Remaining Firm

The ability to remain firm in our beliefs, even in the face of hardship and danger, indicates that we have fully internalized the level of holiness to which our soul aspires. According to the degree by which we have assimilated this level, we will find within ourselves the inner strength to withstand the challenges of the turbulent sea that rages around us.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook

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Hotel Teshuvah, Beijing

Staying in a hotel room in Beijing on Yom Kippur was a totally new experience. Leave out the fact that I have lived here for 18 years: for the first time, I was here alone, without my wife and son, and with no home to go to.

No TV. No computer. No Kindle. No books. No room service. No mini-bar. No iPad. No smartphone. And not much of a view – you don’t stay on the 39th floor on Yom Kippur (or Shabbos, for that matter.)

Just a thunderstorm outside my window and a soft bed beneath my back. Did I sleep? It was probably the best night’s sleep I have had in months, maybe longer.

There is a lesson in that, I think.

Naziism Was Not Christian

For those antithesits out there who would assert that Naziism was a religious movement or a movement of religion, a thought from an esteemed scholar of religion.

“In speaking of the Christian world, we use two different terms: ‘Christianity,’ meaning the religion in the strictest sense, a system of belief and worship and some ecclesiastical organization; and we use a different word, ‘Christendom,’ meaning the whole civilization, which grew up under the aegis of that religion, which is in many ways shaped by that religion, but which nevertheless contains elements that are not part of that religion, or may even be hostile or contrary to that religion.

Let me illustrate that with a simple example. No one could seriously assert that Hitler and the Nazis came out of Christianity, but no one could seriously deny that that they came out of Christendom.”

— Bernard Lewis

 

Can an Atheist be a Ger Tzaddik?

There are good theists, and there are evil theists. There are good atheists and anti-theists, and there are bad atheists and anti-theists.

What we should be focused on is NOT whether I can prove to Richard Dawkins in terms he will accept is whether God exists. I have enough proof for me and that should be enough for all of us to allow me to continue believing what I believe.

Better we should be having the more important debate – which Pope Francis appears to be trying to set up – which is “what does it mean to be good, and why?”

As for we of the Hebrew persuasion, we should ask – is there room within the construct of the Noahide Laws for an atheist to be a ger tzaddik, or at least a righteous non-believer? And if not, do we simply accept atheists and even anti-theists as one of the nations provided they don’t come after us?

As our theistic world is compelling non-believers to adhere to modes of belief that explicitly exclude God, how are we to address those who not only disregard our beliefs, but who (as in the case of Sam Harris) regard them as amoral and anti-intellectual?

Is Moderate, Rational Atheism a Fallacy?

English: Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins after ...

English: Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins after Maher’s talk at the Atheist Alliance International conference in Burbank, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An erudite atheist friend said recently that every atheist he knew personally, as many as a couple of hundred, and (he contended) all of the Big Name atheists:

“..have said, explicitly, that to the limited extent I outlined above (‘there may, against all the evidence so far, be a god’) they are agnostic. There is zero conflict in this position if you claim to be an evidence-based rational thinker (which most, but not all, atheists will claim).”

It was an interesting claim.

Now, while I would love to test that statement against all of the Big Name Atheists, I thought I would try it for one, possibly the biggest name, Richard Dawkins. At best, he is conflicted. While he has been frequently quoted as saying “There probably is no God,” thus sounding intellectually honest, on at least one occasion in public he has said ““You are utterly wasting your time – all of you who are indignant at being attacked about your god – because there is no god.”

That doesn’t sound like the kind of intellectual honesty to which my friend alludes: it sounds like a statement of absolute faith, or at best a vacillation between two positions, one agnostic and quite acceptable in polite company, and one anti-theist, and steeped in faith.

The atheist might retort that God does not exist because his existence has not been proven. My response to that atheist is simple: we all have our standards of proof. God has met mine, he just hasn’t met yours yet.

Virtue and Capital

The primary virtue of capitalism is the way it holds you accountable for your actions. Do something stupid or bad, and people stop buying from you. Do something remarkable and good, and people buy more from you. That’s the idea anyway.

The problem with headlong deregulation of the industry over the past twenty years, combined with the moral hazard of “too big to fail” is that we have boosted rewards while removing accountability. We are, then, in danger of stripping capitalism of whatever moral legitimacy it may have attained since Teddy Roosevelt began building barriers to rampant exploitation.

Take away the accountability, and you remove the virtue. Experience has shown that self-regulation is inadequate.

The Other Side of the Coin

Religion is at its core a philosophy designed to answer questions that science cannot. Science is a methodology to describe what and how. Any effort by scientists to disprove religion takes them into territory wherein they don’t belong, just as any effort by theologians to disprove science takes THEM into territory wherein they don’t belong.