I recently had a guy contact me via Frumster. After reading his profile, I was concerned that we weren't quite on the same page religiously, so I questioned him a bit about his outlook about how the religious and secular aspects of the world fit together. He responded that he likes to dedicate his life to only Jewish studies, though he is open to television and movies, though well-monitored and screened. And then he wrote this statement:
"But - no reading of secular philosophy, no secular music or newspapers. Those are 100% garbage."
Well, obviously, he was writing to the WRONG person. I wrote back to him, and explained my point of view, which is diametrically opposite to his.
I explained to him, first of all, that many of our great Jewish thinkers throughout history were extremely well-read and versed in secular philosophy. That Rambam, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers ever, and one of the people who I personally think is amazing, had intimate and extensive knowledge of Greek thinkers, specifically Aristotle, and based much of his philosophy from Aristotle's writings. Throughout history, many of the people who have come to lead Judaism felt it their responsbility to have knowledge and understanding of all philosophy, secular or otherwise. To stick one's head in the sand and say anything outside of what you believe is distinctly garbage is to be ignorant, and I have trouble believing that anyone would say that being ignorant is a Jewish virtue.
I went on to further explain that I think there is a lot out there in non-Jewish music. I (pretty obviously) LOVE secular music and am not a big fan of Jewish music, which to me is just plain boring. I'm sure there is a place for it, but I don't like it. And when I listen to songs on my Ipod from my favorite (non-Jewish) music, there is so much that illustrates life in those songs that I just don't find any reason to separate myself from it.
Lastly, secular newspapers. Again, the issue of ignorance comes up. First of all, the Jewish newspapers are, for a large part, horribly written. They aren't journalism, they only report on a tiny sliver of what's going on in the world, and to read them just doesn't give a person knowledge about real life, and often offers a narrow-minded, prejudiced perspective on the world at large. I think they are more detrimental than good to most Jews. I must admit that I don't pick up and read newspapers on a daily basis (embarassingly because I don't like the way the ink rubs off on my fingers) but I make an effort to educate myself on current events via the Inernet, and I read the Newsweek my dad subscribes me to whenever I have the time.
To say that secular newspapers are 100% garbage is akin to saying that a person does not want to admit that they live in America. Whether they like it or not, they ARE affected by what goes on around them. To just let the world happen to a person, without any knowledge or forewarning, is ignorant and dangerous. I think it's extremely important to be well-informed, and most of the Jewish leaders throughout history kept themselves up to date on what was going on so that they could intelligently lead their students and followers.
So, as I'm sure you have already surmised, this guy isn't going to be the one for me. I like living in this world a little too much. Oh well.