Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Interesting Parallel

I am simply amazed by Christopher Hitchens comments.

Ad homenim arguments - ancient people were ignorant of science, therefore their religious beliefs must have been wrong.

Straw man arguments - since idolatry is false, Judaism is false.

Argument from personal incredulity - God would not have created a universe which will come to an end. He would not have revealed the Torah only to the Jews 3,300 years ago.

Question begging - no God exists because a transcendent being cannot exist and therefore no God exists.

Factual errors - Darwinian evolution is needed to produce flu vaccine.

His coup de grĂ¢ce is that everything we see in the world can be explained without believing in God. Everything, I suppose, except for the Big Bang, life and Judaism.

It just goes on and on. He doesn't make one accurate, logical argument. Just a buffoon whose brain has been half eaten by alcohol.

But listen to the crowd applaud his every comment, no matter how illogical or false.

Then look at this: Triumph of the Will, released only 73 years earlier in 1935. See the crowd roaring approval as the Nazi leaders spout their nonsense. Today we know how crazy they were, but then who knew and who cared? (Incidentally, many leading Nazis were atheists and Darwinian evolution was a foundation of Nazism.)

Imagine someone had taken the podium after Hitler spoke at the Nuremberg rally and had said "Listen, we really can't do this. Germany does not have the resources to conquer all of Europe. If we try this, we're all going to die." Of course, he would have been right, however somehow I'm not sure the crowd would have appreciated him.

People have a tendency to believe any lie which allows them to do what they want to do. This is known as denial.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fully Enjoying Our Children

[a special moment]

For many people, one of their greatest sources of happiness in life is their children. Through our children, we feel that some part of us will live on after we have left this world. Through our children, we feel that we are accomplishing something truly worthwhile and important. We are creating something new and wonderful.

In reality, however, we ourselves are our most important children.

The Midrash Breishis Rabbah 30:6 (quoted by Rashi on the Torah Genesis 6:9) states “the main progeny of the righteous are their good deeds”.

The midrash is teaching us that although Noah was the ancestor of all living humans, nevertheless, his good deeds were his most important offspring.

When we merit having a child and we care for him and educate him properly and he follows the Torah’s commandments, this is certainly a huge accomplishment. We have succeeded in immensely increasing the glory of God in this world. Because of this we make a great celebration at a circumcision, bar mitzvah and wedding. Our children are very precious to us.

Sometimes, however, having children may take time. I myself waited twenty years for my first children to be born. Some people never have children at all. This can cause a great deal of anxiety.

We must always keep our priorities straight and remember – yes, children are important; however we are our most important child. Every time we observe one of God’s commandments we are increasing His glory in this world. Even if all people in the world would be descended from you, your main progeny are your good deeds.

[based on tape #105 from Rabbi Avigdor Miller obm]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is History Bunk?

[Henry Ford]

One objection which is occasionally made against belief in the divine origin of the Torah is that there does not exist any additional documentation supporting the account of the revelation at Mount Sinai other than the Torah itself. Some argue that in order for an historical event to be accepted as authentic, there must be numerous books, government records, journalistic accounts, diaries and so on attesting to it. One book is not reliable evidence of anything.

That’s an interesting point; however it seems to me that applying this standard of evidence would mean that little if anything can be known about pre-modern history.

Bear in mind that prior to the publication of the Gutenberg Bible in the 1450’s, books were almost nonexistent. For example, in 1424, Cambridge University library owned only 122 books—each of which had a value equal to a farm or vineyard. The ability to read in medieval England was a proof that one was a member of the Catholic clergy. Our entire knowledge of pre-modern history is based on only a handful of texts which were recopied by monks hundreds of times by hand.

There is a school of thought that so few physical records have survived hundreds, let alone thousands of years that it casts even the most conventional understanding of what really happened into doubt. The dominating historical discourse in its current state was essentially crafted in the 16th century from a rather contradictory jumble of sources such as innumerable copies of ancient Latin and Greek manuscripts whose originals had vanished in the Dark Ages.

Henry Ford famously said “History is more or less bunk. It's tradition.”

Few people, however, would go that far. It seems clear that if one is willing to accept that Aristotle and Alexander the Great were real people, there is no reason to doubt the existence of Moses and Abraham and if one can believe that the Peloponnesian War happened, there is no reason he cannot believe that the Exodus and the Mount Sinai revelation happened.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ayers Rock and Mount Sinai

Imagine that the all Australian aborigines since time immemorial claimed that space aliens had appeared to them at Ayers Rock one spring day 3,300 years ago. Those aliens left the aborigines with a book which contained unique, extremely insightful advice for living (just as the Torah contains unique wisdom). The later history of the aborigines was also unique and indicated some massively influential, ancient event (as does Jewish history and Jewish literature).

I think that most people, including most scientists, would regard this as credible evidence that intelligent life does exist elsewhere in the universe. Indeed even much less evidence, for example a narrow-band radio signal, would be considered by scientists to be solid evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

However, once we mention “religion”, everything changes. In regards to the Torah being revealed at Mount Sinai, although similar evidence is presented, the majority of the scientific and academic community rejects it as being insufficient and unconvincing.

I think the explanation for this is very simple: massive denial. The book of advice left by the space aliens would not obligate anyone to do anything. The Torah makes demands, sometimes huge demands, on people. Suddenly, all evidence is insufficient, so it’s all dismissed as myth.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A UFO Analogy

[a flying saucer]

People sometimes ask how Judaism is different from any other religion. Many religions claim to represent the true will of God. Why do Jews believe that they are right and others are wrong?

I think that this can be answered very simply.

Imagine that a UFO supposedly landed in a farmer’s field in Nebraska one day for ten minutes. One person claims to have witnessed it.

Alternatively, imagine that a UFO supposedly landed in Central Park in New York City and remained there for two weeks. Millions of people claim to have witnessed it.

Obviously the second UFO sighting would be far more credible than the first.

Similarly, the Torah was revealed by God in front of millions of witnesses (see Exodus 20). The New Testament and the Koran however were revealed only to an individual.

One may ask that considering this, why are Islam and Christianity more popular than Judaism? The answer is simple: Most people prefer to lead an easy life and Judaism is perhaps the most burdensome of all religions. Therefore it is the least popular. Additionally, Judaism has never pressured people to convert, as has been the case with other religions.

One may ask, doesn’t the Torah contain clear factual errors which disqualify it from being the true word of God, for example doesn’t the Genesis creation story contradict paleontology? I have explained elsewhere that this is not the case.

Another argument sometimes advanced is that the account of the revelation at Mount Sinai is an ancient story and people in ancient times were extremely gullible. Therefore ancient stories lack any credibility. The problem with this assertion is that first of all it seems to be baseless. Second of all, if this were the case, then we would assume that many other ancient religious leaders would have convinced their incredibly gullible followers that they had all heard God affirm the truth of their religion. Of course, that is the not the case.

Some people may say that they cannot believe in anything supernatural regardless of the evidence. This is equivalent to saying that one cannot believe in extraterrestrial life regardless of the evidence. This is known as an argument from personal incredulity .

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Tragedy of Michael Jackson

[King of Pop, RIP]

Michael Jackson died recently, on June 25 at the age of 50. The cause of death was technically cardiac arrest, however there are indications that Jackson’s abuse of the drug Diprivan was the actual cause of death.

I think we can learn an importance lesson from this: we can realize the inability of any material things to provide lasting, stable happiness.

Jackson was born into poverty. His father, however, was apparently extremely ambitious and put immense pressure on Michael to perform well in the family’s musical group. We can imagine that Jackson absorbed from birth the overwhelming message that fame and fortune were the highest priorities in life.

At the age of 24, Jackson finally reached the pinnacle of show business success with the release of his album Thriller. Thriller was the best selling album of all time. It won a record 8 Grammy awards in 1984. On May 14, 1984, Jackson received a personal award from President Ronald Regan in a ceremony at the White House.

It was about this time that Jackson began suffering from various health problems: being underweight, undergoing perhaps dozens of cosmetic surgeries and abusing medications. These problems would continue and increase until his untimely death. He also seems to have fallen into a pattern of compulsive spending which basically ruined him financially.

My theory is that when Jackson finally reached the summit of fame and fortune, when most people on the planet had heard of him and he had more money than he possibly could ever actually use, he then realized how empty it all was. I did not make him happy. He had worked so hard for nothing! This was a heartbreaking disappointment. He then began frantically attempting to find happiness in other more and more self destructive activities, but with no success. The end of all this was predictable. That’s a real tragedy.

The only true, stable and permanent happiness in this world can come from connecting with our Creator.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Is Judaism Opposed to Feminism?

[Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique]

Yes, it is.

Within the Orthodox Jewish community, the primary decision makers should be men.

First of all, only men are permitted to attend Talmudic lectures. Since all important decisions in society are based on the Talmud, this effectively excludes women from community decision making.

Second of all, in Judaism, wealth generally is in the hands of men. If someone dies and leaves a son, the son inherits all regardless of the existence of daughters. If a woman marries and owns property, the property is controlled by her husband during their marriage. If a married woman works, her earnings belong to her husband unless she waives her right to spousal support.

The fact is, however, this is little different than in other societies.

In all human societies, even those which claim to endorse the principle of equality of the sexes, men are dominant. In politics, about 85% of all leaders are male. In the business world, there were 78 women from a total of 793 billionaires worldwide in 2006.

Going a step further, among most animals and nearly all mammals, the male is larger and more aggressive on the average than the female.

Gender equality is therefore seemingly not only against human nature, but against biology.

In my humble opinion, Judaism handles male dominance in a very humane and reasonable way. Men are given greater decision making privileges than women. On the other hand, men pay a price for this – they have much heavier religious obligations than women. Secondly, men are obligated to treat women with a level of love and respect equal to that with which they must treat other men. “Love your neighbor as yourself” applies equally to women and to ones wife. Insulting a woman is prohibited. Striking a woman is strictly prohibited. Forced sex is strictly prohibited. A man must financially support any children he has. I am aware of no recorded case of spousal homocide in the Orthodox community.

Other societies seem to have an ideal of sexual equality, while in reality are plagued by rape, wife beating and "dead beat dads".

I suspect that this philosophy, of a humane approach to male dominance, is one reason why very few Orthodox women choose to leave Orthodoxy, in comparison to the number of male "dropouts". Women know that they are getting the best deal possible.

Complete Equal Rights for Gay Men

Gay men are such wonderful people, it's just impossible to understand why the Torah imposes a death penalty for homosexuality. (Leviticus 20:13)

A study shows 1/3 of pedophile victims are males while only about 5% of the population is homosexual. For more details click here.