Judaism

Question the Bible?! Why not…

James Randi: informative and entertaining. In this video he discusses the archeological evidence, or lack thereof, for Nazareth. Does the fictional status of Nazareth equate to the fictional status of Jesus (and therefore God and salvation)? Yes. I believe it’s just another nail in the coffin. 

God is not Great

 

A must read for believers and non-believers

A truly enjoyable book to read. Essentially, religion ruins everything: medicine, peace, equality, etc. Hitchens speaks not just as a well-read intellectual, but as someone who has literally trudged through the trenches of war. As such he offers a well informed world-view and his observations should not be taken lightly.

Discussing atheism

Last week I got into a conversation with someone about religion. She was a woman of faith and the conversation sprang up when she overheard me saying I am an atheist.

It was the first time I’d spoken with a religious person about my loss and lack of faith. The woman was not only faithful, but the worst kind of faithful. The kind that thinks God talks with her every day, and the kind that thinks you cannot trust the words of man. The same kind that I used to be.

It was terrible. It was terrible because I had not spoken with any religious people about my atheism before and my words were clumsy. It was terrible because the thought patterns are literally insane (I feel this is a valid use because I used to think the same way). It was terrible because it was like looking in a mirror and being on the other side of what it was like to talk with me about different ideas.

There were a couple of amusing moments though. The “You can prove gravity” discussion was used when she argued something about “words of men that can’t be trusted”. “Walk off the roof of the building (4 stories) and see how it goes. Prove god is real by asking him to suspend that law for you.” Which she replied “that’s just like Satan tempting Jesus in the desert!”

But I particularly enjoyed the following exchange:

Me: You think God talks to you?

Her: Yes.

Me: What if he told you to break the window and jump out of the building?

Her: I’d do it.

Me: That’s the kind of thinking that makes people fly planes into buildings.

I decided a few days after this that I did need to talk with religious people more. When I became a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian I spoke a lot with non-christians and also christians of other faiths and became very knowledgable, confident, and capable within that expression of faith.

When I left Adventism to practice messianic Christianity (I refuse to call it Judaism due to its use of voracious lies and deception), I did the same thing again. I again became very knowledgable and confident in that expression of faith. And it was added to what I had already learned – there was little to unlearn.

When I left Christianity to become a Jew I engaged with others again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. In spite of my loss of faith, I still remain comfortable within the identity of Judaism.

Now, that I have been an atheist for probably over a year now, I think it’s time to start the process again.

Noah

A friend posted an article on Facebook about the movie Noah which asked, “Should Christians say no-ah to this twisted Hollywood take on the Old Testament story?” You can read the article here. I was really glad when I saw it because the trailer generated curiosity when I saw it, and this article finally made me search for what intrigued me.

As soon as I saw the trailer, my curiosity was piqued. The darkness of it, the cruelty, etc. Then I immediately thought of the 1999 animated film Prince of Egypt. Not because it was dark, but because it was such a fantastic retelling of the story of Moses that the familiar was transformed into the unknown and unfamiliar. New details! New questions! New ideas! It was an exciting and emotional retelling story about the man who would guide the birth of the Jewish nation.

Why was it like that? Because the writer, Jeffrey Katzenberg, drew from Jewish midrash (storytelling) 1 and inserted his own based on his understanding of those stories as a 20th Century Jew. See here. Midrash are not only ancient stories, they are also modern retellings and interpretations of ancient tales. They don’t have to exist agreeably with existing stories. And it’s okay if they disagree. It’s a story. It’s a way to make you think. Some are more authoritative than others, but they all serve the purpose to help us understand and learn.

Which leads me back to Noah. There has obviously been a lot of artistic license going on in this film. And the article referenced by Facebook friend gives me the impression that the Christian community is not taking too kindly to it. Therefore, I would like to put forth my question, does this movie use midrash to tell a relatively short tale?

Who are the writers? A suspiciously Jewish-named pair, Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. And I’m off to a good start as the answer to my question is already starting to take care of itself. With just a brief search, I found this great article about the movie on the Jewish Journal here. I won’t go into it in length, but I’ll say that, yes, they did use Jewish midrash and inserted their own. Just like I suspected.

And this makes perfect sense. Jewish writers with a Jewish background relying on Jewish sources to tell a Jewish tale, while also filling in a couple of details with their own understanding of things.

Here’s where the important difference comes into play. This is a story with Jewish origins and footholds, and is a tenant to the Christian faith too. Broadly speaking, Christianity is not receptive to new ideas about their established traditions. The fundamentalist Christians are threatened by ideas that stray from the literal text of the Bible. Which, don’t forget, has its own midrash wherein Noah is a happy story about lots of fuzzy animals and fun boat ride. To be fair, this is widely used as a children’s story in the Jewish world too.

Simply, the difference is the worldview. Christianity holds a fairly tight worldview on how things should be interpreted. When those established ideas are threatened, the backlash is unavoidable. Judaism is much more open to questions, doubt, and entertaining new ideas. For instance, Judaism has made room for evolution in its understanding of Creation even by Rashi, an 11th Century rabbi who has provided Judaism with one of the greatest commentaries on Torah even to this day. Which, compared to Christianity, well… some say God put the dinosaur bones there to test their faith.

In the end I think the value of the movie will come down to how open are you to ideas that are not established by your faith? Are they threatening? Or are they entertaining and provide new ways to think about an ancient tale?

A movie isn’t for the purpose of defining a faith. Even the writers, having a Jewish background, both consider themselves atheists. It’s a story. A story that should make you think about something in a new way. That’s all. It’s not taking over your faith. It’s a modern equivalent of sitting around the fire listening to a great storyteller. Is he trying to convert you to his interpretation of the story? No, just sharing the things that he has always thought about it.

Sit down at the fire. Have a listen. Enjoy yourself. Try to learn something from it, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s just a story.

  1. Midrash is essentially traditional stories that fill the many gaps in the biblical narrative. An example of this is that the Bible tells the priests to make sacrifices, but it never gives exact directions (as it does with the construction of the mishkan). The midrash steps in and fills those details from stories of how the Jewish people fulfilled those commands given by God. Midrash also fill the gaps in the stories of Creation, the Exodus from Egypt, the battles of King David… etc.

This weekend's rapture

Unlike my earlier days when I was new to faith, I’m usually a pretty calm guy. I’m comfortable enough in my own skin and beliefs so that there’s plenty of room for other peoples’ opinions without me even batting an eye. That said, this rapture thing has gotten me all worked up in a tizzy. The first and foremost reason it bothers me is I know who started this whole thing. And I hate that it has gained so much attention that even my favorite radio station was talking about it the other morning. Then there’s a flowchart circulating to help you figure out if you’ll need to pick up a white robe today. Finally, this is not even sound practice from an eschatological standpoint—and I’m Jewish, so this is saying a lot about Christian theology. (more…)

On the Afterlife

After reading my friend Jerry Ford’s thoughts on the thoughts of physicist Stephen Hawking’s regarding the afterlife, I was compelled to reply. I feel this post is best served writing from the Jewish side of me, after all, this is on the afterlife. But don’t worry, I’m not going to get too biblical. I’ll speak mostly from experience. Please chime in on the comments with whatever you’d like to add. (more…)

2010 in retrospect and 2011 prospecting

There was a movie produced in 1984 called 2010: The Year We Make Contact. While we haven’t had business lunches with aliens this year (which I don’t consider to be entirely bad considering the bad rap they have), we have had some spectacular astronomical discoveries. We discovered a “potentially habitable planet of similar size to Earth in orbit around a nearby star” in Gliese 581. Another important discovery, whether you are a proponent of the eternally cyclical or eternally expanding model of the universe, is that we have discovered evidence that there may be multiple universes. I’m starting to think that Men in Black was written by scientists with inside information who were trying to let the masses know what’s going on.

Both of these discoveries are amazing. Things that were merely figments of science fiction only a few years ago are becoming science. I’m left breathless when I think about it too much. The problem now is we have no way of going to see and experience these things first hand. Maybe 2011 will be the year we make contact and we can stop pussy-footing around our solar system and get out to the deep waters.

On a very light note related to science, if you’re into science fiction and a little bit of suspense, you should watch Sunshine. The story is a little far-fetched, and there’s a pretty big plot hole that leaves you wondering, but overall the it is very entertaining and there are some great special effects. This turned out to be a great segue for…

Movies of 2010

This was a great year for some enjoyable films, but none of them come to mind off the top of my head… wait… … there was an alien movie I had high expectations for but it turned out to be quite bad. It’s called Skyline and the best thing about it was leaving.

Defendor was a fantastic movie. I was expecting a silly Woody Harrelson film, but got so much more. It’s a very enjoyable movie with an unexpected presence of sweetness, honesty, and truth. Have a box of kleenex handy for this one. It came out 2009, but it was released in the US February 2010 on video. This was a Canadian movie that did not get the publicity it deserved here.

I enjoyed The Crazies, a remake of a ‘70s b-film by the same title. How to Train a Dragon was a great movie I saw with my older boys. We all enjoyed it. My wife and I had some good laughs with Hot Tub Time Machine. Date Night was a bit of a let down on our date night, but Kick-Ass totally made up for it. Get Him to the Greek was funnier than I expected, and the remake of The Karate Kid was enjoyed by my kids and my wife and I who remember the original. RED I saw twice, once courtesy of AMD, and the second time with my aunt while she was visiting—a very enjoyable flick, but not for those who dislike violence. And finally Shrek Forever After was a great wrap-up to an amazingly funny series of films.

I’d like to see Tron: Legacy and I hope it’s better than the original which moved about as fast as cold molasses, but the effects were good. It was ahead of its time. While Yogi Bear doesn’t interest me I did enjoy this alternate ending:

While this final movie does not pertain to 2010, I am anxiously looking forward to The Tree of Life. It looks like a brilliant piece of work.

Music

It’s no surprise to me that my favorites have stayed the same. If you know me even moderately well you probably already know that my favorite band is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s an almost spiritual connection with their music—something in my soul connects with what they say in their beats, rhythms, and lyrics. There’s a new album coming out soon and I can’t wait for it.

This year I took a liking to John Mayer’s music. I didn’t like him too much at first, but his work has grown on me. His songs have meaning and depth that ask questions and deal with being a man. It’s good stuff.

Finally, my interest in hip-hop/R&B has stepped up a notch. It’s a mix of Kanye West and Professor Elemental. Yeah, some of it’s a little silly, but so am I.

Goals for 2011

There’s a lot this year to think about. Bithia and I feel quite positive about the new year. There are a couple of things cooking on the side that may turn into additional revenue for us. And for a single-income home (Bithia stays home with kids) you can use all you can get.

On the more important front, I think I’m finally coming out of the last two years of being a caregiver. It’s been a long and difficult road, and as normal shifts again I’m wrestling with G~d, and trying to understand where I fit with the whole scheme of things. While the last 2 years have been personally challenging, the year before we experienced some life-altering events with a very close friend that forever changed the way we view the world.

In short, and to be plain, G~d’s sovereignty is the question. What is His role in the world? Does every event, good and bad, bear his impression, or is the world merely left on its own and we as Jews are responsible for following the instructions and showing the world a better way? I know there are no simple answers, but it’s something to try to come to grips with and try to learn what He expects of me. I guess I’m at a place of making Judaism my own this year and understanding how I should view the world as one. Maybe I can even pick up a couple of mitzvot this year too. I’ve certainly let enough of them go by the wayside…

And with that, let’s see how it goes and what we can do.

Godspeed, everyone.

Pesach 5770

It is the morning before Pesach, and I’m sitting at Starbucks enjoying an Americano with a whole-grain bagel. The cleaning is all but finished at home and we’re mostly ready for the seder this evening. We may have a couple of friends joining us, but it will most likely just be my family of five.

I’ve thought about the theme of Pesach a lot this year: the redemption from Egypt; collectively as a people and individually from our own personal Pharaohs. There’s a couple of things I’d like to change this year in my struggle to return to the me I was before cancer struck our home, but that is not the forefront thought I have. Mostly I am thinking about an aspect of the communal nature of the chag.

The first seder was a hurried dinner in preparation for a flight from slavery. Since then it is a relaxed meal with friends and family that is filled with conversation, good food, and wine. As a convert I’ve only experienced a handful of them, but not one of them has ever been bad. Once the seder starts the worry and panic of getting ready for everything falls away and we begin the experience of our liberation.

This pulling together as a community isn’t the communal aspect I’ve been thinking of, rather it’s the other side of the coin that interests me. I’ve been thinking about how we Jews, in pulling together with each other, pull away from the Gentile world. We leave our jobs, our classes, and our recreational activities for a day or two and it is like a Jewish version of A Day Without a Mexican. I think about the silence of Jewishness in the greater parts of the world. I think about Egypt alone in its darkness while Judaism rests in the warm glow of her G~d.

Pesach is the most important holiday we have. Certainly, we celebrate the creation of the world on Rosh Hashanah and we receive forgiveness and hope for a better year on Yom Kippur, but Pesach is different. On Pesach we establish ourselves as G~d’s people and justify the year ahead of us. On Pesach we proclaim our commitment to G~d and reaffirm our identity as His children. On Pesach we don’t worry about what the world thinks of each of us, our people, and our Nation. On Pesach we spend a couple of days with our Creator and rest in His warmth and in our identity.

Each year we recite, “Next year in Jerusalem” as we express our hope in the coming of the mashiach, the ultimate redemption from Egypt he brings, and a world of peace. Who knows what the world has in store for us this year, but it doesn’t really matter as long as we sit at the seder. It doesn’t matter as long as we are eating and remembering what G~d has done for us throughout our generations. It doesn’t really matter what happens the year ahead of us as long as we remember, and therefore hope, for the completion of the work He began 3,000 years ago in Goshen, Egypt.

Chag Pesach Sameach

Rabbi’s book says Jews can kill gentiles

A recent article in the JTA, referencing an article from Ha’aretz, stated Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira has published a book making the assertion it’s okay for Jews to kill non-Jews. In my opinion, you can replace ‘Jew’ with any nationality and ‘non-Jew’ with any other nationality and it puts it into a better perspective. Sadly, nations go to war and we kill each other. To make matters worse though this is from a Jewish source and I’ll bet you it will raise the ire of a few non-Jewish nations. Even worse, he says it’s okay to kill children if they’re an immediate threat.

Ach. Us Jews are having a hard enough time now and the last thing we need is our own people doing things like this to draw more attention. This is not the way we present ourselves. I hate reading things like this because it puts us in the same boat as the terrorists. We are not terrorists—Jews are not terrorists. We will and should do whatever it takes to protect ourselves, but we do not need to present ourselves as an overly aggressive people/nation. Let the military do that.

I pray this goes relatively unnoticed…

Cantor wants Jews to act before it is ‘too late’

Jews need to get more vocal and more active. With the increase of threats and action against Israel and Jews we need to do more to stop those who want to kill us in this generation.

via Cantor wants Jews to act before it is ‘too late’ | JTA – Jewish & Israel News.