Sooo… I was talking with one of my best friends - who is not practicing, but quite agnostic - and another friend of ours, who is religious, but from an ortho-light sefardi background… Religion came up, as always, and I was rather amazed by some of the assumptions my friend still holds on to (even more than our religious friend!).
1) He believes ortho culture is probably “better” than most others. I disagreed. (This discussion began, btw, with me pointing out an article on FailedMessiah.) My contention is that the jewish world is just as fucked up as the outside world - though in different ways.
He argued that jewish parents don’t abandon their families, or commit murders, for instance. And he may be right, they may be less prone to those particular evils, but that doesn’t mean they’re not prone to other horrible evils. (eg. homophobia, over-reproduction to the point where they can’t support themselves, a culture of covering up sexual abuse, etc.)
2) He thinks that were the “right” orthodox jews put in charge to run the world ortho style, that the country (world?) would run just as well, if not better, than in a democracy. To me, this would be a nightmarish scenario for so many reasons… but amongst those we discussed, he believes, for instance, that corruption of power is probably no worse in a theocratic monarchy of orthodox design than in a democracy. (And I agree our democracy is terribly corrupt in the US… but I still think that having a theocratic ruler would make it much worse!)
3) In that same scenario, he doesn’t think religion would impede scientific development. I find that hard to believe. The history of science is littered with examples to the contrary, and it’s an issue even today! ‘But, wait, I forgot, those were christians or other religions in charge… Jews wouldn’t be like that, of course! We are pro-science! Like Maimonides!’
(He also considers ortho culture very intellectual, bc of talmudic study. I disagree. While there certainly is an element of intellectualism, it’s extremely limited in scope - legal casuistry, mostly - and it actively limits the mind of those who embrace it, such as not allowing one to question the system itself, and to doubt the scientific method and rationalism compared to faith, and an extreme lack of fact-checking, etc etc. That is, talmudic study has intellectual elements but is also an intellectual sinkhole with little to no benefit to society.)
4) When I countered that there are many examples of orthos being anti-science (e.g. anti-evolution, or the many ortho schools which don’t even teach secular subjects!), he explained that those aren’t the right examples of a real torah jew. Bc he grew up in a close-knit community of very sincere jews. He knows what they’re like. And they’re not like the posers and extremists and controversial and insincere orthos from the big city, like NY, the ones you read about in headlines on FailedMessiah. No, he grew up with the
True Scotsmen, er… torah true judaic posterboys.
Anyways, my point isn’t to talk trash about my friend, but to point out how amazed I was. I had not realized how much we differed on some of this thinking. I had not realized how much my mentality had changed since I was religious - bc I definitely had a very similar mentality to his. I was much more optimistic and idealistic about the nature of the jewish cultural system. Now, not so much.
Now I start with the assumption that they’re basically the same as people everywhere. Historically as well. I don’t think the ancient jewish monarchy ran any more piously than other ancient religious monarchies. I don’t start by making them exceptional, just like I don’t start examining the torah with the assumption that “amongst the thousands of ancient religious texts, these happen to actually be true.” I start with the assumption that it’s like the rest, and guess what, it quickly and obviously confirms that suspicion.
It was a good discussion though. It made me wonder if I’d become too passionately anti-judaism and anti jewish society. I don’t think I’ve gone too far, but it’s good to question one’s self now and then. One thing I am certain of is that I began my journey with an obviously too passionately pro-judaism and pro-jewish-society outlook. It’s been one of the more subtle but also more difficult ideologies to challenge. But I have. I’ve evolved. Others, not as much.