Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Monday, 7 September 2009

Do Atheists Have Morals

One of the incorrect characterizations about atheists is that they have no morals. This can easily be disproven by actually speaking to one and asking him if he does. He will quickly list a bunch of things he considers moral or the opposite and if you push him on it, he will often be quite passionate about those things and his willingness to stick by them in times of difficulty.
Why is it then that religion has always seemed to be a more verifiable source of morality than atheism? I would submit that it is because of the difference between subjective and objective value systems.
Put simply, atheists have subjective value systems. Lacking a universal standard, values they consider right and wrong are based on personal decision making. For example, murder is wrong because of the subjective view that harming another person without his consent is immoral. Same goes for theft, rape, etc. The underlying principle represents the moral position of the atheist and he darshens from that position to make decisions on whether certain actions are proper or not.
This happens on the positive side as well. Homosexual marriage, for example, is fine because it represents the opposite of the principle in the previous paragraph - it does not result in harm to another person without his consent so it's okay.
There are two problems with this moral system. First because it's subjective it is essentially random. A person who is worried about being killed will decide that murder is wrong. Instead of presenting it in that fashion, it is discussed as a value as above. However, once that some person reaches a position of power where being killed is unlikely to happen to him, his views on this might change. Murder might become okay, for example in the case of political opponents. After all, the real underlying reason no longer exists so as a result the moral reason also fades.
The second problem is that of moral relativity. If one subscribes to a subjective moral system, one cannot judge another's without being accused of something akin to valuistic imperialism. How dare I say my moral system is superior to a different one when it was also arrived at using the same basic standards of mine? Perhaps I hold with value "A" and the other person denigrates it. Since value A is moral only from my point of view, how can I criticize the other person for not agreeing with me?
It's like an atheist who says "Well I personally don't believe in God but you can if you want." Really? Think about it for a second. God isn't a colour or a type of music where multiple people have different perceptions and appreciations of the same thing. He is an objective reality. He either exists (go with this one, it's the right answer) or He doesn't. What you personally believe is irrelevant. It's like saying "Well I personally believe that there's a traffic light at the upcoming intersection." To reduce His existence to one of personal belief shows tremendous insecurity in the strength of the subjective value system.
Too many times in the history of the 20th century, humanity demonstrated the fallacy of subjective morality. Under the greatest atheistic movements ever, Nazism and Communism, morality was completely redefined. A Jew under the Nazis, y"sh, or a bourgeous under the Communists, y"sh, were devalued to the point that imprisonment and death for such people simply because of who they were and not due to any actions they may have committed was seen as moral in those systems. Yes, from the position of the secular Western moral system this was considered villiany but really, who's to say which is better?
As a professor of mine once told me when I was criticizing an aspect of culture in south Asia many years ago because it went against North American values, "there's a couple billion of them and a couple hundred million of you. Why do you think you're right?"
Abortion is another pertinent example. In Western secular morality, the woman commands complete control over her body including any fetuses that find themselves within it. Without anyone's permission, including that of the fetus (never mind the actual father who provided half the genetic material), she can choose to end her pregnancy at almost any time. Western morality has decided that the fetus is not a life, based not on any deep understanding of what life is or when it begins but on the selfish value of convenience. Thus the murder of the fetus isn't murder because Western morals say it isn't really alive.
Religion, on the other hand, provides its followers with a far different understanding of morality. As opposed to the self-generated morality of the atheist, the religious believer accepts an external code of morality as revealed by the originator of that religion. In Judaism, this is the true God and His Torah, both oral and written, which provide us with directions on how to live a life in consonance with His desires.
The main feature of this moral system is its externality. As a result of that, it demands obedience of its followers whether or not those followers are comfortable with its demands. I could really want that Big Mac but I can't have it. I could really want to watch that TV movie on Saturday afternoon. I can't watch it. I could really want to throw rocks at the cars that go by my place on Friday night and then set garbage cans alight. Sorry, not allowed.
As a result, there is in religion a definite set of "rights" and "wrongs" which are universal. Murder is wrong and it is irrelevant if I am at risk of being killed. It never changes. Theft is wrong even if the victim is filthy rich and will never realize it happened. Speaking loshon horo is wrong even if the victim never finds out about it.
Yes, horrible crimes have been committed in the name of religion but - as this is the important part - these were all examples of evil people twisting their religion in the name of their own personal agendae. Nazism and Communism were, at least in their own opinions, the ultimate expression of the atheist moral society. In other words, people who commit evil in the name of a religion are generally betraying that religion's principles. People who commit evil in the name of atheism are simply living up to that system's highest potential.
Thus atheists do have a moral system. It's just not based on anything more solid than quicksand.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR COMMENTS:
Please restrict comments to those that are relevant to the post. Irrelevant or repetitive comments are not requested at this time.

68 comments:

David said...

Garnel,
OK, in a nutshell, this was another of your "every value system other than mine is lame" posts. It's no more convincing than the last few versions.

First, an atheist can be quite absolutist about his morality, and may believe that people who do violence in the name of their god are wicked-- no relativism there.

Second, the fact that he doesn't feel a need to stone homosexuals because they're not harming him hardly makes his morality subjective, nor does it make yours objective. "Live honestly, harm no one and render unto each his due" is a fairly objective way of maintaining a good society. The fact that it doesn't incorporate foolishness passed from one generation to the next as unchallengeable dogma is hardly a criticism.

Moreover, your argument that violence and cruelty under a religious system are aberrant, while under an atheistic system, the same things are natural is just plain silly.

In the end, your moral system is based on a collection of fairy tales. Proponents of this sytem have advanced claims that: 1) non-Jews are inferior; 2) lying to, cheating and stealing from non-Jews is only wrong to the extent that it is detected and reflects poorly on Judaism; 3) one cannot interrupt one's rest to save the life of a non-Jew on the Sabbath; 4) it was morally correct to exterminate a large group of men, women and children in order to appropriate their land, because God said so (note, this last one has been rehashed by different religions at different times).

In the end, a humanist may choose to respect my rights because, like him, I'm a human and deserving of the same kind of treatment that he'd hope to receive. A religious person, on the other hand, may well be inclined to view me as doomed to burn in hell, or worthy of extinction because I fail to accept his particular view.

robert said...

Garnel,

If I may, a few observations:

1. I do not believe that one can "subscribe" to an objective or subjective morality. The ABSOLUTE fact, in my opinion, is that all morality is subjective. I can say this b/c I believe that there exists no moral code on which there is universal agreement.

Think of it as you would religion: Is Judaism absolutely right? Of course you would say it is, that is the basis of our (jews) belief and practice. Now, Is Islam absolutely right? If you you were Muslim, of course you would say it is.

Is there universal agreement? no. therfore religion is subjective and not objective. Its the same with morality. When it comes down to it, I am jewish not b/c I believe it is absolutely right, but rather b/c I was born into it. Chances are greatly that I would feel exactly the same way If was born from Muslim parents.

2. "A person who is worried about being killed will decide that murder is wrong."

This is just plain wrong. I am not opposed to murder out of self interest, I am opposed to murder b/c it shows disrespect and violates the other. And, in a nutshell, this is the problem with believing that morality is objective: If your opposition to murder is b/c god commanded against it, then you are not learning or teaching anything about respect of your fellow humans. And please don't tell me that of course the objective prohibition of murder teaches us to respect the other, b/c that respect for the "other's" life goes out the window when the "other" exercises his right to blaspheme god, or to gather wood on the sabbath neither of which does dammage to other humans.

There is much more to be said...

Bartley kulp said...

Garnel said...

"This happens on the positive side as well. Homosexual marriage, for example, is fine because it represents the opposite of the principle in the previous paragraph - it does not result in harm to another person without his consent so it's okay."

That is not so simple. For example the famous paleantologist and proponent for Atheism, Richard Dawkins is a homophobe. He says that it is a defect in the species.

E-Man said...

Davi said:
"In the end, your moral system is based on a collection of fairy tales. Proponents of this sytem have advanced claims that: 1) non-Jews are inferior; 2) lying to, cheating and stealing from non-Jews is only wrong to the extent that it is detected and reflects poorly on Judaism; 3) one cannot interrupt one's rest to save the life of a non-Jew on the Sabbath; 4) it was morally correct to exterminate a large group of men, women and children in order to appropriate their land, because God said so (note, this last one has been rehashed by different religions at different times)."

1) is false, 2) is also false, 3) is false and 4) is a distortion of the truth. I mean, I understand why you feel this way, but here is a link http://markset565.blogspot.com/2009/05/meiri-equality-in-judaism.html to see what Judaism is really all about.

The Canaanites were evil and at war with the Jews. This is why they wiped them out. Notice that the jews did not fight the Givonim and other Non-Jews that came and made peace with Moshe. Notice that there were many non-Jews that stayed in the land even after the conquest was completed. The reason that when Jews fought their enemies that had to kill men women and children was because that is how war was fought in those days. If you did not do that you would be seen as weak and you would not last long as a nation. Peace and prosperity was based on fear and intimidation.

David said...

E-Man,

The Meiri does not represent the only Jewish view, and, to the best of my knowledge, does not represent the majority view on many issues regarding gentiles. I don't doubt that you share his views, but there's no reason to assume that your take is more legitimate than that of those who don't pasken by the Meiri.
As to the Canaanites (and, for that matter, the Moabites, the Amalekites, etc.), your argument is pretty weak. How could we be at war with Moabite babies? They were born evil? Or, rather, they were innocent, but murdering them helped us prove how macho we were, so we'd have street cred with the other tribes (i.e., your suggestion)? Seriously, does that not sound stupid to you? Especially after God (supposedly) told us not to do what other people did?
Seriously, dude. If I were making these arguments to you about some other group of people, you'd be the first to acknowledge how ludicrous they are.

E-Man said...

David, I did not just quote the Meiri, I also quoted the Rambam, those two together make a pretty strong tag team when it comes to the mainstream Jewish thought. Also, more people might hold like them, but I have not looked anyone else up on the matter. I thought the Meiri and the Rambam were pretty good. Sorry if you disagree. I guess I could look up someone you think is more central, just let me know who would satisfy you.

Also, you are missing my point when you make your babies comment. The idea is that life was more barbaric back in 1300 century bce. When a country went to war with another country they either made them tributaries or they had to completely wipe them out. By all of the wars of the Jews this is what they did, because that is how war was fought in those days. It was not that we were at war with babies, but that the Jews either had to wipe them out or be attacked by neighboring tribes that viewed this as a weakness. Also, these kids would grow up and attack the Jewish people, which ended up happening.

The point is that the morals of today can not be applied to back then. To say how can you kill innocent children is to ignore the way of life and war that existed 3300 years ago.

Bartley Kulp said...

Robert said...

"If your opposition to murder is b/c god commanded against it, then you are not learning or teaching anything about respect of your fellow humans."
-----------------------------------

For starters I am not so sure that the prohibition of murder is supposed to directly teach you respect for your fellow human beings (If you should have a dire need to be taught that). Even the commandment to love your neihboor as you love yourself is just that. A commandment, not a teaching. To drive the point home the statement ends with the phrase "ani Hashem" (I am G-d).

Regardless of all of this we do not need the prohibition of murder to teach us respect for one's fellow human being. This should already come from the knowledge that man was created in G-d's image.

Now that I have said this, please note that this is not respect for man in as taught in the humanistic acadamies. Rather this respect for man come's from the fact that man reflects G-d's image. Judaism is G-d-centric, not man-centric.

As for murder, the fact that we follow it as a commandment and not a utilitarian, ethical teaching has great signifigense. For instance this prohibition is not just a curb on aggression. Euthanasia is also prohibited as murder. Even when you have to see someone that you love suffer. Similarly Suicide is also included in this prohibition.

It does not matter if you have the best humanitarian intentions or that you life is worthless. G-d does not allow you to make calculations on the value of one's life or your own life's value. If anything I would say that this prohibition teaches one not to play G-d.

Rye said...

Moral Relativism rides shotgun in a marriage with a constitutionally run society. The question I have is; do atheists derive their sense of compunction from observing the laws, or does the law derive from the necessitation of societal control? I know this chicken/egg argument is circuitous, but it irks me often. In Judaism, we have a baraisas and shylas, and we have a multitude of sources to formulate our answers. It seems that most of your commenters have problems with the divergence of opinions. but not with the halacha itself. In secular terms, people know the laws, but know that an expensive lawyer can tie the system into a knot.

Hope thats as clear as mud,

Rye

robert said...

E-man Said:
"...The point is that the morals of today can not be applied to back then. To say how can you kill innocent children is to ignore the way of life and war that existed 3300 years ago."

Am I correct in understanding that you are arguing that there is no objective source of morality? You make it sound as if morality is subjective.

robert said...

Bartley Kulp Said:
"...For starters I am not so sure that the prohibition of murder is supposed to directly teach you respect for your fellow human beings (If you should have a dire need to be taught that). Even the commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself is just that. A commandment, not a teaching..."

Bartley,

This is the difference b/w an atheist/humanist who believes that murder is wrong on moral and respectful grounds and the religous person who believes that murder is wrong simply b/c H' commmanded against it.

For the atheist/humanist it would follow, using the same moral/respect code, that it is wrong for society through its judicial system to kill someone for desecrating the sabbath or for cursing god.

For the religous person, it likely follows that since "H' commanded it" is the be-all and end-all of everything, it is perfectly right and proper for society through its judicial system to kill someone for desecrating the sabbath or for cursing god.

The knowlege that man was created in god's image does not neccessarily lead one to RESPECT one's fellow human being, unless you believe that killing another human being for desecrating the sabbath or for blasphemy shows him (the fellow human) respect.

While I can acknowlege that it is the will of god to kill these desecrators and blasphemers, I do NOT believe that it is respectful of other humans.

David said...

E-Man--

No, the Meiri and the Rambam are not the be-all and the end-all on this issue. Check what the Talmud actually says (Avoda Zara 26a). Moreover, the folks who hold that you can violate the Sabbath to save a gentile's life hold this based on concerns that the failure to do so might cause enmity-- not because of any intrinsic value in the human life at stake.

As to the rest of your argument-- that the morals of 3,000 years ago were different, you completely undermine the whole purpose of Garnel's post! That's just blatant moral relativism. By the way-- why do we bother keeping the other nonsense in the Torah (tefillin, tzitzit, kashrus, etc.)? After all, that was all from a long time ago, and morals change...

Garnel Ironheart said...

Let's consider another perspective.

So far we have been looking at things from a human viewpoint. All genocide is wrong, for example. Okay, I'll grant that I feel very uncomfortable with that kind of thing.

However, as a believing Jew, one of the principles of my faith is that God's perspective is superior to my own. If He says that wiping out a particular group of people like the Amalekites is moral, who am I to say it's not? Yes, I don't like the sound of it but small children don't like the sound of "green vegetables" but their parents make them eat it anyway.

What makes the religious person different is the willingness to put aside discomfort due to personal feelings because of trust in the guidance of the Higher Power.

As for the Meiri, he may be only one opinion but nowadays he's the dominant one that pretty much all frum Jews hold by, except for those weirdos rioting in Yerushalayim. Any authority who says we can treat gentiles like dirt is one that can be safely ignored.

Further, perhaps the underlying reason to save a non-Jew on Shabbos is to avoid a chilul HaShem, but when one considers that preventing a chilul HaShem is a reason to submit to martyrdom just like murder, then even though it's a different reason than saving a Jewish life, in the scale of importance both are equal as reasons.

Off the Derech said...

Faker.

>However, as a believing Jew, one of the principles of my faith is that God's perspective is superior to my own. If He says that wiping out a particular group of people like the Amalekites is moral, who am I to say it's not? Yes, I don't like the sound of it

Surely Islamic suicide bombers say the exact same thing before they run their planes into our buildings.

Savage brute.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually I'm kind of upset that Authetic Jew turned out to be a fake. For a while it looked like OTD was going to be obsessed with him for a while instead of me.

Of course, that's only if you don't believe that I am OTD, of course.

robert said...

Garnel,

You can't, on the one hand say that you believe that all genocide is morally wrong, and then say that its morally right.

On a second thought, you can say that...if your'e a moral relativist.

Congratulations.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Robert, that's not what I said at all. I said that according to my feelings, it's wrong but if God says that it's right then the challenge of belief is to accept that my feelings are wrong and that God's position is correct.

BTW, welcome out.

E-Man said...

David said:

"No, the Meiri and the Rambam are not the be-all and the end-all on this issue. Check what the Talmud actually says (Avoda Zara 26a). Moreover, the folks who hold that you can violate the Sabbath to save a gentile's life hold this based on concerns that the failure to do so might cause enmity-- not because of any intrinsic value in the human life at stake.

As to the rest of your argument-- that the morals of 3,000 years ago were different, you completely undermine the whole purpose of Garnel's post! That's just blatant moral relativism. By the way-- why do we bother keeping the other nonsense in the Torah (tefillin, tzitzit, kashrus, etc.)? After all, that was all from a long time ago, and morals change..."

I never said they were a be all end all, but they are pretty good sources to follow. Also, the proof that the gemorah in avoda zara says anything to the contrary does not go against the rambam and meiri. The gemorah was written in a time when the non-jews did not treat Jews very well, in fact there was much persecution. The Meiri and Rambam try to explain that this is only referring to evil gentiles. Ones that want to kill Jews. I think you would admit that if someone wants to do me harm that I have no obligation to help them. Especially if they want me dead and gone.

I am not sure how I undermine Garnel's post. I am talking about how war was fought back then, not how Jews followed commandments. Just by the by, the way we follow the Torah today is different than how we followed it when it was originally given. There are many more rabbinic enactments. But this was told to us in the Torah that we must follow them, lo sasur.

I think that the idea is that Jewish morals are effected by the society with which we surround ourselves. G-D realizes that we have to live in this world and be able to survive in a world where other nations live as well. So if the Jewish nation did not fight like the nations around them, then they would be slaughtered. This is why it is ok to violate shabbos in order to go to war and not just sit back and let them kill you. The objective morality of the Torah does not change, however, there is an evolution with the times. Notice how we no longer have more than one wife. Is that changing the morals of the Torah? No, it is just what has become appropriate with the times in the culture surrounding us. Judaism has always been effected by the culture around it. What makes us unique is the set of laws that we have. A commandment to go to war 3300 years ago encompasses what going to war involved 3300 years ago. If we had a commandment today to go to war, then it would encompass a different set of rules.

E-Man said...

Robert- I was not saying that morals are relative. Rather the torah is a guide for morals. Certain details can change, but the overall ideology stays the same. This is why the Torah specifically says lo sasur, to follow the rabbis guidance, because they are the guides in this respect. Like I said before, jews are no longer allowed to marry 2 women, but why isn't that changing morals? It is not changing the ideology, just a few specific things that are relative based on the times.

I hope that is clear.

robert said...

E-man,

There is really a very thin line (if one exists at all) b/w saying the "details" change, but the overall ideology stays the same, and saying that the "overall ideology" has changed. It really comes down to a matter of semantics. no matter what any one argues, no matter how much anyone (including you) shows that morality is relative to time and place, you will stay locked in to your belief that morality is objective. Times change, and morality changes. What was once accepted as moral is now deemed to be immoral, and vice verse. On this I believe you and I agree. I call that subjective, and you call it objective, with a change in "details".
I guess we are both locked into our opinions on subjective vs. objective morality and at this point we are no longer arguing with each other, but rather past each other.

robert said...

The Leader, GI Said:
"Robert, that's not what I said at all. I said that according to my feelings, it's wrong but if God says that it's right then the challenge of belief is to accept that my feelings are wrong and that God's position is correct."

GI,

I would put it a little differently:

The challenge of belief is to accept that listening to god, the creator of the world, means setting aside my moral beliefs.

There is no way that ANYONE can rationally say that genocide is morally correct, even if god commands us to do genocide. To say otherwise is simply to make a mockery of what morality is about. Genocide is morally wrong,wrong,wrong!

Just like it is nonsensical to ponder whether god is powerful enough to create an object so heavy that even HE couldn't lift it, so to it is nonsensical to turn genocide into a morally right thing to do merely b/c god commanded it. Yes God commanded it. Yes, therefore we should do it. But no, it is still morally wrong. It is nonsensical to say that God has the power to turn a moral wrong into a moral right, just as it is nonsensical to say that HE can create something so heavy even HE couldn't lift it.

E-Man said...

Robert, I was not saying that certain details in morality change.I mean that G-D gives commandments that are moral. However, the details that are entailed with these commandments are sometimes not specified, but the appropriate actions of the times tell us how to perform these commandments. You understand what I mean. So if G-D tells us to go to war with the Moabites, then 3300 years ago it was moral to wipe out the enemy, however, today it is not moral to make war in the same manner. This is because of the times. However, G-D's command was only to go to war with them. Also, G-D commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. Back in the day this meant to have many wives, however, today it means to have one wife. You understand what I mean. It is not that G-D said kill everyone and now that that is immoral we can't listen to G-D. It is that some commandments have to be interpreted for their time.

So the morals are based on what G-D said, however, how we put these actions into play, when they are not specified is based on the time. See what I am saying?

Anonymous said...

E-man, Actually, I do not see what you are saying at all.

You said;"G-D gives commandments that are moral."

Who said that the commandments that G-d gives are moral? Just b/c G-d said to wipe out out an entire nation, does that make it moral? Is killing animals for sacrificial purposes moral? Is killing humans for choosing to not keep the sabbath moral? Practicing homosexuality may be sexually immoral (arguably), but is it moral to kill someone who practices consensual homosexuality?

I believe that all of the above are immoral. The fact that G-d commanded us to kill the above does not change the immorality of the above acts(animal sacrifice, killing consensual homosexuals killing desecrators of sabbath, etc.)

You said: "the appropriate actions of the times tell us how to perform these commandments."

I would hope that civilization has progressed enough in our times to the point where we can say that animal sacrifice is passe, despite our zeal for learning the laws of animal sacrifice, and that NO ONE should be killed for choosing to desecrate the sabbath, or for blaspheming G-d, or for performing consensual homosexual acts. I am not talking about "details" I am talking about fudamental morals here. G-d commanded all of these, but they are immoral. If you want to argue that maybe at one time in the (unenlightened) past they were considered moral, fine, you can argue that if you want. But the fact that they are no longer considered to be moral, for me, shows that morality is relative (subjective) to time and place, and is not at all objective, or absolute.

You said: "So the morals are based on what G-D said..."

I disagree. Morals are based on what you or I or others THINK. Commandments are (based on) what G-d said. But as I have said numerous times, Commandments from G-d may or may not be moral. They certainly should not be classified as moral JUST B/C G-d commanded them. That is for us as humans (this includes people of religion as well as atheists) to think and to decide.

robert said...

the above "anonymous" post was written by me.

E-Man said...

Why are morals defined by what u and I think? That is moral relativism.
I am saying that if u believe in G-D then whatever he says is moral. That is objective morals because they are not man made. Man made morals are subjective, G-D made morals are objective.

Ok, now I disagree about animal sacrifice being immoral. What makes that more immoral than eating a steak? Both serve purposes, one spiritual and one physical, unless again u don't believe in the Torah or you are a vegan.

Also, if u look closely G-D never commands the Jews to wipe out any nation. He commands for us to go to war but not to wipe them out. The prophet interprets G-D's command to be to wipe out. This is what happened by the moabites when Moshe interpreted G-D's command of go to war as wipe them out. This is because that was the way war was fought.

Amelek is different because it says wipe out the memory of amalek and the way chazal seem to understand that commandment is that it refers to anyone who wants to kill jews. I mean doesn't it stand to reason that every Jew should defend themselves from anyone that wants to kill them?

And the final comment about gays.I would agree with u if we were talking about punishment, however we are talking about atonement. If u truly believe in the torah then u believe there is some spiritual problem with this person and the only way for that person to atone for his misgivings is death. This is true by a sabbath desecrater also. So if u believe in an eternal afterlife then it is very moral to put these people to death because u are actually saving their eternal life. However, one must believe in judaism first for any of this to happen because it is only true if u believe in judaism.

So if u believe in the reality of judaism, a reality where there is a world after this one and a G-d and spirituality then all of these things are very moral. If u are an atheist then these things make no sense.

robert said...

E-man said:
"..That is moral relativism."

This is correct. I believe that HKB'H has given us a brain so that we should use it to think. Once we use it to think, then we will come to our own conclusions of what is right and wrong behaviour.


I do believe in G-d. I do NOT believe that whatever HE says is moral. I do not believe that morality is objective. I believe that all morality is subjective. There is no universal agreement on morality.


E-man, Good people could discuss and debate the morality of killing animals for human consumption. I accept that there are people who view our eating animals as immoral. (remember, morality is subjective) People can also believe (as I do) that killing animals for sacrificial purposes is immoral. I believe that there are rabbinic scholars who are of the opinion that when the third temple is built, there will not be animals killed for purely sacrificial purposes.

RE;WAR:
First of all I must assume that Moshe had very little room for interpretation of what G-d said. We are taught that G-d communicated with Moshe directly. If Moshe wiped out a nation, I must assume it was not on his own interpretation.

Secondly, I direct you to the passuk in parshat Eikev where G-d says "V'achalta et ha'amim...lo tachose eincha." That sounds like pretty total destruction to me. See the commentaries there.

RE: Amalek and genocide:
I do not believe it is moral to wipe out an entire people including innocent children for purely defensive purposes. Obviously, again, good people could debate the morality of what Truman did in Hiroshima. I understand that there are people who consider what he did to be immoral. This is a matter for debate. This matter is far more complex than this discussion allows.

RE: Consensual homosexuality:
E-man, without overly belaboring the point, let me just say that I believe in the torah and in judaism (I identify myself as modern orthodox). I believe that it is repulsive and barbaric to believe that it is in any way moral to kill someone for consensual homosexuality, or for choosing to desecrate the sabbath. I believe that it is the duty of the judicial body to make the burden of proof so high as to virtually eliminate the possibility of capital punishment for these crimes. Leave it to the "HIGHER AUTHORITY" to see to it that ultimate justice and atonement is delivered. I use the thinking of Rabbi Akiva (I believe?) as a precedent, where he says that in order for beis din to kill someone for a sex crime, the wittnesses must see the act in incredible detail (kimchol b'shfoferet). Also beis din would very rarely kill someone even for the crime of murder (once every 70 years?)

RE: Realty of judaism:

E-man,

I believe in the reality of judaism (albeit a little different reality than yours) but as I have demonstrated I do not believe these things are moral.

I believe all people who are reasonable should be repulsed when we see muslim countries kill homosexuals, or kill people for adultery in the name of G-d. I believe it goes against the values of western civilization, and as jews. Rather than embrace these sick values as "moral" we should be doing everything in our power to fight them. Unless you look forward to a world where Islamic fundamentalism reigns. Great morality that is.

E-Man said...

So you think G-D gives us immoral commandments? Wouldn't that mean that you think G-D is immoral and that Judaism is an immoral religion? Please explain why I am misunderstanding you, because I know I must be since you are clearly a religious Jew.

I don't have time to address all of your points today, I will tomorrow though.

robert said...

E-man,

Please understand: In order for a being to be "Moral", the being must have the ability to choose b/w good and evil. We mortal human beings have the ability to choose good or evil, therefore we can be moral if we choose good,or immoral if we choose evil. G-d,the Supreme being, on the other hand, is by definition all good; He is incapable of choosing evil. He can therefore not be moral or immoral, which are only human traits. G-d is therefore, amoral. Likewise the commandments that He gives us are neither moral nor are they immoral from His point of view. We, as his loyal servants, are enjoined to live by His commandments regardless of their morality or immorality from our point of view. This is our challenge; to understand that service of HKB'H is not contingent on our human perspective of whether a commandment is moral or not. Even though we may perceive a commandment to be immoral from our point of view, service to H' trumps our notions of morality.

So do I think that G-d is immoral? the answer is no, I believe that G-d as a supreme being is amoral.

Do I think that judaism is an immoral religion? No, b/c by its nature judaism is also amoral.

I believe that the purpose of religion is not to make me a moral person; any atheist will tell you that religion has nothing to do with morality (and I agree), and that you don't need religion to have morality in the world, all you need is respect; and also arguably, religion is a source of immorality. (think islamic fundamentalism-at least we jews don't see it as a religious imperative to fly hijacked planes into buildings, or to extoll the virtues of suicide bombers).

I believe the purpose of religion (other than just following the commands of H' b/c He commanded them) is to make me a more spiritual person. In that regard I can myself follow the commandments of keeping shabbat, etc.. and the commandments regarding sexual morality, and I don't have to violate the respect of others who may be inclined to engage in consensual homosexuality. I can try to teach them that the ways of the torah are pleasant, without telling them that if I had judicial power I would put them to death. Same for shabbat- I can emphasize the positive w/o ramming the laws of shabbat down their throats, and without making a chillul hashem by protesting violently outside businesses that are operating on shabbat.

Jews (even religious jews) can be immoral people if they fail to respect their fellow humans. Unfortunately that is far too evident in today's world.

E-Man said...

But according to you some of the commandments are immoral, so by following them, doesn't that make you, anyone who follows the torah, immoral?

robert said...

"But according to you some of the commandments are immoral, so by following them, doesn't that make you, anyone who follows the torah, immoral?"


E-Man,

Disclaimer: Anything I'm about to say should NOT be mis-construed as mysticism. Having said that, let me attempt to explain.

Think of it in terms of two spheres: upper and lower. In the upper sphere, there is only good. The upper sphere can not choose good over evil, that possibility does not exist; all is good. The upper sphere can not be categorized as moral or immoral. The upper sphere is amoral.

In the lower sphere, good and evil exist. Choices have to be made. Moral vs. Immoral.

G-d, and his commandments are upper sphere. They are only good. They are neither moral, nor are they immoral; the commandments are amoral.

We lower sphere humans may perceive some of the commandments as being moral or immoral.

G-d has given man the license and authority to implement and enforce HIS commandments through a process of interpreting the Torah, and enforcement through a judicial system.

Let's take some examples of what I just said.

To me (human), the ultimate evil and immorality is death. Who created death? HKB'H. Can death be immoral if G-d created it? no. Death is an upper sphere creation. In fact, the torah describes death in genesis as "tov me'od". It is only b/c of my limitations as a lower sphere being that I can perceive death as immoral, even though I learn in the torah (an upper sphere document) that death is not only good, but is VERY good. So, from my LS (lower sphere) perspective, death is immoral. We humans should battle against death. Therefore it is very commendable when we save a life, or when one dedicates his/her life to finding cures for disease. In the LS, pikuach nefesh is docheh shabbat.
Yet, paradoxically even in the LS we must choose death, as in kiddush hashem. This is where our being servants of H' trumps and challenges our LS sense of morality. It is way too much to discuss now, but just a thought, what is the halacha if I am forced to kill someone, and I choose to do say rather than be killed myself?
I believe the answer is that I am patur. Why?

to be continued...

robert said...

Let's Take a look at ben sorer u'moreh (bsm):

I believe that it is immoral to kill a rebellious teenager.

But HKB'H's commandment is not immoral; it is amoral.

Chazal did not just use the method of drashot and came to the conclusion that bsm could never happen, rather they decided, using their g-d given license, to abrogate the possibility of a bsm being put to death. Their method of abrogation was by placing certain drashot into place which made the bsm a virtual impossibility. Why did they do they abrogate bsm? I believe b/c chazal felt it was immoral to kill the bsm. Does that mean the commandment to kill the bsm is immoral, or that g-d is immoral for commanding us to kill the bsm? NO, neither g-d nor HIS commandments can be immoral, they are amoral. And that is why we are enjoined to learn the parsha of bsm-to glorify torah b/c when we learn torah we are learning the word of HKB'H which of course is all good albeit in ways which are beyond our human comprehension. The implementation is another thing.

All this "jibberish" is important b/c I feel that it is important that we use all our power to fight the barbaric and savage actions of fundamentalistic religions, be they muslim or even jewish. We must fight for western values that oppose killing of gays, adulterers, blasphemers. I believe that we as religious jews can and should believe strongly that these things are immoral and have no place in a civilized society.

If you believe in objective morality you can take everything I just said and throw it out the window.

E-man, Did I answer your question?

robert said...

"But according to you some of the commandments are immoral, so by following them, doesn't that make you, anyone who follows the torah, immoral?"


E-man, allow me to now give you a short answer:

If you follow commandments that you deem to be immoral, that makes you immoral. My argument is that you can follow the torah AND live a moral life. I use bsm as an
example, I use R. Akiva's attitude on capital punishment as an example, and I use my attitude of respect towards gays and sabbath desecrators as fellow humans even while personally rejecting consensual homosexuality and personally advocating for sabbath observance, as an example.

E-Man said...

Now I understand, I think, thank you for explaining.

So your idea is that although G-D commanded one thing in the Torah we reinterpret it to coincide with the morals that exist in our generation? Is that what you are in essence saying?

Anonymous said...

E-man,

By "we" do you mean R. Akiva as regards capital punishment?

By "we" do you mean chazal as regards bsm?

If the answer to these two questions is "yes" then my answer to your question is also "yes".

E-Man said...

By we I also mean you because you are also referring to things that chazal never talked about. Otherwise, how would you make the morals in the Torah fit with western society?

E-Man said...

"I use R. Akiva's attitude on capital punishment as an example, and I use my attitude of respect towards gays and sabbath desecrators as fellow humans even while personally rejecting consensual homosexuality and personally advocating for sabbath observance, as an example."

I also agree with you that these things are not to be implemented nowadays. Gay people can be gay, sabbath desecraters can desecrate the sabbath and there are no actions that I should take. This I agree with. I am not going to go around telling gay people they are sinning and deserve death or sabbath desecraters that they deserve death. That is not at all what I am saying. However, there are commandments in the Torah that tell us that a sabbath desecrater gets death when we have a bais din. Same for any of the illicit relationships, even someone who sleeps with a married woman (I also am not going to tell this person he deserves death).

I agree that nowadays these laws are inapplicable. However, the fundamental idea, that these things effect your soul and need atonement is clearly true, if you believe in orthodox Judaism. No?

Either way, I think we are talking about apples and orangses. I think that since G-D is G-D He would only command things that are moral. I base this on many different sources. You think that G-D does not need to ell us what is moral, just what is good. What the difference between good and moral, I am unsure. But you think there is a difference and I don't. I think that is what the problem is. What do you think?

robert said...

E-man,

OK, So let's say there is no such thing as death in the world. I come along and create death. Would you think I am a hero? Am I good? I wouldn't think that I would nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

G-d created death and the torah calls it tov me'od-not good, but VERY GOOD!? What's up with that?

"Good" in the G-d sense is different from "good" in the human sense. In the g-d sense "good" is something we as humans are missing the ability to quantify or measure, or comprehend (See psalms where David says "vatachsireihu me'at mei'elokim"). We can't as humans understand how death can be termed as "very good". But we can as humans understand that death is immoral. B/c moral or immoral are terms that we can deal with, understand, comprehend. We have the ability to choose a conduct that is either respectful and productive for the world, or we can choose a path of disrespect and destruction.

So, the difference b/w "good" and "moral" (in my conception) is that all that is associated w/ g-d is "good"; there is no wherewithal for "bad". There is no choice. Where there is no choice, there can not be morality. Thus, death in the G-dly sense is "good". I term this "amorality".

"morality" for me denotes a choice of right or wrong conduct. Only humans can be moral or immoral. "morality" does not exist in the upper sphere of G-d, where be'chira does not exist.

So, G-d can command things that are good, but HE can not command things that are moral (or immoral). The command to kill bsm is "good", even though chazal reinterpreted it to make it impossible to be carried out. Thats why the study of it leads to glorify torah.

We read in Ha'azinu: "HIS work is perfect,for all HIS ways are just. HE is a reliable God who is never unjust,HE is fair and upright". This is true, despite HIS creation of death, and commanding the death of the rebellious teenager, and tsunamis, and painful debilitating diseases, and despite HIS creation of man who can be so screwed up and have the capability to choose to bring so much suffering into HIS world. Are all these things good? the answer is yes, b/c G-d created them, and g-d is perfect and can only be good even though I don't always understand or comprehend it. Are they all moral? the answer is no, UNLESS YOU BELIEVE IN OBJECTIVE MORALITY.

Question: Why wouldn't you tell gays that they deserve death, or adulterers, or shabbos violators?
According to our objective morality which we get from the torah all the above are immoralities which are deserving of death. True, we can't carry out the death sentence nowadays, but we should applaud and support those societies who do have the judicial wherewithal to kill gays and adulterers and blasphemers. Why isn't it great when limbs are cut off for crimes, when a simple reading of the torah shows me that objective morality favors cutting off limbs for certain crimes?

robert said...

E-Man Said:
"So your idea is that although G-D commanded one thing in the Torah we reinterpret it to coincide with the morals that exist in our generation? Is that what you are in essence saying?"

And then E-Man said:

"By we I also mean you because you are also referring to things that chazal never talked about. Otherwise, how would you make the morals in the Torah fit with western society"

E-Man,

To quote what I said in a previous post:
"G-d has given man the license and authority to implement and enforce HIS commandments through a process of interpreting the Torah, and enforcement through a judicial system."

When I said "man", I meant only those men who possess the authority to use the methodology of drashot sheha'torah nidreshet ba'hem, have the license to interpret the torah. So a schlepper like me has absolutely no authority to interpret or re-interpret the torah to coincide with (my subjective idea of) morals that exist in our generation.

E-Man said...

Robert said "G-d created death and the torah calls it tov me'od-not good, but VERY GOOD!? What's up with that? "

I am not sure where you get this from. The idea of death was not created until man sinned. It was not one of the things that G-D named tov or tov meod. At least I don't think so. Can you point this out to me and where your source is?

E-Man said...

Also, death is not immoral. Killing is immoral, but death is a fact of life not a moral idea.

E-Man said...

"Question: Why wouldn't you tell gays that they deserve death, or adulterers, or shabbos violators?
According to our objective morality which we get from the torah all the above are immoralities which are deserving of death. True, we can't carry out the death sentence nowadays, but we should applaud and support those societies who do have the judicial wherewithal to kill gays and adulterers and blasphemers. Why isn't it great when limbs are cut off for crimes, when a simple reading of the torah shows me that objective morality favors cutting off limbs for certain crimes?"

I do not understand this idea. I can't impose my beliefs on others. Nor should I applaud a judicial system that does not work through the Torah that implements these killings. Also, simple reading of the Torah is meaningless, unless you are a karite or a tzeduki. Even then there are interpretations.

E-Man said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
robert said...

Can you point this out to me and where your source is?


In bereishis rabbah, parsha tet.

robert said...

E-Man said:

"Also, death is not immoral. Killing is immoral, but death is a fact of life not a moral idea."

E-Man,

Why do you say that killing is immoral?

If you take an objective morality point of view, you could say that killing is immoral b/c G-d prohibits it in the torah. OK, but my question then is why would G-d prohibit murder?

E-Man said...

Well, there are several approaches here. There is the Maharal, Rambam, Ramban, Immanuel Kant, etc. I would tell you that since I believe that the Torah is written by G-D and He defines what is moral and He says killing is wrong.

I could also use Kant's categorical imperative and say that the principle is imagine a world where everyone committed this deed and if that world would be sustainable. Also, when a person does an action to someone else, he or she is allowing others to perform that action to them. So if a person kills then they are to be killed. That was the Kant moral system.

I could also say that killing someone effects your nishama in a negative way and therefore it should not be done. Or since it effects another person and takes away their ability to perform mitzvos and live, that is wrong.

There are several approaches as to why killing is wrong. However, I have never heard anyone say that death, as a reality, is immoral.

robert said...

E-Man,

I care most about what YOU think. Please don't tell me what the rambam or kant thinks, although it would be fine if you integrate their ideas into your thought process.

Saying the torah defines what is moral doesn't answer my question of WHY would the torah say that murder is immoral.

About the rest of your post, suffice it to say that MY thought process leads to me to believe that taking away a loved one, or the taking of my life against my will is an immoral act. Why? b/c it is the ultimate show of disrespect to a human being, which to me is an integral criteria that defines morality.

Imagine two parallel universes. One is ours, whose supreme being declared death to be a good thing, and the other universe has a supreme being that lives by the dictum "be'la ha'maves l'netzach, u'macha hashem dim'ah..."

Which place would you say is a better place to live in? (I'm assuming that in living forever, there are no problems attached.)

I know my answer. I assume absence of death to be a good thing. A human's perception of something which is good is akin to saying it is moral. Therefore I believe death to be immoral.

From the point of view of g-d (who is perfect, remember Ha'azinu?), is death and disease good? of course, although in ways I can not comprehend. But being good in a g-dly sense does not for me translate into being moral. I hope That I don't at this point in our discussion have to explain why.

But of course, feel free to disagree with me.

E-Man said...

I don't if you can say thay G-D called eath Tov Meod from that medrash. I mean they are making a diyuk from the words not saying that G-D was calling death tov meod, just that He created death. Also, there are countless meforshim and midrashim that say death was not invented until Adam sinned. I just think that medrash is coming to teach us a lesson about how even death has a purpose in this world and is not evil.

With that said I will now tell u my thoughts on morality of killing. First and foremost I think it is wrong and immoral because G-D said it. Now, to make it make sense in my head I give it a logical reason, whether it is right or wrong. I think it is immoral to kill because a person is not allowed to impose his will on another and by taking someones life that is the greatest imposition. Only G-D, the creator of everything can impose His will on us because He created us. That is why He can tell us what to do and what not to do. We can justify things, but in the end of the day only He knows the real reason.

robert said...

E-man,

So it is immoral for a person to impose his will on another.

AND...

Its good for G-d to impose HIS will.

E-Man said...

I would phrase it more as, it is moral for us to listen to G-D's commandments, because He created us, is (for a lack of a better word) perfect, and according to Judaism, knows what is best for us.

robert said...

How ironic that that the word you use "for a lack of a better word" is...."perfect".

robert said...

E-Man said...
"...I just think that medrash is coming to teach us a lesson about how even death has a purpose in this world and is not evil."

Speaking of evil...

E-man,

I believe that we agree that G-d is good. All HIS creations are good, all HIS commandments are good.

We differ in that for you, this means that G-d and all HIS creations and commandments are therefore moral, whereas for me, I can assert that this does not follow; HE can be good, HIS commandments from HIS perspective are good, but from man's point of view can be perceived as immoral.

For you,CREATION=GOOD=MORAL. For me, I leave off the last third of this triad.

My question is: EVIL is a creation of G-d, therefore EVIL is good (albeit in a way that we can not comprehend), and therefore EVIL is MORAL.

CREATION=GOOD=MORAL.
EVIL=GOOD=MORAL. Or, EVIL is Moral.

Thus,according to the logic of objective morality we have the paradox of evil as a creation of G-d, is moral.

Is this possible?

E-Man said...

Well, this is the paradox of how can G-D have created evil. There are several people who talk about this. Personally I think the Ralbag makes the most sense. He says hat G-D did not create evil, rather it was something inherent in the creation of something from something. I think the Rambam deals with this problem in the moreh but I don't remember what he says.

robert said...

E-man,

So the incredibly simple way of getting around the problem of how can G-d create evil is to say Evil? of course G-d didn't create it!

Its very cute, but I don't buy it. If its in the world, then its there b/c G-d created it. It sounds as if something got screwed up in the process of creation.

Its as if G-d is saying: Evil? its not my fault, don't blame me!

All powerful? perfect? great, almighty?

Hmm...

Does this really makes the most sense to you, or are you just trying to will the problem away?

E-Man said...

Well it all depends on how we understand creation. Was it ex nihilo or ex aliquo (something from nothing or something from something). Ralbag, ibn eZra and several others believe in ex aliquo and therefore you can understand that evil comes from the lack of perfection that existed within the formless matter that the physical universe was made with.

The truth is if you really want to understand this concept you have to read the Ralbag's milchomos Hashem.

I don't think it is an easy way around the problem at all. I think it is an in depth analysis. I am not going through it, but there are long long explanations on it. To say it is easy is to not understand the background from which it comes.

robert said...

No matter how the RALBAG explains the intricacies or the mechanisms by which H' created the world with evil, whether HE actually created the evil, or HE had no choice b/c it somehow pre-existed G-d and HIS creation, no matter what, the RALBAG is engaging in classic apologetics. The Ralbag is faced with a paradox, and he explains it away apolegetically.

I have not read milchomos hashem, but if you have, tell me how you believe that it is not apologetics.

If you have not read it, tell me how you think the conception of "evil exists through no fault of H'" is not apologetics.

E-Man said...

If you read the Ralbag you would see how it fits nicely with, nay, is a must for his theology. If you ever get a hold of seymor feldman's translation of the milchamos hashem he talks about it in the synopsis to book four very clearly.

Also check out breishis rabba 51:3 where it says no evil descends from above.

robert said...

Do you understand what I mean when I say that to say "no evil descends from above", is apologetics?

The whole universe is G-d's realm. To say that no evil comes from H' is to strongly imply if not outrightly say that either there is another realm where evil comes from (which is heresy),

or that which we perceive as evil, is not really evil, but we perceive it as such due to our limited comprehension. If this is the case, then we are back to where we were before previously in our discussion of upper sphere vs. lower sphere where in the upper sphere there is no such thing as evil, b/c all is good in the upper sphere, but then there can be no discussion of morality in the upper sphere either.

E-Man said...

What I am saying does not fit into your categories apparently. The Ralbag, Ibn Ezra, and breishis Rabba agree with me here. I don't understand how it is apologetics to have a certain belief in how the world works. If you believe in creation ex nihilo then any answer is apologetics, however, that is not what is being discussed.

robert said...

"...The Ralbag, Ibn Ezra, and breishis Rabba agree with me here..."

Please explain your position to me w/o referring to medieval jewish philosophers. I am discussing this with you, not them. Adopt their position as your own if you wish, burt please present it as yours.
Thank you.


"I don't understand how it is apologetics to have a certain belief in how the world works. If you believe in creation ex nihilo then any answer is apologetics, however, that is not what is being discussed."

Please explain to me why it is apologetics if you believe creation EN, but it isn't apologetics if you believe in creation EA.

robert said...

"...If you believe in creation ex nihilo then any answer is apologetics, however, that is not what is being discussed."

Why is it that creation EN is considered to be apologetics, while creation EA is not considered to be apologetics? Please explain.

E-Man said...

Creation Ex Nihilo means G-D created everything from nothing. Creation Ex ALiquo means that G_D created the world from a pre-existing matter that was the formless matter that Plato speaks of.

Therefore, anything in a creation EN world must be directly from G-D. However, in a creation EA world there is an inherent flaw that exists within creation. This flaw is where evil comes from.

robert said...

And this mighty G-d of ours couldn't, or didn't see the need to fix this flaw in the EA model?

My friend, this is APOLOGETICS.

E-Man said...

No. Again u are missing the point of the Ralbag. A creation EA means that the world was created with this pre existing material. Therefore, the very fabric of the world inherently contains this flaw. If G-D tried to fix this He would in essence destroy the very fabric of the world. The Ralbag is of the opinion that G-D can only do that which is logically possible. He can not make a square's angles add up to 180 degrees.

The Ralbag has a different understanding of the world than the Maharal. According to the Maharal G-D can do anything no matter how illogical. This is where u seem to come from. However, the Ralbag believes and proves through philosophical proofs that G-D is limited in how He can effect the world. So if u actually understand the Ralbag this fits in perfectly with his philosophy and is not apalogetics. Had the Maharal said it then it would have been apologetics, but this is the Ralbag's idea.

robert said...

sigh...

So its all nice and logical to say that if G-d allmighty would attempt to tinker with this pre-existing flaw in the fabric of the world which pre-existed HIM,

(Question: We are taught that G-d exists outside of time. HE is not confined by the limitations of time as we are. So how can anything pre-exist HIM? Really, think about it, something (evil) existed BEFORE HIM-you are dealing with the language of chronical order of events, or time.)

the world would have gone kablooie-much like my attempts at science projects in my youth,

But its NOT logical to say that G-d could have fixed this relatively minor detail in the creation.

OK, I totally understand that.

The question (really, comment) I have for you is that I am totally baffled that you can not understand that what the RALBAG is doing is attempting to reconcile the paradox of evil in this world, and the method he resorts to can and indeed should be labelled as APOLOGETICS.

E-Man said...

Who said anything about anything pre-existing G-D?

robert said...

E-Man said:

"Creation Ex ALiquo means that G_D created the world from a pre-existing matter that was the formless matter that Plato speaks of."

And E-man Said:
"A creation EA means that the world was created with this pre existing material."

And E-man Said:
"Who said anything about anything pre-existing G-D?"

Question:
Am I missing something here?
Please explain.

E-Man said...

Both G-D and this shapeless matter are infinite. The matter did not pre-exist G-D.

robert said...

There is a belief out there that there are two "domains": and that G-d is poweless to contain evil, HE can not conquer it.

I know that you don't believe this.

But what you are saying sounds mighty close to it.

E-Man said...

Not in the slightest. The Ralbag says that G-D has ultimate power over this formless mass, that is how he was able to create the world from it. However, since this mass was and is physical it contains within it the capabilities for evil.

If you really want to understand this concept you should get Seymore feldman's translation of the wars of the lord, or find someone else who explains this idea, although I think seymore feldman is the best.