Rabbi Shafran and the Atheists

Agudah hack Rabbi Avi Shafran, troubled by attacks against a column he wrote attacking atheism, attempts to rebut his detractors with the following logic:

As to the essence of my argument, though, there was no credible counter-argument whatsoever, no claim that right and wrong can somehow have inherent meaning without recourse to Something Higher than ourselves. That, too, was telling — of the truth that atheism, in the end, cannot assign any more meaning to right and wrong than to right and left.

This is an absurd argument to make. First of all, a society can set norms for acceptable and unacceptable behavior and rank those anyway it sees fit, using its best logic. For example, one may be confronted with a life threatening emergency that requires your immediate attention to help a victim on one hand or the opportunity to buy the last remaining tickets for the Super Bowl on the other. One can do one of these acts but not the other. Societies can and do legislate in areas like this. Not helping in the life threatening emergency is a crime in many jurisdictions. Conversely, if a frum Jew is confronted with the same situation, except the victims are non-Jews and the Super Bowl is replaced with a one-time kiruv opportunity, many very religious people commenting on this blog have seen nothing wrong with ignoring the suffering of non-Jews (or even safek Jews!) to do once-in-a-lifetime kiruv with one lone Jew. The first set of choices and penalties are non-religious but just and fair. The second are religious and profoundly immoral.

Which leads us to the other flaw in Rabbi Shafran’s argument. Religious societies often do great evil in the name of God. One easy example of this is modern day Islam, which has done unbelievable horrors in the name of Allah. But history is not short of these examples. The point is, these societies believe they are doing the will of God, and that their actions, no matter how heinous, are moral.

And, yes, there are Jewish examples of this as well, although they are fewer, largely due to fewer opportunities. Until 60 years ago, we did not have a state apparatus or demographic dominance and were largely living at the whim of others. Even so, one can find early pogroms against Christians and other sectarians, along with scattered incidents of violence directed at the Other. More prevalent is the common Orthodox Jewish refusal to help non-Jews in times of need.

Atheism is not provable. Neither is its opposite. Believing laws are given by God sometimes ensures great morality. Other times it causes the exact opposite.

Shafran represents a religious group that has covered for some of the greatest abuses in the haredi world, including the molestation of children. Some of that molestation is alleged to have occurred at Agudah’s own summer camp. This coverup (one that Rabbi Shafran denies even as he perpetrates it) is done for a decidedly religious reason – to protect God’s name, to prevent hillul hashem.

In our day, it is not the morality of atheists alone that needs questioning – it is the morality of the mullahs of Afghanistan, a Church that allowed rampant pedophilia, and a haredi world that does the same.



Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership

6 responses to “Rabbi Shafran and the Atheists

  1. Yos

    I think atheism is fundamentally impossible to defend, but it is laughable to argue in favor of the manifest nature of God via morality or ethics. At some level, no matter how far you dig into the ‘divine’ you eventually have to accept that it (whatever it is) is what it is. And that encompasses everything that is good as well as the absence of the good. Yet – and this is my point – I’ve never seen a religious argument against atheism willing to concede this point.

  2. “G-d said so” is a very shaky foundation for morality indeed, because He seems to say radically different things to different people. 🙂

  3. Yochanan Lavie

    Deborah, maybe so, but what is the foundation for morality? Darwin was right about how species originated, but he’d make a lousy ethicist. There is no convincing secular justification for morality. Even famous atheists like Dennett and Dawkins are just conventional liberals, whose liberalism has its roots in (Greco-Judaeo-Christian) Western Civilization. When you get right down to it, there is no reason to be good, nor even a basis to define what is “good.”

  4. Yos

    Fear of Heaven (or hell) is a poor basis for morality. Empathy seems to be a naturally occuring instinct even in animals. The atheists would say that it is an evolved trait accrued for the sake of insuring the continuation of the species. I’d agree, but like most ‘evolved’ traits it seems to have coincidently come to an apex for the human animal.

  5. I am in no way saying that science can provide us with the ultimate blueprint for moral behavior.

    The best way to define what is moral and what is not, without G-d, is, in my view, the Golden Rule.


  6. “Mr. Kuklinski, who was retired from life at the age of 70, claimed, utterly without remorse, to have killed more than 100 people as a Mafia enforcer; his favored methods included ice picks, crossbows, chain saws and a cyanide solution administered with a nasal-spray bottle.”

    Apparently, Shafran hasn’t read last week’s Parsha- Noach, where the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world- Yahweh- killed all forms of life except sea creatures with his favored method- a global flood.

    The very same mass murderer instructs the genocide of hittites, jebusites, amorites, amalekites later in the story.

    Fortunately, like jack the Ripper, Yahweh the Drowner is nowhere to be seen for the last 2,500 years- coinciding with recorded history and semi-rational thought.

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