Rabbis Without God(?!)

April 14, 2011 1:26 pm 44 comments

"Rabbi" Greg Epstein

It has been said in the name of one of the great Hassidic rebbes, that before the arrival of the messiah there will be an age of “summers without heat, winters without cold, and rabbis without Torah.” What this rebbe was expressing is the general outlook of Jewish tradition, that the messianic age will reflect a world turned topsy-turvey. Based on a recent article that appeared in the Jewish Daily Forward, “In the Search for an Alternative to God, One Rabbi Offers Some Answers” (3/26/11), one might conclude that we are already in a post-messianic era. We now have the bizarre phenomena of Rabbis, not without Torah – we’ve had that for quite awhile – but Rabbis without God!

Rabbi Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, is a “humanist rabbi, ordained by the International Institute for Humanistic Judaism.” He graciously informs the interviewer that “he’s not out to poach souls [for atheism] from the nearby Hillel House, the Catholic Newman Center, or any of the other august religious institutions…on the campus of the country’s most prestigious university.” What he doesn’t tell us is the obvious reason why he’s not out to poach souls; as an atheist he does not believe in the existence of the soul. In the worldview of the humanist/atheist, there is no non-material or “spiritual” component to the human being. The upright walking primate we call homo sapiens, and for that matter all life on earth, emerged from the pre-biotic slime some 3.8 billion years ago, as the result of an undirected naturalistic process. In the words of renowned evolutionary biologist George Gaylord Simpson, “Man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have a human in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species in the order of primates…”

Keeping this in mind, perhaps we can attempt to answer a penetrating question posed in the article: “What do a bunch of non-religious people do when they meet as a community?”  Frankly, I’m not quite sure what they do, but if they have the slightest bit of intellectual integrity, I’ll tell you what they don’t do. They certainly do not sit around extolling the virtues of American democracy. Our republic is built on the principle, that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that all men have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As an orthodox rabbi this makes perfect sense to me, because I believe that all men are created in the image of God and stand equal before their infinitely powerful creator. However, to the intellectually honest humanist/atheist, not only are men not created equal, they are not created at all. Not only are men not endowed with unalienable rights, there is no creator to endow them with any rights whatsoever!

According to the late Harvard University paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, we only exist because “one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs.” In other words, we are a kind of glorified tuna fish. What inherent rights does a tuna have? (The right to be picked by StarKist?) G.K. Chesterton pointed out the obvious when he wrote, ”The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal, for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal.”

To the humanist/atheist, the notion that all men are equal is sheer nonsense. In what way are they equal? Some are brilliantly intelligent and some are amazingly stupid. Some are highly competent and talented, some are bumbling and inept. Some are robust and powerful, some are sickly and weak. Some seem clearly born to lead and some seem born to follow. Most important of all: in a biological arena dominated by Darwinian mechanisms, some are “fit to survive,” and some are not so “fit to survive.” Thus a perfectly sensible humanistic/atheistic ideology would be the one advocated by such prominent atheists as George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Havelock Ellis; that the sickly, the mentally ill, and deformed babies should be put to death so they don’t contaminate society with their inferior genes. To be fair, G.B. Shaw was “humanistic” enough to state they should be put to death “in a decent human way.” The notion that we are nothing more than another branch on the evolutionary tree of animal life led Princeton University’s, Dr. Peter Singer (who was named Australian Humanist of the Year in 2004), to give his stamp of approval to bestiality in an article entitled “Heavy Petting.” (If Rabbi Epstein runs out of activities for his “congregation”, perhaps he could invite the distinguished Professor Singer for a show-and-tell session with one of the family pets.)

Do I believe that Rabbi Epstein and his followers will advocate infanticide and sterilization of human “misfits” as other “humanistic” thinkers have in the past? Probably not, but only because I have confidence that the God-based Judeo-Christian ethic upon which our society was built still resonates in the metaphysically existent soul of humanists like Epstein and that he would reject the perfectly internally consistent, logical and reasonable positions of humanistic moral monsters like Michael Tooley and Peter Singer.

Epstein writes in the preface of his book that people can “lead good and moral lives without super-naturalism, without higher powers, without God.” What he really means, of course, is that if people treat each other as if they are created in the image of God,as if they have been endowed with unalienable rights by their infinite Creator, as opposed to treating each other like the highly evolved bacteria and cockroaches that they actually are, then they can lead good and moral lives even while ostensibly dropping God out of the picture. It is also interesting to note that while Epstein is sufficiently bold to assert that people can be good and moral without the “higher power” of God, I doubt that he is quite bold enough to live in the Boston area without the “higher power” of the Boston Police Force.

I also have a personal comment to, and request of, Rabbi Epstein. Isn’t it scandalous enough that one can be called a “Rabbi” while at the same time declaring that the Village Voice and Rolling Stone Magazine have more to offer in the way of morality, ethics, and social justice than does the Torah?  If there can be a “Rabbi” who does not believe in God, then why not a “Rabbi” who believes in Islam, Buddhism or Christianity? Why not a Wicken “Rabbi” or a Devil-worshipping “Rabbi?” If you decided to produce watches, would you have the chutzpah to call them SEIKO? That name has already been taken. The title of “Rabbi” has also been around for thousands of years. I am certain that you would never go out of your way to insult Christians or Moslems; but have you considered that perhaps you are insulting those Jews who do believe there is sacred significance to this particular title? There are those who might mistakenly think that I am questioning your Jewishness; nothing could be further from the truth. My belief that every Jewish soul stood at Mt. Sinai and heard God speaking, makes my belief in your Jewish soul even more potent than your own. I’m asking you to have some consideration and be a mensch about it. Call yourself Doctor, Professor, Reverend, Brother, or any other name you feel appropriate, just not Rabbi.

44 Comments

  • The rabbi writes “As an orthodox rabbi this makes perfect sense to me, because I believe that all men are created in the image of God and stand equal before their infinitely powerful creator. However, to the intellectually honest humanist/atheist, not only are men not created equal, they are not created at all. Not only are men not endowed with unalienable rights, there is no creator to endow them with any rights whatsoever!”

    So this Orthodox Rabbi is arguing that we are all equal in the eyes of his god while his religion clearly states that females are less equal than males. Israeli women now have to sit in the back of buses carrying the Orthodox. Or how about the relative worth of a Palestinian and an Israeli Jew or about that of an ordinary “schlemiel” to an esteemed rabbinical sage? His position is clearly absurd. And you can see this clearly in other abrahamic religions as well. In Catholicism, you may be equal for a few minutes each Sunday and on Christmas, but at all other times if you don’t kiss that Pope’s ring, you are dead meat. In Islam, forget about it.

    For the rabbi’s edification, the rights of humans most likely evolved from the fact that all species are made up of individuals that all contribute something to the survival of the species. And, they also evolved historically from the dire consequences (ie, revolutions as in French, American and Bolshevic) that result from the ignoring of these equal rights. Moreover in each generation, we have to fight again for them against, guess who, the religious right.

    • Eric,
      I don’t know exactly where in my religion it states that woman are less equal than men. That’s simply not true. I cannot speak for any other religion.

      Joseph Stalin and Mao were not the religious right, they did quite a bit of damage.
      Moshe

  • Before we can discuss the issue of the Midianites, we have to have some sort of common ground by which we judge values.

    No, Moshe, we really don’t. This common ground that you keep referring to would be relevant if we were trying to convince each other. We’ve a long way to go before that, yet – so far, each of us has yet to understand the details of where the other stands on this question, never mind why.

    You don’t believe in God, so that obviously does not work for you.

    Again, you don’t need to “make it work” for me. I’m interested in how your moral system works from your point of view, not how well you can translate it to mine.

    In my opinion, your view is obscenely immoral.

    And your view stank worse than a beached whale in high summer long before you started on this digression, Moshe. Your personal view, with its endorsement of genocide to banish impurity, to me seems to be the one most comparable to the ideology of Nazi Germany in this analogy of yours. Now that we’re done trading compliments, let’s skip your handwringing over the massacres you are so busy imputing to me and go back to the actual question we were discussing.

    Was the extermination of the Midianites an act of genocide?

    …we do not have a common language with which to analyze the issues…

    Oh, but we do. You just seem very intent on ignoring it – assuming this was simply due to a sudden and repeated attack of bad memory, I ask again:

    Was the extermination of the Midianites an act of genocide?

    You don’t need to intimately know my worldview to answer this, Moshe. You need know nothing about me at all. You need three things: a familiarity with the event, knowledge of the definition (which I provided for you), and a bit of courage. Which of these is holding you back here?

    Of course I know what genocide is.

    When you repeatedly refuse to address the question that centers on the concept of genocide, suggest that my use of it is incorrect in some unspecified way without explaining what that is, and misuse the word the first time you make a reference to it…your knowledge of its meaning is not nearly as obvious as you seem to think it is, and rather suspect. So, again:

    Was the extermination of the Midianites an act of genocide?

    I have no problem with the guilt of the Midianites, no matter what it may be, because I believe their guilt was determined by God. As far as I’m concerned that is a given.

    There we go – now we’re getting somewhere. Say more. What I’m getting from this quote is that you consider God’s judgment to be supreme and unquestionable – if he says they deserve to die, they deserve to die no matter what the reason. Is that correct?

    You also said earlier that this story contains a lesson about unbridled promiscuity – to me, this seems to conflict with the “no matter what” attitude you’re expressing now. If it doesn’t matter what they were guilty of, then their destruction can hardly be a lesson about the dangers of a particular thing. Could you elaborate on what seems like a contradiction here?

    • 1. Was the killing of the Midianites genocide?

      There were without question many people killed. The problem with the word “genocide” is that it immediately implies some horribly immoral act. If that is your implication by using the word genocide then it is clearly not genocide. But yes, a large percentage of the Midianites were deliberately killed

      2. Is God’s judgment unquestionable?
      Abraham and Moses both challenged God’s judgement and “won.” However, all that is before the fact. After the fact of tragedy we accept his judgement. For example upon death of an immediate family member Jews recite a blessing that “God is the absolutely truthful judge”. Once God has executed judgement or issued a direct command there is complete acceptance of the truth of the judgement. God is not a person, he is both above the physical and the spiritual. (composed of neither matter nor energy and does not exist in time or space, he created those. He is also above the spiritual, the spiritual world is also a creation. He is completely and totally “other”.) God does not make “mistakes”, he does not “forget” to take certain factors into account. He does not “lose” his temper and does not act capriciously. All these apply to humans, they do not apply to God. Whenever the Torah uses these types of terms, it is the way we perceive God’s relationship to his creation, not him in his essence.

      When you say that if God says they deserve to die then it is just “no matter what the reason,” you are putting the cart before the horse, at least in Jewish theology. You have to be very careful whenever you ascribe “motivation” to God. “Motivation” implies need, need implies lack; God does not need or lack anything therefore he has no “motivation” to do anything, at least not in any way that is comprehensible to us. In this sense it becomes absurd for us as “creatures” (I.e. created by God) to discuss “why” God does anything. What can be discussed perhaps is what is accomplished or what is the “purpose” os a particular action.

      Example:If I come across a structure, I can ask two different questions: 1. Why did the builder build it?
      2. What is the structure’s purpose?
      The first question is unanswerable unless the builder tells me himself. The second question can be answered by looking at the way the structure is built. Some structures are clearly built to house a family, some are built to be warehouses, and some are built to house offices and businesses. That still does not tell me “why” the builder built them, it only tells me the purpose they are meant to serve. Again, we don’t know “why” God does anything at all. Sometimes we can understand the purpose or at least part of the purpose. There may very well be times, when we have very little idea, or even no idea at all,what purpose is accomplished by an “act of God,” but it is a given that there is a purpose, and it is perfectly just.

      3. “Could you elaborate on what seems like a contradiction here?” I don’t quite understand what is bothering you here. The command to massacre the Midianites was clearly a reaction to the incident related in Numbers, Chapter 25: 1-9. The Midianites, together with the Moabites enlisted their most prominent woman to seduce the Jewish men and entice them into pagen worship. The specific woman mentioned was a Midianite princess (Numbers 25: 15). The entire story need quite a bit of elaboration, but that is the reference to unbridled promiscuity. I’m not sure if that clarifies your question or not. If not, please explain.

      • There were without question many people killed.

        That’s a very interesting way of not quite saying “yes” to the question I was asking. Let me ask again, because I want to be certain I’m not misunderstanding you here:

        Does the destruction of the Midianites fall under the definition of “deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group”?

        The problem with the word “genocide” is that it immediately implies some horribly immoral act. If that is your implication by using the word genocide then it is clearly not genocide. But yes, a large percentage of the Midianites were deliberately killed

        There isn’t a separate definition of genocide that has “horribly immoral act” tacked on at the end, Moshe. The reason the implication that you worry about here exists is that to most people, the deliberate destruction of a people is an abhorrent and morally repulsive thing.

        Don’t worry, your objection to being counted among such people has been noted.

        However, all that is before the fact. After the fact of tragedy we accept his judgement.

        I’m not sure I’m quite understanding you here. You’re saying that God’s judgment can be challenged and questioned before it is finalized, but after it is implemented the same judgment that could previously be contested now becomes immutable and unquestionable?

        On what grounds does one challenge a judgment that, according to you, is perfect?

        Again, we don’t know “why” God does anything at all.

        …but it is a given that there is a purpose, and it is perfectly just.

        If God’s aims and reasons are as unknowable as you take pains to describe, what are you basing that second statement on? After all, you have no way to judge the justice and purposefulness of his actions.

        I don’t quite understand what is bothering you here.

        If you punish a boy for stealing cookies, you are teaching him not to steal cookies. But if you punish him randomly – if what he has done is irrelevant in the question of what punishmeent he receives and when he receives it – then there is no lesson in this, except perhaps to fear you. You can’t do both at once – your punishment can’t be simultaneously purposeful and purposeless.

        You said earlier in the discussion that Perhaps the lesson it does teach us is how strongly the Torah condemns unbridled promiscuity – but more recently, you said that I have no problem with the guilt of the Midianites, no matter what it may be. And this seems to put you at odds with yourself – because either the actions of the Midianites matter (as in your first quote) and this is a lesson about their consequences, or they do not (as in your second quote) and it cannot be such a lesson.

        The Midianites, together with the Moabites enlisted their most prominent woman to seduce the Jewish men and entice them into pagen worship. The specific woman mentioned was a Midianite princess (Numbers 25: 15).

        Interesting – because that is not what the text says.

        Numbers 25:1 “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab.”
        Numbers 25:2 “And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.”
        Numbers 25:6 “And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.”

        The people of Israel “began to commit harlotry”. Zimri, son of Salu, “brought a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses”. These look like voluntary actions to me, Moshe, undertaken by men of Israel. In 25:2, “they called the people” is the reference which, of that entire chapter, comes closest to what you describe – yet there is no word of compulsion or treachery; the people of Israel accepted the invitation of their own free will, and “did eat, and bowed down to their gods”. Yet in your description there is not a whisper of their responsibility, and instead you describe a Midianite conspiracy, with Cozbi, the woman Zimri invites into his tent, as their chief agent. Since this is a very significant departure from the text in Numbers, what are you basing this on?

        • “If you punish a boy for stealing cookies, you are teaching him not to steal cookies.”

          No, that’s not quite right is it Johann. Are you even a parent? You’re not teaching him anything yet. To simply punish a kid when he steals associates pain with stealing. And that does not remove the boys tendency to steal, it does nothing to replace the time it would take for him to do it again, in other words, when the pain is gone the urge to steal returns, neither does it explain stealing or pain in the context of love and family within which inherently are values, ethics, and morals. You must train up a child to work, and to do right not simply to eschew evil, and not simply punish. There is a difference between punishment and discipline. You also take for granted the relationship between Israel and her God. God came to us, not the other way around. We did not invent religion, God used us to communicate to the world His Righteousness. You will never understand, until you understand. Or perhaps like Pharaoh, the Almighty has judged you already and hardened your heart, let us hope He has not and is merciful towards you that your ontological and teleological eyes may be opened.

    • Was the extermination of the Midianites an act of genocide?

      Verse 22 of Judges chapter 7 says’ “and the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow,”. You see all Gideon did was blow some horns and these guys full of fear killed themselves. Verses 1,2,3,4,5, and 6 are very explicit. It was they, the Midianites, who first drove Israel into the mountains and who first gathered to eradicate Israel. It was their oppression of Israel that begot the deliverance which ensued at the hand of Gideon.

      You don’t know, so your writing sounds foolish. Read the book. He, the Almighty, will show you Himself, do You believe this? That He will show you?

  • I will have to think carefully before replying. I’m not sure if we have any common ground here to work with. As far as I’m concerned Imperial Japan was one of the most evil empires to exist in the history of mankind. A nation cannot wage total war like the Japanese without the complete support of the people. Men won’t fight if their mothers and wives are dead set against the war effort. Anyone who has an understanding of the abominable atrocities committed by the Japanese would find it hard to believe that anyone could be more evil. And yet the Germans managed to even outdo Japan. It is not hard to understand why they were allies. If you feel that hundreds of thousands of American soldiers should have died defeating these countries rather than drop atomic bombs on the evil members of these empires, frankly I think your moral sense is quite warped, at least from where I am standing. I’m not sure where to begin the discussion. You are prepared to sacrifice innocent American soldiers in a war rather than destroy the truly evil people and then you throw around words like “genocide” as if they have some meaning and significance. After hearing your answers, I’m not sure I even understand what you mean by these words. I will need some time to reply.

    • A nation cannot wage total war like the Japanese without the complete support of the people. Men won’t fight if their mothers and wives are dead set against the war effort.

      Men will fight for plenty of reasons – for instance, if they have been deceived about the reasons for fighting, if there’s a gun to the heads of the mothers and wives you mention, or if there’s a batallion behind their backs with orders to kill anyone trying to retreat. You’ll have to work harder than that if you want to convince me that wholesale slaughter of civilians is a morally acceptable military option.

      …frankly I think your moral sense is quite warped, at least from where I am standing.

      Huh. I would almost be offended by that…except, well, look who’s talking. =)

      Anyone who has an understanding of the abominable atrocities committed by the Japanese would find it hard to believe that anyone could be more evil.

      I know about the atrocities, Moshe. I know about the slavery, the mass executions, the human experiments, and the rest.

      You’re not merely missing the point, you’re not even aiming in the right direction.

      …you throw around words like “genocide” as if they have some meaning and significance.

      Sure they do. Let’s see:

      Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

      Explain how the account of the destruction of the Midianites we’ve been discussing does not fit this description, or propose an alternate definition that makes your position look less morally bankrupt, and then perhaps I’ll give you a pass on the smarmy condescension.

      Heck, even just a passing mention of why you consider the Midianites to be analogous to Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany would be nice, because you’re been absolutely silent on this subject so far.

      Until then…

      • It seems clear that your attitude is a stunning example of an observation of the rabbinic sages of the talmud: “The one who is merciful to the cruel, in the end will be cruel to the merciful.”

        In your misplaced compassion for poor, innocent, Japanese and German civilians, you would be prepared to send hundreds of thousands of truly innocent American soldiers to their deaths (in other words you would be guilty of genocide of American soldiers). IF you had been in command of the Allied forces, the war would never have ended and Japan and Germany would never have been defeated. IF you are unable to see the profound evil that permeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, especially in the civilian societies that made them possible, and the imperative to destroy these regimes no matter what the cost, then this is our point of divergence,I really don’t see how to find any common ground with which to continue the discussion.

        What would be the difference if I explained how the Midianites were analagous to Germans and Japanese, you don’t think the Germans or Japanese were guilty, why would you think the Midianites were guilty?

        • It seems clear that your attitude is a stunning example of an observation of the rabbinic sages of the talmud: “The one who is merciful to the cruel, in the end will be cruel to the merciful.”

          It’s abundantly clear from your comments that you do not understand where I’m coming from on this and that you have completely ignored my note about you missing the point. So be it. This is the second time I’m pointing this out to you – that you do not understand my position and that you are letting your imagination take over where your understanding fails you without seeming to notice the difference. There won’t be a third; courtesy only stretches so far. I’m not even going to bother pointing out the half a dozen mistaken assumptions in your message until you show some courage and actually put forward a coherent post on at least the question of the Midianites, out of the many we’ve been discussing, instead of casting about for excuses to ditch the conversation.

          In your misplaced compassion for poor, innocent, Japanese and German civilians, you would be prepared to send hundreds of thousands of truly innocent American soldiers to their deaths (in other words you would be guilty of genocide of American soldiers).

          So you actually do not understand the definition of genocide. Thank you for clarifying that. This explains a lot about your argumentation so far.

          What would be the difference if I explained how the Midianites were analagous to Germans and Japanese, you don’t think the Germans or Japanese were guilty, why would you think the Midianites were guilty?

          For one, it would show that you actually have a coherent moral position in this question, and the courage to defend it. So far, I’m seeing neither, and I really expected better from an Orthodox rabbi.

          • Before we can discuss the issue of the Midianites, we have to have some sort of common ground by which we judge values. So far, I have not been able to find one with you. This is not looking for excuses, it simply means we do not have a common language with which to analyze the issues. If you assert that opposite angles are equal, and I assert they are not equal, our geometries will have nothing in common.

            I have no problem with the guilt of the Midianites, no matter what it may be, because I believe their guilt was determined by God. As far as I’m concerned that is a given. Once we know that, we could begin to discuss what exactly it was that made them deserving of death. You don’t believe in God, so that obviously does not work for you. We then need to find some other principle from which to work with. So far I have not been able to find anything, and as the discussion continues, it seems that our principles are further and further apart. The example in front of us now is the issue of Japanese and German civilians. You would have sacrificed hundreds of thousands of American soldiers in an invasion of Japan, and it is clear to me that it was our moral obligation to end the war by dropping Atomic bombs on Japan. In my opinion, your view is obscenely immoral. I simply don’t know where to take this discussion. If we cannot agree on this, there is no possible way to come to any type of understanding about the Midainites.

          • PS Johann,

            Of course I know what genocide is. I was simply saying it in a manner of speaking, referring to the deaths of large amounts of American soldiers.

  • If a society chooses to base its world outlook on the fiction (according to you) that all men are created equal and stand equal before an infinite non-existent god, then they are free to do so. On the other hand they are free to create gulag or North Korea also. I honestly do not understand this comment that you made.

    …and in asking this, you’ve just done the exact same thing again – associated equality before the law with the idea of divine creation (all men are created equal and stand equal before an infinite non-existent god), and put forward dictatorship and misery as the alternative to that union. I suspect you would object to me saying that you can “either be ignorant and religious, or seek enlightenment” – but that’s exactly what you’re doing here.

    I never denied that even in an atheistic worldview human beings have SUBJECTIVE attachements and even SUBJECTIVE values. From what you wrote you seem to agree with me. SUBJECTIVELY all kinds of things have value, but OBJECTIVELY, in other words. in reality, nothing has value.

    To quote, “I don’t quite understand your point”. Let’s unpack this a little.

    You believe that there is a god whose subjective preference for humankind (as opposed to, say, dolphins) and for particular humans gives them objective value. “Objective”, in this usage, seems to mean “important enough that there is no earthly appeal from it”.
    I believe that there is no such god, and that the end goal of most moral and legal systems is ultimately to satisfy subjective human values – and (generally) to arrange things to benefit as many as possible, and to minimize conflict between the two. There have been exceptions along the way (slavery, feudalism, etc.), generally motivated by those in power valuing their power over the common good, but this has been and remains the goal.

    To address your “OBJECTIVELY, in other words. in reality, nothing has value” – only in the sense that the Earth and the larger universe beyond does not and has no means to understand or care whether you or I are the ones walking it right now. Mountains don’t rise or fall depending on how well you like your neighbor. All value is necessarily subjective, being, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder – but the existence of this dazzling tangle of subjective values, most of them shared by most people but with some spectacular outliers, is an objective fact that must be accounted for by the rules of any stable society.

    Our moral systems arise from the commonality of our subjective values, Moshe. If as a species we did not care about fairness, or family, or friendship, our society would have very different standards today. Had cuckoos become intelligent instead of apes, for instance, their society would have very different laws of paternity. ;)

    I know what the word reciprocity means, I don’t know what it is as a moral philosophy. I’m not sure it really matters, but perhaps explain it to me.

    It’s a term from game theory. Very briefly summarized, the idea is “treat others as they have most recently treated you”. You implied that there was no basis for a system of morality outside of religion; this concept is one of a multitude that can be part of a moral system with no religious elements.

    I don’t see any way around that fact that at best all atheistic value systems are nothing more than different forms of social contracts that different societies make at different places, at different times, and in different ways.

    So are all religious value systems, Moshe. They just falsely claim a higher authority – each a different one, at different places, at different times, and in different ways.

    I also don’t see how you can escape the simple fact that objectively none of them have more significance over any other.

    As there are spectacularly obvious, factual differences between them, please define “objectively” as you’re using it here. So far as I can see, it’s simply a shorthand for your god’s supposed stamp of approval – and he’s been reported to change his mind on many things.

    Your personal preference might determine which you choose, or even where you choose to live, but when you tell me you prefer this code of behavior over another, it is roughly the same as telling me your prefer chocolate ice cream over strawberry. Somebody else prefers strawberry and might also prefer communism, socailism, facism, or the samurai code, over western democracy.

    …so I’m going to assume that you’re not deliberately trying to insult me with this comparison, because I get this crap from every shiny little stripe of the religious rainbow, and I will point out why it is insulting to help you avoid this in the future.

    Your comment is based on the assumption that there is no substantial difference to me between choosing a favorite flavor of ice cream and a social order that has a tremendous impact on the lives of everyone around me. It is exactly as if you said that there’s no difference to me between kissing someone I love and hitting them in the face – it implies that I am void of the most basic human values such as compassion, or of the modicum of perception required to empathize with others, or both.

    People like that are called sociopaths, Moshe, not atheists. Has it perhaps escaped your notice that you’re the one arguing for genocide in the case of the Midianites and I’m the one arguing against it? I care about people. Passionately. In all their complexity and frailty and the occasional horrifying excess. I can only hope that your failure to recognize this is a temporary, remediable condition and not an article of faith.

    You say you will “not dictate” your code of values to others. My guess is that if it involves making “colored” people sit at the back of the bus or drinking from separate drinking fountains, you most likely would “dictate” your values to others, and do everything possible to FORCE them to comply.

    Stay on topic, please. We were talking about deciding which system is best; now you’re talking about my reaction to someone implementing a patently harmful system. These are two very different sets of circumstances, and call for different responses – much like attending a town hall meeting on reducing pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents (where you have an opinion and perhaps some information to contribute) vs. seeing somebody about to be hit by a car (where you can best help by pushing them out of the way). And no, I would not “do everything possible to FORCE them to comply”, because in light of your other statements this one smells suspiciously like concentration camps.

    1. New Philosophical paradigm: If you have rejected the Torah as the source of moral values, then obviously something else is. Without the Torah as the basis for your view of reality, you have created a new system, it’s not Judaism anymore.

    My objection here was to your claim that this system was something that Michael has just recently cobbled together, not that it was distinct from your understanding of the Torah. I’ll leave alone the issue of your hubris in dictating who does and does not belong under the umbrella of Judaism – others have addressed that already.

    2. Re: The U.N. – Just read the newspapers.

    That’s a cop-out, not an answer. I trust I do not need to explain the distinction between the two.

    3. Re; Jewish Scripture as most influential: The dominant ideologies in the world today are Christianity, Islam, and American Democracy. And right smack in the middle of everything are the Jews in Israel. The roots of all of them can be traced back to ideas contained in Jewish scripture. This is not a controversial statement.

    That Christian and Islamic tradition has in the distant past incorporated elements of Jewish scripture is not a controversial statement, true, but it is amusing that you are trying to appropriate their accomplishments when they both consider the Jewish tradition outdated and themselves partly an update and partly a repudiation of it. That the political system of the United States is directly traceable to Jewish origins is far more questionable, and requires some serious substantiation.

    But let’s say I grant you the secondhand accomplishments you claim. Let’s ignore the fact that pretty much everything outside the Tanakh has no importance, today and at any point in history, to anyone outside your tiny religious group. The influence you claim still reaches only about two thirds of the world’s population.

    If you want a book that introduced ideas which are now are used everywhere in the world, on a daily basis, by people who have never even heard of it, you’re looking for Kitab al-Jabr wa-l-Muqabala.

    Let’s see if we can find some common ground on the Midianite woman. Do you believe that the decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was morally justified?

    The slaughter of the women was a particularly heinous act, but please don’t mistake that for the entirety of what I’m objecting to. The extermination of the Midianites was an act of deliberate genocide – do you agree with this statement, regardless of what you think about the reasons?

    And no, I do not believe that bombing Hiroshima was morally justified.

    Over to you.

    • In your opinion, would it have been morally justified to drop an Atomic bomb on Berlin and Munich if that would have brought an immediated end to the war?

      • You’ll have to clarify the details of your alternate history scenario, Moshe, as I don’t see how bombing Allied and Soviet troops that had occupied Berlin three months prior would make Japan surrender.

        No comment on anything else?

        • “Were Germans who sincerely believed that Jews threatened their ideal of racial purity morally justified in helping with the genocide of their Jewish neighbors?”

          Oh dear. Why don’t you clarify YOUR revisionist history scenario, Johann?

      • Also, a question that I hope you will answer if we’re going to focus on the Midianites: Were Germans who sincerely believed that Jews threatened their ideal of racial purity morally justified in helping with the genocide of their Jewish neighbors?

        • I meant if it had brought an immediate end to the war in Europe, not Japan. You already said you don’t think the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was morally justified

          • Okay, that’s clearer. So our hypothetical situation is that the atom bomb was completed several years before it actually was, and was available, I’m assuming, from the start of the war.

            To stop the invading Germany of the first half of the war: Probably, depending on how it was used.
            To beat Germany into submission faster once it was on the retreat: No.

            Still hoping that you will take the time to at least address the questions on genocide.

        • Johann: Many Germans knew exactly what they were doing was wrong but they did so nevertheless. They murdered millions so that they could rob Jewish and Polish people. Do you know what happened when the Germans invaded Poland? They simply forced Polish people out of their houses, put them in cattle carts and sent them to death camps and then German families moved in and took those houses. This is what the Nazis called Lebensraum. Don’t you know that the German Nazis were cold, calculating thieves as well as murderers. After murdering millions of Jews they helped themselves to their possessions too.

          These aren’t the actions of people who ‘sincerely believed’ in something. And wtf do you think is ‘racial purity’ you dummkopf! There’s no such thing as racial purity and the fact that you’v even bought into such an idea shows me what your true colours really are.

          I’m getting heartily sick of your disgustingly vile attempts to try to lessen the significance of the holocaust by goosestepping your arrogant way onto a Jewish online newspaper. I’m actually glad that Rabbi Averick has not deleted your comments as it allows everyone to see the nastiness and paranoid craziness of hate-filled revisionists like you.

  • Larry Angert

    Dear Moshe,

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to respond to my last posting. I’d like to talk a bit about the real crux of the issue: the unanswerable question of “who is a Jew.”

    Some say that one’s Jewishness is primarily a question of how one’s behavior vis-a-vis prayer, kashrut observance, etc., even in the absence of faith in divine revelation and rabbinic transmission of Torah.

    Others define one’s Jewishness as one would determine the bloodline of a prize calf or foal, regardless of the person’s life history, learning, philosophy, or behaviors (however “unkosher” or despicable they may be).

    Behavior or bloodline: which, if either, should all of us agree upon as the sine quo non of Jewish-ness?

    Now let’s approach the issue from another direction. Assume for a moment, as I and many others do, that Jewishness has nothing to do with either faith, belief, parentage, or mitzvot. Instead, consider that one’s Jewishness is a function of one’s membership–either by one’s rearing or by one’s knowing and voluntary self-inclusion–in what I’ll call “our tribe.” In other words, treat one’s Jewishness as a matter of culture, which takes many forms and expressions around the world and over the centuries–rather than as a question of either beliefs or bloodlines.

    Humanistic Jews and many others live their Jewish lives based on this premise. This approach allows both you (a “traditional” Jew) and me (an apikoros of the first degree) to call ourselves Jews and to be members of our wonderful tribe. This premise also allows thousands of children of Asian, African, and eastern European birth to be adopted into the tribe without no requirement for a surgical procedure or the need to profess that which they may not truly believe: it requires only inculcation of the tribe’s heritage and the willingness to belong. It allows me to strive to be a mentsh primarily through my associations and work with like minded secular Jews.

    Why with Jews? Because rightly or wrongly, I take pride in my tribal membership. I’m unable and unwilling to think of myself as anything BUT a Jew.

    I continue to resist the position of the “New Atheists” who denigrate believers. I disagree with believers, both Jewish and otherwise, but I am big enough to tolerate them as long as they do not impose their beliefs, definitions, and (certainly in Israel) legal control over identity and all that it entails.

    Is it not the ultimate hubris to define words like “rabbi” and “Jewish” in a way that would intentionally exclude other Jews–educated, thoughtful, intensely engaged in their tribal membership–from the tribe?

    I do sincerely hope that you and yours enjoy the remaining days of a peaceful and meaningful pesach.

  • Rabbi Averick,

    The ongoing philosophical discussion being conducted here hardly interests me any more: neither side can or will convince the other. Why? Because both sides are speaking of their respective beliefs, which are inherently emotional and can neither be proven nor disproved by verifiable means.

    What bothers me about your original assertions directed toward Rabbi Epstein is the hubris you display toward those whose fail to believe as you do.

    Let’s say that for thousands of years, an unbroken chain of parents have taught their children that the “Book of Qwerty” contains the literal word and will of a universal creator. Throughout all those generations, that “fact” was considered to be inviolate and true.

    Are we all to afford that belief the same validity and respect as one who espouses a philosophy claiming that all Jewish souls were present at Sinai? (A belief that presupposes the unprovable, such as (1) there was an event at Sinai, and (2) there are, in fact, souls.)

    Please be kind enough to consider that I and a multitude of other Jews, are of the opinion that “Yes, those two philosophies are equally ridiculous. One myth is as valid as the other.”

    I am happy, within limitations, to afford believers of either myth the freedom to believe what they choose. I do ask them, however, not to impinge on the reality of the world we all share, and to refrain from denigrating the practices and philosophies of others, however wrong-minded they may think they are.

    When the beliefs of one group impact the real-world and the governmental force of law that affect other Jews (e.g. determining who is or is not permitted to call someone a Jew), then I say “Enough!”

    Believe what YOU want to believe, by all means. But where do you get off telling others that your unprovable and irrational beliefs are the true incarnation of Jewishness.

    • Larry,
      First of all thank you for your thoughtful remarks and observations even if I disagree with them.
      You state that “Please be kind enough to consider that I and a multitude of other Jews, are of the opinion that Yes, those two philosophies [i.e., belief in revelation at Mt. Sinai and belief in a non-material soul] are equally ridiculous. One myth is as valid as the other.”
      You are certainly entitled to believe that revelation at Mt. Sinai and the existence of the soul is false, a myth, unprovable, irrational, etc. That is your prerogative. My purpose in writing the column entitled “Rabbis Without God” was not an attempt to demonstrate the truth of those propositions. (My demonstration of the rational approach to believing in the existence of the soul is presented in my book, Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist) My point was that the terms “Jewish” and “Rabbi” have ceased to have any significance. They mean whatever you want them to mean. You ignored my central point. Why not a “Rabbi” who espouses Christianity or Buddhism? Why not a “Rabbi” who believes in Valhalla or worships the devil?
      Larry, what do YOU believe is the meaning of being Jewish? If it means everything and anything, then it of course means nothing at all. Let’s say that you are correct; let’s say that my beliefs are “unprovable and irrational” (obviously I do not believe they are.) Let’s say there is no soul, no God, and no revelation. Why should anyone care at all about being Jewish? To care about being Jewish and to believe that it actually has some significance under those circumstances is clearly the most irrational and unprovable position of all.
      You seem upset that I challenged someone else’s concept of what it means to be Jewish. If one’s position is not worth asserting and defending, then what is the point to having that position at all?
      Chag Samech, Moshe Averick

  • An astonishingly poorly-informed and graceless article. Apparently you have made no attempt to investigate the rich tradition of Humanistic Judaism. Indeed you give no real impression of being legitimately interested in the question you seek to explore – what might it mean to be a Rabbi who does not believe in God? This is a worthwhile question, worthy of consideration and debate of a considerably higher order than is present in this thoughtless piece.

    I won’t even begin responding to your strange ideas regarding the foundation of the (secular) United States. They are too confused to untangle.

    Disappointing.

    • James,
      You write that I made no attempt to investigate the “rich tradition of Humanistic Judaism.” You may very well be correct but it is beside the point. All atheistic ideologies have certain fundamental beliefs in common and it was those fundamental foundational beliefs that I addressed in the article. I will summarize:
      All atheistic ideologies believe the following:

      a. All life emerged from non-life some 3.8 billion years ago. This was not a planned or purposeful event it just happened to turn out that way.

      b. Humans are qualitatively no different than any other living organism. We are to a cockroach, what a cockroach is to a bacterium.

      c. As Sigmund Freud put it: “The moment a man contemplates the meaning and value of life he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence” Humanistic Judaism, or Humanistic Anything for that matter, is simply an attempt to subjectively assign meaning and value to life, which in objective reality has no meaning or value at all. It is your prerogative to do this, but at least have the intelletual integrity to admit the truth.

      d.”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, all men have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.” – to the intellectually honest atheist, humanist, or humanist Rabbi, this entire concept is complete nonsense, just as the the idea of a covenant between the nation of Israel and God, or the splitting of the sea, etc. is also complete nonsense.

      My ideas about the founding of what you call the “secular” United States are astonishingly simple.
      The words of the Declaration of Independance speak for themselves. You say you won’t even “begin responding your strange ideas about the founding of the United States.” In fact James, you didn’t respond to any of the points I made. You are certainly entitled to your opinion but you have presented nothing even remotely approaching a critique or rebuttal of the very simple points that I made. Before you discuss the idea of what it could possibly mean to be a humanist “Rabbi”, you need to address the much more fundamental issue of the very obvious implications of the atheistic world view.
      Sincerely, Moshe Averick

      • That life emerged without the magical powers of an improbable and vain god with some purpose of his own that we ought to care about for some reason is not less ridiculous than saying that life emerged spontaneously without a magical agent. That we are no different from cockroaches except in our self-importance and to each other is not well explained by an agent with magical powers either. There is meaning in existence and in the quality of that existence. If there were not then what meaning could god’s existence have had to him and what purpose could have existed that required the creation of men?
        I’m unsure why I should care whether the founding fathers were theists or not, founding fathers were men and are allowed to be as mistaken as any other men. If they mistakenly attribute their moral inclinations to a god, it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. Indeed atheist and Jew alike benefitted from their effort to keep those various religious representatives from ripping each other apart as had been happening in Europe.

      • Brian Westley

        “All atheistic ideologies believe the following:

        a. All life emerged from non-life some 3.8 billion years ago. This was not a planned or purposeful event it just happened to turn out that way.”

        This is easily shown wrong by pointing to the Raelians; they are an explicitly atheist flying saucer cult that believes all life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials.

  • “I also have a personal comment to, and request of, Rabbi Epstein. Isn’t it scandalous enough that one can be called a “Rabbi” while at the same time declaring that the Village Voice and Rolling Stone Magazine have more to offer in the way of morality, ethics, and social justice than does the Torah?”

    By way of “morality, ethics and social justice”, Rabbi, are you referring to the Jewish slaughter of the 500 and then the 70,000 Persians in the Megillah? Do we God believing Jews hold that slaughter as an example of our morality? What about Numbers 31:1-54 Under God’s direction, Moses’ army defeats the Midianites. They kill all the adult males, but take the women and children captive. When Moses learns that they left some live, he angrily says: “Have you saved all the women alive? Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves”

    What is the moral lesson here? Looking forward to your explanation.

    Michael Witkin
    The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism
    New York, NY

    • Michael,

      Your question is a valid one, but I don’t know if I will be able to answer before shabbos. Before I leave however, I will point out that you are raising an objection about something that happened well over 2400 years ago. I’ve never met an Orthodox Jew who felt it was his duty to seek out Midianite woman and slay them. I myself believe in the story and the events completely, yet I’ve never gone out looking for Midianite woman to kill. I take shabbos and kashrut seriously, why not these? The answer is going to lie in the clarification of exactly what a Jew is supposed to learn from these events, and what Jews ACTUALLY HAVE learned from these stories. Will write more later.
      good shabbos, Moshe Averick

    • Jews killing Persians!? are you serious!?
      The Persians were out to exterminate them! do you even know the story of Purim?
      that would be the EXACT equivalent of Jewish partisans killing Nazi stormtroopers. is that also considered “immoral slaughter” to you Michael?

    • Michael,

      When you talk about what you perceive as Torah sanctioned massacres you are in fact agreeing with my point. You do not feel that the Torah is a source of morality, ethics, or social justice. Then what exactly do you mean by calling yourself “Rabbi” , what do you mean by “Jewish”?

      You have essentially made up a new philosophical paradigm, perhaps drawing on those Jewish sources which you like, but also drawing on any other source that suits your fancy.

      Christianity also draws quite heavily on Jewish sources as does Islam, Bahai, and American Democracy. The Civil Rights movement of the 60′s drew on images from the Jewish prophets. That does not make them Judaism. The United Nations, which spends an inordinate amount of time spewing Jew hatred, has the Isaiah Wall, which is the inspiration for a united mankind. (It sure took them long enough to get the idea, and then they condemn the people who gave it to them in the first place!)

      In fact Jewish scripture is the single most influential document in the history of mankind, why shouldn’t it influence you also? Just because you are influenced by Judaism, along with a vey large portion of humanity, does not justify appropriating the term “Rabbi” or “Judaism”, in my opinion.

      As far as the killing of Midianite woman. In WW2 we killed Japanese and German men,woman,and children by the hundreds of thousands. Most people are unaware that the fire bombing raids on Tokyo killed more men, woman, and children in one night than the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (individually, not combined),
      There is a time when killing civilians is justified, when you are facing a very wicked and evil enemy.

      If anyone is to understand what that story in the Torah means to JEWS, then it must be undersood within he guidelines and parameters of the traditional methods of explicating the Torah. Frankly, it is irrelevant what you or anyone else thinks of the story, because that only tells us your personal opinion, not a JEWISH opinion. Jews have learned and discussed this story for over three thousand years, if you want to understand what it means within Judaism, see what difference it actually reflects in the way Jews have lived. Jews have always believed that the order to kill these woman was at the direct commandment of God himself. It was for a specific reason at a specific time. If Allied Air command could make a decision to kill Japanese woman and children, I think the infinite Creator of the universe is entitled to make a similar evaluation if he sees fit. There is no Jew in the history of the Jewish people who has ever understood that this was some
      kind of general command to go around killing non-virgin gentile woman, whether they be Midianites,Moabites, etc.

      The “klal gadol batorah” – the great principle of Torah has always been “Love your neighbor as yourself”, not “seek out gentile women to kill.”
      In the past 100 years there has only been one great Jewish sage within the Orthodox world who has been universally accepted by Hassidim, Litvaks, Ashkenazim, Sepharadim, by every segment of the Torah world, and that is Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, The Chofetz Chaim. I have studied many of his works. His magnum opus was a rather encyclopedic work on the laws of gossip (lashon harah) and explaining why “guarding one’s tongue” is crucial in bringing about the redemption of the Jewish people and all mankind. Nowhere in any of his prolific writings does he suggest sharpening our swords and looking for Midianite woman to kill.(that particular
      path to eternal glory,seems to be the purvey of many of our cousins, the sons of Ishmael.) If you are suggesting, Michael, that the killing of “civilians” is never justified, I think you are self-apparently mistaken, if you are suggesting that the story in Numbers reflects a fundamental mode of behavior for Jews, I think you are also self-apparently mistaken.
      Perhaps the lesson it does teach us is how strongly the Torah condemns unbridled promiscuity and how dangerous that is to the spiritual well being of Am Yisroel. but that is for another time.
      Thank you for your question, hope to hear your reaction.
      Sincerely, Moshe Averick

      • …You have essentially made up a new philosophical paradigm…

        …The United Nations, which spends an inordinate amount of time spewing Jew hatred…

        …In fact Jewish scripture is the single most influential document in the history of mankind…

        Citation needed.

        There is a time when killing civilians is justified, when you are facing a very wicked and evil enemy.

        Like unarmed women you have taken prisoner after slaughtering their families and razing their homes. Clearly, they’re the ones who are “very wicked and evil” in this situation.

        Words fail me.

        Jews have always believed that the order to kill these woman was at the direct commandment of God himself.

        And since they were just following orders when they were enacting this genocide, that makes it okay. Is that an example of the “objective morality” you’re advertising?

        Perhaps the lesson it does teach us is how strongly the Torah condemns unbridled promiscuity and how dangerous that is to the spiritual well being of Am Yisroel.

        More dangerous to said spiritual well-being than committing genocide? Do you seriously see nothing wrong with these priorities, Moshe?

        • Johann,

          1. New Philosophical paradigm: If you have rejected the Torah as the source of moral values, then obviously something else is. Without the Torah as the basis for your view of reality, you have created a new system, it’s not Judaism anymore.

          2. Re: The U.N. – Just read the newspapers.
          3. Re; Jewish Scripture as most influential: The dominant ideologies in the world today are Christianity, Islam, and American Democracy. And right smack in the middle of everything are the Jews in Israel. The roots of all of them can be traced back to ideas contained in Jewish scripture. This is not a controversial statement.

          Let’s see if we can find some common ground on the Midianite woman.
          Do you believe that the decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was morally justified?

          Sincerely, Moshe Averick

  • Funny thing though, even if we agreed that our morality was based on a God-based Judeo-Christian, this wouldn’t poof a god into existence.

    Men invent gods and decorate those gods with ornaments of improbable morality. This somehow solidifies the morality into such a state that only religious men have any right to expect that men can have any equality?

    You don’t mention the obvious that men can and should have equality under the law. No god seems to be required by that, men can simply agree that this is the case.

    • Mark,

      You are absolutely correct, nothing I wrote in the article proves the existence of God. That was not the purpose in writing the article.

      You say that “men can simply agree” that all should have equality under the law. That is a truism. If the members of a society agree that all have equality under their value system, then all have equality under their value system. Of course men can just as easily agree that “colored” people are inferior, that Jews should be put to death, and that weak and sickly infants should be drowned at birth. None of these notions has any greater significance than the other. They are just different.

      You say that men “should” have equality under the law?
      According to who? According to you? Have you taken on the role of an oracle? You are simply expressing your subjective opinion. Your subjective opinion does not create a moral principle any more than the “subjective” desire of a zebra not to be eaten by a lion, makes it immoral for the lion to eat him.

      I happen to agree with you, by the way. However I think that all should be equal under the law because all men “are created equal, and have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.” You are simply being pragmatic. If you believe men should be treated equally for pragmatic reasons, then when it is pragmatically beneficial, you will slaughter them, and take their wives and posessions.

      More than happy to engage in dialogue
      Sincerely, Moshe Averick

      • Yet you are viewing the outside world from inside your religious view and it is skewing what you can see. If it is true that gods are the inventions of men then it is also true that all morality coming from religious institutions are also the inventions of men.

        Yes it is true that men can easily agree that “other” people are inferior and thereby suitable as slaves. This happens to the religious and to the irreligious. Most men today agree that it should not occur. You say that the killing of weak and sickly infants has no significance unless a god exists to tell us otherwise, but in a godless world men invented gods and religions in order to add an imagined authority to prevent us from doing that very thing. Why did this happen in a godless world if men are truly the brutes you imagine them to be? Why are atheists in general so well behaved having a much lower prison population than the religious?

        You say that my decision to behave is just a pragmatic approach and unless I imagine a god that I will suddenly become barbaric. Why are there so few barbaric atheists running around then? Your prejudices towards atheists are not borne out by observations of reality. Some atheists happen to agree with some of the morality of religious institutions. It is not necessary for us to agree that your particular god exists or that any god exists.

        Is religious agreement that a god exists really all that religious morality is worth? If god has reason for his morality then aren’t those reasons sufficient without the god? If there were no gods wouldn’t this be the correct morality to follow anyway? Religious people agree that a god exists and that is their reason for behaving morally. They have a lot of problems understanding why people would be moral without a god.

        Atheists fear no gods yet they behave morally and probably for similar reasons that induced the authors of your sacred book to give those attributes to your god to begin with. Could it be that in general people are basically moral beings? Most of the morality expressed in religions sacred texts is the morality of a different people in a different time. Much of it is obsolete or as you say, based only on god but not on the reason the authors of those sacred books gave those attributes to the gods.

  • Yet another article by someone who can’t grasp the notion of morality and worth existing outside of his tattered holy book. If this is what an “intellectually honest” conservative rabbi’s knowledge and experience comes to – ignorant scaremongering and arrogant claims that atheists copy their morality from your favorite religious fantasy – then the title hardly seems to deserve the consideration you demand.

    • Johann,

      When you call the basis for my morality my “favorite religious fantasy” it is self-apparent that you think it is false. In other words, men are not created in the image of God, men are not endowed by any creator with unalienable rights, men are simply insignificant collections of atoms spinning in space. They are as valuable or as non-valuable as you want them to be. If you choose to artificially create a “comforting fiction” that human life has intrinsic value, by all means. I would prefer all atheists choose that “comforting fiction” for themselves rather than live by the reality as expressed by Sigmund Freud: “The moment a man contemplates the meaning and value of life, he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence.” For the honest atheist, Freud’s statement is the self-apparent truth. Freud (and you) constructed a fantasy for himself so that he could live out his life without being “sick.”

      Bertrand Russel once wrote: “I cannot see how to refute the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing that the only thing wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don’t like it.”
      Russel’s incredulousness notwithstanding, that is just the way it is. For the atheist, the only thing wrong with murder, is that “he doesn’t like it.” It is absurd for the atheist to assert that any individual or society has the authority to dictate to all human beings what their value system should be, it is even more absurd to assert that the feelings of any individual or society OBLIGATES anyone else to behave in a certain way. Look forward to hearing back.

      Moshe Averick

      By the way, I am an Orthodox rabbi, not conservative.

      • Trying this one more time, now at five attempts to post eaten by the comment system.

        In other words, men are not created in the image of God

        Quite right, there being no creator to play Lego with us as pieces.

        men are not endowed by any creator with unalienable rights

        Again, no creator, no endowment. As for the not particularly subtle suggeestion that this obviates the notion of legal rights, that’s absolute nonsense and I expect you to do better – if, that is, your goal is an honest examination and not just the smear job this has been so far.

        men are simply insignificant collections of atoms spinning in space.

        Yes, we get it, you’re a big fan of the false “athest=nihilist” equivalence. Here, instead of putting up more hollow-eyed strawman atheists to valiantly vanquish, try this: tell us about some examples of things that hold subjective value for you. Keepsakes, places that are linked to a special memory of yours, books – anything that holds a special meaning for you, and perhaps for you alone. What about friends and family? If you valued them solely for the hypothetical worth imparted by your creator, you would not value them more than anybody else, as he surely doesn’t. Why do they matter more to you than a stranger in Bangladesh?

        For the honest atheist

        This is the problem I have with your argument, see. Your “honest atheist” is a caricature stuffed with lies and salted with the occasional quote from people you expect me to defer to as though they were my…what? Rabbis? Does the “honest atheist” of your imagination worshipfully read Shaw and Dawkins before bed, and memorize Freud?

        Freud’s statement is the self-apparent truth.

        If you’re hopped up on cocaine the way he was, sure. The rest of us acknowledge the value of hypothetical and subjective propositions. For your next trick, are you going to tell us that as an “honest atheist” I should stop reading science fiction?

        Freud (and you) constructed a fantasy for himself so that he could live out his life without being “sick.”

        And here, Moshe, you’ve gone from indirect slander to outright lies about me – note that while I do not respect the things you believe and the claims you make on that basis, I do not stoop to telling you what you believe as though you are incapable of knowing your own thoughts. For shame.

        Russel’s incredulousness notwithstanding, that is just the way it is. For the atheist, the only thing wrong with murder, is that “he doesn’t like it.”

        If you’re truly as incapable of visualizing any basis for morality that is not handed down from above as you wish us to believe, ask a first-year philosophy student. Start with the principle of reciprocity and go from there.

        It is absurd for the atheist to assert that any individual or society has the authority to dictate to all human beings what their value system should be

        Indeed – that’s your job description, not mine. I readily acknowledge the multitude of ideas and value systems out there, and stand ready to defend – not dictate – mine to others.

        By the way, I am an Orthodox rabbi, not conservative.

        Is that an objection over the definition, or over your personal views? I’ve yet to meet an Orthodox rabbi who could be reasonably described as liberal relative to the standards of their society.

        • Johann,

          1. “Obviates the notion of legal rights”
          I did not say anywhere that the fact that we descended from cockraoaches obviates legal rights. Human beings, having the capability, can manufacture any system they choose. If a society chooses to base its world outlook on the fiction (according to you) that all men are created equal and stand equal before an infinite non-existent god, then they are free to do so. On the other hand they are free to create gulag or North Korea also. I honestly do not understand this comment that you made.

          2.”you are a fan of the false atheist=nihilist
          equivalence…..tell us about some of the things that hold subjective value for you”

          I never denied that even in an atheistic worldview human beings have SUBJECTIVE attachements and even SUBJECTIVE values. From what you wrote you seem to agree with me. SUBJECTIVELY all kinds of things have value, but OBJECTIVELY, in other words. in reality, nothing has value. The difference between my outlook and yours is that the people I am attached to (and even those I am not attached to) have OBJECTIVE value and significance. Again, I don’t quite understand your point, you seem to be agreeing with me. Please explain.

          3. Freud wrote that “objectively” human life has neither meaning nor value. Do you disagree? Do you believe that we are OBJECTIVELY significant. If so, what is the source of this significance and value?

          4. “ask a first year philosophy student…start with reciprocity..”

          I know what the word reciprocity means, I don’t know what it is as a moral philosophy.
          I’m not sure it really matters, but perhaps explain it to me. I don’t see any way around that fact that at best all atheistic value systems are nothing more than different forms of social contracts that different societies make at different places, at different times, and in different ways. I also don’t see how you can escape the simple fact that objectively none of them have more significance over any other. Your personal preference might determine which you choose, or even where you choose to live, but when you tell me you prefer this code of behavior over another, it is roughly the same as telling me your prefer chocolate ice cream over strawberry. Somebody else prefers strawberry and might also prefer communism, socailism, facism, or the samurai code, over western democracy.

          You say you will “not dictate” your code of values to others. My guess is that if it involves making “colored” people sit at the back of the bus or drinking from separate drinking fountains, you most likely would “dictate” your values to others, and do everything possible to FORCE them to comply.

          Sincerely, Moshe Averick

  • For a comprehensive treatment of the subject of Atheism and Belief in God, please check out my book:
    NONSENSE OF A HIGH ORDER: THE CONFUSED AND ILLUSORY WORLD OF THE ATHEIST, available on Amazon.com and Kindle

    Sincerely, Moshe Averick

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