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Atheism, morality, Religion

Rabbi Says Religion is Better for Human Rights

Writing for Huffpost Religion, Rabbi Alana Suskin has argued that with all its history of human rights abuses, religion is still a better basis for human rights than secularism.  I disagree.

To begin with, she addresses the claim that “religious people are a sort of automation for God’s whim:”

While I can’t speak for all faiths, the answer is clearly, “No.” Within Jewish tradition there are clear precedents of arguing with God…  In the Jewish tradition, starting in the Torah, there is a strong current of approbation for the faithful Jew who challenges God.

Ignoring the slightly pompous insinuation that Jewish tradition is better than those other more dogmatic religions, we need to recognize that this “answer” doesn’t address the accusation.  We atheists do not argue that religious people become unthinking executors of God’s will.  So… even if the Rabbi is correct, it’s not really pertinent.

The argument against religious moral foundations is that the lack of an empirical “reality check” allows believers to alter their ethics towards whatever evil they desire.  Because the appeal to revelation defies and even contradicts empiricism, there is no way to effectively argue against a religious person who is convinced that evil is actually good.  It’s not that believers are unthinking.  It’s that when they do think, their ultimate loyalty is to a “higher authority,” not empirical reality.

Suskin next moves to a criticism of secular moral philosophy:

Secular morality hasn’t any more to do with reason — and perhaps less — than those of the religious person. Each and every one of us lives in a society that determines our feelings of what is “natural,” “right” and “rational.” These cultural biases are difficult to examine because they are like water to a fish — so ubiquitous and so pervasive, we simply do not notice them. Are the norms of one’s society,which are so deeply embedded within us that they feel “natural,” a compass toward what is right and good?

Her first statement is objectively false.  In highlighting the logistical problems of secular moral theorists’ attempts to describe an “ultimate” morality, she has ignored the elephant in the room.  Science has given us a clear understanding of morality.  And what it has told us is this:  Morality is not an “ultimate” prescription of what to do or not to do.  It is an evolutionary patchwork of prosocial and antisocial tendencies which work relatively well on a macro level, but cannot prescribe the perfect action in every individual situation.

The Rabbi is correct.  Secularism cannot prescribe one cultural norm which will work for all people.  But in being correct, she has missed the boat.  The presumption that there is one “ultimate” cultural norm is a religious one, not a scientific one.  She is presuming that we ought to be able to prescribe one morality that will work for everybody.  In effect, she’s assumed religion’s moral model and then awarded it the prize for not being scientific.




4 thoughts on “Rabbi Says Religion is Better for Human Rights

  1. In other words, the good Rabbi is recommending that we not use our religious convictions as the ultimate judge of morality. Instead, we should ask ourselves whether our religion is right or just.

    That’s what it always comes down to, isn’t it? The religious moralist must either submit their religious beliefs to some higher, objective standard, or admit that they have no claim to objective morality. Need we further proof that religious morality is BS?

    Posted by Ian | July 24, 2011, 4:00 pm
  2. I think the problem with religious morality is that it’s unnecessary at best. We can have ANYTHING religious morality provides at the same level with secular morality[including, contrary to popular belief, human rights abuses].

    That is, they’re both the same coin. Which isn`t surprising, seeing as since religion is false, they have to get their morality somewhere, and that happens to be the same place as secular morality.

    Anything good or bad religion has done, can be replicated with secular morality, so I see it as redendent.

    When somebody tells me they get their morality from religion, I say `No you don`t` and the most important thing is that I don`t pick and choose what they do and don`t get their morality from based on the action.

    Posted by Alison | July 24, 2011, 7:57 pm
  3. I would like to add that I don’t agree with the Rabbi, that religion is better for human rights. Religion is unnecessary for human rights, so there’s no point in having it.

    That’s my number one argument against religion. You don’t need it so why have it? On that note, the way to lean people off religion is to show you don’t need it.

    Posted by Alison | July 24, 2011, 9:58 pm
  4. Alison… it may shock you… but I’m down with that plan if it works. I don’t care how we get people to ditch religion, honestly. There are a dozen good arguments against it. And if plain pragmatism does it, so much the better.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | July 24, 2011, 11:57 pm

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