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When Is a Thought Crime Worse Than Murder?

 

Someone asked a question the other week that really got me thinking: is it possible that idol worship is worse than murder? The question seems ridiculous on its face – after all, we believe in Free Will and in the freedom to make one’s own mistakes, so why should worshipping idols be such a problem? But murder… murder is something uniquely and especially evil, snuffing out a life and all that it might yet achieve (not to mention the damage to the murderer). We all know that murder is a major crime, while people who have wrongheaded notions about Gaia or pantheistic tendencies are just harmless fools. … Right?

Actually, once the question was asked, I started thinking it through, and I came to the opposite conclusion: murder, as bad as it is, is not the worst crime. Idol worship is actually worse, and if you’ll keep reading, I’ll explain why.

All lives end. Everything that is alive now will be dead, sooner or later. Whether you want to say that death was created by Adam or by G-d, it is the central fact of life itself: we are mortal.

All we have to decide, as Gandalf said, is what to do with the time that is given us. And this is where idol worship becomes most dangerous, most insidious. Last week my future daughter in law @ishottheserif quoted Invictus: “I am the master of my fate.” And she is, because she believes herself to be so.

But the vast majority of people in the world, including in the United States, do not believe themselves to be the masters of their own fate. In primitive societies, the gods of nature rule all, with men as nothing more than leaves being tossed about in the storm. In neo-pagan science fiction ideas like “The Force” lead to thoughts of Destiny, of unavoidable fates, indelibly written in the scrolls. And, ever-present in our modern world, we have the twin Idols of Nature and Nurture, a false dichotomy if ever there was one, for deterministic predictors of a man’s future.

The culmination in America today is the cult of the victim: people who decide that the Master of their fate is their membership within an oppressed or wronged class. They outsource everything that happens to them, and in the stories of their lives, they are always the hapless passenger, never the driver.

When we outsource our lives, we willingly enslave ourselves and our futures to comfortable bromides and the kind of deliciously self-indulgent wallowing at which moody teenagers excel. There is a reason why the Torah takes it so seriously.

The failure to take responsibility for one’s own life is at the core of the classic Torah understanding of idol worship. And this is why the founding text of Western Civilization spends so much time and so much ink forbidding idol worship in all its forms, leaving murder to relatively few lines. After all, murder ultimately burns itself out as a practice in any civil society (or it is commonly practiced only by a few ruling elite). But idol worship is a debilitating disease of the mind, one that infects and spreads more effectively than any virus. Murder kills a few people, here and there. But a widespread epidemic of blaming other people for one’s own misfortunes can be the fatal rot in the pillars of civilization itself.

There are 71 comments.

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  1. Member

    iWe: Murder kills a few people, here and there. But a widespread epidemic of blaming other people for one’s own misfortunes can be the fatal rot in the pillars of civilization itself.

    Amen!

    • #1
    • February 13, 2018 at 4:43 am
    • 4 likes
  2. Member

    iWe, your posts never fail to make me think. This Christian appreciates your Torah insights.

    • #2
    • February 13, 2018 at 4:59 am
    • 9 likes
  3. Member

    Very good post.

    iWe: But the vast majority of people in the world, including in the United States, do not believe themselves to be the masters of their own fate.

    This should be the motto of the Democrat Party – it was certainly pushed by their false god Obama: You didn’t build that.

    iWe: But a widespread epidemic of blaming other people for one’s own misfortunes can be the fatal rot in the pillars of civilization itself.

    I’ll give a second Amen.

    • #3
    • February 13, 2018 at 5:04 am
    • 8 likes
  4. Member

    I would add a caveat that overweening self-confidence [pride, arrogance] can be another form of idol-worship.

    • #4
    • February 13, 2018 at 5:27 am
    • 5 likes
  5. Coolidge

    What is the first commandment?

    • #5
    • February 13, 2018 at 5:42 am
    • 1 like
  6. Contributor

    H.m.m.m… I may change my mind before this is over, but I still think that murder is a worse evil, but not just for the reasons you mention. Murdering someone corrupts the soul, especially if it is done with purpose. Does a person “idolize” a world-perspective that allows him or her to murder: pride, greed, anger, desires? Murder also destroys not only the individual killed, but future generations. And it also does horrible damage to those who survive.

    • #6
    • February 13, 2018 at 5:59 am
    • 7 likes
  7. Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    iWe: Murder kills a few people, here and there. But a widespread epidemic of blaming other people for one’s own misfortunes can be the fatal rot in the pillars of civilization itself.

    Amen!

    I appreciate this view and this post. I have arrived at a concern that seems to go even one step further than that described above relating to one’s own misfortune. In America we now have a condition where those who suffer no physical misfortune spend their time blaming those of similar physical status but with an emotional and mental mindset geared to encourage those who do yet suffer physical, emotional, and mental misfortune to strive to change that. We are loaded with individuals who have given up the recognition of individual responsibility while wallowing in their own self-gratification, indulgence, and satisfaction that, to me, seems to be the form of idol worship described here. That takes hold and gains favor with an indoctrinated populace of those suffering misfortunes because of the authority status accorded these elites who influence our governing bodies. It appears to be an easy path for life but it is destructive.

    • #7
    • February 13, 2018 at 6:33 am
    • 3 likes
  8. Inactive

    Do you think that the Torah can be an idol?

    • #8
    • February 13, 2018 at 7:17 am
    • 2 likes
  9. Inactive

    Idols are typically representatives of highest ideals and sometimes heroic people. Worship only belongs to God and to the extent that one can come closer to God through idols (or statues might be a better word) as reminders of what is Godlike to that extent they can be a good.

    This reminds me of how Swami Vivekananda handled this.

    During his pan-India wanderings, Swamiji arrived at Alwar in Rajputana, sometime in the year 1891 and met the Prince, Maharaja Mangal Singh.The Maharaja was very Westernized, and although a Hindu, had absolutely no faith in image worship. He made mention of his utter disbelief to Swamiji in a scoffing and sarcastic tone, adding that to his vision, they were mere clay or stone figurines. Swamiji tried to explain to him in many ways but to no avail. At last, Swamiji chanced upon a picture of the Maharaja adorning the wall and requested that it be handed over to him. He then commanded the prime minister and others to spit on it. Everyone was flabbergasted and refused to do his bidding. Even the Maharaja seemed to be shaken. Swamiji then said to the onlookers : “The Maharaja is not bodily present in the picture. This is only a piece of paper. It does not contain his bones, flesh and blood. It does not speak or move or behave as the Maharaja does; yet all of you refuse to spit on it, because you see in this picture the shadow of your Maharaja. By spitting on it, you feel that you are insulting the Maharaja himself.”

    • #9
    • February 13, 2018 at 7:27 am
    • Like
  10. Member

    iWe:Murder kills a few people, here and there. But a widespread epidemic of blaming other people for one’s own misfortunes can be the fatal rot in the pillars of civilization itself.

    Interesting post, and thought provoking, but I’m not sure I can get to the same conclusion. The person getting murdered is certainly not going to see it this way, at any rate. Of course it’s true we all die, but some of us have things to get done first. And after all, a murder victim actually has a very good reason for blaming someone else for their misfortune.

    I don’t mean to be too glib. I guess my point is that I’m not sure we truly are the masters of our fate. Not at all times, not in all situations. People sometimes have legitimate reasons for blaming others. Others often behave evilly toward their fellow man and their fellow man suffers because of it. I agree wallowing in victimhood is unhealthy. A widespread attitude of victimhood is certainly dangerous to civilization. But murder results in actual, true victimhood, and a true breakdown in civilization. I don’t see how that’s not far worse.

    I suppose it’s in the dosage. A little bit of murder vs. a widespread epidemic of blaming others is one thing – but surely a widespread epidemic of murder is far worse for civilization than a widespread epidemic of blaming others (or idol worship, for that matter). I would think a relative lack of murder is part of the definition of civilization, isn’t it?

    I may be missing something here.

    • #10
    • February 13, 2018 at 7:44 am
    • 6 likes
  11. Thatcher

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    iWe:Murder kills a few people, here and there. But a widespread epidemic of blaming other people for one’s own misfortunes can be the fatal rot in the pillars of civilization itself.

    Interesting post, and thought provoking, but I’m not sure I can get to the same conclusion. The person getting murdered is certainly not going to see it this way, at any rate. Of course it’s true we all die, but some of us have things to get done first. And after all, a murder victim actually has a very good reason for blaming someone else for their misfortune.

    I don’t mean to be too glib. I guess my point is that I’m not sure we truly are the masters of our fate. Not at all times, not in all situations. People sometimes have legitimate reasons for blaming others. Others often behave evilly toward their fellow man and their fellow man suffers because of it. I agree wallowing in victimhood is unhealthy. A widespread attitude of victimhood is certainly dangerous to civilization. But murder results in actual, true victimhood, and a true breakdown in civilization. I don’t see how that’s not far worse.

    I suppose it’s in the dosage. A little bit of murder vs. a widespread epidemic of blaming others is one thing – but surely a widespread epidemic of murder is far worse for civilization than a widespread epidemic of blaming others (or idol worship, for that matter). I would think a relative lack of murder is part of the definition of civilization, isn’t it?

    I may be missing something here.

    Not if it serves to separate people from God.

    • #11
    • February 13, 2018 at 7:47 am
    • 1 like
  12. Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    I suppose it’s in the dosage. A little bit of murder vs. a widespread epidemic of blaming others is one thing – but surely a widespread epidemic of murder is far worse for civilization than a widespread epidemic of blaming others (or idol worship, for that matter). I would think a relative lack of murder is part of the definition of civilization, isn’t it?

    I may be missing something here.

    Not if it serves to separate people from God.

    Fair enough, but doesn’t all sin separate people from God? Murder definitely separates people from God – the murderer for sure, but also the victim’s families and everyone who, after encountering it in any way, even if just seeing it constantly in the news says, “There must be no God, or else this would not be allowed to occur.” It may even encourage idol worship in many – sending grieving loved ones into substance abuse, astrology, and who knows what else just to try to make sense of things and avoid pain.

    I will admit this: idol worship and blaming others are certainly more difficult for a person to discern as things they are doing. Murder is fairly obvious; and therefore easier to avoid, which as I look at it again, was perhaps part of iWe’s point.

    Still, at the perspective of the individual, I can’t see how murder isn’t far worse.

    • #12
    • February 13, 2018 at 9:08 am
    • Like
  13. Thatcher

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    I suppose it’s in the dosage. A little bit of murder vs. a widespread epidemic of blaming others is one thing – but surely a widespread epidemic of murder is far worse for civilization than a widespread epidemic of blaming others (or idol worship, for that matter). I would think a relative lack of murder is part of the definition of civilization, isn’t it?

    I may be missing something here.

    Not if it serves to separate people from God.

    Fair enough, but doesn’t all sin separate people from God? Murder definitely separates people from God – the murderer for sure, but also the victim’s families and everyone who, after encountering it in any way, even if just seeing it constantly in the news says, “There must be no God, or else this would not be allowed to occur.” It may even encourage idol worship in many – sending grieving loved ones into substance abuse, astrology, and who knows what else just to try to make sense of things and avoid pain.

    I will admit this: idol worship and blaming others are certainly more difficult for a person to discern as things they are doing. Murder is fairly obvious; and therefore easier to avoid, which as I look at it again, was perhaps part of iWe’s point.

    Still, at the perspective of the individual, I can’t see how murder isn’t far worse.

    Yes, but the idol worshiper is turning his back, perhaps never to turn again, and may influence others to do the same.

    • #13
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:03 am
    • Like
  14. Member

    iWe: The culmination in America today is the cult of the victim: people who decide that the Master of their fate is their membership within an oppressed or wronged class. They outsource everything that happens to them, and in the stories of their lives, they are always the hapless passenger, never the driver.

    Yes, but . . .

    I think they are victims, but they are not victims of the people they’ve been told are victimizing them.

    We can see this phenomenon a lot in the Middle East. The oppressive tyrannical rulers screw up their own countries and then blame successful Israel for their people’s suffering. The Communists have always done this too: “You’re suffering because of the evil West.” Thieving or incompetent rulers always deflect the blame from themselves.

    The Democrats are doing this right now in the United States: It is their schools, primarily, that screwed up the life of the poor people in America, at least in my opinion. And now the Democrats are blaming white people for the Democrats’ failings.

    • #14
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:11 am
    • 4 likes
  15. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    Major Major Major Major (View Comment):
    I would add a caveat that overweening self-confidence [pride, arrogance] can be another form of idol-worship.

    The Torah wants us to have a relationship with G-d. Judaism does not have a problem with pride per sé, as long as we recognize that our talents are gifts from G-d, and we apply them for good.

    • #15
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:21 am
    • 4 likes
  16. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    H.m.m.m… I may change my mind before this is over, but I still think that murder is a worse evil, but not just for the reasons you mention. Murdering someone corrupts the soul, especially if it is done with purpose. Does a person “idolize” a world-perspective that allows him or her to murder: pride, greed, anger, desires? Murder also destroys not only the individual killed, but future generations. And it also does horrible damage to those who survive.

    All true. But murder is not “catching” in the sense that it does not necessarily corrupt an entire society in the same way as does a culture of victimhood. Besides, murder (at least) is often avenged, while wallowing in self-pity is affirmed by liberals everywhere.

    • #16
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:24 am
    • 2 likes
  17. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    Larry Koler (View Comment):
    Do you think that the Torah can be an idol?

    The word “Torah” means “Guide”. It tells us how to have a relationship with G-d and with each other. I do not believe that a person can have relationships that are too loving, too involved.

    • #17
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:26 am
    • 1 like
  18. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    I guess my point is that I’m not sure we truly are the masters of our fate. Not at all times, not in all situations. People sometimes have legitimate reasons for blaming others. Others often behave evilly toward their fellow man and their fellow man suffers because of it. I agree wallowing in victimhood is unhealthy. A widespread attitude of victimhood is certainly dangerous to civilization.

    It is amazing to me that there are those who came out of the Holocaust and the Gulag as better and stronger and more positive people. Those postwar survivors built so very, very much!

    But murder results in actual, true victimhood, and a true breakdown in civilization. I don’t see how that’s not far worse.

    Look at the Arab world, the continued insistence that Israel is the cause of all that ails them. Hundreds of millions of people who know they are not masters of their own fate… it is bad. And it leads to much higher murder rates (counting war, of course), than the most violent Judeo-christian society one could name.

    I suppose it’s in the dosage. A little bit of murder vs. a widespread epidemic of blaming others is one thing – but surely a widespread epidemic of murder is far worse for civilization than a widespread epidemic of blaming others (or idol worship, for that matter). I would think a relative lack of murder is part of the definition of civilization, isn’t it?

    Which is the symptom, and which is the disease? With the exception of strongmen dictatorships, murder is usually only the symptom of a failed society – but victimhood and hopeless lives is what causes failed societies.

    • #18
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:31 am
    • 3 likes
  19. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    MarciN (View Comment):
    We can see this phenomenon a lot in the Middle East. The oppressive tyrannical rulers screw up their own countries and then blame successful Israel for their people’s suffering. The Communists have always done this too: “You’re suffering because of the evil West.” Thieving or incompetent rulers always deflect the blame from themselves.

    The Democrats are doing this right now in the United States:

    Absolutely!

    • #19
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:32 am
    • 3 likes
  20. Inactive

    iWe (View Comment):

    Larry Koler (View Comment):
    Do you think that the Torah can be an idol?

    The word “Torah” means “Guide”. It tells us how to have a relationship with G-d and with each other. I do not believe that a person can have relationships that are too loving, too involved.

    My question remains unanswered. Can a person treat the Torah (or any scriptures) as an idol? Even the letters that make up Moses’ name can be seen as representing him and thus make his name and even he himself (Moses) an idol.

    Then the question goes to issues about what is meant by worship. In my example above, the picture of the Maharajah is not the Maharajah but it (the picture) is still revered by his subjects and admirers. Revering is not worship but it is a halfway measure between being able to spit on the picture (please note that the ownership of the picture was transferred to Vivekananda) and worshiping the picture itself. Does the picture represent the Maharajah? His subjects think it does and they can revere the picture sufficiently to not desecrate it and instead to hang it on their walls as a reminder.

    Worship is reserved for God.

    • #20
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:35 am
    • Like
  21. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    Larry Koler (View Comment):
    My question remains unanswered. Can a person treat the Torah (or any scriptures) as an idol? Even the letters that make up Moses’ name can be seen as representing him and thus make his name and even he himself (Moses) an idol.

    Ah, I understand better, thanks.

    We are quite wary of worship – for example at the Passover Seder, Moses is only mentioned one time, in part to ensure that we never confuse Moshe with G-d.

    Yes, Jews stand for the Torah – but we do NOT bow to it (or to anyone, actually). We stand as a sign of respect, but bowing is only for worship.

    • #21
    • February 13, 2018 at 10:55 am
    • 4 likes
  22. Contributor

    iWe (View Comment):
    We are quite wary of worship – for example at the Passover Seder, Moses is only mentioned one time, in part to ensure that we never confuse Moshe with G-d.

    I believe that we don’t know where Moses was buried, either. That was to discourage people from people seeking out his grave and “idolizing” him–just a little less!

    • #22
    • February 13, 2018 at 11:07 am
    • 5 likes
  23. Contributor

    iWe (View Comment):
    All true. But murder is not “catching” in the sense that it does not necessarily corrupt an entire society in the same way as does a culture of victimhood. Besides, murder (at least) is often avenged, while wallowing in self-pity is affirmed by liberals everywhere.

    This may not be the best argument for idol worship or a victimized society, but people can find their way back–the Jews have done it over and over again, although in general societies probably do not. Murder is pretty much a done deal.

    • #23
    • February 13, 2018 at 11:11 am
    • 1 like
  24. Reagan
    iWe Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    All true. But murder is not “catching” in the sense that it does not necessarily corrupt an entire society in the same way as does a culture of victimhood. Besides, murder (at least) is often avenged, while wallowing in self-pity is affirmed by liberals everywhere.

    This may not be the best argument for idol worship or a victimized society, but people can find their way back–the Jews have done it over and over again, although in general societies probably do not.

    That is the point: in order to come back, one must wrestle with oneself. It is not a comfortable experience to confront ourselves, but we are strengthened by a Torah that tells us all about this kind of experience (like Jacob’s wrestling match) as a gateway to personal growth.

    Murder is pretty much a done deal.

    Perhaps. Many people believe that souls are reincarnated, so that while bodies may be killed, souls get more opportunities at life. It is an unprovable assertion, of course, but we all know people who believe they are “old souls.”

    • #24
    • February 13, 2018 at 11:24 am
    • 4 likes
  25. Thatcher

    I’ve been in thought lately about the risks of “soul-murder” and “soul-suicide” we encounter and to which we’re willing to expose ourselves and others. Whether it’s the 24/7 news cycle, our quest for the material for its own sake, our efforts to numb the anxieties/pain of daily life, or making the choice to be overwhelmed by it all…Isn’t it all a desire to return to our own personal Egypt – whatever that may be, and however attractive it looks? Growing in faith, hope, and love takes work; work that we’re often afraid to do. Adopting the role of passive-aggressive victim allows having one’s cake and eating it…Thanks, as usual, @iwe, for inviting me to think out loud in pixels! (Really tangential question: When’s Purim?)

    • #25
    • February 13, 2018 at 2:38 pm
    • 2 likes
  26. Member

    I’m sorry, but I’m too tired and busy to read carefully and respond. Here’s a hopefully helpful quibble:

    iWe:

    . . . Nature and Nurture, a false dichotomy if ever there was one, for deterministic predictors of a man’s future.

    I think you mean a false dilemma, a premise saying we have to choose X or Y when we can choose neither. A false dichotomy is a premise saying we have to choose between X or Y when we can easily choose both.

    • #26
    • February 13, 2018 at 3:30 pm
    • 6 likes
  27. Coolidge

    With iWe’s recent posts, should we expect a post talking about the necessity of killing idolators?

    • #27
    • February 13, 2018 at 3:53 pm
    • 3 likes
  28. Contributor

    Yes, I believe in reincarnation, where the soul returns. But we could debate whether that is “Susan” returning. Murder stops me, in this incarnation, from reaching my goals as a servant of G-d, as Susan. Technically, our souls come back in another body, hopefully more realized than in our previous incarnation, but who knows? Is that “me” returning? (I like the idea of reincarnation because I figure if I can’t worked out all my bad karma, by being a better person in this life, I get another chance in my next life to get it right!)

    • #28
    • February 13, 2018 at 4:56 pm
    • 1 like
  29. Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    I’m sorry, but I’m too tired and busy to read carefully and respond. Here’s a hopefully helpful quibble:

    iWe:

    . . . Nature and Nurture, a false dichotomy if ever there was one, for deterministic predictors of a man’s future.

    I think you mean a false dilemma, a premise saying we have to choose X or Y when we can choose neither. A false dichotomy is a premise saying we have to choose between X or Y when we can easily choose both.

    I might be wrong, but

    It is not nature or nurture that makes our “fate” but what the individual DOES with the resources provided via nature and nurture.

    That is how we are the master of our fate: using nature and nurture, hopefully for good.

    So, while we might find it amazing that Holocost victims overcome the hideous grievance, and move far beyond that victim status, that would be a perfect example of being a master of your own fate: to make something beautiful and wonderful out of so much misery, hatred and death.

    I will stand corrected if I misunderstand.

    • #29
    • February 13, 2018 at 5:22 pm
    • 4 likes
  30. Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    It is an unprovable assertion, of course, but we all know people who believe they are “old souls.”

    More than those who probably are. 😜

    • #30
    • February 13, 2018 at 5:23 pm
    • 2 likes
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