Monday, June 12, 2006

Spiritual Illiteracy

For the past five months I have been directly interacting through the Internet with ideologically committed atheists. One surprising thing I have noticed is that a strange, new feeling has begun to develop within me – pity.

In the beginning, I thought that these people might be happy, well adjusted people who are living lives which are in some cases better suited to their temperaments. Maybe there was some grain of truth in the concept that they are freer and more enlightened than I am. I wanted to find out.

So, I found out.

I believe that secular people are not only philosophically wrong. They are failing to acquire, or choosing to lose, an important life skill. They are lacking the ability to look beyond their own immediate needs and to see a larger reality. It is as if they are suffering from a type of learning disability.

I feel that it’s comparable to a modern, educated person visiting a primitive, illiterate community and trying to convince people there of the importance of literacy. Some might be receptive to the idea, however surely many would be resistant. After all, they could ask, what exactly is the point in spending hours a day staring at worthless bits of paper? Shouldn’t a rational, practical person hunt, fish, gather fruit, build homes or make tools? I have heard of cases of American teenagers who did poorly in school and dropped out in disgust with “trick learning”, hating their school and their teachers.

Obviously, people like this are to be pitied. Literacy can do so much to enhance anyone’s life, young or old. There is so much a person can learn about the world through reading. Of course one could point to a lot of worthless or evil literature. And there are literate people who live miserable lives of great poverty. However on the average, literacy has undoubtedly changed the lives of countless millions for the better. No sociological study is needed to prove this.

I submit that the same is true of spirituality. Belief in God, in an afterlife, in ultimate reward and punishment, in an ethical system based on the Ten Commandments, the love of neighbors and the golden rule, tremendously enhances a person’s life. The all embracing, detailed legal framework of rabbinical Judaism supports these ideals to the highest level possible. People who have accepted these ideas are as different from those who do not in the same degree that a scholar is different from an illiterate. They are focusing on God and their fellow men in a constant, real, practical way. They are not obsessed with their own comfort and profit. Their lives have a cosmic purpose, a mission with universal, eternal value. They can have so much more satisfaction in life and accomplish so much more.

Of course, the atheist\agnostic\materialist\naturalist will reply: I am only concerned with real, practical matters. I have no time for imaginary gods and imaginary rules. This is like the illiterate person who claims he only has time for practical tasks, not for worthless book learning. The atheist and the illiterate have no idea what they are throwing away and how limited, ignorant and miserable their lives needlessly are.

Just to illustrate this, I am involved in two groups on www.yahoo.com: one is for people who have left Orthodox Judaism, usually for atheism. The other is for parents of children with cerebral palsy. The first group is filled with anger and hatred; unhappy, lonely people, trying to console themselves by ridiculing their former religion. The second group is full of kind, concerned people who love someone who is disabled and who are happy to help someone else while hoping for God’s blessings. The contrast is striking.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The first group is filled with anger and hatred; unhappy, lonely people, trying to console themselves by ridiculing their former religion

You are nuts. Anger and hatred ? Who are you talking about? I have been in those groups, they seem fine to me. Perfectally well adjusted and happy and normal

Baal Habos said...

I somewhat agree, religious people might be happier. But, that does not make religion true. It's simply a case of Ignorance is bliss. See my post on this matter on my blog (the curse of Tiresias).

Cameron said...

You said:

Maybe there was some grain of truth in the concept that they are more free and more enlightened than I am. I wanted to find out.

So, I found out.

I believe that secular people are lacking an important life skill. They are lacking the ability to look beyond their own immediate needs and to see a larger reality. They are suffering from a certain type of learning disability.

*************
AR: Nothing says you are treating your opponent fairly in an intellectual discourse like commenting on how their perspective is just like 'a learning disability'. At least it is an upgrade on calling them 'stupid'.

As for my ability to 'look beyond my own immediate needs to see a larger reality' what reality is that exactly? Is it Pat Robertson's apocalyptic-Jesus-is-coming-back-real-soon reality? Is it the reality presented by the temples of Salt Lake City? Is it the larger reality of engrams, Thetans and 'going clear' that Scientology pushes? Seriously, help me out here. How is that the Jewish Orthodox 'larger reality' is any more sensible than the larger reality of the 'Easter Bunny'? How do you judge which of these 'larger realities' is the actual 'larger reality'?

*************

I feel that it’s comparable to a modern, educated person visiting a primitive, illiterate community and trying to convince people there of the importance of literacy. Some might be receptive to the idea, however surely many would be resistant. After all, they could ask, what exactly is the point in spending hours a day staring at worthless bits of paper? Shouldn’t a rational, practical person hunt, fish, gather fruit, build homes or make tools? I have heard of cases of American teenagers who did poorly in school and dropped out in disgust with “trick learning”, hating their school and their teachers.

Obviously, people like this are to be pitied. Literacy can do so much to enhance anyone’s life, young or old. There is so much a person can learn about the world through reading. Of course one could point to a lot of worthless or evil literature. And there are literate people who live miserable lives of great poverty. However on the average, literacy, together with a good, thorough education has undoubtedly changed the lives of countless millions for the better. No sociological study is needed to prove this.

*************

AR: So far, we can agree. Literacy = good. Illiteracy = bad.

*************

I submit that the same is true of spirituality.

*************

AR: Then you must be 'learning disabled'. See how it feels? Thats the level of discourse you have adopted, post-adolescent name calling.

*************

Belief in God, in an afterlife, in ultimate reward and punishment, in an ethical system based on the Ten Commandments, the love of neighbors and the golden rule, tremendously enhances a person’s life.

*************

AR: Allright, now we've definitely crossed the line. Actually, suggesting atheists are 'learning disabled' crossed it first, but this takes you to a whole 'nother level of line crossing. Of the items you list I will agree that the 'love of neighbours', and the golden rule definitely both enhance a person's life. Loving your neighbours is cool by atheists. We have neighbours, and hating them would require a lot more effort than getting along. Nothing unsecular about that. The 'golden rule' (do onto others...) is actually the basis of secular liberalism (John Stuart Mill, etc.), not to mention a factor in pre-Christian morality going back as far as you care to go. Further, the discovery of 'mirror' neurons and their relation to empathy may well explain the biological roots of the golden rule.

As for an 'ethical system based on the ten commandments' this is a doozy of a suggestion. Of the Ten, only three really belong in any legal framework; don't kill, don't lie, and don't steal (and as you should know, these pre-date Christianity as foundations for ethics - I mean c'mon, do you really believe that Christians invented the prohibition against murder?). The rest are all lesser moral issues, with the first four being of solely Christian/Jewish concern, the fifth being merely a nice idea, but not necessary (afterall, what if your parents are jerks, or worse, atheists? Do you still honour them then? If so, why?), the 7th (don't covet thy neighbours ass) is in direct conflict with modern capitalism, and the 10th (don't bang your neighbours wife) while probably sound advice, isn't anything that should be criminalized.

Further, lets take a quick look at 'ultimate reward and punishment'. How is it that a loving caring God would ever consign someone (like say, an atheist child) to eternal damnation? How do you square that with any ethical system anywhere?

***************

The all embracing, detailed legal framework of rabbinical Judaism supports these ideals to the highest level possible. People who have accepted these ideas are as different from those who do not in the same degree that a scholar is diffrent from an illiterate. They are focusing on God and their fellow men in a constant, real, practical way. They are not obsessed with their own comfort and profit. Their lives have a cosmic purpose, a mission with universal, eternal value. They can have so much more satisfaction in life and accomplish so much more.

***************

AR: The followers of Jim Jones, the Bhagwan Rajneesh, Wahabbists and the members of the Solar Temple would no doubt agree with you that their lives have much more cosmic meaning then those of us atheists.

***************

Of course, the atheist\agnostic\materialist\naturalist will reply: I am only concerned with real, practical matters. I have no time for imaginary gods and imaginary rules. This is like the illiterate person who claims he only has time for practical tasks, not for worthless book learning. The atheist and the illiterate have no idea what they are throwing away and how limited, narrow and miserable their lives needlessly are.

***************

AR: Now you are being contradictory to yourself. Given that your exposure to atheism is largely from ex-Orthodox Jews, you can hardly claim that atheists have no idea what they are throwing away. It seems clear to me that know EXACTLY what it is that they are throwing away.

***************

Just to illustrate this, I am involved in two groups on www.yahoo.com: one is for people who have left Orthodox Judaism, usually for atheism. The other is for parents of children with cerebral palsy. The first group is filled with anger and hatred; unhappy, lonely people, trying to console themselves by ridiculing their former religion. The second group is full of kind, concerned people who love someone who is disabled and who are happy to help someone else while hoping for God’s blessings. The contrast is striking.

***************

AR: Is it really surprising to you that the atheists you encounter in a chat group composed of ex-Orthodox Jews would have more anger than a support group for parents of the severely disabled? Isn't at least part of the point of a chat group for fallen members of orthodoxy to blow off some of the built up resentment and anger towards religion that caused them to leave in the first place? And is using a cerebral palsy suppport group the right comparison to use? I mean, Puh-leeze.

It seems to me you have stacked the deck in your 'research' to arrive at the conclusions you presume to be true. Atheists must be angry bitter beings with shriveled up souls and no moral centre - so to confirm this you hang out in a chat room with people who you can be fairly certain harbour ill-feelings towards Jewish Orthodoxy. What a surprise! The atheists you find there are sometimes hostile and angry! Then you compare it to the people you encounter in an environment that is by design meant to be supportive, and nurturing for those in the deepest pain, and to your shock and amazement you discover that these people on the whole are more supportive and nurturing then those angry ex-Jews!

This has been cross-posted to my blog 'Antiphon Rising'

Anonymous said...

I am beginning to suspect that you are really Ann Coulter in a yarmulke, except that she seems a lot smarter (if only because she has found a way to get rich off her silly diatribes). It's really too bad you don't have more readers because this blog is great entertainment and one of the best arguments against Orthodoxy/fundamentalism there is.

Anonymous said...

accomplish so much more, eh? like what? cheating the government while they sit in yeshiva and schmooze all day, acquiring no marketable skills? when is the last time a UO Jew found the cure for a disease, advocated for a cause of concern to anyone outside of his own narrow world or contributed to the furtherance of knowledge in any discipline?

jewish philosopher said...

BHB: No. My point is exactly the opposite. Knowledge is bliss, knowledge of spiritual truths in addition to materialistic truths.

Antiphon: Illiterate people are not stupid. However they are ignorant, sometimes deliberately ignorant for misguided reasons. That’s the analogy.

Actually, I was an atheist from age 12 to 14. And my birth parents were atheists. (Lutherans adopted me as an infant.) My brother is agnostic.

About the yahoo groups, why shouldn’t it logically be the opposite? People who have finally cast off the cruel, primitive superstitions of religion should be the nicest, kindest people while people whose children are crippled should be filled with anger and hatred.

By the way, you sound a little angry.

Anon: Jews brought into the world ideas which are the foundation of all civilization. And we produce people who live by them.

By the way, which disease did you cure today? Do you have a job? Wife, kids, anything positive?

I am planning a book deal. Stay tuned.

Cameron said...

JP said:

Antiphon: Illiterate people are not stupid. However they are ignorant, sometimes deliberately ignorant for misguided reasons. That’s the analogy.

Antiphon: If you re-read what I wrote I didn't equate 'stupidty' with 'illiteracy' - I merely pointed out that your analogy is offensive on its face to atheists.

JP: Actually, I was an atheist from age 12 to 14. And my birth parents were atheists. (Lutherans adopted me as an infant.) My brother is agnostic.

Antiphon: I was born an atheist, raised agnostic till my teens, joined the United church till my late teens, and then ditched it all for the mumbo jumbo superstition it is. Members of my family are; hardcore baptist, main-line protestant, agnostic, and atheist.

JP: About the yahoo groups, why shouldn’t it logically be the opposite? People who have finally cast off the cruel, primitive superstitions of religion should be the nicest, kindest people while people whose children are crippled should be filled with anger and hatred.

Antiphon: Again, I apparently need to point out that atheism isn't a moral code, religion, or ethical framework. It is merely a simple philosophical position on supernatural agency. Which is to say, the fact that someone is an atheist does not make them a nicer person, or an evil person - it merely means they don't believe in anything supernatural.

As for people who struggle with the illness of a child, or the death of a loved one, I am sure they vary wildly in the emotions that they will feel towards their supreme entities. Some will be angry with them, some will nevertheless seek comfort with them. Emotions are not a logical entailment from circumstance.

JP: By the way, you sound a little angry.

Antiphon: Not sure why you would think so. I may think your philosophical position is untenable, your conclusions ill-drawn, and your methodology suspect, but none of that makes me angry in the slightest. I'd add as well, that a friend of mine posted something that would approximate a defense of at least some of your theological position to my blog, you can read it here;

http://antiphonrising.blogspot.com/2006/06/red-five-joins-theological-debate.html

Baal Habos said...

> Knowledge is bliss, knowledge of spiritual truths in addition to materialistic truths.


JP, for the record, can you state your level of education? How many years studying Chemistry, Biology? Physics, Archaeology? Geology? Torah? Jewsish Philosophy? Other Philosphy?
In this way we can acertain what knowledge you possess.
Thank you.

jewish philosopher said...

In 1984, I received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, Rosh Kollel of Kollel Avraichim Chazon Ish, Bnei Brak, Israel.

In 1989, I was accepted as a member of American Mensa, the national high IQ society.

Since approximately 1970, I have been engaged in an intensive self-study program in history and science.

I think that by checking my facts, you should be able to ascertain what knowledge I possess. If you find any mistakes, kindly post them in the comments and I will happy to make a correction.

Baal Habos said...

JP, thanks for the update. So I see you have Semicha which shows that you've mastered the basics of Halacha and hopefully Yiras Shomayim. Your Mensa membership tells us that you are smart. But I don't see any recognized approbation of your Secular skills. You may have lots of knowledge, but no one would give you a job as an engineer or as a chemist or in any of the natural science. I'm really not sure you can speak with any authority on those subjects. Thats why I can certainly say "Ignorance is bliss".

As for you trying to turn the tables on me saying that knowledge is bliss, I posses the same Talmudic knowledge as you. Granted, I don't have semicha, but that does not address my knowledge in Learning just in Psak.

Sorry, thats just the way I see it.

jewish philosopher said...

If my lack of scientific credentials is bothering you, then why don’t you read “Icons of Evolution” by Jonathan Wells. He has a doctorate in biology. And “Not By Chance” by Lee Spetner. He is a mathematician. And “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe. He is a professor of biology. On scientific issues, I think you’ll find that they support my point of view.

Anonymous said...

Your last sentence says it all:; "they support my point of view." You seem to be interested only in what supports your pre-existing point of view, rather than grappling seriously with challenges to that point of view.

jewish philosopher said...

You mean as opposed to websites like www.talkorigins.org which give equal credibility to the Creationist and evolutionist points of view?

Jewish Thinker said...

I would like to point out, in defense of atheists everywhere, that it is the most insecure of atheists that go to those chat rooms. They are seeking approbation, and that is why they are, largely in those chat rooms. Unlike religious people, who see value in spreading the truth, an atheist has much less motivation to share his knowledge. Therefore many of the people appearing in those chat rooms, have their own insecurities and need to prove themselves. It is not fair to make a blanket assumption about atheists personalities based on those represented in the chat room. (By contrast think about what draws the other group you mentioned to chat rooms, I think you will fin dthe distinction quite relevant)

Anonymous said...

Let's see, your profile lists you as 45. Which means you were born in 1961, or late 1960. You've been doing "intensive self-study" of secular subjects since you were 9? Really?

jewish philosopher said...

10

Anonymous said...

Earlier, I learned the difference between knowledge and wisdom...We prize the knowledgeable but we would be just shrewd savages without the influence of the wise...

Knowledge is - your brain processes info better; you are better educated; etc. You can out manipulate your opponents; you can post wittier, better worded reasons for your opinions. The shrewd savage - if not gentled by wisdom...

Wisdom is - loving and obeying God, and also loving His creation---human beings. And in a lower level loving animals and the physical world (but not more than humans).

Thus, the mentally disabled "fry guy" at the local restaurant, as a good and kind human being, may benefit others more than the brilliant human who uses his mental gifts to score off others...in true ancient Sophist tradition...he never gives a sucker an even break!

But some may make wise choices and yet not officially have a faith.

Persons who love and care for someone who is disabled,for instance, could possibly be atheist. They are "wonderful hypocrites" only to their materialist belief system...as it is not logical to nurture the less than "perfect" human specimen...

A wise Jew said ages ago "Be ye therefore as innocent as doves, but wise as serpents..."

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