Many secular Jews are attracted to Buddhism and in general, the Far East religions strongly appeal to many Westerners, many of whom claim they find inner peace, inspiration, and a much-need adjustment of perspective by visiting these places and following their practices.
Many Westerners are enchanted by the lack of materialism and the seeming contentment of the locals with their poverty. Culturally, the people of the Far East are often very nice to socialize with.
The Far East also seems to hold a treasure chest of benefits:
- martial arts
- delicious and healthier foods
- inspiring philosophies
- meditative disciplines
- fortune cookies ;)
These same cultures that Westerners admire so much are also rife with female infanticide, racism, violence, starvation and malnutrition, the persecution of the helpless or minorities, elitism, government and police corruption, misogyny, domestic violence, child marriage, honor killings, and more.
Even more disturbing, these cultures have suffered from the above evils for millennia. Any current improvement in these cultures has only been brought about through the intervention of those from Western culture, particularly those who come from a Christian background (which derives any of its positive values from the Torah, however much they end up misapplying those same values).
(And most of the activists who rescue these girls are the same “white guys” who are so vilified for their race and gender in their cultures of origin.)
As a group, the Hindus do nothing to help their society.
(And their cruelty and suffering inherent in their caste system deserves a whole post of its own.)
In To My Daughters with Love, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Pearl S. Buck wrote of one of her mother’s most terrifying experiences living as a Christian missionary in China.
In the Chinese town in which Buck's parents lived, there was a terrible drought. During that night, Buck's father left town to take care of some business, leaving his wife and small children alone.
Buck describes the natives of this town as "usually kind."
However, the idolatrous temple priests (the same priests who everyone thinks have "achieved balance" and "attained wisdom and serenity") said, "The gods were angry because strangers, white people, were in the city."
This riled up the local “usually kind” Chinese until a whole mob came to the Buck home with sticks and knives, intending to stab and beat to death this lone woman and her young children.
Fortunately, with a courage that “came from despair,” Buck's mother shocked the raging mob by throwing open the doors to her home and with fearless composure, she offered the idol-worshipers tea and refreshments.
Then everybody went home.
That same night, it suddenly rained and it kept pouring all throughout the next day.
But look at the cruelty and stupidity that "usually kind" polytheists can suddenly commit when hard times come.
Thailand and Nepal
In the earthquake that crushed Nepal, we saw people who saved their idols before their fellow human beings and who invested money in their idols rather than in the rehabilitation of the homeless and injured people surrounding them.
Sara Yocheved Rigler wrote of how her guru denied accommodation to flood survivors in New York merely because their traumatized state would disturb “the vibes” of the commune. Actually healing their trauma through kindness and generosity was not an option for this “enlightened” guru.
And there are many stories like this.
Emuna, Emuna, Emuna
However, emuna is impossible within a polytheistic mindset which believes in equal but opposing forces and all sorts of little tricks and ceremonies to combat mazal rather than engaging in a cheshbon hanefesh and accepting the paradox that both the sweet and the bitter emanate from One Source.
Polytheism in Ancient Mesopotamia
Our Sages note that Lavan’s beloved trafim were the shrunken heads of first-borns that, with the right incantations, could speak with psychic insight. Did Lavan and his ilk actually wait until a first-born man died of old age before making off with his head? I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound good.
Archeologists have dug up correspondence and declarations and other writings that shed light on the values of these cultures.
Princess and High Priestess or Snow White's Evil Stepmother?
In one long poem, a Sumerian princess and high priestess from Ur (around 2300 BCE) writes of her demotion and then later re-installment to her exalted position.
Far from mourning her spiritual descent and present inability to inspire others, she merely kvetches about her sudden lack of materialism: “Like the light of the rising moon, how she was sumptuously attired!”
(Yes, she also refers to herself in third-person at times.)
Humility is also not one of her virtues—“I am the brilliant high priestess of Nanna.”
She tries to convince her goddess by reminding her that the goddess “loves the good headdress befitting the office of En priestess.”
(Because everyone knows how important fashion is in lofty spiritual service.)
Then she flatters her goddess by reminding the goddess of how incredibly violent she is (“Be it known that you crush heads! Be it known that you devour corpses like a dog!”) and how much suffering the goddess can cause with stanzas like, “Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentations” and “Your malevolent anger is too great to cool.”
She also addresses the goddess at one point as “Aggressive wild cow, great daughter of Suen.”
Her boastful description of her occult service is also disturbing:
“Also, I erected a temple,
Where I inaugurated important events:
I set up an unshakeable throne!
I gave out dagger and sword to...(?),
Tambourine and drum to [men intimate with men](?),
I changed men into women!
Obviously, nothing good can come of this.
Why is changing men into women even the goal? What is that supposed to accomplish exactly?
(I hope this has also helped to discredit the highly vaunted notion that goddess-centered religions were more nurturing and pro-female and more appreciative of the feminine roles and female empowerment than Judaism. In Ancient Near East findings, the above was not the only example of disturbing goddess-worship led by females.)
Some Ancient Fatherly Advice
“Advice from an Akkadian Father to His Son” (2200 BCE) reads:
Do not marry a kadesha, whose husbands are legion, an Ishtar-woman who is dedicated to a god, a kulmashitu-woman. . . .When you have trouble, she will not support you, when you have a dispute she will be a mocker. There is no reverence or submissiveness in her. Even if she is powerful in the household, get rid of her, for she pricks up her ears for the footsteps of another.
(If you're a learned Jew, you probably recognize "kadesha" from Tanach. And I couldn't find out what a kulmashitu-woman was.)
This indicates that despite the glory polytheistic priestesses enjoyed, there was no real spirituality or self-improvement involved and they were actually despised by the surrounding society, contrary to the fantasies of Women's Studies professors.
An Egyptian Princess Writes Home
The correspondence of an Egyptian princess to her father callously complains about several inconveniences in her marital home, one of which is that the slaves he sent with her just upped and died, much as one might complain about a trinket breaking.
The Crazy Code of Hammurabi
The famous Code of Hammurabi (1754 BCE) accepts trial-by-water as equal to trial-by-court-judges (and in some cases, insists on trial-by-water as preferable to holding a trial).
The punishment for a man who strikes and kills a pregnant woman is the execution of his daughter, who had no part in the violent death of her father's pregnant victim and may have even opposed it.
Likewise, it calls for the execution of the son of a builder whose badly constructed building collapses and kills the owner’s child, and so on.
What’s very disturbing about this is that the Code was not a list of laws, as many people think.
It was more of a statement of ideals which was meant to appeal to the general populace and increase the king’s popularity, much the way today’s politicians will make promises and declarations not based on what they actually think, but on what will increase their popularity and votes.
So the above values were so prized by that society that the king encoded these values to maintain his popularity.
So the Code of Hammurabi actually represents the values of the average Babylonian, and not necessarily that of the king.
Hittites are Just Gross
Hittite Law called for execution if a man had relations with a pig or dog. But with a horse or mule, it was totally okay—no punishment, not even a fine.
The Assyrian Koran?
Assyrian Law was very similar to Sharia Law. Enough said.
Greek and Roman Culture
But suffice to say, Later, Greek and Roman myths featured tremendous cruelty and capriciousness among their gods.
And like other polytheistic societies, a strong tendency toward inane distractions, immorality and self-indulgences, and cruel gladiatorial events loomed over anything good the West feels it inherited from these cultures.
Africa and Oceania Today
In fact, travel warnings (both official and anecdotal) for both Africa (where animism is popular) and Papua New Guinea caution visitors against stopping to help an injured child or a pedestrian hit by a car even if it’s not your fault, even if you’re clearly just passing by and not involved at all. Just the act of involving yourself anoints you with an aura of accountability.
“Yes, it’s difficult witnessing a hit-and-run with a child lying there injured,” the anecdotal warnings read. “But your instinct to save that child’s life could put in you in danger with locals who may not perceive your altruistic behavior in the light to which you are accustomed.”
These places also tend to be rife with wars, domestic violence, and tribal clashes.
Islam: Is that a Sword or a Crescent Moon?
And Chazal predicts that Yishmael will eventually do teshuvah, may that day come soon.
But Islam is based on a moon-worshiping system (hence all those crescent moons that became swords upon their Islamization).
And that is why Islamic monotheism is often expressed in the way of ancient polytheists.
And Last But Not Least, Our Favorite Polytheists...
And true to their monotheistic aspirations, many of today’s Western Christians finally embody the values of mercy, charity, and forbearance they’ve always claimed to have.
I do credit Christians with leading the battle against abortion and non-traditional marriage, among other important battles. Also, many Christians saved Jews during the Shoah. I believe this is because that Christians end up reading Tanach too as part of what they consider to be their bible, and because their gospels ended up paraphrasing Jewish ideas at times, and thus the Christian reader can't help imbibing Torah values along with all the polytheism-derived ideas.
But until relatively recently in Christian history, many Christians were easy to incite into the worst acts of violence and treachery.
And even today, you can find groups that still commit immoral and harmful acts (cough, the Catholic Church, cough) and uphold wonky, weak values.
Not to mention the undercurrent of resentment and envy against Jews that many Christians secretly harbor.
The Torah: Right Again!
But it can't be denied that despite the West’s love affair with polytheistic belief systems and societies, the truth is that polytheistic societies have always sat on top of a dark underbelly of cruelty, excess, and sadism.
If God considered the system REALLY, REALLY BAD...then it just is.
And if you really look at what's going on within the polytheist societies and groups, you'll see just how bad it is.