Sunday, November 2, 2014

Of Hearts and Minds

In those rare moments that I have time and choose to watch TV, I am faced with a common problem: despite the countless stations available, there is nothing of interest to watch.  It is hard to imagine but there is a limit to how many house renovation and cake baking shows one can suffer through.  In these moments of despair, I have an admittedly unusual habit (not downloading X rated movies – that is common):  as a comparative study activity, like to watch the religious programming channels. Fortunately, Israeli cable has three Jewish and two Christian channels.  For some reasons, the Moslems spiritual leaders do not broadcast in English here.  In my “studies”, I have noticed an extreme difference in how the Word is preached.

A word of background is required.  I personally am an atheistic Jew. This may sound contradictory since Judaism is a monotheistic religion.  However in practice, as Jean Paul Sartre said after the war, you are a Jew since the world views you as such.  I don’t deny my religious/cultural identity and even embrace it.  I simply believe that all religions are bubbemeisis, grandmothers’ tales, albeit with bits of wisdom here and there.

Watching those Protestant preachers, I first admire their oratory skills.  They expertly move their bodies, voices, and vocabulary to keep the audience’s attention and get the message to the crowd.  In terms of public speaking, they are worthy of imitation.  On a more spiritual level, the message, as delivered by at least 20 such TV preachers, is quite simple and intuitive: accept Jesus and your life will become better.  The emphasis is on the result, not the process.  I have never actually understood from them what special behavior is expected of a born-again Christian aside from listening to God and prayer, admittedly highly subjective bases for action.   The actual rules for living are a bit unclear. In short, for these speakers of the Word, faith is the key.

By contrast, the various rabbis striving to bring us doubters back into the fold appeal to our brains.  They explain the importance of every mitzvah, God-ordained good deed, by logic and demonstration.   Curiously, these rabbis admit that a true Jew is not capable of completely understanding the logic of each desired act of commission and omission, but they still try to persuade us that is for our own good to keep the Sabbath, leave the ground fallow every seven years, and visit a ritual bath, to name just a few. The emphasis is heavily on the rules of being a good Jew, some of which actually make sense in their own right.  By contrast, the biggest act of faith required of a Jew is to believe that Torah, its commentaries, and the Halacha are all written by the hand of God.  For these enthusiastic proselytizers, that fact is obvious and does not require reinforcement.  It should be stated that the oratory skills of the most Jewish TV hosts are seriously in need of improvement in most cases. 

In summary, if someone is looking for salvation and relief, it appears much easier to become a Christian because all you have is faith.  By contrast, being Jewish and happy takes intellectual effort and study.  Fortunately, those poor souls lacking sufficient hearts and minds can attain euphoria through the cooking channels and Adam eats America. Variety is the spice of life.

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