Friday, March 6, 2009

My first time

I remember the first time I thought that the things I had been brought up to believe about God might not be true. When I was around 15 years old, I read an article about belief in Time or Newsweek. I was lucky enough that my parents were slightly more liberal than most Lubavitchers in our community, and had subscriptions to these secular magazines.

The article talked about how the first stage of belief is dogma. In particular, a child believes whatever his (or her) parents tell him to believe, just because they say so. I believed fully that the Torah was one hundred percent true, that the Orthodox Jewish way of life was the best one, that God listened to my every thought and was directly responsible for everything that happens in the world, and that all the myriad other things I was told were true. It had never occurred to me even for a second that any of those things might not be true.

But then I was introduced to the concept of dogma, that someone could believe something only because a person of authority told him to. This concept, as simple as it is, had never occurred to me before. I had never given a fleeting thought as to why I believed the things I did. For that one moment I realized that I didn't really have a good reason to think that my parents knew everything, and maybe some of their beliefs might be mistaken.

When I first had these heretical thoughts, I couldn't entertain them for more than a few moments before my frum upbringing would get the better of me. It must be the yetzer hara causing me to have these doubts, I thought. I'm a sinner, and I must daven to Hashem to remove these evil ideas from my head. It couldn't possibly be true that my beliefs were false, the Torah is perfect and true and if I couldn't see that, then it was a shortcoming of mine, not of the beliefs themselves.

Now, you might think that any rational person could realize that my beliefs were only the result of dogmatically accepting what my parents taught me, and that I had no reason to think they were actually a part of reality. So why did I think the problem was with myself rather than with the beliefs? Why did it always come back to “I must be a victim of the yetzer hara, and I need to daven harder”? Unfortunately, it seems this type of thinking inevitably comes with religion, by a sort of natural selection.

Imagine two rival religions. Religion A teaches that doubt is an evil symptom of a confused mind, while religion B allows doubt and questioning. Which religion do you think is going to survive longer?

It is in that sense that religious thought is like a parasite which prevents the mind from being able to follow the simple step of logic which should convince everyone to give up their dogmas.


  1. It's also the social pressure, the societal response to this kind of thing. I just read a post on a woman's board from some yeshivish lady who is entertaining doubts, thinking that maybe she was brainwashed into this whole thing. The response was so fast,so automatic and so predictable. OMG- are you careful to eat only cholov yisroel? Get your mezzuzos checked. Also read the kuzari's proof and you will believe like never before. So useless.

  2. Yeah, I remember being told a story about a rabbi's kids that went off the derech because the rabbi would touch the newspaper in which his shabbos fish was wrapped. Somehow touching the evil goyishe newspaper affected his children's emunah! Ludicrous.

  3. I had the same problem - social pressure, brainwashing and constant indoctrination - in atheism and evolution.

    Thank God I found the truth in Torah.

  4. It looks like worries about secular literature might actually be valid given your description about Newsweek and Time.

    Also, there's another practical reason that people respond by telling people to focus on various chumrot that they must not be doing correctly: If people are busy with all the chumrot they won't have time to question.

  5. I agree. Free thinking does lead to rejection of religion, as it should.