Friday, January 27, 2012

Life, Pain, Judaism and the "Afterlife"

I had planned about writing this post about something totally different. However, I have been debating a reader of this blog in the comment section of my post "What Got the Ball Rolling" and I figured I should write a post about this topic as well.

When I was young, someone in one of my religious classes asked the Rabbi the basic question that everyone asks, "why do bad things happen to good people?" The Rabbi said that no one is perfect and that every time someone feels pain in "this world", they are being punished for some sin and now they wont have to worry about being punished in the "next world". I took this lesson to heart. Every time I got hurt, be it banging my toe, or breaking a bone, I thought "good thing this happened and I must have DESERVED this pain".

I do understand that the lesson was not meant to make me feel the way I did. However, I think the way I began to embrace and accept pain is an inevitable part of being brought up with a philosophy that diminished the value of life and emphasizes the "afterlife". The comment that one of my readers wrote on the post "What Got the ball Rolling" said that a gay person should learn to live without sex so that they can have a good life in the the world to come. But there is no evidence of life after death. People are more often than not born into their religious beliefs by chance. They do not choose them. A religious person raised that way from childhood is presented the ideas of Heaven and Hell as fact. But the truth is, if they could have easily been brought up in a different environment and they would never come to the conclusion that there is a heaven and hell based on life experience, science or logic.

So why waste the one life that we KNOW we have? Because some books that have been around for a long time say so? It is a very similar thought process that allows the suicide bomber to kill himself along with innocent people. He only values the "world to come" that he was taught about. We condemn the killer as evil, but that is simply because we have a different value system. The religious Jew or religious Christian has no more reason to believe in his religion than the religious Muslim. 

I personally believe that if more people learned to value this life, the real life, the one life we all know we have, there would be a lot less evil in the world. Steven Weinberg once wrote "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion." 

To my religious readers I want to say, if you believe in your religion and it makes you happy then enjoy. I mean that wholeheartedly. Everyone should do what makes them happy, as long as they aren't  hurting someone else. But DO NOT expect others to give up their happiness because you have an old book that says they should.


  1. Amazing points...really connected.

    1. thanks! I'm glad you like and I hope you keep reading :)

  2. My parents started becoming orthodox when I was 8 or 9. At that point in my life, I loved to play sports, singing and was in a very liberal day school. Becoming orthodox was an experience of slowly losing my identity to make others happy. My mom who was all about women's liberation started telling me I had to wear skirts and long sleeves while my brother could wear whatever he wanted. They changed my school to a really orthodox one where I was the only BT kid. AS my hobbies were untznious, my teachers in school encouraged my parents to "re-enforce" the classroom lessons and my behavior (namely playing sports with the guys are recess and singing), were unbecoming a "good Jewish girl".

    That was where my story began...

    1. I'm sorry to hear that sad story. I hope that you have managed to find yourself again. I am sure there are people that are happy with religion, i believe my parents are in fact. But its shame they don't see its evil potential. The only ones that see that are the victims

    2. Not true. I see the evil potential in religion. Almost everything good in the world has evil potential. Atheism also has evil potential. Medicines which can be used for great good can be used for evil.

      This post shows once again that the teachers you had as a kid were a bunch of idiots.

    3. Of course everything can be twisted or misused. My point was that religion is within inherent evils that the religious person either embraces, rationalizes, fights or ignores. I know at leas when I was a religious Jew we had all sorts of excuses for these evils.

      For example, the religious court could stone someone to death for breaking the Sabbath. The teachers would read us the quote "that a court that sent one person to death once in seventy years was considered a harsh court." But we are still taught that a person who picks up a stick on Saturday should have rocks hurled at them by the entire community until they die! We are taught that slavery is OK. That destroying an entire nation, women and children included in righteous because of what their ancestors did.

      If I'm wrong about any of this, please let me know. But my teachers were not idiots. They new the Torah and the Talmud and taught it as they read it. And their interpretation is pretty simple to come to when reading the great religious books of Judaism.

    4. I think you're just mis-interpreting things. Yes, according to Judaism, someone who was mechalel Shabbos could be killed. Did it happen often? No, it didn't. But it COULD happen. It was a worst-case scenario.

      Does Judaism believe in slavery? Not slavery as you think of it. If someone couldn't pay back a loan, he had to work for the person instead. The laws governing such a "slave" were pretty simple on the surface - the "owner" had to treat the slave better than he treated himself. Only one bed? The "slave" gets it, and the owner sleeps on the floor. Food for only one person? Feed the "slave", the owner goes hungry. You hit the "slave"? He goes free. Slavery in Judaism is not like it was in the rest of the world. Slaves in Judaism were treated better than most people. So Judaism doesn't believe that bankruptcy could wipe away your debts. Big deal, many people share that view.

      As for destroying an entire nation, I assume you refer to Amalek. That is a complex issue, and it was pretty much agreed upon by most that it doesn't apply anymore. Even when it did apply, it was a complex issue. Do some research on it.

    5. Sorry it took me so long to reply. I had a busy few days.
      My question is, why should that be the worst case scenario? Why should that ever be an option.
      So Jewish slavery is nicer than others. What about when the Torah allows for rape during war? Is Jewish rape nicer also?
      And Amalek is only a complicated issue because we know today how wrong and evil of a commandment it is, so Rabbis try and explain it away.
      But moderate Muslim clerics also say that the laws in the Koran to kill other nations "are not for modern times". But we know not every Muslim reads the Koran that way. And I know plenty of Jews that see Amalek as a modern commandment. Worse so, they use the Rambam's definition of Amalek. ANY nation that rises up against the Jewish people are Amalek. Therefore it would be OK to kill Palestinian or Iranian babies. I know these people are not the majority by any stretch of the imagination. But my point is, they still believe in murder sanctioned by an all knowing, all powerful god.

    6. Why shouldn't it be an option? You're looking at things with the values of an atheist, in the modern world. You believe there is nothing worse than death. I, on the other hand, believe there are things far worse than death. I believe that in some rare cases, death is a good thing, which can save someone from a far worse fate. That's why it's an option.

      I don't believe the Torah allows for rape, sorry. Can you tell me where?

      As for Amalek, like I said, it's complicated, with many different opinions as to what it meant. The only thing I can give you now is an example. Let's say that you go to Iran or Gaza, and see a 5 year old kid, who's being trained as a terrorist. The kid would have no problem killing you, your family, friends, and everyone else you care about. Imprisoning him isn't an option. Knowing that he'd come after you intent on killing you, would you feel justified in killing him first?

    7. This has nothing to do with being an atheist. No one deserves to be killed in that manner. I am not sure anyone deserves to be killed by their fellow man. But let's say for arguments sake that I am pro death penatly, that would only be the case where the wrong doer did something horrible to another person. Not for upsetting "god". If god has an issue, let him kill the person. Don't have an entire community of men (13 and older, so also boys) stone this poor guy to death.

      As far as the Torah allowing rape, the first example that comes to mine is the virgins left after the war with Midyan. How about when the Torah allows for cutting off a woman's hand for accidentally touching a man's genitals? That is Devarim 25, Pasuks 11-12 if I not mistaken.

      What about when god orders whole cities of idol worshipers to be slaughtered. Women and children included. Even if you believe people of those specific religions deserved to die, what about the babies?

      And that 5 year old you speak of in Iran and Gaza has been brainwashed to be that way and can still be fixed. But lets say he can't. Again I'll ask you, what about the babies?

      If you believe in the story of the flood, did EVERY singles person in the world need to die?! Did every animal except for the few lucky ones deserve to die?

      According to halacha men that have gay sex should be put to death. So do I deserve to die? Would you throw the stone to kill me?

    8. So we disagree on the death penalty. Millions of people do. As for stoning, it wasn't done exactly that way. Stoning was basically throwing the person off a cliff. It's in the Gemara.

      As for what warrants the death penalty, as I said before, it's only to save the person from a worse punishment. Why does God want people to kill him vs. God doing it? Maybe so others will see and be dissuaded from doing the same things. I don't know for sure.

      Regarding Midyan, it wasn't the virgins. Women who had seduced Jews were killed. The others weren't. It doesn't say they were allowed to rape them. It said they could be taken as slaves. I discussed slavery before. It was nothing like slavery in the US. In Judaism, they were treated very well.

      As for the woman touching a man, it wasn't accidental. The pasuk clearly says she purposely grabs his genitals intending to inflict pain, when he wasn't attacking her. If it was self-defense, it would be allowed.

      Regarding babies being killed, I'll have to do some more research to give you a proper answer.

      For the flood, yes, the Talmud states that God waited until the righteous people died before bringing the flood. Society as a whole was corrupt, not just large segments of the population. Animals are merely thought of as servants of God. Their death served a greater purpose, and there is nothing wrong with that.

      I don't know if you deserve to die. If there was a Sanhedrin today, you would likely be brought to them. I doubt they'd sentence you to death, as it only happened in extremely rare circumstances. I doubt I'd throw a stone at you. I honestly don't believe I'm capable of killing a regular person. Which is kind of weird, considering how much I'm in favor of the death penalty.

    9. Throwing someone off a cliff is barbaric. And, it says if I remember correctly that said person was thrown off a cliff twice his height and if he didn't die (which most wouldn't from such a thing) then a big bolder was thrown on him. If he still didn't die then everyone throw rocks at the person. Sounds to me to be very primitive and immoral.

      As far as the Midyan slaves, they were taken to do with as they want. And Jewish slavery being different is only the case when the slave is a Jew.

      As far as the woman hitting a man in the genitals, it doesn't say that it was an accident but it doesn't say it was on purpose. Should it happen when breaking up the fight, then cut off her hands. And let me ask you, if hitting a man there is something that deserves your hand being cut off, then why doesn't that apply if a man does the same when breaking up a fight or even if he does it intentionally?

      I would like to hope that you could get passed this, and say that I do not deserve to die. Because as much as me and you disagree, and as much as I dislike and even in some cases hate your belief system, I would never say you deserve to die. So who between the two of us has the lack of moral values? The one that doesn't think those who disagree with their views should die, or the one that isn's sure?

    10. Again, you're looking at this with your own views, that death is always terrible. As I posted before, death is not always such a bad thing. I believe that in some cases, death can save you from a far worse fate. So who's immoral? The one who wants to condemn someone to a worse fate, or the one who wants to save the person from that fate?

      As for stoning, yes, it's barbaric. The Torah purposely made the death penalties that way. If they were simple, easy deaths, people wouldn't be so put off by them. By making them gruesome, people realize that it's not something to be done lightly, and they should be disgusted by them. The Torah also says that the people who testify in court are the ones who must carry out the death sentence. Why? So that they should think twice before condemning someone to death. Having to do it yourself is just another way of avoiding the death penalty.

      Regarding the woman, the pasuk says that she grabs the man by the genitals. I believe the commentaries say it was done purposely.

      Regarding slavery, I believe you're incorrect, and even non-Jewish slaves must be treated well. Rape is definitely not allowed, so your initial post was mistaken.

      I didn't say you deserve to die. I honestly don't know. Many people in the world likely deserve to die. I just know that according to my beliefs, gay sex is wrong.

    11. Obviously we will not agree because as you said our values are different. I have no illusions that I will change people or end religion. I can only explain how I see it.
      I don't think people should be stoned to death, even if you use a nicer version of stoning. I don't believe people hands should be cut off or there should be any version of slavery. I do not believe cities should be burned to the ground with everyone living in them. I do not believe a person should under and circumstance agree to sacrifice their son. For all these reasons and more I cannot embrace the "values" of the Torah and find it hard to even respect them.
      But I do hope you at least understand where I am coming from.

    12. So basically, since you didn't agree with everything the religion says, you just discarded it. Part of Judaism is the belief that there is a God who knows way more than you ever will. Following a religion is not about doing what you think is right. You're not following then, you're just living life as you want to. Following a religion is about doing what God wants you to do, whether you agree with it or not.

    13. Are you kidding me Proud MO? I rejected Judaism because I do not base my life on fairy tales there are no proof for. Fairy tales that make me and millions of other miserable and leads to millions of deaths. If you believe in angels and and scary all knowing spirits in the sky, than fine. But it is WRONG of you to expect me to follow some poorly written old book just because you were told since you born that it is true. I have more self respect than that. I am capable of deciding for myself. I do not need rabbis are "sky people" for that.
      Each religion is so quick to make fun of the next. The Jew laughs at the Catholic for believing in the Virgin birth and at the Hindu for having hundreds of Gods. The Muslim laughs at the Buddhist for waiting his life. The Christian laughs at the Mormon and everyone laughs at the Scientology. But you are all the same. Basing your life around stories you hope are true, or have faith that they are true.
      So I do reject religion outright. To me, I might as well live by the books of Mother Goose.

    14. I do not mean for that to come off as rude. I just found your last comment to be very condescending

    15. If that's why you don't believe in it, then fine. It sounded like you don't believe in it because of your homosexuality. That is what I took issue with. I don't expect you to follow anything, I was just trying to point out where I disagreed with your thought process. Do what you want with it, just don't expect me to think it's ok.

      As for no proof, there's no proof of anything. Ever heard of the law of conservation of matter? Matter can't be created or destroyed, only changed in form.

      So where did the universe come from? The Big Bang? Where did the matter there come from? It had to come from somewhere, didn't it? According to science, here exists today the exact same amount of matter as existed a billion or 10 billion years ago. Where did it all come from?

    16. Just because science doesn't have all the answers, does not make your religion correct. Religion makes up answers and than demands that they be excepted. At least science is based on observing evidence.

      I do not believe in Judaism because I find it to be in many ways evil, including its rejection of homosexuality. That is a topic close to me because I am gay. If I was a woman, I would assume Judaisms bad treatment of women would be something closer to my heart. But I do reject it all. Not just that one specific aspect that hits home closest to me. I am not that single minded.

  3. Ami! Hey! It's been a long long time and I'm not sure if you remember me. Actually, I'm pretty sure that you must... you don't do MADA with someone and travel to Chevron with them and pelt them in the ear with an Israeli snowball and then forget about them.

    Anyway, I've been reading your blog here and there and I love it. There's a lot of really incredible points and so much transcendence in what you talk about. I can only imagine that coming out in an Orthodox world is one of the hardest things to do. I was reading a study in social psychology a few years ago that said that social isolation triggered the same neural pathways that physical pain does, so that being in a position of isolation is actually a PHYSICALLY painful experience. While I'm sure you feel more socially connected now than ever before (being able to be yourself and all), you never know that when you're about to come out in an orthodox world and risk losing all of your connections. The bravery is commendable.

    Your point of "I personally believe that if more people learned to value this life, the real life, the one life we all know we have, there would be a lot less evil in the world," to be really interesting. My basic understanding is that mortality and the thought of your life ending without being connected to something bigger is what drives a lot of people to religion. Being a part of religion doesn't just provide a framework for how to live, but also tells you "you're part of something bigger, something REALLY big." But I think you're right... accepting that this is life NOW, that you can't change the past and that you can't control the future, forces you to BE HERE NOW and to live the good life and live a happy life without worrying about all the rules and regulations. I guess I just know that for me, the day that I accepted that I'm here now and lost and gone forever when I day wasn't scary, it was the most liberating day of my life.

    Anyway, keep on writing! I'm really enjoying it.

    1. Thanks and of course I remember you! :)
      That study sounds very interesting and I can understand what it is talking about. I had a very difficult time for a while but things are looking up. It really helped that at no point of my journey was I ever alone. I had and have some of the most amazing people in the world as my friends and I love them all dearly.

      When I first thought about there not being an after life I found it kinda intimidating. However quickly I to found in liberating. I'm sure I will write a post about it at some point.

      I'm touched that you are enjoying reading my blog and I will keep writing. Always feel free to comment and share my blog with anyone you think might be interested.

  4. fascinating blog, Ami...

    keep it up



    The thoughts of David Horowitz on these matters, a man who went from atheist marxist to conservative agnostic.

    1. Hey Josh. First let me say thanks for reading and commenting. But I have to follow that up with, I am not sure what this video has to do with what I wrote. I do not believe that the world without religion would be perfect. I do believe the most dangerous kind of evil would be gone, the kind that gets a heavenly permission slip that cannot be questioned by "mere mortals". But at not time do I think or did I write that the human race could live without evils. I even quoted Dr. Weinberg, "...without religion...bad people can do evil..." Religion is unique in its power to get good people to do evil. I hope that was clearer and that you understand my point now.

  6. Always good to talk to you m'man. We don't see each other anymore, which is not cool. great blog, I've read every post and I'm looking forward to more.

    Anywho,the point of the video is that atheism can do the same thing. the quote might as well have read: "With or without communism, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes communism." (The only thing that Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and all the rest can say to that is that communism was a religion! Yes, a religion without a god or spirituality, but a religion.)

    In fact, as David Horowitz points out in the video, secular dogma can be even more dangerous. This is because so many religious people believe that the redemption will come only through a god, so they have to wait for the redemption to magically happen. but the communists murdered so many people because they thought they could, by themselves, create a Better Place. so that potential danger in secular messianic movements is always there.

    so i don't agree that religion is unique in its ability to make good people do bad things. any extreme movement has that ability, whether its religious (islamic terrorism) or secular (communism).

    in any case, the fact that religion can (though not uniquely) make good people bad is openly admitted by religion! (by which i mean judeo-christian values) the golden calf, for example, was a religious expression, but that doesn't mean the bible likes it.

    1. Communism is not the same as religion. The supernatural aspect of religion is missing. Communism and the radical green movement do horrible things. I am not saying they don't. But they both lack that super natural dictator that can read your mind and see your dreams. The god that knows you better than you know yourself. That is what is unique to religion.

  7. I was thinking about Weinberg's quote and had a few questions/points:

    1. How do we define people as good or bad, if not by their actions? In other words - if a good person is doing evil, by what basis do we consider them to be good?

    2. I suspect that it's more accurate to say that most people will follow societal norms, most of the time. When society is orderly and plays by the rules, so do most people. When there's a breakdown in order - as in scenes of rioting and looting - formerly law-abiding people will join in. When societal norms involve doing something evil, most people will not question it - it's the whole "banality of evil" thing.

    3. So, what drives people to deviate from societal norms? Sometimes, the factors are personal. I've read that Natan Sharansky was a stubborn child, so that character trait helped him to resist the Soviets for so many years in jail. Drugs and mental illness can certainly cause people to deviate, and I'm not prepared to label them all as "evil". And yes, some people will deviate for ideological reasons. If they are deviating from an evil social norm, we hail them as heroes. If they are deviating from a good social norm, we consider them to be dangerous fanatics.

    Have you ever read "Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China"? The author describes her father's faith in Communism, and it was a deep, ideological commitment to values that he was ready to cling to throughout years of torture. [Elsewhere in the book, she gives examples of what happens to ordinary people who are given license to act in evil ways, when she describes the Cultural Revolution.]