Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cousins Becoming Fathers & Brothers?

(Leviticus 20:20) “If a man has sexual relations with his uncle’s wife (presumably after death), the sexual past of his uncle he has reopened. They will bear their error. They will die childless.

(Leviticus 20:21) “If a man marries the wife of his brother (also presumably after death and the decedent had children), it is immoral. The sexual past of his own brother he has reopened. They shall remain childless.”

Why, from amongst all the sexual prohibitions listed in Torah, do these two particular instances warrant the divinely inspired intimidation of remaining barren? If remaining childless was a divine punishment for committing an ‘immoral’ sexual coupling, then why doesn’t the Moshe add that little warning to every sexual prohibition as a deterrent? After all, in those times, everyone lived to make more babies and without babies, a couple’s status would be reduced to nothing in light of their being unable to fulfill the first and primary command to (Genesis 1:28) “Reproduce and keep reproducing!” So considering the severity of such consequences, it seems right that Moshe would apply this threat to all sexual prohibitions. Why not? Other than the threat of death at the hands of your friends and neighbors, what could be worse than living in a world where children are expected and not having any?

The question is further reinforced by the statement in Deuteronomy 23:3 “An illegitimate child shall not come into (marry from among) the congregation of YHVH. Even ten generations later, they are forbidden entry into the gathering of YHVH.” It appears that immoral sexual couplings can and do produce enough offspring to make Moshe worried enough to issue a warning about them, should people try to conceal the products their sexual misconduct and pass them off as legitimate. Just as the couples naturally yearn for children they must also, and equally so, yearn for children who can marry and have children of their own. If the threat of misbegotten offspring treated as social outcasts by virtue of bad birth was enough to dissuade the others from committing adultery, then why not the pairs in 20:20 and 20:21? What is worse, having no children at all, or having children who they, and their progeny, are forever branded as damaged goods? (There is some dispute as to what ‘mamzer’ actually means. I am using the widely accepted definition which implies a child born of an incestuous or adulterous union.)

Maybe Moshe added this additional warning to would be brother-widow and dead-uncle wife-lovers for a reason that wouldn’t apply in the other forbidden relationships. The distinguishing factor in 20:20-21 is that the new offspring, were there to be any, would upset the established social order of authority and inheritance, something that would not necessarily occur (or could not occur) in the other prohibited sexual liaisons. In each case the new children, assuming they were sons, would displace any of the deceased husband’s children and their position in the social hierarchy. In both cases the new husband would become father to his former nephews or cousins and the new children would supercede the former. Moshe perhaps thought this to be a very troublesome twist fraught with eventual disarray and domestic strife. (If I ever had to suddenly start taking orders from any of my cousins, there would be a murder soon after.)

It is also likely that Moshe witnessed this when in Egypt and, seeing the problem first hand, wished to spare the Israelites the ensuing burden these situations place on society. Also, as an adoptee of the Pharoah, with his exalted status subject to the whims of his adopted brothers, the rightful heirs to the Egyptian throne, must have left Moshe with a gnawing sense of insecurity; so much so that he risked seeking companionship and comfort among the unfortunate slave-class with whom he shared a biological connection. Moshe could have also been protecting his own children and those of Aharon from becoming displaced in the line of the priesthood or monarchy should one of them face a premature demise, as was common among other cultures in those times. In setting a foundation for national unity and stability, Moshe wisely fed off his experiences for insight.

The next question concerns the difference between the 20:20 and 20:21. Why does one verse (20) state that “They shall bear their mistake and die childless”, yet for the next case (21) there is no mention of a punishment other than to “remain childless”? The case of a nephew suddenly becoming a step-father may have more serious repercussions than just creating a new sort of family wherein the children are both brothers and cousins at the same time. The man who marries the widow of his uncle marries ‘up’ sort of speak, rather than across, becoming a father to his cousins and assuming more status than he deserves from the established order. As we have seen in other places in Torah i.e. the Strange Incense, rebellion of Korach, etc., bucking the system, even with the best of intentions, holds dire consequences. Such a warning would serve to deter any would-be usurpers from within the family.

This explanation also fits the language of the Torah well. In 20:20 and 21 the word for barren is “arririm”, which means childless but can also mean ‘lonely’; separated by the internal family conflict and mixed allegiances that arise from these types of marriages. In the case of the uncle’s widow, the word describing the act is “nidah”, which means both detestable and, in certain contexts also means to move or meander, implying a shift away from the established order.

Without being able to control the reproductive processes of the parties involved, Moshe is essentially uttering an empty threat in natural terms. He has no way to stop the sperm of a nephew from impregnating the ova of an uncle’s widow. Yet, Moshe did have the power of authority behind him, so powerful in such times when little was understood about genetics or conception, that the weight of his word became honored as divine.

Kashrus, Mel, & Hidden Insanity

Whenever I overhear Mel Gibson pontificating on religious subjects or speak about his faith, I am always amazed at how many pretty women he is seen with in photographs, holding a beer while laughing, and hugging these sometimes scantily-clad beauties quite closely. One would imagine that a guy like Mel Gibson, while living in a world surrounded by the decadence, wealth, and the power that comes with such notoriety would find it difficult, nigh impossible in fact, to maintain serious religious convictions. It is a world where marketing meets hedonism. I expect that many religious-minded folks in and around Hollywood do manage to resist temptation and yet, other than the Scientologists, so few of these people ever gain notoriety for their religious beliefs. Some would wonder why that is. The question comes to me because I come from a world very different than that of Christianity, and when I do make observations of other religions and people, I still tend to filter it through the Orthodox Jewish perspective. We have to, however, be careful not to judge Mel Gibson or devout Christians in general, from the standards of the Orthodox Jewish world-outlook.

For starters, in Christianity, other than the major rules concerning overt sexual conduct i.e. adultery, homosexuality, etc., the general laws concerning social contacts are few. Even the most devout of Christians never have to worry about keeping Kosher , dressing and behaving modestly, or a host of other social prohibitions that limit the amount of contact and, in addition, alter one’s appearance and behavior to the point of seeming other-worldly, impolite, or even strange to the world around them. A Christian is never required to cover up his wine when he invites a Hindu over for dinner. Unlike Judaism, Christianity doesn’t tell you how to tie your shoes, what hand to wipe your ass with, or to immediately step off an elevator should you end up alone in it with a female who is not a close blood relation. If Reb Chaim Lefkowitz were living in Malibu and associating with a bevy of beautiful women among the rich and famous, we might place him under some suspicion for having too many non-Jewish contacts. Mel Gibson doesn’t have that problem because he isn’t required to wear his religion outwardly in the same manner that we Jews are. The nutcase can walk around believing anything he wants and, from his normal behavior, none would be the wiser as to what he is really going on inside his head.

Now someone out there may already be wondering why I chose to include keeping Kosher among the other social restrictions. The Torah tells us that the laws of Kosher are among the laws that have no rational explanation, much like the laws governing certain garments. In Jewish schools we are taught that King Solomon may have figured it out the riddle, or that Elijah the prophet, upon his return to announce the Messianic Era, will then answer all the legal and theological quandaries for us. I don’t think it’s all that complicated. Keeping kosher was never meant as a dietary restriction per se. The limiting of dietary options serves to control travel and social contact outside the bounds of one’s tribe. By prohibiting three-quarters of what the neighboring tribes and peoples were consuming daily, Moses sought to further insulate and isolate the children of Israel from outside influence. Moses did not really care what you ate, but was more concerned with whom you shared your meals. Christians don’t generally have such restrictions and their culinary tastes, much like their social etiquettes, don’t set them apart from any one else.

This is why Christian religious loonies like Mel Gibson remain unnoticed for so long. That is until, of course, they are emboldened enough to produce high-budget religious-themed films or attempt to salvage waning careers with excursions into a ministry of some sort. Then, inevitably, there are the chosen few who get piss-drunk, drive way over the speed limit, and imagine themselves as persecuted by members of a crack squad of mercenary Hadassah members in league with Zionist controlled police agencies. Just a little paranoid aren't we, Mel? (Though nowhere as paranoid as the Jew who leaps from an elevator because he has to share it with a non-Jewish woman for thirty seconds as if she is somehow, in that short time period, going to find him so irresistible that she would rape him in the elevator. Who does the Chasid think he is? Mel Gibson?)

Considering recent events, I think that ‘Thunderdome’ would have been a lot funnier (I thought the whole thing was funny) had Mel Gibson been required to fight Alan Dershowitz, but I guess that’s why no one asks for my input on screenplays (or parodies) anymore. (My money is on Dershowitz, but only if his character is played by Woody Allen.) I am currently working on “Lethal Weapon V” which, starring the same idiots as the first four sequels, involves Mel, Danny, and Joe fighting off Mosad-trained Ninja Chasidim diamond cutters. In the climax, Mel has a dream vision of a Yiddish-only Jesus, and due to Mel’s inability to understand, he slips into a drunken hysteria and murders his partner. This script will probably be rejected for being too realistic.

Sigh. I’m looking for investors.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who Is A 'Self-Hating' Jew?

Most of us are already familiar with the dispute over “Who is a Jew?” The clash between the Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative movements have been festering for decades, with the State of Israel and their Law of Return somewhere in the middle, waiting for the various factions to make up their minds as to whose conversions are accepted and whether or not paternal lineage counts. Yet, there is a new type of controversy over a type of Jew whose being also seems to escape accurate description. He is the ‘self-hating Jew’. Who is he exactly?

If you ask anyone from the religious community they would probably tell you that fellow Jews who will not follow the strict religious orthodox-based outlook are, in essence, ‘self-hating Jews’. This connotation of ‘self-hating’ implies that if one doesn’t follow all things by the Orthodox Jewish standard and in the traditional Jewish manner, then not only is one’s connection to God and Judaism in serious jeopardy, but that rebellion or neglect serves as a direct attack on those who continue keep to Torah and Mitzvos. If a Jew neglects or rejects Torah, he is not only harming himself, but all Jews as well. His act, whether he perceives it or not, is an act of hatred toward his fellow Jews.

This belief is not without foundation. The Torah states in several places that a) individuals who commit certain acts are ‘cut off’ from the people b) these individuals must be removed from Jewish society, and c) the failure to remove apostates and rebels will inevitably bring the downfall of the entire nation, as those who go astray incite others into heresy and disconnection. There is, in the minds of the religious, a Divine retribution that falls on everyone when Jewish society strays from Torah or sits idly by while others neglect its fulfillment. In addition, some assert that Messianic times cannot come without complete religious observance.

Now, when the religious Jew calls me ‘self-hating’, I can agree that he has a valid point in terms of how he structures his definition of the term. As one who rejects the dogma and doctrine, it comes as no surprise that I would be ostracized and face a certain amount of derision on account of my apostasy. I expect as much, and moreover, that response is a necessary function of any non-anarchistic society. There are rules, and to preserve the social order, rules must exist to discourage the rules from being broken. We can argue over the specifics, but the same principle applies to religious and secular societies alike.

In broader terms, many see the diversity of ideas within Judaism, i.e. Reformed, Conservative, Secular, etc. as a threat to national unity; being a nation geographically scattered requires a unified front in every aspect to survive. This thinking is not without its logic. Any fractured culture becomes ready for conquest, civil war, or assimilation, not to mention the possibility of losing its national or ethnic identity altogether. Thus, the wisdom of the unified front is not without merit. “United we stand; divided we fall” is the credo and, if you manage to ignore what it is we are ‘standing’ for, it always makes perfect sense.

In recent years, however, the term ‘self-hating Jew’ is reaching beyond the religious world into the political arena. Conservative-minded, right wing Jews use the moniker to describe anyone who opposes their fiscal or social policy or is critical of the Israeli right in any way. I find it strange though, having grown up strictly Orthodox, to hear the non-religious right wing Jews, many of whom have never put on tefillin or kept Shabbos, dare to call me a ‘self-hating Jew’ because somehow being of a different political or philosophical bent threatens their position. Other than lip service, they have no greater allegiances to the religion that do I, yet they choose to attack me based upon something they claim as Jewish. This is the ‘political Jew’ baring his fangs.

Unlike the religious Jew, whose position I understand, when the political Jew spews such rhetoric in my direction, I take great umbrage. This political Jew does not dislike me because of my Judaism or lack of it, but because his political views, which may or may not be in synch with the religious Jewish views, differ from my own to the extent that he, only coincidentally another Jew, feels threatened. His insecurity has nothing to do with his being Jewish at all, since many gentiles strongly object to my beliefs for similar reasons. The political Jew demands my compliance to his world view because he falsely identifies himself and his views as particularly Jewish. In other words, being Jewish has really nothing to do with the politics going on in his head. It’s not that I am ‘self-hating’ or ‘Jew hating’; I simply disagree with him and he takes it to mean something entirely other than what it is.

This phenomenon is not limited to friends and family in the privacy of home and coffee shoppe. Both right wing radio talk show hosts and political pundits have been playing fast, free, and easy with the public pronouncements of ‘self-hating Jew’, to the point where they assume that those Jews deemed in their estimation as ‘self-hating’ are, by proxy of their left-wing political beliefs, so strongly anti-Jewish as to be considered as Nazi collaborators and supporters of Hezbollah. I am not going to spend time debunking those assertions here, but leave it suffice to state that the speakers in question are not operating within the realm of reason, decency, or history. This bombastic vitriol serves no purpose other than to shut down dissent and debate and represents politics at its worst.

My beliefs don’t make me ‘self-hating’. I am simply no longer Judeo-centric in my thinking. By identifying oneself as ‘Jew’ and Jew only, doesn’t that create a rather narrow definition of self? I fully realize that we Jews are taught to believe that we are ‘chosen’ and therefore unique among nations and, as far as I can tell, there is some truth to it, but is that all that I am? Am I not also a mammal? A rational mammal? A human being? A man? A denizen of a world filled with other denizens who consider themselves equally ‘chosen’ in some manner? Must I ‘hate’ myself or someone else to recognize that I, too, am part of a greater whole? For me to be cured of this alleged ‘self-hatred’, I would have to narrow my world vision to the point where the rest of the universe would exist only to suit my ends and purposes, regardless of how much reality denies that outlook at every turn, and my interaction with that world would become one of open condescension and heavy-handedness.

Sadly, and in spite my protestations to the contrary, I remain, by their definition, a ‘self-hating Jew’ of the highest order and no one seems reluctant to say so. I continue to reject any and all religious dogma and doctrine, nationalistic or tribal allegiances, and fully support a socialistic world view with the vision for a common society based on naturalistic secular principles, many of which are espoused by religions as well. However, that does not make me an enemy of anyone who isn’t already looking for enemies everywhere anyway. I would never ask for the world to outlaw religious belief or practice, nor do I ever support or justify war or terrorism against Israel or any other nation, even when I do recognize and attribute the humanity of those who are not so eager to empathize with my own.

For the record, I don’t hate anyone. I have strong and definite ideas about the world and hatred isn’t among them. I am not a ‘self hater’ because I disagree with Ludwig von Mises or Moses ben Maimon. I am just another human being with an opinion.

Kol Tuv

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Reluctant Curiosity : 9-11 Questions Part 2

If you have read my old webblog article entitled “Reluctant Curiosity : 9-11 Questions Part 1”, you would already know that I am quite skeptical of the government’s account of the tragedy of September 11th, and the conditions claimed to have surrounded the attack and the collapse of the World Trade Center. There was one angle, however, that seems to have been overlooked, and did not come to my attention until I spoke with an environmental engineer familiar with asbestos removal and the pending asbestos lawsuits around the country.

In order for a conspiracy to work, there must be a definitive motive for the players in said conspiracy to commit the act and, ex post facto, remain equally motivated to keep their roles in this conspiracy an utmost cherished secret. I was at a loss to understand how deep this ‘motivation’ went and under what circumstances a conspiracy would be fostered. I thought through many possible scenarios, but could not find the ‘center of the web’ until asbestos came into the picture. The asbestos problem proves to be a key link in this already super-tangled web of 9/11 conspirators.

Larry Silverstein managed the WTC complex and had it insured for around four billion dollars. Some would believe that Silverstein would have participated in the conspiracy to collect the insurance money, but I believe the asbestos problem pushes that theory to another level. The WTC was loaded with asbestos and asbestos removal, as required by law, would have cost Silverstein millions of dollars to accomplish, not to mention the possible law suits that could come up in the meantime should anyone become ill from asbestos in the WTC. For Silverstein, it wasn’t just the payoff he received from his insurer, but the added bonus of never having to lay out millions to remove the hazardous materials from his buildings. (I do not know if there was pending legal action against Silverstein in the weeks prior to 9-11, but I’m looking for it.)

This is all fine and good, but what does the US government and Dick Cheney have to do with Larry Silverstein, asbestos, and law suits? Somehow they would have to be linked, at least financially, in order to provide any reasonable clue as to why they would conspire for anything. If you are familiar with the goings-on in Washington these last few years, the President has endorse a policy to limit or prohibit asbestos related law suits coming to court. Now what possible motive would the President have in stopping people from collecting damages from asbestos poisoning? That answer will answer the burning (asbestos pun intended here) question.

The asbestos bill, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2006, which was introduced on the Senate floor three years ago, has been through a number of amendments to address various issues and concerns surrounding the proposed legislation. While proponents of the asbestos bill claim that the new trust fund would ensure prompt recovery for injured claimants, it could potentially deny many people the full compensation they deserve. The bill directly benefits companies like subsidiaries of Halliburton and others subject to these suits. Now tell me, how did this bill get to Congress and why does the President stump for its passage? Who wrote this bill? There is no doubt that anyone who faces potential litigation over asbestos wants to rid themselves of any liability.

Also from

“Halliburton subsidiaries DII Industries, LLC (formerly known as Dresser Industries) and Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2003 for the purpose of minimizing asbestos liability. Halliburton purchased DII Industries in 1998 under the direction of former CEO Dick Cheney. The acquisition meant that Halliburton inherited 300,000 asbestos claims filed against DII, who had for years manufactured construction products which contained the harmful substance. Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root also had manufactured products containing asbestos and has been fighting asbestos lawsuits since 1976.”

Now we find the connection between Dick Cheney, and Larry Silverstein. The demolition of the WTC complex killed many birds with one stone. I do not believe that avoiding asbestos lawsuits or removal was the motivation for the conspiracy, but the plan could not have provided more appreciable circumstances that would end up benefiting those involved so much that speaking out would become nigh impossible. Larry Silverstein stood to gain millions, if not billions from it. That’s reason enough to go along with the plan. WTC 7, for example, was insured for $800 million, and with a cost to rebuild of around $400 million Silverstein, overnight, doubles his money. This over and above the cost of repairs or environmental clean-up that would be required had he not decided to demolish WTC 7.

If you must ask, there is video tape of Larry Silverstein telling someone to “pull” WTC 7, a building that sustained little damage and had a few smaller fires burning inside it at the time of demolition. Now why would Larry insist upon destroying one of his own buildings, if it wasn’t necessary? Answer: asbestos. WTC 7 was also laden with it. Otherwise, what real profit in leveling the building? Larry Silverstein, the owner of the WTC complex, admitted on a September 2002 PBS documentary, 'America Rebuilds' that he and the NYFD decided to 'pull' WTC 7 on the day of the attack. The word 'pull' is industry jargon for taking a building down with explosives.

Mr. Silverstein turned a huge profit form the WTC attack, and perhaps even doubled it by avoiding any asbestos removal (the technical term is ‘abatement’) and subsequent law suits that could have followed. Dick Cheney, as best friend of Halliburton, would also see his former employers dodge yet another huge fireproof bullet. This is just another example of the rich shamelessly exploiting anything and everyone to satisfy their greed. Now we have a theory as to why Larry Silverstein would not have objected to such a scheme.

The WTC attacks of 9-11 proved to be the absolute best conspiracy I have ever studied. Everyone involved seems to have profited so heavily from the scheme that their silence, in return for such profits, would be readily guaranteed. Now you may think that isn’t possible, but in business, especially in advertising and marketing, many details are hidden from consumers and clinical studies are often misrepresented in order to sell products and boost profits. This scheme is no different. How much would your silence cost? Larry? Dick? GW? Marvin? Osama? Anyone?

At the root of 9-11 is ruthless greed masking itself as patriotism; not 19 alleged Moslem hijackers belonging to some once-obscure enclave of Islamist radicals bearing box cutters. In all things, watch for the money, see who profits most, and follow the trail of opportunism and profiteering back home to the beneficiaries of the disaster. It is interesting to note that the same group of corporations seems to have profited at each step of the disaster. To put it simply, I believe the destruction of the WTC was a deliberate act of arson designed to avoid any potential legal responsibilities and also to reap enormous and sudden profit in terms of the incident itself and the subsequent national policies. All they needed were the right ‘patsies’, and the Arab world was more than happy to provide them.

Just making an observation and asking some questions. As usual.

Kol Tuv

Saturday, August 12, 2006

My Afterlife: A Yiddishe Twilight Zone

Let’s speculate a little bit, eh? What if there exists, in spite of my prolonged and vehement protestations to the contrary, an afterlife of sorts? And what if the governing principle of this afterlife is not to induce punishment per se, but a cruel and well-placed irony designed to shake off the dross of what we decide is best for ourselves? What would my personal hell consist of? I think I found the answer.

In the opening scene of my much unexpected afterlife, I awaken to find myself being just my same old heretical, leave-me-alone self. I am not even certain at this point that I am dead. Nothing seems different at all from the reality of yesterday. I get up from the bed, wobble to the bathroom, brush my teeth to rid myself of morning breath, then slip into a wrinkled pair of khaki shorts and any one of a dozen paint-stained tee shirts that litter my bedroom floor. My cat rushes past me, happily brushing herself along my ankle as she goes; her calico tail trailing off from view as she heads for the open bedroom window and to her daily dose of feline freedom. I check the clock and start planning my day. I plan to do nothing at all.

The habitual comfort of mundane routine is suddenly shattered by a loud knock at the door. As I peer through the window, I see two older men standing next to each other in the driveway, both staring directly at me through the un-curtained window, as a third man, equal in stature to the others, stands at my doorstep. I open the door rather cautiously, wondering who these men are and why they are bothering me, of all people, this early in the morning. I am not used to having my ritual interrupted. I muse to myself that perhaps their car broke down or they are lost.

As I step out from behind the door a coarse and raspy voice calls out from the driveway. “Hey you. Reb Yid! Moshe here needs a minyan to say Kaddish and you are number ten! Do a mitzvah and help him out.” Damn! How did they manage to find me? After spending my whole life avoiding shuls, minyanim, and mitzvos these guys somehow figured out that I was Jewish and, much to my further amazement, also knew I wouldn’t refuse them; if only out of respect for the deceased and the man who was grieving a lost loved one. So I changed clothes and followed the men to their shul. “A mitzvah, if just once in while never hurts” I tell myself. Helping out feels good, too, and we don’t always get the choice of how we will be of assistance.

Soon enough, I am at home again and back in my khakis, but without the shirt or shoes this time around. I am settled in at my computer, smoking a fresh pipe of tobacco and writing some thoughts on socialism and Spinoza. I forget about time and I’m becoming once again deeply comfortable and blissfully oblivious to the goings on around me. This is my happy place; the Epicurean garden where the simplest of actions take the form of quietude and unconscious meditative experience. I am quiet. I am alone, and I have not a care in world. The beer is cold and the breeze is nice. My time is my own and I am in heaven. Or so it seems.

Perhaps less than one half hour later, however, I am jolted back into harsh reality by yet another sharp knock at the front door. As I approach the foyer and look out the window, I see, as before, two old men standing in my driveway. “Again?” I ask myself, “This is getting weird.” These two old men are not the same two men as before but they have the same posture and plaintive, but firm, expressions. I did not, however, recognize them as being members of the minyan I attended just a few minutes prior. They obviously wanted something from me and their demeanor suggested they wouldn’t be leaving without it. The third man, already at the door and eagerly reaching his hand out to mine says “Hey you! Reb Yid! Chaim over there needs a minyan to say kaddish and you are number ten! Do a mitzvah and help him out.” His words played like a bad case of déjà vu in ears still ringing from the earlier debacle.

Rather than readily concede to their demands, as I had the first time around for ‘Moshe’ and his minyan, I politely, whilst staving off the appearance of upset at being bothered, inquired “Excuse me, but isn’t there someone else that can help you out? I am, after all, not interested in being part of your minyan or doing any mitzvos. I gave that up long ago. Besides, isn’t there someone that you could borrow from that other minyan?” The old man looked back at me at me with a very quizzical expression, kind of like the way a person stares around you when you claim to have seen ghouls, goblins, or flying saucers and doesn’t know how to respond. The old man then neared himself to me and in a whispered tone, as if speaking to a child or simpleton replied “What other minyan? We are the only ones here.”

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Alive & Thinking (reposted)

By special (and much appreciated) request, I am reposting “Alive & Thinking” from my old blog @!

There once was kid from Crown Heights

Who stayed up reading most nights

His faith hadn’t faltered

But curiosity altered

His notion of the wrongs and the rights

With strange books they caught him

So quickly they sought him

Devices to thwart his desire

But try as they may

There just was no way

To extinguish that free-thinking fire

The heavier the chain

So much greater the strain

On the hopes and the dreams he had planned

Until all that mattered

That these bonds be shattered

For the man who yearned to expand

So he pursued that truth

Discovered in youth

Escaping from all that he knew

Becoming free

Isn’t that easy you see

When you're raised as an Orthodox Jew

Sometimes he reflects

On that life he rejects

While fumbling through thoughts in his head

Yet he continues to strive

Feeling much more alive

Than those who consider him dead

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Of Atheists & Eskimos

An atheist/naturalist is reviled because he is the one person willing to state the obvious to those who cannot or will not admit to it. Let’s face facts. The believers, be they Jews, Christians, or Gardnerian Wiccans, in spite of the myriad of rationalizations, justifications, and mind games, continue to replace evidence and reason with ‘faith’. No hard evidence at all. All the atheist does is point out what is readily apparent, and he does so without any mental gymnastics.

Religions remind me of used-car-type salesmen hawking a product that you really don’t need. The first thing they must do is create that need in the mind of the potential customer. There are any number of ways to accomplish this. The best way is through eliciting fear or inducing hope. If you can convince your customer that living without this particular product could lead to either great suffering or, conversely, great satisfaction, then the transaction is all but closed at that point. Fear and hope are exactly the same phenomena, both being negative and generally useless emotions.

Outs[poken as I may be, I cannot favor outlawing religious belief or religions. Far from it! There are two reasons for this. First, the truth is that religion as a social function does, at least, espouse morals and ethics that people might not hear about in other venues. One seldom finds such inspiration in movie theatres or on television. Kierkegaard was correct when he bemoaned the state of his generation that “sought inspiration in the theatres, and entertainment in the churches.” For many, church is going to be the only place, unfortunately, that will learn about ‘love thy neighbor’. They may also be listening to a lot of dangerous ideas as well, but for the most part, this atheist can live with things as they are as long as the parishioner takes his ‘love thy neighbor’ seriously enough to forgive my atheism and not burn me at the stake.

The second reason I would not abolish religion is because I still cherish freedoms and liberties. If we begin to shut down ideas, no matter how disagreeable they may seem, we have already forfeited those freedoms away. In short, the believer is entitled to his or her delusions, the atheist is also welcome to reject it, and reject it loudly if he so wishes. The price of freedom is that we will have to endure the smarmy salesman and have to weed through his sales pitch to discern if, in fact, we actually require this product or not or, if we choose, to evaluate that product based on its merits and probable effectiveness. I wonder if people give as much time to scrutinizing their religious beliefs as they do when buying a used car.

There is always someone out there who is going to hustle you when you are most vulnerable to his advertising. Remain skeptical. These hucksters are very slick, and you can be sure, the more they talk, the less they really have to sell you. They can market ‘ice to Eskimos’ if they wish, but I’m pretty sure only an Eskimo in the middle of a desert would really need it. I don't imagine Eskimos to be that gullible. So why are we?

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep insights can be winnowed from deep nonsense.” (Carl Sagan, 1934 - 1996)