Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Facts vs. Values, or Why Are Republicans so Wrong?

Source, chart created by me.


I understand when groups of people disagree about values issues like abortion, gay marriage, or government spending. I'm frustrated that we can't agree on factual issues even when evidence abounds.

Regarding evolution, you have to be an idiot or completely uninformed to believe that "humans have existed in their present form" since the beginning rather than believing in evolution by either naturalistic or theistic causes.

The case for global warming is less solid than that for evolution, but there's no rational reason people should be split on the issue by political party. 23% of Republican vs. 75% of Democratic college grads believe in it!

On both issues, Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to be factually correct.

Evolution speaks for itself for the majority of my readers, but if they haven't looked into global warming, they may not have realized how strong the case is:

The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC's purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" [p. 21 in (4)].

IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise" [p. 1 in (5)]. The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes: "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue" [p. 3 in (5)].

Others agree. The American Meteorological Society (6), the American Geophysical Union (7), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling (8).

(BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change)

Can anyone think of a factual issue that Republicans are significantly more likely to be correct on? Please provide data.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Should Incest Be Legal?

I'm aware that the anti-gay crowd is fond of using the slippery slope argument to claim that if we let gays marry (or have sex, before that argument was rendered moot by the courts) then there's nothing stopping us from legalizing bestiality, incest, and polygamy.* Part of me therefore wants to keep quiet about my feelings on incest and polygamy for fear of giving ammunition to the opposition's (false) argument. The part of me that's in control, though, prefers to speak his mind.

In Germany, there are brother and sister who are fighting for the right to continue having sex with each other. The story goes that the brother was given up for adoption and didn't meet his sister until he was 18. They soon fell in love. (Strangely, this is pretty common for siblings who meet for the first time.)

After the couple met and began a sexual relationship, they had four kids, with tragic results:
All but one of them have been placed in care and two are mentally damaged as a result of inbreeding. In 2002, Mr Stübing was given a one-year suspended sentence after being found guilty on 16 counts of "illegal coitus" with his sister.

My personal morality stems from the idea of "your right to extend your fist ends at the tip of my nose," or, if you're not hurting anybody, what you do is your own business. So masturbating while thinking of a child sodomizing a sheep might reveal that you have some mental problems, but I wouldn't consider it immoral. Stealing, murdering, abusing, etc. are immoral because they cause harm to others.**

It's clear to me that having kids through incest should be illegal because of the grievous and unnecessary harm to the children. Although this belief has some troubling implications, not least the very slippery slope towards criminalizing having children with people with low IQs, minor genetic disorders, etc., I think that in instances where the harm is grievous and predictable, like brother-sister incest that leads to children, we can safely make that ruling.

What of siblings who have no chance of having children?
Mr Stübing, an unemployed mechanic, was released from jail last year and is still living with his sister. Although he has had himself sterilised to avoid fathering more children, he could be sent back to jail at any time for persistently reoffending.

By what justification may the government prevent them from having sex today? That most people find sibling sex repulsive? Repulsion is no basis for law -- we allow neo-Nazis to speak, after all. (Actually, Germany doesn't, but even though I disagree with that stance, there's at least conceivable grievous harm that stems from allowing hate speech.) If religion is a suitable basis for secular law, then the case is clear, but as you might imagine, I don't think religion is a good basis for law. The only other arguments I can imagine are similar to those used against gay couples -- that they set a bad example, or otherwise pose some threat to "traditional" families or children. I do not find such arguments convincing.

I therefore believe that consensual, adult incest should be legal and is not immoral, provided there is no chance for children to result from the union. Where to draw the line on infertility is another troubling and complex question, of course. Simply using condoms or the pill is not sufficient to rule out the possibility of children, but having the government mandate surgical sterilization is distasteful, to say the least. While I'd encourage siblings who get pregnant to have abortions, government-mandated abortions would be deeply disturbing as well.

I think the only coherent policy is that brother-sister incest that may result in children is disallowed as reckless endangerment. The government should not mandate sterilization, but simply recognize that the problem is the reckless endangerment of offspring rather than the act itself.

* For the record, I believe adult, consensual polygamy should be legal, although not necessarily institutionalized by the state as marriage, and am unsure about bestiality because of the question of the animal's consent. Bestiality should be treated as a subcategory of animal cruelty .

** Things get complicated when all choices are harmful and you must pick the least harmful one, like killing in self-defense or putting violent criminals in jail. There are also some gray areas in which people can reasonable agree like whether a aborting a fetus is a significant harm or whether it's okay to harm non-human animals or other organisms. (I eat meat, but even most vegans are happy to eat plants, fungi, and bacteria.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Intelligence and Religion

Half Sigma got me into the General Social Survey, which "is a survey used to collect data on demographic characteristics and attitudes of residents of the United States" (Wikipedia.)

One of the data taken by the survey is the result of a vocabulary test. Half Sigma has been using this as a proxy for intelligence, which is of course imprecise, but still interesting. Anyway, I've been playing around with Berkeley's GSS analysis tool. I'm sure there are some variables I should have controlled for, but I'm a computer programmer, not a statistician. :-)

Here are some things I've come up with:

People who score higher on the vocabulary test are much less likely to believe that the Bible is "the word of God," to be "fundamentalist," to believe "God concerned with human beings personally," to consider church "very important," or to believe that "atheists shouldn't hold public office."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

5000 years of religion in 90 seconds

This has been going around the blogs. Interesting visualization of the history of religion in the modern world.

From the looks of it, people carefully weigh all their options before objectively picking the "correct" faith. [/sarcasm]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Wikipedia Hopelessly Biased; Conservapedia to the Rescue!

Via Ed Brayton, the Conservapedia.

From Conservapedia's front page:
Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American. On Wikipedia, many of the dates are provided in the anti-Christian "C.E." instead of "A.D.", which Conservapedia uses. Christianity receives no credit for the great advances and discoveries it inspired, such as those of the Renaissance. Read a list of many Examples of Bias in Wikipedia

Because not saying, "In the year of our Lord" (Anno Domini) is anti-Christian. Oh those poor, persecuted Christians. By that logic, not using Jewish years makes them antisemitic. It's 5767, you Nazis!

I wouldn't be surprised if wikipedia does have a slight liberal/libertarian bias, depending on the topic, but Conservapedia is just hilarious. They also don't have much content as of yet.

Some of the comments at Dispatches put Conservapedia into context:

Raging Bee:
This sounds like it could grow into a viable strategy for extremists who want to keep their followers isolated from reality: simply create their own "reality," with its own encyclopedias and other authoritative-looking backups, so people won't have to -- or think they have to -- look outside their own bubble-verse for any answer to any question that might pop up in their minds.

This is just what these folks have been doing for a long time. One of my friend's from church (from when I was a teen) was homeschooled. His dad said, on more than one occasion, that the reason a woman should go to college, is to make her qualified to teach her children at home.

All of their text books came, either from a Christian publishing house, or off the list of approved texts from the same publisher (sorry, I don't recall the name of the publisher). They also had a set of encyclopidia's from the same publisher.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why Doesn't the Right Want Obama to be Black?

For a couple weeks now, I've been wondering why people on the right appear to be obsessed with the fact that Obama is only half-black.

Rush Limbaugh:

Hey, Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement: Halfrican American actress Halle Berry. "As a Halfrican American, I am honored to have Ms. Berry's support, as well as the support of other Halfrican Americans," Obama said.

He didn't say it, but -- anyway, there are those out there -- greetings.

And then, more recently:

Okay, back to our Barack Obama Audio Sound Bite Marathon. What are we up to now? Let’s see. Oh, yeah. Obama just said he wasn’t sure that he decided he was black, that if you look African-American in this society, you’re treated as an African-American, and when you’re a child in particular that’s how you begin to identify yourself. If you don’t like it, you can switch. Well, that’s the way I see it. He’s got 50-50 in there. Say, “No, I’m white.”

After discussing this online in various forums with people on the right, I think I've figured it out. Because they're blinded by partisanship, they don't get Obama's mystique. They latch on to the one thing they can think of that makes him unique and think he's popular because he's black. If they can take his blackness away, they think he'll just be some ordinary one-term Senator and the press will shut up about him and nobody will care.

They're wrong, though. Obama's a political rock star. He's a young Kennedy or Bill Clinton, combining a first-rate intellect with uncommon charisma. (Reagan had the charisma too, if not the intellect.) Kennedy wasn't a great candidate because he had been a Congressman and Senator and it wasn't Clinton's experience as governor of Arkansas that made people sit up and pay attention to him. Ronald Reagan didn't make it because of his acting ability or even experience as governor. Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton simply had what it takes to make people love them. So does Obama.

Obama's blackness makes for a great story, of course, and the press is bound to get caught up in that. But even if he were white, he'd be a major player in the Democratic primaries.

The only difference is we wouldn't have to worry about whether America is ready to elect a black man.

Where is the grave-yard of dead gods?

"Did the Romans really believe in all those gods, Mom?"

That's what I asked when I was about 10. I wonder how long it will be before someone asks his mother if people really ever believed in Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah.

Via Ed Brayton, Mencken's "Memorial Service":

Where is the grave-yard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a day when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus. But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter to-day? And what of Huitzilopochtli? In one year-and it is no more than five hundred years ago-50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him. Today, if he is remembered at all, it is only by some vagrant savage in the depths of the Mexican forest. Huitzilopochtli, like many other gods, had no human father; his mother was a virtuous widow; he was born of an apparently innocent flirtation that she carried on with the sun. When he frowned, his father, the sun, stood still. When he roared with rage, earthquakes engulfed whole cities. When he thirsted he was watered with 10,000 gallons of human blood. But today [in 1921] Huitzilopochtli is as magnificently forgotten as Allen G. Thurman. Once the peer of Allah, Buddha, and Wotan, he is now the peer of General Coxey, Richmond P. Hobson, Nan Petterson, Alton B. Parker, Adelina Patti, General Weyler, and Tom Sharkey.

Speaking of Huitzilopochtli recalls his brother, Tezcatilpoca. Tezcatilpoca was almost as powerful: He consumed 25,000 virgins a year. Lead me to his tomb: I would weep, and hang a couronne des perles. But who knows where it is? Or where the grave of Quitzalcontl is? Or Tialoc? Or Chalchihuitlicue? Or Xiehtecutli? Or Centeotl, that sweet one? Or Tlazolteotl, the goddess of love? Or Mictlan? Or Ixtlilton? Or Omacatl? Or Yacatecutli? Or Mixcoatl? Or Xipe? Or all the host of Tzitzimitles? Where are their bones? Where is the willow on which they hung their harps? In what forlorn and unheard of hell do they await the resurrection morn? Who enjoys their residuary estates? Or that of Dis, whom Caesar found to be the chief god of the Celts? Or that of Tarves, the bull? Or that of Moccos, the pig? Or that of Epona, the mare? Or that of Mullo, the celestial jack-ass? There was a time when the Irish revered all these gods as violently as they now hate the English. But today even the drunkest Irishman laughs at them.

But they have company in oblivion: The hell of dead gods is as crowded as the Presbyterian hell for babies. Damona is there, and Esus, and Drunemeton, and Silvana, and Dervones, and Adsalluta, and Deva, and Belisama, and Axona, and Vintios, and Taranuous, and Sulis, and Cocidius, and Adsmerius, and Dumiatis, and Caletos, and Moccus, and Ollovidius, and Albiorix, and Leucitius, and Vitucadrus, and Ogmios, and Uxellimus, and Borvo, and Grannos, and Mogons. All mighty gods in their day, worshiped by millions, full of demands and impositions, able to bind and loose-all gods of the first class, not dilettanti. Men labored for generations to build vast temples to them-temples with stones as large as hay-wagons. The business of interpreting their whims occupied thousands of priests, wizards, archdeacons, evangelists, haruspices, bishops, archbishops. To doubt them was to die, usually at the stake. Armies took to the field to defend them against infidels: Villages were burned, women and children were butchered, cattle were driven off. Yet in the end they all withered and died, and today there is none so poor to do them reverence. Worse, the very tombs in which they lie are lost, and so even a respectful stranger is debarred from paying them the slightest and politest homage.

What has become of Sutekh, once the high god of the whole Nile Valley? What has become of:




All these were once gods of the highest eminence. Many of them are mentioned with fear and trembling in the Old Testament. They ranked, five or six thousand years ago, with Jahveh himself; the worst of them stood far higher than Thor. Yet they have all gone down the chute, and with them the following:

Dea Dia
Iuno Lucina
Gasan lil

Abil Addu
Nuada Argetlam
Llaw Gyffes

Diana of Ephesus

You may think I spoof. That I invent the names. I do not. Ask the rector to lend you any good treatise on comparative religion: You will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest standing and dignity-gods of civilized peoples-worshiped and believed in by millions. All were theoretically omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. And all are dead.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Barack Obama Was Right About Iraq Before it was Fashionable

In 2002:

Now let me be clear – I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power. He has repeatedly defied UN resolutions, thwarted UN inspection teams, developed chemical and biological weapons, and coveted nuclear capacity.

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.

Imagine having a wise, responsible, and inspiring president. The more I learn about Obama, the more I like him. Let the conservatives call him Hussein Osama. Let the racists lament that he's not "really" black. Let FOX report breathlessly that he's an al-Qaida sleeper agent and that -- gasp -- he smokes!

The majority of Americans will see him for who he is and the promise he holds for a return to reasonableness in government. He may never reach the 30% of Americans who still support President Bush but I think he has a great chance to win the general election.

Abraham Lincoln on Presidential Authority

"Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, — 'I see no probability of the British invading us;' but he will say to you, 'Be silent: I see it, if you don't.'

"The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood," - Abraham Lincoln, in a letter to William H. Herndon, Feb. 15, 1848.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, February 12, 2007

This Blog is the Best, According to the New York Times

Well, they would say that if Michael Gordan were my friend instead of the administration's. I'd tell him that my blog is the best and he'd write, "Jewish Atheist is the best blog on the 'net, say blogging sources." Then I could quote him when I apply for a book deal.

This would be hilarious if it weren't so despicable. Here's how the administration used a complicit New York Times to make it's case for Iraq:

Step One:
Tell Michael Gordan that Iraq is working towards nuclear weapons and have him dutifully report it on the front page of the Times:

Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today. In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes. [Emphasis mine -- JA.]

Step Two: Point out that even The New York Times says Saddam sought to buy aluminum tubes:

VICE PRES. CHENEY: ...And what we've seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest, if you will, if I can put it in those terms, is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium to make the bombs.

MR. RUSSERT: Aluminum tubes.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Specifically aluminum tubes. There's a story in The New York Times this morning-this is -- I don't -- and I want to attribute The Times. I don't want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it's now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge . . .

Step Three: Debacle.

Gordan and the Times are up to it again. Let's not fall for it this time.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

That "Liberal" Media is at it Again

I quoted Glenn Greenwald once before on Our Cowardly Media and the conservative commenters didn't seem to get it. Here's Greenwald today, writing about how (that supposed bastion of liberalism) The New York Times is behaving just as irresponsibly today as they did in the run-up to the Iraq war:

[The New York Times] has published a lengthy, prominent front-page article by Michael Gordon that does nothing, literally, but mindlessly recite administration claims about Iran's weapons-supplying activities without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence. The entire article is nothing more than one accusatory claim about Iran after the next, all emanating from the mouths of anonymous military and "intelligence officials" without the slightest verified evidence, and Gordon just mindlessly repeats what he has been told in one provocative paragraph after the next.

Start with the headline: Deadliest Bomb in Iraq is Made by Iran, U.S. Says. That is a proposition that is extremely inflammatory -- it suggests that Iranians bear responsibility for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, even though that is a claim for which almost no evidence has been presented and which is very much in dispute. Why should that be the basis for a prominent headline when Gordon's sole basis for it are the uncorroborated assertions of the Bush administration? The very first paragraph following that headline is the most inflammatory:

The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.

Is that extremely provocative claim even true? Gordon never says, and he does not really appear to care. He is in Pravda Spokesman mode throughout the entire article -- offering himself up as a megaphone for administration assertions without the slightest amount of scrutiny, investigation or opposing views.


Every one of Gordon's sources are officials in the Bush administration, and all of them are completely anonymous, so one has no way to assess their interest, perspective, bias, or independence. And Gordon himself does not offer the slightest information to enable the reader to make such determinations, and he himself appears blissfully uninterested in any of that.

This is completely irresponsible journalism. The latest indications, including new revelations over the last few days, lend strong support to the suspicion that the Bush administration is intensifying its preparations for a military confrontation with Iran. The emotional and psychological impact of Gordon's story is glaringly obvious -- if Iranians are purposely supplying Shiite militias with the "most lethal weapon directed against American troops," that obviously will have the effect of heightening anger towards Iranians among Americans and leading them to believe that war against Iran is necessary because they are killing our troops.

Not only are they making the same mistakes they did before the war, they're allowing the same people to make them!

As Greg Mitchell recalls in an article in Editor & Publisher, it was Michael Gordon "who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion," and Gordon himself "wrote with Miller the paper's most widely criticized -- even by the Times itself -- WMD story of all, the Sept. 8, 2002, 'aluminum tubes' story that proved so influential, especially since the administration trumpeted it on TV talk shows" (h/t Zack).

The fundamental flaws in this article are as glaring as they are grotesque. Given the very ignominious history of Gordon and the NYT concerning the administration's war-seeking claims, how can this article possibly have been published?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Never Mind

Please ignore the previous post (which this replaces.) Continue to email me at thejewishatheist@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Good News! Ted Haggert Has Been Cured!!

Haggard now "completely heterosexual"

DENVER - One of four ministers who oversaw three weeks of intensive counseling for the Rev. Ted Haggard said the disgraced minister emerged convinced that he is "completely heterosexual."

Haggard also said his sexual contact with men was limited to the former male prostitute who came forward with sexual allegations, the Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur told The Denver Post for a story in Tuesday's edition.

"He is completely heterosexual," Ralph said. "That is something he discovered. It was the acting-out situations where things took place. It wasn't a constant thing."

That's a relief. It was just the "acting-out situations" that made him have repeated sex with a meth-dealing male prostitute.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

When Values Collide: Why Many Leave Orthodox Judaism

Yesterday, I asked, Is Orthodox Judaism is for All Jews? Today, I'm going to elaborate.

Orthodox Judaism, like any belief system or community, has a certain set of values. There are many people who, either by temperament or ability, are unable to comfortably fit into a community based on those values. I believe that the gap between Orthodoxy's values and peoples' ability to conform to those values is the primary cause of people leaving Orthodox Judaism or having difficulty within it. I also believe that some of these values can be broadened to accept more people without transgressing Orthodox Judaism's fundamental tenets while others cannot be changed without ceasing to be Orthodox Judaism.

In other words, Orthodox Judaism can make some changes to increase retention without losing its essence, but there will always be those who simply can't fit into a community that's based on Orthodox values.

White Collar Careers

In both left-wing and right-wing Modern Orthodoxy, there is an implicit (sometimes explicit) emphasis on careers (for men) which are prestigious and lucrative. Usually, this means medicine, law, or (white-collar) business. Unfortunately, many children lack the ability to succeed in those fields and would be better suited for blue collar work. (In Yeshivish/Hasidic (Y/H) Orthodoxy, it's all about Torah study. Again, people with less ability will suffer. The Jblogosphere has discussed this issue at length.) Such people often feel as if they don't fit into the community, and they may feel badly about themselves as well. Some who feel badly leave and some simply "act out." This is obviously a value inessential to Orthodox Judaism, and they should work on changing it.

Intellectual Pursuits

Y/H Orthodoxy too often values no intellectual pursuits other than Torah study. (They will brag about a Rebbe's secular education and knowledge, but will not support ordinary people's secular pursuits.) Modern Orthodoxy is much more tolerant of pursuits like literature and (secular) history, but is necessarily constrained from supporting some areas of intellectual pursuit like Textual Criticism or anyone following their path away from Orthodox beliefs. The Y/H communities can and should broaden their acceptable intellectual pursuits, but Modern Orthodoxy is already as broad as it can be while remaining Orthodox.

Other Pursuits

Most Orthodox communities place very little value on pursuits many feel called to and may indeed be exceptional at, such as art, sports, craftsmanship of all kinds, being a chef, etc. There's no reason they can't learn to value these pursuits.


Orthodox Judaism of all stripes places high value on "traditional" family. People who don't fit this mold, like gay people or those who have no wish for spouses and/or children, do not fit in. Modern Orthodoxy is struggling to accommodate gay people, but is necessarily constrained by tradition and the Torah's wording. In Y/H communities, a woman who does not want to have a whole bunch of kids will probably not fit in. There is some room for adjustment here. Finally, people who want to date and even have friends of the opposite gender may not fit in, and certainly some people are not cut out for the whole shidduch process.


Some of this of course overlaps with family issues. Other areas of conflict include the lack of acceptance of some communities of women who pursue serious intellectual pursuits and careers or even Torah. This is entirely changeable.


Orthodox Judaism tends to look disparagingly on many activities done for relaxation and enjoyment which are not traditionally Orthodox. While they encourage Shabbat zemiros, the enjoyment of kugel, and in some communities alcohol, they will often sneer at movies, television, videogames, reading novels, swimming for pleasure, hiking, running, biking, etc. Sometimes even humor. People want to enjoy their lives, and Orthodoxy can improve here as well.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Is Orthodox Judaism for All Jews?

I read with amusement and concern the Jblogosphere's frequent discussions about children who go "off the derech." (Literally, "off the way," meaning leaving Orthodox Judaism.) For example, Jonathan Rosenblum at Cross-Currents recently wrote about the matter, blaming "the Satan" (seriously) for bringing cell-phones and laptops. He argues that sending your troubled kids to Israel for the year following high school can work wonders in turning them around. (This is often, in fact, true, at least for the short term.) Second, the always fascinating Beyond BT asks Do BT Parents Risk Kids Off the Derech? (A BT is essentially the opposite of me -- someone who was raised non-Orthodox and later became Orthodox.) There follows an interesting discussion in the comments that I can't fairly summarize.

Whenever the subject comes up, Orthodox Jews raise the same points. Parents should be either more or less strict. More effort should be made for kids who aren't naturally gifted at learning Torah. You need to watch them like a hawk and protect them from bad influences. Etc.

The elephant in the room, of course, is something that hardly ever comes up. Maybe Orthodox Judaism just isn't for everyone! Intuitively, this is obvious, but it's a truth that has the misfortune of opposing the fundamental belief of Orthodox Judaism -- that it's for all Jews. Also, Orthodox Judaism would probably "lose" more children to the secular world if they were up-front about this truth.

I've written before about how confusing kids who just aren't cut out to be Orthodox with kids who are "bad" or have "problems" may lead to unsafe drug use or sexual activity. It also is the cause of much heartache -- both for the kid who will for a time at least believe that he's a bad person -- and for the parents, who are guilt-stricken, believing it's all their fault.

I'm not going to lie, Orthodox Judaism can be a great lifestyle and a meaningful religion. But it's not for everybody, and pretending otherwise is responsible for a lot of misery.