Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Speaking to a raging controversy

Okay, I'm biting at this one, but from the comfort of my little web soapbox. In the forums at Tech Report, there is a discussion raging about Judaism. That's fine and such, but the question being asked here is "Is Judaism genetic?"

What a bunch of idiots! Religion is a belief system. It's not genetic, no more than being Republican or Democrat is. You are brought up in the traditions, beliefs, and culture of a religion by your family, and are free to accept and reject it. Either which way, there are consequences both good and bad involved.

As for where genetics do legitimately apply, they apply in one small way. Members of a particular ethnic group may have slight genetic variations between themselves and other groups. This is mainly due to selective breeding - within a community the little genetic variations that do crop up become magnified over time. This is, for instance, why some whites are more vulnerable to diseases like cystic fibrosis, some blacks are more likely to get sickle-cell anemia, and some communities of Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to carry Tay-Sachs disease. If Ashkenazi Jews were all there were to the "Jewish people", then there might be a valid case to be made about genetic difference - but even then, not all have those genes.

More importantly, not all "ethnic Jews" are Ashkenazim, just like not all whites look the same or have the same characteristics, and not all blacks, either. There is an incredible array of diversity in the human race - but religion itself is not part of it.

The only impact religion has on humans from a genetic perspective is that people of a certain religion tend to self-select mating partners within that same group. However, the overall genepool is diverse enough that it has minimal (if any) impact in the scheme of things. The likeliest cause of any significant genetic variation in any human group nowadays is physical isolation - like the proverbial Appalachian hillbilly who has "a family tree with one branch". Extreme inbreeding will wreak havoc with any small group - whether they are dogs, racehorses, or humans.

And even in those cases, they can all still interbreed within their species - though a Chihuaha mating with a Great Dane produces a mental image that's comical in the extreme - the two could still produce offspring that would clearly be dogs (if funny-looking ones).

I'm genetically different from my employee in the next cubicle - but we are both recognizably light-skinned males. Nowhere in our genes is there a marker for religion (different for each of us).

The problem is that there's a few Jewish bigots who think that a genetic marker for Judaism is good, because it would justify the Biblical designation as "the Chosen People". And there's a few anti-Semitic bigots who think a genetic marker for Judaism is good because it would enable them to find and eliminate them all.

The truth, folks, is that it's all just a bunch of hogwash, and the only link that exists is when most members of an ethnic group happen to believe the same hogwash together (because it's common to their community). Jews, Gentiles, and bigots of all stripes share the same genes and are members of the same species. The only difference is that some humans are so stupid and/or brainwashed as to be blinded by hate and fear.

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