Friday, February 17, 2012

Morality and Judaism

I did not plan on writing a post tonight, but after the evening I've had, I have so much I want to share. My parents are in Israel, so I came to their apartment near Jerusalem for the Sabbath. My sister and her husband live in this apartment with their 2 young daughters full time. My relationship with my sister and brother-in-law is a bit strained. They are very very religious and obviously look down on me. In spite of this, when my parents are in the country, I always try and join them for the Sabbath. I also agree to join my father at the prayer services. I don't pray or anything, but it makes in happy for me to be there next to him.

This evening we were at the prayer service and my father was reading some newsletter put out by some Rabbi. He had trouble understanding the Hebrew so he asked me to translate it. The article was basically about a hit and run incident that happened this week in the north of Israel. The article said that the driver, who fatally wounded a young woman was not found because there was no camera in the area. After the incident many people called for there to be more cameras installed throughout Israel to prevent hit and runs. But the article said that cameras are not the answer. The answer, according to the writer is religious education. His reasoning was that religious people "know" that god is always watching them and therefore do not do things like hit and runs.

Being that the driver was not caught, I do not know how the writer knows what education or background s/he had. But religious people often like to assume that other religious people are especially trustworthy and wonderful. I know my dad prefers to do business with only religious people. He often says, "He was a frum yid (religious Jew in Yiddish), so I decided to give him some business", or "so I figured I could trust him."

Later on, the Rabbi gave a sermon that basically said that Jewish law is about morals, as opposed to secular law which is about stability, and a system of rewards and punishments. He stated that in the 10 Commandments it simply says, "Thou shall not kill." It does not give a reason or a punishment. It just gives a moral statement. He went on to say "even non Jews know that killing is wrong, but they don't do it because they don't want to get caught and punished." Never mind the belittling of non Jews. I am wondering, if this speaker had read the article my dad had given me to translate. The article said, fear of being "caught" by an all powerful god keeps Jews from doing wrong. Now this Rabbi was saying Jewish law was not about punishment, it was just about doing what was right.

The truth is, that both religious and non religious people do bad things. I know religious people that do the right thing because they want to get reworded and go to heaven, and I know those who do what is right simply because it is right. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that religious people would behave more morally because of their religious belief. The US is the most religious nation in the Western World and it has one if the highest crime rates. Religion simply is not an effective source of morality or a deterrent from doing wrong. I do not know why religious people continue to be "shocked" every time a religious person is arrested or accused of wrong doing. Some people are evil. It does not matter if they believe in god or do not. Stop with the elitism.


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    1. Such a simplistic, two-dimensional article. Conservatives love to say how their "morality" is objective and therefore better than secularist subjective morality.

      But the truth is that religious "morality" is extremely subjective. Within Judaism every Rabbi has 2 opinions about every law. In some cases Rabbis even contradict the Torah to try and reach morality (specifically when dealing with the law to wipe out Amalek).

      But even the very idea of god is subjective. The "morality" of the Orthodox Jewish god, vs the "morality" of the Catholic god, vs the "morality" of the Muslim god. Which is the objective truth?

      There are tons of religious people that in spite of their belief in god and "his law" do immoral things. I would list examples, but I am sure you know them all. There are also plenty of religious people that do immoral things because of their beliefs. (Muslim honor killings, Haredi mistreatment of women etc).

      What I wrote in my post is that their are bad people that are religious and bad people that are secular. These are simple facts that cannot be argued with logically.

      Prager is a close minded conservative that hates those that are different them him. He writes and publishes articles saying "all these people that are different than me are bad. Be scared of them." But he actually brings no evidences for his case. He blames bad schooling on secularism. But he never made any connection between that bad schooling and secularism. And what would his plan be to fix it? Make public schools into religious institutions?

      The truth is morality IS subjective. There is no way around it. Everyone (including myself obviously) thinks their moral code is correct. This is true about the Muslim suicide bomber, as well as the secular animal rights terrorist. Being stubborn and denying this won't achieve anything.

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  3. By saying that religion isn't right for government but is right for schools (ie public schools) he is contraindicating himself.

    Prager making empty attacks against secularism not backed by any facts is hateful.

    The lack of school prayer does not make a school secular. It just means they cannot have prayer. All is complaining about children being taught about their "feelings" is not secularism. He is just lumping the two together out of convenience.

    And again, my point is, even when morality is based in god it IS SUBJECTIVE. He is saying his morality is objective in his religion. How small minded of him. His "god" has one sent of values, but other "gods" have other sets of values. By saying that god and religion should be put into the school system, he is obviously referring to HIS version of god and religion. What gives him that right? And just because he thinks his way is correct, does not make it so.

    Prager did not bring any proof that before the 1960s things were different. All he did is say now is bad, before must have been better. The difference between now and than was school prayer, so therefore secularism is bad. He did not use logic or facts to back up that argument.

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    1. Most of the founding fathers were not religious, but deists. Read their personal writings and it is very clear. But here is an Adams quote made in an official document that contradicts what you wrote.

      "As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] ... it is declared ... that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries....
      "The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation."
      -- Treaty of Tripoli (1797), carried unanimously by the Senate and signed into law by John Adams (the original language is by Joel Barlow, US Consul)

      America was never meant to be a religious country. There is vast proof of that. The constitution's mention of god has nothing to do with religion. At that point in history, pre Darwin, almost everyone believed that some sort of force created the world. But that by no means supports religion or prayer.

      And religious views of right and wrong, good and evil have NOTHING AT ALL to do with rational. They have to do with "it says so in my holy book." How is that rational at all?
      The secular view, use of logic, which does not always reach what I would consider to be the right answer, is at least based in rational.

      I do not want to be killed so I will outlaw killing. I do not want society to be chaotic so I will outlaw and teach against killing. That is rational. And Islam, Judaism and Christianity all have the idea of "holy wars" where killing is encouraged.

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    1. Why do you keep saying that belief in a god means that people had to be religious? That just simply is not the case. Adams was not a religious man but he did believe in a god that created the word and that people inherently are created with rights from birth. (John Locke, the first philosopher to write that people are created with rights was actually religious himself).

      Why do you say “supposedly deist”? Read the personal writings of Adams, and while you are at, Pain and Jefferson. There men were anti-religion.

      I do not think people are created with rights. We must constantly fight for our rights. Through most of history, most people had no rights. Where was god than? Where in the Torah, Koran or New Testament does it talk about people’s rights? Nowhere. When Locke and Adams said that we are created with rights from god, it was a philosophical and meta-physical idea, not a religious one.

      And yes, rational thought can lead to evil. That is why I wrote “does not always reach what I would consider to be the right answer”. I am not saying secularism and ratinal thought are perfect. The world is full of evil people. Without religion, I do not think that evil will stop. But, religion claims to be the source of all good when it simply is not.

      Religion hurts millions of people on a daily bases. I personally was hurt by religion but being taught from a young age that part of my humanity was disgusting and a sin. But many others are hurt much worse. In Africa the Catholic Church refuses to allow condoms to be given out and causes millions to get AIDS every year. In Muslim countries women are beaten, raped and treated like property. In many countries gays are executed, jailed or otherwise punished. How is religion the source of good Josh?

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    1. Thats very nice nice that he went to worship. So have I. But Jefferson also wrote (as I said look at his personal writings)
      The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.
      -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

      Adams thought Christianity was a good religion. So what? How does that mean that he thought America should have Christian values?

      No, revolutionary Americans did not think it said anywhere in the Bible that they were given rights by god. Again, they got that idea from John Locke. It was a philosophical idea about god, not a religious . Stop combining the two. History is full of people who believe in a god but not religion or revelation. Do not project your view and beliefs on others.

      Yes, secularists have done plenty of evil. But your just ignoring what I wrote. Secularist do not claim to have a divine monopoly on right and wrong. So if a secular person does wrong, we know it is because he was a bad person. When religion claims to be from god and perfect, and than commits evil, how should that be addressed?

      And Josh, this last part I have written 4 or 5 times already and apparently you just are not reading what I wrote. God is an opinion. There are thousands of versions of god. Just because you think your god is a fact, does not make it less of an opinion than allah, zeus or thor. You and Prager like to think that your morals are set in stone because of your individual belief in god but it is not the case. People interpret religion differently and people switch religions. The only difference between secular moral opinions and religious moral opinion is that one claims to be super natural. But neither is objective in any way.

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    1. of course supernatural is subjective. Within Judaism every 3 people have 10 opinions about every issue. There is absolutely nothing objective about religion. I actually just read a post in another blog I read called "Coin Laundry" ( In one of the comments, someone mentions a lecture by Rabbi Slifkin in which he said that Jews might not even be required to believe in god. There is nothing objective about religion.