My Conversation with Mary G.

NOTE: I’ve decided to discontinue dating these. I’ll probably also go back and delete the dates on previous dated conversations.

This is a brief one I had with a kind lady who maintained things like the Torah being sacred (but not for any very good reason). To me, her position seemed to be, “I like the Torah (and related texts) because I do and it’s old and revered so that justifies my liking it and I don’t care about its torrid history because I like it because I do.” While this isn’t surprising coming from a religious person, I still find it frustrating that she not only justified her position through cherry-picking, but seemed to revel in the cherry-picking itself.

And of course, she wasn’t at all interested in any kind of discussion beyond the thin layer of wax that most of us rub on during polite discourse. I can’t say I blame her. She was under no obligation to address any of my points or questions. Why did I feel so irritated, then? I guess because I still stupidly expect that when one chooses to enter a discussion armed only with old books of mythology, that one at least be able to defend them before saying, “We won’t convince each other.”

My text is in Italics. Hers is in bold. Comments are in plain text.

For context, a mutual acquaintance had mentioned mitzvot, the (more or less) Jewish act of doing something kind or respectful. My first question was to this mutual acquaintance.

Anton Hill Oh, no. You’re [mutual acquaintance] not converting to Judaism, are you? :/

Mary G. Surely you mean to add, Anton: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”? 🙂

See what I mean? She chose to address me directly; I didn’t ask her to. I didn’t say anything like, “Gee, Mary G., why are you an adherent of the Jewish faith?” Admittedly, my question could easily be interpreted as provocative, but her response was still her choice. No matter, I wasn’t gonna let that opportunity lie dormant.

Anton Hill @Mary Nothing at all. Other than the Torah specifically condoning the killing of homosexuals, filiicide, genocide, slavery, and violence against women, among lots of other terrible stuff. D’oh! Wrote too soon. I guess there’s a lot wrong with it. 🙂

I know, kinda dickish. In my defense, I’m good and tired of religions, yes, even Judaism, getting a pass because, well, because they offer •some• good stuff.

Mary G. @Anton. Take my word for it. Judaism has evolved since 5,000 BCE. Can’t even remember the last time I went to a good old fashioned stoning!

In all honesty, I got her point. Judaism certainly has evolved. And to deny that is simply stupid, which is why I didn’t. But her whole premise seemed to be, “Judaism is good,” a premise which isn’t as easily defended as we all tell ourselves it is.

Look at how glib she is about the stoning. Yes, such a notion, stoning people to death for obviously minor infractions, sounds ridiculous by today’s standards. But what of yesterday? With commandments such as not suffering a witch to live, many women have died needlessly and preventably.

Anton Hill @Mary I see you don’t deny what the Torah says. 🙂 Neither do sects like Chabad-Lubavich who take it very seriously, word-for-word, literally. From not eating shellfish to denying science, they think what they do and do what they do based solely on the fact that they believe their ancient, violent, ignorant scroll was handed down by some Magic Invisible Mesopotamian Sky Daddy. And they vote. ;P

I felt it was important to point out that she hadn’t denied what the Torah says because so often, I feel like adherents of faiths kind of expect to just get a pass on responsibility over what their holy books say even when said holy books say some pretty nasty shit.

Mary G. @Anton. Your view of the Torah and of the myriad ways in which those who love it approach its wisdoms is not without it’s own ignorance. I doubt if I or anyone else on FB can educate you on this very complex, beautiful, historic and sacred text and bring you to a different view. Forone thing,we’d have to start with “what does sacred mean” and that alone would require hours of discussion since your understanding of the word appears fraught. Definitely not worth my time or effort. Wouldn’t it be nice, tho, if only the people we agree with voted? Until then,go in peace.

This was where I started to get irritated. My “view” of the Torah?? It is a fact, not my opinion, that the Torah, among other terrible things, endorses, and in many cases, prescribes all the -cides I cited. While it’s true that I am somewhat ignorant of other things the Torah says (which I later admitted), it remains true that the things I cited do exist.

She then goes onto the “It’s got a lot of good stuff too” plea. (Is there a name for that?) Yes, Mary, the Torah has cool shit. So does God of War III, but you don’t see me defending that game as a paragon of moral authority or divine, transcendent wisdom.

I was glad that she brought up the question of the meaning of “sacred” as so often, the religious tend to just assume that we’re all on the same page with the definitions of the words they use. I was, however, really annoyed with her presumption that my ideas on sacred were somehow inferior, which I addressed.

Anton Hill @Mary Finally, we agree. On two things. I’ve not read the entire Torah and so am somewhat ignorant of its text.

It’s arrogant presumption, however, to claim that the Torah holds wisdom, especially wisdom exclusive to it. It’s further arrogance to presume that its text is somehow worthy of understanding on the level of or beyond any other. It is a text. Just like the Odyssey. Just like the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was written and compiled by men. Its alleged “sacredness” was decided after the fact. This is most obvious when you consider the myriad similarities between many of its most sacred stories and cognates in other cultures such as that of the Sumerians.

I would honestly invite anyone who felt compelled to do so to educate me. Those who’ve tried, however, have come to the table with their own biases which is identical to what you claim of me.

Again, I agree with you. We’d have to define “sacred.” Since I’m not a proponent of the word, I’d leave that to someone like you. I take issue, however, with your assertion that my understanding appears “fraught.” Because I find few alleged “sacred” things sacred? Guilty as charged, but the same could be said of you. That is unless you find every claimed sacred text to be as sacred as it is claimed to be. And if this truly is the case, I wonder why you identify as Jewish and not simply Everything.

I actually have no problem with the fact that those with whom I don’t agree vote. I have a problem with those who teach their children that science is wrong and that the children are as well if they’re gay. Those ideas, and more, and their frequently complementing legislation, infringe upon the rest of us solely from the convictions derived from your alleged “sacred” text.

Take care. 🙂

What can I say? I fucking hate it when people pull the “You’re just biased” card. Yeah, lady, we’re all biased. And your biases are in no way superior to mine.

Mary G. Ai,yi,yi,yi,yi,@Anton. I’ll say it again. This is not the proper forum for such a discussion, for one thing among many others because it’s far too complex a subject to do justice within the limitations of FB. Let me ask you to consider though the idea that the Torah is not only the books of Moses, but the Talmud, which interprets those books and the others, and the commentaries upon the comentaries. If you looked at some of those, you might see that evolution of ideas I referred to before. Also, it is commanded that each man interpret the Torah on his own, by his own reason, and it is here that the most latitude of meanings are found. It is entirely possible to be a good Jew and have the most progressive ideas following that precept.

I found this argument a little odd. I called her on the bullshit of the Torah, so now she’s all like, “We can’t discuss this here” even though she hadn’t yet had an issue with it. That and the “there are other books too” defense. Is the Torah a great book, on its own merits, or isn’t it? It’d seem that this last passage of Mary’s almost agreed with my initial sentiment, that the Torah is, at least problematic, if not outright evil. Otherwise, why even bring up other texts?

Mary G. Sacred. I don’t know what your interpretation is, but mine mirrors the Joseph Campbell thought that religion is the poetry that speaks to a man’s soul. There have been many songs sung throughout the history of man. My use of the word “fraught” with you was used after much consideration. It sounds as if you have a crusade going on against “believers”. If you do not bristle at the thought of those who enjoy a connection to the generations that came before them (another thing that lends sanctity to an idea or a text) and find it enriches their lives, then perhaps you’re not fraught at all. But if you do. . .

I actually really appreciated her “enjoy a connection” point here, which I later pointed out. But here’s a fundamental dichotomy which I feel no one ever addresses. I celebrate Christmas, almost entirely due to the fact that I was raised in a Christian home. No, I don’t do the Jesus stuff, and as a family, we never did. But I do the traditions and rituals associated with it. Why? Because it’s fun. So I do somewhat religious-based rituals because I like to. But I don’t ascribe any more meaning or authority to the putting up of a tree or the hanging of a stocking than those rituals merit, which is none at all.

I’m not a Christmas apologist. I don’t make excuses for any stupid ideas or traditions associated with Christmas. So it is entirely possible to take the culture of something without its text, or however you’d like to articulate that. But, if one chooses to take the text with the culture, one automatically assumes responsibility over that text. If one doesn’t want to assume such responsibility, one merely has not to take on the text.

Mary G. Forgive me for taking all these posts to finish up here, because honestly, I won’t change your mind, you’re not changing mine so what’s the point here with people with lots of work to do?

Two things that bothered me about this last comment were 1 that if she had no intention on giving our discussion any real respect, then why the fuck did she open her goddamn gob in the first place? And two, the whole “changing minds” point is bullshit. I didn’t immediately agree with her, so now she’s all like, “Nothing more I can do.” Sure there is, Mary. Defend your fucking text.

Hi Mary,

Sorry for the delay. I was out of town. I figured I’d give Jeff’s timeline a rest and write directly.

I actually know a bit about the Talmud, the Mishnah, etc. My point was never that Judaism hasn’t evolved, however; it was that the Torah says what it does and at least one sect, Chabad-Lubavich (though I suspect all Chassidim) follow the Torah to the letter. And they do it even with the “benefit” of all the commentary you cite.

But let’s look at the commentary. Do the volumes and volumes of commentary on the Odyssey make it more wise or sacred? Do they make it true that Athena literally spoke in Odysseus’ ear? Of course not. Commentary can be made, and is made, on everything.

If you’re commanded to interpret the Torah as you will, then what’s the point? Couldn’t you even re-interpret that very commandment as not really being a commandment? This is what I’ve never understood about the religious of any stripe. If all you’re going to do is pick and choose that which you consider good, then why not just throw out the book you’re picking and choosing from and do the hard work of figuring out life on your own (which, by the way, is what you’re doing anyway)?

By your own citation, what, exactly is a “good Jew” or even a “Jew” for that matter? As near as I can tell, the only reason I’m not Jewish is that my mother isn’t. But even if she were, if I were to interpret the Torah to mean anything I wanted, then what, truly, would be the similarity between me and Hillel? Two people who read a book? Well, if that’s the definition of Judaism, then why are we even bothering to define it?

I’m not on any crusade against believers. I’m on two smaller ones. The first is to hold claimants accountable on what they claim. And this goes far beyond religion to psychics, fans of homeopathy, etc. The second minor crusade is against those who believe that they have the right to impose the words in their old books on me, my family, and my friends.

Enjoying a connection to previous generations I totally get. In fact, I don’t have that. My family has no “heritage” in the common sense of the word. I have no specific language or culture to learn in school. I’m a boring, straight, white guy. When I look at other cultures, I admire the connection people feel over a common history, language, and customs.

But the notion of declaring something as supreme, be it text, an object, or anything else, because it’s old, because someone famous once held it, or the like, is ridiculous and dangerous. When we grant absolute authority to people and things, we grant them absolute control over our lives.

My mind can always be changed on any issue given evidence. If you have a claim of the Torah specifically or of Judaism in general that you can back, then you’ll find you can easily change my mind or that we already agree. If not, then I wonder why you maintain any such conviction in the first place.

Best,

Anton.

Mary G.

Christ, Anton. I’ve been out of town, too. I don’ know about Jeff, but I’d appreciate a rest right now as I was out of town burying my mother and behind in everything now. I simply don’t have the time and energy for this discussion although I do appreciate your thoughtful and respectful attempt at dialogue.

Perhaps another time – a time at least months in the future, if you expect me to answer with all due respect and careful judgment. Apart from the break-up of my family home, the grieving, the catching up on business, I have a tour coming up, Jewish holidays, and a novel to finish by spring. so I’m not puttng you off lightly.

Let me get back to you one day. Please get in touch – you know – later.

What I loved about this bullshit pity plea is that according to the dates (which I’ve chosen to leave out), she was having this discussion with me as her mother was dying. So she had no problem at all talking to me during the obviously stressful, time-consuming part of the dying, but now, suddenly, with the death couldn’t deal with the discussion anymore? I mean, sure, don’t waste your time with internet boobs if you’ve got family stuff to take care of, but don’t cry butthurt when said family stuff obviously didn’t stop you before.

The other thing that bothers me about the pity plea is that I think it was a subtle guilt trip on me. Like, “You shouldn’t argue this with me because my mom just died.” Right, and how the hell was I supposed to know that?

Hi Mary,

I can certainly appreciate burying loved ones. You owe me nothing, so if you’re interested in continuing our dialogue (I like that you chose that word :]) in a short while or in a long while, I’m open to that.

Until then,

Anton.

I was pretty much done too. It was just gonna be more wishy-washy, bullshit apologetics anyway. May Mary be well.

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