It gave the Torah path validation.
Later, I felt troubled by these same articles & books.
Why do we need the support of secular sources to validate Torah views?
Especially since secular sources can mislead. Contrary to how they're presented, they're actually not objective.
People think atheism equals objectivity, but without awareness of the human soul, the tzelem Elokim (Divine image) imprinted upon EVERY single human being, and God...it's impossible to arrive at the Truth.
Without God & the Divine aspects of a human being, it's also impossible to fully heal people from trauma & mental illness & all sorts of other dysfunctions. (As we've seen, the rise of all sorts of addictions, dysfunctions, and mental illnesses in Western society parallels the rise of secularism.)
Sometimes Studies Apply to General Society, But Not to the Frum Community
I still believe this to a degree...but not as much as previously.
The studies are usually PRESENTED in a convincing manner and...well, looks can be deceiving.
For instance, the studies conducted on non-Jewish societies do not always apply to the frum community.
Let's take the studies on children of divorce.
As just one example:
Within general American society, studies showed how children of divorce were more likely to get divorced themselves as married adults.
It made sense and I repeatedly heard this applied to the frum community.
Because it made sense, I also believed this applied to the frum community...DESPITE the fact that my personal observation did NOT view this outcome.
Meaning, to my observation (which I paid no attention to because of the secular research results), most of the married children of divorced parents (whether FFB or BT) tended to not only stay married, but even seemed to have better-than-average marriages.
Why is this?
Officially, I don't know.
But my observations showed the following:
On shidduchim, adult children of divorce developed more solid ideas on what to look for & less swayed from their ideals by others, enabling them to find a better spouse.
Once married, they seemed not only more committed to making the marriage work, but held more insight into HOW to do that.
However, because of my unwitting bias in favor of the secular research, I instinctively ignored all that.
(Note: It's very politically incorrect to say this, but nonetheless...most children of divorce experience a lot of long-term pain over the divorce—EVEN when the divorce is necessary. It's not fair & it's not always true, but many times, the children perceive & experience the whole ordeal differently than their parents. As FRUM married adults themselves, they loathe putting their children through that & go to great lengths to avoid it. Their frum lifestyle, value system, and attitude greatly assist them in their marital goals.)
Yet it wasn't until I read the early incoming results of a study on the frum community—which showed that FRUM children of divorce are NOT more likely to get divorced.
Only then did the light bulb flash on, enabling me to see what my eyes & ears had been telling me all along.
(Disclaimer: The link to this study was bookmarked on my old computer, but when I upgraded, my bookmarks got "translated" into 112 pages of confusing computer-language text crammed together in one long 112-page sentence. For the life of me, I cannot remember or find this website run by a couple of frum guys. If I ever figure it out, I will post it here.)
Think about your own observations:
In the FRUM community—of the divorced people you know—how many came from married parents & how many came from divorced parents?
Offhand, I can think of only 2 who came from divorced parents.
One divorced woman was the child of secular parents who repeatedly divorced & remarried all sorts of other people throughout her childhood. She also continued to embrace certain secular attitudes even after she became frum (which I believe contributed to her insistence on getting divorced without a good reason).
Another divorced woman (who, ironically, should've gotten divorced much earlier; a rare situation in which divorce would've definitely benefited both her & her children) was the child of divorced secular parents & held onto the marriage as long as she could BECAUSE she didn't want her children to go through what she went through. She managed to hold out until the youngest hit the mid-teens before getting divorced.
(And despite initially insisting she never wanted to get married again, she is now happily remarried to a good guy, baruch Hashem.)
All the other divorced frum couples I've known grew up with married parents (as far as I know).
In fact, I know some frum families in which more than one child got divorced or in which one child divorced more than once. In one case, one child was married 3 times by the time he was in his early thirties!
And again, these multiply divorced children grew up with parents who stayed married to each other.
These are not children of divorce.
And it made me think...
How many frum singles on shidduchim were harmfully stigmatized by this secular statistic?
How many faced automatic rejection simply because people believed they were more likely to get divorced—when that's apparently not even true for frum people, not for FFB nor BT?
(Again, whether they're born frum or not, the basic fact of BEING frum does NOT make children of divorce more likely than anyone else to get divorced themselves—both statistically & observationally.)
Yet each time I encountered adult children of divorce who remained married, I automatically considered each one the exception without even considering the absurdity of there being so many exceptions!
Unfortunately, based on the secular research, I also perpetuated this false presumption within the frum community.
That divorce statistic is just one example of error when we apply the results of a general study to the frum community without further examination.
So yes, the studies can be helpful, however:
- one must always look out HOW the study was conducted and...
- ...IF those results really apply equally to the frum community.
(Note: I'm not saying that frum children of divorce don't have issues. Addressing specifically the issue of marriage, I'm saying that statistically & observationally, when frum children of divorce get married, they don't seem to divorce more than anyone else.)
When Can These Studies Help?
Perhaps when they prod us to look at an aspect of Judaism we always dismissed based on cultural or personality attitudes.
For example, reading an email about an idea presented in a book by Michael Easter called The Comfort Crisis (which I've not read) reminded me of a famous Mishnah in Pirkeh Avot 3:1.
The best way to a truly fulfilling & happy life is to think about death!
Here's Pirkeh Avot 3:1:
Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say:
Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression.
Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting.
From where you came—from a putrid drop; where you are going—to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgement and accounting—before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Rabbi Eliezer would say:
The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger.
Repent one day before your death...
And the Zohar says: "fortunate are those who imagine in their hearts as if this day they are leaving the world."
Their study showed how people who contemplate their own death are more likely to:
- Show concern for others (via donations of time, money, and blood to blood banks)
- Feel more gratitude & appreciation for the life they now experience
In other words, contemplating death makes people nicer, happier, more fulfilled—and overall better people!
In the frum community, some people experience a resistance to delving too deeply into the above mishnayot, perceiving these concepts as too gloomy, negative, or depressing.
Or some people associate death contemplation with groups like the Goths, whose nihilistic attitudes take the whole idea too far.
(For example, I knew a Goth girl who garbed herself with black hair dye, black eyeliner, and black clothes & slept with an empty coffin in her room—in fact, I think she sometimes slept IN the coffin—not to remind herself in a positive way of death to motivate herself to live better, but in a creepy, need-to-be-unique-&-considered-deep nihilistic way. Not good.)
So coming across a scientific study proclaiming the benefits of contemplating death could open the mind of a Jew with a block in this area.
It could also provide a new window into the above mishnayot, rather than automatically avoiding them or dismissing these mishnayot as "for people in previous generations" or "not for our generation because it's too harsh for our modern sensibilities," etc.
Using Social & Psychological Research Wisely
But we need to know HOW.
Common sense & our own observations must take priority to these studies.
We also need to know HOW these studies were done, on which populations, how big a population, etc.
Sometimes, the studies either aren't always right OR they aren't true for the frum population.
Furthermore, their proposed solutions might be lacking too, influenced by social agendas or money or prestige (or all three).
This proves difficult to resist because those who promote the results do so via incredibly persuasive methods.
They believe in the results, they believe this knowledge will help others...which is why they are so incredibly persuasive.
And like I mentioned above, I also used to take this stuff very seriously & promote it.
I also believed it!
So I do not demonize or condemn people who swallow this stuff whole & who promote it. Most genuinely intend to help.
But again, though well-intentioned, it's not always correct.
Also, even when the results are correct, the methods created to solve the issues are often not completely correct (and therefore, not completely effective).
Or maybe they're even harmful.
So regarding the solutions: The methods are simply neither correct nor effective OR they're only partially effective...BECAUSE they tend to evolve from an atheist framework.
In short, these studies can be used to:
- open a person's mind to an aspect of Judaism formerly dismissed (whether consciously or unconsciously).
- offer more accessible language to understand certain ideas within Judaism.
- validate certain feelings & dynamics.
- provide a springboard or framework to understand a certain area or dynamic.
- provide some benefit; even if only partially effective, it's still better for the person than nothing at all.
But we should be careful not to swallow them whole & uncritically.
We should use our own minds & observations, not be afraid to question (at least silently for ourselves), and to recognize that scientists & researchers also hold bias & agendas (this is true even of the minority who truly strive for objectivity).
We should definitely imbibe regular sessions of Torah & mussar/Chassidus to keep our minds working in the right direction.