Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ulterior Motives

We were sitting at a sidewalk cafe, casually reminiscing on the frivolities of our lives, when my friend suddenly leaned over the table, and like a seedy peddler in a back alley, held his jacket slightly open, and said to me conspiratorially, "Hey, check it out."

My interest sufficiently piqued, I watched as he reached into his inside pocket and withdrew a highly polished pen of unique design. Holding it out in the palm of his hand, he looked at me expectantly, clearly wanting me to let him know how impressed I was.

"Ok," I said nonchalantly, refusing to play along, "So you got yourself a nice pen. What's the big deal? Why all the fuss?"

"No, no, " he said to me, nodding his head disapprovingly. "This isn't just any pen. It's a Mont Blanc. Retail price $700." His mangled attempt to pronounce it with the French accent made him appear pathetically condescending.

"Seriously?" I said, mildly impressed, despite myself. "How'd you get your hands on that?" There was no way my friend could afford anything that extravagant, let alone a mere pen.

"Hmmmm..." he replied mysteriously, pleased that I had taken the bait. "That isn't important. I've been using it for a week now. I love having this thing. It writes amazingly. Such an incredible piece of craftsmanship."

His pretentiousness was starting to grate on me. "Really?" I retorted sarcastically. "It writes so amazingly? That's why you enjoy carrying it around? For some reason, I suspect there might be some other motivation at work."

"What do you mean?" he answered defensively. "This really is one of the finest writing instruments ever produced. When writing with it, it smoothly flows along the paper. It sits perfectly balanced in your hand. It's elegantly sculpted. There's no doubt in my mind that this is a superior pen to the crap that everyone else uses!"

"Yeah, that may be true," I replied. "But it's still not why you enjoy using it. The real reason you like it is because it's a status symbol. It gives you cache. People look at you differently when they know you have a Mont Blanc. It may indeed be a far superior pen, but that's irrelevant to why you like using it."

Naturally, he vehemently disputed my allegations, insisting that it was the exceptional quality which earned the pen his unabashed adulation, but the begrudging tone in his voice told me I had indeed hit upon a sore point.

We kept going back and forth on this inane triviality until he insisted he had to take off, and left me alone to ruminate on our petty squabble. But even after he had been gone half an hour, the conversation was still repeating itself in my head. There was something oddly familiar about it to me, and I couldn't seem to put my finger on exactly why it felt that way. Finally, it came to me! I had had this conversation once before, a few weeks earlier! Only then I wasn't talking about luxury pens, but rather, about religion.

You see, every time there's something in the media about people leaving frumkeit (and lately there has been quite a bit about that topic - articles, books, movies, custody battles, documentaries, and more) people talk about the issue more and more. And inevitably I am approached by someone - a friend, a co-worker, a relative - and get asked the million dollar question: Why do people leave frumkeit?

There's many ways to approach this issue, but when the question is posed by a chareidi person, the conversation usually takes a very predictable turn. Chareidi people are ostensibly very bothered by this phenomenon, and when they ask it, they aren't just inquiring out of sheer curiosity, but rather because it's an immensely troubling issue to them. They ask because (so they say) they want to understand the issue better, and by better understanding it, they can work on figuring out a solution to what they see as a serious problem.

So in responding to their inquiry, I usually flip the question back around and ask my interlocutor to explain to me why people are frum. A variety of answers are usually presented in response, but the main one given is simply that... It's the truth! Frum people believe that god has revealed to them the proper way to live, he explains simply, and so observing those rules is the most correct and true lifestyle one can follow.

However, I always dispute that point. Yes, I fully acknowledge that they believe it's the truth. But I don't believe that this belief is the reason why they are frum. I maintain that most people are frum because it serves their own interests, and not because of some lofty devotion to truth. I don't dispute that they believe it. They can still believe it is true, and at the same time, they can be primarily motivated by something other than that truth. Just like my friend with the pen, he honestly believed that it was a truly superior pen (and was probably correct about that), but despite his claim to the contrary, that superiority was not really why he liked the pen so much. His real motivation in using that Mont Blanc was the fact that it brought some tangible benefit to his life (the newfound respect with which people viewed him). And it's the same thing with frumkeit, I say. Whether or not people believe it is true, that's not really why they're frum. They are frum primarily because it brings some tangible benefit to their life. The truth is mostly irrelevant.

Unsurprisingly, frum people staunchly resist attributing their motivations to such self-serving forces. They much prefer the notion that they are frum because they are fervent devotees of the truth and they therefore follow what they believe to be the truth of god's revealed word.

It doesn't bother me that they think this. I honestly don't have any interest in arguing with frum people about it, nor in trying to convince them that my perspective is correct. If my advice on how they can better solve their problem is too difficult for them to accept, I'm not going to force it on them. But despite their resistance, I oftentimes can't help bringing it up in discussion because I feel it satisfactorily resolves a question that is repeatedly raised by frum people in response to a very frequent occurrence, that of the pronouncement by someone (typically an ex-frum person) who, in response to some indiscretion, corruption or criminal activity by a visibly religious figure, will loudly exclaim, "You see?! That's why I am not religious! If that's how religious people behave, I don't want any part in it!"

Whenever they hear someone say this, chareidi people immediately reject it out of hand with what, at first glance, seems to be a very logical reply. "But that doesn't make any sense! Just because some people aren't behaving properly, doesn't disprove the truth of the religion! Their indiscretions do not invalidate God's truth! Why would you throw away something good and true just because of a few rotten apples?" It's a logical reply because they're absolutely right in making their point. Witnessing a religious person behave unethically doesn't have any bearing whatsoever on the truth of the religion. But nonetheless, it always frustrates me when I hear frum people responding this way, because they are entirely misunderstanding the subtext of what one is expressing when making that angry accusation!

When a person passionately declares that seeing a prominent religious figure act inappropriately makes him want to stop being frum, he's not saying that the religion per se has now been disproven. Rather, the primary incentive for him being religious has now been demonstrably refuted. Until that moment he believed that being religious improved the "quality" of a person, or that it genuinely enhanced one's morals somehow. But faced with this spiritual fraud, he now recognizes that religion, in fact, falls far short of achieving that goal. This, then, is what is being expressed in that moment of rejection. Not a statement about the truth of religion, but simply a newfound appreciation for what frumkeit can and can not do for a person's life. He understands now that the benefits he was hoping to accrue from frumkeit will not necessarily be granted to him. And if he isn't going to obtain those rewards, then why bother with it at all?

This is what I keep trying to make frum people understand, but they seem unwilling to accept it: Most people stop being frum for the same reason they choose to remain frum - because of how much they are or aren't benefiting from it. As long as they feel they are tangibly benefiting somehow, either because they genuinely enjoy torah and mitzvos, or because they trust that being frum somehow protects them from the evils of the outside world, or because they think it will guarantee them eternal reward, or because they think it ensures them a moral life, or because they think that they have a better chance at a happy life following those rules, or even simply because they enjoy the social aspects of frum life - for whatever reason it might be, as long as they feel they are prospering in some way from it, they will want to stay frum.

But as soon as the benefit is reduced sufficiently, either because the person doesn't get any significant enjoyment from it anymore, or because torah and mitzvos have become more of a burden, or because the promise of a world to come seems less certain, or because he sees that being frum doesn't guarantee a more moral life, or because he has come to realize that it doesn't shelter him from criminals, corruption, and the dangerous elements of 'the outside world', or for any of a variety of other reasons, then he will stop caring about being frum.

This mental calculus, which more often than not is an unconscious thought process, has very little to do with how much one believes in the truth of Judaism. It is almost entirely self-serving. No doubt on some level they genuinely believe in the truth of Judaism. But again, that belief plays only a very minor role in why they are frum.

Admittedly, if a person truly believes, with a firm conviction, that Judaism is true, he probably won't stop being religious even if he no longer benefits from it, but this is a moot point. The vast majority of frum people do not possess any such conviction. Their 'belief' in Judaism's truth, if it can even be called that, is a barely sustainable faith built upon a hodge-podge of gedolim stories, midrashim, gematrias, some degree of trust in their rabbinic leaders, a whole lot of superstitions, and a few poorly constructed arguments that they might have once heard from a kiruv rabbi. (Additionally, if a person really has a firm conviction that Judaism is true, then he presumably still believes in olam haba, so in effect, he still DOES believe that he is benefiting by being frum.)

"Why are so many people leaving yiddishkeit?", the frum world constantly asks. They can ask it as often as they want. They can hold conferences devoted to the topic, and every month print op-ed's in their publications about it. They can seek the advice of gedolim on the topic and hold tehillim gatherings for siyata d'shmaya in solving it. But all their efforts simply won't amount to much at all. Because until they put aside their inflated sense of spiritual devotion, and acknowledge the mundane truth of their society's self-interested motivations, they will never even begin to truly understand why so many people choose to leave that world behind.

44 comments:

Ezzie said...

I think you undermine your own point near the end.

When it comes down to it, many if not most frum people are well aware of the bad apples in their society, and implicitly acknowledge how most of the world views Orthodox Jewry: Backward, strange, a little odd... variations of levels, sure, but all in all, being frum does not give someone a perceived status that is positive.

If anything, someone who is or remains frum despite this is showing impressive fortitude - it would be like using a "cheap" but effective pen, or voting for Bush in New York City, or similar: All actions that the person feels strongly they should do in spite of the negative associations given to them because of it. Meanwhile, the person who has rejected frumkeit because it doesn't help them are simply acting selfishly - it's about whatever is good for them.

{Obvious oversimplification to make a point, so let's not flame...}

The Hedyot said...

> ...being frum does not give someone a perceived status that is positive.

Ezzie, you took the analogy way too literally. The benefit of being frum is not, as it is with having a fancy pen, about improved status.

fakewood inc. said...

anybody who tells you people follow the torah out of pure devotion is a moron and hasnt studied judaism at all. even the rabbis say that you should try to serve god out of devotion. key word being try obviously they thought most people are not capable of doing this full time.

The Hedyot said...

Fakewood, this is true. It does say that (well, I'll take your word for it). But if you ask the average frum guy on the street if he's primarily frum because it benefits him or because he believes it's the right thing to do, what do you think he's going to say?

natie said...

Great post, very well written too. I think it goes along with the same argument that everything we do is out of ego (in some way, it makes us feel good).

Growing up religious, its obvious that we start off keeping religion because its how we're raised and we know no other way. Most people do stay frum because they are benefiting even though they don't see it that way. To simplify things, to not be frum would be something foreign and uncomfortable for them; life is much easier if you stay religious...

jewish philosopher said...

It's very simple why people leave.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/07/jewish-skeptics-and-sex.html

The Hedyot said...

Please do not feed the trolls.

XGH said...

Your last paragraph undermines your entire post. The reason why there are conferences etc on the OTD phenomenon is precisely because the Kiruv Orgs (and the rest of frum society) understand that people go OTD (or become BT) for all sorts of reasons including community, bad experiences etc, and this has very little to do with 'truth'. Which is exactly why BT conferences focus on shabbat meals etc and OTD conferences focus on community issues. The only kiruv org which made truth a priority was Aish with their discovery seminar, and that was fairly widely condemned by everybody (for not being true for starters).

The Hedyot said...

XGH,

I think you’re right to some extent. The kiruv people do realize that. But they are focusing on the issue after the fact, from the perspective of someone who has expressed an interest in leaving, or coming into it the community from outside, and they realize that they need to offer something appealing to hook their ‘customers’.

What I was referring to more was from the perspective of people who are frum already, and been raised on a steady diet of torah-true indoctrination. Such people are rarely willing to ascribe self-serving motivations to their religious convictions.

Seriously, if you walk through the average black hat yeshiva (or shul) and ask people that question: “What is the main reason you are frum?” what answer do you think you’d overwhelmingly receive?

Happy said...

Hedyot,
This post is excellent but it feels like overkill. OTD conferences focus on people that went OTD because they lost touch with Judaism, started hanging out with the wrong crowd, got into drugs, etc. For such people, the solutions proffered at these conferences are actually relatively successful. On the flipside, they won't touch OTD'ers like you because people like you scare the crap out of them.

Ezzie,
"many if not most frum people...implicitly acknowledge how most of the world views Orthodox Jewry: Backward, strange, a little odd..."

This is patently false. I literally can't count how many times I've heard frum people say that the "world looks up to us".

Malach HaMovies said...

When kids went off the derech 60 years ago, they became philanthropists. doctors, lawyers and politicians. Bugsy Siegel and Mayor Lansky were of course the exceptions.


Today, when kids go off the derech they are usually stuck working at a pizza shop in boro park.

What Happened ??

laura said...

Hedyot, excellent article. I think Ezzie's point was badly addressed, though. He actually makes a good point: since charedim--especially chassidim--are viewed negatively by the world at large (yes, Happy, most chassidim realize this), why do these supposedly self-serving people insist on staying religious?

The answer, I believe, lies in Hedyot's post itself. They remain, because ultimately, how the world views them doesn't reflect on their day-to-day happiness. Yeah, the goyim think we're a bunch of crazies; who really cares? Far more relevant to one's routine state of being is the general contentment gained by living a religious life and being part of a basically caring community -- especially when weighed against the complications and angst leaving this lifestyle can bring.

The Hedyot said...

> They remain, because ultimately, how the world views them doesn't reflect on their day-to-day happiness.

Not to mention, what the goyim think has never concerned them much anyway.

I'm surprised Ezzie thought that I was talking about status being a motivator. It was not at all what I had in mind (and I've never really heard it mentioned in such a context, despite the superior attitude many frum people often exhibit). Like I said in the post, I was referring to the supposed frum benefits such as living a more moral life, having a better family life, being part of a close-knit community, being happier, being protected from the ills of the outside world, etc.

Those are the benefits which frumkeit supposedly bestows upon its adherents, and which keep a person attached to that lifestyle.

The Hedyot said...

> When kids went off the derech 60 years ago, they became philanthropists, doctors, lawyers and politicians.

There were probably just as many ex-frum people who didn't go on to any great accomplishments as there were those who did. You're glorifying the past.

> Today, when kids go off the derech they are usually stuck working at a pizza shop in boro park.

Wow. You expect them to become philanthropists, doctors, lawyers and politicians overnight?

I'm afraid you're thinking about this way too simplistically. 50 years ago, there were some people who did great things and some who lived ordinary lives (By the way, can you name any of those OTD greats from bygone eras?). But the same thing goes for today's generation. I know formerly chassidish men and women who are studying medicine, law, literature, architecture and engineering, and I know others who are still trying to figure out what it is they want from life.

laura said...

"Today, when kids go off the derech they are usually stuck working at a pizza shop in boro park."

Malach, not sure about the first half of your claim (I'll have to study it), but the second half, which I've pasted above, is basically true, especially with chassidishe OTDers. I'm not going to explain my theory regarding this phenomenon, as it is too lengthy for the comment section, but what you should realize is that these guys you see working the pizza shops would most likely not be doing anything very different if they were to remain frum.

JB said...

For some reason people like us continue to grapple with the issues that have chewed up and spit out thousands of times. If the belief in Moshiach and the world to come, The olam emes were removed form orthodox dogma all the lemmings would cease running to their prayer sessions and Boynton Beach string patrol would cease to exist. (Check out Rhonda Swan in the Palm Beach Post)

The Hedyot said...

> When kids went off the derech 60 years ago, they became philanthropists, doctors, lawyers and politicians.

Actually, your complaint could be turned right around to the frum world. When kids studied in yeshiva generations ago, they were knowledgeable, worldly, and respected individuals. Consider this quote from 'My Uncle The Netziv', page 204:

"Anyone with eyes in his head could see that the students of Volozhin were quite knowledgeable in secular studies: they took an interest in science, history, and geography, and knew many languages.... It was the special achievement of the Volozhin student that he left the yeshiva able to converse with any man in any social setting on the highest intellectual plane. The Volozhin student was able to conquer both worlds-the world of Torah and the world at large. A well known adage among parents who were trying to decide how best to educate their children was, "Do you want your child to develop into a complete Jew, dedicated to Torah and derech eretz? Do you want him to be able to mingle with people and get along in the world? Send him to Volozhin!"

Today the supposed spiritual descendants of Volozhin respect their yeshiva bochurim the less secular knowledge they know, the less they converse with people outside their social milieu, the less they straddle both worlds.

Freethinking Upstart said...

Not only did you completely undermine your point as Ezzie and XGH pointed out, but it seems that you contradicted yourself here.

>I honestly don't have any interest in ... trying to convince them that my perspective is correct.

Then later.

>This is what I keep trying to make frum people understand, but they seem unwilling to accept it...

Can you clarify?

Also, the avoidance of admitting your own lifestyle choices as coming out of self interest is harrowing. But perhaps you consider yourself among the mythical chosen few that do things for the sake of truth.

What is most unfortunate is the tunnel vision that is evidenced in your blog on your perceived faults with the frum world. Your categorizations of the vast majority of frum people holds true for the vast majority of a lot of other groups, even OTDs, as they so willingly label themselves.

For an example, The vast majority of 'beliefs' that OTDs's maintain are truth, if it can even be called that, is a barely sustainable faith built upon a hodge-podge of Dawkins and other anti-religious literature, hyperbolic Bible stories, happenstance, some degree of trust in academia, a whole lot of open hatred, and a few poorly constructed arguments that they might have once read from TalkReason.

If this comes off as harsh, it's because I've been reading Zizek lately.

The Hedyot said...

> ...it seems that you contradicted yourself here.... Can you clarify?

Wow. Talk about nitpicking! I really didn't think it mattered that much if one second I say that I don't want to argue and the next it seems to imply that I do. How is that germane to the point I'm making? But fine, you asked for an explanation, so I'll offer one.

I said I don't care to convince people, and I genuinely don't. If someone wants to believe something that I think is erroneous, I'm ok with letting him believe it. Yet at the same time, if someone asks me a question, I will answer it as I see things and will try to impress upon them why I believe my view is correct.

Is that still a contradiction? Maybe it is. If so, I hope you can live with the knowledge that I am inconsistent about when I want to debate someone.

> the avoidance of admitting your own lifestyle choices as coming out of self interest is harrowing.

I'm really not sure what this means, but if you're saying what I think you're saying, that I'm afraid to admit that I do things out of self-interest, then I'll just correct you right here - I have repeatedly said on this blog that truth was not the primary factor for me leaving frumkeit, and that social and emotional factors played a larger role than intellectual ones. This is well known to any regular reader of this blog.

As to your point about OTD people being just as culpable as frum ones, I won't argue with you about that. That might well be true. However, I never lived in a OTD community that had OTD dogmas and OTD standards that had to be conformed to, so I can't really vouch for if it is or isn't accurate. But referring to OTD people as if they are part of some collective with a unified belief is simply absurd. There is very little consensus among those who call themselves OTD. As my interview series highlighted, the variety of beliefs in ex-frum people ranges from militantly atheist to belief in Jesus, with a whole lot of variety in between.

That being said, when I hear OTD people religiously spout quasi-intellectual ideas that I know are idiotic and that I can refute articulately I don't refrain from correcting them the same as I would as if I heard idiocy from any other person.

XGH said...

> For an example, The vast majority of 'beliefs' that OTDs's maintain are truth, if it can even be called that, is a barely sustainable faith built upon a hodge-podge of Dawkins and other anti-religious literature, hyperbolic Bible stories, happenstance, some degree of trust in academia, a whole lot of open hatred, and a few poorly constructed arguments that they might have once read from TalkReason.

Jeez. You've changed your tune. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyways) I think you couldn't be more wrong.

JRS said...

Some good points made by FT Upstart.
Reading this post, I 'got' (and have often thought myself) the overall thrust: that people's religious committments rise, fall, wax & wane predominantly on emotional tides rather than due to some ongoing, purely rational evaluation of What is Truth.

Still, such an observation, aimed specifically at frum people, is analogous to the way the people or nations (or the U.N. Security Council) will endlessly criticize Israel, and Israel alone for certain actions & attitudes, even while maintaining that they, the critics, are merely applying universal human rights, and 'one ought be allowed to criticize actions of the Israeli government w/o being labelled an anti-semite,' yadda, yadda. Of course, the very obvious answer to this is that if you ONLY apply those noble criteria to the of Israel, blatantly ignoring other countries' glaring violations of said rights, you are, in fact, an anti-semite. (NOTE: analogous, NOT equivalent; I'm not calling anything posted here anti-semitic)

Can frum people can be said to adhere to their lifestyle out of self-interest? Well, certainly, if, as with political surveys, you contruct the question just so. 'Cuz, despite the fact that the lifestyle is unglamorous, inconvenient, fairly restrictive and gets little respect in the larger world, if you're born frum, it's what you know, what's comfortable--plus, you've been taught, it's smarter, nobler, 'holier,' and ultimately, more rewarding.

So yeah, call that self-interest.

But Mother Teresa wouldn't have spent her life having absolutely no fun, tending to the sick/poor/dying, if she didn't deeply believe that's a life well-spent. Is that self interest? I think the vast majority of human beings do what they do because on some level that's what works for them, emotionally, 'spiritually', whatever. So it sort of cancels out--we all operate on that level. Those chesed types who spend every spare minute engaged in some sort of charitable activity--I mean the real in-the-trenches types, the ones who get their hands dirty, who really do tangible things for others---on some level, they get a personal fullfillment out of the fact that they're doing good works. If they didn't get that feeling, they probably wouldn't be doing it. But so what?

Again, I competely understand that it's a matter of degree; it's one thing to choose paths based on some intrinsic set of values----that's the best we can do, any of us; it's quite another to consciously follow a lifestyle, with all the lofty & base motivations and perks that includes---and tell yourself it's a purely rational decision based on received Truth. But it's what most of the world does. You've got a whole generation of earnest, indoctrinated kids now who've been raised to believe that their utmost goal in life should be Saving the Planet.

Happy said...

Oy. Freethinking Upstart's arguments are a (slightly) fancier version of "I know you are but what am I". Really dude, your name is sheer irony.

The Hedyot said...

I have meant to imply that acting out of self interest is a behavior exclusive to chareidim. I absolutely agree that it's a universal phenomenon (my friend's attitude in regards to his pen illustrated exactly that). The only reason I focus on them is because a) in my experience they seem to strenuously deny it's existence more often than most other people and b) because it seems to me that this flawed perception is what's preventing them from seeing the underlying issue of a problem which they so desperate say they want to solve.

JRS said...

<<< The only reason I focus on [chareidim] is because...a) in my experience they seem to strenuously deny [the] existence [of self-interested motivation] more often than most other people >>>

That's a shaky assertion. Liberal/leftists, for example are utterly convinced of their intrinsic Rightness. The possiblity of personal bias, the influence of peer pressure and/or faddishness is never remotely considered. For anyone so convinced of their own total moral correctness, it's implicit that that's the reason why they do what they do, not self-interest. Can anyone imagine any Hollywood celebrity being so earthy as to say, even to a friend, "Well, actually I'm attending that charity event/adopting that kid/visiting those cancer patients because my agent suggested that my image could use a little maintenance right now."
Virtually every one of these people seems totally convinced that they personally discovered that the ozone layer is in trouble, that children in Zimbabwe need Christmas toys, that war is yucky---all on their own personal voyage of self-discovery---like little 3-yr-old Avraham Avinu, 'figuring out' monotheism through clever deductive reasoning!---and they were put on earth (Hollywood, anyway) to share their moral teachings with us. It's not like **they're** just mindless lemmings following every single other person they know, or acting out of inflated self-importance!

The Hedyot said...

It's not an assertion. I said, "in my experience".

The Hedyot said...

Just noticed that I mistakenly wrote "I have meant to imply..." That's a typo. I meant to say "I never meant to imply..."

Shalmo said...

JP:

"It's very simple why people leave.

http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2008/07/jewish-skeptics-and-sex.html"

JP I have already shared with you shaindy.com and Heimeshex.com; both of which are websites created by orthodox jews to committ sexual liasons.

You keep insisting OTDs become OTDs because they want sex and drugs, yet you shamelessly ignore how frummies do just the same.

When will you accept that people go OTD because Judaism is just false. And as education goes up, the number of frummies goes down. Deal with it.

laura said...

JRS, are you hiding in my brain somewhere? How do you get to think my thoughts?

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Just to counter assertions made elsewhere, I am not JRS.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

BTW, your assertions as to why most people are frum could apply to almost any lifestye in the world.
Why do kids from the barrio in LA not go to Ivy League schools? Because they're dumber than other kids? Of course not. It's because they're raised in a lifestyle where attending university isn't a real option so they never consider it. All they know is all they've ever seen around them. Same thing with almost every other cultural and ethnic group. The vast majority of people go through life the way they were raised not because they have consciously chosen that lifestyle but because it's what they know. And for too many frum people this is also the case. The average kid from a Chareidi neighbourhood with a Chareidi education and a Chareidi social circle isn't frum by choice. It's all he knows and if it works, why change?
The real question the frum world should be asking is: We teach our children that the frum lifestyle is the superior lifestyle. Why are we not teaching our children why? Why don't they know the answers to the skeptic's questions or how to justify what they're doing other than with cliches and slogans? That's the reason for the crisis, not the religion itself.

The Hedyot said...

Garnel, we've been through this point already.

JRS said...

"Just to counter assertions made elsewhere, I am not JRS."

And I am not Garnel. (I'm relatively new to this, but I've noticed a lot of people seem to spend a lot of time suspecting a lot of other posters of secretly being Garnel.)

JRS said...

"We teach our children that the frum lifestyle is the superior lifestyle. Why are we not teaching our children.....[snip]..... how to justify what they're doing other than with cliches and slogans?

Well said, Garnel (who I am not).

G*3 said...

You're absolutely righty about frum people never acknowledging self-interest as a motivation for their frumkeit. Yet I’ve often been told that I can't objectively evaluate the truth of Judaism because obviously I want out (perhaps not for the reasons JP is fond of citing, but presumably because I wanted to do something that’s a no no by Torah standards) and therefore I’m "nogeah b'dovor."

It never occurs to them that their wanting Judaism to be right makes them every bit as nogeah b'dovor as my wanting it to be wrong (assuming, of course, that they're right about my motivation)

Happy said...

G*3, zai shtill you miuval! You're so farkrumt by your own negioos that you don't see that the emmesdikeh yidden are shomrei taryag because they're NOT nogeah! And its klur mit a rayeh beruruah: if they were nogeah, they would be like you, you minuval! My rebbe R' Pinky would give you such a zetz! ;)

JB said...

this is a cult. If the belief in moshiach were established as being a myth all the lemmings on Ave L would not be running to their minyans at all hours.

Freethinking Upstart said...

Hedyot,

>There is very little consensus among those who call themselves OTD...the variety of beliefs in ex-frum people ranges...

If you are trying to point out that OTD's are unique in a positive light by saying this, I'm forced to point out that there is very little consensus and a whole lot of variety among those that call themselves frum, which again points out the unfortunate tunnel vision that I mentioned previously. I'm sure you're familiar with this variety and examples are unnecessary.

Your concessions regarding OTDs and your later clarification that your point is universal, though reassuring, do not balance your "critiques," to put it nicely, of the frum world. Also, any benefit gained from your clarification was hampered by the usage of words like "strenuously deny" and "desparate."

XGH,
>I think you couldn't be more wrong.

What if I said they were all hermaphrodites? You're usually more explicit in your hyperbole.

JRS,

Your analogy is a bit too much, though I see your point. The Hedyot... k'shmo ken hu... whereas those that constantly and solely critique the State of Israel's human rights violations usually have more influence. Secondly, I'm prone to suspect regarding accusations of anti-semitism. Anecdotally, it's used carelessly and the accusation is heavy.

The Hedyot said...

Freethinking Upstart,

Here's where you get a demonstration of what I tried explaining to you earlier.

If you'd like to think that I'm wrong, it's ok with me. I have no need to convince you to see things my way. I made my point. You're welcome to feel differently.

Pen Tivokeish said...

A Powerful and thought provoking post.

>Until that moment he believed that being religious improved the "quality" of a person.

I honestly don't think that is true. He may say that with an air of superiority, but in reality it has more to do with the resentment of kinship with the said scum bag.

>But this is a moot point. The vast majority of frum people do not possess any such conviction. Their 'belief' in Judaism's truth, if it can even be called that, is a barely sustainable faith built upon a hodge-podge of gedolim stories, midrashim, gematrias, some degree of trust in their rabbinic leaders, a whole lot of superstitions, and a few poorly constructed arguments that they might have once heard from a kiruv rabbi.

I'm sorry no way, to you perhaps, evidence based belief is the be all and end all. It isn't to everyone. The frum people I know genuinely are afraid of gods wrath. They genuinely believe that god rewards them, and that he sends them money.

Take happy clappy, Carlebach style or Breslov Judaism, designed for those who feel stifled by religion and therefore spice up Judaism so that that are able to live with it. Were they to know that OJ was not the truth, would they still look to express themselves as individuals with god? They choose this method of expression ONLY because they believe. This belief may be socially driven belief, but it is just as powerful and just as effective as an evidence based belief. Why do you think that Auslander is still afraid of god?

>Additionally, if a person really has a firm conviction that Judaism is true, then he presumably still believes in olam haba, so in effect, he still DOES believe that he is benefiting by being frum.

Or perhaps, he has no choice but to be frum or else brimstone and hell-fire or how about deformed babies.

JewishGadfly said...

"Yes, I fully acknowledge that they believe it's the truth. But I don't believe that this belief is the reason why they are frum."

Hey DH, new character here.

Good post--I agree with you on the whole in it. If I had to pick between the two, I would also say that commitment precedes truth judgments.

I do think, though, that there can be a more involved interplay between truth and self-interest/emotions, where one feeds off the other. If someone is emotionally drawn to being frum, they may accept the truth teachings. But at the same time, believing it's true creates self-interested motivation to follow it (in the manner described by JRS), which may last even in the face of some personal unhappiness. Same for leaving the fold--as one is less motivated, the arguments may start to sound poorer, which may make someone more annoyed, get less out of it, and feel less invested...etc.

You certainly could (and do) have some people who believe it's all true but decide to forget it and do what makes them happy anyway. And you could (and do) have some people who don't believe in it but like the tangible benefits of going along with it anyway. I suspect that more average cases involve feedback between the two elements, though, and that the more extreme points described above are end points of a struggle between truth and emotional motivation.

laura said...

JG, I agree with your *one feeding off the other* comment. In OJ, particularly, I'm pretty sure everyone starts out believing. If one's life within the system is basically "successful," there isn't a whole lot of motivation to question it. If, however, one is having difficulty within it--whether because of weak "learning" abilities or lack of success in the social realm--a frequent result is a drifting away from this life. As the drift occurs, two things usually happen along with it: A. the person befriends kindred spirits, other people who were unhappy within the system, and B. the person searches for ways to justify his drifting. Both of these factors are sureshot recipes for questioning the system (and religion) and finding their faults. Ergo, no more belief.

(Because this comment seems to imply that only unhappy people question the system, I want to qualify it by saying that this comment refers mainly to the ones who leave. Many people who are successful within OJ question it and come to believe that it is false. But most of these people end up staying. Which again confirms Hedyot's point.)

evanstonjew said...

This post makes some progress in clarifying a complicated issue. I agree motives are different from reasons, and motives have little to do with the search for truth.But motives are frequently unconscious or only patially conscious and only understood more clearly later in life. Meanwhile the individual does struggle with reasons pro and con and many times they do hang on truth.

There is an additional complication you didn't mention, which I see in many of the ff blogs. Imagine you have some doubt about X and you go to the rosh yeshivah and he bull shits and dreys a kup, condescends and makes you feel you are not only an oisvorf and a bum, but the one that is odd and sort of nuts. And add to this you know you are the sane one, and you deserve a better answer and better treatment. In fact you should be applauded for figuring this out. This non empathic treatment is a terrible narcissistic injury that lasts almost forever. Here are these blowhards who strut about and are treated as if they are almost GODS and they know bubkas, while you have to slink away and try to make a new life which frequently is worse than what you had.

People who suffer narcissictic injuries from revered father figures rage forever. Twenty years later they still burn, the hatred continues to smolder never to be appeased. Is this about truth? Only indirectly, but truth still is internal to the kvetch and provides the fuel for being busy with people who are not at all busy with you.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who has noticed this? When I try to share some of the doubts I have, in no matter how innocent and respectful a fashion, your average frum person -- no matter how friendly he was before -- wants to have nothing more to do with me -- ever.

If that doesn't speak volumes regarding the fragility of their beliefs, i don't know what does.

Anonymous said...

btw, how ironic is it that this post went up the day before the 'Big News' broke on Thursday?