Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Looking Ahead to Yom Kippur

I was thinking about Leviticus 19 read in some synagogues on Yom Kippur. In particular, I was thinking about the injunction against placing a stumbling block before the blind.

A theist like me would consider an atheist to be spiritually blind (note: spiritually, not morally or ethically: there is no reason why an atheist would be any less ethically atune than a theist, and an atheist may even adopt a theistic morality -- indeed, while the concept of the Fear of God is important in Jewish morality, a Hassidic master once noted that even atheism can serve God's will as it focuses the mind on the need for humans to do good works and not rely on God).

An invocation of God by an atheist would be in vain, would it not?

Thus, creating a situation where an atheist is likely to invoke God (e.g. by having the Pledge of Allegience in its post 1950s form recited in a public, secular forum such as a school, an atheist child might inadvertantly include the phrase "under God") is putting a stumbling block before the blind -- i.e. causing an atheist to spiritually stumble.

Why then do some who claim to guard our public morality do something that is precisely against the source they claim for that morality?

I am tired of those who refer to the religious right as having a Levitical morality. Their morality is quite the opposite of that encouraged by the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus tells us not to place a stumbling block before the blind: the religious right sometimes seems to revel in this conduct. Leviticus describes a public morality based on obligatory shared meals and wealth redistribution: the religious right tells us that the poor should be taken care of by "charity" rather than by obligatory wealth redistribution. Leviticus forbids us from doing whatever we want with our property but mandates some of the fruits of our land to be shared with the poor: the religious right tends to support politicians who claim that we can despoil our property -- do even evil to God's creation -- however we want.

While I would be the last to advocate a return to a Levitically-based theocracy in Israel or the establishment of one here, liberals would be pleased to know and members of the religious right would be horrified to realize that such a theocracy would be more socialist than free-market friendly.

I urge people, both left and right, to read Leviticus 19 and then re-evaluate their thoughts on Leviticus.

Excellent post and glad to see you took the plunge into the blogosphere.
As an atheist, my biggest problem with the pledge is not the actual wording "Under God" but the meaning that it holds for most Americans. Personally, I accept that the United States is a very religious nation; I think that is a value-neutral position morally. It has it's ups and downs.
My problem is that too many Americans read an implied status of the United States as an evangelical Christian nation; essentially a side-step around the Establishment Clause. They don't wish to amend the 1st Amendment, just render it moot where their particular religious views are involved. It's a classic example of why our Constititution is structured around insuring the rights of minority positions.

Prepare to be blogrolled!
Thank you for the possible honor of blogrolling. Glad you like my post.

I agree with your statements about the US being religious. Of course, the reason for that is that, unlike in Europe, we are not sick of religion. Doing an end-run around the 1st ammendment as you describe the religious right wanting to do, will ultimately weaken religious belief in this country, not strengthan it.

OTOH, the religious right does have its own internal conflict about the 1st Amendment. Because of their belief system, they consider it their obligation to try and make people aware of their religious beliefs by any means necessary, including by side-stepping around the Establishment Clause. Indeed, if you look carefully at what legal types more sympathetic to the religious right write about the 1st Amendment, they tend to describe the Establishment and Free Exercize Clauses in opposition. Why? Because for certain kinds of Evangelical Christians, their religion mandates a good faith attempt at Establishing a Christian State -- so to have an Establishment Clause indeed restricts their Free Exercize of religion.

This is a very general issue: how does a democracy survive when significant portions of the population have a belief system that is fundamentally anti-democratic? Back in the 1920s and 1950s we worried about this in terms of the Communist threat, but the real threat to this country has long been and still is the threat of the fundamentally anti-Capitalist, neo-Feudalist, (quasi-religious) Right.
Because for certain kinds of Evangelical Christians, their religion mandates a good faith attempt at Establishing a Christian State...

Absolutely. If you have the time, read up on Christian Reconstructionist movement. Many E.C.s claim they aren't members of that school of thought, but their political activities say otherwise.
Very cool design! Useful information. Go on! »
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