The Atheist and the Rebbetzin Should Be Friends

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma, features a song that allows for a rollicking dance sequence even if it doesn’t do much for the plot. The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends  is a social commentary on the tension between ranchers and farmers in the early 1900s in Oklahoma Territory. The closing lines (after Aunt Eller stops the fighting by brandishing her gun), are:

“I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else,
But I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!”

I think it safe to say that well-known atheist Sam Harris and I (Rebbetzin means Rabbi’s wife) disagree on whether traditional Judeo-Christian morals and values are good for society or not. I think we agree, however, on allowing those with whom we disagree to present their case and the need to recognize that holding an opposing opinion does not automatically make one evil. In fact, having rational and respectful conversation is a wonderful way to refine one’s arguments, recognize flaws in one’s logic and potentially sway opinions. If you believe that your ideas have merit, there is no reason to fear such an exchange.

I know that Mr. Harris holds these views because my husband and I were in the car for an extended time this week giving us the opportunity to listen to a fascinating podcast. As a guest on the podcast Harris expresses serious concern about a society that is quick to marginalize and demonize ideas that don’t match the reigning ideology even when those ideas are based in science and fact. For that matter, in the desperate desire to shut them down, opposing ideas aren’t even necessarily presented accurately. He is one in a growing line of thoughtful liberals, including Professor Alan Dershowitz, who are waking up to discover that the ‘new and improved’ world they participated in creating, is dangerously retrogressive.

I hesitate to recommend listening to the interview which was episode #1107 on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast only because the host seems to have a limited vocabulary that repetitively features one vulgarity. The good news is that he allows his guests, Sam Harris and  Maajid Nawaz to do most of the talking. They are articulate men with fascinating experiences and while I know there are many areas where we disagree, we share a deep concern for the dogmatic silencing of dialogue taking place in the Western world today. An alliance between conservatives and the increasingly rare traditionally open-minded and thoughtful liberal is a friendship worth cultivating.

21 thoughts on “The Atheist and the Rebbetzin Should Be Friends”

  1. Brad Bookbinder

    I was surprised to read that you two were listening to the Joe Rogan Podcast. Curious, are you regular listeners or did Sam’s appearance prompt you to listen? It’s a crazy “coincidence” but I was actually going to write to you because I do listen somewhat regularly to Rogan’s podcast (when he has someone of substance on) but find it quite challenging to do so precisely because of the profanity you mentinoed he uses. Perhaps this edition of Susan’s Musing answers my question but I have to pointedly asks if you think it’s acceptable to continue listening to Rogan despite his incessant use of the F-Bomb and other expletives. I’ve had to stop listening numerous times because I simply cannot take the foul language despite the guest being someone of substance. Curious to hear both of your thoughts.

    And perhaps Rabbi Lapin could be a guest on the JRE? Rogan does make it a point to say how open minded he is, although I’ve yet to see him have an articulate religious (not spiritual) person on the show. Thanks for your time.

    1. Brad, the interview with Sam Harris was the first time we listened to that podcast. Our attention was drawn by Sam Harris’ name. I can’t speak for my husband but the name Joe Rogan meant nothing to me. After I wrote about it a number of people emailed me saying, “This was also a really interesting interview,” recommending different ones. Your question is a tough one. I think there is a problem with listening to something trying to ignore the profanity because, aside from it being unpleasant, it automatically and inevitably desensitizes you to that language. On the other hand it sounds like he does have substantive guests, interesting discussions and raises worthwhile topics. Maybe if enough people write in asking him to make a ‘bleeped’ edition, he would do that? NPR does that for its podcast though I think you have to listen to the bleeped edition on a computer.


    Dear Miss Susan, It has been a couple of weeks since I have responded to you Musings and the Thought Tools from your esteemed husband. My Susan fell and suffered a severe tear of her rotator cuff which involved surgery and a lot of recovery and I have been busy taking care of her. ( I have reaffirmed I would not want to be a housewife.)
    I think that a basic problem with persons of differing opinions is that each side is afraid to hear the views of the other side enunciated because they do not have the knowledge and maturity to handle disagreement. By listening, they are afraid that the other side will make goods points and begin to crack the foundation of their core beliefs. We have forgotten the basics of good debate, To have a position, to present that position, and to listed to the opponents state their point of view. Debate must be based on good facts, not the unresearched drivel put out by extremist on either side.
    The vindictive of the far right in opposing the former president’s agenda, reaching into false claims of his non citizenship, the irrational fear mongering that he would not leave office but would declare, somehow a dictatorship, the “New World Order” brought about by a convention of atheists and ultra liberals.The far left that wants to “kill babies”, talk guns away, support socialism and that archaic form of government, communism. The left wants to believe that white christians, especially males are raciest, cave men who want to hold the world back and destroy all that is good in society. Everything the left disagrees with is either hate speech or racism. Neither side can construct a reasonable argument, and so they fall back on the old shout down anything you don’t agree with because like spoiled children, the louder you shout and whine and cry, the more likely the parents would give in.
    I was taught that the way I react to other people is a reflection of who I am, not who they are. In School we would be assigned a question to debate or to prepare an essay and the point of view to be supported was assigned. Often the teacher require students to support sides she knew was against the students beliefs. From that I learned that there was value in all messages. Shouting does not mean truth.
    I found along the way as a parent, that the way to get a child attention was not to shout at the child, but to lower your voice, whisper the message, and the child would quiet down to hear what you were saying. A calm child is a blessing.
    Again too long but heartfelt.
    Fair winds and safe harbors to you and the Rabbi.
    Bill Brower

    1. Please wish your Susan a complete recovery. Glad to have you back with your reasoned and true comment.

  3. Our unique American experiment encompasses many ideals. Key amongst them is the free exchange of ideas. Without this open dialog, America would have been still-born. Today’s regressives have closed their minds(?) and made every effort to stifle other opinions. Many times even the objective truth has been branded as “hate speech”. If we are to “make America great again”, we must return to civil behavior and engage in earnest dialectic.

    PS -So…it isn’t just me! Alan Dershowitz is making sense. Life is full of surprises. Take care, Gordy.

  4. I began to have an appreciation for listening to opposing viewpoints growing up. My grandfather was largely self-educated, having finished formal schooling at 8th grade. But he read widely on politics and was an avid news listener back in the days of Huntley and Brinkley.

    We lived in a small town and one never knew who would be coming to dinner; but one always knew the subject of dinner time conversation would be current events, most particularly politics. Needless to say conversations were always lively. I do not, however, remember anyone shouting or using inappropriate invective because someone didn’t agree with another’s viewpoint. As we grew older, the grandchildren were not left out of the dinner time conversation.

    Having experienced this from a young age, I have developed a deep love of freedom of speech and I have never been really comfortable with the whole idea of political correctness in the sense of accepting certain norms because the crowd believed they were right. I, too, grew up with Voltaire’s maxim ringing in my ears and in my mind.

    Thinking about all this, I have reached the conclusion that much of today’s civil barbarism probably traces back to the failure of families to spend time together on a regular basis engaged in inter generational conversation. My recommendation—Parents, require your children to shut down and put away their video games, cell phones, and iPads during meals. Discuss what is happening in the wider world with them. Find out what they think. And don’t yell at them if you find out their viewpoint is different from yours but explore with them why they differ and, above all, keep your cool. When they leave your front door, you will more likely hear good things about their ability to think about what they think and the values they hold as well as their willingness to listen to other’s with differing values without needing a safe space.

    1. What an interesting point, Joyce. I agree with you that parents have so much power at the dinner table to educate their children and expose them to thinking. What a mistake if people leave it up to schools that are increasingly into indoctrination rather than thinking. Studies show that many college students have no ability to think logically or formulate a coherent argument.

  5. Adriana Ansaldi

    Yes Susan, we need to bring back to Colleges something called “independent thinking”. I listened to different groups and especially the youngsters that have been in a California College, they are repeating speeches as in a way of a formula, I don’t think that they have give it much thought, just to get along a d follow the mindset. I happily discover that once you start to question them about their beliefs, the most don’t have a clue, and mainly when you apply common sense, logic and feelings, (yes, feelings, you have to speak in their own language) but with a twist, the most of them come to their senses.
    Also I realized that we need to talk in a way the youngsters may relate and in a conciliatory way.
    The company of my husband is setting training to understand the Millenians, they don’t value money as we did, and they’re not so liberals as you would believe.
    Always a pleasure to read your posts and of course we have learned so much with Ravi Lapin.

    1. Adriana, I would love to hear more about the training in your husband’s company. You are absolutely correct that one needs to learn to talk in language that appeals to the people you are trying to reach and today that means feeling.

  6. In your Musing I hear echoes of good old Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it (or words to that effect).’ Unfortunately and catastrophically, the Left in America is not interested in open dialogue. Instead they are hell-bent on stamping out all opinion that does not coincide with their Party Line. The first step is name-calling: to label dissenting opinions as ‘hate speech.’ Indeed, we need some liberals to wake up and confront the uncontrolled Frankenstein they have helped create: the ‘new and improved’ world that leads to totalitarian Nimrod.

    1. James, that’s exactly what Sam Harris and the other guest are talking about. Sam got “mugged by reality” when he became the target of an attack for crossing an ideological line by talking to someone branded as evil, even though he wasn’t. He isn’t going to become a Bible-believing conservative, but he is standing up for what is right and saying that it has to apply across the board not only to those with whom you agree. I think you will like this podcast.

    2. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear James,
      a quote often attributed to Voltaire has the old Frenchman predicting that the Bible will soon be extinct. He would, if he returned to earth, be flabbergasted by how vibrant and vital Biblical culture is and how the liberal left has turned tyrannical.

      1. Dear Rabbi, Voltaire would also be surprised that his home is now the office of a Bible society. And some people don’t think God has a sense of humor!

  7. Challengingly, I live in just the opposite part of US, I call it ‘Fundamentalist’ land, where I am judged by my Tie Die shirts and the Star of David around my neck. Living right across from a Beth Israel Synagogue, when WE first moved here I met the Rabbi then, and told him ‘The FIRST CROSS I see burning on their lawn, I will shot to kill.’
    Sooo funny though when I stop and change a tire or get gas for a stranded family etc the judgement goes out the window.
    I continue to find ‘Conservitives just as guilty as liberals……to me it appears as polar opposites of the same thing ‘GREED’, rather than reaching out and HELPING……
    PS-Big HUGS 2u and tell my RABBI ‘Howdy’.
    PPS- My own vulgarity has shrunk GR8ly since listening to your CD, WORTH EVERY NICKLE…..

    1. Carl, when we are talking about individuals I think it is (sadly) easy to find close-minded bigots on both sides of the ideological spectrum. The point that Harris makes however, is that Twitter, Google, Facebook and YouTube are increasingly only allowing one message to be sent. In today’s day and age there isn’t an equivalent power source on the Far-right. Add universities and Hollywood to that and at this moment in history the danger is more on one side than the other.
      The type of prejudice to which you are referring used to be mellowed and ended by exposure to college, the army etc. That isn’t happening anymore.

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