Saturday, July 11, 2009

The "Mass Revelation" Argument

JP often refers to the "Kuzari principle", first mentioned by R. Yehuda HaLevy, and often mentioned in other variations by contemporary rabbis, such as R Lawrence Keleman. Basically this argument states that Judaism is the only religion that claims to have had a public revelation experience, and since such a claim in ancient times would be hard to promote if it were a hoax, it must be true. There have been many rebuttals to this argument, which I won't go into here. But it does raise an interesting question that is as relevant now as it was then: how does a religion begin? How does it come to be that somebody starts a tradition that others come to accept as being true? We can believe that ancient man was gullible, didn't understand nature, and the like, but that doesn't explain how people have come to accept modern invented religions such as scientology or mormonism. Once a religion has become established, its easier to explain the phenomenon, but how does it all begin?

I think in many cases, some beliefs may have begun from a story that had a kernel of truth to it, and then became embellished. In other cases traditions may be "borrowed" from surrounding cultures. This is obviously true of the Abrahamic faiths. Judaism itself borrowed from other surrounding cultures, as demonstrated by the Ugaritic texts.

Perhaps the same question can be asked of culture itself. How does a culture begin?

I am eager to hear commentors thoughts on this subject.

24 comments:

G*3 said...

I think the answer is that most religions (and cultures) don’t really have a definite starting point. They evolve, so that you can say that what we have now is Judaism; what they practiced 2000 years ago was a form of Judaism, but they aren’t the same thing; and whatever Avraham Avinu practiced may have been a sort of proto-Judaism.

When did American culture become distinct from British culture? At some point between the settling of Jamestown and the American Revolution, but most American in the 1770s still thought of themselves as British. There really isn’t a point in history that you can say was the beginning of American culture. People left Britain for the colonies, and some centuries later their descendants found that they had become Americans.

DrJ said...

G3, you might be right, but how do you explain scientology and mormonism, which seem to start from a specific point in history?

Shalmo said...

The argument of mass revelation can easily be refuted by history.

I don't think most frummies have properly considered this argument, which contrary to Chabad propaganda, really isn't unique to Judaism at all

The Aztecs, for example, had a mass revelation story. They believed that their god, Huitzilopochtli, led them (in person) to the site of present-day Mexico City. Based on JP's assertion, the very fact that another group even claims a mass revelation shows that the Torah is not true.

In fact almost every pagan religion has a god who reveals himself through mass revelation, so this argument makes Judaism even more pagan.

Ironically, the concept of a god who uses a prophet to reveal his religion is what is more rare in history than national revelation

JP similarly tried saying that because Judaism has prophets and founders who committ incest, murder and a load of other sins, it must be true because why would Jews invent such stories on their founders unless they were true....Again here the ignorance of classic mythology is rearing its head in the frum arguments. Its actually very very very very common for people to invent stories on flawed heroes who committ all sorts of sins. Just read up on the Odessay, the Iliad or the stories on Ram. Or better yet check out the story on Romulas and Remus. They both were cast out brothers, who uncle took their throne. Later they returned and took the throne back from their uncle. However, Romulas unjustly murdered his brother Remus, and then became the founder of Rome. This is how Romans trace their origin story, with a flawed hero just like Judah. The idea of a founder who is sinless is what is rare in history, not the other way round, and aside from islam, I don't think any religion has such doctrine. Enough said!

Shalmo said...

And just to add fuel to the fire on the mass revelation nonsense:

A national revelation our forefathers were quick to forget. Just after God had displayed all his miracles, just after he allegedly appeared to everyone, the Jews went back to idol worship as soon as Moses turned his back. Remember the "after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you" part in Deut. 31?

It’s also an established reality that the early Jews quickly went astray, changing religions many times in their lives, and in this atmosphere, frummies still tell us that authorship and moral + religious standards are not that important?

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Monolatry.html

“The Mosaic religion was initially a monolatrous religion; while the Hebrews are enjoined to worship no deity but Yahweh, there is no evidence that the earliest Mosaic religion denied the existence of other gods. In fact, the account of the migration contains numerous references by the historical characters to other gods, and the first law of the Decalogue is, after all, that no gods be put before Yahweh, not that no other gods exist. While controversial among many people, most scholars have concluded that the initial Mosaic religion for about two hundred years was a monolatrous religion. For there is ample evidence in the Hebrew account of the settlement of Palestine, that the Hebrews frequently changed religions, often several times in a single lifetime.”

a reliable jewish source explaining how the early jews frequently changed religion in their lifetime and quickly strayed from monotheism, which casts much DOUBT on a so-called national revelation.

DrJ said...

OK Shalmo, so after all of that healthy skepticism, what would then make you believe in a 6th century prophet who claimed an angel of God spoke to him?
I'm not interested in the theology, Shalmo, but the psychology-that's what this post is about.

G*3 said...

> G3, you might be right, but how do you explain scientology and Mormonism, which seem to start from a specific point in history?

Movements like Scientology and The church of Latter Day Saints are cults that call themselves religions (though the line between a cult and a religion is blurry, even linguistically). They both venerate human Great Leaders: Scientology reveres L. Ron Hubbard and Mormons revere Joseph Smith. Both advocate cutting ties with the outside world, and adherents of both see themselves as in possession of special knowledge. Both require(d) extended periods of great personal hardship: the Mormons had their trek across America to Utah, and Scientology requires enormous investments of time and money.

What’s more, there is some evidence that Hubbard deliberately designed Scientology as a cult to fleece members.

I suppose that some religions could arise ex nihlo as cults, and in several generations normalize into a religion, sort of like what happened with the Mormons.


I see you've changed the name of the blog. It's nicely alliterative

E-Man said...

Well. I think that the reason people believe in religions for the most part is because it gives power. Scientology is mainly practiced by rich people because they can pay to become more prominent in the religion. This is a big attraction to the religion. Also, since I read all of Hubbard's books, I can tell you that he was trying to fulfill his agenda. He felt that medicine was evil and other things that are in his religion. He wanted to make people follow his ideas so, just like so many other religions, he started a religion so people would follow his beliefs.

If you look at mormonism, they require strict adherence to their religion. I am not so familiar with it, but I met a mormon that went "off the derech" and he was telling me that it was very cultish in many ways. Mainly, he described the leaders desire power.

This can also be seen in the charaidi world's judaism.

It is also seen in the catholic church.

It is seen in islam.

It is basically seen in every religion in the world.

Looking at history, especially medieval history we can see that kings used religion to get the masses to back them up. Every war became a war for god.

However, I wrote a post on the 4 different views that one can take on Judaism (religion in general actually). http://markset565.blogspot.com/2009/07/four-views-on-kuzari-principle-of-faith.html

DrJ said...

I hope you guys like the new name. I wanted to avoid violating the "rules" of the site. But with this name, I don't want it to sound like its JP's blog.

With Mormonism and Scientology, it still hard for me to understand the psychology. I person either believes or doesn't believe, but how can he "make" himself believe something his intellect doesn't accept as truth? In other words, if the belief only serves to console, give power, etc, doesn't the person subconsciously know that?

The line between cult and religion is certainly very grey, and probably artificial. Look at the Islamic world, for example. Many countries were invaded by Moslems and the population was essentially coerced into Islam. But after time and a generation or to, it took hold on its own. Or how the Chrisian missionaries converted colonial populations.

So perhaps at the founding of all religions there either had to be deception or force.

DrJ said...

I noticed in JP's most recent blog entry that he again used the kuzari argument. Perhaps I will get a post up later today to rebut it.

G*3 said...

> With Mormonism and Scientology, it still hard for me to understand the psychology. I person either believes or doesn't believe, but how can he "make" himself believe something his intellect doesn't accept as truth?

The mistake you’re making here is one that comes up a lot on these blogs. You’re assuming people are rational and will make rational decisions. People CAN be rational, but they usually aren’t. There just isn’t time. Most of the time people go with their gut.

Let’s take Scientology. It might go something like this. The person wants to believe that people are good because that is a comforting way to see the world. Yet he sees people doing bad things. He reads that Scientology holds that people do bad things because of evil spirits (I forget the exact word they use) attach themselves to people and cause them to behave badly. This meshes with his earlier belief, and he wants to learn more about Scientology. In order to learn more, he goes on a retreat and is subjected to some mild brainwashing. He joins, and anyone who tries to tell him about Scientology’s shortcomings is automatically labeled evil. (This is actually one of their beliefs. Anyone who denies the truth of Scientology is an agent of the evil empire.)

Now comes the really fun part. Our convert starts to notice that a lot of what Scientologists believe is pretty silly. But he has made an enormous investment in Scientology and has given up most of his old life. This causes cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling of holding two mutually exclusive beliefs. He solves this by telling himself that if Scientology wasn’t true and something that was an important part of his life, he wouldn’t have made such sacrifices. Therefore it must be very important to him, and absolutely true. The deeper he gets and the more he invests the more he will truly believe that Scientology is really the explanation for how the universe works.

That’s it in a nutshell. A full psychological treatment would have to go into brainwashing techniques, behavioral conditioning, susceptibility factors, etc.

Shalmo said...

DrJ:

"OK Shalmo, so after all of that healthy skepticism, what would then make you believe in a 6th century prophet who claimed an angel of God spoke to him?"

Because the proofs he offered were far more convincing. We can discuss them another time if you are interested, but let's no go off topic

"I'm not interested in the theology, Shalmo, but the psychology-that's what this post is about."

Here is how I see it. Everybody wants proof. Everybody wants some way to verify that their religion is the right one.

And in the case of Jews, a people predisposed to historical revisionism and in general who are out of touch with reality, they invent such kooky "proof texts" to verify their religion. And there is the new problem of so many going OTD, clearly they need new ways of keeping Jews tied to Judaism for fear of extinction, hence why the frum world comes up with such nonsensical arguments

E-Man said...

"And in the case of Jews, a people predisposed to historical revisionism and in general who are out of touch with reality, they invent such kooky "proof texts" to verify their religion."

Just remember folks, this comes from a guy that denies the holocaust.

But again, we are not exclusively talking about Judaism, we are talking about the psychology of all religions. We are not talking about people wanting proof, we are talking about how people can succumb to a religion they know to be false. The reason for bringing in scientology and mormonism was that they are fairly recent inventions so it is clear that they are made up. At least that was my impression.

I think G*3 makes an excellent point and nailed the whole idea on the head.

G*3 said...

> I think G*3 makes an excellent point and nailed the whole idea on the head.

Thank you

Shalmo said...

"Just remember folks, this comes from a guy that denies the holocaust."

E-Man are you still pouting because I destroyed every argument against Torah MiSinai on Garnel's blog?

When did I ever deny the holocaust?

And I stand by what I said about Jewry being out of touch with reality. Do you know any other people who think the world is 6000 years old, no you don't.

E-Man said...

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

ALL HARDCORE CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS.

But who said that ALL Jews believe this? Who said ALL Christians believe this and who said ALL Muslims belive this?

E-Man said...

I believe you are a holocaust denier because you link to this webpage (http://www.codoh.com/) as your homepage on Jewish atheist's blog under the post of the torture memos. Someone who links to that website as their homepage clearly wants revisionism.

E-Man said...

Also, why does this guy call you a holcaust denier on orthoprax's website under the post of nihil-and-void?
Iblis said...

Salmo,

I'd take you a bit more seriously if you weren't a Holocaust denier...

DrJ said...

Shalmo if you devolve into antisemitism, we will ignore your comments.

Shalmo said...

E-Man:

"But who said that ALL Jews believe this? Who said ALL Christians believe this and who said ALL Muslims belive this?"

You are WRONG! Muslims don't believe the world is 6000 years old. In fact the Sunnah states this belief derived from Torah is false

Nearly all orthodox jews believe the world is 6000 years old. You would be shamefully dishonest to deny this.

Now yes SOME christians believe in that 6000 year old world as well, but these fundamentalists are very small compared to Jewry. Besides these christians get this nonsense from your Torah in the first place, as well as all the evolution denying nutty creationists out there

"I believe you are a holocaust denier because you link to this webpage (http://www.codoh.com/) as your homepage on Jewish atheist's blog under the post of the torture memos. Someone who links to that website as their homepage clearly wants revisionism."

LOL

Codoh does NOT deny the holocaust. Codoh is simply against historical revisionism and exaggerating details on it as is common among Israeli advocates.

Why don't you go to there forum and check them out. They have plenty of Jews there as well.

Many of their findings are fruitful for those of us who are weary about how Israel uses the Holocaust to silence criticism of its genocidal policies.

But no, I do not deny the Holocaust.

E-Man said...

Ok, let's see the mission statement for this website:

(Committee for Open Debate of the Holocaust (CODOH)

CODOH was founded to encourage intellectual freedom with respect to the Holocaust. CODOH is not a membership organization and is not affiliated with any political party or political group. It is not the purpose of CODOH to prove "the Holocaust never happened," or that European Jews did not suffer a catastrophe during the Hitlerian regime. Those who try to convince you it is want to muddy the waters. While we no longer believe the gas chamber stories (we used to very much believe them) or the "genocide" theory, we remain open to being convinced we are wrong.

I understand perfectly well that the Hitlerian regime was anti-Semitic and persecuted Jews and others. I understand many peoples, European Jews among them, experienced unfathomable tragedies in Europe during World War II.

Nevertheless, I no longer believe the German State pursued a plan to kill all Jews or used homicidal "gassing chambers" for mass murder.

The reasons I no longer believe either story are that no physical remains of authentic homicidal gassing chambers exist today, and there are no war-time generated documents which prove they ever did. I believe the gas chamber story to be a grotesque hoax.

For half a century the gas chambers have been at the heart of the holocaust story. In the literature, the two have been absolutely inseparable. It's tempting to say: "No gas chambers, no Holocaust." I have said it myself. But too often it can be--has been--misleading, particularly to those who are just becoming acquainted with revisionist theory. It's misleading because it suggests that, if there were no gas chambers--and there were not--the Jews of Europe did not suffer a tragedy at the hands of the Hitlerian regime. They did.

While it is true that the Germans were criminally responsible for the death of a large number of their slave labor prisoners, much eyewitness testimony about German atrocities against Jews and others is demonstrably false. It's wrong to bear false witness against others--most of us were taught to understand this when we were children. False testimony against anyone, including Germans, together with those who promote it, should be exposed to the light of public scrutiny.

The attempt to identify every call for open discussion about the gas chamber controversy with anti-Jewish sentiment is juvenile. Those who protest that it is more important to be sensitive to "survivors" than truthful about the historical record represent a world view that has no place in Western culture.

I'm willing to be convinced I'm wrong about any or all of this. I'm willing to be convinced it is hateful to weigh the evidence for and against gas chambers. I'm willing to consider the possibility that the press and our intellectual elites are justified in their efforts to suppress open discussion about the gas chambers. I'm even willing to discuss the idea that intellectual freedom corrupts public discourse when it involves the gas chamber controversy.

I'm not willing to go away, however. I don't know why, but I'm not willing.)

Fine, not complete denial, just mostly and massive revisionism. In fact, anyone who looks at the website will see that they admit that they are revisionists.

G*3 said...

> Now yes SOME christians believe in that 6000 year old world as well, but these fundamentalists are very small compared to Jewry.

You’re joking, right?

There are maybe a million Orthodox Jews in the world. Of these only the right-wing believes that the world is literally six-thousand years old.

There are two billion Christians in the world. If only 0.001% of them believed in a six-thousand year old world, that would be twice as many as the entire number of Orthodox Jews.

Off the Derech said...

E-Man: I don't think it's fair to bring the Holocaust into this.

Off the Derech said...

G*3: Proportionately, the number of Jews are much greater.

G*3 said...

> Proportionately, the number of Jews are much greater.

You mean the number of Jews that beleive in a 6000 year old world compared to the total number of Jews? As compared to a similar calculation of Christians?

Maybe, but that's not what he said.

Anyway, if you figure about half of Orthodox Jews beleive in a young Earth, and there are about 14.5 million Jews, then 3.4% of all Jews beleive in a young Earth. Is the percentage really lower among Christains? 3.4% is only 68 million out of two billion.