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?