Sunday, February 26, 2006


I learned a new term, recently, from Mis-nagid. It's called Onto-religion. I wanted to learn more about this term, so I googled it. I found this article about Religion and Respect from Simon Blackburn. The article is about his ethical dilemma he had after being invited to a Jewish colleague for a Friday night meal. It's an interesting dilemma for an atheist, but I don't want to get into his dilemma now, I just want to quote parts from it where he describes onto-religion and its opposite, which he calls expressive interpretation/religion:

Onto-theology makes existence claims. It takes religious language in the same spirit in which people calling themselves scientific realists take science. It makes claims about what exists, and these claims are more or less reasonable and convincing, and when they are true they point to explanation of the way things are in one respect or another. Onto-theology believes that there is, literally, a three-decker universe, somehow governed by a unified intelligence akin to a person who has various plans and preferences, and rewards and punishments at his disposal. The objects of religious belief-god or the gods-make things happen. They are part of the causal order. Religious beliefs are among the kinds of thing they make happen. Onto-theologians see no real difference between the way a chair explains my perception of a chair and subsequent belief that there is a chair there in front of me, and the way in which God explains the production of fire in a bush and the appearance of a couple of stones with commandments written on them.

Most people, I think, would call this Orthodox religion or fundamentalist. He goes on to explain its counterpart, expressive religion:

In more sophisticated circles, onto-theology is old hat. Instead we should see religion in the light of poetry, symbol, myth, practice, emotion and attitude, or in general a stance towards the ordinary world, the everyday world around us. Religion is not to be taken to describe other worlds, nor even past and future events in this world, but only to orientate us towards this world. Religious language is not representational, giving an account of disconnected parts of the cosmos, regions of space-time, or even of something like space and something like time, but in which all kinds of different things are going on. It is symbolic or expressive, orientating us towards each other, or towards our place in this world.

Being an atheist, Blackburn clearly dislikes onto-religion. But he has mixed feelings about the expressive kind. On the one hand he thinks it's not so bad since it isn't based on falsehood. On the other hand, he thinks it muddies the water a little and blurs the line between what he thinks is right (atheism) and what is wrong (theism).

I think there are more than just these two ways of looking at religion. These are the two extremes, but there are many points in between the extremes which people may actually hold of.

Personally, I am not looking for any symbolic system that merely expresses my subjective feelings. I am certainly not looking for what he calls onto-religion. That ship has long sailed by. What I am looking for is real wisdom regarding human existence and not mere expression. I really want objective truth and ethics that are based on these truths. Is this possible? I believe to some extent it is, but it is more of a subtle truth and it is hard to notice even when it is right in front of your face.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What is Religion?

What is Religion?

1. The word "religion" is an indefinite word with no fixed meaning.
2. It is one word with many meanings.
3. This is because religion has passed through many stages. The concept at each stage is called Religion, though the concept at one stage has not had the same meaning which it had at the preceding stage, or is likely to have at the succeeding stage.
4. The conception of religion was never fixed.
5. It has varied from time to time.
6. Because most of the phenomena such as lightning, rain, and floods, the occurrence of which the primitive man could not explain, [were not understood], any weird performance done to control the phenomenon was called magic. Religion therefore came to be identified with magic.
7. Then came the second stage in the evolution of religion. In this stage religion came to be identified with beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, prayers, and sacrifices.
8. But this conception of religion is derivative.
9. The pivotal point in religion starts with the belief that there exists some power which causes these phenomena, which primitive man did not know and could not understand. Magic lost its place at this stage.
10. This power was originally malevolent. But later it was felt that it could also be benevolent.
11. Beliefs, rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices were necessary both to propitiate a benevolent power, and also to conciliate an angry power.
12. Later that power was called God or the Creator.
13. Then came the third stage: that it is this God who created this world and also man.
14. This was followed by the belief that man has a soul, and the soul is eternal and is answerable to God for man's actions in the world.
15. This is, in short, the evolution of the concept of Religion.
16. This is what Religion has come to be and this is what it connotes--belief in God, belief in [a] soul, worship of God, curing of the erring soul, propitiating God by prayers, ceremonies, sacrifices, etc.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Why Judaism?

It should be fairly obvious that my Gratetful Dead post was a parody of Godol Hador's post, The Science of Judaism. While I had fun writing the parody (it was actually divinely inspired while listening to the Dead,) I would like now to address some points in a more serious manner.

The essential question I have in my mind now is why practice Judaism. This is a very important question to me at this point. I've already come to the conclusion that Orthodox Judaism is not the answer for me. But the question still remains for me is there anything in Judaism that would add value to my life? Or should I just forget about it and focus my energies elsewhere. This is the main reason why I started the blog, but I have not really formulated an answer to the question yet.

GH thinks he has come up with a good answer, but his answer doesn't work for me. The obvious reason is because he is trying to show that the source of the Jewish people and Judaism is supernatural. While I, as you know from reading my blog, do not believe in a supernatural deity or miracles. So obviously his approach will not work for me.

But in addition to that, GH seems to think that in order to really appreciate Judaism you must believe that it is superior to all other religions. I, on the other hand hesitate to make such pronouncements. For one reason, I do appreciate the spiritual insights of other religions, such as Buddhism, Yoga, and Christianity. And there are problems I see in Judaism itself which makes me not so sure that it is superior to all other religions. And just like we give the benefit of the doubt to Judaism by using approaches such as Myth/Moshel, we should give other religions the same benefit of the doubt. It's the only fair and honest thing to do.

But more importantly, I don't think it's necessary to believe that your religion is superior to all others for you to appreciate it. You can value your religion for yourself and still appreciate and learn from the other religions as well. This is a better approach because it leads to harmony and less discord. And we all know that the ways of the Torah are supposed to be darchei shalom (ways of peace).

In addition, I don't think there is any real way to judge objectively between traditions. What works for some might not work for others.

I believe that Judaism does contain truth, but so do other philosophies and religions. The question is why should I favor Judaism over the others? The answer may be because I feel I identify with the Jewish people and by extension, Judaism. So it is only natural that I should work within the spiritual tradition of the Jewish people as opposed to a foreign tradition. Would I feel as comfortable calling myself a Buddhist? Probably not. Would I feel comfortable calling myself a Christian? Certainly not. There is too much historic baggage to deal with.

Choosing a new religious tradition would just lead to more internal distractions with myself and it would cause strife between me and my family. The very last thing I need from religion is more discord. That would defeat the whole purpose. So that would rule out for me adopting any other religion.

So that just leaves me with the option of just living with my own personnel philosophy, or with adopting one of the non-supernatural branches of Judaism, such as Reconstructionist. Religion is a primarily a social institution. I, by nature, am a rather individualistic person. On the one hand, I crave intellectual independence. On the other hand, I would like to be a part of a larger conversation with others. This is what pulls me in both directions.

It would be nice to view Judaism in a very broad way where people of different philosophical views who have been influenced by the Jewish heritage come together in one open dialog. So Judaism would contain people searching for truth from the extreme range of Observant to the other extreme of Non Observant and every thing in between. Where all these people can come together in respect and learn from each other. And no one particular ideology would have ownership of the title authentic Judaism.

But even this I'm not sure of, because we are so used to thinking of Judaism with ideology that it's hard to get away from it.

So in the end, I'm still left with more questions than answers. How very Jewish of me! :)

Jesus Christ!

I notice that the heathen gentiles at work (that means you, Fred) shout "Jesus Christ!" or "Jesus H. Christ!" when something unexpected or annoying happens. For example:

"Jesus H. Christ my excel won't open, again!"

Well, I find this irritating to have to hear the name of this Avodah Zarah (false idol) everyday. And I have to admit that I find myself saying it sometimes also. I just can't help it. It has become so ingrained in me that I say it without thinking. But a good Hebrew should not be saying such things.

So, I have decided to come up with a new phrase to replace it. Hopefully, the heathens will hear it and it will catch on with them too. Here are some possibilities:

1) Holy Moses! [ed - maybe Moses H. Rabbeinu]
2) Ben Dovid, Christ!
3) Shomer Fucking Shabbos!
4) Jeshua ben Nun!

Which one do you like? Let's pick one and help me spread it around

May the blessed name of the One true God be blessed. Amen.

The Grateful Dead is `divinely Inspired`!

Sometimes The lights all shining on me,
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been

Before yeshiva turned me off the derech, I was a follower of the Grateful Dead. I loved their sweet sound, and it really lifted my spirit. But after being brain washed in yeshiva, I stopped listening to them. I was taught that everything that wasn't Torah was bad, especially rock and roll music. There was even a baal tshuva in my yeshiva who was a former dead head. He warned me what a bad influence the dead has on a person's spiritual path. I guess I took this all to heart and I gave up my beloved dead. Looking back I realize how stupid I was for buying in to all that nonsense. But what can you say? I was a young idealistic student who wanted to reach the highest level I could and I wasn't going to let anything stand in my way.

I had almost completely gave up on the Dead. But recently I had an idea, which I can only call a revelation. I began to think about the enormous success that the Dead had. Here was this small band from nowhere, who gained a fanatic following for over thirty years. Thirty years in the rock and roll business is almost like 3000 years in any other business. What can account for this amazing success of this modest rag tag hippie band?

The only answer I can think of is that Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band were divinely inspired. My personal experience that I feel from listening to their music and their enormous success points to the conclusion that their music contains some real divine truth.

Now, I know there will be some skeptical types that will say that there is some simple natural explanations for their success. Maybe it's Jerry's sweet voice, or the way that the whole band seems to play as one in beautiful harmony. But all I can say to those skeptics is that you got to experience it for yourself to see the real truth and grooviness of the Dead. Once you let the sound enter your heart and soul, you will for sure see for yourself the divine inspiration of the band.

And I know that some will point out that the Rolling Stones are still playing. But its clear to all the Stones are over the hill and are just doing it for money. I mean did you see Mick Jagger shake his wrinkly ass at the super bowl show? It was embarrassing, really. There is no comparison between the Dead and the Stones.

Trust me, rabbosai, It's all about experience That's the secret.

I even recall some Dead heads testify that they saw a huge eye above the band as they played in concert. Sure, they were probably tripping on acid at the time, but still there maybe something too it. You never know. It's not like you can disprove it.

Unfortunately, Jerry has passed on now, so you can't experience it live anymore. That's too bad, but luckily we still have the live performances on tape, so we can pass it on to our children. Thank God for that.

Now excuse me while I go and experience some of that divine grooviness for myself

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Israeli Anti-Semetic Cartoon Contest!

Amitai Sandy (29), graphic artist and publisher of Dimona Comix Publishing, from Tel-Aviv, Israel, has followed the unfolding of the “Muhammad cartoon-gate” events in amazement, until finally he came up with the right answer to all this insanity - and so he announced today the launch of a new anti-Semitic cartoons contest - this time drawn by Jews themselves!

“We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!” said Sandy “No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!

Those Jews are so clever. Here's the link

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Memories from the past

I think I was around 14 at the time when someone approached me with his theological question. I don't know exactly why he asked me of all people, because I wasn't particularly pious at the time, but for some reason he thought I could help him answer his problem.

The question he had was regarding the rabbinic idea of yetzar harah (evil inclination). He told me that he understood that there was no outside entity that tricked people into doing bad, rather we did bad things due to our own natural inclination. His problem was that he understood that chazal (the Talmudic rabbis) seemed to understand it as some outside agent such as an angel and not some thing which is innate in us. This seemed to bother him greatly.

My response was that you should take the Rabbis words allegorically (although, I probably didn't use such fancy language at the time) and not literally. And it doesn't even matter if the rabbis themselves actually took it literally, all that mattered was what wisdom we can take from them and apply to our lives to make it better. You have to look beyond the surface and try to see the truth and wisdom of their words if you want to remain in their spiritual tradition. I didn't mean to say that we should interpret their words in a way that contradicted their intended meaning. Rather I meant to say that whether or not the evil inclination is an external or internal force, there may be still value in their words in how best to overcome it.

I still think this is the best approach a person should take if he wants to think rationally and at the same time remain within the tradition of the Rabbis. I think it was Rambam who said that any one who takes the words of the Jewish sages as literal is a fool. Now I don't think Rambam was a fool either, so I think he probably understood that the sages believed in some irrational things too, but I think his intention was that we should try to take the essence of their spiritual message and not dwell on the superficial aspect of their words. This, of course, depends on if the words of the Jewish sages contained any real truth. I don't have as much faith in them as Rambam did, I'm sure, but I do like to give people the benefit of the doubt when possible.

My friend agreed that this was a wise approach, but he still had a problem with the sages way of expressing their words. His problem was that when they talk about the yetzar harah as an external cause that takes away our moral responsibility. If we are the cause of our own actions then we are responsible, but if the cause is from outside then some of the responsibility is taken away from us. He felt the Rabbis expressed themselves in a misleading way that would hinder rather than help a person spiritually. At the time I had to admit he had a valid point.

But the fact is I think that our passions (yetzar Harah) is nothing more than external causes acting upon us. No, I don't understand it as an angel sitting on our shoulder whispering to us to do wicked thing. But when we see or experience something which we think will benefit us we automatically desire it unless there is another thing which has a stronger attraction on us. We really don't have a choice in whether we are attracted to something or not. It's not like we directly create or control our own desires. So I guess there is something to be said for the way the Rabbis expressed themselves after all.