Saturday, September 11, 2010

Religion: Worth It? (cont'd)


As a preliminary to addressing your lengthy questions, which assume much, I want to look just at part of your opening statement, "Followers of these religions [Islam, Christianity, Judaism] indoctrinate their children with the various theologies of their religions."
I would ask you to review Mishna Hagiga 2:1 and reconsider or reformulate your question in this light.

The first sentence of the translation is of course unintelligible. The Hebrew is simple, though:

אין דורשין בעריות בשלשה.
ולא במעשה בראשית בשנים.
ולא במרכבה ביחיד.
אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו.
כל המסתכל בארבעה דברים ראוי לו כאילו לא בא לעולם.
מה למעלה מה למטה מה לפנים ומה לאחור.
וכל שלא חס על כבוד קונו ראוי לו שלא בא לעולם:

"Arayot" refers to prohibited sexual acts.

"Merkava" refers to metaphysics, i.e. the "chariot" in Ezeqiel's vision.

But it is really the second half that I would call to your attention, which discourages speculation and teaching about "what is above," that is, beyond what you can see in the sky, i.e., about "theology."

As it is written in parashat Nitsavim, which we read this week,

הנסתרות לתרות לה׳ והנגלות לנו ולבננו
"The hidden things (mysteries) belong to God, and the apparent things belong to us." Get it? If you want to reduce that verse to the "God of the gaps," then if you want to get rid of God, get rid of the gaps, otherwise shut yer trap.

Your statement below, "Followers of these religions [Islam, Christianity, Judaism] indoctrinate their children with the various theologies of their religions," is so much at odds with the reality that I face, which includes, among other things, continuing complaints that we ("the rabbis") hardly ever talk about theology. There is not much Jewish "doctrine" of Theology, and I don't think your claim of "indoctrination" is accurate. People read our communal texts, which in toto include a very wide range of "theological" assumptions, and deduce or believe whatever they believe, and no one objects as long as it is not polytheistic (one god too many). This is generally how it works in the Jewish world. I can't speak about Christianity or Islam but it may be that they are more prone to "theological doctrine."


I refer you again to the shema.

As for the god of the gaps argument:
"The hidden things (mysteries) belong to God, and the apparent things belong to us." I identify this as a despicable, cheap answer to human curiosity. There may be questions science will never answer, but the overwhelming historical trend has been to the contrary, especially in the areas which god has been given as an alternative explanation (or non-explanation).

I maintain that Judaism, at least on paper and in the schools, is infected with the theological conceits.

On a side note: why one god? How do you know? Can you name any other characteristics of god?


The point of the first line of the Shema -- "Get this, Israel: Adonai -- _our_ God -- Adonai is unique." You're confusing it with other ideas of God, which seem to be the subject of your questions. Beyond this element of uniqueness, there is no Theological content or information in the shema at all (if we are talking about Deut ch. 6).
The passages from Hagiga from Nitsavim are not prohibitions or discouragement, but simply a caution against speculating -- and teaching -- things about this which we don't understand. I should think that this exactly matches what you are calling for.


And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

I'm missing something. Your texts explicitly assert the existence of god. You beat your texts into children's skulls. Indoctrination, no?


  1. You don't need a religion to do good on Earth. If religion is the only thing that keeps you from killing and raping, there is a problem.