Joshua Berg

I am cultural Jewish Humanist Unitarian Universalist minister.
This is my writing and speaking portfolio.

Buddhism Final Reflection 2020

I’ve been drawn to Buddhism since I first encountered it in undergraduate school. I was truly hooked when I read Matthieu Ricard’s book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. It was a transformative moment for me, which served not only to give me a deeper respect for Buddhism, but also lead me out of a bout of serious depression. Although my affinity for, and desire to learn about Buddhism is great, I have not done formal study beyond reading a book here and there and attending infrequent Dharma talks. Some of the dharma talks included a semi-regular sitting with my family at a Los Angeles Buddhist center as well as a sitting with the well-respected teacher Kusala Bhikshu. A consistent meditation practice is also something I have desired for years but still remains suspended in the planning stages.

The Curious Relation of Judaism and Unitarian Universalism: An Investigation

In attempting to construct a thesis explaining the relation of modern Jews and Judaism to Unitarian Universalism (UU), I was flummoxed. On the one hand, UU originated from two religions of Christian origin, one appearing in the sixteenth century, evolving out of the Protestant Reformation and the other in the eighteenth century, an indirect product of Enlightenment thought. On the other hand, Judaism is over 3000 years old. It is a pre-Christ, orally transmitted, interpreted set of commandments, interspersed with mythology and dogma that is as much an ethnic identity as it is a religion. Yet today, despite the seeming disparities and incompatibilities, Judaism and Unitarian Universalism tread much common ground and there are individual Jews who find themselves more comfortable in a Unitarian Universalist congregation than a Jewish synagogue, including myself. In order to undertake the task of formulating and supporting a thesis that explains this, it is reasonable to start with an investigation – proposing questions and exploring answers. This paper will begin such an investigation by asking and answering two questions and formulating a preliminary thesis.

Book Review: Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman

The dedication of Abby Chava Stein’s autobiographical book, Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman reads: “To my dear son, the love of my life, Duvid’l, to long years.” This protestation of love for her son sets the stage for a tale of her own parents’ rejection of their transgender daughter. She follows this with a quote from Song of Songs, a text found at the end of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. It reads: “Mighty waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep i

A Secular Humanist Chaplain Learns to Pray

I imagined that I could develop an awareness of myself as minister by answering the question, “Who am I?” The question is more appropriately, “Who am I” In the room with the patient, I am not merely the product of my life experiences, but I am Chaplain Joshua Berg, the supposed embodiment of some mystical authority, a symbol of potential “well-being” (Cobb 2014). In this role, I am tasked with being a giver of spiritual care who attempts to heal wounded “souls.” As a humanist chaplain however, s

Humanist EDge: Dear Male Humanists, or a Feminist Manifesto in Ten Suggestions

Last fall I was granted a precious space to speak at an interfaith breakfast ahead of the Planned Parenthood Day of Action in Lansing, Michigan, as well as on an interfaith panel at the Women’s Convention held a few weeks later in Detroit. Both instances were at the behest of Jenny Byer, the inspirational director of reproductive justice for the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network. Further, I spoke not just as a man but as a representative of the humanist viewpoint in the cont

"The Compassion Experience" and the Marketing of Religion

My family and I recently experienced this firsthand when we attended something called the Compassion Experience . It’s a marketing event for Compassion International, a Christian charity that employs what they dub the “one-on-one” model of giving. Donations from each individual go to sponsor a single child. The patron receives a photo of the child, a description of their life, and is encouraged to communicate with the recipient child via letters. We attended this event at my wife’s suggestion be

The Cartoon History of Humanism, Volume One: Antiquity to Enlightenment

The conceit from which The Cartoon History of Humanism, Volume One: Antiquity to Enlightenment launches is as funny as it is paradoxical. In fact, its humor comes from its contradictory nature. As a child, our protagonist Dave makes fun of a passing logical positivist, who then proceeds to do something very antithetical to logical positivism. He curses Dave, forcing him “to wander time and space conversing with humanist philosophers until he learns his lesson.” One imagines the lesson might be t

Notes from the Institute for Political Correctness

Institute for Political Correctness (IPC): Institute for Political Correctness, how may I help you?

Caller: I’m in charge of decorating our office common space for the holidays and was looking for some advice. We want to be extra politically correct this year.

IPC: Well, that’s wonderful! It’s important to respect everyone’s beliefs, traditions, and cultures. That being said—

Caller: I know holly is one of the symbols of Christmas, but Jews, for instance, don’t celebrate Christmas, so my firs

Belief in a Shared Future

This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

In February Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a Muslim-American, announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for governor of Michigan.

El-Sayed is a Rhodes Scholar who holds a doctorate from Oxford University and a medical degree from Columbia University, where he subsequently taught as an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology. Two years ago the mayor of Detroit selected him to lead the city’s Health Department. Now, at thirty

The Case for Re-Enfranchisement

I was registering voters not too long before the California primary in June when two men came in. One registered, and the other thanked us but declined. We asked if he was a citizen and a resident of California. He said he was both, but that he couldn’t register. We pushed further, only to be met with more deflection. We soon began to wonder if maybe he was an ex-convict who thought he couldn’t vote and was embarrassed to admit it. We probed gently to confirm this and, trying to ease his humilia

Challenging Preconceptions

Let’s play word association. I’ll start. “Muslim-American Abdul El-Sayed.” What immediately comes to mind? Given the prevailing anti-immigrant, Islamophobic sentiment in this nation, I imagine it’s not the term “Governor.” However, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed is not only running for governor of Michigan, but he is also exceedingly qualified to hold the office.

Dr. El-Sayed is a double D (Detroit Democrat), a Rhodes Scholar, an Oxford Ph.D., a Columbia-educated medical doctor and former head of the Detro

The Future Of Jewish Detroit

In last month’s column, I claimed I found the future of Jewish Detroit, but did not reveal what it was. Curious?

Since my homecoming, I overheard many a lament for the closing of the Oak Park JCC, relocating what is arguably the fulcrum of Jewish life forever to West Bloomfield. My own family was one of the last Jewish holdouts in south Oak Park, once a largely Jewish community just north of Detroit, which thinned as Jews migrated even further north. In the present, it seems, Jewish presence in

the wandering jew – Joshua Lewis Berg

Back After Almost 30 Years … I’ve found the future of Jewish Detroit

“Detroit” is the answer I always give when asked where I’m from. Maybe I imagine claiming, for a fleeting moment, vicariously but completely undeserved, a romanticized “street cred,” conjured up by its reputation as a tough urban city. I know the follow-up question will inevitably be, “Detroit, really?” compelling me to explain the truth, that I actually hail from the suburbs and, during my adolescence, visited Downtown Detroi

the wandering jew … Nice To Meet You!

There’s an old Jewish saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder … and your Jewish mother work harder to bring you home.” Well, she finally succeeded and I’m back.

Now I begin the work of dispelling the “fake news” built up from 25 years of nachas shepping by my mother in my absence. I fully expect to be recognized on every street corner. “Hey, aren’t you the son who speaks three languages, acted on Broadway, traveled the world and read the entire Torah portion at his bar mitzvah?”


The Equivalent of Religious Experience for the “None”

What is religious experience? Is it sui generis? Or is it an aspect of other kinds of experience? In order to answer this question, it is first necessary to accept some facts. The meaning of the word “religion” and its associated lexicon are immoderately subject to interpretation and influenced by perspective and bias. It is an English phrase of Latin origin and, when translated across languages and through the agency of multiple cultures results in significant semantic variances. The manifestations and forms of and catalysts for what is understood by many as “religious experience” are varied and possibly infinite. The Western concept of “religious experience” is subjective, unique to the individual experiencing it. What is considered “religious” is widely understood, in my experience, as inextricably connected to a belief in the supernatural as elucidated through a doctrinal lens. This definition would not apply to nonbelievers, those who are not disciples or adherents to any denomination or creed.

Mining Common Ground: Propagating Humanism Through Concord

In an interview about his book, The God Argument, the humanist philosopher, A.C. Grayling is asked by a fellow atheist, Sam Harris, about the proposition that atheism is just as dogmatic as religious fundamentalism. He gives the following response.
"There are two components to the answer: One needs to explain what “dogma” means, viz. a teaching to be accepted on authority not enquiry, and one needs to explain that robust opposition to religion in its too-common forms of bigotry, anti-science, anti-LGBT, anti-women, to say nothing of terrorism (and to ‘moderate’ religion as the burka for all this, as you point out), is justified, and cannot be effected [sic] by compromise and soft-speaking. Slavery would never have been abolished by such means."

Pro-life Tactics: An Ethical Reinterpretation of New Testament Teaching

“I can’t vote for Hillary because she kills babies.”
This was the response I received from a highly intelligent, compassionate Christian when asked about their voting intentions for the 2016 United States presidential election. The statement, of course, is not factually true. However, as a self-identified “pro-life” voter, it was their powerfully-held conviction. It was their truth, motivated and informed by their faith. This person believed vis-à-vis the bible, that abortion is murder and, as a Christian, murder cannot be condoned under any circumstances. They were informed by an eisegesis of scripture that has been carefully crafted over time, acquiring a convincing verisimilitude, especially compelling to many compassionate people of strong Christian faith.

In Theory: Is a National Day of Reason reasonable?

The American Humanist Assn., an advocacy group of nonbelievers and other secularists, is calling on Congress to recognize a National Day of Reason.

By design, the group wants the day to fall on the first Thursday in May, so it would accompany the 65-year-old National Day of Prayer.

“This is government recognition of prayer and that is wrong, no matter how you look at it,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Assn. “Having a National Day of Reason on the same day say

In Theory: How should our next president address extremism?

According to a recent Pew Research study, Americans are sharply divided, especially on party lines, as to how the next president of the United States should address Islamic extremism.

The poll found that 50% of Americans surveyed think our next leader should be careful to not criticize Islam as a whole when speaking out against extremism, while 40% want their president to speak bluntly, even if statements come off as critical of all Muslims.

When looking through the scope of party affiliation,

In Theory: A Russian court seems to equate prayer with money

A Russian regional court has ruled that an Orthodox Church diocese can repay part of its outstanding debt in prayers, the Associated Press reports.

The Nizhegorodsky Regional Court ruled earlier this month that the local Russian Orthodox Church can repay the 258,000 rubles ($3,244) it owes — along with 65,000 rubles ($817) in fines and legal fees — by praying for the health of the company that installed its boiler system.

Q. What do you think of the Russian court’s ruling?

What a strange stor

In Theory: Should religion hold sway over medical treatments?

A San Francisco judge’s recent ruling has led to new discussions about religion’s place in medical treatment.

Earlier this month Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith said Mercy Medical Center — a Catholic hospital in Redding — was not sexually discriminating against Rebecca Chamorro, who had requested a tubal ligation procedure. The judge said Chamorro could get the procedure at another hospital and that Mercy Medical Center’s policy against sterilization also applies to men.


In Theory: How faith factors into end-of-life services

More people are foregoing traditional burials in favor of cremation, and a major factor behind this trend is decreased religiosity, the Religion News Service’s Simon Davis reports.

This year, cremation is on track to surpass traditional burials for the first time, according to the funeral industry’s main trade group, the National Funeral Directors Assn.

The association, as well as other trade groups, partly attribute this trend to the rise of the so-called “religious nones,” as well as other p

In Theory: Recent study questions religion's role in altruism

Children raised in nonreligious households are more generous than those from religious families, according to a study published this month in the journal Current Biology.

In a test involving 1,170 children from various religious backgrounds and from seven cities around the world, nonreligious children were found to be more willing to share stickers with their peers and less likely to endorse harsh punishments for people who bumped into or pushed others.

“The researchers also found that the mor
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