So I'm talking with an old friend, we went to a private Jewish school together, and now we are both turning 40, but he still believes in fairy tales. With most people I would keep my mouth shut, but we are good friends and I couldn't hold myself. "Tell me you don't believe in the OT, please." The response? "Of course I do!" Really? You believe that people should be stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath? That women should be forced to marry their rapists? Etc. No, he replied, of course he doesn't. So beyond the glaring contradictions of believing in what you don't believe in, I got quite motivated, as I do, to see if there was any way to bring this otherwise normal person back to the real world.

What really struck me was how sensitive the subject was for him. He went straight into defense mode (to be fair, my tone was confrontational), and you could just feel the mental doors slamming shut. Everyone here knows that feeling of the frustration of someone who just can't allow themselves to question what most needs to be questioned! And I think that this kind of mental slavery has really got to be the worst part of religion.

How do you explain to somebody that their mind is being controlled? That they are being blindly obedient to the authority of other men, most of whom are long dead and who lived in an age of vast ignorance? Maybe there are other problems with religious beliefs - I gave him 2 very good examples of the insanity that he professes to believe in - but as I like to say, thank God for hypocrisy; the danger of the things they would really do if only common sense wasn't allowed to override religious convictions is mitigated by the lesser problem of being just a plain old hypocrite. The true believers at least have the courage of their convictions, but who wouldn't take a hypocrite over a monster?

So this is what I want to focus on, and what I'd like your help with. What are some good arguments you have heard? Besides the blind obedience to authority, the core of religious belief seems to lie in it deliberately preventing criticism of itself, either internally or externally. That is why they make every effort to get you when you are too young to defend yourself from their mindfuck. What separates faith from reason is that reason admits of criticism, it doesn't just allow skepticism, it demands it. Reason does everything it can to encourage doubt, while faith does everything it can to discourage it. The former restrains one from claiming to know what one cannot know, the latter downright demands it. The former asks for evidence, the latter ignores it. Reason gives no one authority over your thoughts, faith commands you to cede that authority to others. Is it any surprise that the original sin of mankind, according to the Torah, is eating from the Tree of Knowledge?

It is fear that keeps all these minds in line. Perhaps this is why Jews are known to have a higher than average rate of becoming atheists, because religion had not yet evolved the fear tactics of hell and Devils it developed later on. I only hope I can get through to my friend. Every mind lost to the self-imprisoning nonsense of religion is another nail in the coffin of humanity.

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A very nicely told tale; thanks for sharing.

> the core of religious belief seems to lie in it deliberately preventing criticism of itself, either internally or externally

Funny how a certain newly elected world leader seems to be employing the exact same tactic. It's a time-worn but ever effective technique: create bullshit fake problems that only you can solve, convince people they're true and sell your phony solutions.

I agree, of course. I'm sure he-who-shall-not-be-named is deserving of an entire thread under the heading, "the worst thing about politics".
Bingo, Wayfinder and Bert.

The worst thing about religion may also be the worst thing about politics. And it's emotional; reason won't easily plumb its depths.

In college, as I was quitting Catholicism I began to "see" the walls of a room in which I had been living. During 12 years in RC schools, nuns and priests "built" those walls to keep me from seeing through them.

Not so curiously, my dad's being a Dem and my mom's being a Repub resulted in my being an independent. The GOP's going batshit when Reagan invited xians to join made me a Dem.

Confrontational argument with your friend isn't likely to get you very far.  While it is not the easiest path to persuasion, the Socratic method as employed by Peter Boghossian and described in his book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, may be the best approach for arguing someone out of a belief system.

To answer one of your questions, it may be less of a matter of telling him that his mind is controlled than it is to get him to recognize it for himself.  Keep in mind, you can lead the horse to water.  The horse still chooses to drink.

Very best of luck.

A friend's father had an intriguing continuation of the old adage. Maybe you can't make the horse drink, but you can salt the oats.

A very helpful suggestion, thanks!

 I believe it really depends on you personality and style in addition to your friends personality, and the strength of your friendship. To throw down a Christian saying it all comes down to love. For me I gently approach people with love, they know I truly care. My approach won't work for others. Other people can be aggressive and it works. It can also work for someone like me to be strong and assertive with someone who is close to me as it disarms them seeing me so passionate.  In general I like to simply drop questions that can't be answered without the expectation of a direct answer. Let them steam on it on their own time. It is human nature for one to be more persuaded if the answer comes from within. So I simply put the questions out there a little at a time. Remember this is not about making a point or being right. It is about changing the way one thinks and processes information. When someone is brainwashed concerning anything it's not a matter of changing ones mind, it's a matter of changing ones thinking and outlook on life. This is not an easy or instant decision such as choosing dinner. 

Thanks for your thoughtful response. There is definitely a continuum of approaches, and I think I walked much more on the side of love than aggressive. I agree with your statement that seeing someone being passionate can disarm. But I also don't want to go too far. Frustrating!

 Yes disarming is only sometimes a good tactic, but when it does work it really works well. I don't often use it as it is prone to backfire. It is most effective for those close to you as they are not accustomed to seeing you use a different tactic than usual this is why they will actually stop and listen. I like the Jedi mind trick method as I call it. I drop hints let them think about it until it seems like it was their idea.   I use it on my wife all the time. It almost never works as she knows what I am doing. Her resistance and my persistence in using it has made me fairly effective at using it on ther people they are more susceptible to the force!!!   I do always get a thrill when this tactic works on my wife because she knows exactly how I influenced her and agrees to her dismay.  My wife of 18 years uses more of a shotgun technique with me so I am also now very proficient at dodging bullets!!!

First of all, I question the fairy tales. For me, it begins with the Apostles Creed. Jewish beliefs differ from Christian's. I ask many questions, "Do you believe that ... ?" or "What evidence do you have for your belief?"

• Judaism does not have formal mandatory beliefs
• The most accepted summary of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's 13 principles of faith
• Even these basic principles have been debated
• Judaism focuses on the relationships between the Creator, mankind, and the land of Israel

Judaism has no dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew. In Judaism, actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a place for belief within Judaism.

~ Judaism 101, http://www.jewfaq.org/beliefs.htm

13 Principles of Jewish Faith

The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's thirteen principles of faith. These principles, which Rambam thought were the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are: 

  1. G-d exists 
  2. G-d is one and unique 
  3. G-d is incorporeal 
  4. G-d is eternal 
  5. Prayer is to be directed to G-d alone and to no other 
  6. The words of the prophets are true 
  7. Moses' prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets 
  8. The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in the Talmud and other writings) were given to Moses 
  9. There will be no other Torah 
  10. G-d knows the thoughts and deeds of men 
  11. G-d will reward the good and punish the wicked 
  12. The Messiah will come 
  13. The dead will be resurrected

I agree, fear, often learned as a child, motivates some to believe these myths. Hope is another side of that concept that draws them to a better world than they experience in the present. Some believe because they don't want to take responsibility for making decisions and living with consequences; others believe in view of the fact that they can use fear and hope to exploit others. These ancient "push/pull" techniques stimulate thought and action. 

Thanks for the detailed response, Joan! The fact that there are few established beliefs within Judaism makes it very slippery indeed. A lot to think about!

Ditto! Fantastic reply, Joan.

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