Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Cards

I have a lot of holiday cards that say: Happy Holidays! with pictures of 2 kids (Jake and Abby with big smiles), and then inside minimalist text: from John, Ann, Jake and Abby. I have no idea who these people are. I would prefer pictures with parents (who I might know), and a last name somewhere in the frickin' card. I actually enjoy the long-winded recap-of-the-year cards, because these also tell me who the parents are (that's my Freshman year roommate!), and I am interested in their activities.

I'm grumpy after wrapping presents too long. I hate wrapping presents. But I love Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is tit-for-tat at its extreme: my kids pretend to be virtuous for a few hours to acquire lots of loot.

The Madoff scandal is especially poignant at this time of intense religiosity, because some rabbis opined on the affinity scam, where Madoff mainly used his Jewishness to scam Jews, really played off the following reasoning:

In a recent sermon, Rabbi Kalmanofsky described Mr. Madoff as the antithesis of true piety.

“I said, what it means to be a religious person is to be terrified of the possibility that you’re going to harm someone else,” he said.

He was religious, so seemed especially ethical to those inside that religious circle. The nice thing about religiosity is that one believes doing good is rewarded even if no one you know is watching, which while untrue in one sense, is true in some other sense (posterity is always watching). Evil people use pretexts tenable via some well-known principle, in that any evil action is tenable with good lawyers quoting scripture. But if God is watching, knows logic, history, and what is in your heart, such bad guys are screwed! So, if more people believed in the judeo-Christian God, such people would be less inclined to act less in such ways, anticipating God's wrath. Now, there is a trade-off because the phalanx of beliefs includes lots of silly stuff which are sometimes taken literally, but I think Jesus-freaks are much less scary than the common college perception; after all, Newton, Euler, and Gauss were strong deists in their own ways.

Most religious people I know, believing in something I believe is untenable, are better-than-average neighbors, really nice families. Some might think this is lousy, because they should be nice for more rational reasons, but I'm not so harsh in that if your Mormonism or orthodox Judaism makes you an ethical person, I appreciate your goodness irrespective of logical foundations I find bizarre.

So, if my kids translate their greed for presents on this big day, into some sort of grand carrot I can apply throughout the year, I'll use it, and they'll be better for it (plus I get to play with their new toys, which as boys include some cool stuff).

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

if dawkins read this, he would crush you. publicly.
merry xmas, falken.

Eric said...

Who cares what Dawkins would think.

I think you are confirming the point that there are standards of behavior and morality that are important to the proper functioning of society. These standards don't have to come from a religious upbringing but they need to come from somewhere. People have abandoned religion as a teacher of morality and proper behavior and have not replaced it with anything. This leads to a coarsening of our culture and the atrocious behavior we see in public and private.

Anonymous said...

you need to read "God Delusion"... or do as i did and get the audio off the torrents. easier on the eyes.

Eric said...

I am well aware of "God Delusion". I was not commenting about religious belief, I was commenting about morality and ethical behavior and our society's current lack of it.

Anonymous said...

my version is not about dismantling religious beliefs only. a good point is made that us tolerating "religion as a teacher of morality" falsities, your moderate nice neighbors now, have the 'optionality' to become talibans in the future, and the right thing to do is to raise awareness just like feminists do by pushing the envelope a little. was just doing my part for the cause!

Anonymous said...

Just like the last time you blogged to complain about getting so many anonymous Christmas cards, you're making me feel bad that no one likes me - I don't think I've ever not known whom a card was from...

Pete S said...

Don't they put their last name on the envelope? I usually have to ask my wife "who are these people".