The Dunning-Kruger Noahide Effect

dunning kruger effect

Back in 1999, two psychology professors at Cornell University, Dr. David Dunning and Dr. Justin Kruger, developed a theory about the effects of “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority.” This theory is helpful in understanding the current miasma surrounding the Noahide movement.

The short version of the theory is that many people who are either on the wrong side of the Bell Curve, or extraordinarily ignorant about a subject or skill (or all too often, both) lack the objectivity about their ability or knowledge in a particular field. Since they do not grasp the depth of knowledge required, they also miscalculate the expertise of those who do know. This leads to a certain amount of arrogance. (We’ve all known the Christian who, despite never having read the Bible all the way through, is absolutely certain he is right and you are wrong simply because he believes, facts be damned.)

Many of those who identify themselves as Noahides were culled from Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity. These former Christians went through a period of  cognitive dissonance as they learned about the Noahide law, and as they gradually learned Torah, their confidence in their interpretation of Scripture grew. Unfortunately, not only has the understanding of the application of the Noahide law has remained at a very low level, but many of the ex-Christians brought their previous attitude along for the ride.

One of the problems is that too many Noahides treat the Noahide law as a end unto itself. Endless study of minute details of laws which would only be of use in (as of now) non-existent beis din courts. Instead of understanding the Noahide law as a foundation or a platform in which to develop a system of morality and justice, the Noahides simply treat the Noahide code as a vehicle of personal religion.

To give an example, let us look at one of the hot topics of today: politics. 2016 is a presidential election year, and many Noahides are lining up behind this or that candidate and debating the issues that are bandied about in the mainstream media. To the average Joe and Jane Noahide, to purvey the Noahide code into the political arena is a violation of our society’s “wall of separation” between religion and state.

The famous phrase of “a wall of separation between Church and State” came not from the Constitution but from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The problem with this “wall” is that it is only erected when it is convenient to those who wish to downplay the Torah; no wall when our government is off on Sunday, observes Christmas, puts “In God We Trust” on the money, swears oaths of office on Bibles and has Easter-egg hunts on the White House lawn every spring. If the subject is the enactment of Torah Law, up goes the wall.

“You [Hashem] have built an indestructible foundation for Your Kingdom because of those who consider You an impediment for their ambitions and to their views on life. These men would banish You from the thoughts of mortals. They would leave no room for God’s guiding presence in actual, everyday living, but would confine the worship of You to certain places, times and occasions, to temples, churches, synagogues, festivals and special ceremonies of life.” (Rav S. R. Hirsch).

Sadly, the words of Rav Hirsch can be applied not only to the secularists in our society but Noahides as well. They don’t look at the Torah as an all-inclusive framework that applies itself to our government, economy and legal system. The Noahides talk of forming insular “Noahide communities,” unaware that all communities are “Noahide communities” (albeit unobservant at this time.) The Noahides talk about forming Noahide religious courts of Dinim, unaware that all courts should be Noahide beis din. The Noahides accept the Jewish view of Dina D’Malkhuta Dina, the law of the land is the law, unaware that this only applies to Israel during the Galus. Many of them talk about being “Born-again Ger,” that many Noahides are not “real Ger” because they do not “know” God as the “Born-again” gerrings do, and they are unaware that calling yourself ger has nothing to do with observance or understanding of the Noahide law.

The truth is, there is no “wall of separation” between Torah and State. This is a goyish concept meant to keep “religion” out of the political arena. The Constitution does not overrule the Torah—to think so is an idolatrous notion. There is not supposed to be a separate system. And the reason that the Noahides do not push this viewpoint can be explained by the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This is why Noahides yammer about things such as Second-Amendment “rights” or why this or that candidate would make America “great” again by the standards of our non-Torah observant society.

Yes, the learning curve is steep. The amount of remedial knowledge needed to understand how to apply the Noahide law in society is vast. But as long as Noahides smugly think that they know all about the Seven Laws because they know how to keep Shabbat, recite Hebrew prayers or to quote Rambam’s view on such-and-such, they will never get past the first hurdle.

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