Technically Religious
S03E02: Hokey Religions

S03E02: Hokey Religions

February 23, 2021


"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side"

- Han Solo


The way religion is portrayed in sci-fi is sometimes the worst of straw men. Just a few examples include Good Omens, American Gods, Raised By Wolves, and the entire concept of "The Force" in the Star Wars universe.


These aren't religions. They're crayon sketches of a religion drawn by someone with only a passing knowledge of (or deep experience with) an actual religion. They're pediatric theology canonized into a sci-fi framework meant from the start to highlight a pre-conceived set of flaws.


As geeks, our (valid) enjoyment of the sci fi story unwittingly undermines our potential enjoyment of religion and religious experiences. But, as RELIGIOUS geeks, we now have to overcome this perception of religions being completely illogical, appealing to the small of mind and weak of intellect.


BUT… as IT folks with a strong connection to an organized faith system, we also have the opportunity to point out these flaws and help others see them as such. We don’t need to re-write the Bene Gesseri order any more than we need to make the magic of Harry Potter adhere to the laws of physics. But by engaging our fellow nerds on the subject, we can encourage them to more critically assess the story’s (and therefore their own) pre-conceived notions.


Listen or read the transcript below.

Speaker 1 (00:23):
Leon Adato (00:32):
Welcome to our podcast, where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate it, we're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways. We make our careers, IT professionals mesh, or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is technically religious. The way religion is often portrayed in Sci-fi can be the worst of straw-men often. It seems like their crayon sketches of religion drawn by someone with very little knowledge of an actual religion. Pediatric theology canonized into sci-fi framework meant from the start to highlight a preconceived set of flaws. Does our enjoyment as geeks and as Sci-Fi aficionados of these stories, unwittingly undermine our potential enjoyment of religion and religious experiences, or as IT folks with strong, with a strong connection to an organized faith system, do we have an opportunity to point out these flaws and help others see them as such and possibly help them build an appreciation of real religion in the process I'm Leon Adato, and I'd like to welcome two new voices to the technically religious Pantheon. First up is Justin Dearing.
Justin Dearing (01:40):
Leon Adato (01:41):
And next up is Jason Carrier.
Jason Carrier (01:43):
Great to be here.
Leon Adato (01:44):
Okay. So as is our want here at technically religious, we're going to start off with some shameless self promotion of guests and, uh, everything that you're doing. Uh, Justin, why don't you start us off, tell us who you are and a little bit about yourself.
Justin Dearing (01:57):
So I'm Justin during I am a senior consultant at Neudesic, I'm basically a developer who, uh, actually liked writing SQL, uh, Zippy1981, I am Zippy1981 on the Twitters, uh, because I am old, not quite as old as Leon, uh, and, uh, I identify as Roman Catholic.
New Speaker (02:17):
Very Good. Okay. How about you, Jason?
Jason Carrier (02:20):
Hi, my name is Jason carrier. I'm a product manager at SolarWinds, and also a freelance product consultant. Uh, you can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn. All the other social medias, are pretty worthless personally. Um, on Twitter, I am network_carrier and LinkedIn. You can just look me up by my name, and I would consider myself a self-styled Buddhist.
Leon Adato (02:40):
Fantastic. All right. And wrapping, circling back. I am Leon Adato. I'm a head geek. Yes, that's actually my job title at Solarwinds, It's not solar or wind because naming things is hard. Apparently you can find me on the Twitters, which I say just to horrify Keith Townsend's daughter, uh, you can find me there @leonadato. You can also find me pontificating on things, both technical and religious, And I identify as an Orthodox Jew and sometimes my rabbi lets me do so. Um, so I want to dive into this conversation, uh, starting off, you know, from the premise, is, is that really what you think? And what I mean by that is that when I'm watching certain shows and I'm specifically thinking about things like, um, certainly anything by Neil Gaiman, American gods, good omens. I really desperately hope that Neil Gaiman doesn't think that's what we religious people think. You know, as far as what religion is, I just, I, I categorize it all. Or most of it as what I call pediatric theology. What I mean by that is somebody who is a grown-up. They might have an engineering degree. They understand how load bearing walls and weight works and things like that, but their religious education stopped in third grade and therefore they find themselves arguing, "thats stupid. You can't fit that many animals in a boat, there would never be able to"...., which is ridiculous. Not just because the question itself is a little bit weird, but also because there are thousands of years of commentary, from, you know, all the way back to the middle ages, where they said just all the birds I know about wouldn't fit on a boat that size, of course, those dimensions don't work. Obviously there's something else we're talking about here. My point being that somebody's, will say real world physical education has proceeded into their adulthood, but their religious education stopped in second grade and never went any further, but they're still trying to argue religion using that understanding. It seems like there's, that's part of what scifi is trying to do. I don't know what you think about it.
Jason Carrier (04:52):
I was gonna say, I think it's important to start with, uh, the, the differences between what is a religion, what's your worldview and, uh, kind of your, your attitude towards spirituality. Those things are kind of three distinct, um, uh, characteristics. So I would define them, I think it's important for our conversation to go through define those words. Right. And what do we mean by those? So to me, religion is, uh, all that set of, uh, kind of, uh, uh, habits that you go through and, and, you know, the different ceremonies, the, the different, uh, um, holidays that you have, that kind of thing, that's the religion, but then the worldview is, is kind of, how do you think that reality works, you know, uh, is, is there, uh, uh, planets going around the sun or is the sun going around the planets? You know, that kind of thing. That's kind of overall worldview, and then there's also the, the elements of spirituality is how do you think the, the unseen works, you know, is there something working behind the scenes? How does that work? Is it, is it karma? Is it heaven? Is it, hell, is it, you know, what's, what's the paradigm of the unseen that you ascribe to?
Leon Adato (05:48):
Got it, Justin, any, like what you, what's your take on that?
Justin Dearing (05:53):
Okay. I think, I think Jason's raising good points, but I think another thing to keep in mind is, you know, some people Who actually are, you know, perfect their religion and do try to be spiritual, also do have these, this pediatric theology, you know, they, they believe it all the animals on the boat, not just because there are fundamentals or wherever they, they just haven't really liked delved deep into it at all.
New Speaker (06:13):
Justin Dearing (06:13):
You know,
Leon Adato (06:14):
That was.
Justin Dearing (06:14):
And their religious.
Leon Adato (06:14):
That was what they learned. And it was good enough for them in the same way that some people stop learning math, when they can balance their checkbook. And some people stop even before that. And think that it's okay just to take what the bank statement says as Gospel truth. So, right. I think that's true. And circling it back to Sci-Fi, I think the challenge with religion as it's portrayed in Sci-Fi and fantasy, is that I think it does a disservice to the consumer, to, to the reader, um, in the sense that first of all, I always think that a richer, more, uh, more detailed world makes for a better story. So when you give religion in your story, short shrift, you are giving the story short shrift in a way. Um, also I think that a lot of scifi and fantasy writers find religion, this, this straw man, religion to be a really good antagonist, but if you start really fleshing out the religion, it stops being as good an antagonist. You know, when you start to understand that there are reasons and, and background and, and underpinnings suddenly it's not this, you know, totalitarian authoritarian regime, instituting the religious will of the, like, you know, that kind of like you can't do that once you recognize that there's a, you know, 4 or 5,000 year history behind it. I don't know.
Jason Carrier (07:39):
And then the fun part there is which part of the four or 5,000 year history are you going to represent in your, your characterization of the religion? Because that's kind of what they're doing in Sci-fi in a lot of ways is characterizing religions. It's definitely a reductionist view of it, but, uh, I would argue that there's still value necessarily to that reductionist view. Uh, you don't necessarily need a story to be true in order to derive some value from it. You can kind of get the lesson from it and apply that lesson in your present moment to make a better decision. Uh, you know, uh, maybe it's a value judgment of what's good, what's bad, bad that you could draw from star Wars, for example, and, and see, uh, you know, only the Sith deal in absolutes. So, you know, as a, a person in the world, I'm not going to deal in absolutes either. Cause I don't want to be like the Sith brick. That'd be a really simplistic example. You know,
Leon Adato (08:23):
Don't be like the Sith Bobby.
Justin Dearing (08:27):
But I want lightning,
Leon Adato (08:29):
Justin Dearing (08:31):
Keep my kids in line.
Leon Adato (08:32):
Right, right. That would definitely okay. First of all, I've seen you do enough home home, uh, you know, home repair videos that you have lightning when you need it, you certainly have enough, um fire power in your garage to do that, but that's a whole other conversation. Um, okay. I, I see what you're saying. I think that the damage, the potential damage is that for people who are consuming, um, fantasy, and Sci-fi where religion is again, poorly represented there, the risk is that they will turn to the real religion in their lives in the world, and they will, they will draw equivalency. They will say the Catholic church is, stupid in the same way that, um, what was that movie with the gun kata? And, uh, it, it was another one of those dystopian movies where the church ran everything and everyone took it their happy pill to, you know, not be angry and stay calm all the time.
Jason Carrier (09:38):
Oh, with Keanu Reeves, what?
Leon Adato (09:40):
Jason Carrier (09:40):
With Keanu Reeves? I don't remember the name of it, but it was
Leon Adato (09:42):
No, no, it wasn't Keanu it, wasn't Keanu Reeves. I'm trying to remember who even stared in it. But anyway, it's not important. I, if I can find it, I'll put it in the show notes after. Um, but the point is, is that, um, religion was the opiate of the masses. It was that sort of line. And, um, you know, the people who were calm had found a sort of inner strength and, um, it wasn't that it wasn't, that religion was good. It was that religion had been, subverted to become the means of control, and I think that people go in, you know, seeing a story like that, and then, going to church or going to synagogue or whatever, may bristle, especially again, going back to the pediatric theology, if you don't know any more than what you learned in second grade, it's really easy then to see the evil empire, you know, in taking communion or something like that. I mean, you know, like it just, it leads to really bad, um, it leads to really bad sort of mental jumps, which drive people away from a religion where they might find some fulfillment if they had taken the time to maybe learn more. I guess that's, that's really my, my, my concern about it.
Jason Carrier (10:54):
I can definitely see your point. I think it's two sides to the same coin. There's, there's good things that can happen and there's bad things that can happen. Right. And it's, it's all devil's in the details kind of differences, you know, how well is the story told and when is that parable being applied into what situation? Right. So, so the outcome isn't going to always be good or always be bad, you know, which kind of goes back to the whole only the deal sift deal in absolutes. Right. And it's only gonna, it's, it's gonna really depend on all the variables of your, your situation. Right.
Leon Adato (11:21):
Got it, I like the ok.
Jason Carrier (11:23):
the movie that were talking about, I think is equilibrium.
Leon Adato (11:25):
Jason Carrier (11:25):
With Christian bale.
Leon Adato (11:27):
Jason Carrier (11:27):
There we go.
Leon Adato (11:28):
That's it. Okay. Thank you. Oh, my, my, my Googler on the side. Fantastic. Um, I want to pick up on some of.
Jason Carrier (11:36):
Google Fu is important.
Leon Adato (11:36):
that Jason that you mentioned earlier, which was the reductionism. And, and so that takes us to the second sort of major talking point in this, uh, particular episode, which is what I'm calling reductionism on parade, you know, where are there examples where, uh, a religion has been reduced, possibly past its, it's, worth, worthiness? Um, and the two examples that I've got, um, first is Orson Scott Cards, uh, seventh son series. This was a series that he clearly wrote, to try to provide a fantasy structure to, um, Mormonism in the same way. And this is my other example, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, is a fantasy structure to, uh, Christianity overall. Um, so the seventh son series has a primary pro you know, protagonist named John Smith.
Leon Adato (12:27):
And, uh, he is a maker, a seventh son of a seventh son. And all along the, the series, you end up with things like a golden plow head that has self will and wants to plow dirt, but only the right kind of dirt. And you have the foundations of a crystal city that is made out of crystallized water, and you have all sorts of other things. You know, you have these Allan elements of Mormon. I'm going to say mythology. I don't mean it as myth. I mean, it just as the, the underlying structure of the Mormon religion. So you have that, but it does a disservice, I think, to Mormonism overall, um, because it doesn't do a good job of telling the, the story of the seventh son. And it also doesn't do a good job of telling the story Mormonism. And that takes me the other example I have, which is a language in the order of which I have affectionately or, or, um, uh, in an annoyed voice called Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, um, blunt force Catholic trauma, because it's just this, like, you know, you're reading the story and all of a sudden, you're, you know, there's this mace coming from off the side that bashes you over the head, whang!! Look at, you know, Aslan is Jesus! Whang!!. Look, it's Mary! Whang. He died on the cross! Whang!! Like, you know, it's like I get it, I get it. And it ends up being a really bad story, fantasy story. And really, I feel not a particularly wonderful introduction to, you know, Christian ideals. I don't know. I, you know, I, I may not be the best judge of it though.
Justin Dearing (13:59):
I, I mean, I, I will say I had a roommate in college who, whose, uh, father was a director of religious education in the Catholic church. And he was, uh, he, he did not, um, he, he, he did not stick with Catholicism and he very much agreed with your assessment. And I would say even like, I, I do agree that it is very, uh, heavy handed, um, Christianity, but it is a children's book. And like, part of that is like, when I read Tolkien as a kid, I kind of knew there was some kind of like Christian algri in there, but, you know, I think it was more obvious, um, you know, with, and I guess maybe from it, it was meant to be childlike and pediatric because, um, you know, there, there was a tweet, I think that the best summarize it, you know, we're, you know, CS Lewis would be like, Oh, and now the, the Norse, you know, the Norse god of war and, and, and Santa Claus are gonna join the battle and Tolkien, it's like, here's this ax, it's 2000 years old. I'm gonna tell you the entire history of um and were just going to, That's just the axe he has, you know,
Leon Adato (14:56):
Right Oh, oh, is the ax, is the, is the ax Protestantism? No, it's, it's an ax. It's right. I actually, you know, having read, um, Tolkien, you know, Hobbit and Lord of the rings and things like that multiple times, I, I know that Tolkien had a religious point of view, I, I don't feel it. I certainly don't feel it as aggressively as Lion the Witch and the wardrobe and you're right. It is a children's story. So I, I, can't always, that's the reverse of pediatric theology where you come to a children's story and you say, well, that's ridiculous. The, you know, the gingerbread man could never walk. I mean, he's made of gingerbread. Where would his sinews be where it is? Okay. You're overthinking it Leon and you're really, really overthinking it. So, you know, there's that too. But, um, I, I didn't get the religious overlay in Tolkien as sir, as much as I get in, in certainly other things. Um, okay. So what are some other examples of, you know, reductionism and you know, why or why not?
Jason Carrier (15:58):
So, uh, one of the, one of the ones that I would look at is, uh, in Game of Thrones, for example, they, they kind of have in the, the, the old school world, that's their a sort of a, a parallel to the pagan religions of, of earth, and then in their new, uh, religion, that that's the more predominant in the, uh, kind of series where they're talking about, uh, the mother and the father, and, you know, uh, kind of, uh, those sort of, uh, uh, tropes, uh, sort of speak more to a Christian, uh, mythos a little bit, uh, and the the play between those two, I thought it was pretty well woven into the story, uh, sort of how the, the, the older folks, uh, would, would remember kind of the old gods that were more based on trees and, you know, fairies and that kind of thing, uh, paralleling the Paragon, uh, the, the, uh, pagan religions, and then the newer ones were kind of looking more like the, the Christian type, uh, Deities.
Leon Adato (16:48):
Got it. So before we go to the other side of reductionism, you know, where we think that Sci-Fi stories have, and fantasy stories have gotten it right, I want to take a stop. Jason, when we were prepping for this, you said something really interesting, about sometimes, what I'm calling the void can fill the void, meaning space and Sci-Fi and fantasy, the void, you know, can fill a void, the lack of religion in people's lives. And I wanted you to sort of expand on that for a minute.
Jason Carrier (17:16):
Sure. So, uh, particularly in, in, uh, America, I want to say it's like 30%, 35% right in there. Folks don't even go to church. They don't have any sort of, uh, religious view. So that's not to say that they're agnostic or atheist, but in a lot of cases, they just don't have an opinion. You know, it's not something that they consider. So, uh, seeing a way to, I think there's value in, in Sci-Fi in, in how, uh, religious philosophy is sort of characterized in there, for the uninformed, because it sort of helps to give them, uh, some level of exposure there. Uh, and I know that's a different perspective than the one that you're coming. And I think that the, the important thing to recognize there is the perspective that you're coming from is a well-educated, uh, Jewish person, right? So someone who really understands the ins and outs of that faith, uh, relative to, uh, uh, the uninitiated, you know, so that uninitiated person, um, can really get a lot of value from the parable nature of the Sci-Fi that's or of the religion that's represented in. Sci-Fi
Leon Adato (18:14):
Got it. So that would speak more to like the spirituality of that you were talking about earlier that, that Sci-Fi, I'm, I'm using air quotes here, Sci-Fi quote, unquote, religion, but the, the philosophy of it could fill in terms of a, a more, a set of morals or the idea that you, you should have a set of morals. You should have a set of ways to determine difficult ethical questions. You should think about these things beyond their immediate. It that's what I'm hearing.
Jason Carrier (18:45):
Yeah. So, so essentially the, the Sci-Fi can drive them to think through those problems, whereas maybe they wouldn't have before. So considering those moral paradoxes and, uh, coming up with their own sense of morality off the example that they're seeing in the screen or book.
Justin Dearing (19:00):
Yeah. And I think if, if, if you, whatever were rejected Christianity or whatever, and you were, you were not given a framework when that what you could, you could be a good person because of what, because of the failing of the religion that brought you up, or you just, weren't brought up with one and you end up watch star Trek, and then you decide to become a youth minister, a transhumanist, you know, you sit there and, you know, you could go really deep into kind of some of the underpinning philosophies and, and, you know, there, there are some values, there are things I don't agree with, but there's a solid, uh, you know, philosophical and spiritual thing there for you to go out
Leon Adato (19:35):
In the absence of anything else. It certainly, I think can serve a purpose. Uh, Jason, I didn't mean to cut you off.
Jason Carrier (19:41):
Oh I was just going to say, uh, captain Picard is a good leader, whether you believe the Klingons are real or not.
Leon Adato (19:47):
Okay. Fair. And, and I have been known to use the question of whether uh, Darth Vader truly repented, or not as part of a, uh, Jewish context, uh, conversation. It was more whether or not Darth Vader performed, what would be Halachically or Jewish in the Jewish religious structure, whether he really performed, um, true repentance or not based on that structure. So we're still back to the structure, dogmatic, you know, thing, and whether or not the Sci-Fi character could have done it. So it certainly does serve a purpose. At the same time. I do want to call out a particular risk, um, in using Sci-Fi science fiction as a filler for a religious, um, philosophy or a religious framework. And that's the science part. Uh, one of, one of the great rabbis of this era rabbi Jonathan sacks, um, who recently passed away and he was the chief rabbi of England. Um, he had a book called a great partnership, and it was a treatise, on why science and religion both need to work together. It was against the idea that science and religion are contradictory in any way. And some of the thoughts that he brought up that I thought are relevant here is first of all, science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean, and you know, that they serve two different purposes, but then he went and said, here's the problem, when you treat impersonal phenomena, meaning science, as if they're persons, you end up with myth, light comes from the sun God, rain comes from the sky God, and so on. And, but when you treat persons impersonally, when you treat people like they're things, as if they were objects, the result is dehumanization. You categorize people by color, class, creed, and you treat them differently because of that. And so they work together and the risk, I think, in using science fiction as your basis for a religious, moral or ethical point of view is that the science is going to out, The science of the science fiction is going to outweigh the philosophy, religion, and again, that putting together that interpersonal piece of it. Um, and you're going to end up with a, a poor substitute. I don't know if you have any thoughts about that.
Jason Carrier (22:16):
Yeah. I could definitely see your point and I wouldn't disagree that that would happen in some cases. I just think that there's uh, both cases that are represented. Um, obviously if somebody were looking at a Sci-Fi and taking that as, as their source of absolute truth and thinking that, um, that was really a true definition of reality. I think that would be a very different thing than, uh, looking at it, analyzing it, thinking it through and trying to find where they could draw value from it, but I really liked the point that you made about, uh, science and religion needing to work together. That's actually one of the things that drew me to Buddhism in the first place was that, uh, when science has a better understanding of something Buddhism adjusts, it doesn't, uh, portray itself as the purveyor absolute truth. Um, which was something that really, really appealed to me.
Leon Adato (23:01):
Got it.
Justin Dearing (23:01):
Yeah and and, I'll say, you know, as, as a Catholic, you know, uh, you know, people like to talk about Galileo and, you know, I, I won't get into the politics of, of then, but it was basically more of a reject state. They, they just said, you know, hold off on teaching that until we figure some stuff out. But, you know, nowadays there, the Catholic church has a, uh, uh, a big telescope in, in, uh, I think Arizona it's called loose, the Lucifer telescope, um, run by the
Leon Adato (23:27):
Wait, wait, it's called the what??
Justin Dearing (23:27):
Yes Lucifer. Yes it's called Lucifer, yes.
Leon Adato (23:27):
I presume not after the Marvel and TV show character, but instead
Jason Carrier (23:40):
Jesuits have a sense of humor. Yes.
Leon Adato (23:44):
Justin Dearing (23:44):
But, uh, yeah. Uh, but the, you know, and they, they, they do that and they say, you know, um, you know, they talk about how, you know, you know, Christmas probably, uh, Jesus, wasn't probably born on the 25th. We probably weren't in March because of, of, of the, the, the, the sheep were probably giving birth. That's why they were laying in the field and, and, and what happened, you know? And, and we, you know, there, there is, um, yeah, we, we, I think most modern, you know, uh, at least my religion, you know, we, we, we do try to, you know, take science into account, uh, there, and I think, I think other religions too, and I, I think, um, you know, if that, you know, some, some, some, some shows do get that right. I think maybe like the assigned it. Right.
Leon Adato (24:21):
And that takes us. So that takes us into the next, the next section, which is which stories do we think, um, really get it right. And I'm going to, I'm going to start off. I've got a couple of things that I think really did well, first of all, not a lot of people, um, now know about Catherine Kerr's Deryni series Deryni, spelled D E R Y N I, and it'll be in the show notes. She did a really good job of, of portraying, uh, a medieval or sort of slightly post pre Renaissance, uh, Catholicism to, and putting it in a con, in a fantasy context. So it really, really, really is Catholicism it's really, as Christianity it's, they're not trying to make it some fake something else that, you know, and, but it exists in parallel with, um, you know, her fantasy construct. And she does a really good job of talking about how a religious sensibility informs the users of we'll call it magic. It's not, but whatever, um, and how it informs the world. So that's the first one. I also actually liked the spirituality of ma uh, Madeleine L'Engle, um, wrinkle in time series. I thought she got, even though there were no specific re, you know, what we would call traditional or structured religious elements in there, she really gave a sense of the scope of the universe. And, um, Jason, to your point, how the unseen works behind the scenes, she gave a sense that there is larger forces and larger ideals at play. And the last one, a lot of people say, well, there's no like Orthodox Jewish, you know, fantasy stories. There was one that I know of, it's called the red magician by Lisa Goldstein. And it takes place in a Hungarian village. It takes place in a Orthodox Jewish Hungarian village, and Judaism doesn't figure into the story at all. They, the characters just all happened to be Orthodox. Um, and the last one is actually a comic book it's called how America got her sword, which builds itself as just another story about a 12 year old troll fighting, uh, Orthodox Jewish girl. So it's, it's just, again, it takes place in an Orthodox context where the Orthodox Judaism, doesn't, it isn't a pivotal element. It just is present as another aspect of the world-building that the writers do. So those are ones that, that do well. And again, I think they did it well because the religion wasn't the pivotal element of it. It was simply a fact of facet that informs the lives of the characters as they go along for better or for worse, but informs their lives. So what else do you have to add to my list?
Justin Dearing (26:57):
Um, I'll, I'll say, yeah, to two examples. Uh, so basically what I would like to call the two space station series of, of the 90's, Babylon five and deep space 9. So, uh, um, jam JMS, uh, hu. And Ronald D Moore, I think they're, they're both atheists. I think JMS, you know, basically said, you know, I'm an aithi, you know, I'm an atheist, but I religion exists. And, you know, from like, I think episode two, like it was like all the species had to give to talk about their dominant religion and, and the, uh, and the, the, uh, earth did if he had them shake hands with the Orthodox rabbi in the Greek Orthodox and rabbi in the Catholic, I mean, the Greek Orthodox priest and the Protestant minister and the, the, the African whatever. Um, yeah. And it built onto the idea of like, uh, the human being, the people that brought diversity together. And, and that's how they went and, you know, uh, defeated, defeated the shadows, um, you know, it, you know, down, down, down or whatever. So I thought that was, you know, he did a lot of, uh, stuff that was, you know, he had a group of, of Catholic, uh, or they seem to, you know, Catholic brothers come on. And they, it seemed to be like how a monk shorter would, would evolve, um, where they had, you know, a certain mission. And, and they, they kind of, uh, you know, worked in a very Franciscan way of, of, of, uh, being, you know, they, they, they, they, they, they did work in exchange for lodging and things like that. Um, and I think, yeah, uh, deep space 9, I think, I, I think the, the whole wormhole, like the idea of exploring the idea of, well, what if we thought were gods, will there be people in, you know, they're, they just exist outside of time, uh, in, in this, in this wormhole. And then we have this kind of doubting Thomas, you know, guy who becomes their, their, their Emissary. And I think that, that, you know, dealt with it well, though, they're, they're, they're Pope uh, you know, they're, they're, they're, Pope being like she was upset that she never had her, uh, uh, divine, like experience, you know, she was upset like that. And she was also, you know, really evil, um, not, not, not because she didn't have, but, you know, she, she was, you know, they, they, I think they, if they dealt with, you know, uh, I think they, they dealt with stuff very well. You know, there was one episode where, uh, Kiko was the teacher. Um, and she was teaching about like, uh, basically, um, like, I guess she was teaching her like the earth go around the sun or whatever. And they're saying, we don't believe that because of, you know, the prophets taught us this, or what have you. And they had that actual debate between fundamentalists and, and non fundamentalists there.
Leon Adato (29:08):
Got it.
Justin Dearing (29:10):
Okay. So I I've got, I mean, I guess I can have several star Wars rants, but I have one in the religious aspect of, so did, did anyone have any idea that, that Jedi was supposed to be celibate until like halfway through episode two? Like if they,
Leon Adato (29:22):
Yeah no.
Justin Dearing (29:22):
If they like not even George Lucas, like, I think he was like writing the script and, but, um, and I think that was like, like one of the things, like, it's hard to, you know, talk about like, uh, you know, categorizing, um, the, the celibate or the Jedi as like a monk shorter or whatever, is it realistic or not realistic may, maybe a lot of it was like Buddhist. And you might have more to say in that, that Jason, if you have a thing it's like, um, you know, there's big thing about the celibacy, you know, if you're going to become a priest in the Catholic church, you know, there's, there's a lot of preparation talking about celibate, celicaby,
Leon Adato (29:54):
They don't just spring it on you. Like the day, the day before you take your vows, I was like, Oh, and by the way,
Justin Dearing (30:00):
And the last Bishop on earth living in the swamp would not forget to mention that to you. No, no. We were, luke went and had a family and, you know, the old Canon, you know?
Leon Adato (30:10):
Yeah. I got from, from the, okay. So, so fair warning. I, um, did see Phantom menace in the theater, and then I refuse to see anything else of the prequels. I actually frequently will not admit that they even existed. Um, so just take that for what it's worth. Uh, I did try to watch the, uh, second one. Yeah. I tried to watch the second one on mute while I was running on a treadmill without subtitles, and I still found it unwatchable. So that's just my own diatribe against the prequels. But my point being is that I got the sense of not being connected, that, that sort of almost Buddhist sense of not being attached to no thing, but I did. Right. Like, I didn't get the same sense that that meant celibacy. It just meant you, you have to make sure that you are ready, you are mature enough not to feel ownership or attachment to another person as much as to your, you know, lightsaber or your Starship or your Wookie or whatever. Um, yeah, I mean, the clone Wars does, you know, he's supposed to, like, they were afraid if he can become too attached to it. Uh, you know, Padawan, and, and, you know, you're going to be too attached to R2 and they're, they're, they're, they're definitely, uh, like what that there. And I, I guess in that regard, it's a good thing. I just, I just, like, I felt like there was a lot of interest distantly for me to formerly judge, um, star Wars, because it's, it's so inconsistent where I can say, you know, right.
Leon Adato (31:49):
I mean, Again, Sci-Fi story to Jason's point. Like there are parts that work and parts that don't work and, you know, yeah. Um, okay. I think, uh, we have talked to this one, not quite to death, but, but good enough for one episode, um, lightning round final words, any final thoughts or ideas? Um, Justin, I'll let you lead this one off.
Justin Dearing (32:09):
Okay. Sure. Uh, you know, I think this, this was a great conversation. I, I, I, I think, uh, thank you, Jason, for giving the, the, the Buddhist perspective. Uh, and, and I think, uh, you know, I think, yeah, I, I, I will echo your points about the creation, the creation, myths stories. Those are good. And, and that was probably the least tough, tough read part of the, the similar news. You know, it's kind of a very academic and tough reader as a Tolkien fan, you know, it's the hardest one of them all to read, you know?
Leon Adato (32:39):
Got it. Okay, Jason.
Jason Carrier (32:42):
Yeah. So I would love to talk about the concept of a helpful way of thinking. Uh, it's something that I took from DaVinci code books, uh, Dan, Dan Brown books, uh, there was a Buddhist character in the book that talked about a helpful way of thinking. Now she's a very scientific minded person, right? So she she's very much about, you know, physics and reality. And, uh, it doesn't care much for, uh, you know, winging angels, that type of thing. But she really liked the concept of, if you could look at, uh, Christianity and, and see something that was very helpful to you, uh, even if you don't think of it as literal truth, it can still be extremely helpful and impactful in your life. Uh, I applied the same thing to, you know, star Wars and as I'm watching, you know, religions in, in Sci-Fi, um, a lot of times they can give you a different perspective on a truth, even if it's not speaking to like an absolute truth, that's a pattern that can be a helpful way of thinking in your life.
Leon Adato (33:32):
Got it. So, uh, you know, you're not talking about actually recreating the Jedi religion. You're just saying that this thing that they do, even though it's a, from a fantasy environment is, is useful and applicable to our real world experiences.
Jason Carrier (33:47):
Exactly. Looking at it allegorically instead of literally.
Leon Adato (33:50):
All right. So I want to wrap it up in a completely different, uh, aspect I've already waxed, uh, annoyed on the whole star Wars universe thing. My final thought is that there's a, a certain moment in the TV series, Firefly, where river gets a hold of, um, books, uh, Booker book,
Justin Dearing (34:09):
separate books.
Leon Adato (34:10):
Yeah. He, his Bible and reorders it and says, you know, it was completely out of order. So I put it in the right order. And of course, you know, he's like, you completely ruined, it you messed it up! And she's like, but it was wrong. It was in the wrong, you know, the references and whatever. And I just want to wrap that character. I want to wrap river in a big hug, and I want to bring her into like a Yeshiva. And I want to show her the Talmud and say, here, go. Off you go, because that's the kind of mind the one that says, well, but your reference points, you know, that this came before that, and that comes before this. And if you did this and this and this, that, that is exactly the mindset of a good Yeshiva Bucher of a good learner. Somebody who is able to take information that is often presented out of order or in a different context and say, but wait a minute, you said this other thing, 4 books ago. What about that? That is exactly the kind of mind. And I just, that one moment, and of course books, you know, reaction of horror and you don't get religion and I'm thinking, no, no, no, she does. She does. She's perfect for it. You just need to, you know, and that didn't happen. So that would be my, that would be my change, my head Canon change to the Firefly universe. Uh, plus the fact that wash never died. That would also be my change. So, uh, all right. Well, I appreciate, uh, both of you taking some time out of your busy lives to talk today, and I hope that you won't be strangers on technically religious in the future.
Justin Dearing (35:41):
Thank you for inviting me. Thank you.
Jason Carrier (35:44):
Great. Thanks Leon. I really appreciate you having me. This has been a lot of fun.
Leon Adato (35:47):
Thanks for making time for us this week, to hear more of technically religious visit our website, technically, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect with us on social media.

S03E01: Tech In Religion 01

S03E01: Tech In Religion 01

February 16, 2021

(image credit: CWWally:

“Tech In Religion” is a running series under the Technically Religious umbrella. In these episodes, we look at technology - be it a website, a phone app, or a gadget - that somehow deepens, strengthens, or improves our experience of or connection to our faith (our religious, moral, and/or ethical point of view). This is a tech review lovingly wrapped in a through-line about faith in general and our experience of faith in particular. The goal is to uncover and promote tech you (our audience) might not have heard about; or describe a use for tech you may know, but didn't think of using in connection with your religious experiences.

In this episode, Leon Adato is joined by Yechiel Kalmenson and Ben Keen, along with a voice new to Technically Religious listeners: Jason Carrier. Listen or read the transcript below:

intro (00:03):
leon (00:32):
Welcome to our podcast, where we talk about the interesting, frustrating and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT, we're not here to preach or teach you our religion. We're here to explore ways. We make our career as IT professionals mesh, or at least not conflict with our religious life. This is technically religious
Leon Adato (00:53):
Here on technically religious. We focus on how we work to make our religious lives compliment, or at least not conflict with our career in tech. But what about the way tech enhances our lives as people with a strong connection to our faith or lack thereof in our ongoing series Tech in Religion, we aim to do just that. In each episode, we'll highlight technological innovations that enhance, strengthen, and deepen our connections to our religious, moral or ethical point of view. I'm Leon, Adato, and opining with me today on the tech that helps us in our religious observances are, Yechiel Kalmenson.
Yechiel Kalmenson (01:28):
Hello again.
Leon Adato (01:29):
And Ben Keen.
Ben Keen (01:30):
Hello, everybody.
Leon Adato (01:31):
And Jason Carrier.
Jason Carrier (01:33):
Hey, thanks for having me.
Leon Adato (01:34):
All right. As we are want to do here at technically religious, we begin every episode with a bout of shameless self promotion, where everyone here can talk about whatever they're working on or whatever strikes your fancy. So Ben, how about you start us off? Who are you? What are you doing these days? And also it is required. Tell us your religious moral or ethical point of view.
Ben Keen (01:56):
Sure. Uh, my name is Ben Keen. I'm from, uh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I work for a large retailer as a senior systems administrator with a focus in monitoring, and monitoring, uh, engineering, uh, I'm on, the, uh, Instagrams and all that as the_Ben_Keen, you can also follow my, um, medical alert service dog at bolt_the_service_dog. Yes, that's a lot of underscores,
Leon Adato (02:26):
But the fact that your dog has an Instagram is just
Ben Keen (02:28):
Absolutely, uh, more than Medical, uh, more followers, the better trying to get awareness out there for, uh, veterans and people that require, uh, the service of these medical service dogs, which is awesome. Um, from a faith-based, uh, point of view, I am, uh, I deem myself as a Christian. Um, more so a non-denominational Christian. I don't say a Methodist or whatever, even though I grew up, um, as a preacher's kid within the United Methodist church, I kind of, uh, take on, uh, the different views of different religions and combined to make for myself.
Leon Adato (03:00):
Wonderful. Well, welcome back to the show next up, uh, Jason, how about you go next.
Jason Carrier (03:06):
Sure thing. So I'm Jason carrier. I'm uh, currently a product manager at SolarWinds. Uh, I have a real strong, uh, networking technology background and, uh, I also do some freelance on the side. Uh, you can find me on Twitter at network_carrier, uh, or my website, uh,, uh, B H O D And I consider myself a Buddhist, but just love studying philosophy in general.
Leon Adato (03:29):
Nice. Okay. Yechiel tell us about yourself.
Yechiel Kalmenson (03:33):
So, uh, I'm your Yechiel Kalmenson, uh, journeying out of New Jersey. I'm a engineer at VMware, excuse me. Uh, engineer at VMware, you can find me online, on the Twitters at yechielk. Or at my blog at, Or you can, uh, read my week. You can subscribe to my weekly newsletter or buy the book at
Leon Adato (03:56):
And you consider yourself to be?
Yechiel Kalmenson (03:58):
An Orthodox Jew.
Leon Adato (03:59):
Very good. Okay. And I had the fact that I had to prompt them on that is even better because I am Leon Adato. I am a head geek. Yes. That's actually my job title at SolarWinds. Also, uh, you can find me on the Twitters, which I say just to horrify Keith Townsend's daughter every time at Leon Adato. Uh, I also pontificate on things, both technical and religious at and I to consider myself to be an Orthodox Jew. And every once in a while, my rabbi lets me say it out loud in public. So this episode is, this episode is a little different than some of the stuff that we do, because it's really just a tech review that is cunningly disguised as a religious discussion. Um, we're talking about the tech that helps enhance or deepen or strengthen our connection to our, whether it's a faith or our moral point of view or ethical point of view, that kind of thing. So, um, really what we're talking about are the things that help us to be full religious people in the world around us. And because we're it, people it's got to have a tech angle to it. So um, Jason, I'm going to pick on you first. What are some things that you use in the process of your day or faith that helped make it better?
Jason Carrier (05:12):
Yeah, that's a great question. Um, so in, in Buddhism for people that aren't aware, there's this concept of the three jewels, so a Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, it's like the three places that you can kind of seek refuge when you're having issues or, you know, just struggling with something. So, uh, Buddha's kind of the teacher Dharma is the teaching and then Sangha is the community, your, your kind of spiritual group. Um, so, uh, the technology that I use, uh, uh, for, for, uh, kind of, uh, connecting with myself, uh, I'm a big fan of a guided meditation. And when I'm doing that, I really like having, uh, something that sort of like noise canceling headphones. So it sort of closes out the outside world and, uh, during guided meditations, I've really found that I appreciate the ones that are using, uh, binaural beats. Is that something you're familiar with? I have not tell us about it. Yeah. So, uh, binaural beats is like different frequencies that sort of affect your psychological state in interesting ways. And when you combine that with guided meditation and using, uh, you know, noise canceling headphones, you can kind of almost, uh, force yourself into a certain, um, emotional state, uh, just by listening to these tones. And, you know, since Buddhism is really focused on that and, uh, kind of, uh, getting that inner sense of peace and calm and that kind of thing, I find it really helpful.
Leon Adato (06:27):
Nice. Do you have a particular brand? We are not sponsored by anybody, so we can say whatever the hell we want to do you have a particular brand that you, uh, you like or you've discovered?
Jason Carrier (06:38):
Um, so Sennheiser speakers work really well, but I tend to buy the Bose ones cause I'm a little pampered, I guess.
Leon Adato (06:48):
Okay. All right. Say, you know, put it out there. It's good. Okay. Fantastic. Anything else? oh.
Jason Carrier (06:52):
I'm a fan of Radical candor if you couldn't tell? Yeah,
Leon Adato (06:55):
Yeah, no, I like it. So, uh, anything else for the review this, this time?
Jason Carrier (07:00):
Um, let's see. I also really, uh, find that, uh, just having the internet in general is something, I can't imagine how difficult it would be as someone who's trying to practice Buddhism in America, if the internet didn't exist, you know, because getting access to Vedic writings and then getting the translations to those would not be possible if it weren't for the internet.
Leon Adato (07:19):
I, I'm thinking back to the Dr. Strange movie where he says, I speak fluent, Google translate. So that's, that's immediately the quote that comes to mind. Um, yes, it's amazing how people were religious before, you know, the internet was invented, like how did they do that? So, but, but yeah, no, no, it, it has opened up a lot of avenues and a lot of access for a lot of folks as far as that goes. All right. Um, anything else?
Jason Carrier (07:45):
Um, that would be the, the biggest one, I guess the last thing I would just mention is, uh, with, with connecting to people, I found that, that, social media is extremely helpful. Um, I kind of expand, personally, I expand the, the concept of sangha to, to include whoever I decide rather than just my Buddhist community. It's whoever I decide fits in that bucket, but that's just, uh, my personal practice, I guess.
Ben Keen (08:07):
That could be a dangerous game. My friend.
Jason Carrier (08:10):
Aha. It keeps things interesting. That's for sure.
Leon Adato (08:12):
Right. Okay, awesome. So, uh, Yechiel, uh, you're, you're up? What, what kinds of stuff do you have that help you out?
Yechiel Kalmenson (08:18):
Sure. So, um, the number one app that I never leave anywhere without, um, is of course the app that controls the giant space laser.
Jason Carrier (08:30):
That had to come up. Absolutely had to come up.
Yechiel Kalmenson (08:32):
Obviously can't leave home without it.
Leon Adato (08:36):
Right. Well mostly because then you wouldn't know where not to go, I mean.
Yechiel Kalmenson (08:40):
Well, duh. Yeah. You know, it's really mess up your day when you end up in the middle of the forest fire, just because, you know, you forgot to,.
Leon Adato (08:47):
You forgot. Right. You know, and it's, it's kind of awkward when it's like, you know, your father-in-law who said, Oh, you were going There, my bad, my bad. Yeah, no. I get it.
Yechiel Kalmenson (08:56):
Um, but Yeah, so on serious note. Um, yeah. And of course in Judaism we do where the people of the book, um, we do a lot, a lot of learning, um, and I'm on a number of daily schedules, you know? Um, I have, for example, every day, um, Jews go through the Torah on an annual cycle every week we read another portion. So, um, everyday I try to read like a seventh of that portion called an Aliyah. Um, so I got, I finished the Torah portion of the week by the week. Um, there's also, um, for example, the books of the Rambam by Maimonides I'm on an annual cycle to finish through them. Um, I try to finish through Psalms, the Tehillim, um, on a monthly cycle. So, and my commute is obviously, uh, well back when we had commutes in the olden days. Um, so that was like the natural time to, to get these things done. Um,
Leon Adato (09:53):
That's true.
Yechiel Kalmenson (09:53):
And then like in the olden days that would involve taking like six, seven books at least. But now of course I have it on my smartphone. Um, I have an app that keeps a number of those schedules for me. And then those that aren't, for example, the Psalms is on its own its own app just because I like having it has another functionality so yeah, I have a number of apps that, uh, keep, keep my schedules for me and help me go through them on my commute, which is a great use of my time. Um, another thing is, you know, Jews have a lot of, uh, things around the calendar. Uh, there's Jewish holidays, Jewish observances. So I have a Hebrew calendar on my phone. It's called HeabCal,
Leon Adato (10:39):
Yechiel Kalmenson (10:39):
And it's great, It integrates with Google calendar. So I set that as my default app in any, as my default calendar and any appointment, I have anything, you know, I just enter it there and I automatically can see if it falls out, you know, if the company, uh, holiday party will conveniently fall out on Hanukkah and then I don't have to go,
Leon Adato (10:58):
Which we've talked about in a past episode. I wouldn't. Yeah. How to avoid the company Christmas party. Yeah. Tips and tricks.
Yechiel Kalmenson (11:06):
Yep. Um, so that's for Jewish counter in addition, um, also like on a day to day, um, there's a lot of things that, um, depend on the time of day, for example, different prayers have to be set at different times. So I have an app called My Zmanim, which means in Hebrew my times, um, which lists the Halachic times, depending on your location, uh, depending on where it's, when the sunrise sunset is in your location, it'll tell you, for example, when is the latest time to do the morning prayer, or when you can start doing the afternoon prayer, et cetera.
Leon Adato (11:36):
Yechiel Kalmenson (11:38):
And last but not least is, um, my compass, which I do not use for camping because I haven't been camping in two decades at least. Um, but Jews face, uh, Jerusalem when they, when we pray. So, um, in America, we generally, in the olden days, we used to just generally approximate it to East, um, which is generally the direction of Jerusalem, but now I'm the, you know, every smartphone can have a compass app and have a special Halachic compasses show you precisely where Jerusalem is. So that is very convenient and very cool as well.
Leon Adato (12:15):
Right. And, and just to, to clarify it, because it'll give you the choice of like, what, what direction is East or what direction is the shortest path allowing for the curvature of the earth towards Jerusalem?
Ben Keen (12:27):
wait the earth, wait wait, Earth is curved. Wait, what?
Leon Adato (12:30):
Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Uh, just a little bit of news in case you missed it Ben
Yechiel Kalmenson (12:35):
Yeah, Jews believe the earth is round. One of the weird quirks We have
Leon Adato (12:39):
One of our stranger, well, it's also how we
Yechiel Kalmenson (12:42):
Make our calculations for the space laser easier. So,
Leon Adato (12:44):
Thank you, Oh, you got there just before I did. Right. Um,
Yechiel Kalmenson (12:48):
Leon Adato (12:48):
Uh no, that's okay. And, uh, I will also say that, which is the website that goes along with the heat Cal app is one of the first things I usually introduced to my non-Jewish friends when they're trying to figure out, like, can Leon work on this day? Or what? Like, what is it? It's a really accessible website that gives you a chance to understand, like when is sunset and, and what days matter, and things like that. It's, it's a pretty cool one. Um, all right. Uh, from our panel of experts, any questions or clarifications or anything you want to ask?
Ben Keen (13:24):
Not so much a question, but just, just one thing I would like to point out. Um, you know, Yechiel made an interesting comment about when we used to commute to work. You know, and obviously, you know, over the last year, uh, we've had to really augmentate how we, uh, how we do do things.
Leon Adato (13:46):
Uh huh.
Ben Keen (13:46):
And the one thing that I found interesting for myself anyway, is trying to find a new time to, to have that, whether it's meditation or time to read or time to listen, because you're right, like, you know, the commute 40 minutes, put a podcast on, drive down the road, get to your office. You're good. Uh, my commute now is 10 stairs.
Leon Adato (14:07):
Ben Keen (14:07):
From, you know, from my ground floor to my second floor. Not, not a good time, you know, not a lot of podcast listening time. So I think it's interesting how we've really started to take this new, uh, way of doing business and how, and finding our time for that. So the one question I would like to pose to Yechiel then is, you know, when, when is your time now? Like, you know, you lost your commute. So now when, when is your time, how are you making that work with everything?
Yechiel Kalmenson (14:33):
Yeah, so that was challenging. Um, in the beginning, I did indeed, um, fall, fall behind on a lot of my study schedules, um, before I managed to get back on the train, so to speak. Um, eventually I just, you know, work things out, you know, I've found other times that, you know, I rearranged my schedule and like now I do most of them, for example, in the evening, right after I finished putting the kids to bed. Um, some of it, I moved for example, to right after my morning prayers. So I'll just take a little longer on the prayers and I'll do my Tehillim, my Psalms at that time, for example. Um, but yeah, but you did bring an interesting point. Um, and that I used to my commute time was usually my unwind time. You know, I would finish work at 5, and I would get home at 6.
Yechiel Kalmenson (15:16):
And that hour was, you know, I didn't realize how crucial it was for my, wellbeing to, uh, unwind between the craziness of work and the craziness of supper and bedtime and, you know, putting the kids to sleep. So eventually I came up with an agreement with my wife where, um, I do take, I like about a half an hour after work, which I call my commute time. I just, you know, stay my office just wasting time doing whatever it is. And I still come home about a half an hour earlier than I used to in the pre days. So it works for everyone,
Leon Adato (15:51):
Right? I have heard lots of folks talk about that particular aspect. You know, that the, that the drive to work, the, the commute to work was a way where they were mentally ramping up, getting ready for the day running through their, You know, this is what I'm going to do today, or this is what I'm going to, you know, or just, you know, not everybody loves their job and just, you know, building up the, you know, the strength of the resolve that they need to get through whatever they're getting through. And then the same thing in the re, in the opposite, coming back. And, uh, one of the com, one of the comments that we got when we wrote a work from home guide at SolarWinds was, to still take your commute, to get up in the morning, get dressed, walk out the door, whether it was walk around the block, or walk up and down the street, or whatever it is, but leave to go to work and come back in the house.
Leon Adato (16:44):
But now you're at work. And at the end of the day to do the same thing in reverse that when you've, when you're done, you get up and you leave the house, you know, you leave the apartment house, you know, et cetera, and you go home. And then when you come home, that is, that is your transition. And I've heard from people that even though it is completely a trick that you're completely like, we, our brains are not, we're not stupid. We know we're not really leaving and we're not, but somehow that, that transitional aspect really does have an effect on us. Um, And it's,
Yechiel Kalmenson (17:21):
To be fair, our brains are stupid.
Leon Adato (17:24):
They're still a little meat sacks that can be fooled sometimes. That's true. So,
Ben Keen (17:29):
And I think, and I think a lot of that sorry to cut you off Leon, but I think a lot of that does circle around tech, you know, because as technical professionals or any, really any professional, but I'll speak from the tech, side of the house. Cause that's what I've been living for the last 20, some years of my life. You know, it's hard for me to turn things off. You know, we All we always carry these little pocket sized computers around, they call phones nowadays that we get emails and IMS and whatever, um,
Leon Adato (17:59):
Ben Keen (18:00):
On them, you know, and what I, what I struggled with initially was trying to find time for myself, you know, whether it's to do faith-based activities, like read something or do whatever, or if it was just a simply breathe, you know, just kinda, you know, and, um, and I told my friends, like, you know, one of the things my wife and I were fortunate to do over the last few months, we actually bought our, we bought our first house together.
Ben Keen (18:30):
Hey, Ooh. Um, so.
Leon Adato (18:32):
Mazel Tov!
Ben Keen (18:33):
Yeah. Thank you. So the office I'm sitting in now is my dedicated office space. This is my domain, you know, and this is where, this is like my little happy space. My wife can decorate the rest of the house, do whatever she pretty much wants within reason. Um, but this is my little happy corner. And I told her like, you know, like this is where I'm comfortable. And, you know, I know it's not very techie, but at the same time, like when I'm going to do work, whether it's for my 9 to 5 paid job, or some of my, uh, you know, accidental techie, things that I find, you know, I think every person in tech finds themselves in amongst friends or an organization that we become their go to IT person. Right. Um, I don't do any of that outside of this room.
Ben Keen (19:23):
Like I won't take conference calls. I won't do this podcast outside of this room because this is my tech space. So I think it's really important for people to understand, you know, how you make those adjustments. And, you know, especially for someone that follows a very strict counter, like with my faith, I don't have, I don't have a set calendar. I dont have to pray by this time on this day, you know, like it's.
Leon Adato (19:49):
Ben Keen (19:49):
For me, it's wherever I am. I can pray right now. Like it doesn't really matter. Um, but it's interesting to hear how, how Yechiel has been going through that with his pretty stringent, uh, calendar and dates.
Leon Adato (20:05):
So it is, and again, part of this whole episode is the, you know, how we adapt things and also how we use, how we use technology to enhance that. Um, so I wanna, I want to continue with the Orthodox Jewish, uh, parade of tech. Uh, I have not been given access to the giant space laser, uh, yet, uh, my rabbi.
Yechiel Kalmenson (20:29):
You haven't been showing up to the meetings, obviously.
Leon Adato (20:30):
Well, no, my rabbi told me that it's the whole Sephardi thing. He's just very uncomfortable with, uh,
Yechiel Kalmenson (20:36):
You're right, you're right.
Leon Adato (20:36):
People who eat kitniout, having access to this space. Like this is a whole bunch of inside baseball jokes that like, you know, a 10th of the, of the listeners may get. So anyway, um, there are a couple of, of technical, uh, items that I did want to bring up for this episode. The first one is actually low tech. Um, one of the challenges that people in Judaism have, especially people who are maybe new to, uh, you know, deeper level of observance, is that before you eat anything, you have to say a blessing.
Leon Adato (21:07):
You know, the idea that if you don't say a blessing, you're, you know, you're stealing from the King that you're, you've, you snuck into the garden and you've grabbed this and you haven't said, thank you. So you want to say that, thank you. And there's a thank you that you say, but there's a blessing you say before you eat in a blessing, you say after you eat, but it depends on what kind of food it is. Is it bread? Is it bread like, but not really bread? Is it something that came from a tree? Is it something that came from the ground? Is it something that came from a repeatedly flowering bush? And so on and so on and so forth? There's a whole bunch of things. Like you'd think that bananas would be the tree blessing, but it's not because banana trees are actually bushes.
Leon Adato (21:42):
They're just really tall ones. So you have to say the bush, so it can get a little bit weird. And then sushi is the is the really the Widowmaker, like no one knows what blessing to say before sushi, because it's just everything. So anyway, there is, uh, a phone number, that you can text with the name of your food, and they will text you back. It's an automated system with the blessing you say, before you eat, and the blessing you say after it. So it's just a text system. You don't have to have the internet in your pocket. You don't have to, you just text. And, and it was something that obviously came up before smartphones were really a thing. Um, but I'm just, I'm tickled by it because it's such a, it is such a fundamental activity in a Jewish day, right? We eat. So we say blessings for the stuff that we eat, but it's also a point of deep confusion. You know, what do you say when you eat one piece of pizza, versus two pieces of pizza versus whatever, like these are the arguments and the debates that we have, and this text system arose to try to fill that gap.
Jason Carrier (22:48):
I'm curious how that would work on the other side. So is there a per, a person over there that's just waiting for these texts to come in and, you know, they have like a little prayer book and they're, you know, uh, figuring this out or is there a big database of all the different food items that have the prayers next to it?
Leon Adato (23:02):
That's it, it's, it is absolutely a technical system where it's a database and they're looking for keywords, and various misspellings, pizza with one Z, and so on. Um, because sometimes it's little kids, right? Like they're trying to do that. So, um, it's a whole database and then there's just, you know, the answers the answers are known. So it's not that hard. It's just that some people, again, sushi is the really hard one, but, you know, there's that, so that's the first one. And I just, again, I'm just tickled by it because it's so old and it's so old school, as far as it goes, the next one up is, um,, which is another website. There's an app for it also, but this has pretty much every single religious text in that, you know, if you're Jewish, you would probably be interested in seeing most of the time with translations.
Leon Adato (23:52):
It's got the old Testament it's got, uh, Psalms, it's got, you know, uh, the, all the Prophets it's got commentaries, it's got, um, just a ton of stuff. And if you, if you get a login, which is free, but you can actually annotate it yourself to say, well, what about this? What about that? And you can actually bring your own notes into it as you're learning it, or, you know, going through it or have your question about it. So Safaria, again, the translations make it really useful. And the other thing is that it is copy paste able. So when you're having a discussion with somebody and someone says, well, where did you read that? Half the time the hard part is, well, I have it on a book on a shelf, and I don't know how to give it to you now, like, do I take a picture with my phone and send it to you?
Leon Adato (24:37):
What do I do? But you can actually copy paste it and put it in an email or put it in a teams message, or whatever, and have your discussion or your conversation or your interaction that way. So it's really useful. It's a not-for-profit organization that started up a few years ago and it's just gone gangbusters. So I really, I really am enjoying it. And the last one is, um, the com, the organization, the, the publisher called ArtScroll, um, also known as rabbi scroll. Arthur scroll, sorry. Another inside joke. Anyway, um, ArtScroll, uh, has an app specifically for the Talmud and for not a lot of money, you can get an entire tractate of Talmud. Um, there's a bunch of them. I don't remember. 36 37. I don't know. It's, I'm sure Yechiel knows, but there's a number of tractate, tractates of Talmud, and you can get one.
Leon Adato (25:33):
And what it does is it will translate it for you. It will highlight, uh, which parts of the, of the thing you're reading are questions, which are answers, which are rebuttals, which are because, sometimes the hardest part of Talmud is understanding whether someone is arguing, or just clarifying, or asking a question or debating, like, what are you, what are you saying here? That is where you get lost down the rabbit hole, and this uses some color coding. Uh, it will also for those people who don't read Hebrew so well, it will add vowels. Uh, I know that doesn't sound like something, but Hebrew is not typically written with vowels. So those of us who are new learners for Hebrew find ourselves stuck half the time, because I don't know what this is doing, because it's just, again, No vowels. So I'm really lost. Um, it'll add those things.
Leon Adato (26:24):
And the Talmud is a very non-linear text there's comments that refer to something that's three books ahead, or five books behind, or a half comment from a app, appendix that was over here. It's all interconnected. And the app makes those as hyperlinks so that if you read something and it's, it's referring to something, 4 books behind you tap it, and it will take you 4 books behind. So you can see what that reference is before you keep going. So it's a really, really useful app. And, um, you know, as you build your library of, of things that you've purchased, it just becomes even that much more useful. So those are, those are the three that I wanted to bring out, uh, for at least this episode of our conversation. And I will, once again, open it up. Any questions or comments about those?
Yechiel Kalmenson (27:19):
I will just add that I'm a huge fan of Safari as well. Um, like I think it revolutionized the way, um, it pretty much put a whole Jewish library in your pocket, and it's just amazing. Like, my dad works in a publishing, like a, in a publishing house and his job is to add the footnotes, um, like Talmudic texts. A lot of times, like Jewish text. A lot of times I like reference passages from the Talmud, from the Bible, from Chasidic texts or whatever. So he's been doing this work like since, before I was born. So like way pre-internet, I have no idea how he did it. He's a genius. Um, but, um, but yeah, but app, an app, like Safaria pretty much, you know, in my head that's, you know, my dad in an app, cause like whenever I had a question about a text or something, I knew I could always call him. And like, unfortunately now I don't call him as often. So
Leon Adato (28:18):
You call him about personal things. Now you ask how he is not just, it's actually nicer. Cause this is like What! You can only call me when you don't remember a text now it's like, no, I only call you because I, you know, yeah, it's, there's especially in Judaism, but I think a lot of Faiths there is the comment, not the myth, but the comment about somebody who's memorized all of the Bible or all of this or all of that. And I think in this day and age we lose sight of what an achievement and, and also how normal, both what an achievement and how normal it was that people who had committed a set of texts to memory, weren't doing it as a parlor trick. They weren't doing it just to show off they were doing it because they wanted that text in their back pocket with them. And that was the only way to have it. So the, you know, and so they did that. And, and now
Yechiel Kalmenson (29:15):
I would say similar to how like the earlier, like the creators of Linux and the web and everything built, all these things with, like, they actually had to memorize, you know, programming syntax and things like that. And, you know, and knowing three languages was a huge deal because that meant you had to memorize three reference books, the size of
Leon Adato (29:34):
Right. Exactly. They actually knew how re, regular expressions worked. Like that's.
Yechiel Kalmenson (29:38):
Leon Adato (29:39):
That's magic to me. I just,
Ben Keen (29:41):
Well ,I mean, if it's, if It speaks to anything of the time we live in, now, people can quote movies like that.
Leon Adato (29:49):
Uh huh.
Ben Keen (29:51):
You know, but then people, don't people, some people, and this is not a knock against them, but when you ask them, what is, you know, in the Christian faith, what is John 3:16 say.
Leon Adato (30:00):
Uh huh.
Ben Keen (30:00):
You know, if you look at any sort of like major league sports program, mainly baseball, you'll see people with the signs saying John 3:16.
Leon Adato (30:13):
Uh huh.
Ben Keen (30:13):
And I don't, you know, some people are like, what does that mean? Meanwhile, they can quote Verbatim, you know, episodes one through nine of star Wars,
Leon Adato (30:22):
Ben Keen (30:22):
Which, um, I'm with them on that. Right. You know, like I'm cool with that. But, you know, I think it really speaks to, um, the trend of, you know, what do we take, you know, because we have all these apps and websites and stuff like that.
Ben Keen (30:35):
Great tech, I think that's people have become less lenient or less yeah. Less relying on their own memory. You know, plus, you know, nowadays we have in a text-based let's face it. We have what? At least 13 passwords to know, just to log in the work, right. Because you've got two factor authentication, you've got biometrics, you know, all this stuff and you change one password and it changes everything across the board. So, you know, for me, it's a struggle sometimes like the doomsday for me is when my admin account, my personal account and my operations account all expire on the same day.
Ben Keen (31:15):
And they're all, they all, they all have different password complexities of like, you know, well, this password has to be at least like 12 characters. This one has at least be 25, you know, 14 different, special characters in this one, you know, it's just crazy. So when we pause and really think, you know, think about it in how much tech has pushed us to be remembrance of what does that say? You know, and break out the Google Fu you know, it's one of those things, especially at, you know, as parents in tech and, uh, those of us that are strong in our religion, we want to teach our children, our religious faith, you know, whatever it is. And so now having these fancy little computers, we call phones in our pocket. You know, if my kids ask me, well, Hey dad, what does this mean? Right. Well, let's find out together. Right. You know, it's no longer just, you know, dad regurgitating something that his Sunday school teacher may or may not told him while whipping his hand with a ruler.
Leon Adato (32:11):
Ben Keen (32:12):
Type of scenario.
Leon Adato (32:13):
Right. I, uh, Yeah, it does. Again, I think the technology really has the opportunity to enhance our, um, our experience of our faith or, you know, our ethical or moral point of view. I think it has a chance to, um, Ben, as you say, like, instead of just regurgitating our half remembered and half misremembered, thing, you know, we can, we can offer accurate information, whether it's to our kids or to coworkers or whatever. And when somebody says, well, I just don't understand, like, what does that mean? You can offer almost an impartial source, like here, read this, and if you have questions, we can talk about it, but you know, you don't just have to take my word for it also. Um, and I think that that really raises the level of discourse in a lot of ways. So, um, all right. So this was a good start to this ongoing, uh, series that we're going to be doing. Um, I'm going to drive it to the lightening round. Does anybody have any final words before we close it out?
Ben Keen (33:14):
One final word from me is simply, you know, leveraged to tech con. We were just talking about, if you have questions, whether it's your own faith or, you know, if you have questions about exactly what, w, what does Jason mean when he says, he says he's a Buddhist, or what does that mean?
Leon Adato (33:28):
Uh huh.
Ben Keen (33:28):
You know, is he, is he rubbing like the belly of some little fat guy squatting, or what is, you know, now you have the ability to leverage that tech and figure out exactly what Jason's faith is, because that might help you learn more about your coworkers. And, you know, when you can know something more about your coworker, that can, when you start talking about team projects, because let's face it, even though we're all working from home, we're still doing team projects. You can collaborate a lot easier because you understanding, you know, if I try to collaborate with you, Leon, you're like, ah, that's, that's a bad day. And that's, here's why, you know, it's, it's the Sabbath or whatever, um, observation it is within, within a Jewish calendar, at least now I know professionally, don't schedule any meetings with Leon.
Leon Adato (34:13):
Ben Keen (34:13):
You know, and I think that's one thing that we all ought to remember that the tech isn't just to learn our faith, but it's to help us learn about other people's faith.
Leon Adato (34:19):
So you're saying that LMG T F Y is for, uh, faith as well as, you know, how do I log into this? I like it exactly a hundred percent. Any other final words?
Yechiel Kalmenson (34:32):
Um, yeah, I this was, it was an interesting discussion. Um, and I find that often when we, the topic comes up of like, you know, technology that helps us with our religious practices. Um, and I've gotten questions from both sides of the spectrum, you know, both from like old timer, religious folks who are like, you know, how can you use technology to, for such sacred things in both from, you know, the secular perspective, like this is tech, you know, why are you bringing your religion into this? Um, so one of my favorite passages in the Talmud, it says that the world actually, when God created the world, he wasn't planning on putting gold in it, but then he decided to put gold. Um, so because he knew that the Jews would be building a temple for him in the desert, and they would be using gold to make the temple. So there, that's why he put golden to the world. In other words, the only reason why we have something as beautiful as gold in the world was because God wanted the Jews to, to serve him in the desert. And I think that can be that lesson could be taken for pretty much anything in the world. You know, especially all these advances that we
Yechiel Kalmenson (35:38):
Have these days, where from God's point of view, the only reason why he put them in the world where he put the potential for these things in the world is so that we can all serve him in our way, serve him and make the world a better place, help each other and help make the world better.
Jason Carrier (35:55):
I was actually gonna make a similar point to what you just made. There is a, just because something is new doesn't mean it doesn't have an intrinsic value and provide a new way for seeing the old. So, uh, I've learned a ton of about my own religion and the history of it through Wikipedia, you know, uh, the, that you can learn a ton using the internet. And so there's definitely intrinsic value to, to that. Uh, you don't need to necessarily do it the way that it was being done 2000 years ago, to get that, that benefit in your life, you know?
Leon Adato (36:25):
Right. Uh, and, uh, my, my final word will be as long as we don't lose sight of the fact that the old way is also still valid, that, that the new, the new way is certainly novel because that's what the word novel and new mean. But also, um, and it can be engaging because of its novelty, but at the same time, we can't lose sight. We can't think that the, the new and novel way is somehow better than the old way. It's merely a different way to interact with it. I think that a lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that we don't need this old way anymore because we have this new that no, no, no. The, the old thing exists still exists for an equally valid reason that hasn't gone away simply because you have, uh, the new one. And, you know, that's not me saying that, you know, as a 30 year it person, I'm not saying, you know, Hey, you got the huh, these new fangled things. They're not as good. No, I'm not. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying though, is that both are equally valid and both have their, their uses. All right. This has been an amazing conversation. I want, I appreciate everyone taking time out of their evening to show up. Um, thank you so much for being here.
Yechiel Kalmenson (37:41):
Thanks for having us.
Jason Carrier (37:43):
Yeah. Thanks for putting this together. Leon.
Ben Keen (37:44):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for putting this together and thanks for having us Leon, I appreciate it.
Leon Adato (37:49):
Thanks for making time for us this week, to hear more of technically religious visit our website, technically, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect us on social media.




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