Tuesday, October 09, 2012

An observant Jewish atheist

This is not as strange as it would be in a Christian.  Christians define themselves by their beliefs but Orthodox Jews define themselves in terms of obedience to "the law" (halacha).  So it is what you do rather than what you believe that makes you a Jew

It’s not everyday that one meets a non-theist who differentiates himself from the outspoken atheist activist community. It’s even rarer to locate a non-believer who actually attends a house of worship on a regular basis.

However, these are exactly the attributes, among many others, that TheBlaze encountered in Dr. Jacques Berlinerblau, the director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and the author of the new book, “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.”

To say that Berlinerblau’s views are unique is an understatement. While he is Jewish in heritage, the professor considers himself an atheist. When asked to recap when it was that he realized his lack of a belief in a higher power, Berlinerblau said that there was no “epiphany moment.”

While he was careful to distinguish that not all post-Holocaust Jews were non-believers, he noted that the traumatic world event in which millions of individuals were exterminated, made God a difficult concept for some to embrace, particularly in the event’s aftermath.

Berlinerblau connected these themes to his own upbringing in the 1970s.  “Like many Jews of that generation, I had a bar mitzvah,” he explained, going on to say that it was often easier to sell kids in his generation on Jewish culture than it was on God.

Now, remember that tidbit about Berlinerblau attending synagogue? TheBlaze asked him to explain why he still goes to a house of worship, despite actively embracing his non-theism.

“I have a tremendous debt to Judaism, to my parents — to the history,” he explained. “It feels all very very natural. I have children who I want to be Jewish [too].”

Naturally, one wonders how the professor’s world-view is impacted by these divergent ideologies. Specifically, with dueling theological constructs coloring his experience, one ponders which wins out. On the atheism front, Berlinerblau said that non-belief has “very, very little” impact on his worldview.

He then went on to describe how he frames the current breakdown of secularists — a designation that will be helpful to anyone attempting to better understand the atheist frame-of-mind.

“I think there’s two general categories of atheists. A lot of American atheists today are like refugees from very severe fundamentalist homes and they believe that these homes were abusive, that there was brainwashing and intolerance in others,” he explained.

For these individuals, the atheist movement is “a place of refuge.” The second group takes a very different stance and finds itself unmoved and uninvolved with the atheist activists’ (the first group) more abrasive tactics.

“There’s another strain…[those] who don’t live their atheism out on their sleeve, because they never had to,” Berlinerblau noted. “They never found religious people to be particularly oppressive or diabolical. The conflicts never occurred probably because they were living in a state of equality with these folks.”

As for this first group, Berlinerblau had some tough words, at least in terms of the tactics they use to progress their non-belief. In the end, he likened some activists’ activities with those embraced by the Christian right in America, claiming that he “sees parallels between the two groups.”

“I’m a Washingtonian. I wouldn’t go about it the same way,” he said of controversial actions taken by secular groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), American Atheists and others. “The courts are moving away from all-out separation. I understand why they (atheists) do what they do — I’ve often asked the same question of the hard, Christian right.”

Citing one example, TheBlaze asked Berlinerblau how he feels about American Atheists’ battle against the Ground Zero cross. The educator’s advice to secularists is to “let it go.”  “There’s no threat of establishment there. Everyone understands many non-believers, Muslims and Jews died there [too],” he said. “I don‘t think it’s necessary to get involved in that atheist activism.”

To the chagrin of atheist activists, Berlinerblau also noted the “anti-intellectualism” that some atheist leaders embrace, admitting that, despite being a non-believer, he has been hard on this cohort.

“They don’t understand the history of religion, so they tend to make sweeping generalizations about religion which don’t really pass muster,” he said.

In his new book, “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom,”  Berlinerblau discusses many of these issues. Rather than allowing semantics to run amok, the author told TheBlaze that he wants to explain to people that “secularism” isn’t about taking God away from people — and it’s certainly not about persecuting the religious. Instead, it’s about  ensuring freedom from and of religion.

And as a surprise factoid, Berlinerblau claims that it’s actually an ideal with roots in Christian lineage. If there were no Protestant Reformation, he claims there would be no secularism. He even refers to the phenomenon as “a protestant invention” and “gift.” Secularism, according to the dictionary, is defined as, “the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of religious element.”

“What I’m trying to explain to Christian folks is that secularism is far from being [foreign],” he explained.

The professor expands the aforementioned definition in the following words and explains how he believes it should be introduced and practiced in public life:

“Secularism is a political philosophy which is preoccupied with and often deeply-suspicious of any and all relations of government and religion. That doesn’t mean strict separationism — that is one strain. There are other ways of being secular.  My personal preference is for a soft separation, not a hard separation. Government argues for accommodation, which is actually a form of secularism. Its argument is that, as long as the state establishes no one religion, it has every right to engage with religion and do so regularly.”


Why Liberty Requires Christianity

The article below makes a good case but I don't entirely agree with it.  See here  and here.

In an age that seems to believe that Christianity is an obstacle to liberty it will prove provocative to insist, contrary to such belief, that Christian faith is essential to liberty’s very existence. Yet, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to disciples of the progressivist zeitgeist, it must be insisted that faith enshrines freedom. Without the shrine that faith erects to freedom, the liberties that we take for granted will be eroded and ultimately destroyed. Faith preserves freedom. It protects it. It insists upon it. Where there is faith there is freedom. Where faith falters, so does freedom. This truth, so uncomfortably perplexing for so many of our contemporaries, was encapsulated by G. K. Chesterton when he asserted that “the modern world, with its modern movements, is living on its Catholic capital.  It is using, and using up, the truths that remain to it out of the old treasury of Christendom.”[i]

One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God, it doesn’t matter if people are black or white, healthy or sick, able-bodied or handicapped, or whether babies are inside the womb or out of it. It doesn’t matter that people are different, in terms of race, age or innate abilities; they are all equal in the eyes of God, and therefore, of necessity, in the eyes of Man also. This is the priceless inheritance of Christendom with which our freedoms are established and maintained. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God and Man, everyone must also be equal in the eyes of the law.

If, however, the equality of man is denied, freedom is imperiled. The belief of Nietzsche, adopted by the Nazis, that humanity consists of übermenschen and untermenschen, the “over-men” and the “under-men,” led to people being treated as subhuman, worthy of extermination and victims of genocide. The progressivist belief of Hegel, adopted by Marx and his legion of disciples, that a rationalist dialectic, mechanistically determined, governs the progress of humanity, led to the deterministic inhumanity of communism and the slaughter of those deemed to be enemies of “progress.” The French Revolution, an earlier incarnation of atheistic progressivism and the progenitor of communism, had led to the invention of the guillotine as the efficient and effective instrument of the Great Terror and its rivers of blood. The gas chamber, the Gulag and the guillotine are the direct consequence of the failure to uphold the Christian concept of human equality and the freedom it enshrines. In our own time, the same failure to accept and uphold human equality has led to babies in the womb being declared subhuman, or untermenschen, without any protection in law from their being killed at the whim of their mothers.

Apart from the connection between freedom and equality, the other aspect of freedom enshrined by Christianity is the freedom of the will and the consequences attached to it. If we are free to act and are not merely slaves to instinct as the materialists claim, we have to accept that we are responsible for our choices and for their consequences.

Before proceeding to the paradoxical relationship between freedom and responsibility, let’s return to the philosophical ramifications of materialism, which is to say the removal of God from the picture of reality. Materialists are forced, if they are honest enough to follow the logic of their own first principles, to believe that none of us are free but that we are all slaves to our biologically determined instincts. For all such materialists, commonly known in today’s jargon as the new atheists, there is no such thing as freedom. It is an illusion. Considering the historical record of old atheists, such as the terrorists of the French Revolution, the communist revolution and the Third Reich, it is not likely that these new atheists, with their belief that we are all slaves to our genes, will prove any better in the defence of freedom. Why should they defend something that they don’t believe exists?

In contrast to the atheists’ philosophical acceptance of slavery, the insistence of Christians that we are all equal and that we all possess freewill can be seen as truly liberating. Yet the paradoxical reality is that freedom is not free. It comes at a price. As already stated, freedom is inseparable from responsibility. If we want to reap the rewards of our good choices we must be prepared to pay the cost of our bad ones. It is for this reason that Edmund Burke insisted, quite correctly, that liberty must be limited in order to be possessed. If liberty is not limited it will be lost, or, to put the matter another way, the taking of liberties by some leads to the taking of liberties from others. Rapists and murderers and thieves should expect to pay heavily for the abuse of their freedom and for the taking of the freedom of those with whom they took liberties.

This is all very well and may be taken to be self-evident. Yet the whole of contemporary society and the whole of contemporary politics seem to be based on a denial of this fact. On the so-called “left” of the political spectrum the philosophy of the libertine is in the ascendant. This is the belief that we should be able to do what we like with our bodies and the bodies of others and to hell with the consequences. If we become pregnant, we can kill the baby. If children are abused by dysfunctional parents doing their own thing in dysfunctional relationships, so be it. Nothing, least of all children in the womb or in the home, must get in the way of the right of “adults” to do what they want with their lives and their bodies. Children are the new untermenschen. Broken in mind by the broken homes and broken relationships of their libertine parents, they are the forgotten ones. They are voteless and voiceless in a culture of death in which they are increasingly seen as an expensive inconvenience. This was the sense in which Oscar Wilde lamented that anarchy was Freedom’s own Judas, betraying liberty with a lustful kiss.

So much for the libertines of the so-called “left.” On the so-called “right,” as a so-called alternative to left-wing libertines, are the right-wing libertarians, who support the freedom of pornographers to corrupt everyone they touch, the freedom of drug pushers to deal death to vulnerable youngsters, and the freedom of global corporations to rule the world unhampered by political or economic constraint.

The libertines believe in Big Government to ensure that they can continue to take liberties by taking the liberties of others, specifically in recent years by taking the liberties of Christians who wish to live in accordance with their anti-libertine consciences. The libertarians, on the other hand, believe that Big Business should be left free to use the bullying powers of the economies of scale to destroy small businesses. Libertarians believe that huge corporations should be free to take liberties by taking the liberties of small corporations, turning downtown into ghost-town.

Faced with the choice between the libertine and the libertarian we should echo the words of Mercutio and call down a curse upon both their houses. Instead of choosing between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, or Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber, we should choose the faith that leads to true and lasting freedom. After all, as an idiot[ii] once said in an entirely different context, we have nothing to lose but our chains.


BBC faces its rottenness at last

George Entwistle, the BBC Director-General, has confirmed the corporation will hold an internal inquiry into the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations and a toxic culture of impunity among presenters during the 1970s and 1980s.

In an interview with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Entwistle said he would "Take it further and ensure that any outstanding questions are answered properly."

There was, he said, an "enormous obligation" on staff members who had evidence of Savile's abuse of children to come forward.

He apologised on behalf of the BBC for the allegations initially made in an ITV documentary last week, which have since seen tens of women come forward with accounts of molestation and assault at the hands of the deceased Top of the Pops and Radio 1 presenter.

Entwistle said: "These are awful allegations that have been made, and they are criminal allegations. The women involved here have gone through something awful, and something I deeply regret they have had to go through.

"I would should like to apologise on behalf of each and every one of them."

He added that the police investigation currently underway would have to be completed before the BBC began an internal inquiry into how Savile was allegedly able to molest children on its premises.

"We need a comprehensive examination of what went on here. At the heart of what went on are a series of criminal allegations about the behaviour of Sir Jimmy Savile," he said.

"The way to deal with those is to make sure the police, who are the only properly constituted authority for dealing with criminal investigations are allowed to make the enquiries they need to make."

It was, he emphasised, "Critically important that we put the BBC at the disposal of the police."

George Entwistle has been Director-General of the BBC for less than a month, and was formerly head of BBC Vision.

His handling of the Savile allegations and complaints by female presenters will be seen as the first real test as head of the corporation.

Entwistle conceded that his scope was limited during the criminal investigation, and said: "The BBC does not have the capacity to compel people who no longer work for it to give interviews... or to secure evidence forensically."

"It is vital we do nothing that would compromise a criminal examination of events."


Maternity leave is 'burden' on women

Sheila Lawlor, director of think tank Politeia, says maternity pay is a 'great burden' on women and businesses in the UK and should be scrapped - or few women will ever reach the boardrooom.

Conservative support from women voters has been slipping, despite the raft of family-friendly measures with which the Coalition has continued where Labour led.

"Family-friendly" has become a cliché for a direction of political travel, which politicians have accustomed the voters to expect. So it would be a brave politician who questioned the most well-established plank of family-friendly policy - maternity leave.

Under present UK law, women who give birth can take up to a year’s maternity leave, for six weeks of which they are paid 90pc of their usual salary, though after that the rules vary and it’s around £135 a week or less.

However, maternity leave is creating a great burden on many women and businesses. The legislation puts employers off employing women. Companies are reluctant to give jobs to women of childbearing age.

We have to abandon what is wrongly called 'family -friendly' legislation, including the sole option maternity leave.

Most ordinary women in most ordinary jobs do badly when they take advantage of family-friendly legislation. It takes longer for them to catch up on earnings when they return and they don’t accrue pension rights while they are away.

Yet the PR still paints a pretty picture. A happy new mother "visiting" work with an adorable baby during leave, then returning full- time, supported by the family-friendly state to live in Scandanavian-type serenity. But the reality is often very different.

The mother abandons her job for a fixed term. Her income probably falls sharply after the first six weeks. She returns to work, bolstered, she thinks, by the option of seeking parental leave or "flexi time", and in-work tax credits if on low pay.

But these statutory provisions and benefits create a perverse incentive in the short term to return to work against what may be longer term interests.

The decision to return to work or not is difficult and individual: personal inclination, family income, circumstances, job, costs at home and of childcare. No blanket bureaucratic rule of work-life balance can cater for individual circumstance.

The care of a young child is particularly worrying for the mother and she should be left to reach such a decision without being bribed or influenced by a highly politicised culture. If she decides to go along with that culture she may be poorer in the short and longer term.

She has lost out on experience and on pension, and when back at work catching up she must add the worries of caring for her vulnerable baby. Pay and promotion prospects may well not match those of colleagues who have not been away. She may even have to change from full time to part time work.

The evidence is that the hourly pay of mothers with dependent children is less than that of working fathers, compared with what they had before their children. After each birth women returning to work have low wage growth, and the pay difference does not start to shrink for 15 years.

Family-friendly law is really family and female-unfriendly. Current arrangements at maternity too often lead to a downward spiral of earnings and career, a life of near-dependency on the state for top-ups of one sort or another and probably an impoverished old age.

Why not offer those new mothers who don’t want to return to work right away or a year’s maternity package, the chance of a career break instead to coincide with their children’s early years, with retraining for work once the youngest goes to school –a pattern used for many female GPs?

The Government must steel itself against the short-term solution and the escalating demands from the leftist lobby, including the latest EU plan for female boardroom quotas.

These lead to short-term fixes which can be bad for women, short and long term.

The Conservatives are a party of the long term: working lives will be longer; tax and benefit systems must take account of different career patterns; above all women must be treated as individuals with long term interests - with lives, families and yes, jobs, which should enrich rather than impoverish them over the longer term.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCHAUSTRALIAN POLITICSDISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL  and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine).   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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