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Religion Can Divide. Joking about It Can Help Unite.

Faith is absurd — let’s embrace the comedy in that.

Adam Mansbach: For me as a writer across all kinds of genres and disciplines, whether it’s screenwriting or literary fiction or obscene fake children’s books, humor is always one of the most important tools in my palette.

There are things that you can get people to come to the table on if you make them laugh that they’ll never sign on for if you don’t. It’s always a problem to be too pedantic, to hit people over the head, so things like satire and absurdity are both important ways to engage and start a conversation, and also fundamentally at this point critical ways to look at the world.

And I think all of those things are heightened when you’re dealing with faith because it’s so divisive, it’s so important to people, and at the same time feelings and tensions around it also run incredibly high.

So, for me, you know, with “Haggadah” in particular and some of the other work I’ve done in the past around faith, around Judaism, around religion as an identity and something that gets weaponized and something that people pick up and put down as they see fit and as they need to, you know.

The Jewish community, the Jewish faith is an interesting one because you can be Jewish without being religious. You can be Jewish without believing in anything. You find Jews who say shit like, “I’m Jewish, but I’m Buddhist.” Like Episcopalians don’t say shit like that. Do you know what I mean? 

For me as somebody who grew up culturally Jewish but in a very secular family and household and community, Judaism in particular has margins that are wide and very well-populated in the sense that there are many ways to be like alienated from the faith and yet not want to separate yourself entirely. 

And in my mind that’s really where all the good art comes from, is the margins of any community, the people who feel like they have one foot in and one foot out. The people who feel invested yet not entirely accepted, et cetera. 

When I look at the Jewish artists in particular that I connect with, who resonate with me, you know, I find folks like Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer. None of these people were like hardcore in the bosom of Judaism. They all felt that sense of marginality, of alienation, and that’s where the pain and thus the art come from.

So I think humor plays directly into that. You have to have a sense of humor about it. You have to explore the fissures and the ways in which faith is observed, the ways in which constructing any community on this arbitrary set of ancient principles that folks may or may not even invest in in the current day and age. There’s something hilarious about that. 

And the part of the Jewish tradition in particular that I connect with is the idea of arguing about everything incessantly forever, and the sensibility and the humor that have allowed folks to persevere through a lot of horrible shit throughout the centuries and maintain some grace in the face of all that. So for me ultimately Judaism comes down to the jokes.

 

With something as sensitive as faith, humor isn't just a handy way to bring people of various religions together, it's an essential tool for social cooperation. Adam Mansbach finds plenty to laugh about within Judaism, the faith he grew up in, and believes that being on the margins of that community provides an incredible vantage point to witness how modern people try to squeeze themselves into the mold of millennia-old faith doctrines. A lot of creative talent has come from that uncomfortable squish: Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Norman Mailer all had one foot in the faith and the other foot out. Mansbach is Jewish, but he's not you know, "Jewish". And that is another absurd duality that is unique to Judaism. You can be Jewish and Buddhist — but if you are, put on a light suit of armor, because the comedians are coming. Adam Mansbach's most recent book (co-authored with Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel) is For This We Left Egypt?.


Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

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