Monday, June 29, 2009

Biblical Marriage

A biblical definition of marriage:
A Biblical Concept of Marriage:
Warning: Updates may be required

In the context of heated debate about gay marriage, various politicians, preachers and pundits, from the smallest talk radio stations to the White House itself, are rising up with one accord to urge a hasty return to a "biblical" definition of marrige. President Bush has asked for the public's prayerful guidance as he seeks to find a legal remedy for recent court decisions that he finds disturbing. If these advocates of "traditional" marriage actually consult their Bibles carefully, however, they may come away from a close reading of the sacred text with something less than a feeling of comfort.

If one were to construct an amendment to the Constitution based on a literal reading of the Bible it might well contain the following stipulations:

1. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

2. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines, in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

3. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

4. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

5. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

6. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe, and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

7. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

Perhaps a more contemporary standard measures up better against the ancient near eastern tradition than one might have expected.

Note: this is a slightly revised version of a satirical piece circulating on a variety of internet lists. I have tried to trace this to its source, and have, as yet, been unsuccessful. Charles Henderson

I love that the subtitle of the piece is "Updates may be required". This might just be a warning the page is out of date, but I prefer it as a comment on biblical marriage.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Two questions as a metaphor

Actual Conversation:

W: "Why is my boot on your bed"

C: "That's a difficult question to answer."

W: "Ok, why did you put my boot on your bed?"

C: "Ah, now we're getting somewhere."

I'm so done with the whole "Does god exist?" question. Much more interesting than god's actual existence or lack thereof, or your belief in that existence or lack thereof, is, "Why do you believe that?"

This is where you really learn something about the person, and the answers are important. The endpoint may be the same, but consider the difference between someone that gives up meat for health reasons and someone that gives up meat because killing animals is cruel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


We are told to love Torah and hold it fast, but we are to pursue Justice.

This tells us two things. First, Torah - law - is not necessarily the same as Justice. Second, as we search for Justice, when we find it, we bring Torah to Justice. To achieve this, Torah, or at least our understanding of it, must change.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Composing My Response

I do plan to reply to all these fun comments, it's just been a busy week. Meanwhile:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
- Niels Bohr

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"The GOD Delusion"

I'm looking through my list of posts and seeing I have a lot of half completed stubs waiting for publication; more disturbing there's several pieces I thought were posted still sitting there. So I'll try to clear out that backlog this week, and we'll look at it not as late for this year's holidays, but early for next.


Recently finished Richard Dawkins' book "The GOD Delusion". I will have to re-read the book with highlighters and a stack of Post-its to find exact quotations, pages, and arguments, but I want to capture the core of my thoughts while they are fresh. Here is my overview of the book:

Let me be clear: this is not a comment on Dawkins' intelligence - the Scarecrow was the smartest of Dorothy's little band - but rather a comment on his argument style which tends towards the straw man, ad hominem, reductio ad absurdum, and generally bad logic.

There are enough fallacies in the book to help an entire Freshman logic class earn A's, if they could find but half of them. We are informed that asking why god created the universe is the same as asking "Why are unicorns hollow?", and that belief in god is equivalent to belief in the tooth fairy. This is argument from absurdum and straw man at the least, bordering on ad hominem.

He spends a chapter attacking the "Unmoved Mover" theory of god on the premise that saying that tracing everything back to god merely begs the much more complex question of where god came from, then the next chapter talking about the wonders of the big bang since, well, it's just always been there. The much more complex question of "where did all this supercondensed matter come from" is ignored.

He carefully limits down the definition of religion to mean exclusively the Judaism/Christianity/Islam trio, and those only in the supernatural, ritual, non-naturalistic sense and then proceeds, working from this definition, to explain why all religion is crap.

You know, except maybe for some of those parts he ignored.

My favorite is his refutation of prayer's power to heal by comparing it to a Bob Newhart skit. Considering he dedicated the book to Douglas Adams, I am not certain if this was meant as an attack or support.

And that's the most upsetting aspect of this book; he casts the debate as a binary issue and puts all religion on one side. Dawkins' writings on evolutionary biology and the possible origins of morality, reputation, and even belief in gods was fascinating; I accept his explanations and am thrilled by the beauty and complexity of them. Simultaneously I cheer him on as he decries Creationists, er, "Intelligent Design Advocates", pro-lifers, and fundamentalists of all stripes. But this position does not exist in his world; it is impossible to genuinely pray for health and recovery as I'm wheeled to the MRI. I'm either with him or with them.

His position is downright religious in that regard.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why Spin Instructors Are Like Rabbis

From the URJ website:

I think I've discovered why I like going to Spinning classes.

It's just like being at services, except I'm not in charge:

It lasts about an hour, just like services.
I can get into a rhythm, just like in a good prayer experience.
There's a rubric to follow. Sprints, climbs, flat roads....Sh'ma u'virchote-ha, Amidah, Torah service...
There's music, sometimes to sing along with....
There's a sense of shared purpose. We're all in this together.
There's a lot of stand-up, sit-down.*
The instructor uses her hands to indicate "stand up" and "sit down"... just like I do.*
She offers encouragement, similar to the way that a rabbi might offer explanations of the prayers.
She sometimes throws out questions for the group to answer, just as I might when leading services or giving a sermon.
People are often reticent to answer. Just like at services.

I can lose myself in the experience, and feel uplifted at the end.

Do I think that Spinning or exercise can replace a religious experience?

But they do strike me as quite similar....

*This was the part that got me thinking during Spin class. Like any good blogger, I actually considered getting off my bike and jotting down some notes. It seemed like a reasonable excuse to take a break...but I didn't. I remembered anyway! See, working out is good for you

Monday, June 1, 2009

Torah Quickie

A brief thought:

So no gifts were necessary. Yet they were brought. Why? Perhaps because knowing we were loved drew us to return that love. We were blessed as a people; as a people, we would return that blessing with our own offerings, tribe by tribe. The gifts would benefit everyone; without them, there would have been no sacrificial rites. These last two actions in Naso were reciprocal: a gift of blessing for the people, a gift of offering for God.

It occurs to me this also represents the sealing of a contract. In my (extremely limited) understanding of contractual law, contracts can be (most easily) broken without consequence if one side has yet to provide any of the goods, services, etc. promised; just return what you got and we're on our seperate ways. But once you have given me your goods and I have given you mine it becomes much more complicated. Think of buying a new tv; you can change your mind at the checkout and walk away no problem, but once you've paid and brought it out to your car, the return process becomes much more complex.

G-d gave to us blessing; we gave to G-d physical gifts. Contract entered, signed, and sealed. We're bound to G-d now, and it'll take more than showing a receipt and paying a re-stocking fee to get out of it.

I Respectfully Disagree

One Torah, One People

The festival of Shavuot, underscoring the one Torah we all hold dear, and its theme of Ruth, the true convert from whom, we believe, will come the Messiah, reminds us that each Jew is precious. We can disagree among ourselves, with respect, but our motive should be compassion, not defeat.


Respectfully disagreeing, truly and genuinely respectful and not lip service, is one of the most difficult skills to learn as a debater, or even just as a citizen. And it is a skill; it takes practice to stay in shape, and some people are better at it than others.

Oh, I understand why; when someone's standing in front of you saying you're wrong, implicitly or otherwise, the natural reaction is to defend yourself by attacking them. Only problem is, that first step leads to a long, escalating path that ends in sorrow.