Monday, August 28, 2006

Samson’s Struggle – Satmar (and Others) Helping

My son Samson has cerebral palsy; he is mentally fine but cannot yet walk. Because of his condition, he required major surgery on his hips last Wednesday which involved a 4 day stay in the Hospital for Joint Diseases.

What struck me as being remarkable was the great deal of support given to us by the Orthodox community. When we checked into the hospital a representative from Yedei Chesed helped us to find a room in the hospital which we could use temporarily to sleep and nurse our baby. She then came and visited us in the hospital the first night and brought a beautiful toy for Samson. The following night, she graciously brought more items to the hospital needed for our stay. For Shabbos and Sunday morning we relocated to a very comfortable apartment just around the corner made available by Bikur Cholim d’Satmar, no payment required. Now bear in mind that I am not Satmar and Satmar people allowed the hospital social worker to give me keys to the apartment without having any idea who I am. The apartment was clean, with linens and towels and food for Shabbos. As if this wasn’t enough, Chai Lifeline brought a big box of food for Shabbos.

We really felt that caring people, whom we didn’t necessarily even know, were supporting us all the way through a difficult experience.

Can an atheist possibly expect this level of support from fellow atheists? I hardly think so. The only parallel I am aware of is the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which I believe are able to help only a limited number of very critically ill children and their families.

It’s a shame that the media insists on constantly harping on the negative. If one time a crowd of Satmar boys brawl and bloody a few noses, it’s international news. (The Economist reported it!) However thousands of daily acts of selfless kindness and charity go almost unnoticed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Building Self Control

"Who is strong? One who conquers his desires." the Talmud

Many times people want to stop doing something however somehow they cannot find enough will power to do so. They know something is wrong and destructive, however they simply cannot control themselves so they continue doing it and hating themselves for it.

Is there a simple solution?

In my experience, yes: making vows.

It works like this. Each week you read a list of vows along the lines of:

The following fast days will be obligatory only if I definitely and knowingly require myself to observe them, and I am aware that I am required to observe them an hour after having fulfilled the conditions needed to require the fast.

I hereby accept upon myself that if later this week or next week I knowingly unblock any webpage from ContentProtect software I will be required to fast 1 day during this month of Av, 5766 or next month of Elul, 5766.

I hereby accept upon myself that if later this week or next week
I knowingly and deliberately turn on and listen to a radio or television I will be required to fast 1/2 day during this month of Av, 5766 or next month of Elul, 5766.

I have personally found this to be an incredibly powerful tool for building greater self-control in any area, whether it’s Judaism or weight control or anything else.

Of course, one must be careful and cautious about doing this responsibly and I think it can often be used as a sort of “training wheels”. Once one becomes stronger in a certain area, he can stop making the vow and do it on his own. Hopefully.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Stop Child Abuse

One of the major problems [although NOT the only problem] with having sex outside marriage is child abuse. Sex causes the conception of children. In order for a child to develop properly, he needs a loving, stable, safe environment. If his parents are not married, it’s very unlikely that he will have that. Very likely he will simply be killed before he is born. At this point over a third of unwed pregnancies end in abortion, compared to a small minority of pregnancies during marriage. If he is lucky enough to be born alive, he will very possibly be poor. About 1/3 of children in single parent families are poor. Even if the child is given up for adoption at birth, very often the adopting parents will not give the same level of care that an intact biological family would give. Having myself been born out of wedlock and adopted as an infant, I unfortunately have first hand experience with this.

Similarly, divorce has catastrophic effects on the children involved. “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study” by Judith S. Wallerstein explains in great detail the emotional problems and mental anguish suffered by children who grow up in divorced homes. The father often disappears or provides the children with minimal emotional and financial support while he goes on to establish a new family. The mother is busy working and seeking a new mate. The children are basically abandoned; the unwanted products of a relationship which failed. The younger they are, the more they are affected. Their pain is translated into anger and sadness which may lead to self destructive behavior for decades afterwards and also poor choices in their own relationships.

Studies have shown that children living in single parent families are far more likely to suffer from many social and economic problems compared to children in intact families.

If a child is conceived today in the United States, he has about a 25% chance of being aborted before birth. If he is born alive, he has a greater than 50% chance of being raised by a single mother or experiencing a divorce during his childhood. This is virtually a holocaust for American children. And it is a very new situation caused by the decline of morality in society. Fifty years ago, unwed mothers and abortion were rare and divorce was uncommon.

Premarital sex and divorce are not merely personal life style choices. They are really abusive acts which may have a destructive effect for generations. This is the indirect child abuse which has become acceptable in American society, when people decide to consider only their own shortsighted needs. Think of the new, small helpless people who depend on you.

From all the above, the divine wisdom of traditional Jewish moral values is very clear. Let's hope more people rediscover them.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Do We Have a Soul?

Judaism teaches that man has a soul – a consciousness which exists independently of the physical body and brain. This belief has broad implications. It means that there is an afterlife and there are future lives – reincarnation. It means that reward and punishment follow death and therefore the righteous are always justly rewarded and the wicked cannot escape punishment in the grave. More than that, the human soul distinguishes man from the lower animals and from inanimate objects. We are not merely biochemical robots; bags full of water, proteins and nucleic acids. On the contrary, the body is merely a superficial shell. We possess a divine spark which God has breathed into us. This is our true essence.

However is there any scientific proof to support this concept?

Seemingly, yes, there clearly is.

What if we could switch off a person’s brain, wait a little while, switch it back on and then ask him if he was conscious during the time that his brain was not functioning? If a great many people answer in the affirmative, then seemingly this would prove the existence of the soul.

In fact, this has happened, and it has been documented thousands of times. It’s called a Near Death Experience and people whose brains have ceased functioning for 5 to 20 minutes upon being revived frequently recall being completely conscious during this period. Considering the fact that the existence of the soul is something we all feel intuitively anyway, this would seem to be ample confirmation of the soul’s actual existence.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Folk Science or Junk Science?

In the August, 2006 issue of Scientific American magazine page 34 Michael Shermer’s “Skeptic” column is devoted to the topic of “Folk Science”, which seems to mean any beliefs not based on scientific experiments.

One example of folk science is prayer. Shermer cites a study published in the April, 2006 American Heart Journal. In this study, about 1,000 heart surgery patients were prayed for by members of several religious congregations and were found to have no better outcome than other heart surgery patients. According to Shermer this proves conclusively that prayer for sick people does not help them.

The weakness of this conclusion is appalling.

Obviously, prayer involves communicating with an intelligent being who has free will. Therefore the person offering the prayer, the manner of its offering, the subject of the prayer and other circumstances may be crucial. It is not as simple a process as administering a drug to heart surgery patients. Prayer is not a medication; it involves creating a relationship.

To give an analogy, let’s say I want to do an experiment to discover whether or not writing letters to the President of the United States has any affect. One thousand people will write to the President asking that their federal income tax be lowered. Then we will check to see if their taxes drop compared to other people or not. If not, then we can conclude scientifically that the President either does not exist or he never reads his mail.

An experiment like that is obviously absurd junk science which no one would take seriously. Therefore one wonders why Dr. Shermer finds the AHJ study to be so compelling and in fact why the editors of Scientific American magazine even published his column. Could there be a need in scientific community to grasp at any straw which seems to disprove theism?