Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


A “God Gene”? Or Spiritual Heliotropism?

posted by David Klinghoffer
Marvin Olasky spoke at the Discovery Institute yesterday and I had the opportunity to bounce off him a small heresy I’ve been cultivating. Olasky is the editor of World Magazine, a conservative Christian biweekly that I admire, and provost of King’s College, a Christian college headquartered in New York City’s Empire State Building. In his speech he made the case strongly that conservatives and especially conservatively inclined religious folks make a strategic error when they retreat from combat and engagement with the world and seek instead to wall themselves off in monasteries, figuratively speaking — communities isolated from the sin-tainted world.
But the key point about Olasky that prompted me to share my thought with him is that he’s a Jew by birth, a Jewish Christian, from a classic sort of Jewish background. His parents were secular, as was he in his youth, and he grew up to be an atheist and a Communist, becoming a Christian only later on in life. My thesis in a nutshell is that far from there being a “God gene,” as some exponents of Darwinian evolution would have it; and in contrast to a strictly traditional view, Jewish or Christian or Muslim, that God is waiting for us all to make the choice of a particular religion that’s right for absolutely everyone — rather than either of these, I wonder if God imprints a certain kind of religious preference, one of numerous possible imprints, on each person.
I’m not giving this as my firm belief. Just something that from experience sure does appear to be true. Each religion, and the variations thereon, seems like it has something almost like a “taste” — or in Hebrew, a taam, which conveys the point better. Adherents of that religion similarly have a taam in common. Just as there are different religions and different variations within each, there are such “tastes” identifiable among believers. A person has a taste for his religion, but not for others. Is this your experience? Please comment below and let me know.
If true, this would be very hard to reconcile with the God-gene thesis, which simple-mindedly treats religiosity as an on- or off-switch kind of deal. You have the gene or you don’t, in the same way you may get the “gene” for homosexuality or not. But apart from the fact that DNA (which codes for protein production) doesn’t appear to work at all the way it’s popularly conceived, people’s religious inclinations are way, way too complex and multifarious to be explained this way. There’s no such singular thing as “being religious.” It’s not generic like that. It’s not one size fits all. No “up” or “down” genetic predestination here. Imagine a “gene” for Orthodox Judaism, Nusach Ari, with Hirschean leanings — my own profile — which I then presumably received from my Swedish and Welsh forebears. Absurdity upon absurdity!
I’ll give you an illustration. We have a dear friend from our shul, our synagogue, who’s Chinese-American by birth, from Hawaii — a less stereotypically Jewish background you couldn’t imagine. Yet, a convert to Orthodox Judaism, she’s someone whose taam couldn’t be more that of a Jewish mother, not even if she came from the longest of long lines of Jewish mothers. There’s no mistaking this about her. Something similar is true of many of the converts to Judaism that I know. It’s not about physiognomy in a way that would be evident from a passport photo. Mien might be a better word, but even that doesn’t nearly do it justice. Let’s just call it taam.

Many Jewish converts I know or whose stories I’ve heard, knew from early on in their lives that they were powerfully drawn to things Jewish. By the same token, among born-Jews, many who migrated from secularism to Orthodox as adults, ba’aalei teshuvah, knew as little kids that they wanted to be Orthodox Jews when they grew up. Isn’t this peculiar?
Then again, I’ve know Jews who left Judaism and earnestly, permanently embraced other faiths. In general, I find these people to have a less pronounced Jewish “taste,” or none at all, or quite the opposite, no matter how much affection they express for their ethnic roots. They have the taam of their chosen, or appointed, faith.
Judaism is a useful context for making the point I’m trying to make because so much of its appeal baffles many people. They read a translation of a page of Talmud and say “Whoa! That is boring! It’s so dry and legal!” But let someone else listen to a gifted rabbi’s Torah lecture on the same page of Talmud — that is, someone with a Jewish soul — and he’s as likely to say, “Wow! I want to spend the rest of my life delving into this stuff! This is how I’m going to experience God. Give me more!” The latter represents my own experience. Rare, I think, is the non-Jew who would respond similarly. If he did, he would be a likely candidate for conversion.
The same holds true, I’m sure, in relationship to other faiths. I may respect another religion, find it substantive, even if wrong on certain key points — and remain utterly perplexed by what others find appealing about it.
Heliotropism is the tendency of plants to grown toward the sun. It almost seems like each of us is a plant growing toward its sun, where there are many suns in the sky. 
I enjoyed meeting Marvin Olasky and he was kind enough not to render judgment on my suggestion. I know it would not qualify as either Jewish or Christian small-o orthodoxy. It sounds like relativism. Yet anyone who knows my writing knows I’m not a relativist. So can spiritual multi-sun heliotropism be reconciled with any traditional faith?
Possibly so. Over Shabbat I was reading Rav Hirsch on the Noah narrative in Genesis where, as the rabbis understand, God after the Flood seeded the peoples of the earth each with its distinctive affinity for a homeland. Hirsch writes about how the Midrash (on Genesis 9:7) notes the way certain landscapes, unique to different countries, appear hateful to foreigners, yet natives love them intensely and feel displaced in any other geographical context. That sounds like Judaism to me. And like Catholicism, and Evangelical Protestantism, and so on.
Maybe God makes us this way to keep humanity safely divided into discrete peoples and nations. The Tower of Babel story, which comes shortly after, shows the danger of a world state with a world-spanning ideology. We would abuse its power, tyrannizing each other. In politics, federalism is much safer. Though I believe there is indeed a single religious community whose understanding comes closest to the truth about God’s wisdom, it’s likely that humanity still isn’t ready for a truly universal religion, either.


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R

posted June 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm


Based on your first paragraph (“In his speech he made the case strongly that conservatives and especially conservatively inclined religious folks make a strategic error when they retreat from combat and engagement with the world and seek instead to wall themselves off in monasteries, figuratively speaking — communities isolated from the sin-tainted world.”) that Marvin Olasky would have disapproved of Thomas Merton.



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R

posted June 9, 2009 at 1:00 pm


I take a different lesson from the Tower of Babel story. God caused men to speak in different languages. Surely, if God created all of those languages, he must understand them all. And, just as He understands all languages, He must also understand all of the various ways that humans worship Him. Therefore, there is no need for a universal religion as long as humans worship Him in the ways that are best suited for them or in the ways God finds are best suited for that person.
R



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Your Name

posted June 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm


How does this explain atheists, pagans, etc? Does that mean they just never find God b/c they don’t have a taste for it? Or are those ways of worshipping God as well? Belief is also influenced by so many other things: what you’ve been through, where you live, who you spend time with.
Another thing: Most religions think there way is the only way. If God wants people to use different religions as ways to get to him, why would He allow this (besides the abuse of power thing, which we do anyway)? Why not make it clear that all religions lead to him? It does sound so good and so peaceful.
Wow, I ask a lot of questions. This is my first time on here. Enjoyed the entry!



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Brian Beckman

posted June 9, 2009 at 2:57 pm


Over time, religion became for me less and less of an emotional experience and more and more of an intellectual experience. It became, for me, a partner to physics and mathematics in a theory of “how the world actually works,” specifically the part of the theory that addresses the moral, human, familial, communal, national, and some aspects of the spiritual dimensions of the world (though other aspects of the “spiritual,” in the simplest sense of non-material, are addressed by mathematics, and there is overlap that I will spend the rest of my life trying to grasp :) My earliest religious experiences were based on more emotional appeals that didn’t withstand my attempts to understand them deeply. One more ingredient is the inherent logic and depth of the Hebrew language itself. Add these two ingredients and Torah is irresistible, at least to me.



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Glen Davidson

posted June 9, 2009 at 6:31 pm


Oh come on, the ____ gene is and always was a ridiculous view of genetics. Sure, you acknowledge the fact, but you seem to argue against it anyway.
Look, epileptic patients experience spiritual feelings, and these can occur before, during, and/or after the seizure. Schizophrenics often end up being quite spiritual. And psychedelic drugs are well known to create “spiritual” phenomena in the takers. Obviously it’s a brain state that can be triggered by various means, including set and setting.
I’m not, however, writing to say that spirituality is a characteristic of drugs or mental illness, I’m just pointing to the fact that it’s a state that can be reached without any specific genetics or religion being involved. Very normal undrugged people end up in spiritual states commonly enough, and there seems to be nothing to prevent everybody from experiencing these.
Indeed, that there is one sort of “religious” or “spiritual” feeling or sense seems unlikely enough. You’ve got the religious trances, communal religious feelings of solidarity and belonging, Pythagorean numeric mysteries/religion, “oceanic” spirituality, spirituality in dark enclosed spaces where the sense of the uncanny is experienced, and Satanic feelings of vast power. That mystery is involved seems to characterize at least most spirituality, along with the idea that there must be something beyond that may (or indeed, may not in some cases) bring an order to the world from the unfathomed realm.
More importantly, and what seems often to be forgotten, spirituality is more or less from whence the modern mind comes. To be sure, people weren’t wandering around the world in a spiritual fog during ancient times as some Romantics supposed. Yet what’s interesting is that mysteries being grasped, such as the Pythagoreans with their numbers and musical chords, were often understood as spiritual truths. Pascal and Newton appear to have continued this tradition, and it seems to have inspired Einstein and many quantum theorists as well, at least for a time. Mathematicians are sometimes Platonists (Plato himself was considered a Pythagorean in his time), and it seems that at least some physicists couple physics and religion.
Spirituality is more a means we have of dealing with the world than anything else, in my view–and religion is too disparate and culture-bound to think of as even a loose collection of similar concepts–other than that they typically are ideas giving unity to a people. Spirituality tends to agree with phenomenological conceptions of the world, wherein the world is understood with a more immediate empirical view, so not reduced to “causes” and the like as we tend to do today.
Indeed, our ability to understand the world using abstractions appears to be responsible for the relative lack of spirituality today, something that is unusual in human history, and possibly unfortunate psychologically. Again, not that life was a spiritual dream for the ancients, rather, the sense that the spiritual could and usually would take over where reason and causation left off was the norm at the time, and spiritual mystery blended into life as well as logic, reason, and harsh causation did.
Denial of logic and reason, however, is the nearly identical flip side of a too-abstract view of the world, for it also reduces mystery down to “facts” like “goddidit.” Nothing at all is gained by trying to deny what’s apparently “real,” instead any meaningful religion/spirituality must learn to allow both thought and spirituality to live together.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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Turmarion

posted June 9, 2009 at 11:18 pm


Excellent post, David! One of your best and most interesting, of late! I’ve long believed much as you do. Obviously, God, if He felt like it, could have arranged for one religion to be unquestionably the One True Religion, with all others being manifestly false. Given that people convert from one religion to another every day, given that people of manifest goodness and holiness exist in all religions, and given that people exist who perfectly well understand, on an intellectual basis, a given religion and yet are never moved to embrace it, all indicate to me that God, for whatever mysterious reasons, in a sense actively wills the different religions and in some sense is “OK” with those who sincerely embrace them.
Certainly this has been my experience. I spent the time between the ages of seventeen and about twenty-five studying all the world religions and reading as many holy scriptures as possible. The only religions that resonated with me at all, on a deep level, were Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Buddhism. I became Catholic, since that was the one that struck the deepest chords. There is a phrase in Christian theology, anima naturaliter Christiana, “the soul [that is] naturally Christian”. I think this captures a deep truth; and there are probably animae naturaliter Judaicae, Buddhistae, even atheistae.
In this regard, I have always liked the verse from the Koran, 5:38, “Had god pleased, He could have made of you one community: but it is His wish to prove you by that which He has bestowed upon you. Vie with each other in good works, for to God you shall all return and He will resolve for you your differences.” I think these are words for all of us to live by, Muslim, Christian, Jew, and all others.
Your Name at 2:57 PM: How does this explain atheists, pagans, etc?
I think some people by their natural temperament or as David says, taam, do indeed find belief difficult and are “naturally” atheist or agnostic (ditto pagans of various flavors). For whatever reason there is no “belief” circuit in their makeup, so to speak. This is why I think that an honest and sincere atheist/agnostic of this type is pleasing to God. They “would” believe if they “could”–it’s just not part of their makeup, and I can’t imagine God would demand the impossible of us. He wouldn’t demand belief of a “natural” atheist any more than He would demand of a human that he flap his arms and fly. What God’s purpose is in this is unknowable to us, but that’s OK–it’s His problem, not ours.
Glen Davidson: Oh come on, the ____ gene is and always was a ridiculous view of genetics.
Agreed completely. My main problem is not only that it is biologically ridiculous, but that its promoters want to use it in ridiculous ways. Some seem to imply that if there is a “gene” for spirituality, God, religion, or whatever, that this necessarily implies that said spirituality, God, or religion is therefore false. This is a complete non sequitur. We have genes and physiology that allow us to see, but that does not mean that light is an illusion programmed into us! The jury is still out about all this, but if there is some physiological or somatic basis for religion, mystic experience, or whatnot, such basis, in and of itself, says not a single thing either way as to the reality or unreality of religious phenomena.
Glen: Mathematicians are sometimes Platonists (Plato himself was considered a Pythagorean in his time), and it seems that at least some physicists couple physics and religion.
As a holder of a degree in math, I am myself an unapologetic Platonist (though I am aware that not all mathematicians are), since I can’t see how it is possible for mathematical entities not to be real, independently existing entities. I’m also a bit of a Pythagorean, too. As I’ve said in the past, it’s not surprising that more mathematicians and physicists hold religious views, on average, than scientists in other disciplines. That doesn’t prove or disprove anything, either, of course, but it’s interesting.
Denial of logic and reason, however, is the nearly identical flip side of a too-abstract view of the world, for it also reduces mystery down to “facts” like “goddidit.” Nothing at all is gained by trying to deny what’s apparently “real,” instead any meaningful religion/spirituality must learn to allow both thought and spirituality to live together.
Well put–something I think thoughtful people, religious or non-religious, should be able to agree on.



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Matt Schneeweiss

posted June 10, 2009 at 10:51 am


David,
Thank you for writing this post, which was a catalyst for my renewed interest in a fundamental principle of Torah, as you’ll soon see. You might be correct to refer to the notion of spiritual heliotropism as a “small heresy,” depending on how far you take the metaphor of heliotropism.
In the Laws of Repentance (Chapter 5), Maimonides writes: “Free choice is granted to every human being: if he desires to incline himself to the good path and to be righteous, the choice is his; and if he desires to incline himself to the bad path and to be evil, the choice is his . . . This principle is the Great Foundational Principle, and it is the pillar of the Torah and the Commandment . . . If God were to decree upon a person to be righteous or evil, or if there were something which drew a person from his essential nature to a certain path, or to a certain idea, or to a certain virtue or vice, or to a certain action . . . then how could He command us through the prophets, ‘Do such and such,’ ‘Do not do such and such,’ ‘Improve your ways,’ ‘Do not follow the ways of your wickedness,’ if this was already decreed upon him from his inception, or he was drawn to that thing by his nature in a manner that is impossible to resist? What place would there be for the entire Torah? With what law or judgment would punishment be exacted from the wicked or reward granted to the righteous? ‘Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?’ (Genesis 18:25).”
On the surface it seems that Maimonides not only rejects the notion of spiritual heliotropism you propose, but that he also denies the existence of predispositions altogether – a position which strikes us as absurd!
Upon closer examination, however, we see that this is not the case. In the Laws of Virtues and Vices, Maimonides writes: “Among the virtues and vices: there are those which a person possesses from the beginning of his inception, due to his physiological constitution; there are other virtues and vices towards which a person is naturally inclined and predisposed to acquire faster than other virtues and vices; and there are other virtues and vices which a person does not have at the beginning of his inception, but which he learns from others.”
Maimonides appears to contradict himself. In the Laws of Repentance he emphatically denies the existence of anything which “draws a person from his essential nature to a certain path, or to a certain idea, or to a certain virtue or vice, or to a certain action,” but in the Laws of Character Traits he says that people are predisposed by nature to acquire certain virtues and vices!
In truth, this contradiction is only apparent, and stems from a superficial reading of Maimonides’ words; the solution lies in a careful reading. In the Laws of Repentance he says, “if there were something which drew a person from his essential nature to a certain path, or to a certain idea, or to a certain virtue or vice, or to a certain action . . . if this was already decreed upon him from his inception, or he was drawn to that thing by his nature in a manner that is impossible to resist.” In the Laws of Character Traits, however, he speaks of “virtues and vices which a person possesses from the beginning of his inception, due to his physiological constitution; there are other virtues and vices towards which a person is naturally inclined and predisposed to acquire faster than other virtues and vices.”
In other words, there is a difference between saying that one was Divinely decreed to embrace a certain path, idea, virtue, or vice, and saying that one is physiologically predisposed to embrace a certain path, idea, virtue, or vice. The latter is consistent with Judaism’s view of the soul, whereas the former constitutes a denial of the “Great Fundamental Principle” which is “the pillar of the Torah and the Commandment.” According to Maimonides, such a denial constitutes a rather large heresy!
Now we are in a position to evaluate your notion of spiritual heliotropism in light of Maimonides’ understanding of the fundamental principles of Torah. If you maintain that a person is naturally inclined or physiologically predisposed towards a certain belief or religion – in the same manner that one is predisposed to be an athlete, to have a hot temper, to like the taste of peanut butter – then spiritual heliotropism is in line with Torah. If, on the other hand, you maintain that a person is Divinely appointed at birth to embrace a certain spiritual path, and that this is his Divinely decreed destiny, then spiritual heliotropism is at odds with Torah.
Thank you again for this thought provoking post.



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David Klinghoffer

posted June 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm


Baruch S. (a/k/a Yochanan, a/k/a Rochelle, a/k/a Grover, a/k/a Bar Emes, etc.), so let’s get this straight. My favorably citing a Jewish-born Christian on a non-theological matter is a disgrace, but your citing as authoritative a Reform rabbi’s theological stance, adding a new mitzvah no less, is just fine. Keep in mind that Reform today results in the loss of far, far more Jews than any demographically tiny contemporary migration of Jews to Christianity. Sorry, I don’t get it. BTW, if you don’t have the guts to use your real name, why not at least stick to one pseudonym? Also please don’t distort my book, falsely crediting me with bizarre actions as you do. Re-read the passage in question if you want to be accurate.



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David Klinghoffer

posted June 10, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Matt, thank you for joining our discussion — I really appreciate your thoughtful and learned response. For myself, I love the Talmud’s admonition, “Teach your tongue to say ‘I do not know.'” Your reading of Rambam makes sense, but does it settle the matter? I don’t know. I was writing less about theology than about experience — the way things seem to work, based on observation of myself and many other people I’ve known and read about. In his wonderful essay “The Will to Believe,” William James writes about how a given hypothesis, an idea about religion (or other things too), can be for a given individual “live” or “dead.” He gives as an example belief in the Mahdi, the Muslim messiah. “The notion makes no electric connection with your nature, — it refuses to scintillate with any credibility at all. As an hypothesis it is completely dead. To an Arab, however…, the hypothesis is among the mind’s possibilities.” I’m not citing James because his saying so makes it true. I think sometimes in Jewish life we get too caught up in throwing quotations back and forth at each other, as if that could settle anything. I’m just saying that as belief is actually experienced by real people, it seems as if not all beliefs are “live” for some people. Whether “live” or “dead” ideas are true or not is a different question. And whether how things seem is how they are — that’s also up for debate.



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Harv Chaplik

posted June 10, 2009 at 2:19 pm


I appreciate Matt Schneeweis’ time and effort in his thoughtful presentation of Maimonedes’ concepts in the context of DK’s post. It was, at least to me, rational and educational.
I can’t resist offering a high-five to Baruch S on his reaction to DK. I basically agree nor do I think all that much of his blogs. However, I have never met him so the best I can offer is that perhaps he is a better thinker and speaker than is evident, at least to me, from his writings.



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Dennis

posted June 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm


Science and Buddhism assert that no event has a single cause; everything is an expression of the network of interdependencies called the universe. The nature vs. nurture controversy is resolved by recognizing that nature and nurture are mutually interactive. Each effects the other. All beliefs have multiple causes–as does everything. Trying to figure out exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin–as was attempted in earlier times–is like trying to know the intentions of God. Skip the ideologies and concentrate on treating all human beings with compassion and respect. What more guidence do you need?



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Matt Schneeweiss

posted June 14, 2009 at 6:20 pm


David,
I definitely appreciate the distinction between (1) attempting to clarify ideas which resonate with human experience, regardless of whether or not they are true, and (2) merely “throwing quotations back and forth at each other.” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik begins his book, The Lonely Man of Faith, with the following disclaimer: “Theory is not my concern at the moment . . . whatever I am going to say here has been derived not from philosophical dialectics, abstract speculation, or detached impersonal reflections, but from actual situations and experiences with which I have been confronted.”
When an idea fails to register in one’s mind as a reality – that is, when it doesn’t meet James’s standard of a “live” idea – then that failure should be taken as a symptomatic of a deficiency. Either the individual lacks sufficient clarity of understanding to make the idea real to his mind, or the idea doesn’t register as a reality in his mind because it is false. Unfortunately, people tend to draw conclusions about the truth of an idea on the sole basis of whether it “seems” or “feels” right. According to the Oral Tradition, the verse, “Do not stray after your heart and after your eyes” (Numbers 15:39) is a Biblical commandment prohibiting us from engaging in this type of speculative musing. This type of analysis – if it can even be called analysis – ultimately boils down to the following principle: “What feels true is true, and what feels false is false” (see Maimonides’ Laws of Idolatry 2:3). We need not look far to see how dangerous this type of thinking can be.
It may be that you were “writing less about theology than about experience,” but to me, this was not clear from your article. First you raised the question, “So can spiritual multi-sun heliotropism be reconciled with any traditional faith?” You then took a (hesitant) stance by answering, “Possibly so,” and then proceeded to cite Rav Hirsch, the Midrash Rabbah, and the story of the Tower of Babel to support your point. I inferred from all this that you were discussing theology, and that your endeavor was to demonstrate that your spiritual heliotropism hypothesis can be reconciled with Torah.
Having said that, let’s return to a discussion of whether or not your theory of spiritual heliotropism is true. You said that you don’t know whether Maimonides’ explanation settles the matter. Maimonides, according to my understanding, would argue that this taam of which you speak is nothing more than a psychological or physiological phenomenon. People are predisposed to be drawn to different beliefs, practices, and lifestyles due to their natural dispositions and/or upbringing, not by divine decree or spiritual predilection. According to Maimonides, to say that the non-physical soul – as opposed to the physical body or psyche – is drawn to a certain path would constitute a denial of free will.
What makes you favor your explanation over that of Maimonides?



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David Klinghoffer

posted June 14, 2009 at 7:05 pm


Hi Matt, so would you compare someone’s strong attraction to a religion other than Orthodox Judaism to a condition like alcoholism or homosexuality where he’s simply been given a challenge from God to overcome a negative proclivity, and that’s it? If it’s a proper analogy, then it seems you’d have to admit there’s at least one difference in need of explaining. That is the *specificity* of the innumerable spiritual attractions people experience to different faiths. You have many cases of people born into a certain very specific non-Jewish tradition, who never feel entirely at home in it, who then search the world of spirituality until finally they discover some totally unrelated but equally specific non-Jewish faith tradition, foreign to their roots, that makes their heart sing in a way no other faith does. This is not uncommon. But I don’t think you have alcoholics who search the world of spirits until, after years of feeling unrooted, they at last discover the particular brand of gin that makes their heart sing as no other inebriating beverage does, and so they realize: “I’ve come home! I will never consume another brand of alcohol as long as I live.” Alcoholism isn’t specific that way, nor from all accounts is homosexuality. Ditto other addictive and otherwise negative habitual behaviors. How do you think we can make sense of this difference in the way these attractions are experienced?



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Matt Schneeweiss

posted June 15, 2009 at 7:25 pm


Hi Matt, so would you compare someone’s strong attraction to a religion other than Orthodox Judaism to a condition like alcoholism or homosexuality where he’s simply been given a challenge from God to overcome a negative proclivity, and that’s it?
On a basic level, I agree with your summary. However, I would like to make two qualifications, which will also address the objection you raised.
(1) “a condition like alcoholism or homosexuality”: If it’s alright with you, I suggest that we dispense with the rhetorically charged examples you mentioned (i.e. alcoholism and homosexuality), unless they are critical to your position. Not only do I find such examples unnecessarily inflammatory – not to me, but to the practitioners of other religions – but their specificity is misleading and lends itself to a misunderstanding of my position.
Instead, let’s stick to more general predispositions which draw people to or away from different religions. Here are a few examples: asceticism and hedonism, subservience and rebelliousness, scientism and mysticism, objectivism and relativism, the need for love, the need for security, love of philosophy, the need to follow a leader, the desire to control one’s own destiny, the desire for self-improvement, and the like. These are the types of predispositions which I maintain are responsible for the attraction to and repulsion from the various religions. These predispositions result from a combination of nature and nurture. In some instances, those who have them are consciously aware of them. More often than not, they operate on an unconscious level.
(2) “If it’s a proper analogy, then it seems you’d have to admit there’s at least one difference in need of explaining: The answer to the question you pose at the end is that not all natural dispositions or acquired predilections are the same, neither in their intensity nor in their specificity, as you mentioned in your comment. For example, some people are naturally predisposed to be universally athletic. They are gifted with strength, agility, stamina, hand-eye coordination, and many other excellences which are advantageous in a wide range of sports. Other people are naturally predisposed to excel in specific sports. Tiger Woods is a natural golfer, but is probably not too talented in gymnastics, hockey, or bowling. Likewise, there is a wide range within sexual dispositions. Some men have a strong sexual attraction to any and all women; some are exclusively drawn to women who are blond, or thin, or pouty-lipped, but would be turned off by women with other physical characteristics; still other men are only attracted to a specific type of look and personality.
I maintain that the same is true when it comes to religion. You have many cases of people born into a certain very specific non-Jewish tradition, who never feel entirely at home in it, who then search the world of spirituality until finally they discover some totally unrelated but equally specific non-Jewish faith tradition, foreign to their roots, that makes their heart sing in a way no other faith does. You also have many cases of people who are born into a very specific ethnic group who search for a spouse within their group, until they finally discover someone who belongs to some totally unrelated but equally specific ethnic group, with whom they fall in love. Likewise, there are many cases of people who find that they have a natural knack for specific skills and techniques (carpentry, music, mathematics) to which they were never previously exposed, but which are a perfect match for them.
These dispositions might manifest produce specific results, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t predispositions. The same is true for the examples of religious predispositions I listed above. For example, a person who is predisposed towards the mystical might be equally at home with any mystically inclined religion, or he might be drawn to a specific brand of mysticism. The same is true for the other predispositions. Someone searching for a religion of rituals and restrictions might be equally happy as a religious Jew or a religious Muslim, whereas another person might have a more specific predilection. This specificity can be determined by unconscious factors or shaped by specific causes in one’s upbringing.
To sum it up, my response to your question is that predispositions vary in their specificity and intensity. Some predispositions are very specific, other predispositions are general, and others can be both. The only way to explain the difference – and to thereby fully answer your question – is to investigate the nature and causes of each predisposition. Unfortunately, this investigation is beyond my present knowledge.



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Steve Patterson

posted July 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm


Just like the sunflowers follow the sun, we as Christians should also follow the Son. http://www.cardeologist.com/2012/06/30/heliotropism-following-the-son/



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posted 11:24:22am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Animal Wisdom: The Voice of the Serpent
Our family watched Jaws together the other evening -- which, in case you're wondering, I regard as responsible parenting since our kids are basically too young to be genuinely scared by the film. The whole rest of the next day, two-year-old Saul was chattering about the "shark teeth." "Shark teeth g

posted 3:56:33pm Mar. 16, 2010 | read full post »

Reading Wesley Smith: Why the Darwin Debate Matters
If the intelligent-design side in the evolution debate doesn't receive the support you might expect from people who should be allies, that may be because they haven't grasped why the whole thing matters so urgently. I got an email recently from a journalist whom I'd queried on the subject. "All told

posted 5:07:12pm Mar. 15, 2010 | read full post »

The Mission of the Jews
Don't miss my essay over at First Things on the mission of the Jews to the world. This, I think, the key idea that the Jewish community needs to absorb at this very unusual cultural moment, for the time is so, so right. Non-Jews are waiting for us to fulfill the roll God gave us in the Torah. Please

posted 6:14:16pm Mar. 05, 2010 | read full post »

Darwin at the Mountains of Madness: Evolution & the Occult
Of all the regrettable cultural forces that Darwinism helped unleash, perhaps the most surprising and seemingly unlikely is its role in sparking the creation of modern occultism. Charles Darwin himself could not have been less interested in the topic. But no attempt to assess the scope of his legacy

posted 2:04:11pm Mar. 04, 2010 | read full post »




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