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Archive for July 2007

False Idols

I like the clearcut format of formal philosophical arguments like those I’ve been reading at Tractatus Blogico-Philosophicus. It appeals to the computer engineer in me. So I’ll try my hand at one that I thought up while sitting in the foyer during Sunday School yesterday.

  1. God is infinite.
  2. Human minds are finite.
  3. Finite human minds cannot comprehend all of God. [From 1 and 2]
  4. All human conceptions of God are incomplete and false. [From 3]
  5. Worship is directed to the worshiper’s conception of God.
  6. All believers worship a false concept of God. [From 4 and 5]
  7. Biblical idolatry is the worship of false gods.
  8. All human worship is idolatry. [From 6 and 7]

I think the weak point is (5) where another concept of worship could be offered. For my purposes, I could have ended the argument at (4), but I liked the flourish of showing all religious systems to be idolatry. :P

I’m not arguing that if an infinite God exists that worship is useless. Even though I don’t truly comprehend my wife, I still benefit greatly from our relationship. I imagine a believer would still benefit from religion if an infinite God exists.

What I would hope is that this thinking would combat the dangerous conviction that ones own concept of God is absolutely true. If God is infinite, then believers should have some humility because I’ve just shown that their conceptions of God are false, no matter which religion or tradition they adhere to. They should have some healthy doubt about the truth of their own beliefs.

Perhaps God’s commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) should be interpreted as a command to purge all false notions about God from our minds as much as humanly possible, to make our concept of God as close to the truth as possible. Then again, this command seems to be impossible to fulfill in practice if interpreted that way.

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My wife and I watched parts of To Catch a Predator last night, the one where guys chat online with people who they think are underage, arrange to meet with them for sex, and arrive only to be greeted by all of America sharing their most shameful moment. I cheered the television crew on months ago when I first started watching this show, but something strange has started to happen. I don’t think the producers of the show wanted me to, but I started to have compassion for these sexual predators.

As chance would have it, I heard on the radio yesterday that this television program caused a man to commit suicide.

Louis William Conradt Jr., of Terrell, Texas, a Dallas suburb, was suspected of being one of those men, except he didn’t show up at the house. That didn’t stop the TV producers and police from showing up at his, though, and as officers knocked on his door and a camera crew waited in the street, Conradt shot and killed himself. (Associated Press)

The radio hosts, the kind that are paid to act like brain-damaged teenagers, related this story, basically said good riddance, and danced on his grave. Their callousness elicited my compassion. Wouldn’t someone mourn for this destroyed life?

I’ll openly admit that I have ephebophilic tendencies. I gather from the term “jailbait” and popular humor that I’m not alone in the adult male population.

I and most of those who are similar to me choose to abstain from acting on any attraction we feel. We know it’s wrong to prey on an adolescent’s inexperience. We shrug off the attraction and go on with life. I don’t lose sleep over it because I’m not ashamed. I chalk it up to being a human being and forge ahead.

There is so much hatred and fear surrounding sexual predators these days. It sells an awful lot of commercial airtime. Sometimes it’s easy to forget who sexual predators are. They are not some alien species. They are our neighbors, our friends, our brothers, our husbands, our fathers… our sisters, our wives, and our mothers. They are us. We are them. They are human beings who cross a perilously thin line. Are the rest of us so different?

We seem to be afraid to acknowledge that pedophilia (for example) is one aspect of human nature—an aberrant and harmful one—but human nonetheless. Whatever it is that separates a pedophile from a non-pedophile is uncomfortably thin. We prefer to think of them as aliens rather than see their humanity, rather than acknowledge the thin ice below us. There but for the grace of Fortune go I.

As I watched the news crew publicly shame those men, I allowed myself to see something that I hadn’t noticed before. I watched as their hopes and dreams died. The weight of what the future held for them made some weep, some get physically ill, and some just sit dumb with shock. These were weak, stupid people, not inhuman monsters. The show put a human face on sexual predators.

I want to protect my children above all else, but I am not insensible to the suffering of these men and the tragedy of human frailty.

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Can Atheists be Spiritual?

Can atheists be spiritual? I hope that after reading further you will be able to answer this apparently oxymoronic question with a comfortable “YES”.

The latest Humanist Symposium led me to a beautiful article answering the question can atheists be spiritual?. It expresses a lot of my own thoughts and feelings. It brightened my day.

I wish there was a better word for it, but the last year or so has been a time of increased spirituality and openness for me.

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The Mormon Orthodox Connection

As I’ve been reading Jewish Atheist, I’ve been struck by the similarities between the Orthodox Jewish community and the Mormon community. The social dynamics created by seeing one’s own people as chosen by God and seeking to be “in the world but not of the world” play out in much the same ways in both communities. Orthodox Paradox, a recent article in the New York Times, brought that home.

The author, Noah Feldman grew up in an Orthodox community and attended 12 years at an Orthodox school. He later left Orthodoxy and married a goy, Dr. Jeannie Suk. They attended his 10-year high school reunion while still unmarried. They both stood in for a group photo of the graduating class and their spouses. When the photo came out in the alumni newsletter, both he and his girlfriend had been edited out.

Since then, the alumni newsletter has failed to publish news about this alumnus and his family, failed to treat him like other alumni presumably because of his choice of marriage partner. The editors of the alumni newsletter seem to feel that acknowledging the life of this non-Orthodox alumnus would be an endorsement of his choices.

I’ve seen shunning in the LDS community which partakes of the same spirit:

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: At what point does showing that love cross the line into inadvertently endorsing behavior? If the son says, ‘Well, if you love me, can I bring my partner to our home to visit? Can we come for holidays?’ How do you balance that against, for example, concern for other children in the home?’

ELDER OAKS: That’s a decision that needs to be made individually by the person responsible, calling upon the Lord for inspiration. I can imagine that in most circumstances the parents would say, ‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. There would also be other factors that would make that the likely answer.

I can also imagine some circumstances in which it might be possible to say, ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”

There are so many different circumstances, it’s impossible to give one answer that fits all. (Same-Gender Attraction)

I can empathize for everyone in this situation. The community must choose between showing unconditional love for one of its own and living according to rules it believes are God given. The outcasts feel rejected for their choices which reflect the most intimate parts of who they are.

As a former Mormon, I found myself nodding in recognition as I read the author’s experience in and out of the Orthodox community.

Though modern Orthodox Jews do not typically wear the long beards, side curls and black, nostalgic Old World garments favored by the ultra-Orthodox, the men do wear beneath their clothes a small fringed prayer shawl every bit as outré as the sacred undergarments worn by Mormons.…

The dietary laws of kashrut are designed to differentiate and distance the observant person from the rest of the world. When followed precisely, as I learned growing up, they accomplish exactly that. Every bite requires categorization into permitted and prohibited, milk or meat. To follow these laws, to analyze each ingredient in each food that comes into your purview, is to construct the world in terms of the rules borne by those who keep kosher. The category of the unkosher comes unconsciously to apply not only to foods that fall outside the rules but also to the people who eat that food…

…the erotics of prohibition were real to us. Once, I was called on the carpet after an anonymous informant told the administration that I had been seen holding a girl’s hand somewhere in Brookline one Sunday afternoon. The rabbi insinuated that if the girl and I were holding hands today, premarital sex must surely be right around the corner.…

Marrying a Jewish but actively nonobservant spouse would in most cases make continued belonging difficult. Gay Orthodox Jews find themselves marginalized not only because of their forbidden sexual orientation but also because within the tradition they cannot marry the partners whom they might otherwise choose. For those who choose to marry spouses of another faith, maintaining membership would become all but impossible.…

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Ephemera II

I am Atlas: my feet in the heavens, the weight of my backyard lawn on my shoulders, watching the last of the sunset ebb from the clouds between my feet. The buzz of summer insects fills my ears. Loamy moisture fills my nostrils. My little mimic does her best sālamba sarvāngāsāna.


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