Saturday, October 15, 2011

Monotheism Ethical and Otherwise III: for Dennis Prager

I | II | III | IV

In his essay on Ethical Monotheism, Mr. Prager writes:
One morality also means one moral code for all humanity. "Thou shall not murder" means that murder is wrong for everyone, not just for one culture. It means that suttee, the now rare but once widespread Hindu practice of burning widows with their husband's body, is wrong. It means the killing of a daughter or sister who lost her virginity prior to marriage, practiced to this day in parts of the Arab world, is immoral. It means that clitoridectomies, the cutting off of a girl's clitoris (and sometimes more), a ritual practiced on almost one hundred million women living today mostly in Africa, is immoral. 
As I noted in my first post on ethical monotheism,  Prager's G-d, as set forth in Prager's Holy Scriptures, demands the murder by stoning of women who come to the bridal bed with ruptured hymens.  If anything, I would think that Prager would praise the Arabs who still practice "honor killings," as they are upholding the "one moral code for all humanity" more stringently than their secular cousins in Israel.  But as we see in this June 30, 2009 column at the conservative website Townhall.com, Mr. Prager has a serious problem with Muslims who stone adulteresses:
Yet, now, released as if by Providence the week after the fraudulent elections in Iran and the suppression and murder of Iranian dissidents, is a film about the nature of the radical Muslims who govern Iran. Titled "The Stoning of Soraya M.," the film depicts events based on the true story of a woman stoned to death in a rural village in Iran in 1986 for allegedly committing adultery. 
If you want to understand the type of people who run Iran, see this film. If you want to understand why men and women risk their lives to demonstrate against the fascist theocracy that rules Iran, see this film. The film is about the type of peoLple who become “supreme leader” (Ali Khamanei) or president of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). It is about their mendacity, their use of religion to commit barbarity, and, of course, their despicable treatment of women.
We should also note that Prager's distaste for murder does not include a distaste for capital punishment. In this December 12, 2006 column Prager claimed "It is a cosmic injustice to allow a murderer to keep his life" and noted:
The most common objection opponents offer against capital punishment is that innocents may be executed. 
My answer has always been that this is so rare (I do not know of a proved case of mistaken execution in America in the last 50 years) that society must be prepared to pay that terrible price. Why? Among other reasons, because more innocents will be killed by murderers who are not executed (in prison, or once released or if they escape) than will be killed by the state in erroneous executions. 
So, yes, I acknowledge the possibility of an innocent being killed by the state because of a mistaken murder conviction. But we often have the tragedy of innocents dying because of a social policy. I support higher speed limits even when shown that they lead to more traffic fatalities. I support the right of people to drink alcohol even though the amount of violence directly emanating from alcohol consumption -- from drunk drivers to spousal and child abuse -- is so high.
The Innocence Project might have something to say about Prager's contention concerning proved cases of execution in America.  So too might those wild-eyed left-wing radicals at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.  And the troubling issues of racism and classism in the death penalty's application have led many to compare it to lynching.  But Mr. Prager appears unconcerned by these nay-sayers.  He feels that the execution of murderers is a moral imperative, while the execution of adulteresses and whores is repugnant.  And yet the "one moral code" which he so zealously upholds is quite clear that adultery and wantonness is as deserving of death as willful murder.

But in case you might think I'm accusing Mr. Prager of being soft on sexual sin, let's look at his feelings on homosexuality:
Jews or Christians who take the Bible's views on homosexuality seriously are not obligated to prove that they are not fundamentalists or literalists, let alone bigots (though, of course, people have used the Bible to defend bigotry). Rather, those who claim homosexuality is compatible with Judaism or Christianity bear the burden of proof to reconcile this view with their Bible. Given the unambiguous nature of the biblical attitude toward homosexuality, however, such a reconciliation is not possible. All that is possible is to declare: "I am aware that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and I consider the Bible wrong." That would be an intellectually honest approach. But this approach leads to another problem. If one chooses which of the Bible's moral injunctions to take seriously (and the Bible states its prohibition of homosexuality not only as a law, but as a value --- "it is an abomination"), of what moral use is the Bible?
You might ask about those moral injunctions to stone harlots and homosexuals. Prager, one step ahead of you, follows up with these paragraphs:
Those who advocate religious acceptance of homosexuality also argue that the Bible prescribes the death penalty for a multitude of sins, including such seemingly inconsequential acts as gathering wood on the Sabbath. Thus, the fact that the Torah declares homosexuality a capital offense may mean that homosexuality is no more grave an offense than some violation of the Sabbath. And since we no longer condemn people who violate the Sabbath, why continue to condemn people who engage in homosexual acts?
The answer is that we do not derive our approach toward homosexuality from the fact that the Torah made it a capital offense. We learn it from the fact that the Bible makes a moral statement about homosexuality. It makes no statement about gathering wood on the Sabbath. The Torah uses its strongest term of censure --- "abomination" --- to describe homosexuality. It is the Bible's moral evaluation of homosexuality that distinguishes homosexuality from other offenses, capital or otherwise.  
This is fair enough. Yet among the other offenses which are condemned as toevot (abominations) are incest, child sacrifice, idolatry, usury... and, according to the Prophet Isaiah, adultery.  If it is a cosmic injustice to allow a murderer to keep his life, surely it's an even greater cosmic injustice to tolerate the continuing existence of a toe'vah.   And so our "one moral code for all humanity" brings us (and Mr.  Prager) back to the town square with a pile of rocks at our feet.