30 December 2008

Where are all the skeptics?



No. I don't mean where have they gone now, as in "What happened to the skeptic blogworld?".


What I'm asking is something that I haven't seen addressed properly. Namely, if TMS is false, as is so obvious to many of us, then where are all the skeptics? Why aren't there more of us?
I'm going to try to address this from two perspectives. The OJ one and the Secular one.
Believers might claim that OJ is so glaringly true, that once one is exposed to it, skepticism is not a valid option. But is this true? Of course not. There have been times in history when the the Jewish people were decimated by skepticism. For example, in the times of the Neviim, worship of Avodah Zarah was commonplace. Later on we had Sadducces, Karaites, Maskilim and all that Jazz. According the the adage that we're further from Sinai, there should be MORE skepticism now. Not Less!
So then OJ might counter with something to the affect that each generation has it's own nisyonos. (Of course, there's no direct answer to that; that's like saying it's cold outside outside because that's what Hashem wants.) It is said that Avodah Zara, in it's purest form, is not extant anymore because as brought down in Sanhedrin, Chazal fasted until the Yetzer Hora for Avoda Zarah was suppressed. But that is also clearly not true, as evidenced that Paganism and Avodah Zarah is alive and well!

From a secular perspective, you might want to say, "BHB, what do you mean? There are millions of skeptics!. Every non OJ individual is a skeptic!!" But that's not really my issue. I mean why aren't there more skeptics like me? Skeptics who grew up within the frum cocoon and then lost it. I look back at all my frum acquaintances through my life, from early childhood and on, and realize that until very recently, I can only bring to mind two close people who I'd say became non-believers. Both went OTD and one eventually became a BT (and then some!). I know now there may be a few skeptics like me sprinkled about here and there. But we're like a drop in the bucket. So what's going on here?

I don't want to resort to answers such as Cognitive Dissonance because while that's certainly a factor, how come there was a Haskallah and a Reform movement? How come CD wasn't powerful enough then to prevent those breakaways? (I haven't read Prof. Schimmel's book yet, but I doubt he addresses my specific question.)
Anyhow, I think the answer is simple.
Every now and then, breakthroughs in history, science or some other disciplines occur and then indeed waves of skepticism course through the community. But then, something happens; Judaism reacts, adapts and evolves to meet the new challenge and over time it manages to it integrate it's response into the dogma and curriculum. To someone weaned on Gosse Type explanation, it takes a real shift and some sort of trigger to question the dogma. Alternatively, some segments, such as Chassidism, choose not to address these issues and rather retreat. These groups, I think are more subject to skepticism by those who do begin to see daylight.

The advent of the internet, while explosive, did not really introduce new skeptical thought that the OJ community was not prepared to handle. But imagine some new discovery, an Ancient partial P document for instance. That would unleash a new torrent of skepticism, until OJ developed sort sort of response. After that, it would be the new baseline just like Gosse, Eilu V'eilu, and a host of other polished apologetica.
There's really not much new here and I thought I would leave it at that.

But then along came Bernie Madoff and screwed humanity (and the Jewish people in more ways than one) big time. Which raised a similar question to mine. How one earth did so many wealthy money-smart people get sucked in by him? Where were the financial skeptics?
I came across this fantastic article that blew me away. It was written by Stephen Greenspan, author of newly published "Annals of gullibility". In other words it was written by someone who specializes and writes extensively about skepticism, Ponzi schemes and other financial frauds. And guess what? This "pundit" himself was taken in and lost money with Madoff. (Actually, I thought it was a great article until the last paragraph in which Greenspan rationalizes his own gullibility.)
There are several comparisons to be drawn between the psychology of those taken in by Madoff (as described by Greenspan) and those taken in by religion. Read it and see for yourself.

Most striking to me is the following statement about his own experience.
"I later met many friends of my sister who were participating in the fund. The very successful experience they had over a period of several years convinced me that I would be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity. My belief in the wisdom of this course of action was so strong that when a skeptical (and financially savvy) friend back in Colorado warned me against the investment, I chalked the warning up to his sometime tendency towards knee-jerk cynicism".
It's spooky how this touches on quite a few parallels to religion.

Group Think. Conformity. Trust. Olam Haba. Fear of Loss Longevity of Judaism. Attribution of motive.

The long and the short of it is that each individual must examine the facts for himself, make his own decision not based on what others think.

There is a clear correlation. The more exposed one is to modernity, science, and free thought, the more skepticism there is. That alone should tell you something.

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    13 December 2008

    Battle Stations



    As I sat today in shul, overhearing some drasha about Yaakov meeting Esav, a Kashye occurred to me. The Parsha begins with Yaakov afraid of Esav. In a desire to not keep all his eggs in one basket, he divides the people, the sheep and oxen into two camps. And he said, "If Esav will come to one camp and strike it, then the camp that is left will survive". Great plan! And not just a plan, the Possuk says that's what he did. Breishis (32: 8 - 9)




    Yet, just a bit further in 33:1-6, we find that all his family was in the same camp!




    So, rushing home from shul I find that indeed Richard Elliot Friedman tentatively identifies Breishis 32:4-14 as J and 33 as E.




    Surprize. Surprize.

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