42 thoughts on “Jewish thought of the day

  1. How does Weinberg even define “bad” or “good”? And what does he propose in place of religion – that we view people as just one more type of animal, and animals as just another way to arrange a bunch of molecules?
    As a philosopher, he’s a great physicist.

  2. and a bonus:
    “The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles, and mean contentment has kept humanity in helpless degradation.”
    — Emma Goldman, “The Philosophy of Atheism,” in Goldman’s Mother Earth journal, February, 1916

  3. And we’re still waiting for an explanation of how we could even define, let alone achieve, such things as liberation and freedom from helpless degradation without resort to metaphysics.

  4. I don’t really want to get into a time-consuming argument about it, especially since JB has a right to his opinion, and no amount of argument will change his opinion or mine, but I disagree about as strongly as is possible.
    For some anecdotal evidence, I present this column:

    Agree, disagree, whatever. I just wanted to be a voice of dissent to the post.
    I would argue that religious people and religious communities are more a force for good than for evil in the world; that a look at history will validate this claim; that this is true, even though religion can at times be used for evil as any idea or philosophy (e.g. religion, nationalism, etc.) can.

  5. You can use logic to define right and wrong. The golden rule, is fairly logical. I am not an atheist really, but I am antifundamentalist, because of its universal hostility to women. The religions are increasingly dominated by them, so I have turned away.

  6. I disagree with that column. That was an anecdote. I have seen gays during the aids crisis. They helped the victims of the scurge much more than traditional religion. Furthermore, as government assigns more responsibilty for the poor to religion the opportunities for secular responce become fewer. For instance if a gay wanted to work for the Salvation Army, well the Salvation Army would bar them from doing it.

  7. “You can use logic to define right and wrong. The golden rule, is fairly logical.”
    I couldn’t disagree more. The golden rule makes no sense without a source of binding morality. Exactly why should I not do to others that which I wouldn’t want done to myself? Suppose I feel like, say, enslaving someone else for fun and profit. What difference should it make that I wouldn’t want ti be a slave? The two cases are different – me being a slave would cause me pain; enslaving the other guy would give me pleasure. Why should I care about someone else’s pain?

  8. By enslaving others, you are endorsing your own enslavement. The divine according to religion does endorse enslavement particularly of females, and the poor. By rejecting these commands as being from God, I buck this absurd system.

  9. BTW, here is an actual scientific study for relgiosity and morality.
    Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.
    He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.
    The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.
    Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”
    He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

  10. “By enslaving others, you are endorsing your own enslavement.”
    How am I doing that? Because other people may get the idea to enslave me? What if I’m willing to take the risk (because I’m more powerful than the others, have bribed the authorities, or love to take risks)?
    “The divine according to religion does endorse enslavement particularly of females, and the poor. ”
    A bit of an exaggeration there. Religion does tend to separate the roles of the sexes. Are religious women really worse off than nonreligious?

  11. I might agree with some of you secular/atheist people if it wasn’t for the fact that I, and my family, lived under an officially atheist regime, and it was no picnic (to put it very mildly). The very secular 20th century had enough atrocities to prove, in my opinion, that secularism is not automatically superior to religion.
    I believe that being religious does make me a better person, better than I would have been otherwise. And what about the numerous criminals, addicts, and other people who have fallen on hard times, who were inspired to change their life around by a religious system?
    Bottom line is, we all worship something. I feel like a lot of these debates are really just semantics — what do we mean by “God”? If it’s the caricatured, kindergarten Man-In-The-Sky distributing good and evil, then that’s a pretty immature, unthoughtful view. When I say I believe there’s a God, it means I believe in a source of creation, something that is beyond this immediate reality. It means I won’t worship anything except the truth that underlies everything, which is always going to be beyond my comprehension.

  12. Flurry: Non of the countries mentioned is officially atheist. They just have very few religious people. I am not an atheist, but I don’t subscribe to religion.
    Fundies don’t just define different sex roles. They tell women to obey man and that they are less important than men. The bible only accorded jubilee to male slaves. Paul tells women to obey men because Adam was created first and that they were created to serve Adam. It also afforded jubilee to male slaves but not to females. I am opposed to biblical literalism, and won’t accept such thinking as being godly. The morality of the bible is incoherant in my view. There are parts that are sensible but other parts that advocate things like slaying all enemies and killing even their babies.
    Yeah I believe women in less religious societies are a heck of a lot better off, both economically and in terms of personal happiness. They are much less likely to get abused. I don’t think there is any question that women in Sweden are much better off than women under the Taliban regime. Also divorce rates are lowest among the least religious in society, so religious mysogyny doesn’t keep the family together. I just would prefer to live in a society where women had as much political power as men.
    Here are the statistics on marriage and religion.
    Jews 30%
    Born-again Christians 27%
    Other Christians 24%
    Atheists, Agnostics 21%
    admittedly the figures for Jewish religiousity are non existent(Jews are not broken down into denominations or attendence), but christian religiosity is measured.
    Variation in divorce rates by location:
    The Barna study found:
    Area % are or have been divorced
    South 27%
    Midwest 27%
    West 26%
    Northeast 19%

  13. J: one more point. It religion doesn’t tell you, you can’t enslave people. Slavery existed in all Abrahamic societies up until 100 years ago, so what is stopping you from owning one?

  14. JB – watch out for the gap between religion and the spiritual domain…
    It is very difficult to explain this feeling to anyone who is without it… The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims, and the sublimity and marvellous order, which reveals themselves both in nature, and in the world of thought. He looks upon the individual existence as a sort of a prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole
    Albert Einstein on the nature of mystical experience
    Flurry – could not agree more. Mostly, ‘God’ is the symbolic construct of what we serve. We can only speculate on that which might be identified as the creating principle, for it has created words as well.

  15. Sorry – just in case it is not clear above:
    “It is very difficult to explain… single significant whole” Quote Einstein on the nature of mystical experience

  16. good people do evil things all the time. plato attempted to account for this by arguing that they are misguided as to what right action is, and that it’s impossible to ever do evil intentionally. whether you agree or disagree with plato, the fact that the ancient greeks were having this argument shows weinberg to be pretty damn wrong. atheists are so arrogant sometimes.

  17. Dameocrat: I’m not sure which countries you’re referring to, but I was speaking specifically of the U.S.S.R., where everyone was officially expected to be atheist and religious acts were largely illegal. The government did a great job of almost totally destroying Jewish culture, for example; and for anyone, owning Bibles, learning Hebrew, having icons, etc., was illegal at one time or another. To be religious was considered, at best, extremely stupid. And at worst, a crime against society!
    Granted, communist Russia is an extreme example, but it was at least nominally based on the principles of atheism.

  18. Nobody is talking about imposing atheism, or endorcing atheism. We were talking about whether religion is linked to morality. You don’t have to be an atheist to not adhere to religion. I am a deist. I believe in a creater, but don’t see any sign it wrote any holy books. I cited those countries in an earlier post in this thread. The Western European Countries have fewer people who attend church regularly and lower STD, teen pregnancy and crime rates. Much lower than the US.

  19. lower STD and teen pregnancy? Thats an indicator of morality?
    That’s because they are taught to use high quality condoms since the age of three.

  20. Brown tries to drive up comments with misleading, or perhaps he doesn’t know any better…wrong, titles for a post. It should really read:
    A Thought By A Jew
    Nothing in that quote is Jewish.

  21. Of course Atheism is inherently more good. I mean just compare the total lack of evil in states which promote Atheism like China, Cambodia (underl Pol Pot), and Stalinist Russia. The state promoted Atheism and didn’t, nay couldn’t, do a single evil act.

  22. alexbmn: Yeah, I think teaching people to use condoms to prevent STDs and teen pregnancy, is more moral, than teaching children to avoid them, which is what fundamentalists do.

  23. Only through Theism could one be held accountable for anything. Neither atheism nor deism offer grounds for behaving morally. If God did not exist or didn’t care – I’d jump on the hedonist party-till-we-die bandwagon without any regret over which cosmic accidents get rolled along the way.

  24. 3 additions:
    Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, held that atheists were not actually denying God: rather, they were denying one of man’s many images of God. Since any man-made image of God can be considered an idol, Kook held that, in practice, one could consider atheists as helping true religion burn away false images of god, thus in the end serving the purpose of true monotheism.
    Q: What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?
    A: A Jew
    Some Atheists assert that they are as motivated towards moral behavior as anyone, citing possible non-theistic sources of moral behavior such as: their upbringing; natural empathy, compassion and a human concern for others; respect for order, society, and law; and a desire for a good reputation and self-esteem. In addition, while atheism does not entail any particular moral philosophy, many atheists are drawn towards views like secular humanism and utilitarianism, which provide a moral framework that is not founded on faith in deities.
    Atheists have also argued that no religious basis is necessary for one to live an ethical life. They assert that truly ethical behavior would come from altruistic motivation, not from fear of punishment or hope of reward after death. Further, they cite the fact that within many religions the concept of morality is presented as a list of prohibitions; thou shall not statements, compiled as a check against one’s actions. They assert that abiding by a list of prohibitions is not sufficient for genuinely ethical behavior, and that morality should be positive rather than negative; What should I do? rather than What shouldn’t I do?. They consider that reason guided by humanism and rational thought can lead to a fully expressed ethical life.

  25. Lots of comments above, so I’ll address some of them in a general way.
    Here’s the problem with Dameocrat’s stats. Even assuming their accuracy (and having seen many conflicting studies over the years, that’s not always a good assumption), there are two issues to consider:
    1) Religiosity is not the only factor affecting social phenomena in the referenced countries (understatement). Among hundreds of other factors to consider, there are differences based on specific historical events (importation of slaves, immigration patterns), political systems, economic systems, law enforcement, culture, etc.) In fact, Dameocrat’s numbers are skewed by the presence, or lack, of an underclass in the country in question. Are underclasses formed because of religiosity? Doubtful. Looking at one factor – religion – to explain the behavior of massive, complex societies is not exactly scientific. Further, if religion does in fact fully explain such behaviors, that would mean that factors like racism or economic exclusion do not. Is that the conclusion you were looking for, Dameocrat?
    2) Even more importantly, the stats fail to address lagging effects. In all the societies mentioned, the non-religious have only been so for between one and six generations, preceded by many centuries of religious ancestry. Individuals and societies rarely transform completely in a short period. The vast majority of today’s non-religious may have discarded the trappings of their religions, or a belief in God, but they have retained, in large part, the moral systems of those religions. (Just because someone might disagree with a religion about, say, abortion or homosexuality doesn’t mean they don’t share the same basic morality. A look at ancient pagan or non-Western systems of morality will confirm this. Define “suttee”, for example.)
    Therefore, statistics which purport to show the behavior of “non-religious” people are actually, for the most part, showing us the behavior of people who still conform to religious morality.
    Well, you may ask, if non-religious people can be moral, who needs religion?
    The problem is that only a transcendental being could imbue our ideas and actions with meaning. If there is nothing beyond the human race, which itself is just a collection of beings which are just collections of particles (which is as far as a purely scientific worldview can take us), then our ideas of “good” and “evil” are simply whims, and there is no reason beyond fear of punishment by human authorities for a person to behave morally.
    After centuries of religious teachings helped to establish strong social frameworks which were essential in allowing the formation of incredibly prosperous and relatively safe societies, a great many people in those societies, having been shielded from the horrors that those teachings had long opposed, decided that religion was no longer necessary. But it’s only a matter of time before non-religious people realize that there’s no real reason for them to observe any code beyond that of self-interest. Eventually, the great-grandfather who was raised in a religious family passes on. His son, who was raised by someone with religious memories, eventually dies too. What’s left for the great grandson?
    For a time, many plants can go on living even after their roots or leaves are destroyed. They live off previously accumulated nourishment. But eventually, the nourishment runs out and they die. How long after the only credible source of morality is extinguished can morality survive?

  26. John Brown:
    1) At most, Rav Kook’s view is a reason for believing Jews to be somewhat more tolerant of atheists than they otherwise might be. But he is essentially saying that atheists don’t understand their own views and are unwittingly contributing to what they claim to reject. I wouldn’t be too happy with this if I were an atheist.
    2) “Q: What do you call a Jew who doesn’t believe in God?
    A: A Jew ”
    Who said otherwise?
    3) Thanks for helping make my point.”Some Atheists assert that they are as motivated towards moral behavior as anyone, citing possible non-theistic sources of moral behavior such as: ”
    “their upbringing”
    Meaningless. A pure accident. And what if one’s parent’s are terrorists?
    “natural empathy, compassion and a human concern for others”
    Just a feeling. And what about natural sadism and indifference? If “natural” is the key, these are just as “good”.
    “respect for order, society, and law”
    “and a desire for a good reputation and self-esteem.”
    Self-interest, not morality. And self-interest just as easily leads to bad behavior.
    “Atheists have also argued that no religious basis is necessary for one to live an ethical life.”
    Still waiting for the explanation.
    “They assert that truly ethical behavior would come from altruistic motivation, not from fear of punishment or hope of reward after death.”
    No explanation for where “altruistic motivation” comes from. And most if not all religions go beyond reward and punishment as a reason to be moral – morality is described as intrinsic to the purpose of our existences.
    “Further, they cite the fact that within many religions the concept of morality is presented as a list of prohibitions; thou shall not statements, compiled as a check against one’s actions. They assert that abiding by a list of prohibitions is not sufficient for genuinely ethical behavior, and that morality should be positive rather than negative; What should I do? rather than What shouldn’t I do?. ”
    Another distortion of what religions are about. Religions are full of positive instruction, if one is willing to study them beyond a cursory look at the ten commandments.

  27. Won’t respond for J, but here’s an answer.
    As has been discussed, without God to give you any intrinsic value, why do you think you should be treated any better than a slave? God cares more for you (and others) than you choose to believe – that’s the truth. You want a life of purpose? Of value? I’ll point you back to the Bible because, frankly, that’s the only hope you’ve got.

  28. Greg: Well, I am not atheists. I am antifundamentalists. I was raised in religion back before the fundies took over. They took over, and I fled. If the bible writers(according to you, god) gave me intrisic value how come they allowed slavery, and rape and infanticide?
    How come they told me to obey my husband if I was married and my master if I was enslaved?
    There are many religions that offer hope, so that is your opinion.

  29. Dameocrat is right in that I didn’t answer the question. I chose to address the larger points in my previous posts.
    But since you asked…
    First, I don’t think it’s true that Orthodox Judaism (my religion) has no prohibition against owning slaves. I doubt any Orthodox rabbi would permit it under any circumstances. One issue would be dina d’malchusa dina – the law of the land applies to Jews. OK, not satisfying – what if American law permitted it? There would be the issue of chillul hashem – desecration of God’s name. There’s a clear aversion to slavery in the Torah and Talmud, even though slavery was permitted. To allow slavery in today’s world where the norm is to prohibit it would place Jews in an inferior moral position – hence, chillul hashem.
    True, I would prefer an outright halachic prohibition on slavery, but the inherent (small-c) conservatism of the halachic process, along with the fact that Orthodox rabbis rarely if ever confronted actual cases of slavery (therefore rendering the issue moot from a halachic perspective) preclude that. The bottom line remains that today, Orthodox Judaism would not allow slavery.
    As for allowing slavery in previous eras, it should be understood that in the world the Torah first appeared in, slavery was rampant and unquestioned. There was no way it was going to be abolished. But the Torah did place several limits on the practice, making the Jewish version more humane. And if Judaism failed to be ahead of the curve on the slavery issue by the 19th century, this is more attributable to the fact that Orthodox people and rabbis of the time lived in places where the issue was not relevant rather than to a defect in their morality. (There were few Orthodox Jews in America prior to and during the Civil War.) In any case, the driving force behind the abolitionists was Christian.
    As the beneficiary of centuries of Judeo-Christian morality, which, among other good things, abolished slavery, it would seem unkind to be disparaging religion, even if religion is often not “progressive” enough for you.
    Now my turn (similar to Greg): How does YOUR religion (or lack thereof) prohibit slavery? For what reasons, or under what authority?

  30. J, if you are going to make excuses for slavery in the ancient world as being “primitivism” that would indicate that you don’t think all morality or atleast the rule against slavery comes from commandments from God. That indicates you believe morality comes from human empathy and understanding.
    That is how I derive ethics. No religion involved

  31. BTW, yes the driving force behind abolition was Christian, but they weren’t retrograde Jerry Fallwell types. They were Transcendatalist Unitarians, and Quakers mostly, neither of whom took the bible literally.
    The SBC broke away from the American Baptist basically over slavery. They favored it, surprise surprise!
    I am alienated from religion because of fundies.

  32. Dameocrat says:
    “J, if you are going to make excuses for slavery in the ancient world as being “primitivism” that would indicate that you don’t think all morality or atleast the rule against slavery comes from commandments from God. ”
    I don’t see how that follows. Why can’t I say that all morality comes from God, but that humanity acquires it in gradual stages as time goes by?
    “That indicates you believe morality comes from human empathy and understanding.”
    No, human empathy and understanding are tools granted to us so that we can conceive of and carry out morality.
    Which type of Christians became abolitionists is irrelevant to my argument.
    “I am alienated from religion because of fundies.”
    In another thread, I recommend the blog [email protected] . Being alienated from religion because of fundamentalists is like leaving the Dameocrats, er, Democrats because you don’t like a few of the party’s candidates.
    You still didn’t answer my question:
    “How does YOUR religion (or lack thereof) prohibit slavery? For what reasons, or under what authority?”

  33. You claim my morality comes from God given reason. I agree. Why the hell do I need ancient religious traditions that were less understanding then I am and their Bible mythologies to have it?

  34. You may not need them. However, it often helps to be part of a community that shares your moral view. Also, such communities can serve as a brake on some types of unwarranted experimentation (such as the atheistic paradise -promising abomination that took over 100 million lives in the 20th century).
    Further, being part of a community and a tradition helps to bind you not only to the living members of that community, but to those that are gone and those that are yet to be born (and any morality that feels it doesn’t owe past and future generations anything is no kind of morality).
    Additionally, if you acknowledge that God gives you morality and demands it of you, is it so unreasonable to claim that a tradition’s writings on the subject might have some degree of inspiration or approval from God? (You need not believe that the Bible or any other book was dictated by God word for word to believe this.)
    And one more. Do you really think that all of your ideas came out of your own head? No. Various traditions provided the ideas, and you used your reason to choose among them. Traditions, therefore, can be very useful, and you can still reserve the right of final approval.

  35. BTW, while I disagree with the religious jews here on the importance of religion, please note I am not threatening them with hell fire. I actually disagree with John Brown, that it is good to allow Christian evangelization on this site. It will become all hellfire and brimstone if you allow that. There will literally be 20 more evangelist here a week from now. They prioritize you Jews you know. You are evidence that not everyone agreed that the big J was the messiah. Even back when I was more religious I didn’t come from such an intolerant branch of christiandom. They literally can not live with other religions.

  36. I would just like to make a separation between the slavery of pre-abolition america and the rest of the world, and the slavery mentioned in the Torah.
    The slavery of the Torah prohibits mistreating a slave in any way. A slave in many ways is treated better than his master, he is free to leave after 6 years, if he is bodily damaged in any way by his master he is free to leave. A Torah slave is considered in most ways as part of the family of his owner. Most were sold by their own selfs for a period of years although some were aquired in other clear fashions.
    The slaves of pre-abolition america were mistreated as a whole, many were killed, beaten, raped, ect… they had no chance or hope of freedom and were mostly stolen from their homelands.

  37. I think you need to read you bible more AC: No mistreatment or sexual exploitation in the Hebrew bible? Not from my perspective. Female and gentile slaves are not freed after 6 years. Hebrew slaves can’t take their wives and children with them if their master has given a wife to him, and refuses to let them go. If he stays to be with his slave wife and the children he has had with her, his master will never have to let him go.
    If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)
    However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

    Also a master may beat a slave so long as he doesn’t die.
    Exodus 21:20-21 (NIV): “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property”

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