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Debate with Rabbi David Wolpe
Posted: 28 December 2007 10:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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ethan - 28 December 2007 11:56 PM

This simply shows that the morals of Maimonides’ time (the rabbi quotes Maimonides to defend the passage in the torah) evolved since the time of the Torah, and that the Torah is confusing and contradictory enough to be re-interpreted. This is not a testament to the infinite wisdom of the torah.

By all means it is not, Ethan, but I think that rather delivers the point sotto voce. Letting the Rabbis tell us that the point is about an evolving discourse conducted between “a people” and “their god” tends to gloss over the fact that “a people” is not one thing. One ends up ignoring the fact that “a people” consists of a spectrum from those to whom Talmudic debates are nothing but an entertaining intellectual exercise all the way to people who are so fanatically devoted to “their god” that they find it worthwhile to dispossess of their land and legacy “others” not of “the people”. The notion of “a people” bound together only by their ongoing debate with “their god” eventually has to lead to the conclusion that they are debating with what amounts to a high vacuum.

Of course, Sam’s purpose in debating Wolpe was rather different, but that’s your ace in the hole, as it were. It’s a big hole.

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Posted: 29 December 2007 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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I’m watching this now.I’ve read many times the criticism levelled at Sam (and Prof. Dawks) regarding how antagonistic and how rabid they can be etc. but I am always experience a profound admiration for Mr H’s cool and relaxed demeanor.Personally I get quite apoplectic at the idiocies spouted at these debates.Of course in a debate you cannot reply to a statement with “you damned fool” or a more fruity alternative,but I find it so very difficult not to.Is it Zen calm (tm)?

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Posted: 29 December 2007 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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Wolpe also explained away animal sacrifice in the torah as serving to remind people where their meat came from, so they don’t take it for granted. He pointed out that many of us today buy our meat wrapped in cellophane without thinking about the actual slaughter.

Wish Harris had pointed out that this is a more modern way of making this sacrifice relevant to us NOW. Although benign, and morally thoughtful, this is an INTERPRETATION of the torah. Its seems much more likely tome that ancient Jews had a fixation on sacrifice to propitiate God which would result in avoiding droughts,winning battles, etc.

Its quite clear how jewish circumcision is simply a toned-down version of human sacrifice. Instead of killing the kid, we just cut off a piece of his body that he can live without.

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Posted: 02 January 2008 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Ethan states,

“Wolpe also explained away animal sacrifice in the torah as serving to remind people where their meat came from, so they don’t take it for granted. He pointed out that many of us today buy our meat wrapped in cellophane without thinking about the actual slaughter.”

I’ll agree with Wolpe’s inference that our mass agri-business approach to animals-for-human-consumption is a blind spot wrapped in cellophane. We are no longer “sacrificing” animals to propitiate a god,  but to quell our own gluttonous and ravenous hunger for animal flesh. Ten billion animals are slaughtered in the US each year (that’s about 290 per second)  for an undiscerning appetite for meat (9 billion are chicken and poultry that have no legal protection under the federal mandate of the Humane Slaughter Act.)

The vast majority of agricultural animals are no longer cared for by the philosophical (and I would argue more ethical)  practices of animal husbandry,  but are simply industrialized cogs in the great inhumane machine of forced breeding, birth, confinement and slaughter; the vast majority live in filthy, cramped cages, gestation crates and other medieval modes of confinement, all under the auspices of profit and high technological advantage and protection; while the vast majority are denied even the simplest and most benign pleasures as experiencing the natural light of day.

The “cellophane” doesn’t remind us of where meat comes from, it vindicates our fleshy desires and displays a sanitized version of animal slaughter in sterile,  clean, neat, packages removing any semblance of their suffering and tragic end.  Cellophane removes reality from the equation and absolves humans from their inevitable blood-stained hands.

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Posted: 04 January 2008 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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cebolla - 29 December 2007 08:30 PM

I’m watching this now.I’ve read many times the criticism levelled at Sam (and Prof. Dawks) regarding how antagonistic and how rabid they can be etc. but I am always experience a profound admiration for Mr H’s cool and relaxed demeanor.Personally I get quite apoplectic at the idiocies spouted at these debates.Of course in a debate you cannot reply to a statement with “you damned fool” or a more fruity alternative,but I find it so very difficult not to.Is it Zen calm (tm)?

It’s actually quite hard to find any mainstream media account of Harris, Dawkins, etc, that doesn’t open with some allusion to their supposed arrogance, shrillness, smugness, etc. The truth is that the opposite is generally the case, as David Wolpe proves here.

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Posted: 04 January 2008 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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BTW, the moderator, a staff writer at the LA Times, wrote a short piece about it:

Two authors, a rabbi and an atheist, debate religion and science.

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Posted: 04 January 2008 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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I’ve got to say Sam did very well in this debate.  Wolpe is the type of person that is a briliant debater and extremely articulate but he just makes me sick because he’s so intellectually dishonest.  He’s mastered the skills of obsfuscation and distorting the truth by means of using language and multiple logical fallacies.  It blows my mind that people like this can be so intellegent yet so intellectually dishonest.  A part of me thinks thinks deep down someone so intellent must know religion is a farce.

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Posted: 11 January 2008 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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this was a very enjoyable debate/discussion civil and thoughtful (thank you for doing it, mr harris)

i am wondering what questions the members of this forum would have asked at that debate.

mine:

rabbi wolpe, you argued that “the antidote to bad or sick religion is good religion”  and that thoughtful believers are best suited to do the most good. so why haven’t you written a book called “the end of hell” or “judgement day will never come” or “god doesn’t care who runs jerusalem” or “god doesn’t sell real estate” or “there are no chosen people” or etc…

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Posted: 18 March 2008 05:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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Sorry I’m a few months late to the party.

I just watched the debate and was quite impressed by nearly every aspect of it.  I was disappointed by some of the tactics that Rabbi Wolpe used, such as his talking over Mr. Harris, and particularly by his rather glib appeal to guilt when he compared animal sacrifice to the practice of eating meat (and I noticed that he didn’t linger too long on his first question—“how many of you here are vegetarians?”—because no doubt many in the audience were.  Although I happen to be a vegan, I can see how some might justify eating meat due to hunger, tradition or taste preference.  No such argument can be made for animal sacrifice. 

I wish that Mr. Harris had pointed out that while the Yahweh of the Old Testament may not have called for child sacrifice very often, there certainly were examples, such as with the death of David and Bathsheba’s son, who Yahweh himself supposedly killed, for the sins of his parents.  Then there’s the fact that the Flood, which was supposedly sent by Yahweh, would’ve killed countless thousands of innocent children.  Why would child sacrifice, committed by a priest, be more heinous than the intentional drowning of these children by Yahweh himself?  Also, the OT is rife with examples of Yahweh supposedly ordering or directly committing the sacrifice of thousands more people, such as the firstborn in Egypt, or in Numbers 31, where 32 Midianite virgins were ordered to be sacrificed.

I was disappointed that Mr. Harris didn’t have (or perhaps didn’t take) the opportunity to dismantle Pascal’s Wager, as posited by an audience member.  It might’ve been useful for the audience to be reminded that Pascal’s Wager begs the question “Which god are you supposed to believe in, in order to be ‘safe’?” And it’s by no means sensible that believing in a god (or all gods) is a matter of no loss; there is in fact a considerable mental investment in such a belief, as well as a loss of essential mental freedoms.

Finally, I would’ve like to have seen Rabbi Wolpe pressed on this question: “Your beliefs in this supernatural entity which you call ‘god’, are due to texts, cultural influences and subjective experiences.  Given that all humans over the past few millennia who have believed in supernatural beings have had the same 3 factors with exactly the same credibility as your own chosen deity, what criteria did you use to declare all other claimed gods (say, Thoth or Tiamat) as ‘false’, that at the same time demonstrated Yahweh as ‘true’?”

In any event, it was a very good debate, and I look forward to Mr. Harris engaging in more of them to equally good effect.

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Posted: 19 March 2008 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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Having engaged with religionists recently I’m afraid that for the most part, reasoned argument just doesn’t reach them.They dodge, obscure and are generally dishonest.I know it is probably often a subconscious effect…cognitive dissonance, partitioned thinking or what have you.But I find it depressing.I think perhaps we can only really have an effect on the ‘undecideds’.You can lead a horse to water etc.

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Posted: 21 March 2008 04:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Robert:

As I indicated in an earlier post, I think Wolpe is making a good point about eating meat. You call his appeal to eating meat and comparing it to animal sacrifice as glib.  But I am arguing that eating meat (raised and processed using inhuman practices) is a form of sacrifice.  Not to any gods, but (for the animals whose lives are being sacrificed; and,) for, what I argue,  is a gluttonous and obsessive appetite in the American public. Over 10 billion (with a “b”) animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year.

With the rise of heart disease,  obesity, cancer, diabetes, strokes, etc…much attributed to high fat and meat-intensive diets, we can see that our “sacrificing” of animals is killing us.

And while we can justify eating meat due to hunger, tradition, preference, we do so at a very hight cost to the animals who are treated cruelly and to ourselves in our health.  Add in the environmental impact of raising and feeding animals in confinement, including tainted water, e coli and other dangerous pathogens, air pollution,  methane gas adding to global warming, transmuted diseases such as the avian flus—-which may someday be transmitted from person to person—intensive use of pesticides and enormous water needs to grow animal feed (corn, soy, etc..)—- and we can see that sacrifice is a very appropriate word.

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Posted: 31 March 2008 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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What a great debate format this was.  I am always perplexed as to why people choose to “debate” having one speaker speak for 10-20 mins and the other for another 10-20 mins…as if THAT was real debate.  No, this is real debate, two people having a conversation and attempting to repudiate each other’s points in real time, immediately.  Much more substance and much more actual debate result.

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Posted: 02 April 2008 12:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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lindajean,

Ten billion animals are slaughtered in the US each year

...source?  That sounds like a HUGE overestimation.

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Posted: 02 April 2008 05:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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tavishhill2003 - 02 April 2008 04:08 AM

lindajean,

Ten billion animals are slaughtered in the US each year

...source?  That sounds like a HUGE overestimation.


It is huge, but not an overestimation. 
http://www.hsus.org/farm/about/hsus_and_farm_animal_advocacy.html

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Posted: 11 August 2008 01:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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I enjoyed the debate. Different from many others reacting here, I appriciated one of David Wolpe’s arguments about about the impossibility of answering the question of happiness with science. I don’t agree with him however, that the search for happiness is a religious quest. Happiness is a word we use to evaluate and decision-making in our personal life, the life of others and in the societies we are part of. Whether we use the word hapiness or not, no human being can seriously avoid this type of evaluation and projection. But as soon as the belief in the supernatural fits in it goes wrong, simply because in the 21 century we should all know that there can’t exit something supernatural. The search for hapinness is not a religious, but a philophical matter.

Now science can learn us much about the origin of this type of evaluations (and, I fully agree, religion, being the belief in some supernatural being, cannot). Science can also help us to understand the conditions which limit the decisions we have to make when we are thinking about ways to make our life happier. If, for example, you have cancer and you think (like most people will do) that getting rid of that disease will increase your happiness, than science learns you that there are less and more effective ways to persue your aim and that praying won’t help much and many forms of scientifically evaluated treatments and medicines will.

But the very quesion itself what it is that makes me happy, isn’t a question science can answer. Neither can god, since he doesn’t exist.

Now this, and similar uestions cannot be answered by a pedagogy of the fairy-tale. Different from what Wolpe thinks, it is extremely important to learn our children that we, humans, are indeed the most powerful, most intelligent beings on earth and that there is nothing outside us that can prevent us from making each other’s life miserable, should we, intentionally or unintentionally, do so. Hitler and the six million Jews he and his gang killed are all dead, but neither Hiter has gone to hell nor the innocent children murdered in Auschwitz have gone to heaven, simpy because there doesn’t exist a hell or a heaven. And the very moment a beiever, be it a morderate or a fundamentalistic one says I cannot know that for sure, I can react with the obvious questions we all know and I don’t want to repeat here.

It is not helpful to anything if we reason from the desired to the real. And this is exactly what many ‘moderates’ do. It is indeed desirable that our childrenw ill become compassionate, kind and peace-loving adults. But learning them that they have to be so because there is some Super-Daddy looking over them all their life isn’t very helpful. The question is rather how we humans can deal with this tremendous power we have in a responsible way, so that we don’t destroy our planet, each other and ourselves, since, when we do so, no Son of Men will descend on the clouds of heaven to rescue us from what we have done to ourselves.

But ther is something else to be said here. I consider notions like ‘eternal life’, ‘heaven’, ‘hell’, ‘the devil’, ‘god’ or ‘final judgement’ to be expressions of human imagination. They ar expressions of what humans desire and what they fear, what they consider just, even if they are surrounded by brutal injustice, and so on. The bible, the veda’s the koran and what have you, are, in my view, nothing else then products of human imagination, in very much the same way as, let’s say, a shakespearian play is.

When we think about notions like happiness and righteousness, works of human imagination (especially, but not exclusively, when they take the form of literature) are, in my view, far more important than science, which merely shows us the conditions that limit our possible answers to questions concerning ‘the just and the good’ and teaches us for example that is highly unlikely that there is something like a supernatural being.

But although Macbeth is a product of fantasy, his tragedy can learn us a lot about what the strive for power can do to human beings, an because of that, it is still worth reading or enacting it. But nobody will think that we can get rid of political murders by hunting down the three witches which made Macbeth a murderer (at least I hope so. Since Sam told us in the ‘Letter to a Christian Nation’ that he received mail from people wich believe that the Olympeian gods are real, I am sure of nothing anymore..).

In the same way I am sure we can learn a lot about ‘the human condition’ when we read the bible, the koran or the veda’s as literature and consider ‘Jawhe’ or ‘Allah’ or ‘Shiva’ as persona’s in a work of fiction.

Rather than going on with arguing the obvious (earth is not six-thousand but nearly five billion years old, evolution has happened, god doesn’t exist), which I am sure, remains necessary in many, many countries of the world, I would like to discuss with some serious people if, in their view, religous texts and practices can have a certain value in a secular (non-religious) context of debate on questions concerining justice, goodness and happiness. If so, I would like to start a discussion on this subject and put in the broader context of a debate about an atheist (sorry Sam, but i prefer to refer to my conviction this way)spirituality. Anyone who cares to join?

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