Wednesday, December 15, 2010

After almost 6 months, I've finally finished the book I was reading; The Tanakh (the canon of the Hebrew Bible)

My family members identify themselves as Reform Jews which basically means we go to services on the high holy days, we have a Sedar dinner for Passover, and no one ever discusses what they believe or don't believe. When I was preparing for my Bar Mitzvah I wanted to quit because it was a lot of hard work. The reward of a big party didn't interest me enough so my brother and sister ended up guilting me into doing it. I thank them for that though, the experience itself was quite rewarding. Lessons with an amazing man (with an equally amazing voice) like Cantor David Wisnia plus the Bar Mitzvah day itself was definitely worth the time and effort right there.

More importantly, preparing for the Bar Mitzvah taught me the value of asking questions and learning. After all, this is what my Rabbi told me Reform Judaism is all about. The Torah (The 5 books of Moses) portion I learned about and sang for my Bar Mitzvah was "Ha'azinu" (Hebrew for "listen"), the penultimate Torah portion. Although all Torah portions are sung, this one is in fact a song that Moses sings to the Israelites before he ascends Mount Nebo; where he is allowed to see the land that the Israelites are about to obtain before God kills him (side note: it's not because he smashed the Commandments but because he and his brother Aaron smashed a rock in the wilderness to produce water). I couldn't understand why God would kill a great person like Moses, who did so much, without letting him enter "The Promised Land." Luckily, the Bar Mitzvah process includes sessions with the Rabbi to discuss such issues. The Rabbi helped lead me to the conclusion that God made Moses suffer so that Joshua could more easily succeed Moses as leader of the Israelites. This answer satisfied me for a few years but eventually I began to question this reasoning.

Meanwhile, my Hebrew school teacher at the time mentioned he didn't believe Moses literally split the Sea of Reeds (I just read the book, trust me it says "Sea of Reeds" not "the Red Sea") and that it was a story that got exaggerated over time. Hearing a teacher explicitly say "You can still consider yourself Jewish even if you don't believe these events are literally true" intrigued me greatly. I enjoyed learning and interacting with other Jews, so I continued going to Hebrew school, went through Confirmation, and even entered a Jewish peer mediation program.

I will always consider myself culturally Jewish but at some point I realized I identified myself more as an Atheist. Not that it matters, but my reasoning for this is the same as Epicurus':

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?"

However, since Judeo-Christian beliefs impacted history, art, and music so greatly I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize with the stories. So I started with the Tanakh. Next I'm going to read something from Ancient Greece (because those stories greatly impacted history, art, and music as well), and eventually I think I'll read the New Testament and Qu'ran too.

Unfortunately, the process of reading the Tanakh has angered me greatly for the following reasons:

It perpetuates a belief that there is a single right answer, including a single group of "Chosen People" who will prevail because their God is the one true God.
It states that everyone must follow every single law and those who do not will be executed. (At one point, a stranger enters the encampment of Moses and the Israelites. Even though he was never informed that such laws existed, he broke a law by picking up sticks on the Sabbath, the day of rest. Moses asks God what he should do and God tells Moses to stone the man to death)
To make things even worse, it goes on to explain that bad things occur because someone (anyone) isn't obeying every law. This means if things aren't going that well (and imagine how devastating times were thousands of years ago) the only way to make things better is to enforce these laws more efficiently.
The word holocaust is used in the Tanakh to describe what God told the Israelites to do to the former inhabitants of Canaan so the "Chosen People" could claim their "Promised Land". This meant killing every single man, woman, and male child; keeping only the virgin girls alive to become slaves (after all, if you aren't a descendant of Isaac, God doesn't love you.)

It seems so clear to me that such reasoning for so long has had a major negative effect on society (e.g The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, The Holocaust). Obviously Hitler took this same idea and just changed the definition of "Chosen People." This reasoning is why it was socially acceptable to own slaves, be racist, demean women, prevent homosexuals from getting married, etc. This is because it perpetuates the notion that the world is black and white; that one belief is more accurate than another. Ironically, using my own reasoning, this means I can't argue that what I believe in is the right thing to believe.

So I'm not going to say that I'm right; all I can say is this is what I believe. Take it or leave it. That being said, I'm going to now expand my complaint even further:

My problem is not with beliefs or Theism but with Fanaticism. Although I am an Atheist, and have my reasons and arguments for being so, it is not my prerogative to persuade people away from their own beliefs. Unfortunately, there are times where I do feel like I am being persecuted for my lack of belief and can get defensive and argumentative in response. This is a trait I try hard to suppress in fear that I will become what I hate. And, to be completely honest, it is hard for me to trust any of the Monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) because they all contain the Tanakh which is full of fanatic ideology. Even though the majority of people aren't fanatics, I still dislike exposing others to a doctrine that can justify behavior I view as backwards and immoral. (Again, this is just what I believe; I don't have to think what you think and you don't have to think what I think.)
Using the same reasoning as before, it is my belief that Capitalism is also bad. Capitalism perpetuates the belief that it is important and better to have more money, neglecting the fact that if some have more, others will have less. As a result, rich people have become the new "Chosen People" who do not care about those who are not.

To make matters worse, Capitalism has effected our products, services, and media through the creation of marketing and advertisement. It's become more important to convince people to buy things they don't need instead of focusing energy and resources towards creating the best products and services. What frustrates me most about this is that art and entertainment suffer too.

Extreme Nationalism is undesirable for similar reasons. It's one thing to be proud of your country, but once you reach the conclusion that your country is the best and that every other country should be just like yours; war becomes the solution (again look at Hitler). And war should never be the solution.

Following this reasoning to the next degree, I also believe sports fanaticism is bad. I've never been interested in sports at all, mostly because I can't understand why it is so important to so many people. In fact, it terrifies me. I grew up and currently live in the Philly area (for God's sake one of our mascots is the Philly Phanatic) and went to school at Penn State. Sport teams have become the new Nationalism, each sporting event its own battle. And don't try arguing "Well, at least nobody gets hurt." because obviously they do. Sports encourage violence and violence should never be the solution.

tl;dr: Christmas is stressful

1 comment:

  1. My friend, you're right in saying that classics are not so boring, even if you are a non-professional. By the way, if you want to read the Guru Granth Sahib you may get the free pdf file from
    Have a nice day....& keep reading classics!