Tuesday, February 17, 2009

An Introduction and a Word of Explanation: a Response to Some Comments (Part I)

My recent post on PZ Myers’ lecture has generated a lot of discussion. There were a number of excellent comments that deserve full responses. Also, since there were many first timers to this blog, I thought it would be worthwhile to put in a word of explanation as to who I am and the nature of this blog. First off, while I am a theist and a practicing Orthodox Jew, I welcome people and ideas of all sorts. I am not trying to preach to anyone or convince anyone to follow any particular system of belief and practice. I try to treat everyone with respect. For example I have received positive comments from Mormons for my postings on Mormonism, thanking me for treating them fairly. This, I think, comes out of the fact that this blog exists more for my education and my personal search than for anyone else. I wish to understand people on their own terms. So no matter whom you are or what you believe, I am interested in you and what you believe for its own sake. I want you to help me understand.

I come from a specific place, which affects what sort of questions I ask and the issues that I interest myself in. Obviously, as with the thinkers I study professionally, I am also a product of my environment and time period. If I were to put an overarching thesis to my thought it would be: I have rejected much of the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) upbringing of my youth, but am critical of what I see in modern secularism so I am left trying to consider alternatives. Underlying this thesis are the questions of why I am not Haredi, or, for that matter, any other type of religious fundamentalist, and why am I not a secularist.

For the purposes of this blog religious fundamentalism is a response to modernity that argues that one’s sacred texts are by definition the Truth and therefore any claims made by the methods of thought developed by modernity that contradict said sacred texts are by definition false. The irony of this is that religious fundamentalism is as much a product of modernity as the secularism it is supposed to oppose. Secularism is the ideology that one should operate outside of any traditional religion. It should be noted that secular is not the same as being an atheist. One can believe in God and still choose not accept any established religion.

I strongly suspect that most of those who commented on my previous post will strongly be able to identify with my rejection of religious fundamentalism and it is likely that on that front we share a lot in common. It is the second question of why I am not a secularist that seems to befuddle many. So why am I not working “toward helping to advance humanity out of the shadows of religion toward the sunlight of secularism?” What do I have against secularism? “Is it the scientific facts underpinning secularism or the chaotic freedom of the social aspects that [I] disagree with? And if it is the latter, is that based on personal distaste for modern culture or leftover religious proscriptions? Why would a seemingly rational person like myself “who accepts facts though the lens of inquiry, not dogma” refuse to eat food that was not kosher?

I am glad that so many of you are willing to give me the benefit of doubt that I am a rational being and not some superstitious relic from an ancient world. I believe I owe you the respect to not try to preaching to you or to try to claim that my way of doing things is some unchallengeable only road to the Truth. For one thing I do not believe that myself about my own beliefs. I am just a graduate student in his mid twenties trying to make an educated rational guess as to the nature of this world and trying to come up with a plausible way of living based on that best guess. What I will try, in this post and in the future, is to prove worthy of your benefit of the doubt by making the case for my rationality.

(To be continued …)

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