Misunderstandings around the concept of ‘shittuf’

•December 5, 2007 • 2 Comments

Recently, I was brought again to the attention of the misunderstandings around the concept of ‘shittuf’, that seem to be circulating in many misinformed circles.

Firstly, Christianity is not a monotheistic religion. In its core doctrine is the concept of the Trinity, which to the rational mind, clearly comprises of 3 distinct entities who themselves were, according to the Gospels, described to be interacting with each other as disconnected entities. By definition, this is polytheism. As such, Islam is considered monotheistic, but not Christianity.

Secondly, contrary to popular viewpoints, Christianity and Islam have nothing to do with Judaism at all, even though their founders had sought to latch on to Judaism to gain credibility. Hence, it is completely erroneous to state that they are “sister religions”. Historically, Christianity was among the pagan religions that sprung up in the 1st century. Its core doctrine, which includes among many – the 3 magi, the virgin birth, baptism, 12 disciples, crucifixion and resurrection, finds complete similarity in many other ancient mystery religions such as Mithraism, the cult of Krishna and the cult of Isis, among the more well-known ones. The central figure in Christianity is but an attempt to agglomerate a pagan idol with an obscure figure in Jewish tradition (ironically, one who is considered an evil man in Jewish tradition) who lived a few centuries before the story of the Gospels were set to take place. Therefore, what the Christians worship is by no means the G-d of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov. To argue that they worship the same G-d in a different manner amounts to stating this: I consider my pen to be G-d (lehavdil), and I pray to my pen and worship it wholeheartedly. Is it true to state that I am thus worshipping G-d? Definitely not. I am only worshipping an entity whom I consider as G-d. I am not worshipping G-d in a flawed manner. I am not worshipping G-d at all!

Thirdly, following the above line of reasoning, the Christian does not comply with even the 1st commandment stated in the Seven Laws that prohibits idolatry. Assuming that a follower of a religion attributes all his/her actions to the idol or the idol’s teachings in that particular religion, they are automatically invalidated according to the concept of ‘mitzva ha-ba’a ba-aveira’ in Judaism, which implies that any action that emerges out of a violation of a law cannot be considered a fulfilment of any other law, no matter whether it is in accordance with that other law or not. Therefore, to “achieve salvation” and to “do what the Seven Laws prescribed”, a Christian is thus, by logic, obligated to renounce his/her idolatry in the first place.

Fourthly, the stand that ‘shittuf’ is not a sin for gentiles, is a common misunderstanding of a passage in the Talmud discussing a hypothetical situation in which a Jew requires an oath from a gentile (known to be idolatrous) regarding a matter. An oath in this context could cause the idolatrous gentile to utter the name of his/her idol in conjuction to uttering the name of the One True G-d. Since a Jew is prohibited not only to utter the name of an idol, but prohibited also to indirectly cause its utterance, the particular passage in the Talmud discusses whether the Jew would be considered as violating this commandment in the context of requiring oaths from idolatrous gentiles. Tosfos, a commentary on the Talmud, writes that:

  • if the gentile is not warned regarding uttering the name of his/her idol in conjuction to uttering the name of the One True G-d in making the oath, and
  • if this is due to the possibility of the Jew not being too certain whether the idolatrous gentile would utter the name of his/her idol in conjuction to uttering the name of the One True G-d in making the oath (thinking that it is not an inevitable result),

then the Jew is not considered to have violated the earlier prohibition of indirectly causing the utterance of the name of an idol.

The above-mentioned passage in the Talmud is thus not saying, or implying in any way, that gentiles are permitted to worship, or even merely ascribe power to another entity, as G-d in conjuction with worshipping G-d Himself – which itself is an inconsistent action and a contradiction if one were to say that the Christians are monotheists in the first place. This is even barring the fact that the Christians are not even worshipping G-d at all. Even if one says that they are worshipping several entities as gods (with a small g), one cannot consider the above passage from the Talmud as a justification, for the above passage only deals with uttering the name of an idol with that of another entity whom even the idolator has to acknowledge as the One True G-d in the context of making an oath.

This analysis is thus consistent with the ruling found in the one of the most fundamental texts for the Seven Laws, that of Maimonides’ Laws of Kings Chapter 9 verse 2, which implies that the laws of idolatry apply equally to Jew or gentile, no matter whether the gentile is executed for violating them or not ie. the gentile is prohibited in principle to engage in any form of foreign worship no matter whether it is done in a manner that would incur the death penalty.

References:

The two-body problem in geometrodynamics

•November 29, 2007 • Leave a Comment

My research group works mainly on two-body astrophysical problems using the theory of general relativity. During a recent discussion, I was reminded by my advisor that the two-body problem in general relativity has never been solved analytically. As such, the advent of numerical relativity was an effort in itself to tackle this problem – to describe the bodies in the framework of general relativity and solve the Einstein field equations by virtue of casting them as a finite-differenced initial value problem, entailing the employment of a finite hypersurface to characterize the initial conditions with suitable boundary conditions. However, to be mindful of the historicity of this problem, I dug out this paper:

The Two-Body Problem in Geometrodynamics, S. G. Hahn and R. W. Lindquist, Ann. Phys. (N. Y.) 29 (1964), 304.

Straddling worlds

•November 10, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Pondering upon the viability of straddling worlds, thus the questions: Is it viable to straddle theism and academia, which worships atheism and thus rejects creationism? Even within theism, is it viable to straddle Judaism and the non-Jewish world of illusory values and cyclical and anti-teleologically mundane pursuits? In academia, what of straddling its fundamental worship of the human intellect, and the consideration of it as only a tool in the mission to understand reality as it has been created and is being sustained each moment; straddling the manic advance of dehumanization and the understanding that a human is not pure intellect, but a soul? Is it possible to maintain sanity inhabiting such conflicting worlds? In such a circumstance, and at the same time straddling the East and West, is it possible at all to successfully contribute to any of these worlds? Or must one choose?

S(cienti-tecture)-Files: Space

•October 16, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Claudio Silvestrin perceives:

“The feeling of one’s own being…is intensified to its full potency once the thickness of the space surrounding one’s own body manifests itself. Thus the ideal construction opens up the seeing of such thickness by erecting unadorned walls to form a pure mass of air, uncluttered and unconquered, free from the arrogant presence of man’s self-assertive will.

Only through this ‘clearing’ is space rendered visible.”

String theory as simply, truth?

•October 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Nancy Cartwright and Roman Frigg of the Department of Philosophy at the London School of Economics, recently wrote here an evaluation of string theory as a viable physical theory, understandably, from a more philosophical point of view, which is in line with the approach taken by Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in his book The Trouble With Physics.

A crucial question raised in the evaluation is whether string theory has the potential to be progressive as a research program, rather than a physical theory in its present form. It is ironic to call to attention the fact that string theory in its present form is neither a theory (being without any underlying equations, as possessed by other physical theories such as Newtonian theory) nor is it based on strings (but on multi-dimensional branes or sheets as you will). The authors reiterate that the capability of a research program to be progressive cannot be based entirely on the falsifiability of its claims and its ability to generate unique predictions. Rather, the progressiveness of a research program should be also be evaluated in the following:

  • its ability to spawn new technologies
  • its ability to answer perplexing problems
  • its consistency
  • its simplicity
  • its explanatory power
  • its unifying power.

However, although the authors acknowledge the viability of string theory in uniting gravity and quantum mechanics, its power to describe phenomena in high-energy energy regimes that otherwise are hard to tackle using other techniques, its contributions to various branches of mathematics, especially esoteric mathematics, and its simplicity and beauty, they question the truth value of string theory, and return to calling to task its inability to make falsifiable claims and unique testable predictions.

The main difference between their evaluation and the evaluation of radical skeptics of string theory then seems to be in using the standard that for a given research program to be counted as progressive, it has to make a substantial level of progress in all the directions listed above. Given this standard, the authors reach a similar conclusion as the radical skeptics and ultimately cast doubt on the progressiveness of string theory as an overall research program. In lieu of this, the more comprehensive approach taken by the authors does, I believe, help us to reach a more rational and all-rounded solution to the more practical questions on dealing with string theory as a research program in the scientific community.

A li’l overlooked verse from “MTW”…

•September 19, 2007 • Leave a Comment

…that made me smile:

We dedicate this book
To our fellow citizens
Who, for love of truth,
Take from their own wants
By taxes and gifts,
And now and then send forth
One of themselves
As dedicated servant,
To forward the search
Into the mysteries and marvelous simplicities
Of this strange and beautiful Universe,
Our home.

Character over personality

•September 7, 2007 • Leave a Comment

It is ironic how the theory of evolution and its followers, self-prophesy. When people behave like animals and value only characteristics of the lower self – which is also present in animals albeit in an even more lowered level (re: Derech Hashem), the formulation of a theory that justifies the lineage of humans from animals, comes as no surprise.

It is the irony of ironies, which thus now gives me the opportunity to pounce on a soliloquy on the difference…between personality…and character… As in, animals have personalities too, but… not character. Animals know not what morality is – nay, they know not the fortitude of uprightness, the integrity of probity, the gravity of moral choices and free will, the empathy of compassion and pure generosity, the precision of analysis in the process of redirecting and perfecting one’s natural inclinations, which only humans are capable of via the higher selves that they are endowed with. Nay, animals do what they are programmed to do. Chimpanzees and dolphins manifest the intelligence that they are naturally endowed with – no moral choices are involved. So is humor, talent, wittiness, intelligence, for example, and even care for one’s kin, of the same quality – they are amoral, merely manifestations of natural gifts bestowed upon their possessors, or characteristics that belie the natural order of things. Manifesting one’s natural gifts is as easy as cashing a check in the bank – it is devoid of any inspiring greatness.

But humans are – and this fact is rarely acknowledged – capable of something that is wholly on a different level than merely manifesting their natural gifts. This is the perfection of one’s character traits via moral choices, decisions and constant struggle over an opposing inclination, to perfect oneself, to acquire the qualities that will stay in one’s core person, forever. Nay, personality does not define a person. Character does. Gifts can be reclaimed by the giver, but that which we earned via self-effort – that, will remain with us forever. But alas, are we so conditioned to a flawed definition, that we are blind even to ourselves? If such is our fate, then, yes, we are descended from apes.