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41 posts categorized "Religion"

March 28, 2012

The Golden Rule: Complete and total nonsense

I recently made the assertion that the Golden Rule, the Biblical admonition to do onto others as you would have done onto you, is an ineffective and nonsensical means by which one should live his or her life.

I was in a conversation with a group of educational leaders at the time, and I am relatively certain that their reactions to this statement fell along one of three distinct lines:

  1. Matt is an idiot.
  2. Matt likes to say things to make people angry.
  3. Matt is an idiot who likes to say things that make people angry.

Suffice it to say that whatever their reaction was, no one initially agreed with me.

And yes, I may be an idiot who likes to make people angry at times, but my assertion in regards to The Golden Rule is correct. “The foundation of Christianity and most major religions” (as one person described the Golden Rule) possesses a flaw that makes it utterly useless.

The flaw is this: 

In reality, we do not treat people as we would want to be treated. We treat people as we perceive they want to be treated, and this is is often entirely different than the way we actually want to be treated.

For example, I know that when my wife has a problem, she would like me to listen intently and empathize with her plight. She is like most women in this respect. She wants to be heard. She wants to know that I am on her side. She wants to believe that I understand how she feels.

She may ultimately want me to help her solve the problem, but I know that any proposed solution is secondary and possibly not required at all. Sometimes a problem has no solution, yet she will still want to talk about it with me. As long as she knows that I am listening and care, she is content.

My response to a problem is entirely different. If I have chosen to discuss a problem with my wife or one of my friends, it is because I have reached the point where I need help in finding a solution. If a problem has no solution, I am unlikely to ever mention it to anyone.

Most men handle problems similarly. If my male friend calls me to discuss a problem, I know that he is not looking to be heard. He is not seeking empathy. He is calling me with the expectation that I will offer an immediate array of possible solutions. In most cases, I do not need to empathize or even care about my friend’s problem. I need not think that the problem is worthy of discussion, just as long as I have a solution to offer.

If I were to apply The Golden Rule to the way in which I discuss my wife’s problems with her, my response would not be well received. In this case, I cannot treat my wife as I would want to be treated, because our needs, like the needs of most men and women, are entirely divergent.

Situations like this happen all the time. In fact, if The Golden Rule was actually a valid moral code, human beings would be required to treat every person in their lives in only one way:

The way they would want to be treated.

Allowances would no longer need to be made for differences in personality, sensitivity, sex, age or personal background. In a world in which we treat people in a way that we would want to be treated, everyone would be equal in our eyes in every respect.

Everyone would be us.

Admittedly, it would make for a significantly simpler world. The need for nuance, grace and  sensitivity would be gone. Every decision would be based solely upon our own personal preference. You would simply ask yourself what you might want in a given situation and make that your modus operandi, regardless of who you were dealing with or the context of the situation.     

For example, I like to be spoken to in a direct and honest manner. My closest friends know this and are able to say things to me that might hurt the feelings of others. But this is how I prefer to be treated. I find this method most effective for me.  

In a world that demanded adherence to The Golden Rule, I would be required to speak to people similarly, even if I knew that doing so would  hurt some people’s feelings and cause them to feel uncomfortable around me.

I am quite certain of this because there was a time in my life when I practiced The Golden Rule in this regard, and it resulted in a great deal of animosity toward me. I was stupid and arrogant and lacking in nuance, and the results were not good.

The Golden Rule caused me a lot of trouble in my youth.

The actual Golden Rule should read like this:

Treat others in a way that they would want to be treated.

Thankfully, this is how most of us live our lives, even as we espouse our belief in this flawed, archaic rule.

February 09, 2012

Jesus Christ and these capital letters do not belong

This card has become the source of amusement for many because of Rick Santorum’s decision to quote Jesus Christ and the New Testament on a Hanukkah message designed for Jews. 

Then again, only about 0.3 percent of the South Carolinian population is Jewish, so maybe he was hoping that no one would notice. 


Yes, this was a strange and fairly stupid decision.

And yes, I acknowledge that it is highly unlikely that Santorum played a hands-on role in the design of the actual card. But gaffs like this serve as an indication as to the quality of the organization that the candidate has built and is leading.

But I think an even more egregious error exists in the message at the bottom of the card:

May Your Hanukkah be bright.
Peace to you this Holiday Season

Nothing annoys me more than random and improper capitalization.

While the words May, Hanukkah and Peace should be capitalized for obvious reasons, there is no reason to capitalize You, Holiday and Season.  These words are seemingly capitalized at random, with no identifiable reason or purpose. 

Furthermore, the first sentence ends with a period but the second does not.

More inconsistency.  

Yes, it’s true that the use of a quote by Jesus Christ on a card directed to Jews makes no sense and is especially stupid in light of the Christian tone that Santorum strikes in his campaign, but the absence of basic copyediting demonstrates, at least to me, a lack of attention to detail that I find even more disturbing.

Then again, I am an author and not very religious, so perhaps I am sensitive in ways different than most. 

December 14, 2011

You just lost a customer, Lowes

Check it out. I’m exceedingly pleased, and perhaps even proud, of one of Connecticut’s US congressmen. 

With Congress’ approval rating close to single digits, that doesn’t happen often.

And thought I’ve never been a Home Depot loyalist, it turns out that I am now.

October 21, 2011

Suggested revisions to religious services (and an offer to lead your congregation to happiness)

My wife and I brought our daughter to a blessedly brief children’s service a couple weeks ago during Rosh Hashanah.

Granted I don’t have a lot of experience with these kinds of things (not being Jewish and all), but in regards to Jewish religious services, this children’s service was just my speed. 

Some spirited music (in English), a short play based upon a children’s book, a thoughtful yet short reading, and some apples and honey on the way out. 

Short, memorable, entertaining and engaging.

I wish that every rabbi, priest, minister, reverend and other religious whatnot would keep these four words in mind when planning their religious service, because in my experience, almost no one does.

And it’s annoying.     

Why not attempt to make these services as entertaining, engaging and brief as possible? 


If your service is more than 45 minutes and has failed to generate a single laugh, you’ve probably failed to keep the attention and interest of your congregation.

Why not actually try to engage the audience?  Speak in a way that both delivers information and provides a modicum of entertainment.  It’s probably not going to make a believer out of me, but I’d be a hell of a lot more likely to accompany my wife to some of these services if there was an attempt to make them palatable and memorable.

Hell, I‘d even be willing to help out.  As long as the congregants didn’t mind my lack of faith, I’d be happy to put together a Sunday morning service for a local church. 

A couple catchy tunes, a short, humorous yet meaningful sermon, a one-act play performed by a handful of adorable children designed to illustrate point, and a cookie on the way out.

I really think I’d be a hit.  And I would not rely on the fear of God, the expectations of family and community, the inevitability of death or a lifetime of religious indoctrination to keep my audience coming back for more.

Oh, and I’d cancel all religious services if the weather is especially beautiful.  There’s nothing more silly than the thought that God would want you stuck inside listening to me (or anyone else for that matter) on a splendid autumn day.           

Only one thing upset me about the Rosh Hashanah service that I attended with my wife and Clara.

At one point, the rabbi explained that this is the time of year when we should begin reflecting upon our lives and finding ways to live the life we have always wanted.  He encouraged his congregation to be introspective, identifying those areas where improvement is needed, so that we can ultimately become the people we truly want to be. 

When he finished, I turned to my wife and whispered, “I am the person I want to be, damn it.  Who is he to assume otherwise?”

I really was annoyed.  I wanted to tell him that when I was a little boy, I wanted to be a writer and a teacher, and damn it, that’s what I am today.

I wanted to tell him that I’ve also added DJ, life coach and minister to my list of current jobs, and if I could just find someone to hire me as a professional best man, all of my current career aspirations would be fulfilled. 

I wanted to tell him that I am married to the best person I have ever known and have the best daughter I could ever imagine. 

I wanted to tell him that I set 21 goals for myself back in January and am on pace to complete 16-18 of them, which is pretty damn good, all things considered.

I wanted to tell him that I have the best friends that I have ever had in my entire life. 

I wanted to tell him that his assumptions suck.  

I know. I’m probably taking a very well meant sentiment a little too personally, but in thinking about the type of religious officiate I might be (thus far I have only officiated weddings and baby naming ceremonies), I can’t imagine standing before a congregation and asking them to try harder to become the people they truly want to be. 

While I am certain that this message might apply to some, it certainly doesn’t apply to all. 

And it comes across a little holier-than-thou, which might seem appropriate for a temple or church but never is.

September 12, 2011

The complications of marrying a Jewish woman

I was listening to comedian Mark Maron speak to writer and comedian Carol Leifer on Maron’s popular podcast WTF. He was asking about what it was like to come out of the closet to her parents after years of being married to a man and living a heterosexual lifestyle.

Leifer described her parents as surprisingly supportive and happy that their daughter had found a woman to love.

“So you’re not disappointed in me?” she asked.

“We were disappointed in you when you married that Gentile,” Leifer’s father said. “Not now.”

Leifer went on to explain that the fact that her girlfriend was Jewish actually made the situation more palatable to her parents. It turns out that as long as she was marrying a Jew, it didn’t matter if it was a woman or a man.

Maron, also Jewish, laughed, and when I’ve mentioned this exchange to others since then, they have laughed as well.

I did not think it was funny.

Being married to a Jewish woman and not being Jewish myself, I did not find any amusement in this story.

It’s a story I live with constantly, and it never gets funny.

A few weeks ago, Elysha, Clara and were visiting a local Jewish Community Center with a friend to let the kids play on the indoor playscape. I sat down on a bench beside two older men waiting to play racquetball. One of the men was talking about how annoyed he has been with his daughter for marrying outside the faith. The other man said, “My daughter did the same thing. Eventually you accept it. You never love it, but it won’t always bother you as much as it does today.”

Later on, I met a woman responsible for arranging cultural events for the community center. We began talking, and the fact that I am an author came up. She mentioned that she might like to have me speak to the community center’s members sometime.

“Are you a member of the JCC or thinking of joining?”

Another woman said, “Oh, Matt isn’t Jewish. His wife is.”

“Oh,” the first woman said, and the conversation fizzled out.

Later my wife asked what I thought of the JCC and wondered if I would ever want to become a member. I told her that while I thought the place was great, I didn’t think that I could ever feel completely comfortable there and explained why.

To her credit, she understood completely.

It’s a difficult space in which to live, married to a Jewish woman but not being Jewish myself, and the difficulty exists only because of the Jewish demand to marry within the faith. It creates a situation in which I often feel not only like the outsider but also the interloper, and it leaves me wondering where I stand in people’s minds.

Take my wife’s family for example. Elysha’s parents, sister, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandmother have embraced me like one of their own, and I’m so grateful to them for their love and generosity. Her immediate family in particular have made me feel at home in a way that no other family ever has.

I love them all dearly.

And yet in the back of my mind lingers this thought:

Certain members of Elysha’s family, like many Jews, would never have considered marrying outside the faith, and therefore none of them would have ever considered me marriage material for themselves or their children.

Had it not been for Elysha, my membership in their family would have been unthinkable for some.

Had they or their children been looking for a suitable spouse I would have never been considered.

Here’s a good way to think about it:

It’s socially acceptable, culturally expected and commonplace for Jewish parents to impose the expectation that their children will marry within the Jewish faith. It is a belief that is publicly articulated, and to do otherwise in some families can damage the family beyond repair.  Some Jewish parents have gone so far as to disown their children and mourn them as if they had died.

It’s something that Mark Maron and Carol Leifer can laugh about despite the unfortunate truth behind this belief.

But what if we replace the word Jewish with black or Hispanic?

What if Leifer’s parents had said that they were disappointed in her for marrying a black man?

Would she have been so willing to tell that story on the podcast?

Would it have been as amusing?

I don’t think so.

What if the man outside the racquetball court had been upset because his daughter had married a Puerto Rican?

Would he have been so willing to share this disappointment with a stranger sitting next to him?

I suspect not.

And what if Elysha called her family tomorrow and said that after much deliberation and conversation with me, she has decided to forgo Judaism in favor or another religion or no religion at all?

While Elysha’s family is one of the most understanding and accepting of Jewish families, I suspect that this news would not go over well with all parties.

At least at first.

I suspect it could be a source of disappointment and even anger for some.

But what if Elysha called her family tomorrow and told them that I had decided to convert to Judaism.

I suspect this news would go over quite well.

This dichotomy never entirely leaves me.

When I hear people like Maron and Leifer joking about these issues on a podcast or a man openly expressing these beliefs while sitting beside me in a community center, it makes me feel like an interloper again.

While other religions place similar expectations on their children, the Jewish expectation to marry within the faith is especially strong. When we were engaged to be married, Elysha would come home at least once every couple weeks and tell me about the code that Jews use to determine if I was Jewish.

“What’s his last name?”

Sadly, had my last name been Dickstein instead of Dicks, our pending nuptials would have been received with considerably greater joy by some.

It’s the difference between tolerance and acceptance. 

This feels like 99% acceptance.

“You can marry Elysha, but someone of similar beliefs could never marry one of my children.”

“You don’t have to be Jewish, but your wife and children had better be stay Jewish.”

As unfortunate as the sentiment is, it makes me feel lucky, because Elysha’s parents and family are outliers when it comes to their acceptance of me. Elysha’s parents embraced me immediately, without question or reservation.

I know Jewish parents who would make their child’s life hell of he or she chose to marry outside the faith, which I find amazing. 

Imagine the audacity and selfishness required for parents to believe that they have the right to screen out potential spousal candidates based upon religious beliefs.

In today’s world of interracial and homosexual marriages, it’s almost medieval.  

My hope is that with time, the Jewish community at large will become more accepting of interfaith marriages and make us less-Chosen people feel more genuinely welcome.

Making me good enough for Elysha but never for their own daughter is an unfortunate quality that the world could do without. 

August 26, 2011

A mysterious author “in reception” and a disagreement over when it’s flesh and when it’s just bread

I find it amusing when someone says that they work “in reception.”

As if reception is a department akin to accounting or marketing or IT.

In truth, I’ve only had one person ever say this directly to me, but the phrase came up in conversation last week, and I’ve heard it referenced before. 

I find this seeming deliberate avoidance of the word receptionist slightly offensive to receptionists everywhere.

When I managed a McDonald’s restaurant, I didn’t tell people that I worked in food service management or that I worked for a Fortune 500 company.

I said, “I manage a McDonald’s restaurant.”

You’re a receptionist.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

If you think there is, get another job.     

In the process of writing what I thought would be a short post, I searched the phrase in reception online and returned thousands of hits. 

Most interesting among them was a Wikipedia entry on receptionists that sounds like it was specifically written by a receptionist who loves his or her job a little too much. 

It’s not your typical, passionless Wikipedia article. It reads like a sixth grade term paper.  In terms of irony, obtuseness and sheer entertainment value, it’s worth a read.

I’m equally fascinated by the photos of the two receptionists used for the entry. 

image image

Does this man (working at the Hampton Inn Suites based upon the data contained within the photo) and these two women know that their images have been used to help illustrate the meaning of the word receptionist?

Even more compelling:

Is the partially concealed woman in the second photo annoyed that her colleague has received front billing?  Has she always been jealous of her prettier desk mate?  Did this photograph sadly reinforced these feelings of inadequacy and self doubt?

Even better, are any of these people (I strongly suspect Mr. Hampton Inn Suites) the author of the Wikipedia entry?

I think it’s entirely possible.

Paragraphs like this would seem to support this theory:

At times, the job may be stressful due to interaction with many different people with different types of personalities, and being expected to perform multiple tasks quickly.

Sounds like someone complaining about his job to me.  Perhaps a desk clerk at a busy Hampton Inn Suites in New York?

Or how about this paragraph?

A receptionist position… could be perceived as having a certain veneer of glamour with opportunities for networking in order to advance to other positions within a specific field. Some people may use this type of job as a way to familiarize themselves with office work, or to learn of other functions or positions within a corporation. Some people use receptionist work as a way to earn money while pursuing further educational opportunities or other career interests such as in the performing arts or as writers.

See that?  Pursuing other career interests such as writers?

The writer of Wikipedia entries, perhaps?

And a veneer of glamour?  C’mon! 

This paragraph reads like a guy trying to explain to his parents why their son, a graduate from Hofstra with a degree in philosophy, is working the front desk at a Hampton Inn Suites.

“It’s just temporary, Mom. It’s paying the bills while I work on my career.  I’m up for a small part in an off-off-off Broadway production of a modern day adaptation of The Tempest, and Billy and I are writing a screenplay about two slackers living in a Volkswagen Beatle.  This is how people get started in the business.” 

In fact, the whole entry on receptionists reads like the first draft for a pamphlet designed to elevate the esteem of the position of receptionist to prospective high school student everywhere.

It really is an amusing read. 

And I’m not done.   

The following two sentences appear along the top of the entry:

This article is about an employee. For those who believes in the doctrine of receptionism, see Receptionism.

There is so much to be said about these two sentences. 

First, “This article is about an employee.”  One specific employee?  Perhaps Mr. Hampton Inn Suites?  An odd choice of words, to say the least.  And it sure as hell sounds like something the guy in the photograph would say based upon the nothing I actually know about him. 

Then there is the grammar problem in the second sentence (“For those who believes”), but even more interesting is the implication that only those who believe in the doctrine of receptionism are permitted read about it.

For those who believes in the doctrine receptionism, see Receptionism?   

If I don’t believe in receptionism, I can’t click

Naturally, I clicked, dragging me further into the wormhole that is Wikipedia.

Receptionism, it turns out, is a Christian theological doctrine which states that in a Eucharist service, the bread and the wine do not transform into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ until they enter a person’s mouth. 

Apparently this has caused quite a bit of hullabaloo in various religious circles for reasons I don’t quite understand.  Read for yourself and see if you can make any sense of it.   

I’m left thinking this:

If you truly believe that bread and wine are magically transformed into the actual blood and body of a man who died more than 2,000 years ago, arguing over when this magic takes place amounts to little more than the splitting of hairs.

Thus ends my journey through Wikipedia for another day.

May 31, 2011

Disappointed that billions haven’t died?

More fallout from the failed Rapture:

Expert Rapture predictor Harold Camping's public relations manager moved his family from California to Ohio a month before the supposed Rapture in order to wait for the end of days. 

Last week he announced that he is headed back to California next week:

"You can imagine we're pretty disappointed, but the word of God is still true," he told The Los Angeles Times. "We obviously went too far, and that's something we need to learn from."

I’m not sure if you want your public relations manager telling the world that you were disappointed that the world was not ravaged by massive earthquakes and raging fires, killing every living thing on the planet.

Perhaps just a “Yeah, we were surprised since Harry’s only gotten this Rapture thing wrong once before” would have been more appropriate.

May 26, 2011

The Rapture. Part II.

Oh good.  Just when I thought I would have to wait years for another Rapture prediction comes word that the next one is just around the corner. 

Harold Camping, the minister responsible for last weekend’s prediction, announced that the Rapture began on May 21, just in a “spiritual” and not “physical” way.

“But it won’t be spiritual on October 21,” Camping said.

Almost sounds the like the tagline to a movie trailer.  Doesn’t it?

So when October 12 comes and goes and the world has not been consumed by a fireball, what will Camping’s next excuse be?

“The Rapture continues, just not in a spiritual way anymore.  Now it’s emotional.  Or financial.  Or technical. Or transcendental. Or metaphorical. Or cosmological. Or nutritional.”

It could be decades before he runs out of excuses.

Let’s just hope that no one is stupid enough to rid themselves of their worldly possessions and quit their jobs again.

Fool me once, I’m an idiot.  At least when it comes to Rapture predictions.  Fool me twice, shame on me.   

Either way, it’s good news for me, as I will have a second chance at the prank that I forgot about last weekend.        

When it comes to the Rapture, I have always believed that more is more.

May 20, 2011

Is this version any less likely?

My niece, Lexi, told my sister about the story of Noah's Ark today:

"It's the big ship with all the animals that Uncle Sam flew and it came down and crushed the Earth."

Not quite the version that appears in the Bible, but is it really any less likely than every species of animal voluntarily making its way to the Middle East (including penguins and polar bears, and depending upon your level of fanaticism, dinosaurs), climbing aboard a boat in just before a worldwide flood, and somehow repopulating the planet one the flood water dissipated despite the lack of genetic diversity?

I kind of like Lexi’s version better. 

Bringing the May 21 rapture to life!

An brilliant idea from the mind of author Wendy Clinch:

“Rapture prank: On Saturday, take some of your unwanted clothes and shoes and leave sets of them arranged on sidewalks and lawns around town.”

Pretty ingenious.  Huh?

And considering that my wife informed me that I have no nice clothes and that the best shirt she could find in my closet for me to wear for a recent television interview was “inoffensive”, I probably have some items that I can spare.