Rabbi Avi Shafran's new column – hosted where else but that bastion of 'truth,' Aish,com – makes what Shafran believes is a strong case against atheism. While I am not an atheist, I find Rabbi Shafran's arguments noxious. Why? First read the good rabbi's assertions:
Back on March 12, a paean to "the dignity of atheism" appeared on The New York Times op-ed page. It was penned by celebrated philosopher Slavoj Zizek who, had he consulted the same periodical's obituary page a mere three days earlier, would have come face to image with the late Richard Kuklinski.
Mr. Kuklinski, who was retired from life at the age of 70, claimed, utterly without remorse, to have killed more than 100 people as a Mafia enforcer; his favored methods included ice picks, crossbows, chain saws and a cyanide solution administered with a nasal-spray bottle.
The happy hit man's example might not have given pause to Professor Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. But it should have.
Because the notion that there is no higher authority than nature is precisely what enables people like Mr. Kuklinski -- and the vast majority of the killers, rapists and thieves who populate the nightly news.
The ignorance of these assertions is mind-boggling. First of all, many mob hitmen were religious people after a sort. They belonged to a church or a shul, attended, and believed at some level in the religion being professed. While others were certainly what we would term agnostic, few were known atheists.
Second, the vast majority of rapists and thieves are not atheists. Rapists do not rape because they don't have religion. They rape out of a deep psychological need. One only needs to look at the recent spate of Orthodox Jewish rabbis involved in abuse and rape to see that. But Agudath Israel, the organization Rabbi Shafran shills for, is on record opposing mandatory notification by clergy of suspected sexual and physical abuse.
Rabbi Shafran continues:
Atheism, in the end, is a belief system in its own right, one in which there can be no claim that a thieving, philandering, serial murdering cannibal is any less commendable a member of the species than a selfless, hard-working philanthropist. In fact, from an evolutionist perspective, the former may well have the advantage. …
Really? So humans cannot set down a series of laws and enforce them unless they are mandated by God? Please. If one studies the halakhot of the Noahide code, one quickly sees that, according to many rabbinic opinions, non-Jews who follow parts or even all of the code, but do so because they have rationally come to the conclusion that these laws are just, but they do so by their own intellect and moral sense and not because God commanded it, are not rewarded. In other words, one can rationally come to the correct way to act, the correct way to structure a society, all without God.
But Rabbi Shafran makes and even larger gaffe:
"Either there is no meaningful mandate for human beings; or there is. And if there is, there must be a Mandator."
Who is to say that "Mandator" is God as we understand Him? Perhaps it is an alien a la Scientology? Perhaps he is a very wise man, an early human from the mists of prehistory. Perhaps he died on a cross? Perhaps it is a grouping of gods and not just one?
And now Rabbi Shafran brings what he seems to believe is his strongest card:
What [Professor Zizek] forgets, though, is that the world has also seen unimaginable evil -- perhaps its greatest share - from men who professed no belief in divinity at all, whose motivations were entirely secular in nature. Adolph Hitler was no believer in God. Nor was Joseph Stalin. Nor Pol Pot. Together, though, the trio was responsible for the murders of tens of millions of human beings.
What, one wonders, would the Romans or the Babylonians have done with nuclear weapons? The rampaging mobs during the first crusade with machine guns, bombs and grenades? The Spanish monarchy during the Inquisition? Further, what if 1 million Jews had lived in the Rhineland at the time of the first Crusade instead of the 10,000 or so who did? Would the mobs have slaughtered hundreds of thousands instead of the thousands they did kill? One doesn't need to be a Ph. D. in philosophy to see the evident holes in Rabbis Shafran's arguments.
This type of specious reasoning lies at the core of today's haredi thought. It is this lack of emmes (truth), this idea that almost any means is justified by the ends sought, that characterizes haredism. The Torah commands us to flee from falsehood. Today, more than any other time in our history, that means fleeing from our rabbinical leaders.