Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Thursday, 11 December 2008

Primal Selfishness

Chazal say that the yetzer hara enters the human being at birth while the yetzer hatov only begins developing after bar mitzvah. Perhaps one of the meanings of this statement was to remark on the obvious selfishness of the human child. Is there another child in creation that is so self-centred, so incredibly unaware of the needs of others? As our Sages tell us, a child enters this world with its fists clenched as if to say "the entire world is mine!" The challenge to growing up is to nurture one's yezter hatov, one's selflessness, in order to become a productive, caring member of society.
Unfortunately, this journey is not simple and looking around, it's easy to spot those who have failed to pass the test. If the real definition of maturity is the realization that one's parents were right in forcing one to eat one's vegetables, do one's homework and go to sleep on time, then I would presume that most of modern society has failed the test. A recent column by Barbara Kay of the National Post looked at the idiotic phenomenon sweeping North American university campuses, a sense of entitlement that causes the students to believe that they deserve an "A" in any course they showed up for and tried really hard to succeed in, even if they didn't get an "A" on the course material! This is the legacy of the hippie era; children who still believe as grown-ups that their parents were wrong and have failed to develop a true sense of adult responsibility.
In my recent interactions with the so-called atheist and off-the-derech crowd in the blogsphere, I have come to believe that this immaturity is also at the root of the departure many of them have taken from Judaism and observance. I'm not as simplistic as JP to say it's all about sex like he does. For me, the underlying reason people leave and stay away from belief and observance is because of innate selfishness.
Why do I say this? Skim the various blogs and the themes become clear. "I didn't get anything out of being an Orthodox Jew." "I didn't like how the Orthodox Jews were hypocrites." "I didn't believe and wasn't given a reason to." Some of these reasons point towards a failing in the Orthodox educational system, to be sure. A good friend of mine in Israel, a devout atheist who left the "derech" when he was 16 because his questions about the existence of God were ignored by his Rebbeim, once eagerly admitted that there was a time in his life where, had he been given an intelligent answer to such questions, he would have happily returned to the faith. With time and disillusionment, as well as a personal enjoyment of his new life, he had no plans to fall back in line.
Ah, his own personal enjoyment. But that's what it comes down to. From left to, um, further left, the harangues against Torah observance all come down to the same litany of lies: we're too restrictive. We don't allow any pleasure. We censor everything. We care more about the rules than about people. And besides, there's no God (chas v'shalom) so everything we're doing is without real reason.
Rav Soloveitchik, in "On Repentance", writes about the spiritual discomfort a Jew feels when he sins against God. His soul, built to exist in harmony with the Master of the Universe, roils within him, leaving him no personal peace or rest. How can it when it is forced by the body and mind it coexists with to go against the will of its Creator? The yetzer hara that takes the soul away from the Creator is the trait of selfishness nurtured by the materialistic base thoughts of the body and the mind. "The world is mine!" Who is this God person anyway to tell me what I can and can't have of it?
This discomfort easily shows itself on the blogsphere. The number of "formerly frum" blogs to frum ones easily numbers 10 to 1 or more, yet they claim they are the ones who are being harassed and outshouted in their arguments with the religious. They post all manner of antagonistic material, then act shocked, shocked! that religious Jews take offence and feel a need to verbally oppose them. Opposition? But isn't it obvious they're right?
Stripping away all the meaningless bafflegab they surround their argument with, the atheistic tenet is quite simple: I want to do anything I want. I respect no authority save my own. Therefore any religious/philosophical system that diminished my absolute right to free choice without a thought of consequence for those choices is immoral and wrong. Therefore I dismiss them.
In psychiatry, there are two ideas called gains. A primary gain is something a person gets from being ill. A secondary gain is one that the person gets as a consequence of the primary gain but reached only indirectly. In diganosing many of the more odd psychiatric illnesses, clues to the underlying reason for the malady's presence can be determined by looking at the primary and secondary gains and trying to determine if those gains can be met in a healthy, well-adjusted way.
Consider the atheistic arguments. Well, you can't really because they're circular and have no entrance to them. There is no God, they claim, and there is concrete evidence for this, therefore any debate they would presume to have with a religious person must be based on this assumption. But in accepting this assumption, the religious person has lost the argument before it's formally begun. And so they sit back smugly. You won't accept our terms because you know you're wrong. How does one penetrate such thickness?
Now consider their gains. Dostoyevsky noted that "When God is dead, all is permitted". Unlike the Reformers and their ilk who have created an impotent, all-approving godhead while crowning themselves the kings of their own lives, the atheists are at least more honest. Instead of worshipping oneself while pretending to pray to God, they dispense with worship all together and concentrate on serving themselves. An Orthodox Jew serves God by subliminating his will to the Master of the Universe's. An atheist serves himself by indulging in any passion he does not find personally repugnant. Like a baal teshuvah who has "seen the light" and can no longer understand how he could even have been non-religious, the atheist looks at his former life and actively rejects its truth so as to better justify the new feelings he has. Only unlike the baal teshuvah who is giving up a selfish life of personal desire in order to seek out God's will, the baal sheilah is doing the opposite.
And the gain? A lack of feeling of guilt. Who amongst us, as a child, wished for the chance to stay up as late as we wanted without having to worry about getting up for school the next day? Whom amongst us did not resent homework or piano lessons because they took away time from the television shows and games we really wanted to spend time with? For the atheist, there is no wishing, no resentment. He takes what he wants, does what he wants. And when he has a moral quandary he invents such terms as secular moralism, natural law, anything to avoid the terrifying truth that his "morals" are made up, personal choices that were created on a whim and could change on another. To admit that would be to admit that he is shallow, a child in the body of an adult ignoring his Father in Heaven because he is too spoiled to show allegiance to Him.
Seen in this light, the true approach to such people is simple. One cannot hate them for two reasons. One is that, as fellow Jews, we were commanded to love them and just as siblings do not reject a brother or sister who is going in the wrong direction, we must remind them that they are still our brethren and that we will not easily let them spin off into spiritual oblivion. The other is that they are being ruled by their yezter hara. Far from being free like they claim, they are enslaved to their materialistic lives. For them it's all about avoiding God, avoiding Torah, and constantly grumlbing about how "horrible" things were. They are slaves and as such, we must feel sorry for them above all else. Living such a life, what kind of a life do they really have?

16 comments:

Off the Derech said...

You know? Reading your blog makes me puke.
>The number of "formerly frum" blogs to frum ones easily numbers 10 to 1 or more...
Oh, and I'm sure you have a wonderful life.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

My, my. Such a reasoned and well argued rebuttal by OTD...

Garnel Ironheart said...

It's his usual. Must be at the top of his English class.

Dr Mike said...

If reading this blog makes him puke, why does he?

Jewish Atheist said...

Keep telling yourself that everybody who makes the wrenching decision to break their parents' hearts and lose the only community they've ever known and set out for a world they barely understand is just being selfish. Because if you admitted to yourself that most of us leave because Orthodox Judaism is FACTUALLY INCORRECT (e.g. Moses wrote the chumash, the flood really happened, etc.) then you'd have to start asking yourself some tough questions. Better to just assume we're all hedonistic asses.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> Keep telling yourself that everybody who makes the wrenching decision to break their parents' hearts

Yes, please cry me a river. Your decision to leave because you've decided what we do is all crap means you think they're idiots for continuing to follow such obvious untruths. Instead of sitting back and asking: Is there something authentically Jewish in-between the Chareidi community and the atheist one, one that can allow you to remain rational while accepting the fundamentals of Jewish faith, you dump the whole thing and then claim to feel bad about dumping on everything your parents believe in.

> Because if you admitted to yourself that most of us leave because Orthodox Judaism is FACTUALLY INCORRECT

Why admit something that's not true? Because you, through an obvious limited religious education, were not taught how to reconcile the real world and Torah I should abandon God's Truth? Because you couldn't handle giving over ultimate authority over your life to the Master of the Universe, I should deny His kindness to me?

> (e.g. Moses wrote the chumash, the flood really happened, etc.)

For every book you swear allegiance to denying those facts, there are many others proving them. Your intellect is selective, only accepting those facts it agrees with and discounting the rest. I have no use for such hypocrisy.

> then you'd have to start asking yourself some tough questions.

I've asked them and come out with different answers than you. But according to you, I'm wrong.

> Better to just assume we're all hedonistic asses.

I don't believe I said that. In fact, I believe I wrote that I disagree with JP's assertion that it's all about hedonism. I wrote that it's the selfishness of the yetzer hara that drives you to such a meaningless lifestyle. Please keep your rebuttals accurate.

Jewish Atheist said...

Because you, through an obvious limited religious education, were not taught how to reconcile the real world and Torah

And if you'd been raised a Mormon, you would have been taught how to reconcile the real world and the Book of Mormon. I, however, would still have become an atheist. That's because I'm honest and you're willing to rationalize anything.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> That's because I'm honest and you're willing to rationalize anything

My, my. How open minded and humble of you. It must be nice to be you, so sure you 100% right, you've got the universe figured out and all those losers who still believe in God (and by the way, you think your family, the one you were so upset over hurting, are losers too because they are still religious) are just so wrong.

No wonder Chazal said "Ashrei ha'adam hamefached tamid".

Jewish Atheist said...

I never called anybody a loser.

Off the Derech said...

i always knew you wouldn't last five minutes in a debate with JA. What a big man you are, picking on kids half your age, like SJ and I. You're a piece of SHIT.

Oh btw, most of us OTD people know 10x more gemara than you. We just don't feel as much of a need to show it off. Enjoy your Kook krap. Mefached, my ass.

Send your asshole friends over to my blog. It would be an honor to roast them alive.

You're the most dihonest, two-faced, double-crossing motherfucker I've ever come across.

Oh, mention our families one more time, and I'm hiring a hit man. Or I'll do it myself; whichever is more convenient.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting about this debate is the vitriol being thrown about

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

>>>> For them it's all about avoiding God, avoiding Torah, and constantly grumlbing about how "horrible" things were. They are slaves and as such, we must feel sorry for them above all else. Living such a life, what kind of a life do they really have?


1) A member of the orthodox community who decides to go "off the derech" will have his marriage threatened.

2) Kids growing up in the orthodox community does not have the benefit of hearing other views.

Also, it is wrong to call the nonorthodox "selfish" because not being orthodox is perfectly allowed in free societies, it is not bothering anyone. I know Garnel, you probably feel that jews should not have the benefit of living in a free society.

Garnel Ironheart said...

You know, it's a sad day for society when SJ winds up being the most civilized critic on this blog. As such, I wil respond to him:

> 1) A member of the orthodox community who decides to go "off the derech" will have his marriage threatened.

You're right and I think, GASP!, that we'd agree that this is wrong. A person should be free to choose how they live without having their entire life collapse around them. This puts tremendous pressure on people and often makes them mentally crack (you listening, OTD?)

> 2) Kids growing up in the orthodox community does not have the benefit of hearing other views.

Again, OMG that's twice!, we agree. I think a Torah education should include a wide spectrum of observant authorities. Any frum kid who doesn't learn Rav Hirsch or Rav Soloveitchik is being denied a proper education. Any kid who doesn't learn how science doesn't contradict the Torah and how the two complement each other instead of threaten one another is being denied a proper education.

So yes, it's no wonder people go OTD when they're raised with a "It's 100% our way or you're out!" attitude.

(BTW, seen the new trailer for Star Trek XI yet?)

As for you OTD, I've been far more tolerant with you than you have with me. I haven't banned you from my blog, nor do I have any plans to do so. After all, you're supplying the rope and hanging yourself with it, so to speak.

And to be absolutely clear, because I know you'll purposefully misunderstanding me, I am NOT telling you to kill yourself nor do I want you to do so.

Nor am I mocking your families. I'll try to keep the number of syllables per word down so you can understanding but I have no interest in insulting your families. I am pointing out that it's YOU that's doing that by your ongoing vulgarity and stupidity and I feel sorry for them because of that.

Dr Mike said...

If this offthederech guy hates you so much, why does he keep reading this blog? Doesn't he have anything better to do?

Rye said...

Here's the thing. Growing more observant has become a source of tremendous pride for my parents. They honestly believe I have succeeded in spite of a lack of religious structure. They were spiritual and loving, but unable to provide me an education to "why" we were doing Friday night dinner.

What I find weird about this whole process is my almost total internalization of becoming more observant. On secular matters I can expound until the cows come home. When it comes to religion, I have trouble explaining this little niche I have carved out in MO. It's not like I totally believe everything in the religious world. It's that I respect the history and the method so much that I am compelled to unravel its beauty. My impression is that most OTD or secular jews are uncomfortable with this because it reminds them of a path not taken.