In some brands of Judaism it is customary to perform the kapparot rite in preparation for Yom Kippur.
The rite consists of taking a chicken and gently passing it over one’s head three times while reciting an appropriate text from the Torah.
Usually a rooster is used for a man, and a hen is used for a woman. For a pregnant woman, kapparot is usually performed with three chickens—two hens and a rooster. One hen for herself, and the other hen and rooster for the unborn child (of undetermined gender).
If a chicken is unavailable, it is possible to substitute another kosher fowl (besides for doves and pigeons, as they were offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple). Some use a kosher live fish; others perform the entire rite with money, and then giving the money—at least the value of a chicken—to charity.
After the ritual, the fowl is slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.
It is important to realize that the distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and spiritual experiences from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being honest about what we can reasonably conclude on their basis.
However, there are good reasons to believe that people like Jesus and the Buddha weren’t talking nonsense when they spoke about our capacity as human beings to transform our lives in rare and beautiful ways.
But any genuine exploration of ethics or the contemplative life demands the same standards of reasonableness and self-criticism that animate all intellectual discourse. Continue reading →
Clearly, it is time we all learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous. We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity—birth, marriage, death—without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.
What does that mean in practice?
I feel we should recognise that, for instance, the practice of raising children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish should be recognised as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.
That’s all very well and good, but I have no doubt that the acceptance—so to speak—of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in some people’s lives. Perhaps they now love other people in a way that they never imagined possible. They may even experience feelings of bliss while praying—say. Continue reading →
I would argue that one of the greatest challenges facing civilization in the twenty first century is for human beings to learn to speak about their deepest personal concerns—about ethics, spiritual experience, and the inevitability of human suffering—in ways that are not flagrantly irrational.
Absolutely. We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty! Unfortunately, it is probably true to say that nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.
Surely, you would be the first to admit that the prospects for eradicating religion in our time do not seem good? Continue reading →