Category Archives: Religion

Bookworm Beat 6/18/20 — Idle thoughts of an irritated mind

I’m in a Festivus mood: My Airing of the Grievances has me saying “I got a lotta problems with you leftists, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

Sometimes victim-blaming is appropriate: I found the following statement circulating among my leftist friends on Facebook and it irritated me more than it ought to have:


No. Just no. Morally wrongful “blaming the victim” happens when someone is doing something safe, innocuous, and normal, and nevertheless falls afoul of an evil criminal, only to have people say “You shouldn’t have walked your dog in a safe neighborhood in broad daylight,” “You shouldn’t have worn clothes that are slightly form fitting without revealing any flesh,” “You shouldn’t have walked down a street in Atlanta because you’re black.” That’s victim-blaming.

It is not victim-blaming to say that, while the criminal actor must always be blamed, people are nevertheless responsible for their stupid choices. As I always told my daughter, “You don’t dance naked in a Hell’s Angels’ biker bar and then act surprised if you get raped.” Likewise, you don’t brutally attack the police, steal their taser, and try to shoot one of them with the taser, and then have people posthumously say that you weren’t a contributing factor to your own death. Brooks was a victim who deserved to be blamed.

One of the problems with America today is that we’ve told people they’re never responsible for their own choices. Here’s the standard for victim blaming: If any sane, reasonable person would’ve and could’ve known better, you should have too.

Too many American blacks have no father in Heaven or on earth: I’ve always liked The Lord’s Prayer, which I think is beautiful poetry. Lately, I’ve had the first line running through my head: “Our Father, who art in Heaven….”

One doesn’t have to be Christian to recognize the important message in that line; namely, that whether we’re talking about the Jewish God or the Christian God, there is a God out there who has sent us a moral code and who will, in this life or the next, judge us for running afoul of it. (And yes, I know that Judaism is a little squishy on Heaven, but I’m with Dennis Prager, who believes that God is too good to be cruel enough to deny his faithful a glorious afterlife given how much yucky stuff we deal with in this life.)

While blacks overall are still a religious people (although their churches have been taken over by leftism; see, i.e., Rev. Jeremiah Wright), I suspect that criminally-inclined black men do not believe that their lives are being overseen by a moral and, at the end of the day, judgmental God. For them, there is no divine presence keeping them on the path of righteousness.

Leftism killed God, their father.

Leftism also killed their actual fathers. Over 70% of black children have no biological father in their life. This means that they’re more likely to live in poverty. It means that they’re at greater risk of getting assaulted or killed by their mother’s boyfriends. And it means that girls are more likely to be promiscuous and boys are more likely to be criminals. Also, and this is my theory with no data to back it up, just a gut feeling, boys are more likely to be homosexuals or claim to be transgendered because they over-identify with their mothers.

Dad energy is different from mom energy. Moms nurture but dads guide. Dads tell their daughters how beautiful they are, so the daughter doesn’t go from one man to another seeking the affirmation all women need from a loving man. And dads tell their sons to be strong and loyal and hard-working.

Dads do important negative things as well. They scare predatory men away from their daughters. It’s unlikely that the Muslim rape and prostitution gangs in England would have fared as well as they did if the girls on whom they preyed had fathers who would have stood up for them. My understanding is that most of the girls didn’t.

Another “negative” thing dads do is scare the living daylights out of a boy when he commits some petty crime and his parents have to pick him up from the police station. Moms are sympathetic and might even blame the police. Dads, though, are punitive. A good dad will come down on his son like a ton of bricks, even while letting the boy know he still loves him.

In the black community, 70% of kids don’t have the loving, positive dad or the angry, negative dad in their lives. It’s just mom, and maybe a bunch of half-siblings. When these kids look up at the sky, they don’t imagine a Heaven in which there’s a loving, positive God or a moral, judgmental God. There’s just space. Nothing, absolutely nothing, constrains kids who feel unloved and unwatched.

This is what leftism has done to the black community with its hatred for faith and its relentless push to get black women on welfare, making dads extraneous. I’ve said before that, while President Trump’s crime bill might indeed put more criminals back on the street, its saving grace could be that it puts more dads back in the home, especially the black home.

I think John Roberts is being blackmailed. Some people think John Roberts hates Trump, which is why he consistently rules against Trump on things that matter to Democrats. I don’t think that’s what’s going on because he started this pattern early, long before Trump.

Roberts is either a really weak conservative or, as I believe, he’s being blackmailed (my feeling is that it’s about his children). That’s why he’s conservative on the edges but, whenever it really matters to the leftists, suddenly he comes out strong as an activist justice who has no time for the Constitution or the laws of this land.

And yes, of course I know that my claim that he’s being blackmailed about his adopted children is completely unfounded. I’m not arguing otherwise. This is a feeling, not a theory.

I’m running out of things not to buy and places not to go. Chick-fil-A’s CEO announced that I need to wash black people’s feet. No, they can wash their own feet.

I’m not surprised, though. Remember the kerfuffle when it turned out that the Chick-fil-A Foundation was run by a hard leftist? Management pretended to be surprised by that revelation, but they’re not that stupid. Chick-fil-A has figured out that, if it promotes a few overtly Christian behaviors, it can get away with leftist murder.

I won’t go to Chick-fil-A anymore.

I don’t ever want to shop from Amazon again, given that it refuses to support mainstream conservative causes and that Bezos doesn’t want customers who don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement. I support the civil rights of every individual in America. I do not support a hard-left group that’s using race in lieu of class as a way to impose Marxist ideology on America. Screw you, Bezos.

I’m grateful I’ve never used T-Mobil, which dumped Tucker Carlson because Carlson has said the same things about BLM that I believe.

I never buy Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, or Mrs. Butterworth, so I can’t stop buying them as a way to let their parent companies know that their cowardice is not appreciated.

I won’t stand in line to buy anything other than food or to exercise my Second Amendment rights. It enrages and disgusts me that stores are still meekly going along with edicts limiting the numbers of customers allowed, thereby risking their economic destruction, after the BLM and Antifa marches and riots. There’s no product I want enough to stand in line for other than life’s very basic necessities.

I’m staggered that, judging by my Facebook page, leftists in California are still going along with Gavin Newsom’s edicts. His latest is mandatory masks. I have friends speaking about their gratitude that their children sneaked into their houses to visit them. Again, how in the world can these sheep act that way in light of the marches and riots?

When I run errands I notice three classes of people wearing masks: The elderly, who clearly should; blacks, who probably should (although I do believe that they might need more Vitamin D); and young, affluent white people, who are at low risk and are either virtue-signaling or made totally paranoid by their daily consumption of the New York Times. The Times makes people paranoid and fills them with self-loathing.

Middle-class people risk the most in a cancel culture. We in the middle class have big chains around us. I noticed that in Marin with divorce. The very poor divorced because they were poor before and remained poor afterward. The very rich divorced because they were very rich before and remained very rich afterward. For the middle class, especially women with children, divorce could be an economic death sentence.

It’s the same with being open about our politics. The poor and the rich do not change status when they speak up. Today’s cancel culture means that we in the middle risk everything when we stand against the mob.

Grumble, grumble, grumble. Running errands today soured me.

Trump threatens the very scary Leftist God complex

Trump is the avatar of an American reformation, for he is destroying the dangerous Leftist edifice that has turned our constitutional government into a god.

A few quotations to begin. The first is from Charles Lipson, writing about Mueller’s sinking reputation (and I guarantee that my ellipses are honest):

Republicans add three more serious charges against Mueller. *** Another serious charge — deliberate distortion of evidence — comes from president’s former attorney, John Dowd. He has shown the Mueller report edited one of his phone calls to change its meaning. Dowd is apoplectic, calling the report a “fraud.” Others will join him if additional distortions, misrepresentations, and omissions are found.

The second is from Paul Sperry, who spoke to people caught in the cross hairs of Mueller’s investigation (and, again, my ellipses are honest):

Now that Mueller has ended his probe finding no election collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, 10 witnesses and targets of his sprawling, $35 million investigation agreed to speak with RealClearInvestigations because they are no longer in legal jeopardy. *** Their firsthand accounts pull back the curtain on the secret inner workings of the Mueller probe, revealing how the special counsel’s nearly two dozen prosecutors and 40 FBI agents used harshly aggressive tactics to pressure individuals to either cop to crimes or implicate others in felonies involving collusion. *** Almost all decried what they called Mueller’s “scorched earth” methods that affected their physical, mental and financial health. Most said they were forced to retain high-priced Washington lawyers to protect them from falling into “perjury traps” for alleged lying, which became the special counsel’s charge of last resort.

The third, and final quote, is from William Barr:

Sometimes people can convince themselves that what they’re doing is in the higher interest, the better good. They don’t realize that what they’re doing is really antithetical to the democratic system that we have. They start viewing themselves as the guardians of the people that are more informed and insensitive than everybody else. They can- in their own mind, they can have those kinds of motives. And sometimes they can look at evidence and facts through a biased prism that they themselves don’t realize.

I’ll add a tidbit of my own, something that’s purely anecdotal, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: In my many decades as a lawyer, I’ve faced off against a lot of opposing attorneys. Most were just doing their jobs, more or less aggressively or effectively. Some, though, were deliberately dishonest. As far as they were concerned, the rules did not apply to them. Without exception, these unethical lawyers graduated from Ivy League law schools in the years after 1984.

This is not to say that every Ivy League law graduate with whom I dealt was dishonest. In fact, the majority were honest and some were even good attorneys. It’s just to say that every unethical attorney with whom I dealt came out of the Ivy League. In this regard, I’d like to point out that Andrew Weissman, Mueller’s second in command, a man with a reputation as an attack dog, and the person apparently in charge of the way in which the investigation proceeded, graduated from Columbia Law School, probably around 1984 or not long after.

I always got the feeling that the unethical Ivy Leaguers with whom I dealt truly believed that laws were for little people. When they looked in the mirror, they saw themselves as superior beings, above the ordinary rules. In their own minds, their Ivy League credentials elevated them to demigod status. They were oblivious to the fact that it’s dangerous when men think of themselves as gods, no matter how minor the deity they feel themselves to be.

Robert Mueller may technically be a Republican (although I’d classify him as almost fanatically “Never Trump”), but the others on his team were all Democrats. I’m sure some of them would claim religious belief but I can’t escape the feeling that these Mueller-team Democrats, in common with all modern, hardcore Democrats, reserve their highest and greatest faith for government.

To the modern Progressive, government is the instrument that will perfect mankind and save the earth. Government is the repository of power, both beneficent and punitive.

Progressives aren’t entirely wrong about the god-like qualities government possesses. I’ve already noted its all-encompassing control, as well as it’s ability to giveth and taketh away. Government is also effectively immortal for, as Reagan memorably pointed out, “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!”

Moreover, socialism reveals that the god of government is as jealous as Allah, for you may never worship any entity more than you do the government itself. In openly socialist nations, religious worship is outlawed. In less openly socialist nations — that would be Europe and the Progressive wing of America — God is denigrated, ridiculed, and maligned. The whole gay marriage movement has proven to be nothing less than a sustained attack on Christianity, both at a doctrinal and a practical level.

But here’s the really important distinction between religious gods and the god of government: The traditional Gods, whether from the Bible, the Koran, the Hindu pantheon, or even Greek or Roman mythology, all exist outside of humankind.  Government, however, is different: In Soylent Green fashion, government is people!

The ugly truth, though, is that men make lousy gods. I cannot think of a single man who has set himself up as a god, from Icarus to Nero to Caligula to Hitler to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot to the whole miserable Kim family, who hasn’t come to a terrible end and, except for Icarus, taken thousands, millions, or even tens of millions of people with him.

Men who believe themselves to be gods are unconstrained by any rules, most especially the golden rule. Actual religions always have some element of the golden rule in them; government does not. There is no morality in government, just power. That’s why, going back to the quotations that opened this post, you have lawyers at the highest level of American politics falsifying evidence; entrapping people; and telling themselves that they, no matter what they do, are acting in the highest and best interests of “good government.”

The Leftists who make up both the open state and the Deep State, who walk the halls of Congress and huddle in bureaucratic offices, have succumbed to self-worship and no longer feel themselves bound by the morality that constrains all of us “little people.” Were the Leftists to have their way, we would be entirely ruled, not just by one Nero, but by an army of them, all wrapped cozily in their self-deification, meting out harsh punishments to all who falter in their government worship. The very fate the Founders feared when they wrote their exquisite Constitution, one intended to constrain government power, would be visited upon us.

No wonder the Left hates Trump so much. He threatens their god head. Even as they call him a tyrant and dictator, he is slowly but surely reining in government. He’s smashing its altars, shrinking its doctrinal rules (i.e., regulations), and investigating a priesthood (i.e., government bureaucrats) that’s become dangerously corrupt. This is the American reformation, and all I can say is, “Thank God — the real God that is — for it.”

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Vassar Bushmills

Is America an accident? A freak of Nature?  Or, is America the product of Intelligent Design?

I don’t intend to try to answer the second half of that question here as that requires an inquiry into philosophy and theology. But by the longest list of scientific and common sense proofs, I think I can say without equivocation that America is no accident. We cannot be a freak of Nature. So you can sort of figure out the rest yourself.

This is something we no longer teach our children, but we are unique.

Now, scholars (intellectuals) for the past 200 years have had no problem ignoring this question, for they think it’s a trick question, which does not really require an answer. If they reply that Yes, America is a freak, then the obvious response from the trickster asking the question is: Then why has America survived so long? In nature almost all mutations quickly die out. They can rarely survive into a second generation, much less a third.

And America is into somewhere around its 118th generation of de facto self-governance, while, before the 1787 Constitution, there is no recorded history of a real nation (bigger than a tribe) ever making it past one. (Agreed, also prior to 1787, almost all history was written by “scribes of the kings”, the real name for “historians” for millennia, so there could have been dozens of nascent self-governed peoples who were simply squished, or gobbled up by a next-door invading king, only they were too small and insignificant to rate a page in the “annals of the king” being prepared by his historians.)

In fact, the archaeological record of pre-dynastic Egypt suggests this is how several tribes of farm people in the Nile region slowly morphed into an organized hierarchical “corporation”, with a chairman of the board king, a head priest, and every other person in the realm owing some duty to them. Subjects.

The Egyptians and a few other empires in a region from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indus Valley (India) started this process of “civilization” about 3000 BC, 5000 years ago. And they did many wondrous things, especially building things that for generations for centuries could; i.e. monuments to themselves, which was their purpose.

They didn’t just sort of spring up. Any fifth grader can make a list of all the things necessary for a “civilization” to grow and survive; food, water source, commerce, housing, security, common language…but the fifth grader will likely not know to include the intangibles, such as common purpose, reciprocity, you know a code of conduct with one another which no religion I know of, save one, ever bothered to list. Every nation had a list of “how to get along with the Boss”, but no one that I know ever had a list of “how to get along with your neighbors”…except for a small tribe in central Mesopotamia[…]

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Vassar Bushmills

Anyone, anywhere, who hears the name “America” already has a first impression about America; either positive or negative. It doesn’t matter if he/she is 18 or 80, and located anywhere in the world.

If abroad those impressions are a mixture of street talk, music, films, and of course, relatives who may have traveled there or live. One man from one village can go to America, and everyone in that valley has a impression of America that no government can conceal.

I knew such a family from Dayton whose father had come to America from a village in Slovakia before WWII, taking work in a steel mill. He left a wife and son back home. Just before the war he went back to bring his wife to America. But he had to leave his 6-year old behind with relatives to secure the family lands. Once in America, Papa and Mama Miluks started a new family, his youngest son my best friend for many years from the Army. In the late 1970s, while on duty in Germany, he was allowed to travel to Slovakia and meet his eldest brother and see the village and old home place, and of course, take gifts. When I visited his family in Dayton Mama Miluks showed me the special place she kept all her letters from her son, who she had not seen since 1940. But those letters! She wrote many-paged reports every week for over 40 years, giving a weekly account of things going on with his papa and brothers and sister, learning quickly to never speak of certain things, for by ’46 the Communists had moved in and her letters were first read and redacted by postal censors, cutting all references to the availability of consumer goods commonly available in America, especially food. Her son, in turn, would reply with heavily redacted letters. He would die in the early 1990’s of the general poor heath common to socialist countries so was never able to join his family. He never met his other two younger brothers or sister. And of course his last personal memory of his parents was when he was 6.

But I am quite sure every adult in that village had clear impressions of America because of Mr Miluks, who went to America.

I tell this story because one, it’s true, and two, it is, next to the Christian’s ideal of Heaven, an impression of America as a place that one has never been and most wants to go, which cannot be duplicated anywhere else. I have met people in several countries and four continents, including Palestinian Arabs (on an overnight sleeper in Russia) and from all I hear basically the same thing, “If only I could go to America.”

(This is not what we are seeing today on our southern border, by the way, so I won’t take this discussion in that direction, although just 30-40 years ago, down there, where I also lived, this was a common refrain, “If I can only get to America.” I deal with this subject in an upcoming conversation about Assimilation, which should be a topic of policy discussion if we can ever get fully in charge or our government again.)

So, abroad, America is viewed through two entirely different prisms, divided by two classes: 1) the political class and 2) all the rest[…]

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Religion should look like and act like religion — or why bother?

There’s nothing like trying to find a good synagogue to teach you that, when religion seeks meaning in pop culture not God, it no longer serves mankind.

Would any of you argue with me if I opened this post by saying that traditional religion is under attack in the West? No, I didn’t think so. Some religions, though, or at least some branches of the Judeo-Christian faiths, didn’t wait to be attacked. They just surrendered. They thought that, by surrendering, they’d stay alive, but they merely hastened their deaths. I have a few examples, and then I’ll see if I can use those examples to help prove my point.

On April 19, 2019, just as the sun is setting, Jews around the world will begin to celebrate Passover. According to tradition, Jews have been celebrating the Exodus story, and their escape from slavery, for more than 3,300 years. Even if one doubts tradition, it’s certain that they have been celebrating it for over 2,500 years.

As with all serious rituals, Passover follows a strict form. For thousands of years, in Israel itself, in Europe, in the Americas, in Asia, in Africa, and in the Middle East, in Australia and New Zealand, in whichever part of the world Jews have settled, they have taken seriously the admonition that they must commemorate the Exodus story. It’s a story that began when Moses, on behalf of an enslaved people, faced down the most powerful monarch in the world, a feat he accomplished because God was at his side and had his back. In different countries, there will be differences in food, language, clothes, furnishings, and music, but the core ceremony is always the same. Whether I go to a traditional seder in England or Argentina or Israel, I will feel at home.

Regular readings know that I grew up in a non-religious, yet highly Jewish, household. My father grew up in an orthodox German orphanage and then, having escaped the Nazis, spent the next two decades in British Mandate Palestine/Israel. My mother grew up the child of a mixed marriage, but from the age of 13, interrupted only by her years in a Japanese concentration camp, lived in British Mandate Palestine/Israel. For both, Jewish education and observance went without saying.

When my parents moved to America, though, they still thought that “being Jewish” went without saying. They were wrong. In America, if you want your kids to know Judaism, you must belong to a synagogue. It never occurred to them, though, to join one and, given my Dad’s long-standing communist tendencies, he would have resisted if my Mom had suggested they join. Moreover, given that my Mom’s favorite holiday was Christmas (remember that mixed marriage, right?), a wholly Jewish lifestyle wasn’t going to happen.

Nevertheless, in an interesting way, my childhood still managed to be wholly Jewish. Despite my Mom’s mixed DNA, she identified 100% as Jewish, as did my Dad. Having both been in the Israeli military during the Israeli War of Independence, they identified 100% as supporters of the world’s only Jewish state. With only one or two exceptions, all their friends were Jewish. My parents were steeped in Jewish history, values, and culture, which inevitably found its way into my psyche. Even in silly ways, we knew we were Jews. As kids, my sister and I could identify every old-time Hollywood star who was secretly Jewish (Leslie Howard, Lauren Bacall, June Allyson, John Gilbert, Edward G. Robinson, Theda Bara…. I can still list most of them).

Most importantly, although we did not observe the High Holidays (that would have involved paying to belong to a synagogue, plus Mom would never fast because, as she said, “I have low blood sugar”), we did celebrate Passover. Oy, did we celebrate it!

Given that my parents were bilingual in Hebrew and English (they were, in fact, multilingual, but that’s another story), we did the whole service in both Hebrew and English. Also, we sang all the songs twice. Why twice? Because my parents grew up knowing different versions. They always fought over which was the “correct” version, so we always did both versions.

In my memory, the Passover dinner lasted eight or ten hours, but I think, more accurately, from the moment we sat down until we kids went hunting for the afikoman, the meal ran about three hours. Still, though it was long, I loved certain parts of it. I loved the four questions, I loved placing drops of hyper-sweet, purple-red Magen David wine on the plate to commemorate the ten plagues, I loved singing the songs (both versions), and I loved, really loved, the haroset, which is a wonderful blend of chopped apples and walnuts, flavored with honey, cinnamon, and a dash of lemon (or sweet wine). The haroset more than made up for having to take (tiny) bites of maror, the bitter herb to remind us of the pain of slavery. (Our maror was horseradish from the local grocery.)

Every year, Passover was a ritual observance. Every year, we children were reminded of the Passover story and the glories of individual liberty. Year after year, Passover carved out a very specific place in my memory, the only place in my childhood deliberately reserved for God.

My seders stopped when I ceased to be a child in my parents’ house. I had almost no Jewish friends and it never occurred to me to take the lead in my own Jewishness. Eventually, I married a man who had been raised in a house even less religious than mine and he viewed Passover as anathema because he believes it celebrates of mass murder. (His views, along with the views of other Jews hostile to Passover, became the genesis for my annual Passover post.) I decided that it was better to raise my children Passover-free rather than have an annual fight over whether Passover is a good thing or a bad one.

However, in the interval between leaving my parents’ home and having my own, I attended two memorable Passover dinners, courtesy of Jewish friends. Both seders departed from tradition in significant ways, and both made me wonder why, if you take traditional values out of religion, including God, you should even bother with the pretense of being religious.

The first memorable seder occurred when a college friend invited me to share her Passover. Because the family attended a southern conservative synagogue, I was worried that their seder would be even longer and more religious than the ones from my childhood. I need not have worried.

Although my friend’s family could not have been more welcoming (I still consider my friend and her family among the best and nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing), their approach to Passover dismayed me. They rushed through every prayer, skipped the songs, and wouldn’t stop talking about everything but Passover through the entire, very abbreviated ceremony. That was when I — the most non-religious person in the world and, at that time, an avowed atheist — concluded that, if you’re going to do religion, do it right. Otherwise, why bother? This ceremony was just a long dinner. It had no greater meaning.

Around five years later, I was working in San Francisco, so at least 1/5 of my friends and colleagues were gay. One of those gay colleagues very kindly invited me to his Passover celebration. I was the only straight person there. To be clear, the host and his other guests made me feel incredibly welcome and the food was traditional and delicious (more traditional, in fact, than my mother’s would have been). Moreover, unlike the seder with my southern friends, this seder followed closely the framework of a traditional Passover service.

What made the whole thing peculiar, though, and left me feeling very distant both from my childhood Passovers and from the Book of Exodus itself, was the fact that the attendees recast the ceremony entirely. It was not about God freeing the Jewish slaves and preparing them for the Land of Israel. Instead, it was all about the gay struggle to come out of the closet. God really had no place in this service. I left well fed and having had a good time, but believe me when I say that “Nearer my God to thee” was not the refrain playing in my head. The louder song was probably “YMCA.”

Not long after that second Passover seder, I attended two weddings within two weeks. One couple belonged to a deeply conservative Christian faith and participated in the most traditional service I’ve ever attended; the other couple had one of their friend gets a mail-order New Age ministry certificate in order to perform their “joining ceremony.” In the first ceremony, the couple made a series of covenants to each other, each of which had God as the central figure in the covenant. In the second ceremony, the couple said they liked each other and vowed to hang out together as long as they continued to like each other. I was pretty certain that the first marriage would last. I knew, however, that the second wouldn’t last and, indeed, it was over less than a year later.

All of which brings me to today, when I had three reminders that one should look to religion for one’s values, as opposed to demanding that one’s religion look to pop culture for its values. The first reminder came about when I went looking online for a synagogue. It’s been a long time since I’ve attended a regular sabbath service and, for varying reasons, I decided now was the time.

Based upon my “If I’m doing religion, I’m going to do the real thing,” I looked for a conservative synagogue. As far as I’m concerned, based upon attending innumerable bar and bat mitzvahs over the years, reform synagogues are way too kumbaya for me. There’s lots of hand holding, clapping, and navel gazing, but a peculiar absence of religious rigor. I therefore searched for a “conservative synagogue” in my area.

The top hit billed itself as a “conservative synagogue.” Nevertheless, I felt a little worried when I saw it boasting that it is “egalitarian” and conducts an “alternative” service, whatever the heck is. The website didn’t explain either of those terms, but they sound suspiciously like virtue signaling to me.

I thought that I might learn something by reading the rabbi’s bio. The rabbi turned out to be Harvard-educated, which is already a clue that this synagogue probably has a non-traditional edge. Sorry, but I’m biased.

Reading further did not change my instinctive take about the rabbi. Before becoming a rabbi, he worked trying to push a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Hmmm. Harvard he may be, but that position doesn’t argue well for his intelligence. While Leftists relentlessly push for a two-state solution, Palestinians are very clear that they want a one-state solution: their state, built on the bloodied bodies of dead Jews. As far as I’m concerned, those who keep insisting that Israel “negotiate” with people who openly want Israelis dead are not very bright.

But you know what killed it for me? And I mean absolutely killed it: At the end, of the rabbi’s little bio, the bearded man (there was a photo) who boasted about his lovely wife and children, included his pronouns. Given that the congregation is allegedly conservative, I should have been grateful that his pronouns were “He/ his/ him” but I wasn’t grateful. I was disgusted.

Just yesterday, a tweet reminded me that the Old Testament is old-fashioned in that it posits a binary world:

While God may have a male and female element (since both men and women were created in his image), we’re not supposed to. We’re not gods. We’re just created in his image, with God having separated his male and female identities into two distinct parts. Thus, as with so many things in the Old Testament, the world is clearly divided: Clean and unclean, holy and profane, man and woman. A manifestly male rabbi in a conservative synagogue should not be suggesting otherwise. (I have since decided that I’ll go to the local Chabad house.)

And then, just to round out today’s thoughts about religion functioning as religion, rather than as a soothing gloss on top of pop culture, I saw a post at PJ Media: Nuns Should Look Like Nuns, not Real Estate CEOs with Dolled up Hair and Hoop Earrings. The author, Thom Nickels, writes about a parochial school childhood in which nuns dressed like nuns, complete with traditional habits. He then describes his experience a few years ago, when he found himself in conversation with a nun:

Several years ago I had the privilege of talking to a modern St. Joe’s nun when I went to a friend’s Vesper memorial service at Rosemont College.

At the reception, I sat beside a neatly coiffed woman whom I assumed was a college administrator or bank executive. She wore an emerald broach, amber earrings, a silk scarf, as well as a perfume I’ve often smelled while walking through the women’s department in Macy’s.

While slicing into a lamb chop, I asked the woman, “What do you do for a living?” When she told me that she was a St. Joe’s nun I thought of the old nuns in my parochial school with their towering headgear and veils. What a difference forty years makes.

“You’re really a nun?” I said. In my own way, I was showing her that I disapproved of her lay clothing.

I looked in vain for a microscopic lapel cross pin that might indicate Sisterhood, but instead found the broach that indicated Macy’s.

Nichols was dismayed and, in writing about that dismay, he makes a very important point:

While many Catholic women’s religious orders ditched the habit after Vatican II, many orders did not. It’s also true that some religious orders have returned to the traditional habit. It may seem odd, but surveys indicate that “secular dress” orders like the St. Joe’s nuns are experiencing a decline in membership, whereas convents where the traditional habit is worn are experiencing huge membership booms.

I’ve always believed that visual symbols are powerful because they relay a message.


At my parish church, St. Michael Archangel Orthodox church in Northern Liberties, I had my first interaction with an Orthodox nun from the famous St. Martyr Princess Elisabeth Monastery founded in 1999 in the Minsk region of Russia. This particular sister was touring the States to give a lecture on the work of her convent and school, a boarding home for children and adults with special needs, and a homecare facility for mentally challenged children.

The sister in question wore a full, traditional habit, standard operating procedure for nuns in the Eastern Church.

The same might be said of the Dali Lama, who travels the world dressed as a Buddhist monk, and who has never gone to Brooks Brothers or Macy’s in order to be outfitted in secular clothing or jewelry of any kind so that he can “fit in” and disappear.

When you have a message to deliver, it pays to stand out.

It’s not just that it pays to stand out, of course. If you’re neither willing to walk the walk nor talk the talk (nor dress the dress), you don’t seem to believe in your own message. And if you don’t believe in your message, why should I? Instead, you’ve just got a job like any other job and why in the world should I care.

It’s no surprise that religious institutions that pander to pop culture are failing, while those that don’t have continuing vitality. Religion, by standing apart from other institutions, serves vital functions: Most importantly (to my mind), it reminds us that we are not animals. Sure, we’re mammals, and we share DNA with monkeys and worms, but the fact is that we are very, very special animals because we have cognitive abilities and existential awareness that other animals lack.

No matter how clever or smart animals are, no matter their extraordinary skills, no matter their ability to feel love, joy, hate, and fear, I will stake my life on the fact that no animal asks “Why am I here?” or makes the philosophical statement “I think, therefore I am.”

As I told my son when he was a very little boy, lions are not “bad” because they kill. They kill because that’s how they eat. They don’t have the cognitive ability to reshape alternative food sources to satisfy their nutritional needs nor can they question the righteousness of what they do. They just do.

(In the same way, as an aside, all those Marvel superheroes are boring, because their super powers mandate success and make courage meaningless. A man throwing himself onto a bomb to save his comrades, knowing he will die, is brave. A superhero doing his/her superhero thing is as mindless, in a way, as that lion.)

The moral component of religion is incredibly important, and this is where the pop culture pandering is such a problem. Religion creates standards.

A healthy religion is predicated on recognizing every individual’s divine spark. Based upon that premise, it sets out rules for living that optimize healthy relationships at both the broadest and smallest reaches of society. In that regard, I highly recommend Dennis Prager’s 10 Commandments videos, for they explain how the Commandments are just irritating prohibitions against letting people “be free,” but are, instead, the surest pathway to a free, safe, and successful society. The Ten Commandments set out abstract principles that, once properly understood, can and should apply to all people regardless of race, color, country of national original, sex, sexual orientation, etc. Once a society catches on to this, you will not find a better place or time on earth to live.

In the same way, an unhealthy religion, rather than recognizing that we are all God’s creatures, instead creates unhealthy hierarchies that confer special status upon the few and then allows those few to do whatever they need in order to bring the rest of humankind to heel. Morality isn’t based upon abstract ideals that guide all people. Instead unhealthy religions have myriad, often constantly mutating, rules that enforce the hierarchy, that are often random in application, and that can be incredibly cruel (and equally random) in effect.

Leftism is one of those unhealthy religions. And Islam, if practiced in perfect accordance with Mohamed’s teachings, is unhealthy as well.

Healthy religions can become unhealthy if those in charge decide that, to remain “relevant,” they must abandon their larger, traditional principles and, instead, look to pop culture and Leftism for guidance.

Matthew writes that Jesus warned against the folly of building a house on sand:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)

Those faiths that choose pop culture as their moral guide (i.e., He / him / his), aren’t building their house on sand, they’re building it on sewage. When the rains come and those houses collapse, they won’t just be washed away, they will be drowned in a cesspit of ideas drawn from a grotesque amalgam of Hollywood and Leftism.

I understand that religions grow and change with the times. (For example, while I find this wedding tradition fascinating and rather beautiful, especially considering that it probably hasn’t changed in 250 years, it would not be for me and I’m grateful that there are less intensive alternatives.) Reform can be a wonderful and, in same cases, a necessary thing.

But if that reform takes you away from central principles and even away from God himself, I ask again: Why bother? You don’t want religion; you just want to force a traditional institution to make you feel good about yourself. Worse, you’re willing to destroy the institution — and the benefits that accrue to society if the institution is an inherently healthy one — to reach that end.

The post Religion should look like and act like religion — or why bother? appeared first on Watcher of Weasels.

Jews and Guns

A Jewish Ethiopian woman in the Israeli Defense Forces practices her marksmanship. In Israel, men and women are obligated to serve in the army.
A Jewish Ethiopian woman in the Israeli Defense Forces practices her marksmanship. In Israel, men and women are obligated to serve in the Israeli army for three years.

by Robert J. Avrech

Before our son Ariel Chaim ZT”L passed away, age twenty-two, in 2003, we spent a good deal of time discussing the Second Amendment, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Ariel was amazed that so many American Jews–overwhelmingly liberal and secular–aligned themselves with the advocates of gun control, in reality a movement to banish the private ownership of guns by lawful citizens.

During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, my wife Karen and I, Ariel and Offspring #2, were inside a film theater. Abruptly, an angry mob congregated outside; soon they were trying to break down the doors. Trapped inside, we were all terrified. I held Offspring#2 in my arms; she shivered like a frightened rabbit. Karen gripped Ariel’s hand.

“Don’t worry,” we were assured, “the police will be here soon.”

But the police did not arrive that night, nor did they protect the city from arson, looting and murder. In fact, we watched in disbelief as news cameras captured images of police officers standing idly by while looters gleefully committed their crimes.

A few days later, I purchased a pistol, a 1911 .45 ACP.

I bought a gun because I realized that the day will most certainly again arrive when civil order breaks down and we are flung into a cruel Hobbesian landscape.

Here’s my three part series on the LA Riots, Jew Without a Gun.

As Ariel’s conservative political opinions took form, he logically and ethically fell on the side of legal gun ownership. But because he was first and foremost a Torah Jew, first and foremost a Talmudic scholar, Ariel placed gun ownership into the framework of Jewish law, halacha.

Ariel wanted to put down his ideas on paper. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to write an article on halacha and gun ownership.

And so I humbly jot down a few of Ariel’s ideas. This is not meant to be a definitive essay on the topic. Any mistakes in this article are mine and mine alone. I write from an imperfect memory, from conversations with my beloved son held years ago, and from the few notes he managed to scribble while sick and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

The Sword is Not the Cause

Ariel pointed out that in his commentary on Genesis 4:23, Ramban, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, the towering medieval scholar, writes with refreshing clarity:

“The sword is not the cause of murder, and there is no sin upon him who made it.”

In other words, a weapon, be it a sword or a gun, is neutral. It can be used for good or evil. Thus to label a gun as “bad” makes no sense, for a gun can be used in self-defense which the Torah sees as an obligation.

The Torah (Exodus 22.2) teaches that, when necessary a householder may kill a burglar to save his own life.

The Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin (72A) says:

“He who rises to kill you, you must kill first.”

It seems odd to have to defend the most basic notion of self-defense, but in America today, the shrill and self-righteous voices of pacifism and appeasement have become alarmingly prominent.

Ariel and I agreed that if gun control advocates had their way, the only people with access to guns would be the police, who cannot be counted on for security, and criminals, who can be counted on to be, well, criminals, with no respect for the hundreds of firearm laws already on the books.

Tyrants Ban Gun Ownership to Secure Their Power Base

Ariel also pointed out that in the story of Purim the Jews were granted royal permission to defend their lives. The King’s edict did not order the army to protect the Jews. Instead, the Jews were permitted to purchase arms in order to defend themselves.

Obviously, as a minority in the Persian Empire, Jews were forbidden weapon ownership.

This is not unique in Jewish history. During the Roman occupation of Judea, Jews were forbidden to own swords, spears or any implements of war. What better way for a ruling empire to control an unruly and rebellious population?

And of course, in Europe, one of the first laws that Hitler imposed was an all-encompassing weapons ban. Imagine how different Jewish history would be if every Jewish family in Europe owned at least one gun that had six bullets in the chamber.

Surprise Folks, Evil Exists

One of the hallmarks of postmodernism—the denial of absolute truths—is an astonishing inability to recognize, much less confront, evil. Therefore it becomes psychologically necessary for the liberal to place the blame on an inanimate object–the gun–rather than on the person who pulls the trigger. It is easier to fault the gun manufacturer for the horror at Columbine, rather than admit that two sixteen-year-old boys are evil.

The Jewish attitude, Ariel maintained, is to place the blame where it squarely belongs: on the two young men; to declare their evil, and never again utter their names. For just as goodness is a reality, so is evil.

Try and imagine, said Ariel, if one or two Columbine teachers had guns with them. Imagine if these armed teachers had been able to protect the students who were massacred.

There was another aspect to these stories that Ariel detected and deeply troubled him. The media invariably referred to Columbine and 9-11 as “tragedies.”

“They are not tragedies,” Ariel insisted. “They are atrocities.”

A tragedy is when people are killed in a flood, a fire or an earthquake. But when people are murdered in cold blood, it is an atrocity. Again, Ariel pointed out, the media–overwhelmingly liberal and marinated in moral equivalence–is unable to distinguish malevolent acts from natural disasters because their moral compass is broken.

Ariel concluded that Jews in America should be at the forefront of the right to keep and bear arms. For Jews to rely on the power of the state for protection is sheer foolishness. Time and again, Jewish history reveals governments cruelly betraying their Jewish citizens.

And though Ariel felt that America was “different,” he maintained that allowing the state to make ownership of weapons illegal is a dangerous policy that opens the door to tyranny in the name of “social justice.”

Further, pointed out Ariel, there is no such thing as social justice. There is only justice.

But like so much else in American Jewish life, liberal/progressive/postmodern Jews have signed on to aggressively utopian ideologies that go against their self-interest. Instead, countless Jews espouse principles that feed their need to feel virtuous. But in the end, these beliefs defy common sense and display an appalling ignorance of Jewish history, halacha, and human nature.

And finally, this powerful quote from the Book of Joel:

“Announce this among the nations:prepare for war; arouse the mighty; let all the soldiers approach and ascend. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning forks into spears; the weak shall say, I am strong.” Joel 3:9

Was Jesus a Leftist?

The New York TimesNicholas Kristof thinks that were Jesus’s Second Coming to happen any time soon he’d be upset that those religious people most closely associated with him (aka Christians) are rejecting the Democrat party platform. John Ellis does a good job of explaining that Jesus was not a bearded Progressive but was, instead, the incarnate intermediary between man and God. Indeed, Ellis’s article goes much deeper than that, by pointing out that Kristof’s “expert” is, in the classic sense of the word, a “heretic.”

Because I lack Ellis’s depth of knowledge about core Christianity and about heresy, I thought I’d amuse myself by going a different route. I haven’t read the New Testament since 1980, when I took a “Bible as Literature” class at Cal. (Can you imagine a time when a state-funded school could still teach that kind of thing? And yes, even at Cal they still offered traditional learning classes back in the day.)

I’ve placed lessons from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (from the Book of Matthew) in one column and, in the other column, I’ve set out my opinion as to whether those statements mesh with modern Progressive preaching and acts. Please note that, because I am not a religious scholar — especially not a Christian religious scholar — I am taking Jesus’s words at face value when deciding whether Progressives are in sync with his teachings  or not.

I apologize if this post runs too long. The fact is, though, that I rediscovered what I first learned in my class at Cal:  The Sermon on the Mount is vivid, thought-provoking, intensely humanist and, in the King James Version, exquisitely beautiful. In addition to appreciating the philosophy, I enjoy recognizing all the phrases that have worked their way into the English language (although today’s generation has probably abandoned most of them).

To read more, go here.

The Religion of Peace strikes again

Terrorism down under

SYDNEY — A French man shouting the Arabic phrase “Allahu akbar” stabbed a British woman to death and wounded two men in an attack at a hostel in northeast Australia, police said Wednesday.

The 29-year-old suspect did not have any known links to the Islamic State group and appeared to have acted alone, Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said. Police were trying to determine whether the man had been motivated by extremism, or something else.

Read the rest here