Religion = Superstition? G-D Forbid! - Comments

Aguazul's Avatar Comment 1 by Aguazul

Just picking up on one aspect, of the "living and enduring philosophy" derived from the religious/cultural "package". I tried previously to raise the question of where our sense of right and wrong comes from, our morality if you like. Science provides little guidance on this, and where it has been used it has gone badly ("greed is good" or ethnic cleansing or whatever). So Atheists must be getting their morality from some other source.

I wonder where people here feel that their sense of right and wrong comes from? I would guess for most it has its origins in the religious teachings that their ancestors received, and then passed on in their upbringing. Even I as a non-religious person can clearly recognise the habit of self-deprecation in myself (i.e. it is wrong to blow your own horn, or talk yourself up), which has its root in Scottish Christian thought. Even brought up away from Scotland and actively opposed to religion as a child, still this aspect has been incorporated in my sense of right and wrong.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 13:49:21 UTC | #950819

Jay G's Avatar Comment 2 by Jay G

There are people living in the religious jewish community who are what is known as "ortho-prax" meaning they outwardly keep the commandments but really don't believe in God or Torah. They usually do this because they were religious and built lives/families and THEN came to doubt. They don't want to uproot their lives, with all the turmoil that would bring, so they just keep going on with the lifestyle.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 14:57:27 UTC | #950823

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 3 by Alan4discussion

Here's why I reject the alleged distinction between "Jewish culture" and "Jewish religion" as a false dichotomy: If you understand Jewish history (a.k.a. the history of the Jewish People / Nation of Israel, which is also part of the same big picture), you will see that we're talking not about a religion over here and a culture over there, but rather a religious culture.

Clearly you are right in regard to Orthodox Jewish groups or sects, where their religion and lifestyles are deeply intertwined, but there are atheist Jews who are simply culturally and socially Jewish. There is probably a range of positions in between. Christians also range from raving fundamentalists to token adherents.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 15:20:35 UTC | #950825

Jay G's Avatar Comment 4 by Jay G

Comment 3 by Alan4discussion :

Here's why I reject the alleged distinction between "Jewish culture" and "Jewish religion" as a false dichotomy: If you understand Jewish history (a.k.a. the history of the Jewish People / Nation of Israel, which is also part of the same big picture), you will see that we're talking not about a religion over here and a culture over there, but rather a religious culture.

Clearly you are right in regard to Orthodox Jewish groups or sects, where their religion and lifestyles are deeply intertwined, but there are atheist Jews who are simply culturally and socially Jewish. There is probably a range of positions in between. Christians also range from raving fundamentalists to token adherents.

What makes an "atheist Jew" a Jew? What element of Judaism is shared by all Jews that binds them together as Jews? Until the enlightenment, it was taken for granted that Torah and Mitzvos bound Jews together as one people. Once people start to give up the Torah way of life, what is it that keeps them within Judaism (I'm asking about definitions here)

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 15:23:51 UTC | #950826

BenS's Avatar Comment 5 by BenS

Well, I've not read the entirety of that other thread and - before I do - I'll respond to this at its face value with fresh eyes.

I honestly, really, don't get what you're saying.

Firstly, you say you were trying to respond to posters who asked you if you believed in god. Were you trying to answer that here, because you've actually given an answer.

You seem to be saying that Jewish culture is not separate from Jewish religion... but you don't give a reason why. You say 'if you understand X, you will see' but you don't explain the issue. Can you not explain why the two are separate without me having to spend 4 years studying the history of the Jewish people in detail? I can do so quite easily with Christianity.

My family are arguably cultural Christians. They celebrate Christmas and eat easter eggs. Are they religious? No. They don't believe in god. Are you telling me that it's not possible to be culturally Jewish without also believing in god? If not, explain why.

""What's Jewish culture? Matzah ball soup? Corned beef on rye? Marx Brothers? Mel Brooks? I'm not knocking those things, but is that all there is to it? There are plenty of Jewish sub-cultures: Sephardic; Ashkenazic; Yemenite; etc., but what is the one thing which unites them all? Torah & Mitzvoth." "

Both Torah and Mitzvoth are religious in nature. A religious book and a religious duty. That's the one thing that 'unites' (and I use that word VERY loosely) the religious Jews, but what about the cultural Jews. Those who behave like Jews in a Jewish community but aren't religious (do not believe in god). If you're saying that cultural Jews MUST include the religious aspect and then claim that the cultural and religion are inseperable then, yes, they are. You've defined it that way. It's a tautology. No wonder she couldn't deny it. You defined 'Jewish culture' and 'Jewish religion' as the same thing.

"it is lived out in all sorts of deeds including giving to charity, visiting the sick, marriage counseling & conflict resolution, [prayer] & study, sex & abstinence, honoring parents & raising children, work & rest, and even bathing & diet."

So if you do all that in the Jewish fashion, because it's your culture, but you don't believe in god, read the torah or attend services, are you a cultural Jew or not?

(I've included prayer in brackets because that's quite obviously religious. You can't lump a religious practice in with cultural practices and then claim they're inseparable. I've just proven that by separating them.)

""I'm not really a religious Jew; I'm more of a philosophical Jew." He said to me, "You're more religious than you think you are." I thought that was funny, 'cause I wasn't sure what he meant. Then I realized that he and I had just prayed with a minyan, and that is a religious thing to do."

So... you were wrong. You're a religious Jew. Unless you weren't really praying because you don't believe there's anything to pray to in which case your response should have been "No, I'm really not a religious Jew. Me praying just then was an act. I wasn't really praying.".

""You know, I used to regard so many of the mitzvoth as if they were just a bunch of superstitious mumbo-jumbo. But now that I'm learning more about the meaning of the mitzvoth..." and he said to me, "Now you're learning that it's meaningful mumbo-jumbo?""

Anything can have 'meaning' if you assign meaning to it or find that it sort of fulfils another role. Doesn't make it any less superstitious. Not walking under ladders because it's bad luck is just superstition. It sort of fulfils the role of a warning against walking blindly under things where there's a higher chance of getting a bucket dropped on your head but that's not how it's phrased or probably even intended.

From the mitzvoth, I fail to see how 'To believe in god and that he created all things' is anything other than superstition. To fear god. Same. Showing that some of them (washing hands before eating) make sense does not mean they all make sense.

Right, I'll go and read that other thread now.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 15:59:39 UTC | #950828

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 6 by Alan4discussion

Comment 4 by Jay G

What makes an "atheist Jew" a Jew? What element of Judaism is shared by all Jews that binds them together as Jews? Until the enlightenment, it was taken for granted that Torah and Mitzvos bound Jews together as one people. Once people start to give up the Torah way of life, what is it that keeps them within Judaism (I'm asking about definitions here)

To be honest, I do not know, but there have been people posting here who stated that was their position. Perhaps one on them will turn up and explain.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 17:21:33 UTC | #950835

G*O*D's Avatar Comment 7 by G*O*D

What makes an "atheist Jew" a Jew? What element of Judaism is shared by all Jews that binds them together as Jews? Until the enlightenment, it was taken for granted that Torah and Mitzvos bound Jews together as one people. Once people start to give up the Torah way of life, what is it that keeps them within Judaism (I'm asking about definitions here)

According to Wikipedia, there is a difference between Judaism and the Jewish people:

"Judaism [...] is the religion, philosophy and way of life of the Jewish people".

In my mind, what makes one a Jewish atheist is the same thing that makes Richard Dawkins a British atheist.

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 19:37:18 UTC | #950837

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 8 by Cartomancer

I have articulated elsewhere my opinion that "religious" and "cultural" are not distinct things. Religion is a type of culture, and the word "religion" is so multifarious and vague as to be taxonomically useless.

This applies to all religion. It's just a kind of culture. Separate tools and mindsets are not required for understanding it. If you want to use the word "religion" to mean a specific thing, such as belief in things that don't exist, then fine, but that's not the entirety of the word's import. As I said, it is my belief that the word has so much import as to be essentially useless unless assigned an arbitrary and much narrower meaning.

So I find this argument a bit silly. Some people who call themselves jewish seriously believe in all kinds of nonsense. Some understand and feel affinity for the nonsense, but don't believe it, and some don't even feel affinity for it. That's how it is with all people and all cultures. That's how these things work.

Also, people who play fantasy role-playing games don't actually believe that fantasy monsters really exist...

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 23:10:46 UTC | #950845

nicksg's Avatar Comment 9 by nicksg

I don't think you can seriously talk about "Jewish History" in the Torah.These are myths inter-twined with the myths of many other religions,and have virtually no basis in history,if by history you mean something that probably happened. Ghosts,goblins and fairies are at least as likely as Adam & Eve,Noah's Ark etc.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 03:40:31 UTC | #950849

canadian_right's Avatar Comment 10 by canadian_right

You can, to a certain extent, separate Jewish religion from Jewish culture. If someone tells me that they are non-observing Jews I take what they tell me at face value. I don't try to redefine what they think of as Jewish culture and Jewish religion so I can win an argument. From what I know of both Jewish culture and religion it is true that while both are intertwined, it is true that there are significant secular aspects to Jewish culture.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 03:59:55 UTC | #950851

canadian_right's Avatar Comment 11 by canadian_right

re: Aguazul, and where morals come from.

I'm not aware of any science saying baldly that "greed is good". A certain amount of greed may be necessary to fuel the ambition required to thrive, but I am not aware of any science that says that "greed is good" as a general rule.

Where do people get their morals? While we generally live in a society steeped in religion, even the religious no longer get their morals from religion if they are part of mainstream western society. Most religious people cherry pick the good parts from their religious dogma, and they use the same method as secular people: modern moral concepts developed since the enlightenment that boil down to "do not harm others on purpose." I don't see to many of my religious friends selling their daughters into slavery, stoning to death neighbours who do not observe the Sabbath. They do help the poor, are kind to children, and are generally "good". I can't anywhere in the bible saying gays can marry, but they rationalize that too.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 04:07:43 UTC | #950852

Rob W.'s Avatar Comment 12 by Rob W.

Dear Aguazul,

You are reminding me of some interesting things I saw on www.youtube.com featuring Sam Harris. In one video he was talking with Richard Dawkins, and in another he was debating William Lane Craig. As smart as Professor Harris is, some of his arguments didn't quite make sense to me. Maybe I misunderstood him, but it seemed to me that he was arguing that science can teach us morality -- as if the more science you know and understand, the more moral you will be. He was talking about how primitive someone like Abraham was -- as if Abraham couldn't possibly have had as well-developed a moral sense as do modern men who know so much more science than was known back in the days of Abraham. All I could think was, "Wait a second. Dr. Joseph Mengele must have understood many scientific things which Abraham wouldn't have known. Would we assume that Mengele was more moral than Abraham?" Some folks might not think of Abraham as all that moral anyway, but he was no Mengele.

I've listened to a lot of debate and discussion about the relationship (or lack thereof) between religion and morality. The late Christopher Hitchens (whom I affectionately nick-named "Atheistopher Hitchens") argued that we don't get our morality from religion, but that religion gets its morality from us. I can only agree half-way since he made it sound like a one-way street. It's clearly a 2-way street. Culture informs individuals, and individuals inform culture.

For some reason(s), some people are just sociopaths and / or psychopaths. I've long argued that without empathy, there can be no true morality. No matter how many rules and regulations you write down, they can't be remotely reliably executed in real life without a gut sense of right and wrong which intuitively takes into account that others are as capable of pleasure and pain as you are, and that it matters that this is so. Harris understands that; that much is clear to me. Mengele, on the other hand, was a sociopath.

I was listening to The Atheist Experience out of Austin, Texas. One of the co-hosts (whose name escapes me at the moment) was asked from where he derives his morality. He said, "Empathy and Reason." I said, "Amen, brother!"

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 08:15:01 UTC | #950858

Rob W.'s Avatar Comment 13 by Rob W.

As for the science of morality, I should add that there are great scientific explanations about the evolution of morality. I was trying to explain this to my friend YA. If you look at the Classroom Clashes: Teaching Evolution discussion, you will see some of his comments there, but alas, many of his comments got deleted by the mods, and then he got banned. For some reason, he is more reluctant to accept evolution than I am, so sometimes I find myself trying to explain aspects of it to him. I was explaining how developing a sense of empathy is essential to long-term survival. I told him about how our aggressive traits have come down to us in some balance with our compassionate traits because too much of one or the other would interfere with one's survival.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 08:27:09 UTC | #950859

Rob W.'s Avatar Comment 14 by Rob W.

What unites the atheistic Jew with the religious Jew (and all the Jews between them -- e.g. secular, agnostic Jews)? What is it that they all have in common which allows us to apply the term "Jew" to them all? I'm arguing that it's that heritage of Torah & Mitzvoth, even if part or all of that heritage is rejected at an individual level. That's why history is part of the big picture. The idea of "Jewish culture" being separate from "Jewish religion" is a very post-modernist idea which takes Jews and Judaism out of historical context.

A Jew is not neccessarily someone who believes or practices Judaism. A Jew is someone whose mom is Jewish. That's not just some opinion; that's the legal definition. In fact, it took me a long time to get this because the western world is so dominated by Gentile -- mostly Christian -- notions about what religion is. I've noticed that a great deal of Western Atheist thought is informed by these Christian notions. It's so ubiquitous that it has affected the thinking of Western Jews and Gentiles alike even when people are not aware of it.

If it is not the heritage of Torah & Mitzvoth, then I don't know what it is. All other suggested answers fall short because all other suggested answers only include some subset(s) of Jews; no other suggestion I've heard covers all the Jews.

As I say, this heritage is matrilineal. For years, people kept telling me this, and I would argue. It typically went like this:

"Rob, if your mom is Jewish, then you are Jewish."

"Isn't it my own personal decision what religion I am? What if I want to go join the Hindu temple, for example?"

"Then, Rob, you will be a Jew sitting in the Hindu temple."

"But my dad's side of the family is Gentile. So that makes me half-Jewish."

"You can't be half-Jewish any more than you can be half-pregnant. It's your mom who determines your religious identity; Jewish Law (Halacha) says so."

"What do I care what Jewish Law says? I'm an American; I live under the Constitution."

But the world won the argument by wearing me down through repetition. So many people over the course of so many years just kept telling me over and over again:

"Rob, if your mom is Jewish, then you are Jewish,"

until finally one day, I just caved. I threw in the towel, and said,

"Okay, alright, I'm Jewish! Apparently I'm Jewish whether I like it or not. I guess I better get my toochas to shul and learn to like it."

So nowadays I do attend synogogue services where I'm learning to like it.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 09:18:41 UTC | #950865

Rob W.'s Avatar Comment 15 by Rob W.

Dear Cartomancer,

My comment about D&D was tongue-in-cheek. I don't literally think that all people who enjoy fantasy role-playing games can't distinguish the game from reality. Maybe you were being funny in return...

Dear BenS,

I'm not sure what answer you think I've given to the belief in G-d thing here. If I implied an answer, maybe you correctly picked up on that, but I'm not sure that I've explicitly addressed it. You can see in that other thread that I hesitate to give a simple "yes" because I think a simple "yes" is bound to be grossly misunderstood. A lot of that has to do with those ubiquitous notions about what religion is.

In my experience, Jews tend to use the term "religious" differently than do Christians. When I hear Christians (and Atheists, b.t.w. who've bought into Christian terms) say that someone is very "religious" or "has a strong faith," it seems to me that they mean "dogmatic." When I hear Jews describe another Jew as "religious," they don't neccessarily mean "dogmatic;" they mean "observant." That's because often in Christianity, the "belief" is The Thing; it's The Point to it all as if it were a virtue in and of itself, as if it had some intrinsic value. Belief without action doesn't go a long way in Judaism; in Judaism, behavior trumps belief every time.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 10:02:21 UTC | #950867

BenS's Avatar Comment 16 by BenS

I'm not sure what answer you think I've given to the belief in G-d thing here.

That was my mistake. I missed the word 'not' - which was a fairly crucial word to miss - and now I'm unable to edit it. I was trying to say 'you've not actually given an answer'. My point being that given the question 'Do you believe in god?', your attempt to answer it didn't actually answer it.

What is it that they all have in common which allows us to apply the term "Jew" to them all? I'm arguing that it's that heritage of Torah & Mitzvoth, even if part or all of that heritage is rejected at an individual level.

Sorry, I find that somewhat ridiculous. That's like claiming that the heritage of eating meat allows us to apply the word 'meat eater' to everyone even if they don't eat meat. The fact that their ancestors might have done and, even, they themselves might have at some point in the past does not allow anyone to apply the term to them now. If someone followed the Mitzvoth in the past - or never did but had parents who did - you don't get to just call them a Jew. It's silly.

A Jew is someone whose mom is Jewish. That's not just some opinion; that's the legal definition.

Whose legal definition? Wait, you mean the Jewish legal definition. Which is, essentially, opinion. It's certainly not the law of the land (at least, not in the land I am). Again, if you make your own definition and then apply it, no-one can argue with it. It's another tautology. You're also essentially saying that anyone ever born in the female line of someone who's ever been identified as a Jew is then Jewish ad infinitum. Absolute rubbish. So when a Jewish mother births a daughter, who moves abroad and cuts ties with the family, who births a daughter of her own, who becomes a Muslim and moves to Tunisia who births a son who is brought up in a Muslim family and has never even heard of Judaism... that son is a Jew.

No.

But the world won the argument by wearing me down through repetition.

Call me a bluff old sentimentalist but I prefer to resolve arguments through reason and critical thinking. I can't imagine any point in my life where someone standing in front of me and repeating "You're a Jew." will ever convince me that I'm a Jew. As far as arguments go, that one's shit.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 10:54:41 UTC | #950869

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 17 by irate_atheist

Comment 16 by BenS -

Call me a bluff old sentimentalist but I prefer to resolve arguments through reason and critical thinking. I can't imagine any point in my life where someone standing in front of me and repeating "You're a Jew." will ever convince me that I'm a Jew. As far as arguments go, that one's shit.

So good, it's worth repeating.

Unlike their shit arguments.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 11:25:26 UTC | #950870

secularjew's Avatar Comment 18 by secularjew

Rob W., why are you writing G-d instead of God? Is there something you're not telling us?

Please be aware that Jews are also an ethnic group, not just a religious group, even if most Jews are both of these things. Culture evolves and is different things to different people. I'm Jewish ethnically, not Jewish religiously, and whatever minimal role Jewish culture plays in my life, religious culture plays practically none. And just because some ancient elders came up with the nonsense about Jewish faith being matrilinear doesn't make it true.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 17:32:05 UTC | #950899

G*O*D's Avatar Comment 19 by G*O*D

If we ignore for a moment my parents' religion or lack of, which is Judaism, why do I feel Jewish? Maybe because I care about Israel? Because I am proud of Einstein's Jewish origins? Because I am diappointed by the Jewish performance at the Olympics? Because of my great emotion and revolt towaards anti-semitism and the Holocaust? God or rituals play no role whatsoever in this.

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 22:43:54 UTC | #950906

Aguazul's Avatar Comment 20 by Aguazul

@RobW, regarding morality. I don't know much about theoretical discussions, but tracing back the influences on myself, I find that the religious stories told in my childhood were designed to give examples of good and bad, right and wrong, and listening I found myself agreeing and disagreeing, so they were an influence. Actually, I think this is probably the main focus of CofE religious education for younger children in the UK -- rather than the child brainwashing and manipulation that some mention from the US. Also there are some common cultural ideas derived from religion in the UK (or Scotland at least) such as: Salvation through hard work, showing off is being big-headed, suffering is beneficial, whatever. So we should all be living in spartan white cells flogging ourselves daily: No fun for us!

To me morality is a set of rules partly designed so that a society functions well, and partly designed to guide an individual towards activities that suit the designs of whoever created the moral code. Maybe that is to be more spiritual, or maybe to be more productive, or whatever. In any case, to me morals are designed, and then taught. I don't see how they can be derived from empathy. Empathy is a feeling not a set of rules. Part of the journey is breaking and remaking parts of our inherited moral code.

Travelling reveals how the basic underlying morals change from place to place, revealed in what results people expect from different actions. Thinking about here in Peru, the old Inca commandments were: Don't lie, Don't steal, Don't be lazy (I think only the third one is still in force). Whereas we might use anger and threats if we weren't getting our way in a negotiation, a country Peruvian would softly explain in detail their whole sorry situation. I guess this might be based on an cultural expectation of empathy -- but it would never fly in the UK.

To your point about finally accepting that you were a Jew -- I can find a similar experience when I understood that I have Scottish roots (which I didn't know for much of my life). Suddenly a lot of things made sense. I had inherited a lot of Scottish baggage without knowing it, which had influenced my life in many ways (good and bad). Looking back it all started fitting together. So I need to look to Scottish culture and history to understand myself better: seafaring, clan warfare, Scottish Christianity, and so on. Now I've identified it, there are things I don't like about having inherited all this stuff, but what am I going to do? It is part of me. What I dislike, I have to resolve inside myself, and denying it isn't going to work. There are positive things to call on too, though.

To me the feeling of Jewishness is really complex and convoluted, and quite subtle and semi-contradictory as well. I'm not sure I'd like to live with it, but you don't seem to be asking to be saved from it. What are you saying? "Here I am, I've fallen back into my underlying Jewish cultural patterns and they feel just like a comfortable old pair of slippers, does this push any buttons for anyone?" The point about religion being the practice of rituals rather than the believing of notions was interesting though. Rituals are very powerful -- the feeling of singing in the school Chapel choir for packed Christmas services is etched forever in my memory. It doesn't make me a Christian, though -- or would you say that it does?

Thu, 16 Aug 2012 22:48:17 UTC | #950907

Rob W.'s Avatar Comment 21 by Rob W.

Well, Aguazul, keep in mind that what makes a Christian a Christian is very different that what makes a Jew a Jew. These are two different camps who use very different sets of rules (not to mention all the subdivisions in each).

Dear BenS, In response to (I wish I knew how to properly block quote): "So when a Jewish mother births a daughter, who moves abroad and cuts ties with the family, who births a daughter of her own, who becomes a Muslim and moves to Tunisia who births a son who is brought up in a Muslim family and has never even heard of Judaism... that son is a Jew. No."

Yes, BenS, that's exactly what I'm saying. I don't care whether you like it or not; that's Halacha. Just 'cause you don't like it doesn't make you an authority, and doesn't make it not so. There are laws on the books where I live which I don't like, but that doesn't mean they aren't the laws. Ben, if you are Gentile, then of course someone telling you that you're Jewish over and over wouldn't make it so. In my case, however, the people who told me that were correct. Israel (a.k.a. the Jewish people) -- not just the modern State of Israel -- has been a nation for centuries even when dispersed. The Rabbis have kept Halacha going. They have rules and regulations about how a Gentile might become Jewish just as the United States Immigration Service regulates how an immigrant to the U.S.A. might become a citizen. Citizenship in a nation is not just a matter of your individual opinion or mine; it's a matter of the legal system in place for that nation.

Now please, Ben, if I am wrong when I say that the matrilineal heritage of Torah and Mitzvoth is what unites all Jews including the atheistic ones, then please tell us what does. Why would we ever even call an Atheist a Jew if there isn't something which unites him with those Jews who are more religious than he is? Your point about Vegans for Beef is fine, but if the same principle were applied here, wouldn't an Atheist with matrilineal Jewish ancestory be a non-Jew?

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 02:19:12 UTC | #950918

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 22 by phil rimmer

Jewish culture for me is bound up in the diasporic heritage of being a reviled people. They are a "people" as much held together by outside pressures as by an internal glue.

For some the glue is the thing and the hyper traditions surrounding identity prevail as a predominantly self protective act. For geographically rootless others self preservation is achieved with the acquisition of portable wealth. The real gold here, of course, is the disproportionate acquisition of skills and learning.

Elsewhere I have talked about how the excellence of individuals is enabled by the excellence of their cultures. Cultures do vary wildly in their nurturing ability.

The Jewish intellectual cultural heritage and the hyper tradition heritage are quite separate in my view. They both form on the substrate of the diasporic, reviled people as reactive strategies.

One has given us extraordinary value.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 08:21:51 UTC | #950923

BenS's Avatar Comment 23 by BenS

"Yes, BenS, that's exactly what I'm saying. I don't care whether you like it or not; that's Halacha. Just 'cause you don't like it doesn't make you an authority, and doesn't make it not so"

This is absolute lunacy. You cannot claim an opinion as fact - and 'Jewish laws' are not real laws. They don't apply to me and YOU (or other Jews) don't get to decide who they apply to. I don't care whether you like it or not, you claiming it does not make you an authority and it doesn't make it so. You can claim it's 'Jewish law' until you're blue in the face but that boy in the example given has never even heard of Jewish law, didn't sign up to it and yet you're saying he's bound by it? Bollocks.

" Ben, if you are Gentile, then of course someone telling you that you're Jewish over and over wouldn't make it so."

We're arguing over the definition of Jewish here. The 'Jews' have decided what it means to be Jewish and apparently they're applying it to whomever their laws (opinions, actually) say is a Jew - regardless of what the recipient thinks. If my mother is Jewish then someone telling me over and over does NOT make me Jewish by any rational definition. If I don't follow the religion, don't follow the custom then in NO RATIONAL WAY am I a Jew.

It makes as much sense as me defining everyone with the letters 'Rob' in their RD username - and all their descendents in perpetuity - a Snogwart. There you are, you're a Snogwart. You can't say you're not because, by very definition, you are. No point arguing. You might not stand on one leg on Wednesdays like Snogwarts are supposed to and you might not worship the great Snoggle in the sky, but you're still a Snogwart. And so are your kids. And their kids. Forever. For this is the law of the Snoggle - as old and as true as the sky.

Do you see how stupid that is?

" Citizenship in a nation is not just a matter of your individual opinion or mine; it's a matter of the legal system in place for that nation."

But you're TELLING people what nation they're in, even when they have no desire, wish or inclination to be in it. It's like someone being born in America to an American family and yet being called English because their great great great grandmother was. It's nonsense.

"Now please, Ben, if I am wrong when I say that the matrilineal heritage of Torah and Mitzvoth is what unites all Jews including the atheistic ones, then please tell us what does."

The onus is on you to prove this in a sensible manner, not on me to disprove it. You've just claimed it and given your reasoning as 'because I say so'. Doesn't work like that. You're a Snogwart, you should know this.

"Why would we ever even call an Atheist a Jew if there isn't something which unites him with those Jews who are more religious than he is?"

I have no idea. This is my point. You've decided there's something that unites this person with Jews, decided it applies to them and then called them a Jew. In the example I gave above, that lad (born in Tunisia to Muslim parents) is still a Jew according to you. United by Torah and Mitzvoh to all the other Jews, apparently, despite him never even having heard of them. I don't know why you'd want to call those who don't identify themselves as Jews, Jews, but you seem hell bent on doing so.

"Your point about Vegans for Beef is fine, but if the same principle were applied here, wouldn't an Atheist with matrilineal Jewish ancestory be a non-Jew?"

Ask them.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 08:44:44 UTC | #950926

aldous's Avatar Comment 24 by aldous

a daughter of her own, who becomes a Muslim Comment 21 by Rob W.

You'll have to ask a rabbi about this but I believe that that's against the rules of matrilineal inheritance of Jewishness. You can be a Jewish atheist but lose your Jewishness if you abandon Judaism for another religion. So the child would not be Jewish if the mother had turned into a Muslim before the conception of the child.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 08:45:31 UTC | #950927

BenS's Avatar Comment 25 by BenS

(I wish I knew how to properly block quote)

Stick a '>' in front of the paragraph you want to quote. Sticking more on - like '>>' - lets you build nested quotes. Just experiment, there's a preview under the box so you can see what your post will look like.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 08:55:52 UTC | #950929

Rob W.'s Avatar Comment 26 by Rob W.

Hi Phil. I get the first part of what you are saying. I didn't always get it. I grew up in a home which was for the most part secular. My parents gave my sibs and me plenty of freedom to explore religion(s). We lived in a largely Jewish, Jew-friendly neighborhood in a free and prosperous country. Even though my mom was a Holocaust survivor, I initially had no idea how much some people hated Jews. I always felt like just another American. So for a long time, I didn't understand why some Jews kept themselves so apart from the larger society. Later I realized that this apartness had historically been imposed from the outside as much as from the inside.

Maybe you can explain to me the second part of your comment. Are you saying that the intellectual heritage is one thing, and the tradition heritage is another? Maybe this goes back to my orginial comment about Judaism being not just a culture over here, and a religion over there, but a religious culture. Of course I'm not denying that the state of the Jewish people at the moment is different than it was a few centuries ago; what I'm saying is that if there is still such a phenomena as the Jews, then we have to see change and continuity together in historical context. As I keep saying, there's got to be some reason why Atheists, Agnostics, and other secular people with matrilineal Jewish ancestory would still be called "Jewish" by themselves and / or others. That's why I keep saying that even if such an individual does not personally care for religion, he / she still has that religious heritage floating around in his / her background, following his / her parents, and at least her children like a ghost from generation to generation.

So unless I'm misunderstanding you, Phil, I still think that the intellectual heritage and the traditional heritage are part of the same package deal. At least that was the case historically, right? Maybe in more recent generations, the intellectual part got largely shifted over into more secular studies. For centuries, though, they were all part of the same thing, and there wasn't so much distinction between secular matters and religious matters as in post-modern thought. The traditional intellectual thing I'm talking about here is Talmudic study. Talmud encompasses everything from what some might call the practical secular stuff like agricultural property law to the mystical religious stuff like how to properly talk to G-d.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 09:27:05 UTC | #950932

maxplastic1942's Avatar Comment 27 by maxplastic1942

Philosophers like J Krishnamurti, whilst accepting the fact of physical evolution, deny that any psychological evolution has ever taken place, pointing out that we are just as tribal and caught in our own cultures and belief systems as were 20,000 years ago. He also made the point that if we examine ourselves honestly we will find that our so-called morality is actually no morality at all. Atheists may pin their hopes on technology eventually finding a way to cure the human condition, whilst religions hope for some kind of outside intervention from a hypothetical deity. Krishnamurti seemed to suggest that arguing about who is right is a meaningless intellectual exercise as the truth lies beyond mere verbal agreement and is to be found in the unbiased examination and understanding of our own nature as it really is, and not in a preoccupation with the endless proliferation of insanities that that same nature has caused in the outside world and the concomitant arguments generated by them. If he is correct and there is neither a personal God and that all future technological advances will be subverted in one way or another by our own lack of morality, then. surely, if there is no psychological transformation of the individual, we are all doomed to a more or less meaningless life, (apart from the spurious meanings that we invent for ourselves) either until the sun gives out or we fall victims to our own inventions.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 10:25:37 UTC | #950935

BenS's Avatar Comment 28 by BenS

Philosophers like J Krishnamurti, whilst accepting the fact of physical evolution, deny that any psychological evolution has ever taken place, pointing out that we are just as tribal and caught in our own cultures and belief systems as were 20,000 years ago.

What exactly does psychological evolution even mean?

He also made the point that if we examine ourselves honestly we will find that our so-called morality is actually no morality at all.

Seems like a massive get out clause there to make the claim unfalsifiable. If I examine myself and find my 'so called' morality is actually moral, I'm simply being dishonest. So I either agree with this point or I'm a liar. Perfect.

Atheists may pin their hopes on technology eventually finding a way to cure the human condition, whilst religions hope for some kind of outside intervention from a hypothetical deity.

What is the human condition and why do we need to be cured of it?

Krishnamurti seemed to suggest that arguing about who is right is a meaningless intellectual exercise as the truth lies beyond mere verbal agreement and is to be found in the unbiased examination and understanding of our own nature as it really is, and not in a preoccupation with the endless proliferation of insanities that that same nature has caused in the outside world and the concomitant arguments generated by them. If he is correct and there is neither a personal God and that all future technological advances will be subverted in one way or another by our own lack of morality, then. surely, if there is no psychological transformation of the individual, we are all doomed to a more or less meaningless life, (apart from the spurious meanings that we invent for ourselves) either until the sun gives out or we fall victims to our own inventions.

So take the premise that we all lack morals, call anyone who disagrees a liar, state that we're all doomed - unless we 'psychologically transform' (whatever that means) - to a meaningless life (we're not allowed to decide for ourselves what's meaningful, apparently) and then sit back and look smug.

Sounds like a load of guff.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 11:25:04 UTC | #950937

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 29 by phil rimmer

Comment 26 by Rob W.

I still think that the intellectual heritage and the traditional heritage are part of the same package deal.

You can't use words so loosely and hope to clarify the situation. Its not a "package deal". I proposed that there were pre or extra-cultural drivers (elements that could not be thought of in any way as a part of a culture itself, to whit, a scattered, reviled people..i.e. something has been done to them) which resulted in two entirely divergent cultural responses. Their common cause is not the culture. Divergent means that they were once not distinguishable, but that does not mean that one cultural tradition caused another only that they had a common cause.

Pale Christians often claim the Enlightenment was a product of Christian thinking because many at the time were Christians......Well of course they were....but even at the time they were mostly dissenters or non orthodox, dismantling the dogma, merely unsure of how far they needed to go. The drive was always specifically anti hyper tradition and pro the simple power of truth. Christianity did not bring about the Enlightenment, partially or wholly dissenting Christians did.

The two strands of Jewish heritage are the self protection of blind hyper-tradition grouping and the self protection of knowing better than others. One is the evil twin of the other. The relationship is non-cultural for all the nostalgia involved.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 11:43:48 UTC | #950938

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 30 by Alan4discussion

Comment 27 by maxplastic1942

Philosophers like J Krishnamurti, whilst accepting the fact of physical evolution, deny that any psychological evolution has ever taken place, pointing out that we are just as tribal and caught in our own cultures and belief systems as were 20,000 years ago.

20,000 years is a relatively short period in evolutionary time scales.

He also made the point that if we examine ourselves honestly we will find that our so-called morality is actually no morality at all.

Personal reflection is not a good guide. Controlled experiments using scientific methods give much more reliable data.

Atheists may pin their hopes on technology eventually finding a way to cure the human condition, whilst religions hope for some kind of outside intervention from a hypothetical deity.

Cure for the human condition???? What is that??

Krishnamurti seemed to suggest that arguing about who is right is a meaningless intellectual exercise as the truth lies beyond mere verbal agreement and is to be found in the unbiased examination and understanding of our own nature as it really is,

That is why objective scientific research methods should be used. Arguing with people who have no idea what they are talking about does not help progress to accurate conclusions, although it may achieve political support for productive ideas if some of them are convinced. Peers reviewing science is quite a different matter.

if there is no psychological transformation of the individual, we are all doomed to a more or less meaningless life, (apart from the spurious meanings that we invent for ourselves) either until the sun gives out or we fall victims to our own inventions.

Life is meaningless apart from individual and group objectives we decide or invent for ourselves! Wider education in rational thinking and social empathy for others would be a psychological transformation for some, but no transformations are going to present "meanings" or "moralities" on a plate. Careful thinking and planning is required.

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 13:07:26 UTC | #950943