Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Korach and Legislation of Morality

Historically Evangelicals have been amongst the greatest supporters of religious liberty (and indeed, their antecedents, were the primary force behind what would become the 1st Ammendment). Yet now we associate Evangelical-friendly politics with a desire to legislate morality. What is the connection, if any?

I would suggest that in each case, the Evangelical claim is that of Korach -- that the mantle of priesthood falls on all people, both individually and collectively. Moral authority does not rest with "experts" but with everyone. But when moral authority rests with the demos by whose will laws are made, then moral authority can rest with the democracy. Am I the only one who sees the slippery slope here? As much as the ideal government is a democratic republic (and as much as Judaism democratizes morality by making sure everyone understands, engages, debates, etc., the laws they are to follow as a nation of priests), it must have limits in the moral sphere as morality is not subject to democracy, hence moral law should be beyond the scope of democratic legislation.

Consider the case of abortion: Judaism may say that under some appropriate measure of the probability space whose outcomes are unwanted pregnancies "most abortions are wrong". And Halacha supplies a Way (pun intended) to decide which abortions are wrong, which are allowable and which are Mitzvos. But whose authority is it to make that decision and to provide advice in that decision: the physician is an expert on medicine, the Rabbi on Halacha and the woman herself is entrusted as the steward of the body God has given her. Thus, the decision rests with the woman who should consult her physician and clerical advisor.

And, like in the days of the Torah in which the Priest had to see the leper where he was, both the physician and the clerical advisor, in order to provide true advice, have to place themselves in the shoes of the woman (and make house calls ;) ) and not moralize from a high perch.

But the Korach/"democratic" approach is that morality shouldn't be left to the experts (the physician on matters of health, the cleric on matters of religion, the woman who seeks an abortion on matters of her own body which only she ultimately knows) but is the sphere of any person. Even those who think that the judgment of morality is ickiness. E.g., in the case of abortion, anti-abortion legislation would inevitably ban late-term abortions (made due to health concerns) that are perfectly morally justifiable as they are oh-so "icky".

The democratic republic is the best form of government around. But God's response to Korach should remind us that democracy means nothing in the absence of liberty and that certain things, such as the determination of moral authority, should remain out of reach of those demogogues who claim merely to want to democratize that which cannot be democratized.

Hi, did Korach really protest against the "Kohen gadol" role and the fact that he was selected by Moshe(his bro, or did he think he should be the "kohen gadol? In fact, I think it was just a power move, not a "I want demo move," - b/c it doesn't say that the majority of bnei yisroel suppoeted korach.

Also, think JFK, RFK< Johnson.

ALSO, In terms of moral isues not being subjuct to democratic rule, thi nk about an elected "SS" party in nazi Germany following protocol and ordering it's soldiers to murder Jews. Here the immorality of such acts trump it's possible democratic roots.
Well certainly Rabbinic tradition does not take Korach's arguments to be made in good faith but rather that Korach was angling for the position himself. Indeed, the Midrash has it that one of the possible followers of Korach is dissuaded from following him when his wife points this out.

However, Korach's rhetoric is "democratic" ... which, of course, is also taken as a warning about demagogues (c.f. the etymology of the term) and what they say vs. what they really do. But even if we take Korach's rhetoric at face value, it is problematic -- hence the Midrashic exposition of Korach asking why a mezuzah is necessary in a house full of holy books and why tzitzis are necessary for a whole shirt colored by techeles.

Of course, the point is that an appeal to a "democratic" morality (as the religious and cultural right is wont to do -- "you liberal elitists should stop offending the moral sensibilities of the masses") ultimately undermines republican democracy and leads toward demagoguery and dictatorship. That's the point isn't it? Korach's claims are necessarily one who is not arguing in good faith (or as Pirkei Avos puts it -- not for the sake of Heaven) and hence those claims should also be suspect. Call it ad homonem if you will, but sometimes the claimer does discredit the claim.

BTW -- could you clarify your point about JFK, RFK and Johnson?
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?