Another rabbi, another day.
Today, I want to tackle a new Jewish pseudo-philosophical rabbi, Moshe Averick. We found out a few days ago via Jewish-American newspaper Algemeiner that Averick is not a fan of Princeton Ethics Professor Peter Singer. I am not hugely familiar with Peter Singer’s works, but his ethics are best understood through preference utilitarian and secular in nature. For a summary of preference utilitarianism, I give you the bedrock of knowledge that is Wikipedia. Simply put, preference utilitarianism centers around the basis that morality and ethics are largely based on subjective preference (for a grander discussion on preference utilitarianism, use the comment box). Rabbi Moshe obviously opposes this because of objective, eternal morality.
“It is axiomatic that in the world of the atheist there is neither morality nor immorality, only amorality” – Averick’s first sentence
Dear. Oh, dear.
“This is often misunderstood to mean that atheists have no values. That conclusion would clearly be erroneous. To associate atheism with amorality is not to say that atheists have no values, they certainly do; amorality is a commentary, not on the existence of values, but on the significance of those values. Since in the atheistic worldview we are nothing more than upright walking primates, our value systems have no more significance than those of our jungle dwelling relatives. In the Darwinian view, the human is to the cockroach as the cockroach is to the paramecium. To imagine that we are something “more” is just that: a product of the human imagination.”
The rabbi and I agree on the first two sentences. After that, he sort of mixes up a few things.
When he says atheists believe human values have no “significance”, he’s referring to no objective, eternal significance. He’s tapping into Singer’s views on animal rights and evolutionary value. We progress from here, but this is important to note moving forward. The last sentence by Averick is throw-away nonsense.
It would be absurd then for the atheist to suggest that any particular individual or society has the authority to dictate to all human beings what their values should or should not be; it would be even more absurd to suggest that the pronouncements of any individual or society obligates others to behave accordingly. For the atheist, morality is simply a word that is used to describe the type of system that an individual or society subjectively prefers. Each society establishes, maintains, and modifies its values to suit its own needs.“Morality is the custom of one’s country and the current feeling of one’s peers. Cannibalism is moral in a cannibalistic country.” (Samuel Butler)
Here we find the heart of the problem: Atheist Ethics = Preference Utilitarian Ethics. This is not true of many atheists — myself included, although I think there are values in applied ethics for preference utilitarianism and maybe a talk with Singer could convince me otherwise — who have different ethical values ranging from Christian ethical values to nihilism. I’m a fan of consent-based ethical theory, which we will talk about now. Butler’s statement about cannibalism, under consent theory, would go as follows:
1. If the person consents for their body to be eaten by another human being, we’re all good.
2. If they do not, no go.
3. If they are dead, no one’s going to want to eat them anyway after a certain amount of days, but if they have not left it in their will to be cannibalized I would suspect that wouldn’t be the first method of disposal of the body.
Fair enough? Let’s move on, remembering that atheism is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of preference utilitarianism. Simply, a preference utilitarian has to be secular/atheistic but an atheist/secularist does not have to be a preference utilitarian. Many atheists have varied ethical views.
Since these values are nothing more than reflections of the prevalent subjective preferences they obviously will shift and metamorphose to accommodate changing needs and attitudes. In my own lifetime I have witnessed radical societal swings in moral behavior and attitudes regarding marriage and sexuality, homosexuality, the killing of unborn children, euthanasia, and the use of illicit drugs.
Meh. Other than wording — killing of unborn children isn’t exactly a neutral wording — I am not going to push to much here other than preferences in preference utilitarian refers to more than subjective choice. Take note if you please.
There is nothing that atheistic societies are incapable of rationalizing and accepting – including the sexual molestation of children.
La, la, la. We talked about this already, just because you are making an appeal to emotion doesn’t mean you’re right. Child consent, I believe, is a very interesting point. In some ways this is a problem for preference utilitarianism — some forms of which give similar rights to humans and other animals, wherein consent value changes — but this is not a larger statement about atheistic societies. Atheists societies do not equal pedophiliac societies. Tsk tsk, Rabbi. He relies heavily on this obviously clear-cut quote from Singer when asked about pedophilia.
I don’t have intrinsic moral taboos. My view is not that anything is just wrong…You’re trying to put words in my mouth.
The Rabbi goes on to explain consequentialist views innaccurately:
Singer went on to explain that he is a “consequentialist.” For the benefit of the philosophically challenged let me explain “consequentialism” in a nutshell: If you like the consequences it’s ethical, if you don’t like the consequences it’s unethical. Thus, if you enjoy child pornography and having sex with children it’s ethical, if you dislike child pornography and having sex with children it’s unethical.
This idea is not necessarily true and is an oversimplification of this form of ethical method. If you tie it in with utilitarianism especially, which he has done prior, this holds no water. The Rabbi goes on to call another secular philosopher “intellectually (and morally) bankrupt” because:
The recognition that there is something inherently and intrinsically abominable in child molestation renders the act immoral, rather than merely not to one’s taste.
What’s that something? Don’t bother to explain your position, Rabbi. He goes on to chastise those who are working to help the public better understand pedophilia and those attracted to younger individuals.
It all boils down to objective morality vs. subjective morality. The Rabbi wants us all to assent to these rules:
- All men are created in the image of God and are therefore inherently and intrinsically precious.
- All men have been endowed by God with unalienable rights and among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
- Thou shalt not murder.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery, incest, or bestiality.
- Thou shalt not have sex with children, and if you do you will be looked upon as a disgusting and contemptible criminal and will be treated as such.
- Thou shall teach these laws to your children.
Ethics without god are admittedly harder to agree upon than assenting to authoritarian rules. There are many reasons why non-religious people consider pedophilia wrong, but philosophically, just because you think something is abominable does not mean it’s wrong. You have to give reasons why. At least Professor Singer does this in his excellent catalog of books. So, Rabbi Averick, stop using scare tactics to make Jewish-Americans fearful of atheists. Let’s talk about ethics instead of just making unfounded accusations.
I want to open it up to you all. What do you think?
Ben Conover is a sophomore philosophy, psychology, and women’s studies major at Saint Louis University.