Sunday, January 11, 2015

Inappropriate Thinking

Chomsky once wrote the introduction for a book on denying the Holocaust. He defended the writers on their right to free speech. Later he regretted what he had done, not that he reversed his position, but rather that he learned that we can not be rational about certain points of view.

Yesterday I met a Frenchman from a Torah group who lived near the area in Paris where the terrorism had occurred last week. Inappropriately (for the same reason that Chomsky “wised up,” I said something to the effect that our God in the Torah seemed to perform such terrorism over and over again, like in the story of the Golden Calf.

“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” —Exodus 32:27-29

In Torah group, one of the more vocal members spoke about the recent terrorism in the last week in France and Nigeria. He spoke of the how the fundamentalists had a world vision, and we (Reform Jews) did not. He was proposing that we develop one. World visions to me, no matter how altruistic, are scary. They are based on knowing what is best for someone else.

Then I started flinching over statements about fundamentalism and rationality. Can we really say that fundamentalism is not rational. As I remember from early math classes, we make axioms and prove theories. That is using logic to understand behavior. If we assume that there are two worlds, this one and the next one, and that our success in the next one depends on certain actions in this world, then aren’t we being rational? We may disagree with their axioms. But axioms, by definition, aren’t provable. The are assumed so we make conclusions.

The lovely lady sitting next to me in the Torah group said that she wanted a world where diversity can occur. Though I share that thought, I’m not sure it is more rational than the opposite viewpoint: that the best world is one where my way is everyone’s way.

My point is that we don’t make much progress in embracing our enemy with name calling (i.e. fundamentalist or irrational). Calling your wife irrational because she has a different view of where the dish towel should be hung doesn’t help a marriage. Figuring out how your axioms vary can inform us to understand the other side of the coin, and maybe even to shift our thinking a little.

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