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.
I once heard someone say that Stalin was an atheist. They did not say much else, but I understood their statement to be critical of atheism, suggesting there must be some relation between atheism and totalitarian cruelties.
This is a silly stab at trying to reach some sort of moral high ground; it is commonly employed by the more orthodox and fundamentalist theist.
Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have either embraced a religion, or rejected all existing religions and replaced it with a new one; the problem with totalitarian regimes is they behave too much like religions – they embrace utterly dogmatic systems of thought to validate the regime’s claim to power.
“No, it’s a matter of logic! If you’re going to say things that have been proven wrong, like that the first man and woman lived in Missouri, and that Native Americans came from Jerusalem, then you’d better have something to back it up. All you’ve got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat, and then couldn’t do it again when the translations were hidden!”
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 →
“Were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin wrote this in a letter to his wife on 17 July 1757, after narrowly avoiding a shipwreck. These lines are often misquoted as “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” Instead, Franklin—who identified himself as a Deist, not as a Christian, let alone a Roman Catholic—rather wittily remarks he is sceptical about the practical value of a chapel at the seaside to prevent shipwreck, as if to say “if I were to do anything to help prevent ships running aground, I would build a tower containing a guiding light and not some place of worship.”
Social scientists have some intriguing explanations for why people persist in misjudgements despite strong contrary evidence. In fact, studies conducted over the past 30 years show that attempts to refute false information often backfire and lead people to hold on to their misperceptions even more strongly.
A 2015 behavioural science article examined the puzzle of why nearly one-third of U.S. parents believe that childhood vaccines cause autism, despite overwhelming medical evidence that there’s no such link. In such cases, the study noted, “arguing the facts doesn’t help — in fact, it makes the situation worse.” The reason is that people tend to accept arguments that confirm their views and discount facts that challenge what they believe. 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 →