Thursday, March 13, 2014

Critical Thinking and The Atheist Jew


It is often said that common sense is all too uncommon today.  There may be some truth to that as stupidity and ignorance do not seem to be on the wane.  However, what I find equally disturbing is a lack of critical thinking, perhaps because there is no universal definition and the concept, like emotional intelligence is so abstract.  Regardless, a lack of critical thinking is harming our competitiveness, foreign policy, national security, and domestic tranquility.

So what is critical thinking?  According to Michael Scriven & Richard Paul of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. 

Growing up Jewish, I remember my Hebrew School teacher George Goldstein emphasizing that being Jewish means challenging everything, after all didn’t Abraham challenge God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac?  The cornerstone of the Passover Seder is the asking of the four question by the youngest children, inviting them to question tradition and the status quo.  In fact while everyone relates to the overbearing Jewish mother as the ubiquitous symbol of Judaism, the fact is Jewishness is best described by Gil Man as:

• Speak up when you see injustice!
• Do not be satisfied with the status quo!
• Honor a minority opinion!
• Stand up for what you believe in!

In contrast, Christianity is about faith and infallibility.  This is not a criticism of Christianity, but a condition of being a Jew, that is, the Atheist Jew to be exact who exists because of critical thinking.  To challenge popular opinion, the status quo, conventional wisdom, and other established thinking is the core of critical thinking.  Do you seek confirmation of an opinion?  Refuse to accept anything at face value?  Ask how or why?  I consider myself a critical thinker driven by data, self-reflection, observation, research, and conceptualization.  Reagan said “Trust but verify”, some are called reluctant optimists, skeptics, or doubting Thomas, but they all refuse to accept anything at face value. 

In business we talk about hi potential employees, our first assessment of a new employee is his or her resume, but what does that say about their ability to think critically.  I don’t believe it can be taught, it is inherent in our DNA, and through self-awareness, we experience an awakening and then suddenly the light goes on for us.  But to feel it, see it, and experience it is rewarding and daunting.  Knowing that you can never shut it off, the machine is indeed perpetual, ideas never stop flowing, and you cannot take anything for granted or at face value.  It can be draining while rewarding.

I love a lively debate and often enjoy the minority opinion as it makes me work harder.  I want future generations to challenge the status quo, I want them to not accept “because I said so”, I want them to ask why and how.  If common core can hone these synapses we have succeeded even if the curriculum is troubling and foreign to educators and parents.  I am out of my element when it comes to describing the clinical science behind critical thinking, but I know it when I see it and we need more of it.

Never stop seeking wisdom, never stop learning, become self-aware, never forget your past while take the reins of your future, and never go along to move along.  If I had children, that would be my gospel and my Talmud, it is my free thinking enlightened opinion.


  1. You wrote what is in my head. I could not have stated it better. We Jews have always listened, questioned, and spoken up for our beliefs. Too often we have been battered down for doing so. But we resolutely continue on. Perhaps it's in our DNA!

    1. Never again is more than a slogan. Speak up, rise up, and challenge the status quo. Thanks for the comment