Ben Avuyah

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The good, the bad, and the ugly...

After two frustrating days of arguing morality over at the old mill (XGH) I feel the need to vent on my own turf.

The subject….Religious Morality.

Now, my own opinion is simple: There is no evidence of supernatural beings who are interested in which candy bars we eat. No evidence equals no belief. Hence I do not believe that our morality is supplied by a supernatural being who watches us to see if we follow his moral rules.

But that is not enough for me.

After being shackled by orthodoxy for most of my life I desire to break it with it's own rules, to choke it with each lugubrious loop of it's own lazy, half thought out theology, and drown each apologetic for it's crimes against human critical thought in the goo from whence it came .

I desire to highlight each internal inconsistency, to wave lit flares in the air warning of every pothole and tar pit of rabbinic claptrap, to kindle blazing neon signs at every transgression of logic and reason.

What is my motivation ?? Is it hate for the believers? assistance for the fledging doubter? or pure malicious vitriol with no reason whatsoever ?? Who knows ?

Will I convince any believer with my observations of a broken mesorah?

It is unlikely, as there is no level of unreason that is too low when it comes to justifying tradition. (see Mabul for examples).

My Thesis is simple.

My Gripe: No orthodox Jew should speak of "Godly morality". There is no such thing. Only obedience.

Come take a look through my eyes.

Our Traditions. They speak of a God so grand he is outside our frame of reference for anything, to describe him by any verb or analogy is an essential blasphemy. We can not know his mind. We cannot know his intent, his purpose, his method, his goals. Indeed our favorite midrash pictures a God sorrowfully shaking his head, as he informs Mosses that the ability to understand the mechanism by which God delivers reward and punishment cannot be shared with a human. Unknowable.

The Medrish and indeed the traditions of orthodoxy are insistent that we don't have simple answers to this question (although you will occasionally hear attempts if you listen to the right people). The conundrum of Theodicy in mainstream orthodox belief remains quarantined through the use of the statement, "God works in mysterious ways".

To me, the natural extension of this logical loophole is: we don't know the method God uses to make judgments regarding reward and punishment. We don't know what his criteria are. We don't know his motivation or plan. All of these are beyond our knowledge.

Shouldn't we hope though, that his criteria and motivations are similar to our own natural feelings of right and wrong? Don't we feel the pain of an innocent wronged, don't we wish justice upon the evil and cruel. Don't we wish to have faith in a God who's final plan for justice smacks of something rehashed from Solomonic wisdom where we all simply nod our heads at the fairness of it all.

Should we ??

Strangely, it appears not. Not through the lens from which orthodoxy insist we gaze at the world. In fact, the use of our innate moral sense often leads people to disagree with precepts from God's bible. Honest people applying basic criteria of empathy often feel the Torah is incorrect. Honest orthodox people. Thus orthodoxy has bolstered the mythos of the unknowable God. Not only do we not know God's wisdom but we don't dare to wish it mirrors our own. Indeed, any time someone calculates pain, cruelty, and benefit and comes up with numbers different than orthodoxy prescribes it is a symptom of the divide between human morality, and the "divine morality".

I tell you nothing new here. Anyone brought up orthodox knows this…..

So what is Innate human morality ?? Isn't it so slippery it can't be quite defined ??

Well difficult to firmly pin down, yes. And many people may disagree on a moral outcome based on the same data, hence it's subjective nature. But I think we can postulate the ingredients that go into making a moral decision. We can agree that pain and suffering are an important consideration. We can concede that equity is a goal though we might argue about the exact method by which to calibrate our machinery for such a sum. We can say that benefits and losses of affected parties and society as a whole are under consideration, and in short we can agree on some very basic areas that will need to be scrutinized in order for humans to make a decision that is considered a moral one.

I would like to suggest, that no such corollary exists in "Godly morality". We have suggested in our traditions that not only do we not know the Godly mechanism of deciding right and wrong, but that they are unknowable to us…we cannot even comprehend them. Furthermore we have suggested that whatever intuitions we have with regard to the subject are as likely to be wrong as right.

It seems reasonable therefore to say, that God makes his decisions regarding reward and punishment, equity and prejudice, by a means other than any means we are familiar with. Something beyond us. We have no more reason to believe he takes the pain of human consciousness than some other variable. In fact, we have less reason to believe he uses any modality we can understand.

Whereas our innate sense of right and wrong derives from a sense of equity, empathy, and fairness, we have no idea what essential ingredients fuel God's judgments and in an approach to honest language usage should not apply terms outside of their meaning.

To the human mind there is no understanding of why God acts as he does, nor is there the ability for us to, according to our traditions. There is no knowledge of underlying principles that would allow us to weigh the equity of his decisions, nor is there the slightest confidence in our own faculties to do so.. Hence we should call our observance what it is. For there are words that more closely fit this phenomenon…..orders. We have no understanding of why he chooses right from wrong but we follow orders because we have come to believe that God has ultimate POWER. We believe the reality we see to have occurred because of his actions, and his actions indicate his power. It is because of his power that we do what he says. We admit we have no knowledge of his motive, his fairness, or the method by which he punishes, and…. get this……it doesn't matter to us !!!

Even those who wish to soothe this open sore by saying, "but we trust he is ultimately doing good…"

But what is good ??? meaningless. In our tradition we mistrust our own sense of it and cannot fathom God's. Indeed any moral terminology is equally devoid of coherence. One would be just as correct to say that we trust that God is good but "good" will in the end only be defined by God, as one would be to say that we trust that god is bad and that "bad" will be defined by God. Meaningless. All moral terminology is without meaning for they are all empty variables we cannot fill.

Orders. You follow orders. They are inexplicable orders to you, and you like it that way. It hurts less when you have to explain the pain of the world. You prefer to shroud God in mystery even if it means you are just following orders from the greatest power you can find. Why?? Did he promise you treasure, everlasting life, and meaning?? You know he did. At least, this is what you believe.

So let's stop slobbering endlessly about ultimate Goodness and morality. Orthodoxy made it's choice and dodges the bullet of Theodicy by hiding under the bed and insisting that God wants to tell us how it's all OK, but we cannot conceive it. Very well. Then let us accept then that we can't understand, and that we follow orders transmitted from power, and never more bandy about terms regarding how "moral" this is.