29 September 2006

Oh my God!



To my six Blogline subscribers and possibly other RSS users - This post does not read correctly under Bloglines. I suggest you open the post directly
A few weeks ago, on Yahoo TFSG, there was an ongoing debate about the existence of God. Of course, there was no consensus. As the debate unfolded, I felt that I lacked the proper vocabulary to participate in the debate. I could have made the effort to follow, but I prefer to do independent reading first to understand the philosophical and metaphysical (whatever that &^%$ word means) issues they were talking about.


It reminded me much of LY's attempt to participate in a thread about evolution and Cosmology in another blog. He simply lacked the underlying concepts to debate in any meaningful way.

Nevertheless, I do have an intuitive opinion about God. After seeing what I believed to be a draw in the TFSG, I don't see why my uneducated position is any less valid.

There's nothing in being a frum skeptic that forces one to drop belief in God.

Up until about a year ago, I was absolutely certain, there was a God (Deist or possibly even Theist). How could there not be, Right? Well, guess what. I was chatting with this fella at work, and his atheistic position came out. I asked him flat out, how could there not be a God? Where did we come from? Who started Evolution? Who started anything?

And he asked me a simple question. "Well, Who created God?"

And in the space of 1 second flat I develed serious doubts.

It's such an obvious question, but one that as a Frum Skeptic Jew, I never permitted myself to ask. After all, Shlosha Devorim......

A Frum Yid just does not delve into the matter. In order to have Torah, there must be a God. Case closed. And that un-questioning attitude did not change in me.

What I notice now, is sometimes the proofs are intertwined. Agree to religion, well of course there's a God. Concede to a God, and then you have the issue of purpose -"Why did God put us here?".

So, what do I know or believe?

Evolution - Probably true, even if there is a God. It's no contradiction. Originally, even though I knew enough about computers and code, I still could not for the life of me understand, how mutations in DNA translated into changes in the body. But then I found out about Ribosomes and RNA, etc. It was eye opening. I learned about genetics, selection, balanced polymorphism and other concepts. And after a fair amoount of reading, it becomes very convincing. It explains so much and is the underpinnings of medical research, molecular biology and I'm sure many other scientific endeavors such as Geology.

But it's still difficult for me to fathom one species mutating into another. And life itself? That really boggles the mind, not only where does it come from, but where does it go? When you stop breathing because of lack of oxygen, why can't you be resuscitated 2 hours later? I'm sure there is a biological explanation, the cells die, then the brain dies, etc. But the whole concept is just a mystery. Where did the world come from? The energy that make up the big bang, etc. I could go on and on about sunsets, emotions, music, bla bla blah. But I'll spare you. The world SEEMS to be teeming with purpose and design. (Anthropic principal?).


I also learnt that there definitely is a God; it's called a God of the Gaps.

People tend to create a God when something is not understood.





Recently, I read "The Language of God". This is an informative book by a scientist with impeccable credentials. The author is Francis Collins who is Geneticist and the head of the Human Genome Project. In it he attempts to prove God. In addition to his attempt at proving God, the book is a great recap or many other scientific books that I've read. However, in my opinion, he fails in his main purpose. His basic argument rests on the so called "Moral Factor". I did not find it convincing at all. Other than the "moral factor" he simply lapses into some Christian Dogma. (See what I mean? Belief in religion compels him to believe in a God).

So is there a God? I don't know. Will I try to learn more about it? Probably. Will there be a definitive answer? I'm sure there won't be.

But I sure hope there is a God.
"Shlo Neegoh L'rik V'lo Nelaid Labehala".

I do not like the idea of spinning my skeptic wheels for nothing. I sure hope there is a God that can account for seemingly random accidents, violence and tsunamis.

Yes, I know about Tectonic plates, determinism, and all that Jazz; but for me, there must be a God.

And I'm perfectly content with that.

That is - until someone asks me "Who created God?"

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    26 September 2006

    Al Chait Shechatanu....



    • This is indeed a serious time of the year. Just because my beliefs have changed does not mean that I am totally dis-engaged from the meaning of the season. Just like on Purim, I'm festive, so now, I do take the time to reflect and think about my accomplishments and shortcomings of my past.

      Here's how I see it.

      Forgive me God for not putting my resources to better use.

      Current use and some alternatives:


    • Daily Shachris - 3 hours per week
      or visiting the sick
    • Daily Shiur - One hour 5 times a week
      or Volunteering for Footsteps
    • Daily Mincha/Maariv - 2 hours per week
      or Neighborhood Crime watch
    • Shabbos - minimum 10 hours per week
      or Walkathon for Heart Disease, etc.
    • Yom Tov – 13 Days per year
      or visit far away relatives
    • Year Learning in Israel
      or year in Peace Corps

    Yeshiva Tuition - Annual - Pick an amount. 10,000? 40,000? or Fight Poverty

    Other Charity - Annual - Pick an amount 3,000? 20,000? Or donate to American Cancer Society

    Extra for Kosher food - Annual - 1000? Or donate to MADD

    Miscellaneous, Sukka, Lulov Esrog, Tallis, Tefilin, Mechiras Chomets,etc etc. 1000? Or fight AIDS

    Other sins.

    • Not pulling my fair share of the burden at work, because I can't work on Shabbos
    • Not giving my wife much needed comfort during a particular rough childbirth because she was a halachik Niddah
    • Permitting the whole concept to go on generation after generation.

    Forgive me God, but I'm an Oines. This is the situation you put me in.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Obviously, this is an exaggeration of what I would do with my resources if I would not be Frum. We don't see most non Frum people volunteering anywhere near that degree.

    But look how much time, effort & money we put into Torah and Mitsvos.

    Just imagine what a wonderful world this could be if Judaism's unyeilding emphasis would shift to a spirit of volunteering instead of this spirit of endless ritual. BHB

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    Religious fervor or fever?

    Looking around me this past Rosh Hashona, I could not help but notice the zeal on the faces of some individuals. The zeal tends to diminish with age, the older ones more sedate as if they'd just as soon be home making Kiddush or even sneaking in a Rosh Hashona nap. Very noticeable, were the Mesifta Bochurim. Most are away in yeshiva, but there were several of them around anyway. There was one particular boy who caught my eye. He was shuckling like crazy, gesticulating wildly, his hands flailing in the air and sometimes smacking one hand into the other. And all this during part of the davening that carries no special significance for the day. And then amazingly enough, sixty seconds later, I turn back to see him scrutinizing his tie and adjusting his Borsalino.

    There's got to be a name for this phenomenon.

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    24 September 2006

    Divine Inspiration




    Those of you who daven Nusach Sfard are familiar with the optional Tefillah that is recited during the "Kesser" in Mussaf on the Yomim Noraim. Customarily, the Chazan elongates the word Ah-yay while the individual gets to recite a personal Tefilla. Ashkenazim, you don’t know what you’re missing. This is your chance on the holiest days of the year to ask for it all; Wealth, Proper Children & Ruach Hakodesh (divine inspiration). It's all up for grabs. The “catch” is that you’ve got to fit in your words while the Chazan is still singing Ah-yay. After all, that's what it says in the Machzor, right? As a child, I raced through the words in an attempt to get my tefilos in under the bell. But alas that’s simply impossible. Eventually, I realized that to do it right, I needed to ask for just one; after all, I kept missing the bell and who knows, maybe I’d get none of my Tefilos answered. If I don't finish on time maybe it's a hefsek and I'm not Yotse Kedusha? And God Forbid, maybe it's even a Hefsek for the Tekiyas! Typical Angst

    Anyhow, who was I kidding, it clearly states in the Machzor, that you can only ask for one – Either wealth, good kids or Divine wisdom.

    I hit upon the ultimate Talmudic solution. Three Days - Three Tefillas – one for each! Perfect. But alas, as I got even older, as a serious young man, I again figured who am I kidding, obviously God wants me to choose! If not, the Machzor Rabbis would have simply established one Tefillah with everything in it and the Chazan would do his Dreidlich for another 30 seconds.

    I decided to go with the life stage approach. Just like in mutual funds, they now have “Target funds” depending on your age; I would do the same. Man, I was way ahead of my time.

    So as a young newly wed, I went for the dough; and I must say, I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. No, I'm not wealthy but I never did have great financial aspirations. As life got more serious, I indeed moved into the next stage to pray for “proper Children”. I can’t say I was disappointed there either, but then, unexpectedly, something happened. A mentch tracht uhn Gut Lacht.
    You see, I had planned to stay in stage two at least until I turned 60 or 55, but then God started playing tricks with me. See, he introduced me to a whole new world. That forced me to prematurely shift into phase three asking for divine inspiration; to really try to understand what God wants. I needed help to get out of this skeptic mess. And you know, I think I’m finally getting that divine inspiration.

    It’s just inspiration of a different sort.

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    21 September 2006

    Moshe Finkel - Secret Skeptic?

    There are many tentacles to the Finkel-Shevach story. These include but are not limited to: the Kashrus organization not stepping up to the plate and admitting incompetence, the fast that was spoon fed down the throats of the hapless Monsey residents and the seeming cover up by the rabbinate in general.

    I'm sure we have not heard the end of it.

    What I want to explore is “Is Moshe Finkel a Secret Skeptic?”

    When the story broke, the following conversation took place on my my Blog.


    Baal Habos:
    Hmmm, looks like the Frummer chevra beat me to eating Treif. Ironic.

    Isn't there a Gemara that says God doesn't let Tsaddikim be nichsol specifically in maacholos Asuros?

    I guess they're not as righteous as they believe.

    Other Blogger:

    The guy selling them was probably a secret atheist like you.


    I suspect that most Frum Skeptics have quite high moral standards. Firstly, there is a solid yeshiva background. I know there's plenty of Chicanery going on in the Frum World, but still there's a great foundation. Skeptics also are often exposed to other Liberal values. Now, there are huge differences between Torah and Liberal morality, especially in areas of sexuality. But Liberal morals do call for sharing the wealth and does now allow for dis-honesty. I think Frum Skeptics, in addition to having exposure to two sets of values try to adhere to higher values simply because they want to make sure that there can be no charges against their adopted lifestyle and new found mind-set. I do think twice about all moral issues. Once as a Frum Jew and the other as a FrumSkeptic.

    And, for that reason alone, I think that Mr. Finkel was not what we would call a Skeptic. He may have had a big Yetser Hora, maybe unbearable financial pressures. Maybe he was from the Ketanei Emuna, maybe a Rasha or maybe simply mentally unhinged.
    But I don’t think he was a good standing member of TFSG (The Frum Skeptics Group) or our own little Blogging community.

    Wishing you all a sweet year,
    BHB

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    18 September 2006

    Lyrics by Time Rice & Baal Habos

    I recently had Email conversations with some people about being trapped in their lives.

    Below are the lyrics to a haunting song in AIDA. This is a song by a princess who recognizes that she wasted her life and is looking for unrequited love.
    It's one of the most beautiful broadway songs I've ever heard.

    Lyrics slightly modifed by yours truly to fit the situation.

    It may not mean much to you without the accompaning vocalization and music, but here goes:



    How did I come to this?
    How did I slip and fall?
    How did I throw half a lifetime away
    Without any thought at all?

    This should have been my time
    It's over, it never began
    I closed my eyes to so much for so long
    and I no longer can

    I try to blame it on Taiveh
    Some kind of shift in my heart
    But I know the truth and it haunts me
    It’s grown a little too clear
    I know the truth and it mocks me
    I know the truth and it shocks me
    It's grown a little too clear

    Why do I want it still?
    Why, when there's nothing there?
    How to go on with the rest of my life
    To pretend that I care
    This should've been my life
    It's over-It never began
    I closed my eyes to so much for so long
    and I no longer can

    I try to blame it on Taiveh
    Some kind of shift in my heart
    But I know the truth and it haunts me
    I learned it a little too late

    Oh I know the truth and it mocks me
    I know the truth and it shocks me
    I learned it a little too late
    Too late

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    17 September 2006

    Dead Poet's Society

    Selichos is a tough time of year for Frum men, especially skeptics. But the first night is always exhilarating, even for me. No, I don't worry and shukkel about asking God for mercy, R"H is no different than any other day. But I still enjoy understanding the meaning of some of the Selichos. B'motsei Menucha Keedomnucha Techeeluh. Ah. What eloquence! This is poetry at it's finest. I really don't know much about these Jewish authors, but I propose they were the MO Rabbis of their times, stretching the boundaries of what was acceptable and creating new forms of worship that did not exist in prior generations. Such creativity. I cannot imagine they spent all their time poring over a Ktos (Yes, I know it's an anachronism).


    So, during those long hours in shul, you can either live in a yeshivish dread or you can at least extract some appreciation of our heritage.

    Which will it be for you?
    *************************************************************************

    I'm back now from first night Selichos. Well, maybe exhilarating is the wrong word.
    But the point remains. It's a long month coming up and I try to make the best of it.

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    15 September 2006

    Shayla - (responsa)



    I am terrible at transliteration. I could not come up with a better spelling for asking a shaileh - Sh'aylah, etc. But I think you know what I mean.


    Jewish Skeptic raised an issue thats been bothering me for many years.

    "It's as if you were asked to write the 'klaf' of a mezuzzah,t'filin or torah.No matter how perfect your k'sav is & how makpid you are,if you are an unbeliever they are pasul u'tsrichin gnizah,& you are deceiving the person who asked to you to write them.I see no difference between that & your case."


    Months ago I asked Lakewood Yid "With my beliefs, do I, Baal Habos, count for a minyan?"

    LY told me to ask a Sheila - so I did. Here's how it played it.

    P.S. Rabbi R. is for Random, it's not a clue.



    Ringggggggg.

    "Hello?"

    pause

    "Hello? anybody there?"

    "Hello. Reb R?"

    "Yes, speaking."

    "Shalom Aleichem, this is Baal Habos".

    "AH, Tayere Baal Habos, what can I do for you? By the way that Kashia you asked yesterday, I found a Pnei Yehshua asked the same thing. It's a gevaldege Diuk and he gives a terutz but he really Bleibs Tsurrich Iyun. I'll explain it tonight, oh wait a minute, you said you have a chasuna tonight. What is with you? Lately you have Chasunas every night. Are you moonlighting as a waiter or something?" Anyhow, I'll explain it tomorrow night. So again, what can I do for you? "

    (Baal Habos, hesitating) Er. Hem.

    Rav: "If it's a mareh, you know the routine; you can just leave it in my mailbox."

    "No"

    "So?"

    "err. hem"

    "Come, Come, I've heard it all before. Nothing to be embarrased about"

    "Well, you see"

    "Yes?"

    "I'm really calling for someone else."

    "I see. But very often a P'sak is personalized and may not apply" .

    "Yes Yes"

    "So?"

    "Well, here's the story. What if someone doesn't believe?"

    Shocked - "What do you mean? Believe what?"

    "What if someone doesn't believe in the whole thing? You know, Toras Moshe. The question is does a person like that count for minyan?

    S-I-L-E-N-C-E

    "hello?"

    "Baal Habos, I'm very upset, I'm always very careful. how did you figure out I'm having doubts?"



    Anyhow, all kidding aside, if there are only ten present, it does bother me very much. And even more so, if I'm asked to daven "far dem amud"; Sometimes there's no getting out of it.

    I have no answer. In reality, I know it doesn't make a difference.

    But there is a degree of Geneivas Daas - deception. And I feel badly for that.

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    14 September 2006

    A man of my word?



    I recently did my good deed for the day and went to be Menachem Avel someone. It wasn’t someone particularly close but that’s the way things have become. Go to every Vort, Shiva call, Parlor meeting, breakfast, etc that you can fit into your life. But that’s a gripe for another post.

    Anyhow, I did my best to stay away from the Mishnayos sheet, but it was practically forced on me. After all, Baal Habos is such a mentch, such a Baale Batish Yid, surely he has the desire & time to learn an extra Mesechta of Mishnayos. Surely he is just looking for some extra Mitsva in Chodesh Elul. Try as I did, I could just not get out of it.

    So, here’s the question. Do I learn it? After all, even though I don’t believe in it, I did volunteer????? for it. Or do I say, hey, it has no impact, so what’s the point?

    I might as well have signed up for 3 Hail Mary’s and 2 Novenas. Or agreed to review “Roger’s book of Alchemy”.


    So, what would you do?

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    08 September 2006

    Different strokes for different folks.






    It's interesting how the same post was received in a different forum.
    The original context of the post was slightly different but the general issues discussed there were the same as on my Blog.


    What follows is is one of the replies I received on that Forum.

    Posted here with permission from SZ

    *************************************************************************************



    [about Avigdor Miller]
    > One statement that he made will forever stay with me.
    >
    > I paraphrase - " what do the evolutionists have to offer the world
    > other than a dog's death?".

    What a shallow, worthless and reprehensible statement. The same branch
    of science that brings us evolution also brings us the most amazing
    cures to all kinds of heretofore untreatable and wretched diseases.
    The very things that, in previous generations, caused untold numbers
    to "die like dogs" were in fact eradicated by this very same science.
    What untold suffering it has alleviated! What a blight on humanity it
    would be should we be convinced to drop evolution and its associated
    sciences!

    I shudder to think what would happen should we allow people with that
    attitude to run roughshod over scientific progress. Dog's death
    indeed! Scientific progress -- the thing these venomous statements are
    aimed against -- brings immeasurable benefit to all our lives. Compare
    that to what fundamentalist religious dogma has wrought throughout the
    ages.

    And what does the dogmatic anti-evolutionist stance propose to offer
    the world? An imagined everlasting vainglorious existence, enjoying
    the light of the feminine half ("Shechinah") of an incomprehensible
    deity? How does that add more meaning to your life as opposed to
    enjoying the light of a (usually) very comprehensible feminine
    companion right here in this world, while contributing, in your own
    small way, to scientific progress, and ensuring the fruits of this
    progress remains available to other comprehensible beings to enjoy for
    eternity?

    How is mindless fealty to some incomprehensible super-being, ensuring
    you always do what He expects, any more meaningful than single-minded
    fealty to very comprehensible family and friends, ensuring you always
    contribute to their happiness while not needlessly causing pain? How
    does the imagined heavenly reward for every little thing someone does,
    somehow elevate their existence above those who do good deeds for
    truly altruistic reasons, without waiting for a reward in an imaginary
    next world?

    In fact, *that* is the true life (and death) of a dog, pining for a
    reward from his incomprehensible master right up to his very last
    breath. Humans are better than that. We don't need to imagine
    ourselves slaves to a being more powerful than ourselves, keeping us
    in line by the threat of punishment and the incentive of rewards. We
    are capable of doing good deeds not because of a desire to appease an
    incomprehensible deity, but because of our desire to increase the
    sum-total of happiness of beings just like ourselves. Altruism and
    happiness is what gives life (and death) true meaning, not slavish
    obedience to something we cannot understand.

    > Of course, that's no proof to Judaism, but I envy some of those that
    > you seem to pity.

    I agree with you on this. A lot of unquestioning believers live very
    happy lives, and are not in need of anyone's pity. Having your life
    regulated by a God and always knowing with an absolute certainty what
    the "right" thing to do is, does alleviate a lot of life's stress the
    rest of us experience.

    This is why I agree that the approach you have taken with your wife
    might be the most sensible one to take, at least for some.

    -SZ

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    03 September 2006

    A dog's death.

    Congratulations, Happywithhislot, you seem to have the intuition.




    Continued from Yesterdays Shhhh post.



    The plain simple truth is that my wife is happy.

    I don't know how old you, but as you get older, you may start to
    wonder about the purpose of it all. And that's when having true faith,
    is a real advantage. Many years ago, I read a book by Rabbi Avigdor
    Miller, and I naively thought his science and proofs against
    evolution made lots of sense. As I was more exposed to the world, I
    changed my mind.

    But, one statement that he made will forever stay with me.

    I paraphrase - " What do the evolutionists have to offer the world
    other than a dog's death?".

    (We'll address the God issue eventually).

    In my youth, I did not fully appreciate it. I do now.

    Religious Jews put in a lot of effort; and their whole being and sense of values is infused with Yiddishkeit. It also creates a strong sense of purpose. I'm sure everyone at some point in their lives wonders what the heck it's all about. Torah, and other fundamental religions, probably addresses that better than any other philosophies. It forestalls the answer to the future, so no answer is necessary.

    When I was child, a Rebbi once said to the class "If I'd be a goy, I'd throw myself off the nearest building. They eat to live and live to eat." Obviously it's not so simple; you don't see hundreds of "goyim" jumping off buildings every day. Most "goyim" live happy productive lives. Maybe because they're also religious. But even those that aren't seem to manage just fine without that carrot at the end of the stick. Or they just have a different carrot.

    But take someone who grew up with a strong sense of self connected to an afterlife and religion, and then remove that afterlife. Well, that really opens up a can of worms. At least it does for me.

    So let's say I confide in my wife.

    It could go one of three ways:

    1) My wife totally rejects my way of thinking. So on top of confusion on her part as to how this came about, she's forever disappointed in me. No, LY she won't throw me out as you suggested . (LY, just curious, if you found out your wife or child had Kefira on their mind, would you really throw them out? I doubt it.)

    2) My wife stays unconvinced but turns into someone like GH, who seems to be going through endless turmoil in finding his way. Not good. And eventually she'll probably end up as choice 3 below.

    3) My wife is sold. Wonderful - So now we've got two depressed individuals.


    My wife, like myself, has an enormous stake in the community, family and our social life in general.

    Other than a shoulder to cry on, which I could certainly use, there's not much to be gained. I don't want to put my wife through this torment of living a lie.

    Of course, one day, I may change my mind.

    But right now, I follow my old dictum of one day at a time.


    N.B.

    I don't want to give anyone the impression that I'm clinically depressed or anything like that. But the future weighs heavily on my mind. I will have to re-define myself and find a different carrot. The challenge is doing that within the societal and self imposed parameters of OJ observance. I got a big job ahead of me.

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    Shhhh.



    We haven't had one in a while. Quiz time.

    Why I haven't told my wife.

    You know women. It's over twenty five years and I'm still waiting to get a word in edgewise.
    My wife's maiden name is Lorenna Bobbitt, and I'm not taking any chances.
    One skeptic in the family is more than enough.
    Women just can't keep a secret. My wife will tell her shaitelmacher and before you know it, we'll be on the cover of the Yated, with my wife's face blurred over of course.

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    Ki Saitsai



    I Just don't get it - 2nd in a series of God knows how many.

    Last week I came upon an ad in a local weekly magazine for the opportunity to be mekayem the Mitsva of Sheloach Hakan. It was a timely ad because the Mitsva is brought down in Ki Saitsai (22:6). For a fee, the sponsor will take you to a locale where you can send away the mother bird and keep the eggs for yourself. Shelloach Hakan is a mitsvah that you are not obligated to perform unless the opportunity presents itself. It is considered meritorious to place oneself in the position to perform the Mitsva at least once.

    So why is there no ad offering to help me be Mekayem the Mitsva of Eishes Y'fas Toar? They skipped over the first mitsva of the Parsha (21:10) and it's just not right. Come to think of, why do the Chareidim keep their Bochurim out of the IDF?

    Think about it, your wife may not be happy about you taking a wartime captive as a new bride. But it really could be the Mitsvah of a lifetime.

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    01 September 2006

    Armchair analysis




    I remember it well from college. Consonance Dissonance. It explained so much back then. It's like opening up a window into the human mind.

    The problem is my CRS kicked in and I remembered it incorrectly. It's not consonance dissonance - that's from my music theory class.

    A little search set me straight. Ah yes, Cognitive Dissonance

    Do your own Yahoo or Google search and you'll see lots of good stuff written about this. You reaaly should familiarize yourself with this to see how powerfully it could come into play in your though processes. The example I remember so clearly from college is someone justifying a bad purchase of an expensive car because so much effort went into it. In Torah terms, it's the "Cheetoneus is M'orer the Pneemius".

    Anyhow, I think that CD explains the actions of so many frum people who are reluctant to recognize new truths. It's hard and painful. The mind just does not let it happen.

    I noticed something very interesting. The single most ardent set of fighters to Godol Hador on his blog were the Baalei Teshuva. They, more than anyone else, have this need/desire to justify their behavior. It is simply inconceivable to them that others, mainly FFB's could have came to such a different conclusion than the one's they reached. BT's give up so much. They sacrifice their former lives, families, relationship, etc, that IT MUST BE TRUE. They, much more than other Jews, must keep up the fight. And, I don't blame them, I would probably do the same. SZ mentioned to me that he likens it to "sunk cost fallacy". Whatever you may call it, it's an improtant factor.

    Now, I need to be brutally honest with myself, does CD play a role in my disbelief? I thought about this for very long and I can unequivocally state that it does not.
    If anything, the effort that I still put into OJ these many past years, should have set my thoughts back onto the Derech Hatorah. I'm truly sad to say that it has not.

    Life would have been so much simpler.

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