Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Would They Believe?

Baal Habos asks:

If you dropped someone from a different environment who was never exposed to religion or philosophic thoughts. Exposing them to fair debate, don't you think they would all land on the secular side?

For all of you intellectual purists out there, I will point out that it is impossible to actually run this experiment in a satisfactory way. After all, there is no such thing as a person who has no prior experience with belief. Some people are raised towards a specific faith, some are raised as atheists, and some are raised in homes where belief is not considered at all. However, in each of these cases, by the time that person has reached an age of thinking, they have much invested in the outlook from which they have been raised. Even if their environment is completely areligous, that in itself is the norm to which they are accustomed, and they will have to overcome the inertia of that practice in order to change.

But, understanding that we cannot answer this question scientifically, it is still a fascinating question. I would say that most non-believers would side with Baal Habos and conclude that very few rational people without a strong prior background in religion would end up in the believers’ camp. And, conversely, I would say that the Orthodox community would argue that, given a full and informed education into the richness and sophistication of the Torah, and if they could be ‘objective’ (i.e. rise above their material and physical desires), that most would see the truth of Torah.

In fact, it seems logical that it is a fundamental requirement of any religion to believe that if anyone truly seeks the truth, without any bias or weakness, the path will lead them to that religion. After all, if that is not the case, why should anyone be rewarded for finding that faith, and why should anyone be punished for not having found it?

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that they may both have it wrong. I do believe, as I wrote to Baal Habos, that, these people would reject all of the incongruous claims by all of the major organized religions. But, on the other hand, I don’t think that the majority of them would end up in the strong atheist camp.

Many people can’t believe in the complex mythology and arcane moralism of organized religion. But, at the same time, they still seek to find satisfying answers to the great questions which those systems address so neatly. Where did we come from, what are we doing here, how should I live my life? Many people are not bothered by these questions, or can find satisfying answers in the secular domain. But many people are willing and motivated to seek answers in the spiritual realm.

So, at least in this country, there has emerged a new type of religion. This is the force behind the massive success of books and dvds such as “The Secret”, or “A New Earth”. There is no sacred text, so people are very individualistic about how they shape these beliefs, and the range of how they interpret spirituality borrows from everyone from The Buddha to Obe Wan Kenobe.

I think that it is a good trend. It may be the best of all worlds – spirituality and humanism rolled into one. And, though I'm biased to my own team, there will also be room for a few of us agnostics thrown into the mix.


Blogger Joseph said...

I'vealways wondered my entire life why Noahidism isn't more popular. That said, anyone out there have any idea why there is practically no mention, if any, in our Torah or Tanach?

And if not, how can anyone expect the nations to know about it???

April 17, 2008 11:01 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

We've effectively come to the same conclusion. I didn't say that people would reject God, I said they choose secularity, i.e. non-religious.

It's the miraculous claims of religion that are so outrageous, not the claim of a God.

When you step into a questioning mode, it's the Kvetching that religion must do to reconcile their texts with History, Science & itself that is laughable.

Yet there are believers. So what's the cause. It's the group think. Imagine trying to convince an adult that there is a Santa. Impossible. Yet when religion put's forth the imaginary man who vists everyone at Seder, Eliyahu, there are millions of takers.

April 18, 2008 8:26 AM  
Blogger dbs said...


The seven laws of sons of Noah is a talmudic construct. The Torah itself gives two of the seven commands to Noah after the flood and the other five are derived by talmutic reasoning.

It's not popular because, as you said, why would a non-jew worry about what the Talmud thinks that they should do.

Having said that, since there are infinite strokes for different people, there are a few 'Noahites' around here and there.

April 18, 2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger dbs said...


Yes, that's pretty much what I think as well.

By the way, I used the santa/eliahu rif a while back at this post:

April 18, 2008 12:58 PM  
Blogger Baal Habos said...

>By the way, I used the santa/eliahu rif a while back at this post:

Man, that is Spooky. Maybe I read it once, but it doesn't ring a bell. I guess it just rings true.

April 18, 2008 1:11 PM  
Blogger DrJ said...

dbs welcome back!

Although Baal Habos's thought experiment is interesting, it wouldn't really provide an answer about how rational religion is.

This is because human beings have a natural need to explain causality (ie the "spandrel" idea of religion), and the explanation which develops will be a function of environment and emotional makeup, so it could never be a purely "logical" answer.

Having said that, it is obvious in modern times that most religious people were raised religiously and most secular people were not (although this was NOT true at the time of the enlightenment, when there was mass abandonment of traditional religious beliefs). But it doesn't prove objectivity any more than if I would ask the same person in this experiment whether he thinks American or French culture is better or more logical or more rational.

April 27, 2008 3:40 AM  
Blogger dbs said...


Hi again.

Sure, I agree that this isn't an experiment in human objectivity, but rather in what ideas would have the most appeal to some hypothetical ideologically untainted human. And, of course, the outcome would be based on all human principles - logic being only one of the many.

April 29, 2008 12:25 AM  
Blogger Goldwasser Story said...

he's was hacking in chinneck till late at night when I told him it's about time he go

May 15, 2008 11:00 PM  
Blogger Thomasd said...

I enjoyed this post, and find myself thinking that if a nonpartisan, objective person were to really be informed in all aspects of my beliefs, they would subscribe to them--but wouldn't any honest person who sincerely believes their 'faith' (whether it be Judaism, Christianity, or Atheism) think that? We all assume we have the real key to enlightenment...

I have just now discovered your blog, and think I will enjoy it regularly.


May 29, 2008 3:00 PM  
Blogger Jewish Sceptic said...

I think those from a background where belief isn't considered are the best specimens for such an experiment, because by the very way in which they're defined, they haven't given any thought to belief or non-belief, they just live their life. In other words, they have no opinion either way.

But then again, in the real-world, those who aren't already vested in a religion probably don't want to be bound by rules and will choose ease of life over the possibility of a wrathful God who may or may not smite them down in an afterlife which may or may not exist.

June 07, 2008 10:56 AM  
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July 13, 2008 4:37 AM  
Blogger Joshua Zelinsky said...

I have strong disagreement with the statement that beliefs in things like "The Secret" are a good thing. The Secret is in fact a great example of everything that's wrong with the New Age movement. The Secret includes poor thinking, fallacious logic, and misrepresentation of science (especially quantum mechanics). This is functionally almost as bad as charedim who insist there was a literal Mabul.

March 25, 2009 10:08 PM  
Blogger Rabbi Lars Shalom said...

answer to the qusetion certainly not


May 25, 2009 6:07 AM  

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