Friday, February 26, 2010

Is Monotheism a Sign of Mental Retardation or Intellectual Superiority?

When one thinks of a religious person these days, they usually think that the religious man possesses a degree of intellectual inferiority, especially since we should be enlightened by things such as technology and Darwinism. The problem with this inaccurate stereotype is with the American misconception of a religious person. Since America’s religious roots can be traced back to Puritans, the two words that come into the typical American mind when describing a religious person are Christian and fundamentalist. The fact that religiosity is associated with Bible-thumping, fundamentalist Christian who reads the Bible literally is a stereotype that needed to be dispelled when the Enlightenment period began. The fact that religious communities were unable to respond to the Enlightenment during its inception is still biting intellectual, rational monotheists in the toches to this very day.

With that in mind, it still begs the question: can one discuss religion, and more specifically, monotheism, intelligibly? The First Commandment in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:2) is to know that G-d exists. If you don’t believe in G-d, who cares about this commandment, and if you do believe in the Torah, why do you need this commandment? Because the underlying message is this: investigate! Knowing G-d exists means that you have done the thorough research, and your proof is beyond all reasonable doubt (this, in contradistinction to beyond a shadow of a doubt, something I will discuss later). Rather than fall back on the argument of “because the Bible told me so,” Jews are commanded to “do their homework.” Maimonides said it was insufficient to just study Torah. For him, to truly understand Torah, one had to study the natural sciences. As an extension, I would also opine that one would need to study other fields such as history, philosophy, sociology, archeology, etc., to get a grasp of reality.  An investigative approach to reality for a religious person seems foreign to many because many Christians fall back on "because the Bible tells me so." 

With the overt intellectual emphasis in Judaism, we now come down to why not only atheism is an irrational belief, but why G-d’s existence is a logical necessity. Atheism is based on the premise that G-d does not exist. For atheists to make such a bold claim, the philosophical burden of proof is on them to prove that G-d does not exist. When referring to G-d, one refers to Infinite Oneness, something that does not exist within time or space.  My question to the atheist is this: how can you prove that an infinite being that transcends all finite borders, physical, spiritual, et al, can actually be disproven by empirical measurements? You can’t! Any attempt to try to disprove G-d’s existence would require the application of measuring G-d, which, by definition, cannot be done.

If the claim for monotheism were solely built on this claim, we would be running into the issue of argumentum ad ignorantiam, which is a logical fallacy that states that a premise is true only because it has not been proven false, or vice versa. The best example of this fallacy would be that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. For purposes of this argument, if I don’t want to merely disprove atheism, but rather show that monotheism has an intellectual basis, I have to go beyond the argument of “atheists can’t disprove G-d, therefore I’m right.” This means if I am to claim that monotheism is correct, the burden of proof now shifts over to me.

Before delving into the analysis, what is worth bringing up is the extent of my proof, i.e., do I have to prove G-d’s existence beyond all reasonable doubt or beyond any shadow of a doubt? I will contend that nothing can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Shadow of a doubt implies no doubt whatsoever. Although atheists and anti-religious people like to use this tier of doubt in attempts to “disprove G-d,” the truth is that nobody uses such a burden of proof in their daily lives. Just a few examples…..

Did your wife poison your food today? Odds are that a marriage doesn’t get that sour, but maybe she’s jealous of your new job, or it’s possible she found out about the affair you’re having on the side. Or it’s possible that you married somebody who is trying to kill you because she has some mental disorder you don’t know about.  There could even be a possibility there is some deadly disease in the food of which you were not aware.

Will the double bypass surgery kill me? Statistically speaking, you’ll come out of that surgery in one piece, possibly feeling better than ever. But there is still a slight change that either the surgical tools aren’t sterile and cause a deadly infection, you unknowingly have a fatal allergic reaction to some anesthetics the doctor gave you, or your doctor ends up killing you because his “degree” is forged and he really is a total quack.

Does the country of France exist? Sure, you’ve heard of people called Frenchmen. You’ve seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower. You even took some time in college to learn this language they call French. But until you’ve been there, how can you know that France is nothing more than conspiracy forged by some intellectual elitists?  And even if you do ever go to France, how are you so certain that you're actually in France?  Are you sure France really exists?

Although there are some instances in which the abnormal occurs, statistically speaking, occurrences, nature, and a myriad of other things follow certain general predictabilities.  Realizing this shifts the burden of proof ever so slightly.  Rather than burden oneself with the unrealistic expectation of proving something reasonable beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's much more tenable to prove it beyond all reasonable doubt.  The question then becomes whether or not we can prove G-d's existence beyond all reasonable doubt, especially since G-d cannot be proven by empirical measurements, i.e., we cannot perceive G-d with our five senses because G-d’s infinite nature transcends the sensory.

Since we cannot use the five senses to prove His existence, we have to proceed with our logical faculties, much like the rabbis of yesteryear had done millennia beforehand. Upon proving this conjecture, I will use logical deduction to prove that ever-so profound question of “How did the universe begin?” I attribute this exceptionally important insight to R. Moshe Zeldman, upon my studying of Derech Hashem by R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto. Upon asking ourselves about primum movens, or the first cause, we have to realize that there are only four possibilities: 1) nothing began the process, 2) something finite created the universe, 3) the universe is eternally old, and 4) an infinite being created the universe.

Let’s see where logic takes us……

1) Nothing began the universe.   Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda challenged this flawed thinking in Duties of the Heart almost a millennium ago: “When we say that something created itself, we have to ask: When did this act take place? Before it came into existence or after it came into existence? If before, there was nothing there, and from nothing, nothing can come. If after, then it doesn’t need to create itself. It’s already there!” This theory defies Newton's Third Law of Motion, not to mention common sense and scientific observation. This disqualifies Option #1 from being a possibility.

2) Something finite created the universe.    It doesn’t matter if you try making some elaborate, convoluted scenario, may it be a micro-universe within a macro-universe, “this is all a dream,” or something based off the movie The Matrix. If something finite did create the universe, the only retort that one can have for this postulation is “what created that?” If more intelligent aliens created our universe, what created those more intelligent aliens? And what created that which created the more intelligent aliens? Needless to say, we can do this ad nauseam and it still doesn’t answer the question of what ultimately was the primum movens. Option #2 is out, which leads us to the latter two options.

3) The universe has no beginning because it is eternally old.    Who is to say that the universe even had a beginning in the first place? After all, we should take this option seriously since many scientists have believed it since the days of Aristotle. Something in modern-day science changed that notion—the Big Bang. What was shocking about the Big Bang Theory, which is no longer a theory, is that it provided incontrovertible evidence that the universe began about ten to fifteen billion years ago. Even without the cosmological proof for a beginning of the universe, how can one prove that an eternal universe is logically flawed?

For argument's sake, let's say that Maimonides met Aristotle one day and as they were walking along, they came across a huge pile of marbles. This pile is so vast that as they look with telescopes in every direction, it seems as if there were no end to the pile.

Aristotle: "I believe that this is an infinitely large pile of marbles."

Maimonides: "Look, I have no idea how many marbles are here, but logically it must be finite. Here's my proof: What would happen, Aristotle, if I removed one marble from the pile? How many marbles would be left now? An infinite number or a finite number?"

Aristotle: "Finite."

Maimonides: "Well, if it's finite now, then what will happen when I put this marble back into the pile? Will the pile go from being finite to infinite? Impossible! Finite-plus-one is just a slightly bigger finite!"

Aristotle: "Okay then, if you remove one marble, I say the pile must still be infinite."

Maimonides: "Well then, you've got an even bigger problem. Because now the pile is infinite -- but it's a little smaller then it was before?! How can an infinite pile change in size? And if I add three more marbles, it will be bigger yet just as infinite? There's only one logical possibility: The pile must be finite. It might be uncountable, but there must be a specific, finite, number of marbles in the pile."

The shorter version of this argument is asking how it’s possible for a universe to be eternally old and simultaneously get older with each day (i.e., the universe is a day older than it was yesterday). Answer: It’s not possible! Therefore, we take out Option #3.

4) An infinite being created the finite universe.  We've already eliminated all other options, so this is what we have left. You know why it's hard to imagine?  Because such a being (i.e. G-d) is beyond our senses, beyond our imagination and ultimately, beyond our grasp.  Even if we cannot grasp G-d, that doesn't exclude us from being able to believe in His existence.  Au contraire!  Precisely because of the aforementioned logical deduction, we must conclude that an infinite being, primal and eternal, had to have created the universe.  Any alternative scenario, as proven above, is beyond the realm of possibility--it is downright impossible.  As to analyzing the nature of G-d, the existence of evil, whether Judaism per se is right, or the extent of G-d's involvment in the world, those are arguments that must be saved for another time.  Even with these quandries in mind, we cannot ignore that G-d's existence is truly a logical necessity.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jesus Wasn't Perfect, Part One

Christians believe that Jesus was a perfect man (1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5).  For Christians, Jesus needed to be perfect in order to be the ultimate sacrifice for mankind's sins.  Ecclesiastes 7:20, on the other hand, tells us a different story: "There is no man on earth that is so righteous that he doesn't sin."  Clearly, my Christian friends would disagree with me.  It would make Jesus' "sacrifice" meaningless.  Even though I already disproved the misconception that Jesus died for our sins, it's nice to find more textual basis to disprove Christianity. 

For Christian theology to be correct in terms of Jesus' "perfection," you would need to prove that Jesus never made a mistake.  As soon as you find even one error, one cannot argue, with intellectual honesty of course, that Jesus was perfect. 

The first place I would go is to see if Jesus were an all-knowing being, since that characteristic is implicit in the definition of an infinite being.  In Matthew 23:35, Jesus states that Zechariah was the son of Barachiah.  The reality is that Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada, not Barachiah (2 Chronicles 24:20-21).  Another example of Jesus' lack of knowledge: "Jesus said, 'How he [David] entred the house of G-d, in the days of Albiathar the high priest and ate the showbread....'(Mark 2:25-26)."  Alas, Abiathar was the high priest for Solomon (1 Kings 2:1, 23-26); Ahimelech was high priest for David (I Samuel 21:2).  If Jesus were perfect, i.e., all-knowing, he would not have mispoke.  Since Jesus did indeed err, it signifies that Jesus was imperfect.

Jesus' lack of knowledge isn't my only question regarding his imperfections.  His moral behavior should also make everyone wonder how anybody can consider this man to be divine.

Exhibit A, The Fig Tree Incident: What happens in this parable is that Jesus cursed a fig tree because it did not have any fruit, and then it subsequently withered and died (Matthew 21:17-22, Mark 11:12-14, 20-26).  There a couple major issues with this story.  Although apologists will opine [without textual backing] that the fig tree represents the Jewish people's unwillingness to accept Jesus, the fact of the matter is that Jesus directly violated Jewish law.  B'al tashchit, or wanton destruction, is derived from Deuteronomy 20:19, which states that it is a sin to destroy a fruit tree, even those of your enemy during a time of war.  The destructiveness is all the more perturbing in the Matthew version of the story (21:21): "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done."  Some apologists will state that between the two fig tree verses in Matthew 21, there is a scene where Jesus was "cleansing" those in the Temple.  The supposed message is that, like the fig tree, the Temple services "did not bear any spiritual fruit," and was thus hypocritical because those conducting the Temple services were acting in a "holier than thou" manner.  The problem is that short of the proximity of the verses, there is nothing in the text that correlates or connects the two events, thereby making the interpretation a form of eisegesis.  Regretably, eisegesis is the main method for Christians to "prove" their text to be correct.  In short, the problem is that Jesus encouraging his disciples to be destructive was not kosher.  The fact that Jesus had violated the very law he allegedly fulfilled should be a red flag for Christians.   

My second issue is that Mark points out to that the fig tree is not in season (Mark 11:13) before he decides to destroy it (ibid, 14).  Let's make one thing clear here:  Jesus did not destroy the tree for show.  The man was hungry (Matthew 21:18, Mark 11:12).  If Jesus were all-knowing, he would have known that figs were not in season.  Instead, he acted like a five year old child and cursed it.  The fact that he cursed the tree brings up another problem: if Jesus were supposedly the "son of G-d," he would also have had the power to have the tree bear fruit.  Why didn't he do that instead?  If Jesus couldn't even forgive a tree for following its natural, seasonal order, what makes you think that he could forgive all of mankind for their sins?

To be continued....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Man-Made Global Warming Is a Farce

“The debate is over.” I don’t know why, but every time I hear a global warming alarmist utter those words, it almost becomes nauseating. Have you watched the Weather Channel lately? Just as one good example—last week, Washington DC was hit with the worst blizzard since 1889. Ironically enough, the global warming hearing that Congress was supposed to have last week was cancelled due to the inclement weather.

Dr. Phil Jones, recently put in the center of the global warming debate because of Climategate, had a few interesting things to say about “global warming” in his latest interview with the BBC. Let me translate in layman’s terms what he had to say.

1) There were comparable “global warming periods” in 1860-1880 and 1910-1940. This is not the first time we’re dealing with this issue. Just forty years ago, environmentalists at the first Earth Day celebration were bemoaning about the next Ice Age. We should not jump to alarmism when the perfectly good explanation is that the changing of climate is a cyclical part of nature. Deal with it!

2) There has been no significant global warming in the past 15 years. Why are we making such a fuss over something insignificant? Can we focus on real issues?

3) Natural influences over this period could have contributed to the change over this period. It’s more than likely that it could have. There is a healthy [and legitimate] skepticism that shows that it is more than plausible that sun spots could be the primary cause of global warming, not man.

4) Q: If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850 to the current period, and that the MWP is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man-made?

A: The fact that we can't explain the warming from the 1950s by solar and volcanic forcing - see my answer to your question D.

Translation for 4A: I’m just throwing out some bullocks because quite honestly, I don’t know how that fits into my man-made global warming theory. By confronting the fact that there were warming periods prior to fifty years ago, in fact, torpedoes my theory, and we can’t have any of that.

I can guess that financial incentive of further funding is what truly drives these people to shill this bullocks unto the rest of us. Even Mojib Latif, a leading climatologist, got angry when people took his “ten years of global cooling” findings “out of context.” This just leads me to beg the question of “what doesn’t global warming cause?” It causes heat waves, it causes blizzards, heck, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they started to say that “global warming” caused the recession. Although if you check out this exceptionally interesting list, you’d be surprised as to what the Far Left can attribute to “climate change.” My personal favorites were that global warming caused Black Hawk Down, and that it will cause world-wide cannibalism. And all of this from something that Phil Jones called an “insignificant change!”

It gets worse to know that Congress is trying to pass the Boxer-Kerry bill, which essentially is a cap-and-trade bill. Although Heritage Foundation provided a bunch of nice graphs illustrating the devastating effects that the bill will have on America, the most intriguing one is the one regarding how it will cause our economy to shrink:

The reason why this problem goes beyond irking me is because we are using unproven science to implement high-cost policies.  As the saying goes, "Green is the new red."  I really wish the Far Left would let up on their new secular religion, but I guess I would be asking for too much.  Note to the Environmentalist Left: rather than give into mass hysteria, maybe we should focus on real problems, such as high unemployment, balance of power issues with China, or even Michelle Obama’s latest pet project of obesity in America.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Iran is Nuclear, And Your Point Is........?

Just when you think things were bad enough, Iran has to go and declare itself nuclear.  It has declared this because it reached uranium enrichment of 20%.  In order to build nuclear weapons, it needs to reach 90%.  Although 20 is nowhere near 90, it still makes me pause about this for a moment. An extremist Islamic country who has declared that it wants to wipe Israel off the map has acquired nuclear capabilities. I wonder what’s going to happen when they reach full capacity. For those of you who have an inkling of how history has this unfortunate tendency to repeat itself, odds are that Iran is going to try to use them. I know this. The Israeli government knows this, which is all the more reason to be nervous about this declaration.

Israel has its back to the corner so badly that it’s one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” moments. I’m sure that the Israeli government has already been considering an aerial attack on Iran, much like the one that they did with the Iraqi reactors back in the 1980s. As James Phillips from the Heritage Foundation points out, Israel might not be able to deal with Iran the same way it dealt with Iran:

An Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be a much more difficult and complex oper­ation than the 1981 raid on Iraq's Osiraq reactor. The Iranian dictatorship learned the lessons of Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's nuclear reactor: The Ira­nian nuclear infrastructure is more decentralized, dispersed, hardened, and protected than was Iraq's nuclear program. Some of the nuclear sites have been located in cities, which would magnify the col­lateral casualties of air strikes. Other sites have been built deep underground with assistance from North Korea, which has developed world-class tunneling technology.

Israel also has to deal with two geographical realities: Iran is further away than Iraq, and Iran is a larger country than Iraq. This also translates into the geo-political reality of being endowed with a better military than Iraq, although I would strongly opine that Israel’s military capabilities are by far superior. To be realistic, Israel alone cannot halt the Iranian nuclear program. It could only delay it. If America entered the stage and attacked Iran, something that should have been done years ago, there would be a chance. But with Obama’s flabby, poorly prioritized foreign policy, it might be a stretch to say that America would do more than just flex its muscles, even when the Iranian threat is self-evident.

The worst-case doomsday scenario is one possibility.  The other possibility is that Iran is bluffing.  That is what the United States government is figuring.  The timing of Iran's declaration is noteworthy because it occurred just one day after Congress enacted the severe sanctions against Iran. Consider this: Iran runs the petroleum sector of its economy poorly.   Just look at how they're handling low oil barrel prices!  In spite of that, for the Iranians, this should be a no-brainer.  Short of Saudi Arabia and Canada, they have more oil than anybody than anybody else.  They should be making a fortune.  But as the Telegraph article above points out, they are highly inefficient in producing it and making a substnial profit off of it like the Saudis.  Now, if they can't handle something as simple as accruing oil, what makes you think they can handle the complexities of nuclear energy?      

As a religious Jew, I believe that HaShem will protect the Jewish people like He has throughout history.  Although Iran looks menacing, I think Iran has more bark than it does bite.  Obviously, Israel cannot take that chance because risking the longevity of the Jewish state is just too high.  Nevertheless, Iran is a backwards nation that is run by fundamentalists of an unenlightened religion.  It might have a lot of anger and resentment towards Jews, but as long as it makes itself a pariah within the international community, it won't make nearly as much progress as it'd like.  However, a bit of aggresive action towards the rogue state wouldn't hurt.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Obama, the Economic Disaster

If I needed to be reminded that Keynesian economics is bad for the economy, one need look no further than Obama’s latest economic debacles. What has made the latest piece of news is the jobs deficit—8.4 million! Look at this chart below, which actually puts it at 9.1 million. This is ridiculousness that we have had to deal with since Obama got elected to office:

Even with the unexpected drop in unemployment to 9.7%, it plans to go back up into double digits. As a matter of fact, it looks like we’ll hit a double-dip recession before things get better. What happened to preventing further unemployment? I thought his poorly-planned stimulus plan was supposed to make sure that we would not go beyond 8%.  Looking back, it seemed to be nothing more than funding a haphazardous funding of some pork-barrell spending. But Obama clearly isn’t a good forecaster, that much I already knew.  Nor is he capable of keeping his word. That is why his release of the 2011 governmental budget, which will be nearly $4T, worries me. I truly thought it took a lot of chuptzah for him to release this unprecedently high budget after his State of the Union address when he said he'd cut back on spending. Even in the past few years, the actual budget has been much higher than the predicted one

This is more troublesome because when the same party controls both the legislative and executive branches, especially when it historically been the Democrats, disaster has ensued. It’s no wonder that after a president like Lyndon Johnson, we only had to deal with Democratic presidents for three of the past ten presidential terms. Even with Clinton, the only thing that made his second term tolerable is because the Republican Congress pushed back, thereby curtailing Clinton’s liberalness, which is why there was welfare reform and an actual surplus in the Social Security fund. The Democrats of 1968 are the same as 2010—it's just one big love affair with Big Government and entitlement spending. When both branches are in control of the Democratic Party, fiscal chaos ensues. This is what we are seeing now. That is why President Bush’s fiscal irresponsibility is as minute as the Iranian Shah was to the Ayatollah that followed him.

The problem with Democrats [and some Republicans] is they think that money grows on trees. Their elitism shows when they think they can spend the peoples’ money better than people can. It is the very kind of hubristic thinking that has gotten us into the mess we have. What Democrats can’t notice for the life of them is that the more middle men there are [i.e., bureaucracy], the lower the multiplier effect goes down. Although I discussed the issues with this mentality last week, I think I heard it best put when I heard the phrase [describing left-winged economics], “the theory says that if I take a dollar from my right pocket and put it in my left, then I am a dollar richer. No wonder it always fails.” The government will always have a multiplier effect that is considerably less than one, which translates into “the government is inefficient at spending other people’s money.”

The issue is that Obama won’t let up. He sees himself as the collective embodiment of America. To exacerbate that, he, unlike Ronald Reagan, thinks that government is the answer to every problem. You know what? I want him to keep going like this. What we need is someone to screw up badly enough, or at least make a good effort at trying. America needs a wake-up call to remind them why being shackled by the chains of Big Government is bad. We need to remember why the colonists were angry enough to dress like Native Americans and throw a bunch of tea off a boat in the Boston harbor back in 1773. In short, we need to remember what it means to be free. I’m not one to use one-liners, especially when associated with Southern hicks, but we really need to tell our elected officials, loud and clear, “Don’t tread on me!” If the American people can get beyond the apathy and actually become politically involved, we can remind the government that they serve the people and not themselves.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is Religion the Root of All Evil?

     When I went from a secular lifestyle to becoming an observant Jew, one of the criticisms I received was how I could possibly associate myself with something as awful as religion. It is a question I have asked myself more than once. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and even told my parents that believing in a man that was simultaneously a deity was stupid. I was only about ten years old at that point, and that’s when, after much yelling, my parents didn’t force me to go to church anymore. As a result of that stubbornness, I became highly agnostic for many years. I leaned more on the atheistic side because based on what was going on in the world, I couldn’t possibly believe that a “loving G-d” could possibly exist. And even if G-d did exist, I thought that He must have been history’s biggest sadist. It goes without saying that after I grew up, I opened my mind up to the possibility of religion. I had quite a few Christian friends that had stability and a sense of purpose, something for which I was greatly yearning. However, I still could not believe that Jesus was a prophet or the Messiah, let alone a deity. After two years of struggling with the question, I began the process which led me to living an exceptionally Jewish lifestyle. Although it did not come without challenges, I would say that it has been the single choice that has had the largest impact on my life. During the past few years, I had a few people wonder I could become religious because religion is supposedly the root of all things evil. In order to adequately look at the claim, one has to look at two things—the alternative to religion, and the impact of religion on a holistic level.

     First, what is the alternative to religion? Secularism. If religion is the cause of all evil, one would have to presume that when you eliminate religion from the equation, evil goes along with it. However, when you take G-d out of the equation, the amount of atrocities committed in the name of secularism has been by far worse. The Nazis killed over six million Jews and five million non-Jews, totaling to over twelve million. Communist China under the Maoist regime killed over sixty million. The Stalinist regime killed over thirty million. Pol Pot killed about two million. Saddam Hussein killed over one million. Aside from the commonality of Big Government, what ties all of these mass murderers together is atheism. None of these men were killing in the name of G-d. They were killing in the name of the state, or an ideology that was inherently atheistic. From a quantitative standpoint, invoking the Crusades, the Inquisition, or even jihadists is futile because secularism has killed way more many people than religion ever has. Furthermore, government had been largely religious until very recently. The Thirty Years’ War, which caused 7 million dead, was the first war in European history where people only fought “in the name of religion,” i.e., it really wasn’t about religion. If you need proof that it was not fought for religious reasons, look at the alliances during that war where Catholics allied with Protestant nations. Even with the Treaty of Westphalia, the state did not completely sever itself from religion until after the French Revolution, i.e., it has only been a little more than two centuries, and atheistic ideologies have killed way more than religion ever has. Even if you want to argue, “Well, if they had nuclear arms in the Crusades, they would have used them.” Save that kind of rhetoric from somebody who is easily swayed! The fact that you even had to use an “if” statement, meaning that what you’re positing is purely hypothetical, just shows how much you like to stray from reality. It is also amusing to hear that the Crusades and the Inquisition as the two worst atrocities committed by religion. The Crusades killed about two million, and the Spanish Inquisition took about 32,000. Even the witch hunts took only about 45,000! Although that sounds like quite a few dead, and clearly, any murder is atrocious and irreligious, those are small numbers when compared to the two quantitatively worst atrocities in pre-modern history, which, incidentally, had nothing to do with religion. The Mongol conquests of Genghis Khan and the An Shi Rebellion of the eight century are both believed to have taken approximately forty million lives each! [Some predict that Genghis Khan’s conquests took sixty million!]

     I’m sure that those who don’t like religion are miffed by the fact that religion has empirically killed less people. But what really eats at those people is that short of a few Muslim states, every nation-state has some sort of separation of religion from government, whether it is implicit in the American constitution or explicit in the French Constitution. What this trend means is that just about any mass murder done by any nation-state in the future will be done with a secular ideology backing it up. In the unlikely event that jihadists kill more people, secularism will have been a larger murderer of human life than religion ever could have been.

     Second, is religion inherently evil? Of course not! Like with most things, religion is not inherently good or bad. What makes something good or evil is what the actor behind the item in question decides to do with it. If you don’t believe me, let us take a look at a few examples. Money can either be donated to a worthy cause or it can be laundered to a drug cartel that perpetuates large incidences of crime in a given city. Science can be used for something as miraculous as finding the cure for cancer or can be used for unethical experimentation on human beings, something which the Nazis did. Sex can bring a new generation of life to this world or it can be used to rape another human being. Fire can be used to bring warmth to a house or for arson to burn down that very same house. Water can be used to quench one’s thirst or drown somebody. Alcohol, in the right quantities, can slightly elevate one’s evening, but in the wrong quantities, can cause fatalities. I can continue with a multitude of examples, but I hope that by now, you understand where I am going with this.

     In this regard, religion is no different. I will not deny that morally wrong acts have been done in the “name of religion.” Muslims have blown up many people in the name of Allah. Christians killed many Jews in Muslims for the sake of Jesus. Acts of moral egregiousness committed by religious people have not even been limited to murder. Politicians who espouse family values have had affairs with other women. I’m sure many of you have met your fair share of those who are “holier than thou.” They are the ones with an exceptional air of arrogance and self-righteousness who preach against “decadent behavior,” such as adultery, homosexuality, violating Shabbos, or talking behind people’s backs, and yet you come to find out that they are committing those very same acts behind closed doors. Needless to say, there is no such thing as a perfect practitioner. The inherent imperfection of human nature gets in the way of that goal from ever coming into fruition. If that were the standard for proving whether or not religion is good, we would have to apply that very same standard to everything else. Most aren’t willing to do so, especially when it comes to self-evaluation and determining whether you’re a good [or even perfect] human being.

     What anti-religious or atheistic people forget to see is that religion brings much positive change in one’s life.  The following studies that include, but are not limited to, those that can prove that religious leads to a positive lifestyle.  Childhood poverty could very well be offset, or at the very least, mitigated, by having more religious parents, which would ultimately lead to less crime.  A new study done by Angus Deaton, Professor of International Affairs and Economics at Princeton University, shows the positive effects of religiosity, including morbidity and mortality.  There is enough evidence that religious people are less depressed, have decreased hospital stays, and have less health problems overall.  Studies have shown that you are less likely to develop an addiction, and even if you have, you are more likely to pull through, which negates the "religion is a crutch" argument. Here's a study that was done showing how religious Jews more or less avoid alcohol problems because of Judaism.  If you look at the Twelve Steps, most of them have to do with accepting a "Higher Power."  Jonathan Rosenblum also points out benefits, such as higher rates of optimism and longevity, and decreased rates of divorce and mental deterioration in old age.  What's more is that religion makes people feel happier and full of hope.  It creates a sense of community and belonging.  A sense of purpose is found with religion. Without religion, I know my life would be stripped of meaning.  Judaism is my framework for living a righteous, meaningful life.

What I am not saying is that all religious people live happy, careless lives.  I am also not saying that atheists have no prospect of being happy.  I've met miserable religious people and happy atheists.  People who live religious lives don't have a nice walk in the park.  I know I certainly don't!  What I do know is that it would be a lot more difficult without religion.  In short, what studies show is that if you are looking for a happier, longer, more meaningful life, you are statistically more probable finding it by accepting religion rather than rejecting it.      

When Criticism of Israel Turns Into Anti-Semitism

The sixty-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz recently took place. We certainly cannot forget what happened. As George Santayana said, “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The consciousness of the Holocaust and the ever-growing need for a Jewish state can never be forgotten. The history of anti-Semitism makes Israel all the more controversial topic. This all begs a very important question: where does legitimate criticism of Israel end and bigotry begin?

A legitimate concern is that Israel can play the victim card to wiggle out of any criticism. We should be diligent to make sure it never happens, but as not happened yet because this is not how Israel has done business. On the contrary, it has learned how to stand on its own two feet and taken responsibility for its actions.

I love Israel. It’s a wonderful country. I plan on moving there some day. But if you think I can’t criticize Israel just because I’m a practicing, Zionist Jew, I can surprise you by giving my fair share. After the first time I went to Israel, I was surprised as to what sort of problems Israel had. Rivers were polluted and the highways were so littered that for a moment, I thought I was back in the United States. I found out that the Yitzhak Rabin assassination cause a rift between religious and secular people in Israel, much larger than anything here in America. What shocked me the most was the poverty in Israel, which is at about 20%.  It has gotten so bad that there is only one job for every eleven people applying.  Although the fact that the poverty itself was staggering, I was mostly surprised at who was the cause of the poverty. I know that Israeli Arabs have a while to go in terms of being fully trusted and enfranchised by the Israeli government (Life’s not fair, but if you had a bunch of hostile Arab nations surrounding you that yearned for your total annihilation, would you feel much different? Probably not!), which is why I thought they were the impoverished ones. Although a disproportionate amount is poor, it was amazing to find out that the primary cause of poverty were the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews. I was trying to pray at the Kotel for twenty minutes, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that six Haredi Jews were begging me for money. Here I am, trying to get in touch with Hashem at the most holy site in the world, and I have men with chutzpah who tell me that if I give them money, they can pray for me. Excuse me, pray for me?! I can pray for myself, thank you very much. I think in the process, I’ll pray that you learn the value of acquiring a job, because as Pirkei Avot 2:2 says, יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ, שיגיעת שניהם משכחת עוון, which means that Torah without a “worldly job” leads to sin.

This is just criticism I can give to Eretz Yisrael from being there for ten days! Looking at the issue from the lens of a American political pundit who is Jewish, I can point out a few others. One point of criticism is undoubtedly the Haredi establishment within Israeli politics. During the creation of the Jewish state, Israel has been trying to work out the dichotomy of having a liberal democracy and a religiously Jewish state. To appease the religious community, the secular government gave the religious establishment a slightly disproportionate amount of power. Now that power has grown and has been concentrated on the Far Right of the religious spectrum. The Israeli government will only finance Orthodox synagogues, usually with a Haredi bent. This means that non-Orthodox synagogues solely rely on private funding, which makes it more difficult to finance. The Haredim control the conversion process and has made the conversion process insufferable for those who want a halachic conversion. I personally know of at least four friends who have been turned away from Judaism precisely because of this issue. It’s astounding that thousands of perfectly good candidates who would have otherwise been good Jews have been deterred precisely because we have given into “stringency for stringency’s sake.” The biggest problem, though, is why they cause poverty. Essentially, they are the recipients of welfare checks in Israel. They feel that studying is such an ideal that the State should financially support them in their studies, and thereby exempt them from having an actual job. In spite of the fact they forget what the Sages say (see above), they purposefully perpetuate the welfare program in Israel, thereby economically crippling Israel.

A few other issues I can think of offhand. One of them is the treatment of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Starting in the late 1970s, the state of Israel has been bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel and absorbing them. The Ethiopian Jews since then have had to deal with racism and bigotry as they get settled into Israel. A survey was done where most Israeli employers would rather not hire Ethiopians. The same goes for Arabs and Haredim, although based on what I just wrote, you can’t exactly blame them for the latter. It will probably take another couple of generations to get well-established. Another issue I take is with the secular part of Israel. Most, if not all, secular Israeli Jews have never stepped foot in a synagogue, let alone have a full understanding and appreciation of Judaism. The Israeli Department of Education needs to address this issue. Many of the secular Jews don’t understand why or what they’re fighting for when they are signed up for the IDF. Understanding would make IDF service more tolerable, thereby boosting militaristic morale.

Although I feel like I can write a book on this topic, I will end today’s criticism with the Israeli PR machine. My problem isn’t that it’s too empowering. It’s that it’s not large enough. It’s not reaching a broad enough audience. The only thing that makes the Palestinian cause a success is not the veracity behind it, but rather their success is based on their effectiveness at spinning lies and being able to disseminate that dreck to the broader, international community. I’m certainly not advocating that the Israeli government lie to get their point across, but if the Israelis had one ounce of zeal in their PR that the Palestinian Authority had, many in the international community would realize how wonderful Israel really is.

And in all honesty, people should know how wonderful Israel is. In spite of the plethora of criticism I can offer, I do so because I love the State of Israel, and I want to see it grow into an international beacon of hope in an otherwise dark and dreary world. Israel has made great progress since 1948, but they still have a long way to go to actualize that dream. My criticism of Israel comes with validity because 1) I want to see Israel thrive, and 2) I offer constructive criticism. The type of criticism I offer is in contradistinction to two other types of criticism—non-constructive and destructive.

Non-constructive. This is where a majority of people in the West regrettably fall. This sort of criticism comes out of the relativist attitude of giving equal validity to all sides of an argument. Although I can drive a semi-truck through that kind of thinking, it’s safe to say that it doesn’t bring anything positive to the discussion. Although these sorts of people say that “we need to hear both sides of the discussion,” the ironic truth is that on this issue, they don’t listen to the Israeli side. All they hear is what the Palestinian PR machine has to say on it, and end their alleged investigative inquiry at that. They don’t investigate the hatred for the Jews taught in Palestinian schools. They don’t investigate that Israel has tried to give Palestinians land during a number of times over the past few decades. They don’t investigate how neither Fatah nor Hamas will ever recognize a Jewish state. They don’t investigate anything the pro-Zionist side has to say. If they actually did any sort of investigating, they would realize that the Palestinians need to lie to get people’s attention, and that Israel is overwhelmingly in the right. It’s not as if Israel doesn’t want peace or hasn’t made any effort to extend the olive branch—trust me, its history is quite the contrary. But again, the problem is that everybody likes to have an opinion because people need to think they’re right about everything, even if the proper research hasn’t been done. Without having a grasp of the issues, these peoples’ analysis is incomplete at best, and thus non-constructive.

Destructive. This is the sort of criticism that comes from people that simply don’t like Jews or what Israel represents. Particularly for academics in the ivory tower, it has become more chic to hide their anti-Semitism and hide in the name of anti-Zionism. But Martin Luther King, Jr. had something to say about that misconception:

“And what is anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of the Globe. It is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews. In short, it is anti-Semitism.”

You can usually tell this sort of criticism from a mile away. They will vehemently point out everything wrong Israel does, true or not, and vilify Israel while not saying a word about actual human rights violations going on in other countries.

Anti-Semitism is not dead. If anything, it’s “alive and kickin’.” Although there are many types, the two I would like to focus on, especially with regards to Israel, is religious and anti-global. The most notable form of religious anti-Semitism is Islamic anti-Semitism. By the time the twentieth century was over, Islamic anti-Semitism rose to a historic high, whereas Christian anti-Semitism has significantly waned. It is self-evident that this anti-Semitism is perpetuating the Israel-Arab conflict.

The other type of anti-Semitism comes from the Far Left, whether it comes from anti-globalists or academics. They call it anti-Zionism, but as Martin Luther King said, anti-Zionism = anti-Semitism. As I have stated in the past, these Leftists hate Israel because of what it represents—capitalism, technological innovation, entrepreneurship, nationalism, essentially, Israel represents everything the Left despises. To add onto that notion, they view Palestine as the “oppressed proletariat,” and advocates for “a Palestinian state” as a method of wealth and land redistribution, something which many on the Left are known for. In short, the Israel-Palestine issue is just another fight for socialism on the international level.

Conclusion. Never again! This chant was a post-Holocaust creation that still rings true today. We need to be able to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate criticisms of Israel. Constructive criticism of Israel is acceptable, but if it is done one-sided or done out disproportionate anger, we have to combat it. If we are striving for a world of peace and harmony, we cannot let this sort of animosity exist. It cannot simply be pushed aside because historically speaking, that only ends up in mass murder of Jews. Anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments need to be fought on all levels because if not, George Santayana becomes correct, and history will repeat itself in the worst fashion possible.