Friday, October 12, 2007

Morality Evolves

There are basically two type of morality: Secular morality and religious morality.

Secular morality is based on whatever most people in society consider to be moral. Religious morality is based on what God considers to be moral.

As society changes, secular morality changes.

Fifty years ago, homosexuality was considered to be a crime and a mental illness in the United States. Today it is legal and more or less socially acceptable. (In fact, 50 years ago, any extramarital sex was strongly frowned upon and considered to be immoral.)

What’s next? What will be accepted 50 years from now? Does this video clip give us a hint?

(I am suggesting that secular people are usually cultural moral relativists, compared to Orthodox Jews who are religious moral absolutists.)


Joebaum said...

c'mon whats in the clip? i can't see the clip.

BTA said...

Complete text of a letter written by me to my adopted parents in November 1977
I'm sorry that I haven't written lately, however, I wanted you to know that I'm
all right. I'm in good health, I feel fine, I'm among friends and living
comfortably. I expect this situation to continue indefinitely and I want you to
know that I am the last person in the world that you should worry about. I am
doing jus what I so often dreamed of, and I can only see things getting better.
Let me assure you again that I am well taken care of.

I want to make it very clear to you. I'm not coming home. Ever. Period. It is
quite unlikely that you will ever see or speak to me again. Please don't think
that I write this without feeling. I cried when I told you of my plans and I
cried when I left you and I cry now when I try to imagine the awful pain I have
caused you. Don't ever think that I have felt a moment's pleasure over the
things I have put you through. However, you must accept the fact that the boy
you raised does, for all practical purposes, no longer exist. As far as you are
concerned, Lee Scott Epple suffered a long illness and died on March 8, 1977. [the
date I left home] You must stop living with his ghost, waiting for his return
and get on with life. If your hopeless obsession with my memory in any way
decreases your attention to Doug [my adopted brother; born 1962], I'm afraid you
will be faced with two tragedies rather than only one. [Doug in fact did suffer a
mental breakdown at the time I wrote this.] Make him your sole concern and stop
wishing for what can't happen.

Let me explain why I cannot return. I'm a Jew and I fear my G-d. This means that I
cannot eat in your home, or wear your clothes, or marry your neighbor's
daughter, or go to your schools, or read your books, or watch your television.
It means that I will probably never excel in what you would consider a useful
profession and I will most likely never be a wealthy man. I hope to spend the
years ahead learning, during all of my spare moments, the Torah and, if I am
ever not able to support myself within the Yeshiva alone, I will probably work
only part time in a non-professional occupation. It is generally known that
people learn by example and this is why the Jews keep themselves separate from
other people in all ways as it is said, 'You will be a people of priest and a
holy nation'. This is , in essence, why I am unable to associate with you or
participate in your community. Don't think that I'm staying away due to foolish
pride or fear of rebuke. Even if I were to be left back a year, here in Yeshiva
I'm starting ten years behind. Don't imagine that for some petty reason I would
be willing to sacrifice everything and everyone I have ever known and loved, we
both know that I am not that stupid.

Now I want to explain, clearly and finally, why I became a Jew. About four years
ago I became serious about religion in general. I realize that it was something
which had a powerful hold over many people, yet I was quite ignorant of it. I
first turned to Christianity, being fascinated by its size and splendor and
particularly to Catholicism. That's when I bought the New English Bible (still
the best translation I've seen). I also, through other readings (The Jesus
Party, the Passover Plot, etc.) began to see the absurdity of Christian Doctrine
(why did G-d have to commit adultery with a married woman, and unmarried girl
wouldn't have sufficed? If there had been a spectacular `virgin birth', why is
it unmentioned in two gospels and why were his own relatives and neighbors
unwilling to accept his messiahship, when they themselves witnessed his own
`divine' nativity and upbringing? Where in the Old Testament is there even the
slightest hint of a `Second Comimg'? And what crime can possibly merit eternal
punishment, which I suppose I am now, as an apostate and non-believer, entirely
eligible for?) In all, I think my only attachments to Christianity were based
upon my fascination with cathedral architecture. Even today, if I had nothing
better to do, I might be tempted to take a tour of the great cathedrals of

In any case, about three years ago, I read THE SOURCE by James A. Michener. Here
Michener presents a very basic and glorified picture of Jewish history and this
book basically got the ball rolling, so to speak. After finishing it, I began to
read more and more about Judaism,practicing it with greater conviction, a tide
which began with a sort of vague curiosity and continues to raise even to this
day. For the first couple of years, I was content to sit quietly, doing
everything out of sight, with only one or two people in on my secret. Then about
a year and a half ago I began contacting rabbis, who at first did everything
possible to dissuade me. If you'll look in the Book of Ruth you'll find in
Naomi's attempt to send away Ruth on the way to Bethlehem the classic example of
how a would-be convert must be handled. In February, however, I received word
that the rabbis were satisfied by my sincerity and the conversion itself was
merely a formality. The only impediment was that I would have to leave home.
This problem was removed when you allowed me to go and the conversion took place
on March 23. Since that time I have been a more than welcome member of the
Jewish Community, since more than two dozen times in the Pentateuch is repeated
the command, `You will love the stranger' (meaning convert). I have been
studying in a Yeshiva and my progress has been amazing. I am regarded by some as
genius. I will, G-d willing, marry in a couple of years and I hope to continue
my career at the Yeshiva indefinitely, for the time being as a student and
perhaps eventually as a teacher. But, in any case, even while living at home it
became more and more difficult for me to hide my convictions, as I wanted to
observe the Torah more fully. Finally, in order to avoid eating non-Kosher
meats, I invented the ruse about vegetarianism and then, a year ago, last
September I told you of my plans, largely because I wished to keep the Sabbath
and I knew you would have to be aware of that and there was no way of hiding it.
Finally, I left, because I knew that I would be unable to convert or go to
Yeshiva while living with you.

Now that I've filled in a lot of the background, the question still remains -
`Why was I so convinced of the truth of Judaism?' The answer is, that the more
involved I became, the more I read and prayed, the more strangely I felt that
something, some powerful, supernatural, intelligent force was guiding me toward,
and helping me in my observance of the Torah. This is difficult to explain,
especially since today I am so accustomed to this type of assistance that I
almost expect it as second nature and it all goes unnoticed. However, I began to
realize as the months and years passed that I consistently ended up at the right
place at the right time. Whoever I met was just the right person for me to meet
at that point and whatever advice he gave me was just what I then needed to learn.
Consider that in spite of all the Jewish books I `smuggled' in and out of the
house for all those years, I was never really caught, in spite of countless close
calls. And also I, completely by chance, managed to contact exactly the right rabbis
to do the conversion. You must remember that almost any rabbi in his right mind would
hand a 16-year-old a cookie and a glass of milk and toss him out, while these men in
spite of their positions and excellent reputations, agreed to go ahead. If you
understood how difficult it is made for a 20 or 25 year-old to convert, you
would be stunned by this alone. I also might point out that no one I have ever
heard of or read about has, at my age - 16, done anything even approaching what
I have done, and this in itself may point out that something extraordinary is
involved here. In conclusion, either 1) I was suffering from some bizarre and
subtle mental disorder (however I think that Dr. Imas, the school psychologist,
with whom I spent six months discussing this question or, for that matter, any
trained psychologist or psychiatrist you choose to talk to about me will assure
you that this is not the case), or 2) I have been the witness to an interlocking
series of unusual coincidences which would appear to be quite unlikely, or 3) or
the L-rd is G-d and he wishes me to observe his Torah. After what I can assure
you were hundreds of hours of agonizing deliberation over a period of many
months, I have concluded that the correct choice is 3 and I have decided to act
on the basis of it.

This is not to say that my only attraction to Judaism is mystical and otherwise
I would despise it. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no way of
life which is as dignified and ennobling and beautiful as that which is
expounded in the Torah, and which is still practiced by religious Jews today. (I
am referring to the Chassidic Jews and the Yeshiva Communities which, until
about 80 or 90 years ago, is how nearly all Jews had always lived.) In Judaism,
no facet of human nature is eliminated or suppressed, but rather everything is
controlled, and directed toward the service of G-d. This is not a mass of
comforting but absurd hypocrisy which is isolated to a brief weekly service, but
it is rather a working system of decent living which regulates and elevates life
from cradle to grave. Every moral principle which you, or anyone else in the
western world, actually lives by can be traced directly back to its source in
the Talmud. It is only this thin veneer of Judaism garbled by Christianity, that
has lent even a semblance of civilization to the last fifteen centuries of
western history. Do you realize that, in the Jewish Community (again, I am
referring to the religious element of for example, New Square or Phylis Terrace,
not the lately Americanized fools you have been acquainted with) it is
considered to be a serious transgression subject to severe punishment and rebuke
for a man to make a statement about someone else if it is, even by implication,
derogatory although it is one hundred percent true and it is said only to his
wife, in the privacy of his home, with the mentioned party 10,000 miles away and
never having any way to hear or be affected by the remark. Among us this is
considered slander and the offender must, 1) ask the injured party for
forgiveness, if necessary on three separate occasions, 2) ask G-d for
forgiveness and 3)promise G-d that he will never do such a thing again, and only
then is his sin forgiven. I invite you to find such respect for ones fellow man
practiced, or even preached, by any other people on earth. As far as hospitality
is concerned every Jewish home has an extra room specifically set aside for the
lodging of guests who if not readily available, are actively sought out and
never have I seen a Jewish family that could not accommodate an extra two or
three places at the dinner table. Seldom does a week go by that guests are not
present in a Jewish home, their absence being considered a real failure and loss
of opportunity on the part of the host and hostess.

In the name of charity, no people have ever excelled the Jews. Every Jew is
obliged to give 1/10, not 1/5 of his income to charity. To check this out for
yourself, pick out twenty homes at random on Phyllis Terrace (with an average of
7 children per family, an average per capita income of maybe $1,000 to $1,500)
and another 20 homes in Dellwood (average per capita income, maybe $20,000 to
$25,000). Then go ringing doorbells for, let's say, for the American Cancer
Society. I think I can almost guarantee you better results in Phyllis Terrace
than in Dellwood and, even in Dellwood, I'll bet that the only ones who give are
Jews. That's how strongly this practice is ingrained in us.

Things like charity, hospitality and respect for others are a bit subjective so,
if you still question our superiority, please take a look at some statistics.
Compare, for example, New City and New Square. Although they are geographically
adjacent, I think that you will find that as far as murder, rape, assault,
robbery, theft, vandalism drunkenness, etc. are concerned they are worlds apart.
Violence and dishonesty or theft are abhorred and almost unknown among the Jews
(except for those who imitate Gentiles). You may make the same comparison using
any other Jewish Community and any other Gentile Community you wish, going back
through history if you like, and you will arrive at identical results.

Much of this may seem strange and incredible to you, so let me explain why.
Please take a moment out and read over the 39th Chapter of Genesis. In it, we
see how Potiphar's wife tried to seduce Joseph, pleading with him to `Lie with'.
He, because of his righteousness refused and the woman then turns around and
accuses Joseph of immorality, exactly the same crime for which she herself was
guilty, and had Joseph imprisoned for it. Here we see the history of the Jews in
Europe. The Church, unable to seduce the Jews by every lure into converting,
finally accuses and punishes the Jews for the same foul crimes of theft, blood
shed and immorality, which it itself is guilty of. This is the root of your
attitude toward my people. In sum, the Jewish way of life is so intricate,
complex and incomprehensibly perfect, that if you were to ever objectively and
thoroughly investigate it, you would stand astonished, like a simple, desert
nomad watching a commercial jet streak across the sky above him.

Finally, I invite you to investigate, first hand if possible, everything which I
have written and I think that the longer you look at the Jews, the more you will
realize that nothing I have written is false. There are sizable communities in
Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park in Brooklyn as well as in Monsey and
New Square. The New York Public Library has an excellent collection of Jewish
books and I'm sure that the staff there will be pleased to assist you. If you
have any doubts about this letter, please don't take my word for anything. If I
have erred it is only by understatements.

I intend to write to you about every month, in order to assure you that I am
still alive and well. I hope that you are also well and will always do what G-d
expects of you. And remember, that those who suffer in this world will only
rejoice more in the world to come.

badrabbi said...


I have just read your blog. I consider you a great thinker and a superlative writer. I am amazed by this letter, and wish for you to make some comments on this letter.

Have you changed your mind? Is Judaism less of a jem than you thought? Could you please explain the letter a bit, as I am quote curious about it? Any follow-up?

badrabbi said...

It is quite true that what is considered moral changes over time. Secular morality has certainly changed. But I would point out that religious morality has also changed. Consider the following:

1. Slavery was ok then, not ok now.

2. To beat a slave such that he did not die "in two or three days" was ok then, not ok now.

3. Polygamy was ok then, not ok now.

4. Stoning criminals was ok then, not ok now.

5. Punishing by lashes ok then, not ok now.

6. Marrying 2-3 year old girls was ok then, not ok now.

7. Raping women only was punished by making the man having to marry the woman. Not ok now.

8. Burning people for not keeping shabbat was ok then, not ok now.

9. Killing the innocent women and children in the aftermath of a war was ok then, not ok now.

10. Requiring a man to marry a dead brother's wife (or compelling a woman to submit to marrying her brother in law) was OK then, not OK now.

I can go on an on, but you get the point. Morality evolves with or without religion. You would be a fool to think otherwise.

jewish philosopher said...

Judaism does change, however the change is not arbitrary and it isn’t merely based on convenience and fashion. Rather, Jewish practices are modified in order to support Judaism’s core values.

For example, for a king of Israel to marry a number of wives, who were thrilled to share him among themselves and whom he was able to support comfortably, was appropriate. He was able to do more kindness to more people through this enlarged family. For me to have several wives would be inappropriate since I am hardly able to handle the responsibility of even one family.

In the secular world, morality is based on whim and fashion. In the 1950’s, sex was relatively repressed. In the 1960’s, it was all about “free love”. Today we are going back a little more to “family values” and sexual harassment lawsuits. What’s next? Who knows? If tomorrow some “leading experts” decide that sex is healthy for children we may see “pedophile liberation”.

My point is that there is no eternal law without an eternal lawgiver and an anthropologist can tell you that in different societies at different times almost everything has been considered good or bad. Atheists and agnostics just go with the flow and parrot whatever their society is doing at the moment.

Joebaum said...

To be exact a king was forbidden to have a lot of wifes to begin with.

Cameron said...

JP: Judaism does change, however the change is not arbitrary and it isn’t merely based on convenience and fashion.

CH: Of course it is. Child rape, slavery, etc. go out of fashion and are punished by society and Judaism suddenly discovers that gosh, it can change on those areas too. Interesting that society has to lead the change - probably promoted by atheists and agnostics following the latest moral fashion.

JP: Rather, Jewish practices are modified in order to support Judaism’s core values.

CH: Yeah core values like stoning apostates, adulterers and the like. Go Core Values!

JP: What’s next? Who knows? If tomorrow some “leading experts” decide that sex is healthy for children we may see “pedophile liberation”.

CH: Except that you won't. One of the pillars of modern jurisprudence is that we must be of the age of majority in order to consent to sex. Something I might add, your magic book didn't see fit to endorse. But rather than see pedophilia legalized, I am betting that the following moral re-alignments could come to pass;

- Extending our moral sensibilities to Dolphins, Whales, and the Great Apes on the grounds that their intellects warrant a special consideration. By this I mean we would make it illegal to hunt, kill, eat, or otherwise exploit them in the manner we do other animals.

- Contract marriages with a finite life span (say 18 years). This would allow for the benefits of marriage (raising children in a stable environment), without the life-time committment issues current marriages take for granted Its well understood that most humans are not naturally monogamous for life, so perhaps its time to allow for marriage contracts where you can raise the kids together and then decide whether to move your separate ways. Beats divorce, no?

- Legalized polygamy between consenting adults. Did I mention we aren't naturally monogamous?

JP: My point is that there is no eternal law without an eternal lawgiver

CH: Bingo. And considering you have already admitted that there aren't eternal laws (or else, why wouldn't child marriage be OK as it is in your magic book?)....

JP...and an anthropologist can tell you that in different societies at different times almost everything has been considered good or bad.

CH: Except that they will also tell you that across all societies there are prohibitions against murder, rape and the like - at least within the kin group. Often outsiders are treated with a different set of standards (forced circumcision anywone?)

JP: Atheists and agnostics just go with the flow and parrot whatever their society is doing at the moment.

CH: I'd suggest something a little easier to stomache for all considered. That we have a natural moral sentiments, that these exist across cultures and that they are manifested as part of our animal nature. As humans we feel pain and pleasure, and we seek to minimize the first and maximize the second. We share a common interest in avoiding death, and creating (and raising to adulthood) new life. We share a common interest in preserving the lives of our children, our relatives and our friends. All of which are behaviours that evolution explains well. We Love. We Hate. We envy and we lust. And we feel joy. These things are not religious gifts or satanic afflictions. They are merely part and parcel of what we are.

As the philosopher Sting once said 'Do the Russians love their children too'?

Joebaum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joebaum said...

CH:"one of the pillers of modern jurisprudence is that we most be of the age of majority in order to consent to sex".
I don't understand, are most peaple 18 years of age?
My take is that the law about child sex didn't change, but rather the age of sexuale maturity did change.

Cameron said...

CH:" of the pillars of modern jurisprudence is that we most be of the age of majority in order to consent to sex".

Joebaum: I don't understand, are most people 18 years of age?

CH: A typo on m part, it should read...
"one of the pillars of modern jurisprudence is that we MUST be of the age of majority in order to consent to sex".

Hopefully that reads better.

Joebaum: My take is that the law about child sex didn't change, but rather the age of sexual maturity did change.

CH: It is an interesting suggestion. However, it would mean that we have seen an increase in the delay to reaching our sexual maturity at the same time as we have advanced our knowledge of human sexuality.