If you’re my age, you might remember Mayim Bialik as the star of the 1990s television show “Blossom.” Now, I’m told, she plays the role of a neuroscientist on another t.v. show I haven’t watched, “The Big Bang Theory.” But she really is trained in neuroscience: she got her Ph.D. in that field from UCLA, though she doesn’t currently do research or have an academic career. She continues to act, write books, and run her website Grok Nation.
Bialik is clearly a smart, high-achieving woman, but she’s also an accommodationist (she’s a “neo-Orthodox” Jew). In this short video, she explains how she reconciles her penchant for science with her faith:
Putting aside the question about whether someone with a Ph.D. who doesn’t do science is really a “scientist” (I no longer call myself a scientist, but an ex-scientist who sings with the choir invisible), this is still problematic—as all accommodationism is. For one thing, her “god” isn’t really a god in the sense that nearly every American accepts. She says that God is the “Force in the universe that drives all the phenomena that we experience as human beings. God is gravity, and God is centrifugal force, and God is the answer to why everything is the way it is in the natural world.”
That sound pretty much like pantheism, and she admits it. But then one could call anything that moves you “god.” I could say that movies and literature—and wild animals—are “god”. Why can’t we just ditch the “god” term, which, after all, just enables and buttresses those who accept a personal, anthropomorphic god who imposes a code of morality on people, and fosters division and rancor?
Bialik goes further, conflating the divine with the spiritual, saying that her conception of God gives her “grtaitude and humility” for being part of nature—permitting her a spiritual connection that “brings her to her knees.” She considers her ability to think, reason, love, and create as “divine,” which again conflates awe before the power of culture and natural selection with “God.” Although Bialik’s form of religion—if you can call it that—is a brand I have little beef with, she’s still giving solace to all those, like Elaine Ecklund, who fold the “spiritual” folk in with the truly religious folk, all in the service of osculating the rump of faith.
Perhaps it’s time to ditch the s-word as well, and instead of saying “spiritual,” which floats around the borders of the numinous, just say that we’re filled with awe, or we’re emotional.
At the end, Bialik claims that her Judaism helps her—helps her understand her “inner world” in a way that can’t be quantified by science, to attain mental discipline, think hard about her decisions, and meditate. (She also claims it helps her by making her eat special foods, presumably kosher, but I for one appreciate a good pork chop, and wouldn’t like to have meals which can’t contain both meat and dairy.) If going to shul does that for her, good for her. But I don’t understand why secular humanism can’t foster the same thing. You can attain that same kind of mindset through reading philosophy and talking with others. You don’t need the trappings of a faith.
I simply find it too convenient to say that your religion helps you accomplish x, y, and z, but then when you ask, “But what about the God stuff, and the morality?”, answer, like Bialik, “Oh, I don’t believe any of that stuff.” If that’s the way you feel, you’re not really religious at all. So when Bialik says at the end, “It’s okay for smart people to believe in religion”, I respond, “No it isn’t.” For her religion is five standard deviations below the religion of most Americans, yet she justifies and excuses the huge bulk of the curve: those whose religion involves a personal God with a moral code and the ability to send you to heaven or hell.
Ask yourself this: why did she make this video in the first place?