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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I Don't Understand Mark Kleiman's Personal Relationship with Religion

update: but I think he is very very smart and very very thoughtful.

In this post, he writes

But of course we atheists are different, right? We don't think people are going to Hell for not disbelieving the same things we disbelieve, so we have no particular reason to persecute. As a result, Evangelical Christians in, let's say, academia, don't find themselves forced into a closet.
OK so he is an Atheist. So what the Hell (sorry mythical realm in which persons of various religions falsely believe that the (non-existent) immortal souls of sinners are punished) is he doing taking notes for "the UCLA Faculty Tanakh Study Group, which has renamed itself in honor of the late Jack Hirshleifer"* which is working through The Book at the rate of one chapter a week ? I mean I can see how an atheist eaget to understand Israeli politics might read The Book at that rate, but any atheist trying to understand US fundamentalists (for example) would quickly catch on that, on average, they have read about as much of The Book as I have.

And if he is so expert on Judaism what is this "You happen to be an observant Christian or Jew, and consequently you customarily say a prayer of thanks before eating. " In my experience, observant Jews say a prayer *after* eating.

Still his point is absolutely valid. In most contexts, a once traditional level of religious observance is considered weird, and the tradtionally religious either apologise for their eccentricity or violate their traditions. I learned of the prayer of thanks made after eating while eating dinner at the house of an observant Jewish couple. I and other guests had known the wife at work and lunch for years, and she had always hidden this religiously mandated behavior (and this was at MIT!) . Even in their own home, they explained with a mixture of apology and defensiveness.

The belief of the devout that they are marginalised is not as well founded as the corresponding (rarer) belief among atheists, but it is not unfounded.

This, however, is just silly "we'd do better in taking the motes out of Jerry Falwell's eyes if we'd take the beam out of our own eyes first." Now one might reasonably argue that "we'd do better in taking the beam out of Jerry Falwell's eyes if we'd take the motes out of our own eyes first," but I don't think many atheists blamed the Southern Baptists for 9/11.

update continued: I am responding to comments which I think criticize Kleiman much much too harshly.
I read religiously and mainly resent this Tahakh business, because I think that Prof. Kleiman is wasting extremely valuable time which he could use to blog more. Also on the specific issue, I agree that people who think the bible is inerrant (I'm not a theologian but I think that means "true") believe correctly that the elite sneers at them, that they are very touchy about this and that such sneering is not only politically incorrect, it is a mistake. Saying vague nice things about religion and Jesus Christ and using that majority of Christ's teachings which were more than 1980 years ahead of his time and are still shockingly radically progressive is a good way to deal with this resentment.

As Kevin Drum says, if we have to say Gays are inferior to get their votes, well we will just have to do without their votes, but surely we can say "blessed are the meak" and "do unto others as you would be done to"(without crediting Hillel cause after 1980 years the statute of limitations for plagiarism has run out). By the way, Barack Obama better not recite the sermon on the mount in the original Aramaic or he will sound like a megalomaniac.

I am and have always been an atheist as are my parents (who, by the way, exemplify the Christian virtues better than anyone I know and therefore better than any Christian I know). However, I have a view much more radical than those expressed by Kleiman. I don't follow Christ and I don't agree with many things he said, for one thing I am not an absolute pacifist, for another I do not believe that the truth will set us free. I think that truth is over rated. I think it is better to believe in a purpose which caused the universe and life after death than to believe what I am sure is the truth. This belief that mistaken beliefs are often better than true beliefs is dangerous and can cause mental conniptions, which, if I am not mistaken, had a lot to do with the origen* of pragmatist philosophy (which I admire in ignorance) and the neocon game (see post above).

* This was a typo but I decided not to correct it, to remind myself of the case of Origen who shows that religious belief can go waaaaay to far "but the primitive church was filled with a great number of persons of either sex, who had devoted themselves to the profession of perpetual chastity. A few of these, among whom we may reckon the learned Origen, judged it the most prudent to disarm the tempter" Ouch.

Sorry Professor Kleiman. I tried to be respectful. It was a typo. The devil made me do it (or would have if there were a devil).

update 2: I see I am more extreme that Kleiman in my willingness to snub Hillel

(Back when a certain rabbi of the School of Hillel was preaching up a storm in Galilee, food taboos had some of the same salience that sexual taboos have now. He didn't make himself popular with the local equivalent of the Traditional Values Coalition or Moral Majority when he pointed out that it's not what goes into your mouth that really pollutes you, since it's all going to wind up in the same sewer, but rather what comes out of it: perjury and slander, for example.)

Also when I sold my soul (for well less than 30 pieces of silver) to google adsense I should have realised I had to be careful about posting about religion. The add linked to a site which claimed that the next Pope will be the antichrist in disguise who will try to establish a New World Order
(I thought, hell after Ratzinger the Anti Christ will be an improvement). They seem to think that Bush was in on the scam. Now that even the total nut cases hate Bush, he is in deep trouble.