• Wendy Gustofson


  • Stephanie

    Mr. Lewis-I read your post. It was not censored by Rabbi Salkin or anyone else. And your comments are absurd.

  • Jack

    Nobody “censored” your post, Stephen. And the rabbi wrote a pretty decent article from which you could learn.

  • Jack

    Stephen, your post says nothing about the issues raised in the article — good ones indeed.

  • Larisa

    breaking up all others windows? don’t you think these article is not about your insecurities concerning Judaism? believe or not, there are plenty of academic researches about the subject from point of history, sociology, anthropology, you name it. just get on with it or may be you are so naive to think that the rabbi must cover such vast subject in few words? grow up!

  • Michel Clasquin-Johnson

    “As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once quipped: “Religion can make good people better, and it can make bad people worse.””

    That quote is generally attributed to H Richard Niebuhr.

  • Larry

    The rabbi makes a number of mistakes.

    First was the canard about secular regimes and atrocities. Secularism is government neutral to religion, not hostile to it. The US is a secular nation. The term that would have been more accurate would be anti-theist or anti-clerical. That in of itself is a form of religious dogma which was common to radical dictatorships. .

    The second was equating religion with moral absolutism. It is something religious types like to consider themselves, but is far from true. Religious based morality is one of the most relativistic out there. Any and all acts are justified when one claims to have the backing of God behind it. No act is considered too atrocious if it is claimed as divine command.

    With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.
    -Frederick Douglass

  • Religion doesn’t cause evil. Evil is the consequence of trying to fill the void and religion is one of the ways we try. http://www.thelastwhy.ca/poems/2013/2/2/good-and-evil.html

  • Jack

    Stephen, your posts are a hodgepodge of old anti-Israel Stalinist claptrap imbibed uncritically from your younger days, mixed with older anti-Semitism from Euro-Christendom’s ignominious past, enmeshed with the magical thinking of Gnosticism, and doused with radical skepticism about the Bible which turns the rules of historical evidence on their head. It seems that your mind is a kind of Grand Central Station where crackpot ideas gather to meet.

    To say that any of this has anything to do with the article is quite a stretch indeed.

  • Jack

    My guess is that the rabbi would respond by pointing out the important difference between secular and secularism.

    A healthy society separates religion from state in some fashion, and in so doing, leaves full space for the secular in people’s lives at every point.

    An unhealthy society either merges religion with state in theocratic fashion, and obliterates secular space, or does the opposite through secularism, ie by banning or severely restricting religious expression in the public square.

    In order to have a truly free society, we have to avoid both extremes — the theocratic extreme and the secularistic or totalitarian extreme. We must separate religion from state but not religion from public life.

    That, I think, is what the rabbi was implying.

  • Jack

    On your point about moral absolutes, Larry, I think you’re confusing beliefs with behavior. You’re saying that people of faith talk a good game about moral absolutes but in real life justify any and all actions by saying their God is behind them.

    True enough, but that’s more a commentary on human nature and human corruptibility than on the religion itself. It says that human beings will use literally anything to act appallingly toward others, and that religion is not excluded from the “anything.”

    On a much more fundamental and philosophical basis, though, the idea of moral absolutes — that right and wrong are real things, not subjective preferences — really does depend on some transcendent and ultimate reference point. The psychological fact that humanity can and does use that reference point to excuse its bad behavior does not negate that fundamental philosophical fact.

  • lARRY

    No, you are trying to split hairs here. This was clearly a case of using the wrong term to describe something. Secularism is not atheism, it is not anti-theism. It is religious neutrality in government. Something well supported by both believers and non-believers alike in order to protect religious belief (and non-belief) from discrimination.

    The anti-theism/anti-clericism described is not secularism. It is not being religiously neutral, it is being religiously hostile. Not any different in tone than any other form of theocratic government authoritarianism.

    For a truly free society, secularism is essential to keep religion and state separate yet still respecting both. Neutral is only considered an attack on religion by those seeking to entangle it with government. What this article and the one by the Yale theologian demonstrate is that religious authorities cannot be trusted in of themselves to act in a civil manner to others without some kind of limits to their authority from the outside. Without the framework of secular culture and government imposed upon them, all religions run amok. Religious authorities simply do not appreciate the secular straightjacket, but it is necessary.


    Not at all. I am simply treating religious based morality in an objective sense. Outside of the bias of belief.

    ” You’re saying that people of faith talk a good game about moral absolutes but in real life justify any and all actions by saying their God is behind them. ”
    Their behavior and their statements of belief prove such statements. Religion enables bad behavior and moral morass. Since all religious belief is subject to your alleged corruption by human nature, any attempt to distinguish the two are nonsensical. There is no such thing as an “uncorrupted” religion by your standards.

    By pegging one’s conception of morality to outside authority, one forgoes their empathy and connection to humanity. Any act is morally justified to the religious believer. Ends always justify the means if God is at the ends. This can’t be pawned off as simple human nature, this is hardwired into the nature of religious belief. Religious belief demands obedience to authority based on faith (absence of objective evidence). It demands one ignore human experiences in favor of the dictates of an outside party.

    Religious leaders make up stories that they follow moral absolutes, but it is complete fiction. Religious codes of conduct are chock full of contradictory, arbitrary and capricious rules which have nothing to do with actual moral behavior. Holding fast to an outside rule is not following a moral absolute. Especially when there is a divine reward/punishment system in place. It reduces moral thinking to outsourced decisions or self-interest.

    Moral absolutes exist, but they are based on the connection to fellow humans, not directives from on high. There is nothing transcendent about the connection human beings have for other human beings. It is part of our nature as living, social, intelligent beings. If one needs God to tell them that maliciously harming others is a bad thing, they need help. It means they are so bereft of empathy and understanding that they cannot understand how other people are.


    Which is why replacing religious irrationality with anti-religious irrationality is not such a good idea. But replacing religious irrationality with belief based on evidence and rational thought is of great benefit.

    Religion never formed morality. At best it excuses one from making moral judgments.

  • Jack

    I would disagree, Larry. If you think I’m splitting hairs, either you misunderstood my words (which could well be my fault if I wasn’t precise enough) or you don’t understand the issue very well.

    To repeat, in order to preserve freedom, we must avoid two extremes — the theocratic extreme which unites religion with state and leaves little or no space for the truly secular, and the secularist extreme which, in the name of separating religion from state, goes much farther by limiting freedom of religious expression in public life.

    Preserving the secular by separating religion from state is essential to the normal life of a free society, but having a philosophy of secularism drive religion from the public square is inimical to it.

  • Larry

    There is no such thing as secularist extreme. Its like saying one is an extreme moderate or extreme neutrality. It is a contradiction in terms. Separation of church and state does not equal hostility to either party.

    Antitheism and atheism are not secularism. Salkin used the wrong term here. You are simply compounding his error. Secularism has religious roots to it. It is supported mostly by minority religious faiths as a way to avoid discrimination. It is not divorced from religious belief. It is a way to preserve it by preventing sectarian oppression under color of law.

    Compounding the error is the canard of religious belief being absolutist in nature. It undermined the point he was trying to make. Frankly I found the entire article to be a bit of a strawman argument. Religion may not create evil, but it certainly is a useful tool when one wants to act in an evil fashion.

  • Jack

    Larry, you’re assuming that religion of every kind is always a strictly human contrivance. Were that a proven fact, I would agree with you that “there is no such thing as an uncorrupted religion.”

    But it’s not and so I don’t agree.

    I think you’re missing something that’s rather huge when you say that by “pegging morality to outside authority,” people “forego empathy and connection to humanity.”

    You’re assuming that the “outside authority” of religion is some altogether foreign element that has nothing to do with our own internal compasses, ie our consciences.

    But a simple look at the Decalogue — the Ten Commandments — should disabuse any fair-minded person of such a notion.

    For example, it forbids murder. But so does my conscience and yours and that of most people. It confirms what our conscience affirms.

    It forbids bearing false witness against neighbors. But so does our conscience. It confirms what our conscience affirms.

    It forbids adultery. But again, so does our conscience…..again, it confirms what our conscience affirms.

    Beyond the Ten Commandments, there are plenty of other commands in the Bible that agree wholeheartedly with our conscience. The command not only to be generous to the poor, but the notion that it is not only an act of mercy, but one of justice. The Hebrew word for charity also means justice or righteousness.

    In other words, the God of the Bible does not present Himself as some alien element that requires us to take what our consciences have told us and do exactly the opposite. Most of the time, He is saying, “your conscience is right….follow it…and here’s how best to do it.” He is saying, “yes, love your neighbor across the street, but guess what? Love your “neighbor” in that neighboring country, too.”

    And that is precisely why Paul, in his letter to the Romans, can say, when speaking to his Gentile audience, that even though they were once without the Torah, they were still responsible for their actions because their own internal compasses — their consciences — were telling them much the same thing….do not murder, do not betray your spouse, treat the poor with kindness, love your neighbor as yourself, etc.

    That’s one of many reasons to take the Bible seriously. Rather than turning us away from whatever feelings of empathy and right and wrong we have, it puts the final, divine stamp of approval upon them. We focus much on what divides biblical morality from secularist morality, but in real life, there is more agreement than disagreement. Our disagreements are on very serious issues, but to pretend that there are two sets of morality that represent two completely separate moral universes is flatly untrue.

  • Jack

    You’re assuming that all beliefs of a religious sort are impervious to falsification or verification. While that is certainly true, scientifically speaking, regarding the question of God’s existence, it is definitely not true regarding what religion scholars have called specific, “revealed religions,” ie religions like Christianity or Judaism which allege certain things happened in particular times and places. Once allegations are made as to time and place, we can use the tools afforded us by history, law, archeology, and textual analysis.

  • Jack

    I define secular as meaning the everyday affairs of life that are unrelated to anything specifically religious. I define secularism as the belief that no religion or religious expression belongs in public life or the public square, or that such expression should be greatly limited so there is little or no space for it.

    The opposition extreme would be theocracy, where religion permeates public life by law and custom, and where the secular alone has little or no space of its own.

    Both extremes are wrong and violate freedom.

  • Larry

    Well then your definition is wrong and unworkable. You made the same mistake Salkin made. You equated secularism with anti-theism/anti-belief when in fact it is pro-belief.

    Secularism can be removal of religion from the public sphere but it can also be the opposite. Embracing of all faiths, Ecumenicism. The point is not to show favoritism to any given faith and respect to all beliefs. The point is to show respect by not being selective. Its opposite is sectarianism.

    There can be no extreme version of secularism because it is a moderate, all encompassing view. That is simply what people say when they want excuses to entangle religion with government. When they lean towards the theocratic.

  • Larry

    “Larry, you’re assuming that religion of every kind is always a strictly human contrivance.”

    Of course it is. Humans follow religions. There is no objectively credible evidence of a God or Gods guiding anything people do. That is why religious belief is entirely based on faith. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. Any pretension that your religious belief has a factual basis is merely egotistical posturing. A lie people tell themselves when they have trouble understanding the nature of their faith.

    You believe in God because you have faith. Nothing more. Nothing anyone else is required to take seriously.

    “But a simple look at the Decalogue — the Ten Commandments — should disabuse any fair-minded person of such a notion. ”

    4 of the rules are entirely sectarian based having no relation to morality. 3 are never the basis of just and fair laws. and 3 are universal to all cultures regardless of religion.

    Every culture forbids murder, lying and theft because it is necessary for sane interactions in society among people. Every religion has exceptions to those 3 rules when one acts in accordance with divine commands.

    “Rather than turning us away from whatever feelings of empathy and right and wrong we have, it puts the final, divine stamp of approval upon them. ”

    If that was true, then you would not have the infantile arguments made about atheists somehow lacking morality because they have no divine hand guiding their actions. They would be acknowledging empathy instead of denying its existence.

  • Larry

    “You’re assuming that all beliefs of a religious sort are impervious to falsification or verification.”


    There is no such proof as verification of a religious claim. You believe because you have faith. Nothing more. Any pretensions to the contrary is merely an elaborate fiction usually based on spurious evidence and rhetorically fallacy. Religious scholars are not in the business of providing facts and objectively derived evidence. They are in the business of reinforcing faith and belief.

    The “revealed” of revealed religions is merely a sales ploy to encourage conversion to their faith. No more credible than any other religion.

  • Larry

    It is actually paraphrasing Frederick Douglass.
    “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

  • Garson Abuita

    Stephen, this is the FIFTH time I’ve challenged you to just tell us the “real” meaning of the word Torah — you know, the one that’s different from what any rabbi or somewhat educated layperson could tell you: Torah is from Hebrew for teaching. So please, enlighten us with your knowledge as to the real etymology. No one here is interested in your diatribes against “Zionists” or the “Yiddish.” I just want to know if your Torah theory is as demonstrably nonsensical as your Isis-Ra-El theory (ancient Egyptians didn’t pronounce it that way, the Hebrew word is YISrael, Egyptian has basically no relation to Semitic languages, humans around the world have a finite number of simple sounds to make so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear them in various languages but you shouldn’t assume they mean the same thing, etc…)

  • Jack

    Well, Larry, if you choose to redefine secularism as entailing a public square or marketplace of ideas which allows plenty of space for all ideas and beliefs, religious and non-religious, to compete with each other, then I am for it and we’re on the same page.

    That’s not what the word generally means, at least as commonly used, but if that’s what you mean when you utter the word, then again, we agree on what’s ideal.

  • Jack

    Actually, faith is not belief or trust in the absence of evidence. Faith is belief or trust, period. People can have faith in something in the complete absence of evidence — blind faith — or they can have faith in something based on quite a bit of evidence — grounded faith. It depends on the person and the circumstance.

    Facts are facts…..and it is certainly possible to believe in a number of extraordinary claims if the more mundane assertions surrounding those claims can be shown to be likely factual.

    I’m not going to repeat the content of my last post, but I will reiterate that the idea that faith in God or the God of the Bible strips empathy away from people is refuted by the simple fact that much of what’s commanded in the Bible corresponds to the normal demands of a functioning conscience. Different times, places, and cultures have their own spin on content, but again, what’s being presented in the Bible is not an invitation to embrace a new and alien morality that is completely divorced from our conscience, but to listen to the familiar voice of conscience, albeit with some adjustments.

  • Jack

    Not quite, Larry…. When it comes to theism vs. atheism, yes. But when it comes to specific truth claims characteristic of revealed religions, no. We can absolutely apply tools that historians and courts, archeologists and textual critics use, in assessing religious claims of a specific nature. Across the centuries, plenty of people have been won over to faith precisely because they found the evidence for it to be compelling. Once you have the proper investigative tools and know how to use them competently, and once you understand the common-sense rules of historical and legal evidence, it’s eminently doable.

  • cken

    Man creates evil and sometimes uses religion to support or justify said evil. Evil in its broadest definition is following your own selfish will rather than God’s will for you. How does one follow God’s will for himself? Religions have no answer for ascertaining God’s will for you personally. They eschew that responsibility and focus on rules and ritual designed to modify behavior and then promulgate that such is god’s will for you. It’s a rather shallow alternative religion offers, as you could follow all the rules and rituals and still not be following God’s will for you. Piety in and of itself does not preclude evil doing.