An Ex-Orthodox Defender of Secularism Relies on a Leap of Faith of His Own

In a recent essay, William Deresiewicz—a former Orthodox Jew who claims that he “saw through the falsehood of faith . . . at the age of fifteen,” laments the effects of secularization on American society, and especially on the students and graduates of elite universities. Micah Mattix responds:

Secularism, “at its worst,” Deresiewicz writes, reduced everything to a commercial transaction, . . . “materialistic, individualistic, transactional, devoid of moral or spiritual content, hostile to ideas and ideals.”

But is this secularism at its worst—what would that mean exactly?—or secularism as secularism? What is the secular basis for not treating others like a pound of flesh? Deresiewicz is right, of course, that politics has become a religion, and he’s far from the first person to suggest so. But I’m curious as to why he is so convinced that secular humanism is true even though it “has not fulfilled the hopes that people had for it, and neither has secularism in any of its other manifestations.”

This is what he writes at the end of the essay, which has a religious ring to it: “No, secularism cannot reassure us that the universe is governed by a benevolent deity, or that the wicked will be punished and the good rewarded, or that our souls will be clasped after death in the bosom of Abraham. But in leaving us to our devices, it does something better, because it does something truer. It forces us into the search: for truth, for beauty, for justice.”

This seems rather close to claiming that secular humanism is true despite the evidence. It is true despite failing to give a coherent account of what is obviously a universal longing for transcendence, despite failing to provide any sort of definition for the very things Deresiewicz evokes here—truth, beauty, justice—as worthwhile objects of study, despite contributing to the decline of families and communities, and despite making many people much worse off (and, no, we don’t have secular humanism to thank for science).

Read more at Spectator

More about: American society, Decline of religion, Education, Secularism

Would an American-Backed UN Resolution Calling for a Temporary Ceasefire Undermine Israel?

Yesterday morning, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by Algeria, that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. As an alternative, the American delegation has been circulating a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” Benny Avni comments:

While the Israel Defense Force may be able to maintain its Gaza operations under that provision, the U.S.-proposed resolution also warns the military against proceeding with its plan to enter the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel says that a critical number of Hamas fighters are hiding inside tunnels and in civilian buildings at Rafah, surrounded by a number of the remaining 134 hostages.

In one paragraph, the text of the new American resolution says that the council “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In addition to the paragraph about Rafah, the American-proposed resolution is admonishing Israel not to create a buffer zone inside Gaza. Such a narrow zone, as wide as two miles, is seen by many Israelis as a future protection against infiltration from Gaza.

Perhaps, as Robert Satloff argues, the resolution isn’t intended to forestall an IDF operation in Rafah, but only—consistent with prior statements from the Biden administration—to demand that Israel come up with a plan to move civilians out of harms way before advancing on the city.

If that is so, the resolution wouldn’t change much if passed. But why is the U.S. proposing an alternative ceasefire resolution at all? Strategically, Washington has nothing to gain from stopping Israel, its ally, from achieving a complete victory over Hamas. Why not instead pass a resolution condemning Hamas (something the Security Council has not done), calling for the release of hostages, and demanding that Qatar and Iran stop providing the group with arms and funds? Better yet, demand that these two countries—along with Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon—arrest Hamas leaders on their territory.

Surely Russia would veto such a resolution, but still, why not go on the offensive, rather than trying to come up with another UN resolution aimed at restraining Israel?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship, United Nations