Tuesday, June 09, 2015
An interesting article at Aeon considers "the double lives of Hasidic atheists". Based on interviews, the piece examines how these individuals reached their conclusions regarding the existence of a deity and where they have gone from there. Credit freedom of speech (as the article ought to have) and the wide availability of modern communications technology for making it easy to question the fundamental tenet of religion:
[T]hey are also proof of the increasing challenges fundamentalist religious groups face in the age of the internet and a globalised world. With so much information so readily available, such groups can no longer rely on physical and intellectual isolation to maintain their boundaries. In addition to exposing religious adherents to information that challenges the hegemony of their belief systems, the internet gives individuals living in restrictive environments an alternative community.Most interesting to me along these lines was one such atheist's speculation that the medieval philosopher Moses Maimonides was also secretly an atheist. This reminded me of a friend's similar speculation about Thomas Aquinas. Considering how pervasively the lives of fundamentalists and medieval Christians were affected by religion, the latter speculation made much more sense to me after I read this.
That said, the article is better at portraying the social and psychological difficulties these atheists face:
Yanky cut an incongruous figure. A tall ultra-Orthodox man with a short, scruffy beard and short side-locks wrapped behind his ears, wearing traditional Hasidic black-and-white garb, he was sitting on a barstool in an out-of-the-way dive bar in South Brooklyn on a Monday afternoon, sipping a Corona. But Yanky is an incongruous man. Like Solomon, he lives in an Orthodox neighbourhood, has many children who attend yeshivas, goes to synagogue to pray, hosts meals on Sabbath. His life, like the life of any Orthodox Jew, is punctuated a hundred times a day by the small demands the religion makes on its adherents' lifestyle, demands on what they can eat, what they can wear, where they can go, what they can read, whom they can speak to, what they can touch, when they can touch it, and how often.Why would anyone who rejects the very foundation of so many intrusive rituals subject himself to this? The answer is usually along these lines:
Somewhat tragically for a person so occupied, Yanky doesn't believe in God.
[E]ven for those such as Solomon and Yanky who were educated enough to pursue outside professions, their own psychological states work just as well as any external rules to keep them put. The self-policing mechanism kicked in most strongly through the matchmaking apparatus, the place where status is determined in these communities. A person leaving the community puts a blight on their entire family, stigmatising parents, siblings, children, and even cousins, limiting their ability to marry into "good" families with no such stain.In other words, despite having broken the greatest of their intellectual bonds, they don't go very far. This is due to the power of unearned guilt and the fact that their "communities" make sure they and their immediate relatives face numerous unpleasant consequences for the sin of speaking their minds. (In the case of women, this often includes being medicated for mental illness.) On some levels, fear of the repercussions is understandable as is the lack of fear for allowing their children to remain in ignorance -- this life is what these men and women know best. But if there is lots of evidence against the teachings of their religion, so their is, all around them, that life without faith is possible. Perhaps such a realization is too much to ask of most people, perhaps not. Whatever the case, the article is more a testament to the power of religion to stunt minds than it is of the Internet to free them.