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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Judaism and Freedom

When I was in high-school I remember the Rabbis saying that Judaism has the true form of freedom. Everyone else who lives their life as they want to are not free at all. Because those people just follow their passions, while we, the Jews, follows the commandments of God, we are not the slave of our passions, therefore we are the free ones, and all other people are not free.

Freedom is a funny word. Everybody that I have every came across in my life tells me that he is strongly in favor of freedom. I challenge anyone to find people who openly condemn freedom. Hard to find those people. I think some Muslim terrorist groups may openly condemn freedom, but not really, because they will probably say that Islam is the true form of freedom. They will say that slavery to God is true freedom of people. So even these truly messed up people still claim to support freedom. Even the Soviet Union claimed it was free! Just read the lyrics to its national anthem, "Glory to the Motherland, united and free!". Not just the Soviet Union, but even Nazi Germany! Look at Horst-Wessel Leid, the national anthem, it says, "Der tag für freiheit und für brot bricht an!", meaning, "The day of freedom and bread is dawning!". I do not even have to mention the United States which screams that it is the land of the free all day long.

The point is that everyone claims to be for freedom. Every fascist and dictator in history claims so. Fascists never call themselves fascists. Judaism is not different. Judaism is servitude to God. But like all other forms of dictatorships it never admits it, it hides behind messed up reasoning to proclaim itself to be a religion of freedom.

Let us examine some of the apparent reasons why Judaism cannot be in favor of freedom.

First, there is the God character. I think it is pretty obvious the God is the biggest dictator is history. I do not really have to explain this point. But if you have an doubt about this you can read it here (I just do not want to discuss it again).

Second, the Torah is a tribal book. A very tribal book. The Jews must give their allegiance to the tribe. The Jews must follows the commandments from this one book and if they disobey they will be physically punished or killed for doing so. There is no individuality within the tribe. Each Jew is assigned a particular task that his life will follow. And each Jew must follow the same faith and lifestyle. It is pure collectivism from beginning to end. Where exactly is the freedom that the Jews talk about?

The last point why Judaism is incompatible with freedom is the most important point because it is the only one relevant to today. Since God does not exist the first objection is not so much relevant. Since the Torah is not a binding document to any nation today it is not a very relevant point. But the last point is relevant.

Freedom is based on the idea of self-ownership. The principle of self-ownership says that every person is his own self-owner and no one owns you except yourself. This rather simple, but far reaching idea, goes all the way back to John Locke. This is the essence of freedom.

One can ask, "how do you prove the principle of self-ownership". There are some people who try to prove it. But I do not take that kind of approach (for nihilistic reasons). I just take the principle of self-ownership as a given. I think it is a principle that makes a lot of sense. Furthermore, negating this principle leads to some really strange conclusions, questions and sometimes contradictions. For example, if you deny the principle of self-ownership then you say that there are people who can rightfully claim ownership over other people. But that is slavery. Negating this principle implies slavery. There is also a very important question that is never answered. How can some people claim ownership over others? By what criterion do they obtain this ownership? Basically, what I am trying to say is this. If you deny the principle of self-ownership, and you can if you really want to, then you arrive at slavery and you arrive at some really strange questions. It just makes a whole lot of more sense to accept the principle of self-ownership, it prevents all of these complications from arising.

However, everything I said above regarding self-ownership is taking place in an atheistic universe. Things get more messed up when God enters into the picture. I said that strange complications arise from denying this principle, but there is way to deny this principle by avoiding these complications. That is by introducing God. If you introduce God into this discussion then everything I said is irrelevant. Because the theist will simply say that God is your owner. There is no self-owner, God is the owner of everything in the universe since he created all of it.

I had this revelation when I spoke to a friend of mine who calls himself a neo-conservative. He is a religious Jewish person who is quite reasonable on economics but tyrannical on civil liberties. He goes so far as to suggest physical punishment to various crimes. He supports capital punishment, torture. And all that great wonderful stuff. When I was discussing these issues with him he asked me why do I favor liberty? I told him that it follows directly from the principle of self-ownership, freedom is its logical conclusion. He responded to me that he denies this principle because he believes that God is the owner of all, and so people have no claim on themselves.

That is when I finally realized what the divine right of kings was all about. Kings and despots always needed an excuse to justify themselves by being tyrannical to the people. The way they did it was with the aid of religion. They taught the people that God is the owner and master of all, and that God put them in place, therefore the king is justified because he gets his rule directly from God. The divine right of kings was just a big giant excuse to exercise authority over the victims, and to make the victims accept this authority.

This is the last point in which Judaism is anti-freedom, namely belief in God negates the principle of self-ownership. Without this fundamental and basic principle it is really hard to argue for freedom. This is what is most relevant to today. Because the religious Jewish people (and religious people in general, all I said applies to all religions also) always carry with them this thought that God is the owner of all. With such a thought the case for freedom is hard to come by. It is in this way why Judaism (religion) is poisonous to freedom.


  1. I think you're right, but I also think you've spent too much time thinking about/arguing with a proposition that's ridiculous on its face. Depriving someone of his choices does not enhance his freedom.

  2. In every sphere of life there are people who would seek to control other people, either mentally or physically. Religion is just one of these spheres. Work is certainly another. Yes there is the implied contract that one considers when one chooses to work for someone but if one needs to put food on the table is there true freedom?

    I think your argument holds true from a limited vantage point. Yes, the Jewish religion espouses a heteronymous viewpoint with regards to observance of the Mitzvot, but it is still the individuals choice to adhere to the Mitzvot and God does not force anyone to do so. People can choose to believe that God commanded observance and do them as a result. Thus they are choosing a worldview for themselves that included faith that they do not own themselves. That is still freedom...its freedom to conform to an ideal.

    In fact, the idea that we own ourselves is somewhat of a delusion in and of itself. To own something is to be able to use it as you see fit. The more control one has, the more one can be said to own something. We have very limited control over ourselves (some less than others). To the extent that one can do something that one regret, it is easy to see that freedom of action is not quite as simple as it appears. Is someone who is afflicted with mental disease truly free? Are they autonomous really? To some extent they are, but perhaps in other areas they are not. Can they not be said to own themselves?

    Ultimately to truly own oneself is to be in control of oneself. To the extent that Judaism imposes tasks that allow a person to learn self discipline it can become a tool for enhancing freedom.

  3. "In every sphere of life there are people who would seek to control other people, either mentally or physically. Religion is just one of these spheres. Work is certainly another. Yes there is the implied contract that one considers when one chooses to work for someone but if one needs to put food on the table is there true freedom?":

    How can the Soviets make themselves believe they were free? How can the Nazis make themselves believe they were free? How can the Juden make themselves believe they are free?

    The answer is that they redefined "freedom". Freedom is a very simple concept, freedom is free from rule of other people (be it an individual, a group of people, or the state). That is all it means. This is what it means in the 18th century. In its modern meaning "freedom" has a completely different meaning. This is why you hear people speak of "right to education" or "right to a job". Because they imagine freedom living a life without worries and complications. But this is not what it means, freedom, in the classical meaning, does not need to always be a pleasant life, sometimes it sucks. Freedom does not mean that your life is free from worries, it just means no one rules over you. Sometimes the nature of your circumstances may compell you to act in a certain manner, but this does not negate freedom, any more so than the law of gravity negate your freedom of flying. People in history who fought against freedom always did this by pretending they were fighting for freedom, except they redefined what it is supposed to mean.

    "but it is still the individuals choice to adhere to the Mitzvot and God does not force anyone to do so.":

    Non-sense. If people, in Biblical Israel, transgressed God's commandment they would be killed or physically punished for doing so. This is freedom? Do kids have a choice between being Juden or not being Juden? No. They are made to believe what their parents believe. This is not a choice, it is forced upon them. And in the end, people who disobey God will be punished by God for choosing not to follow him. This is freedom? If you think this is freedom then I am not surprised how you can think that the state violently beating up tax resistors is still freedom - since you have some messed up notion of freedom.

    Can a Jewish or non-Jewish person decide to serve an idol? No, he will be stoned to death. Can a Jewish person pick sticks on Shabbos? No, he will be stoned to death. Can two gay men have buttsex with one another? No, they will be executed for doing so. Tell me exactly how this is freedom.

    Does it not sound that Biblical Israel and God are the worst despotisms in history?