Michael Wolraich's picture

    No More Bible Stories

    I sat quietly several rows back, playing the respectful atheist. My young cousin blushed and simpered on the bema--the wide, raised platform at the front synagogue. This was her day.

    The rabbi called out my mother's name in Hebrew. She rose from her seat beside mine and ascended to the bema. Two more honored relatives took their places at either side of a curtained cabinet embedded in the wall--the Holy Ark of the Torah. As they drew back the curtains, the congregation rose and began to chant reverently in Hebrew. Few of us understood the words. Translated to English, they plead, "Arise, Lord! May your enemies be scattered, may your foes be put to flight.'"

    The rabbi then reached into the Ark and withdrew the sacred Torah, two massive scrolls of parchment trussed in velvet and silver. He held it up lovingly like a trophy or the urned remains of some revered ancestor.

    "One is our God, great is our Lord, holy is his name," sang the congregation in Hebrew. Then the rabbi placed the Torah gently into my mother's arms. As she paraded it slowly around the room, the congregants reached out to touch it with prayer books or pieces of cloth--never bare hands--and then reverently kissed the item that had come in contact with the holy Torah.

    After the procession, the rabbi undressed the Torah and lay it face up on the podium. A series of honored guests approached the bema to read portions from the naked parchment, kissing it gently with the corner of a prayer shawl before each reading. Last came my cousin, the bat mitzvah girl. She read the ancient Hebrew words haltingly, having been trained just well enough to complete the ceremony.

    During the reading, most congregants sat quietly with their thoughts, ignorant of the content. I read the English translation. This is what it said:

    If there is found among you, in one of the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who has affronted the Lord your God and transgressed His covenant turning to the worship of other gods and bowing down to them...you shall take the man or the woman who did that wicked thing out to the public place, and you shall stone them, man or woman, to death. (Deuteronomy 17:2)

    I worship no god, so perhaps I am innocent of this offense, but that's small consolation to an atheist like me, whose heresy would surely have earned me expulsion or worse in the old days. My father and brother are atheists too, and I thought of my mother parading those sacred scrolls that would piously condemn her entire family.

    Much of the Torah portion that day addressed the rules of warfare. After a military victory, it commanded, women and children must be spared, and trees must be left standing. Unfortunately, such laudable proscriptions did not apply to subjugated tribes within Israel's God-given borders: the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. In those cases, the Torah commanded,

    You shall not let a soul remain alive...lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods. (Deuteronomy 20:16)

    After the Torah readers finished their portions, after the scrolls were re-dressed, re-blessed, re-processed, and fondly returned to the Ark, my cousin stood before the congregation to deliver her bat mitzvah speech. In accordance with custom, she spoke to us about lessons she had gleaned from her Torah portion. It was important, she explained, to protect the trees. She made no mention of stoning infidels or slaughtering children.

    Such is modern Judaism. Even the rabbis avoid discussing the many offenses for which the Torah prescribes stoning: blasphemy, idolatry, wizardry, fraudulent virginity, working on the sabbath, or having sex with someone else's fiancee. Nor do they advertise brutal passages like the one from Judges in which eleven tribes of Israel make holy war on the twelfth, torching its cities and slaughtering the inhabitants, including women, children, and animals.

    But some ugly passages are hard to avoid. For instance, the festival of Passover famously celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. According to the story, God slaughters every first-born Egyptian son--a large percentage of the population--in order to persuade the Pharaoh to release the Israelites. Worse, God is said to have "hardened Pharaoh's heart," forcing him to refuse the Israelites' passage so that God would have an opportunity to dazzle the world with his miraculous killing.

    The destruction of Sodom and Gomorra offers another famous example of holy brutality. In the story, God obliterates two "wicked" cities, killing all the inhabitants. Were such killing performed by mortals, we would call it genocide. We would demand sanctions, air-strikes, and U.N. condemnations. But we do not condemn God or his Torah; we praise them.

    Even the founding myth of Judaism is shocking from a modern vantage point. God commands Abraham, legendary forefather of the Jewish people, to prove his devotion by sacrificing his beloved son Isaac. The obedient Abraham binds his son over a woodpile and prepares to slit his throat. At the last second, God stays Abraham's hand and retracts the command, satisfied that his disciple is faithful to the core.

    Some interpret God's salvation of Isaac as proof of his glorious mercy. Some mercy. What kind of monster insists that devotees be willing to sacrifice their own children? And what kind of deranged zealot obeys him?

    I once attended a Torah study session in which the rabbi strained to answer these questions. The story, he argued, is about faith and trusting God, not killing or being willing to kill innocent children.

    That is how we modern Jews rinse the blood from Torah. If we do not ignore the ugly bits outright, then we de-emphasize them or turn them into metaphors. We refashion the brutal stories that resonated in older, crueler eras and remake the Torah into something new, something that we are proud to parade around the synagogue and teach to our children.

    But in that case, why do we need Torah at all? Rather than carefully emphasize the good commandments and neglect the bad ones, why not just teach morality to our children without using scripture as a crutch? We don't need explicit instructions from God to know that it's wrong to lie, steal, and kill. We don't need an obscure biblical passage about sparing trees after a siege to teach our children to value life or to protect the environment.

    Some defend the Torah on the ground that it was enlightened for its day. In an era when people really did sacrifice children to the gods, a religion that forbade human sacrifice was progressive, even revolutionary.

    Perhaps it was. But we can recognize and celebrate the Torah's advances without treating it as a contemporary authority, just as we can celebrate Aristotle's scientific brilliance without subscribing to his theory of physics. We can and should continue to study the Torah for its contributions to history and culture, just as we study the Iliad, the Tempest, and the Magna Carta.

    But when it comes to morality, let us treat the Torah as we would a long-dead visionary, someone whose ideas were once groundbreaking but which were meant for a different world to which we cannot and should not return.

    Let us dress the Torah in its finery, bury it in its Ark, sing a prayer for the dead, and let it rest in peace. The children of Israel already left our old teacher behind long ago. We just won't admit it.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual



    Old stories, huh?  I know it's not exactly the same thing in terms of cultural influence but I seem to remember that in middle school and high school our teachers were extremely concerned about the amount of violence and sex we were all getting from movies, MTV and video games.  These same teachers then gave us, as the formative texts of western society, books like The Illiad and the Odyssey.  The Odyssey ends, of course, with 200 unarmed people locked in palace and picked off one by one by three bloodthirsty archers.  For most of the Illiad, the hero Achilles sits around his tent while his friends are slaughtered by the enemy because a king stole the slave girl he wanted. 

    On one hand, I think we need to hang onto these stories just to be reminded of what impulsive animals we can be.  Nothing in physical evolution has made us any less likely to try to slay all of our enemies now than we would have in the old days.  These stories remind us what we are and what we're capable of.

    But society has evolved, perhaps in ways that have kept us alive (certainly happier and more comfortable) than physical evolution would allow.  We shouldn't explain away those stories since they describe our sometimes undeniable impulses.  But it's probably best to view the "lessons" of old stories, religious or not, as cautionary rather than prescriptive.

    Though I was always partial to that story about Jesus getting stoned with a hooker...

    Sure, we should read the old stories, the Bible included. But we don't parade the Odyssey around classroom crying, "Praise Apollo! Blessed be Odysseus," and we don't invoke Homer when we urge children to do good.

    PS I'm partial to that story about Jesus blessing the big-noses.

    See, I did parade the Odyssey around the classroom while saying those things.  But I went to a very special school.



    and note the second top comment

    I wish I was jewish
    akoastelle 1 month ago


    It could be worse. It must be tough to be an atheist Mormon.

    Mediamatters.com hit Robertson recently.

    All I could recall was old Pat begging people for contributions on his silly religous show; pretending that there was some poor soul in Akron who had no fridge or was dying of cancer or had a child with mental difficulties....

    And he pulled 90 million bucks following a few decades of bullshite.

    And he put it all in his pocket claiming the sum had nothing to do with his pitches!

    I don't know.

    He probably modeled his church on some Borgia paradigm!

    Anyway the link notes 10 demons in the mind of this sociopath and here are a couple of segments:


    Last year, a man wrote to The 700 Club worried that his niece's painting of Buddha amounted to idolatry. Robertson said that it certainly did, and that you "don't know what kind of demonic power is attached to that." Explaining that he didn't want to get "super spiritual on this thing," Robertson nevertheless advised that he would "take that statue of Buddha or picture of Buddha and set it on fire." The conversation continued, with Robertson describing how people can attach "demon prayers" to things like paintings of Buddha, and they can give you headaches and lead to marital strife …

    A few days before Halloween in 2009, Pat Robertson  labeled Halloween a "celebration of the devil" and a "celebration of demonic forces." Robertson dismissed people that think Halloween is "harmless" and compared it to dabbling with demons by using Ouija boards or "levitation."


    Sometimes I feel like setting up my own religion; some anti-anti-Christ organization that calls out Fallwell and Robertson for blasphemy.

    I guess, that is why I can never be a member of some organized religion.

    Those guys are easy targets. But there are lots and lots of good folks who aren't bigoted hypocritical jerks like those dudes yet who still revere the Bible.

    Yeah that is all fine and dandy.


    2,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago and today.

    There is no difference!

    The leaders of these cults all make out like bandits!


    I know you worked hard on this and I hope you understand that my two comments below are made in good faith:

    1. There are people who devote their lives to study Torah and the Talmudic commentary.  Of course, they are few and far between.  But I will submit that these few student have read the same excerpt from the Torah that you have provided to your readers--some perhaps a thousand times or more.  And, lo and behold, with the exception of this or that crackpot, as pious as most of these folks might be they would never stone anyone to death based on what is commanded in Torah.  And, what you may not appreciate, and what in any event you didn't address in your blog, the folks who study Torah spend a heckuva lot of time reconciling, for example, your selected and concededly horrible excerpt, with G-d's commandment that they not kill.   This is the type of contradiction that is studied and studied and debated, and studied again.   And it has been done just this way by Talmudic scholars ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70.   And this Torah study, I submit, has promoted the development of the very humanistic types of moral codes you seem to see as being inconsistent with this or that Bible story.

    2. I don't understand the reason for your blog, which is directed at a secular and presumably mostly non-Jewish readership.   Please understand I don't question your right to post whatever you'd like to.  But are you saying that my kids, for example, who grew up going reluctantly to Hebrew School and dealing with a Dad who presented himself as more observant than most of the parents of their friends, were damaged by the inclusion of sugar-coated Jewish bible stories in their lives?  What is your message?

    1. The fact that scholars have spent countless hours debating the minutia of every word in the Torah (and the Mishna and the Talmud) while straining to reconcile the texts with modernity does not mean these are important discussions, any more than the debates about the relationship between the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are important. Nor do I feel that I must honor such endeavors just because intelligent people have spent so much time engaged in them. No matter how complex the system or clever the analysis, it is still an effort to remake Torah into something other than what was intended by the authors.

    2. I'm not suggesting that good people are "damaged" by having grown up with Torah. I'm saying that they never needed it.

    People can do whatever they want, of course, but I'm urging to readers, be they Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, to drop their reverence for holy texts and to treat scripture as manmade and anachronistic, much as we treat secular texts. I write from the Jewish experience because it is my experience.

    And this Torah study, I submit, has promoted the development of the very humanistic types of moral codes you seem to see as being inconsistent with this or that Bible story.

    Perhaps it has played an important role in the development of humanism. Or perhaps it has to the contrary been a drag on the development of humanism. I'm not sure, but I don't take one or the other side as a given.

    If you're not sure, then perhaps you should consider and maybe even study the relationship between Torah and the development of ethical and moral codes of conduct.  But I guess you feel fairly confident that you already know all that you need to know about this subject.

    And on the need for religion, about which you say there is none, I say perhaps that is so  but then again there are lots of things we don't need.  Why should it matter to you if people choose to study Torah or go to services or read Bible stories to their kids if it is not at the expense of anything societal?  I honestly don't get it.   


    P.S.  And your presumption that your garden variety Jew who goes to Temple now and then or every Saturday or whatever is fed sugar-coated Torah is simply and totally incorrect.  Indeed, my oldest daughter, when she was bat mitzvahed, read a portion of the Torah that dealt with the correct procedures for animal sacrifice, blood and all.  And she wrote about sacrifice, and she compared it to prayer, and she struggled with this notion that anyone would kill animals as a means to worship.  And I say to you Genghis, it was all good.


    I'm open to recommended reading. :)

    Look, I'm arguing a point as I would any point. I know more about the subject than the average blogger, perhaps more than I know about politics--which I blather on about without hesitation--but of course, there is much that I do not do know.

    That said, I'm not writing about the history of Jewish theology or it's impact on Western civilization, and if I veered that way in the comments, I retract it. I'm arguing about what I perceive as intellectual dishonesty on the part of most practicing Jews (a critique I would likely extend to other religions, but I know even less about those).

    I do believe that most non-Orthodox Jews do not read Torah and would be surprised by what's in there. That is pure conjecture based on people I've talked to about it. But whether it is most or some doesn't really matter. I know them. They exist.

    As for those who do read--and this is the controversial point between us I think--I believe that there is another kind of intellectual dishonesty at work. I believe that they too often bend over backwards to make the Torah work--to make sense of disturbing passages and contradictions, to avoid impugning its authority.

    The question to me is whether a reader is open to the possibility of the Torah being wrong, the possibility that its author(s) might advocate immoral ideas or behaviors. Because if they're not open to that possibility, then they're not reading the Torah honestly. They are reading it as a sacred text for which any given interpretation may be incorrect, but the rightness of the text itself cannot be challenged. And I don't care whether it's 13-year-old bar mitzvah student or Maimonides himself, I call it a dishonest reading.

    But if what you see as the problem is this intellectual dishonesty--which I just don't see as the norm in my experience as an adult in any congregation I've belonged to-is there something wrong with promoting and pursuing a more honest inquiry into Torah, or does the solution have to be yours--for moral or other reasons--to reject the Torah's enduring significance in the modern world?

    Ah, but I don't think he's rejecting significance so much as sanctity.  Big difference.

    I think enduring is the key word here. I would never dispute the Torah's historical significance. The question is whether it continues to have--or whether it should continue to have--moral significance today.

    I suspect that an honest inquiry would have that result. There is so much I find so clearly appalling that it's hard for me to see how it wouldn't. But I could be wrong of course, and I could even be convinced that the Torah does have enduring significance. I might be intellectually dishonest myself. ;)

    My assumptions here are partly autobiographical. I had read and discussed portions of the Torah my entirely life without really questioning them. I had even read and translated Isaac's sacrifice from the original Hebrew, which is more than most of my Jewish friends had ever attempted. But it was only after college that I sat down to read the five books cover-to-cover so-to-speak (though I didn't quite make it all the way).

    That was an eye-opening experience to me. The stories that I read were not like I remembered them, and there were many other passages that were new to me. It has been hard for me to take Torah seriously since then and also hard for me to understand how anyone takes it seriously.

    It did, if you're going to talk pure history and not religion; the Dueteronomic Code had many humanistic advances, one example from Wikipedia: The Deuteronomic Code reflects particular social concerns, more specifically in dealing with the poor and underprivileged. The Deuteronomic Code places special emphasis on the lower class and marginalized. For example, women and children, widows, foreigners and the poor

    That Wikipedia entry mostly comes from biblical scholar (university, non-Jewish) Michael Coogan's writings A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: The Hebrew Bible in Its Context and A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament

    Oxford Biblical Studies Online, which Coogan edits, is a good site for those interested in keeping up with such things.

    Is Deuteronomy 17:2 a required part of bat mitzvah by tradition or some long line of rebbes in your family? I'm askin' because I truly don't know the differences between the all the types of Judaism and how they relate to what Christians call a liturgy

    Catholics have a liturgy, comes down from the top, the mass text itself, which also includes you have certain texts from the Gospels that go with the calendar year of mass and also with different sacraments. Other things, like the rosary or other devotionals like adoration of the host, novenas etc.  (or like the ever popular in movie-exorcism rites cheeky),  are not at all required to be a good practicing Catholic--something I don't think a lot of non-Catholics realize.  What you have to stick to is those assigned Gospels and the sacraments text, everything else is choice (and may have come out of a holy order that was once considered a "cult," that finally got approved by the Vatican in order to keep the cult within the Vatican's purview.)

    Why I am asking: if not, isn't what you are complaining about just a matter of choice of synagogue? Who says they have to use such texts as Deuteronomy 17:2 for a bat mitzvah? If you don't like it, can you get a bat mitzvah with a liturgy you like better by going to another synagogue?

    One reason, among many, that I find this interesting is that this question is at the core of some the growth of popularity of Islam and Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity--what the liturgy is there is cafeteria-style choice by choice of pastor/iman/preacher and congregation. The way I see it, an individualistic, independent ability to choose your own reading, use and interpretation of the texts is what has been increasingly popular over the last century (and that can go in any direction from fundamentalist and conservative to very liberal and interpretative, but it can also be called "modern," influenced by the Enlightenment and what came after it.)

    Traditionally, Jews read aloud the entire Torah over the course of the year according to an assigned schedule. At a bar or bat mitzvah, the Torah portion is determined by the date of the event. As far as I know, all Jewish denominations follow the same schedule and read the same portions.

    Thanks; does look like you are stuck, no shopping around for agreeable texts!

    I'll let Genghis speak to his own message, though it seems to me the post is aimed at secular, religious and in-betweeners.  It's about how we tell stories and how we use them, why we save them and why we forget them.

    The scholarly aspects of very serious Judaism are difficult to duplicate elsewhere.  But, my father was once a Benedictine monk, so from the perspective of atheist kid but Catholic observer, I kind of have a reference for what you're writing about when you talk about scholars who have really studied the fundamentals.

    People who seriously study religious texts no doubt have different insights.  The Catholicism my father experienced in the monastery was nothing like what you hear about in church or in the media.  It was far more philosophical and actually a lot closer to Buddhist and the literal meaning of the stories didn't carry all of the weight of the argument.

    But... the literal meanings still matter, don't they?


    Destor, I totally agree that literal meanings still matter. 

    Thanks for sharing this.  In the >>TRADITION!<< of continuing revelation I hope to read more like this from you.

    My own thoughts about Bible stories were once much like you describe but I was not as respectfully silent about them.  I was once the unnamed but understood subject of a sermon damning 'intellectualizing religion'.  That characterization amused me somewhat but it was not my intent.  My questions were in earnest.  I was really trying to understand and pressed on until I saw pain then resignation in my father's eyes when he thought I had uttered heresy and damned myself eternally.  I am not sure he ever got over that.  I know I didn't.  

    It did make trying to figure things out more important than ever because blind faith is just not in me.  So the quest continues and so do the revelations, epiphanies, whatever.  Sure the signal to noise ratio in the Bible (and Torah and Koran and Bhagavata, etc) is as bad or worse as the internets but there are some valuable moral lessons in them well worth preserving -- at least as valuable as those dumb trolley gedankenexperiments.  I am not at all convinced that the best ones would be preserved because they are the ones most riling or which produce the most cognitive dissonance,  

    Which brings me to the question your post raises.  Without the policies and practices you think the ugliest, do you think there would still be a distinct Jewish culture? or would the Hebrews have joined the "Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites" as historical footnotes?

    Again, thanks.  As you have may have noticed.  This stuff fascinates me.


    Thanks, Emma. Discussing religious theology is often very difficult, and I think most of us deal with it by not discussing it. I wouldn't necessarily bring it up at the dinner table, but I think that a blog like this where ideas are exchanged and challenged is an appropriate venue, even at the risk of stepping on toes.

    I think it's difficult to get into hypothetical questions about what would have happened if the theology had been different. I suspect that every religion must have at least one sacred principle that must not be challenged, e.g. there is one God, Jesus is the savior, etc. But maybe that's because I don't know any religions that in orthodox practice allow core principles to be challenged. Then again, I don't know much about Buddhism.

    I was once the unnamed but understood subject of a sermon damning 'intellectualizing religion'.

    Somehow I get the idea that this was not a very nice sermon-giver and that I would not like him/her. That said, I must say I think the general sentiment is correct! You start intellectualizing religion and chances are high you are going to end up in existential pain in a French cafe writing about God being dead. wink

    My father is a severe male-brain rational type, a smart engineer/scientist type person, but also fairly handicapped with what I would define as low emotional IQ. He was raised Catholic, was even an altar boy, and he has always gone to Mass every Sunday, even when my mother stopped going, and paid for us to get a parochial education, but never takes Communion and doesn't go to Confession. My mother explained to me quite some time ago that he stopped taking Communion when he decided during the Vatican II years (when they went to "religion classes" with a young radical priest) that transubstantiation was nonsense (along with disagreeing with things like the concept of Limbo for unbaptised dead children.)  After my mother died, I got the nerve up to asked him: Dad, why do you go to church if you don't believe all the tenets? Don't you feel like a hypocrite? He said: I like doing it, it gives me a feeling of peace, and on the hypocrite question it was: that's why I don't take Communion. However, he told one of my brothers querying him along similar lines around the same time that he's hedging his bets. And I believe he would never consider changing to Episcopal or similar, precisely because Catholicism is his TRADITION! Even super rationalists can only rationalize these things so far, after a point, it's just comforting tradition. smiley

    Artsy, that's a wonderful story about your father. From your description, I can nearly picture him sitting there in the comfort of a tradition, hedging his bets.  

    I can relate to the story because while I can't abide most of the church sermons I have heard---and if people would just stop moralizing in church, or even talking, I would feel much more like going---but the tradition of sacred music is what moves me. As a reformed Baptist I for years sang in a Unitarian church choir in California and the sermons weren't bad except that mostly my mind wandered during them. I even enjoy the old Baptist hymns although for many of them I have to ignore those words which are essentially guilt ploys. 

    Recently I had the experience of singing, with a large a cappella group, Randall Thompson's "Alleluia Chorus" in a 13th Century cathedral in England. (the piece has just two words, the other one being "Amen"). I always found the piece uplifting and beautiful, even joyous---all of which goes against Thompson's own view that the piece could not be joyous---because it was essentially a sad piece.  Nevertheless, given the phenomenal simplicity of the piece, the "accoustics" and the overtones in the cathedral, the majesty of it all, it was nearly a "conversion" experience for me---oops, those Roman Catholics back then knew what they were doing. 

    I got the choir thing bad myself, haven't sung in one since grade school , but I am a sucker for it, I am such a sucker for them I am sure it is partly neurological.

     in a 13th Century cathedral in England

    Nobody does this better than the Anglicans, the Roman Catholic Church can't compare, mho.

    Though it was inter-denominational, liberal NYC style, but still very much in the Anglican tradition, I am privileged to have had attended the packed annual New Year's Concert for Peace at the huge St John Divine Cathedral on December 31, 2001, which ended with Beethoven's Ode to Joy by choir and orchestra while the audience held lit candles. Lots of blubbering, including me (especially in the context of news reading along the lines of some thinking Western civilization and its music being evil--rest assured, a local iman's prayer was included in the service.)

    In comparing the "simple" ways of a lot of American Protestant tradition with the "majesty" of the Catholics/Anglicans, I am often reminded of Aaron Copland for some reason. Such a genius, somehow he takes things likes the Shaker "Simple Gifts" and turns it into something that affects as if a great choir is singing, without taking away the  tear-inducing beauty of simplicity as well--a similar thing going on with "Fanfare for the Common Man"...

    There's a pretty substantial body of knowledge supporting a direct impact of tonal aural impressions on emotional/neurochemical inner phenomena.


    eg, Josquin Des Pres, or Carmina Burana. or any good indian sitarist...

    What a fabulous concert that must have been. I really miss it all. And I love the Copland piece as well. 

    Actually, he was one of the better ones.  Gave happy talks from time to time. :-)  That may have been why I was brave enough to question him.  And fair credit, he could have been a lot meaner about the whole thing -- I know previous ones would have been.   It probably helped me that he was a neighbor and classmate of my mother growing up.  He was never, ever comfortable around me after that episode.  

    My father was an engineer as well.  I wish I knew how he reconciled his faith with his reason but I don't.  Since he loved math so much, he had to be aware of Pascal's Wager and his Pensees but his faith was more than that.  There was such a serenity and peace about him I doubt he felt any conflict.  However, there were things in a small community that people with good sense just did not talk about.  

    I found your description of the ritual fascinating. I read similar stories in Catholicism, similarly sanitized, but generally ignored the ramifications. What finally drove me away was the all-too-real sins of the current clergy.

    Thanks. I performed the ritual so many times in my life before ever really thinking hard about why I did it. I felt that it was important to describe in order to bring out the reverence with which Jews treat the Torah.

    Catholics have an additional burden of a dogmatic hierarchy for which there is little alternative. At least Jews can choose between orthodox, conservative, reformed, reconstructionist, renewal, and various other sub-sects.

    Because Catholics have a Pope and Vatican and a source of top down leadership, I suppose that's somewhat true.  One could argue that you're not "really Catholic if you're pro-choice, or pro-same sex marriage or advocate for women priests," since those are clearly not the rules.

    But, then... how many arguments have we have around here about what makes a real liberal or progressive?  And how many of those end well or usefully?  It seems to me very smart that the Jewish community has built structures and institutions to serve the orthodox, conservative, and reformed.  Not all religions do that.  Takes all kinds.

    But, so does atheism.  And how we're discussing things in this thread is a far cry form Dawkins, much as I love his work.

    Catholic Priests out here are much different tho' Des. I had a friend who committed suicide, and not only was she allowed a mass, but it was a high mass. One where Father prayed for the Pope to accept the marriage of Priests and GLBT priests. I hadn't been to a mass in years, I was impressed with Father.

    Some parts of the church have changed. But it will take the hierarchy much longer to accept that changes must be made if they want to preserve what is good about the Church.

    (*If you aren't Catholic, suicide is a mortal sin, you didn't used to get a mass or a service for this.)

    Just giving a ditto to what you said.

    And to add that cafeteria Catholicism actually has a very long tradition, it's just that before modern times, a cafeteria was open but only open to the wealthy through the Vatican (The refusal to grant annulments to Henry VIII was a rare case of just saying no to someone with money or power, or the intelligence to work the system. I always got a kick out of indulgences starting out as get-out-of-purgatory card for cash and then morphing into get-out-of-purgatory card for prayers--sometimes the Vatican eventually decides that they should let the masses in on some new things.)

    By the time the mid-20th century rolled around, all you had to do was find the right parish priest, if he thought you were a good person, he'd take care of all your rite requirements, i.e. divorcee victims of spousal abuse not always turned away from communion. Actually, it could go both ways--my Mom told me you could find conservative nuts back in the 50's who would give last rights over the remains of a miscarriage in a toilet; I don't think that's something even Pope Pius would approve.

    Oh wait, I should revise even that If you go back enough centuries, you get priests without educations who made their own rules the best they could, so if  you could afford to travel--and you might want to travel away from your home village if you were a sinner--you might get lucky and get one practicing rules favorable to your own situation.

    TMac- I just reread your comment and noticed the "out here" qualifier..As  both destor and I live in NYC; you may not know how accurate you were there; in my experience, the Church here, especially in the outer boroughs, is incredibly troglodyte, owing, I am sure, to the Vatican appointing several decades worth of severely conservative cardinals and bishops on purpose (the theory, get sin city and the country goes along?), who in turn ran the local seminaries with a iron hand. I have gone to funerals here where I thought I was walking into a type of church  that disappeared from Milwaukee by the time I was in 4th grade.

    (As for across this country,  more and more, seems like there aren't enough priests to  do anything much less pay attention to who is a unrepentant sinner; it's like the Nigerian imports are running around trying to do 20 things over several hundred miles in a single day. (IE, you want a funeral mass and burial rites? Sorry you'll have to sit on ice, the next opening is in two weeks!)

    Hey AA, no problem, it is a qualifier. I went to boarding school in New England and up in that neck of the woods I recall a very conservative Church, one I wasn't familiar with at all.

    You are correct though, there are not enough Priests and the church is suffering for it.

    We have had some very liberal politically active Priests here. Number one being, Archbishop Ray Hunthausen, a very active pro-gay rights, pro-women's rights, anti-nuclear, super liberal guy.  Archbishop Hunthausen was forced to retire by the current Pope, who was a thuggish enforcer back then (1991) because Father taught tolerance,  love, acceptance and political action, liberal style.  We have no love of the current Pope out here, he took our greatest treasure and made him retire.  Father Hunthausen was idolized by Catholics out here, and when he was pushed out, it hurt the Church.

    One could argue that you're not "really Catholic if you're pro-choice, or pro-same sex marriage or advocate for women priests," since those are clearly not the rules.

    …or pro-death penalty, in favor of the Iraq war, or anti-charity…

    I mention this because it seems so many "staunch Catholics" who want to disown their liberal brethren over ideological disagreements need to re-read Matthew 7:5:

    Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

    I  just addressed to you in a question upthread. What I want to know is if the type of text that bothered you, like the Deuteronomy 17:2 is required in a service, or whether you can seek out a synagogue that doesn't even get into that kind of thing, leaves it to the scholars as not having much to do with being a practicing Jew anymore.

    Because if you could theoretically be going to a service that you wouldn't find so offensive, they what that means is what really disturbs you is fundamentalism, and not using the Torah for inspiration.

    Here's a example of what I am talking about. In his series of illustrations of the Bible, one text the artist Marc Chagall  chose was Proverbs 20:24: Man's steps guided by the Lord That's sort of repeated in Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the lord determines his steps. You can easily take those two pieces of text and interpret them as explaining everything nasty in the old Testament in a modernist context-that these are the stories of the mysterious things God guided his people to do in history in steps, to get them to a humanist state (you can even possibly interpret it as referring to evolutionary theory!) That puts the stories in a different place then the one that seems to bother you..

    Atheist being one interesting "sub-sect" that most religions don't have.

    As you note, an atheist Mormon?

    In any case, with all the reading of the Bible & Torah & Koran & Vedas & Thus Sprach Zarathustra, I'm not sure mankind has changed much in millenia, aside from Angry Birds Space.

    Perhaps if I'd read that quatrain one more time, says my religious teacher...

    I did find it interesting that there seems to be no archaeological record of a 40-year trek across the Sinai by what, thousands of people? or that an economic analysis of Solomon's Temple shows it couldn't have been sustained as described, ignoring the lack of archaeological evidence. Or that Muhammad rising from the rock may seem ludicrous, but follows in the tradition of Enoch, Elijah, Jesus... who will be #5?

    But these are wonderful stories and traditions, even if occasionally, as Genghis notes, it's best to ignore the later verses/punchline where the people massacre some 70,000 in revenge. Though that's perhaps the most pertinent to modern times, when the benevolent American soldiers in Afghanistan get upset at the people's lack of appreciation, and decide to play smash football...

    And once we realize much of our "religions" are packaged, idealized myths, it's easy to take the next step and realize much of our "histories" are similar. Yes, fortunately there is review, but quite a bit of reality is lost as history is passed down generation to generation.

    And in the end, we're left with the stories. I'd suggest that the reason people spend their life studying some Talmudic or New Testament verse over and over, is the same reason they might re-read Anna Karenina multiple times - it's just fun.

    it's just fun.

    Could also be that it seems to be fun because myths, allegories, metaphors, symbols and narratives are something that's an actual need of our biological makeup-- could be a lot of things, certainly seems like our species wants to keep doing it over and over and over.

    Darmok and artappraiser at Tanagra!

    The spouse and I really adored that episode and appropriated some of the script for continual use in daily life; all in all I consider it a damn good riff for modern peeps on the original text.wink

    It could be that people will continue to look to ancient sources of wisdom in traditional cultures for guidance so long as the liberal capitalist culture in which they live provides no credible alternative source of purpose.

    It could be that Dan Kervick thinks along the lines of Karl Marx, the Marquis de Sade and Lenin, with perhaps a little Frank Church & Larry Morey thrown in (work as the opiate of the people if not whole hog arbeit macht frei,) rather than along the lines of Joseph Campbell.

    No, I don't think religion is the opiate of the masses.  I think there is a tremendous amount of  valuable spiritual material in the world's religious traditions.  I have read a lot of Buddhist thought and medieval philosophy and theology, and most of my favorite works of literature have some kind of religious/spiritual content.  I don't like to get into my own deepest personal thought on these matters.

    But contemporary liberal culture is itself spiritually empty and superficial, and provides only the commercial freedom for people to go shopping in the spiritual rummage bins of history.  So it's not surprising some people go to the Torah; some to the Baghvad Gita; others to any one of hundreds of other places for spiritual nourishment.

    What else are they going to do?  Watch more TV and eat some more?

    I suspected as much; I just wanted to take that opportunity you left me to make a point (along the lines of helpful criticism and I hope you take it that way,)  about how you sound sometimes in your rhetoric (at least to me)  in your zeal to persuade on MMT and solving unemployment; it really does sometimes strike me as if you're promoting arbeit macht frei As if everyone can find happiness in the Puritan Yankee way of hard work for a decent salary, taking care of the home and family and being a good citizen attending town hall meetings. It often comes to my mind that in the glorious mythic American 1950's of nuclear happy families and full employment,  a little home, and a chicken car in the pot drive, some of the most popular memes were unhappiness with the daily grind that was supposed to mean happiness, like The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, The Feminine Mystique and Rebel without A Cause, that there must be something else. Maybe I'm prejudiced because as a child at the time, it sure didn't seem to me that most grownups were happy, rather, more often than not they seemed miserable.

    Economic security is just a foundation.   I just don't think some people should have big and vast foundations while other people have none.  As far as our material needs go, I would like to see us move toward a world in which we all command pretty much the same amount of material resources as our private property.  We can then express our individuality in a variety of ways with that common portion of resources.  A federal job guarantee program would just be one cornerstone to the foundation, giving everyone the ability both to participate in the work of the society and earn a secure income from that participation.

    My main beef with American culture and the American economic order is its radical individualism.  I believe human beings are designed by nature to be social beings, and that the highly individualistic and ego-gratifying approach to life practiced and promoted by our culture is a perversion of our nature, and thus both a detriment to individual human happiness and the enduring well being of the society.

    I reject both the Republican Social Darwinist version of this individualistic credo and the somewhat less obnoxious Democratic Equal Opportunity version of the credo.  Life isn't a game or a race or a contest where the point is that everyone should get a "fair shot" at victory or personal success.  I don't want a fair shot at trampling my fellow citizens on the way to the finish line.  We should be focused on finding a harmonious and sustainable way of living together in which we all support each other's happiness.

    Speaking of Joseph Campbell, Genghis, I just glimpsed something I was unaware of  while looking up his wikipedia link, a controversy that you might find fruitful tracking down, about Judaism:

    Professor of religion Robert Segal countered Gill's accusation of antisemitism in his own article, "Joseph Campbell on Jews and Judaism."[53] Segal suggests that this view of Campbell stems, at least partly, from his tendency to be blunt at times in critiquing certain aspects of organized religions—which, Campbell stated in his valedictory lecture series Transformations of Myth Through Time, was his job.[54]

    Any time someone brings up the Bible and God I just have one simple question which infuriates the hell out of them.

    From my understanding, God created everything ... heaven, angels, earth, Adam, Eve and the animals. Concerning angels, the most respected one was named Satan who eventually rebelled against God.

    So my question is, if God is all knowing, how did he not know Satan would rebel against him? Wouldn't that imply God has a fatal flaw ... he's not as perfect as he's made out to be?

    He's also got a weak backhand.

    And a fondness for cheap Shiraz.

    Not to mention a weakness for Asherah

    No no no no no...

    Everything is perfect.  Perfectly boring.  What to do?  Let's play a game.

    "What'll we play, then?"

    "Umm, let's play God and Satan.

    I'll be God, and I'll be Satan."

    "How ya gonna do that?"

    "I'm God, you idiot!"


    (Please don't gum things up asking who the interlocuter is, ok?)

    Of course, that wouldn't anger all of us who struggle with the concept but continue to believe in G-d.  Not all of us believe in the existence of Satan per se, and certainly not in the story that forms the basis of the commenter's religious-chiding "progressive" hobby.  So here we have this really, really, really smart [progressive and tolerant] person chiding those who believe in the existence of G-d with his really good zinger that is absolutely irrelevant to the belief structure addressed by the blogger of this post.   But you can tell he's really, really smart anyway, because he claims--so it must be true--that every time he brings up Satan those really, really stupid people--you know our much hated American brothers and sisters who don't subscribe to everything we do--get really angry and gosh he gets a charge out of it.

    As Noah said to G-d, whatever rocks your boat dude.


    Is there a prohibition in your religion against using the word ‘God’? G-d seems like the silly convention of leaving out letters of cuss words that are taboo for some in print while in fact actually making the intended word completely obvious. Are you allowed to say out loud the word 'God” or is there a vocal equivalent of 'G-d’? I’ll be  d-mned if I can see the point. Or maybe, come to think of it, I’ll be d-mned if I can’t. 

    Th-nks! Not to be confused with 'thinks'.

    He Who Must Not Be Named.

    Muslims do a different riff on that whole thing:

    According to a hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Mas'ud some of the names of God have been hidden from mankind,[2] therefore there are not only 99 names of God but there are more.


    Sort of. There is no Jewish prohibition against writing God's name, but there is a prohibition against destroying or defacing it. Prayer books containing God's name must be buried when they wear out, and if you drop one on the floor, you're supposed to kiss it after you pick it up.

    Because God's written name must be treated so respectfully, observant Jews do not spell it out casually. If you wrote it on a piece of scrap paper, you'd have to show that scrap with the same respect that you a prayer book. Digital text is obviously a different situation, but most observant Jews follow the same convention as if they were writing it on a piece of paper.

    Silly? Every religion has many rituals that are silly in my opinion (Eucharist, anyone?), but if you believe in God, this expression of respect makes more sense to me than many others.

    Silly? Every religion has many rituals that are silly in my opinion (Eucharist, anyone?), but if you believe in God, this expression of respect makes more sense to me than many others.

    Oh, man, are we ever miles apart on this stuff. 

    ​My first reaction to seeing God spelled G-d and hearing the rationalization was that maybe Jews were not as smart as I had been led to believe. :-D  

    Both words represent the same concept.  How can an 'o' be holier than a "-"?  And how is the practice not idolatry?  graven image?  false idol?

    I do agree that most long-lived religious denominations have their fair share of irrational practices.  Lucky for me,  transubstantiation was not one from mine.  Allusions to being washed in the blood of the Lamb are only symbolic. Thank God.


    It's not the concept that's sacred, it's the name. Maybe the whole notion of sanctity is silly, but that's a much broader sweep. If you're cool with the idea of sanctity, it's not clear to me why a name is any less worthy of it than the other things people hold sacred--statues, symbols, buildings, ornaments, animals, books, human remains, etc.

    I am reasonably sure God is not his/her proper name.  More like a title or role like Rabbi for teacher.  Besides I heard somewhere there are Nine Billion Names of God and figuring out what they all are is not a good thing. :-)

    Seriously though, we do tend to be too indiscriminate in deeming things holy.   That's a shame because, there are some things truly worthy of reverence and awe, imho.  

    Such as?

    My modesty…

    Ooh, the deliberate contradiction. It burns! It burns!

    I thought you might ask so I took some time to think about an answer.  YMMV, but here is a short list of some things I am in awe of:

    Life.   May just be the point of us all.  Not just humans but everything organic.    Survive, reproduce, over and over.  Just because we do not know the point of it all doesn't mean there isn't one.

    Human beings. How they managed to step outside of their biological destiny and began shaping it instead.

    Language.  How it increases our ability to share knowledge exponentially.

    Numbers.  So many cool aspects to numbers.  Even double entry bookkeeping.

    Music.  Bach.

    Humor.  The spontaneous laughter of a child.

    Joy in existence. 

    All good things, but I don't think that it's apples to apples. Maybe there's some conceptual confusion here. What you're calling "awe and reverence" is not what I'd call sacred. No one's knickers will get twisted if you call number 13 unlucky or Bach excessive or life overrated or human beings miserable bastards. They may be amazing or even miraculous, but they're not sacred. You might appreciate them, admire them, or celebrate them; you probably wouldn't worship them (unless you're a Pythagorean).

    Don't mention irrational numbers to a Pythagorean

     π is awesome but not as much as φ.

    As I said those are things I am in awe of.  Maybe things I revere will be closer to your idea of sacred.

    Mostly what you might call values.  

    At the top of the list is honesty, especially self or intellectual honesty.  

    Also, goodwill or benignity.



    But I think you are may be asking more about what, if anything, I worship.  If so, you will have to clarify for me what that word means to you.  Genuflection?  Tribute?  


    How about thinking about it this way: You aren't allowed into a rare book library in the west unless you are willing to treat the items with respect and reverence. To an Amazonian tribesman , they are just pigment on paper. It's about symbolic respect and reverence.

    I know people who treat their paintings by Rothko like they are very holy objects, and they are to them, they give them inspiration that stirs their soul. And many people in major art museums whisper as if they are in a church rather than acting like they are surrounded by arrangements of oil paint on canvas by persons talented in that skill. Those of us in the art business often forget about the whole holy thing in museums, and often end up being the naughty guys, shushed by others when we talk too loud, and reprimanded by guards when we forget that here you cannot touch the "sacred" objects as we are used to doing

    Your questions remind me of Catholic Church theology on the whole thing, it is complicated, with several levels of respect,  but certain things pounded into you when you go to parochial school, so you don't end up worshipping idols or even worshipping icons like those some of those nearly pagan Eastern Orthodox or those uneducated new converts making a grave mistake without knowing it! For example, there's the difference between veneration and adoration, and doing the latter is a sin if you do it to anyone else but God.

    OMG, Catholic theology sure knows how to split hairs, doesn't it.  But remember, my culture is Protestant and from the same link:

    In Protestant churches, veneration is sometimes considered to amount to the heresy of idolatry, and the related practice of canonization amounts to the heresy of apotheosisProtestant theology usually denies that any real distinction between veneration and worship can be made, and claims that the practice of veneration distracts the Christian soul from its true object, the worship of God. In his Institutes of the Christian ReligionJohn Calvin writes that "(t)he distinction of what is called dulia and latria was invented for the very purpose of permitting divine honours to be paid to angels and dead men with apparent impunity."[8]


    I appreciate your thoughts and examples of the museums.

    Sometimes I am drawn into a transcendental experience that feels to me like a communion with the universe*.  I guess it is a kind of ecstasy because it always leaves me with a feeling of joy or bliss.   That's about the closest I come to any kind of worship. I do find the unprogrammed Quaker meetings appealing.  

    Also, I do try to remember to be grateful for any 'tender mercies' I receive.


    *aka the powers that be.  Nothing good ever comes from trying to define the indefinable or describe the indescribable.   That's how holy wars start.



    It's not the same as worship either. I would call sanctity a matter of respect--like leaving flowers at grave or standing during the national anthem.

    Jewish tradition treats a holy book like a human being--which is why you bury them when they wear out. Now you might think it's silly to ritually bury a book just because it has the name of God in it, but why is it more silly than ritually burying a corpse because it used to be a live human being? It only seems silly if you don't believe that the thing is worthy of respect.

    PS Interestingly, American flags also have specific disposal guidelines.


    I do have several family Bibles in my care dating back to mid-1800s but all bodies are buried.  The leaves of a couple of the Bibles are interlaced with memorabilia including locks of hair and sprigs of funeral wreaths of family members.  I see my hands tremble when I look through them so, yes, they are sacred to me.  I would never consider burying them but if disposal becomes necessary burning them with holly wood seems appropriate.  Thanks for the idea.  The hollies need to be pruned anyway.  I will season and stow the trimmings just in case and for some other things that remain.  Some rooms here are nothing but reliquaries.  Like Faulkner said.  "The past is never dead.  It's not even past."   



    Perhaps it's silly.  It was what I was taught to do and I do it generally without thinking about it for the most part.   

    Actually, I did strongly suspect that Genghis' explanation was what was in effect. I could have, and maybe should have, used google like verified Ath--st did for me but I just threw out the question here instead.
     A minor point now I guess/hope, but I did not mean to suggest that that religious convention was silly for those who use it, but on re-reading what I wrote I see that that is a fair interpretation. I do think, and occasionally point out, that using that method to curse while pretending somehow not to be cursing is, indeed, silly. 

    Come to mind that a convention that we all don't think about is that we were all taught to capitalize God which actually, by the rules of the language, signifies that we believe he is a named individual.  Wouldn't it be more proper grammar-wise if those who don't believe in him used god, and then add which god they are talking about, i.e., the Judeo-Christian god? But the inventors of our written language believed in him so we go along?

    (Cavaet: Practicing etymology without a license)

    As an atheist, I have no problem capitalizing God. It's a proper name, after all. I would also capitalize Satan, Darth Vader, and Lady Ga Ga without hesitation.

    On the other hand, I do have a problem capitalizing He and His. Usually, I make a point of not doing so, though it can be awfully convenient when you're trying to avoid pronoun ambiguity.

    But no H- or H-s? Is She or Sh- allowed in reformed Judaism? (or L-l-th cults?)

    The image of an ark is not a very good metaphor for the idea of absolute authority. What the craft keeps alive would have drowned if it weren't there. That the Torah is vulnerable in the way you and I are is what I think about when I witness the ritual of it being taken out and returned to the ark.

    This observation is not meant to offset your opposition to the Torah as the last word on moral action. It is just a way to ask if the Torah is only a body of law of the kind it talks about so much.

    It's a different kind of ark you are thinking about than the one that keeps the Torah?

    Not that I am not saying your mind is not free to make the association with the other kind of ark, it's just that this kind originally had all kinds of interesting stuff to think about, too, like golden staves carried by the priests, and seven priests with rams' horns and Aaron's rod, a jar of manna....

    Nazis melting after injudiciously looking...

    I was free associating. Synagogues have that effect upon me.

    I do think it is reasonable to see the "container" of a Torah in a different light than the items held in the ark of the covenant. The first is written by humans whereas the second is supposed to have been printed by other means.

    Whew! Finally done with that pesky Torah!

    Now I can go back to worshipping Dagon the Fish-head God without being hassled all the time.

    A great blog and discussion regarding religion and its role in our lives.  What one generally sees out there on web and in the actual world when people decide to confront the topic is a back and forth of one sentence name calling. 

    The difficulty in dealing with the topic is evident by this discussion thread - it can't be easily dealt with a few paragraphs.  Most people in our times (as I suspect has been true for all of human history) don't have the patience or the willingness to tackle the plethora of minutia that exists in a discussion of the topic.  To put in modern terms, they want the PowerPoint presentation where there are a minimal number of slides and lots of colorful graphs.

    Moreover, people cannot separate their personal experiences with the actual house or houses of worship and actual congregations they grew up with.  The feeling about religion gets tied to a specific manner of a minister for instance or an singular experience of humiliation in Sunday school. 

    It is further complicated by the fact that a specific understanding of religion become tied to a multitude of facets of one's personal life - from feelings about wealth to politics.  To start to question one's particular understanding of religion and the spiritual means one ends up having to question everything about how one has lived one's life.

    If one has always understood a particular text to be sacred the ultimate word of God, then to question that means one ends up questioning one's understanding and beliefs in just about everything.  That is an experience which leads to a moment when there is nothing solid beneath one feet (the experience of the Absurd).  The goal is to avoid this discomfort at all costs, which usually leads one to return to the concrete beliefs of one's past.

    Furthermore, there is the hedging of one's bets as mentioned above. Even if one does not have a pure faith in Heaven, there is the feeling that it may be true.  And one does not want to die and find out that they are going to be turned away from whatever the pearly gates turns out to be.  As they say, there are no atheists in a foxhole, just as people tend to get more religious, the older they get and closer to the reality of their own mortality.

    And if the authority of one's beliefs say that this or that text is sacred, this or that ritual is required, well then, it is better to not question that.  Just in case.

    At the same time, modern Western culture has instilled in many folks an understanding of Individualism.  Having spent most of my life in the liberal urban areas of the Northwest, I have been surrounded by people who try very hard to make it clear they are "spiritual, not religious."  This is driven in great part by a rejection of a spiritual Authority which dictates to them what is and isn't.  They are enabled as individuals to follow the spiritual path which resonates the most with them.  They become their own spiritual authority, the only one who can say which path to travel.

    (My parents, dissatisfied with the Church they were attending because of the particular congregation cold-shoulder treatment of mom, who had just married my step-father, went, as they put, "shopping for a new Church." They ended up in entirely new denomination as a result.)

    Still they tend not to give up on religion all together, and eventually find a new Authority replace the old one left behind. It seems almost a deep genetic impulse.  In Christianity this impulse can be seen in the need to referring to God as our Father and Jesus as the Son. 

    Even with Buddhism which is technically not a religion, but merely a practice, people end up turning it into a religion.  In Tibet, they merged Buddhism with the old gods of the people in order for the people to accept it.

    In the end, I would say most people cannot deal with the result of letting go of the religious traditions and Authority of what is and isn't because this ends with the realization as Camus put it: "While everything is permitted, not everything is acceptable."  Living by a moral and ethical code that is simply developed by humans, and therefore open to modified or rejected as new understandings are revealed is too uncomfortable.  They need to know Father will punish them if they do the wrong thing.  Otherwise why not do this or that "bad" thing if one knows one is going to get away with it.  If all one has to turn to is one's own sense of right and wrong to guide one's own behavior, well, that is just too much to bear.  Best to just not question the sacredness of the this or that text.

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