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

Jan. 13 2022

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).

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Spectator

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

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism