Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Are you self-dealing?

In the "Peter pan, you're not a kid anymore" entry below, there is some good discussion in the comments section about free-thinking. It reminds me of the question why one would follow something [such as a religious decree] that just does not make logical sense? What happens if I want to do one act, but religion tells me to do it a different way or to abstain from it completely? This is not a life-friendly situation.

I sometimes come across free thinkers who give me a piece of their mind because my religious view has threatened their view. They tell me 1) they don't need religion, 2) they can think for themselves and that 3) they will do what they want based on their own judgments of what is right and what is wrong. Further, they'll reject any doctrine that does not agree with the way they have constructed their world. Through their own mind they have figured out the workings of the universe, its origin and its creation, and they have deduced how it applies to them in their decision whether to indulge or act according to the way they feel is the right way to act.

With the utmost respect to those good people with warm hearts and good intentions who try their best to understand a very complex world and to make the very best choices they can, my response is that I feel that one cannot make sound judgments without some measure of self-dealing. Try putting a three-year old in charge of the cookie jar or the chocolate fudge. How much do you want to bet that he will deal to himself a nice and satisfying portion and rationalize that he has done good by doing so? Advance him twenty years into the future when an attractive girl shows him some affection and wants to engage in intercourse with him. He can be as responsible as he wants, but as long as he is going by his own morals, how much do you want to bet that as long as there is no contravening thought of a higher order, he would indulge as quickly as he would have grabbed for the cookie twenty years earlier? And now he is in control of his life, so he has the freedom to pursue those pleasures and make them his prime goal in life. He would even work to make money to have the free time and financial independence so that he can pursue the things that give him pleasure.

But what if he has some morality? "Perhaps indulging is not the right answer", he thinks. He imagines how it would be the next morning when he would have to face her without the makeup when she asks him what the status is of their relationship. After all, she just gave herself to him. Or, what if he wants to err on the side of caution, not knowing what sort of sexually-transmitted disease might be lurking along with the pleasurable experience as a consequence; or, perhaps he just doesn't want to get her pregnant because society has a stigma about having children out of wedlock. These are deterrents for him and are things that would go through his head before he decides whether or not to take her hand in his and to bring her closer to him for the first kiss.

But we cannot deny that we live in a world without deterrents. Societies and cultures have their commandments, imposing on us how to act and how not to act, even in the privacy of our own homes. Everyone and everything tells us what we should or should not do. Even actors and directors shape how we act through the movies we watch. And there is not one belief system out there -- there are hundreds if not thousands of them. Most of us pick and choose according to what we feel is "right" (don't you mean what will give you the most pleasure and freedom and the fewest consequences?). "I'll follow this, but not that. I'll engage in this, but only so little." As far as I see it, our moral system is a risk-assessment with the intent to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain. Like the child and the cookie jar, we choose with the intent to skew the odds of pleasure in our favor.

But what about those truly good-hearted people who do for others? Surely Mother Theresa wasn't helping people because it made her feel good. This is a bad example, she was serving her creator. How about you, the reader? Surely you are not selfish all the time, you think. You are a good person; you spend your life devoting it to help the sick, or to feed the hungry, or to teach the children. Why do you do the good acts you do? Are you self-motivated, are you holy and righteous, or are you allocating the pleasures of this world as a child would allocate the cookies and the fudge? If so, are you self-dealing? Would you like to self-deal?

I guess the important thought here is that we are all serving someone or something. Some serve themselves, others serve their Creator, and some serve the moral constructs they have pieced together from the endless mouths who scream their philosophies at the world. Nevertheless, we are all serving someone. Even you free thinkers are serving someone or something; perhaps you are slaves to your thoughts.

I am a free thinker too. Still, I will be the last to deny that I have been brainwashed by a religious dogmatic philosophy that uses the limits of my mental faculties to justify the existence of a greater good and higher being to whom I must follow because He said so and I will incur divine punishment if I disobey. Who would want to subscribe to such a sadistic philosophy? I would say that yes, I'm brainwashed, but as a free-thinker, I chose the detergent. I believe that Torah (the edicts and the lessons in the Old Testament and the document itself) tells the truth of the world and of existence, just as you believe that following your desires and your moral constructs is the truth of your world. I don't think we are both right; I think I have chosen correctly and you have chosen foolishly. If you ask me how I feel, I would probably say that I like your way better and I would love to live life your way. But I have been brainwashed into thinking that this divine contract is the truth of all truths, and by following this path and its morals, somehow I will live a better life than if I figured it all out for myself. Plus, here there's an instruction booklet with mountains of commentaries and explanations and opinions, all which describe within a range what is permissible and what is not.

I find it soothing that so many Torah giants have spent their lives trying to understand what the best way to live is, deriving their ideas from the letters within the Torah. Further, they have written down their discoveries and they have debated them with other truly G-d fearing people for thousands of years, and their arguments are documented.

As I learned when I was younger, to see the farthest, it is best for one to stand on the shoulders of giants. I too am self-dealing; but the cookie jar I chose is larger than I can ever imagine. In the law world, they say there is a seven-year track to becoming a partner of the law firm. In the Jewish world, there is a lifetime track to becoming a partner in creation.


ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

"In the Jewish world, there is a lifetime track to becoming a partner in creation." -- absolutely true! However...absolutely true of all faiths, not restricted simply to Judaism...I am pleased to see you bring up this point, because I think too many of us lose track of this larger quest as we travel through just the "single-days" of life.

Anonymous said...

I agree fully. The question often becomes -- I know this [re: partner in creation], but sometimes I just don't care about the bigger picture when I am deciding what to do next. There are too many moments that I am neck-deep in the pressures of life, and during these times it is so difficult to think any larger than what I need to do to get through the afternoon.

If not now, when? said...

"I will be the last to deny that I have been brainwashed"

I'm wonder if you mean this literally. On the one hand you seem to flip the conventional understanding of "brainwash" by taking the credit "I chose the detergent." you've redeemed the negative connotation of the term by making it an active choice on your part, not a trap sprung upon you by some outside force.

On the otherhand, however, you retain the passive (even reflexive) tone in "I have been brainwashed." I wonder if this is intended. Did you mean "I have washed my brain" or do you still mean to imply there is something not of your choosing in this brainwashing?

if not now, when? said...

"Who would want to subscribe to such a sadistic philosophy?"

I think you may have perverted something beautiful into something "sadistic" by your own disjunction in the previous sentence.
First you write that there is a "greater good," then you deviate and call it (the same entity, I presume) a "higher being to whom I must follow because He said so and I will incur divine punishment if I disobey."

Aren't we forgetting the greater good?!?! Is the real reason you choose to "follow" because you see a "greater good"? or are you really frightened of some "divine punishment" for diobeying?
(of course, you can answer by saying both....)

If the latter, however, isn't there (in addition to the punishment) also an idea of divine blessings and rewards for doing what is right and obeying?

In light of the "good" and the "reward" in addition to the "punishment," is the philosophy really so "sadistic"?

Lastly, are we really concerned that some higher power is going to strike us with fire and brimstone for not obeying?
Sounds like a father punishing his daughter for crossing the street when she wasn't allowed to.
Why did he do it? out of love and concern lest she do something dangerous. As we get older, and more sophisticated, we realize that our parents won't PUNISH us for not doing what's right, they'll just be disappointed.

If we believe god will treat us like a child, maybe we have a childish view of god?

(Note: of course i refer to those sins where we only hurt ourselves, where others are hurt even as adults there are punishments - in courts and yes, why not from god.)

ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

I think this last post (before mine) sums up a LOT quite precisely.

Zoe Strickman said...

I think you have keen observation skills, and I bow gracefully as an actor would to his crowd at the accuracy of your comments. I am feeling slightly backed against a wall because you cannot deny the truth because as they say, "the truth will set you free". (Note: This is the purpose for which I believe blogs have an intrinsic value, namely one exposes his true thoughts with the benefit that they be scrutinized by others who have no other intentions except to help and reflect the truth back at the author.)

Your observations are correct. Brainwashing has occurred, perhaps in the most literal sense. For years I submitted to rote indoctrination so that I will know the proper way to think and act. This was my choice and I had good reasons for doing so.

My "choosing the detergent" was that I knew what I was getting myself into, and it required a lot of thought to decide to make the jump into this depth of religious living because I knew what might become of me if I did.

The remorse you accurately observed in the entries of this blog surfaced because midway through the indoctrination, circumstances changed and factors arose that would have caused me to make different choices had I known that certain people would make certain decisions in their lives as a result of my becoming religious. Let's just call it a fraud in the inducement, not on the part of anyone associated with the religious experience, but with my close friends at the time who changed their position as I advanced mine. Now that I know what I have learned, it would be mathematically illogical to turn back, especially because I believe I have stumbled into truth during the process of my becoming religious.

To answer your second observation, perhaps less meritorious as your first, as a child, one does not always understand the actions of his elders. Sometimes a "no" can be the loving answer. I don't particularly like what I see as the answer, but deep in my heart I feel that it is the truth.

As for seeing G-d as fire and brimstone and reward and punishment, I see value in seeing G-d as a child would see him. I would posit that my adult eyes are what is blinding me from my faith, namely that I don't see the rewards from actions I held myself back from taking had I not been religious. I have a hard time believing in a spiritual world I cannot see, and from the point of a child commingled with a literal interpretation of the scriptures, if the reward so to speak is in a treasure chest in another world, until I can somehow prove to myself either through faith or through learning, my adult view forces me to adopt a "show me the money" attitude which is hurting my faith. So unless I have misunderstood your point, I believe that when dealing with the master of the universe, it is better to look upon him as a child would look upon his father; with love and fear.

if not now, when? said...

"had I known that certain people would make certain decisions in their lives as a result of my becoming religious"

Ahhh...The butterfly effect is inescapable.

Even Heisenberg noted in his uncertainty principle that our very attempt to observe a system profoundly affects the system.

Unfortunately, there's not much to be done about

"friends at the time who changed their position as I advanced mine."

people will change, there's nothing wrong with that just hope that real "friends" will continue to treat you with the respect that you deserve - deserve because you are friends.

"I would posit that my adult eyes are what is blinding me from my faith, namely that I don't see the rewards from actions I held myself back from taking had I not been religious."

one idea, at least in judaism, (probably other religions as well)
is - sechar mitzvah, mitzvah -
which is generally explained to mean that the reward of fulfilling a mitzvah (good deed or godly commandment) is the opportunity to do another. and thereby continuously earn merits.

another way of understanding the adage however is the reward of having fulfilled a mitzvah is that you did it.
It's for you!! if you do good, you feel good. If you do what your parents would like, they feel good and so do you. If you don't it inevitably leads to (at least temporary and partial) estrangement.

See my updated response to "Peter Pan" -
if you wonder WHY you exist, and wonder if god created us for any purpose and if your answer is in the form af a religion - one that asks of you certain requests - your choice is whther or not you wish to answer those requests with a yes or a no. do you want to build a relationship with your creator or not.

the choice is ours - my earlier point was two fold.

1. if we insist upon the "childish" fire and brimstone view - then we must include the "reward" heavenly harps and angels as well.

2. But isn't it also possible that doing good is reward in and of itself, and doing bad is punishment in and of itself based on the feelings it engenders between ourselves and our makers.

LAstly - "show me the money"
seeing is believing huh?

Some would say that man is capable of knowing that there is more than he could ever know. that the goal isn't to answer every possible question but to realize that the answer to one question is really a question in and of itself. -like peeling an onion, each layer is both under one layer but above another.

Anonymous said...

This is a test to see if I get through

Anonymous said...

Jesus is the only way to the Father and eternal salvation.
Still 100% true today.
Seek him now.