10 December 2006

Harsh Words

The Baal Habuste started calling me names. She called me an Apikores.






Actually her exact words were "I have my own little Apikores".

But she meant it playfully. So end of that story, for now.

Yet still there's something about those words, Koifer, Skeptic, Agnostic, Apikores & Heretic.

Contrast those words with: Believer, Maamin, Yirai Shomaim, Eved Hashem, divine. They sound much more pleasing.

I find the Skeptic words all extremely harsh. What is it about them? Is it the "K" sound? Are these cases of Onomatopoeia ?
(Check here for another definition of Onomatopoeia .

The word "Atheist" is not as bad, but I still internally wince at that word. Is it the "TH" in that word?

I'm reasonably certain that my linguistic preferences are the result of my former prejudices, but maybe not. Maybe there is something to those words.


Any linguists out there? Kylopod, you still around?

Anyhow, I think we skeptics need a new word that represents us; Daniel Dennet proposed the term "Bright". It's not bad, but I heard someone recently disparage that term. I'm not sure what his reason was, but I don't find myself any brighter than believers so I can't say I disagree with him.

I thought I'd come up with my own new term. "Thoughtful". After all that's really what separates us. We have given thought to the world around us while trying to disregard a-priori preconceived notions.

What say you?

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    50 Comments:

    At December 10, 2006 7:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Eved Hashem sounds pleasing to you?!

     
    At December 10, 2006 9:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Actually her exact words were "I have my own little Apikores".

    You're that slight?

     
    At December 10, 2006 9:39 PM, Blogger Billie Jean said...

    It's funny about the sound of words. I like the sound of "gnostic" much better than "agnostic". But I'm definitely not a gnostic, and definitely agnostic.

    Orthoprax has used the term skeptish. I like that.

    But Thoughtful is good.

     
    At December 10, 2006 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "Skeptic" is not in the same category as the other words on your list. Words like kofer, apikores, and heretic spent most of their lives as terms of abuse that religious people would heap upon those perceived to have betrayed the tradition. Even a seemingly neutral word like atheist has a long history of being used to insult anyone who questions particular religious doctrines. That's part of the reason why many atheists today do not call themselves atheists, instead preferring "agnostic," a neologism coined by T.H. Huxley at the end of the nineteenth century. Technically, there is a philosophical difference between atheism and agnosticism, but many atheists call themselves agnostic simply because it's a less harsh term.

    "Skeptic" is a different matter. Far from being a term of abuse, it is a term that people adopt proudly to describe themselves, and in effect it implies that non-skeptics are gullible, narrow, and irrational. Look how the adjective skeptical is used in daily life. Ordinary folks say things like "Molly says she's allergic to brownies, but I'm skeptical." In such contexts, skepticism is simply a personal trait, one suggesting intelligence and discretion. It has nothing to do with religion per se. When those like Martin Gardner or Carl Sagan or the Skeptical Inquirer adopt the term, however, they are often implying that religious people cannot be skeptics, and are hence irrational and naive by definition.

    Your complaint is that "skeptic" isn't a glowing, rosy term, but I don't think that the skeptic movement has ever really sought to embody such traits. The movement's purpose is to be committed to truth and reason. That seems noble enough, but it does not suggest a hopeful outlook on life. On the contrary, many skeptics have a bleak view of humanity. If you're not satisfied with the term, try rationalist or free thinker. Almost nobody wants to go against terms like those.

     
    At December 10, 2006 11:57 PM, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

    "Freethinker" ain't bad. Maybe "Secular" or "Secular Humanist" is best.

    The problem with the other words is that they are by definition negative. A skeptic is skeptical of something, a heretic heretical of something, etc.

     
    At December 11, 2006 12:47 AM, Blogger happywithhislot said...

    the word frum was actually derogatory when it was first used.
    the orthodox turned it around as a badge of honor.
    you think im old fashioned, ill show you. ill use the very word that describes as old hat, and show that its exactly because im old hat that im special.

    so take a lesson from the frum, take any negative name and use it as a badge of honor.

    anyway, how about enlightened.
    that automatically makes everyone else unelightened aka stuck in the dark ages.
    nah, doesnt work, i heard a rabbi say, look at the greeks, they were so enlightened (sneer sneer) etc.

    ok, how about this.
    Honest.

     
    At December 11, 2006 12:58 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

    Baal,

    "Actually her exact words were "I have my own little Apikores"."

    I don't like using that term. It stings. The term 'heresy' doesn't bother me, but sometimes 'heretic' does. Maybe there is something to that 'K' sound business. Though 'kefirah' doesn't bother me as much as 'kofer' does. Maybe I just don't like labeling people in ways that would be offensive.

    'Agnostic' sounds way too technical as well as incomplete.

    Some atheists relish the idea of calling themselves infidels or 'the godless,' but that seems unnecessarily provocative - as well as inaccurate for myself.

    And 'Bright' is just a transparent effort in ego boosting. Meh.

    I do like the term 'freethinker' though.

    In general I don't like labels. I can describe myself as skeptical, or thoughtful and let other people label me if they must.

     
    At December 11, 2006 1:09 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    Anonymous. I had no opinion of the word hashem, a term that I don't really like. I prefer to use the term God.

    Anonymous, LOL. No not quite. Little Apikores was just a term of endearment.

    BJ, likewise. Gnostic is good. Agnostic bad. Must have something to do with the hard G.

    Kylopod, but is there something to the "K" sound that makes it harsh (at least to me)? Or is really just connotations that these words have?

    JA, Freethinker - thats good.

    Happy, Honest is good too. I notice that, Charedim take terms and ends up somehow reversing the connotation. Only in Orthodoxy is Modern negative - as is MO.

     
    At December 11, 2006 1:18 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    Orthoprax. Ditto. Labels are a fact of life and it would be noce to refer to ourselves in a pleasing way. I don't like to think of myslef in any of those terms. I can't even rally call myself free thinker as our thoughts are affected by what what we experience. I really like the term thoughtful.

     
    At December 11, 2006 5:42 AM, Anonymous Kylopod said...

    Connotations do change. A couple of generations ago, liberal was a highly complimentary term, and conservative often carried negative connotations. Nowadays, it's flipped around. Neutral words can be turned into insults, and people can seize upon insults and wear them as badges of pride. We've seen this happen numerous times. It's an endless cycle.

    Then there's the word fundamentalist. Originally it was the self-description of a particular Protestant movement. But it gradually became an insult. What's important is that it masquerades as a neutral expression even though it usually carries distinctly negative connotations, especially when applied to non-Protestants. It's an excellent example of how language can be used to manipulate thought.

    But you're right about that damn K-sound. It ought to be banned. After all, who would want to be called kind, caring, courteous, confident, charismatic, and creative? And while we're at at, why not also ban the "ih" sound in negative words like atheist and infidel.

     
    At December 11, 2006 9:17 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    > caring, courteous, confident, charismatic, and creative?

    Cute, but it's not the same. Those words are used to represent concepts that are universally accepted as good.

     
    At December 11, 2006 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The term Charedim has become subjective to much derision and scorn by the Atheists, Kofrim, heretics, agnostics, leitzonim and skeptics of blogworld.

    I feel that "thoughtful" would be a good term for Charedim. They have used their "Bright" minds and much "thought" to conclude, that this world is Havel Havolim and Ein Od Milvado, and dedicate their lifes to being caring, compassionate, concerened and being creative how to help their fellow jews.

    They refuse to blind themselves with the Gashmius of the world, and therefore, B'chol D'rachecha Da'ehu, they see God's presence everywhere.

    Thus, "thoughtful" would be a befitting term for Charedim.

     
    At December 11, 2006 11:23 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    Chareidim is a term that Charedim choose for themselves. While it may be true that there is thinking by the chareidim it is rarely original thought. It's taking every event, concept, etc of today and squeezing it thru yesterdays funnel. I know you'll say that is a good thing and I won't debate you on that. But it is not "thought" in the sense that I'm articulating. To think out of the box. To place the world and events in a different perspective and maybe come up with something better.

     
    At December 11, 2006 12:21 PM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    Skeptic, atheist, etc. are all negative terms, meaning rejecting something, and that is the intention. Probably the most postitive terms atheists have come up with are Humanist and Communist, although the second one is now out of style.

     
    At December 11, 2006 4:08 PM, Blogger Moshe Kappoya said...

    Why all this fuss over a label? Is it guilt pangs that prevent you from proudly standing up and proclaiming "I am an Apikores"? Why the need for euphemisms? It is usually someone trying to cover up their true intentions that resort to these antics. The early communists and the Nazis were expert at this. (NO, I'm not comparing skeptics to Nazis, so let's not start a flame war here.)

    >thinking by the chareidim it is rarely original thought
    By what scientific methodology did you arrive at this conclusion? Most of the frum people that I know have thought deeply into their religious beliefs. I know that is true for myself, and I arrived at my own conclusions. What arrogance to think that anyone who come to a different conclusion then your own is a mindless robot.

    >To place the world and events in a different perspective and maybe come up with something better.
    Why is different "better"? If someone were to claim the world is flat, he would certainly be thinking "out of the box", but he'd still be wrong. And for that matter, you have not stated any original theories, you too have only mimicked the words of others. Instead of quoting Talmud, Rashi, Rambam, you quote Darwin, et. al. Putting aside who is correct, why do all the open minded skeptics feel the need to vilify any opposing beliefs?

     
    At December 11, 2006 4:43 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    JP and MK.

    It's simply that I don't like the terms in that they are used pejoratively and also I find the words harsh. I'm not trying to hide, I just don't like the lable. Much as Chareidim don't like the term Ultra-Orthodox. Why not? Because it's used disparagingly.

    MK, you are actually mistaken, I never claimed to have original thoughts. Additionally, I reached my original opinions about OJ not by reading anything directly related to OJ & Judasism, rather I came to my beliefs by putting two & two together. I came to trust the scientific & historical processes and thus began to doubt and question OJ. So, yes I am proud of my Thinking processes. (even if they're not perfect). I was willing to set aside preconcieved notions and consider a different model of the world. Something that Chareidim do not usually do. Most chareidim do not give any thought to the validity of their belief system. Decisions are based on dogam that i snever questioned.

     
    At December 11, 2006 4:44 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    Sorry,

    Decisions are based on dogma that is never questioned.

     
    At December 11, 2006 4:46 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    > Is it guilt pangs that prevent you from proudly standing up and proclaiming "I am an Apikores"?

    Not at all. It's social standing that prevents me from doing so.

     
    At December 11, 2006 4:47 PM, Anonymous Kylopod said...

    Chareidim is probably a self-invented term, but many outside critics use the term imprecisely in a way that tends to demean this group (which isn't really a single group).

    I'm surprised no one has brought up the term "ultra-Orthodox." There is no way that this term can be construed as positive. The prefix "ultra" when applied to a social movement is almost invariably pejorative. (Think: ultraconservative, ultraliberal.) The fact that the term has become increasingly standard is a good indication of who has won this linguistic battle.

    When the language is on your side, it is easy to disparage those groups you do not like. We ought to be careful of falling into this trap.

     
    At December 11, 2006 4:57 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    KP, I beat you to Ultra-Ortho by about three minutes.

    It's interesting how people tend to refer to me as an atheist simply because I publicly declare my skepticism. Yet I believe I never gave anyone reason to suspect that I am an Atheist. Yet see here http://baalhabos.blogspot.com/2006/09/oh-my-god_29.html

    Unfortunately, labels are here to stay. Given the choice, I'd prefer a different label.

     
    At December 11, 2006 7:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I don't understand what you said that "ultra orthodox" is deragative.

    To the contrary. to me, its a badge of pride.

    ed

     
    At December 11, 2006 9:24 PM, Blogger Moshe Kappoya said...

    >Much as Chareidim don't like the term Ultra-Orthodox.
    I too, do not find the term ultra-Orthodox offensive. On the contrary, I wish I really were.
    > Is it guilt pangs that prevent you from proudly standing up and proclaiming "I am an Apikores"?
    I meant here, in the blogsphere, we understand the issues involved in going public.
    >Decisions are based on dogma that is never questioned.
    Exactly my point, this is simply NOT true. I too came to my beliefs by my own reasoning. There was a point in my life when I rejected frumkeit, but as I learned more about yiddishkiet, I changed my mind.

     
    At December 11, 2006 9:28 PM, Blogger happywithhislot said...

    mk
    why dont you blog about what you learned that let to your change of mind.

     
    At December 11, 2006 9:37 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

    MK,

    "Exactly my point, this is simply NOT true. I too came to my beliefs by my own reasoning."

    Do tell.

     
    At December 11, 2006 11:24 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    Yes, MK please honor us with your thought processes.

     
    At December 11, 2006 11:32 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    MK, It's not that I fell guily about standing up and saying "I am an Apikores", rather what's to be gained? Besides my wife already did that for me.

     
    At December 12, 2006 12:07 AM, Anonymous Kylopod said...

    I too, do not find the term ultra-Orthodox offensive. On the contrary, I wish I really were.

    But you should realize that you're in the minority. As has been stated, it is possible to take a pejorative term and wear it defiantly as a badge of pride. That's what Barry Goldwater did in 1964 when he said "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." It doesn't change the fact that the word extremist and the prefix ultra- are pejorative. Sometimes you can seize upon a pejorative expression and turn it to your advantage, but you shouldn't forget its origin.

     
    At December 12, 2006 7:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Nonfundamentalist, courageous

     
    At December 12, 2006 8:40 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    Baal habos - I've got the label for you: Rationalist. Not that I think you really are, but it sounds positive and I think it will get your point across.

    And by the way, I like being called ultra-Orthodox. After all, there's nothing wrong with being ultra-rich, ultra-smart or ultra-beautiful is there? [I've got two out of three.]

     
    At December 12, 2006 9:35 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    JP, don't keep us guessing. Which of the fabulous three Ultras are you not?

     
    At December 12, 2006 10:24 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    That's ultra-personal.

     
    At December 12, 2006 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Speaking of names, I wonder why a person who has left the Judaic path is sometimes referred to as "frey". Is such a person really free? Free of what? He may have shed the "shackles" of Judaism, but in the process, he has assumed other "ties that bind". No?

     
    At December 12, 2006 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I think the new word for 'Apikores' is Chassid. I've seen it all around blogs. Everyone that “thinkers” a little bit chooses a pseudonym in the range of Chassid/Hassid/Hased (spelling may vary...)

    That's a nice name with a twist of irony, dontchya think?

     
    At December 12, 2006 12:49 PM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    Instead of Chassid, how about "am haaretz" or ignoramus. That's what they all are.

     
    At December 12, 2006 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    JP,

    They , or us?

    I think thoughtful is perfect.

    I remain,
    CC

     
    At December 12, 2006 2:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    >Instead of Chassid, how about "am haaretz" or ignoramus. That's what they all are.

    You JP top them all.
    I doubt very much if you can read & understand a pasuk in Hebrew without translation,let alone Rashi.

     
    At December 12, 2006 4:33 PM, Anonymous Kylopod said...

    And by the way, I like being called ultra-Orthodox. After all, there's nothing wrong with being ultra-rich, ultra-smart or ultra-beautiful is there?

    That's a good point. But the simple fact is that you're using the prefix in a nontraditional way. While it literally just means "beyond" (as in ultraviolet), it has a long history of being used to disparage people who are perceived as too extreme.

    It's perfectly fine to interpret words in the way that you please, but you should also be conscious of the way they are perceived by others.

     
    At December 13, 2006 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Very "Thoughtful" Post!

     
    At December 13, 2006 12:55 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    IAGN,

    > Speaking of names, I wonder why a person who has left the Judaic path is sometimes referred to as "frey". Is such a person really free? Free of what? He may have shed the "shackles" of Judaism, but in the process, he has assumed other "ties that bind".

    Such as what? Unless you mean hidden skeptics such as me.


    > Shpitzle Shtrimpkind said...
    I think the new word for 'Apikores' is Chassid. I've seen it all around blogs. Everyone that “thinkers” a little bit chooses a pseudonym in the range of Chassid/Hassid/Hased (spelling may vary...)

    That's a nice name with a twist of irony, dontchya think?

    SSH, yes it is. And I've been giving thought to why there *seems* be a disproportional number of Chassidish/apikorsish bloggers.But thats a post for a different day.

    >At December 12, 2006 12:49 PM, jewish philosopher said...
    Instead of Chassid, how about "am haaretz" or ignoramus. That's what they all are.


    That's what I call sterotyping. And while some stereotyping may have some factual basis, I think that smear is very inaccurate.

    Chaim Chusid said...

    >I think thoughtful is perfect.


    Why, thank you!


    >At December 13, 2006 12:33 AM, Lakewood Venter said...
    Very "Thoughtful" Post!

    Thanks!

     
    At December 13, 2006 9:12 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    "That's what I call sterotyping. And while some stereotyping may have some factual basis, I think that smear is very inaccurate."

    Find me one guy who has learned in kollel for five years and is now running a "skeptic" blog and I take it back. There aren't any.

    Anyway, Bos, I think the most positive labels for someone like you would be: rationalist, freethinker, humanist. The most negative (and in my opinion most accurate) would be: God damned apostate.

     
    At December 13, 2006 12:33 PM, Blogger happywithhislot said...

    jp
    i believe you are a morono in reverse.

    you secretely still believe in the lord jesus christ your saviour.

     
    At December 13, 2006 12:42 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    JP says
    >>>Instead of Chassid, how about "am haaretz" or ignoramus. That's what they all are.


    BHB says
    >>"That's what I call sterotyping. And while some stereotyping may have some factual basis, I think that smear is very inaccurate."

    JP says

    >Find me one guy who has learned in kollel for five years and is now running a "skeptic" blog and I take it back. There aren't any.


    Maybe I mis-understood you, but seem to imply that Chassidim are Am-Haaratsim.


    And what does not leaning in Kolel have to do with being an Am-Haarets.

     
    At December 13, 2006 12:46 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    >Anyway, Bos, I think the most positive labels for someone like you would be: rationalist, freethinker, humanist. The most negative (and in my opinion most accurate) would be: God damned apostate.


    JP, then might I suggest that the most accurate labels for you would be:

    non-rational, non thinker, inhumane?

     
    At December 14, 2006 2:58 AM, Anonymous Kylopod said...

    Ah, another flamewar!

    I should add that there's a problem in using the word "rationalist," since that term is often used to describe religious movements that downplay the mystical or emotional elements of religion. Maimonides is called a rationalist about as often as Kant. Rationalism is also sometimes distinguished from empiricism. The modern skeptic movement is more empiricist than rationalist, assuming you have to choose between the two.

    But no one flocks to the word empiricist. It doesn't have that rosy glow. It sounds blandly academic at best. Rationalist, on the other hand, is an attractive term, because the word rational is a virtual synonym to "sensible, sane." Its opposite, irrational, is inherently derogatory. Most people aren't rationalists in a strict sense, but few would admit it, because of the positive connotations of the word rational.

     
    At December 14, 2006 9:04 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    No I didn't mean that all chassidim are am haaretzim, although plenty are. But all these "Hassid Skeptic Heretic" bloggers are. They don't learn, don't know and therefore don't believe.

    Whatever I am, Bos, at least I'm honest. As a teenager I refused to participate in church services I didn't believe in. That's more than can be said for you.

     
    At December 14, 2006 10:22 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    KP, yes it does tend to degrade to that. The more I think about it, I like "Thoughful". Of course, that's because of the great connotation it has.

    JP, what about Rabbi Fine from "unchosen"? And the truth is we really have no idea about the scholrship of any of the Chassidic Bloggers. You're just guessing.

    As for your honesty, I commend you. When I was a teenager, I was also honest. I believed and acted accordingly. What would you have me do, walk out of shul in protest? In protest of what? What would it accomplish?

     
    At December 14, 2006 11:01 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    Even that Rabbi Fine, didn't he sort of leave yeshiva soon after his marriage and go into to teaching in his early twenties? I have the book at home, not here. I think Hella also gave that as an example of a "scholarly" heretic. But where are all the Lakewood almuni heretics?

    Yes, if you don't believe in Torah, don't go to shul. You are deceiving people, but not God, so don't do it.

     
    At December 14, 2006 1:18 PM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

    Anyway, all this is now irrevelant. Based on my latest post skepticism is officially dead.

     
    At December 14, 2006 11:28 PM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

    JP. if for some reason, you stopped believing on OJ, would you drop everything and leave your religion, wife and kids?

     
    At December 15, 2006 1:23 AM, Anonymous Kylopod said...

    Megalomania is not a Jewish trait.

     

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