Reason

Reason is a tool that can be used for good or evil. How dare we place it in the hands of people unable to cogently define a line between the two?

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Getty Lee and Maimonides

The rational modern men, led by Clarence Darrow, believed that behavior was a pure product of heredity and environment. Free will, apparently, has nothing to do with behavior.

Me, I stand wit the Jewish sages and the band Rush. Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) wrote:

If one desires to turn himself to the path of good and be righteous, the choice is his. Should he desire to turn to the path of evil and be wicked, the choice is his.” (Maimonides, “Laws of Repentance” 5:1) (From Rabbi Telushkin’s A Code of Jewish Ethics)

And Rush sang:

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that’s clear –
I will choose free will.

Determinism is just too doctrinaire for me.

Judeo-Christian Ethics and Sustainability

China hands even the most grizzled conservative an opportunity to contemplate our growing need to be better custodians of the planet. Along those lines, Worldchanging did an interesting interview with Jonathan Watts, author of the recent bestseller When a Billion Chinese Jump. Naturally, the topic of sustainability came up, and Watts’ comments are interesting, especially toward the end.

JW: Looking for a solution to the predicament we are in, of living unsustainably, the importance of values comes up again and again. The focus in China is mainly on science and technology, on hardware – on things that if you drop them will hurt your toe. The importance of values hasn’t really kicked in, but it’s absolutely essential. Where do you get these values? Clearly western values haven’t stopped the west from screwing up the environment. So, it’s worth looking to China’s philosophical and cultural roots.

Which got me thinking (being that I live in China but I am from a country that is still skittish about making any major commitments to the environment), perhaps it is time for non-Chinese to look into our philosophical, cultural, and religious roots for answers to why we might need to change our behavior toward the planet.

Those of you who know me understand I am nobody’s idea of a tree-hugger. But there is so much sound and fury around climate – often pitting the eco-zealots against the self-interested – that I am starting to think that it is time to go back to a more fundamental source for some perspective in the debate.

A few places I am looking for ideas and guidance:

Siblings

I carry the teachings and heritage of my father into this world in a manner very different than my siblings. Yet, I still love them – how could it be different? And is that not what my father would have wanted?

So why is it not the same for the Children of G-d? Does it not hold doubly true for the Children of Abraham?

Two Paths

Interesting quote from the first volume of Rabbi. Joseph Telushkin’s magisterial A Code of Jewish Ethics:

The Midrash teaches that if a person wishes to become a priest (Kohen) or a Levite, he cannot do so, since these roles are passed down by heredity from father to child. But any person, Jew and non-Jew alike, can become a tzaddik, a righteous person (Midrash Psalms).

Indeed.

O, Hashem. If it is your will that I shall never be a Get Tzedek, make me instead a goyische tzaddik.