Saturday, November 12, 2011

Not the definition of a Rabbi

Most definitions of Rabbi include something along the lines of a religious scholar. Though, I do not doubt that Rabbi Adam Jacobs is religious is he is certainly not a scholar. As his most recent piece, "The God Test: Why Really Everyone Believes," on the Huffington Post makes clear he is not only incredibly ignorant he lacks even rudimentary critical thinking skills. Most of the arguments he makes are so preposterous it is hard to believe the man can walk and talk at the same time.

Right from the start he makes assertions that are blatantly foolish. His complete lack of thinking is clear early on. In the first paragraph he offers this gem, "Often, I've inquired of non-believers if it at all vexes them that nothing they have ever done or will ever do will make the slightest difference to anyone at any level?" What?! Apparently, if you do not accept a one-size-fits-all meaning of life your life can not possibly have any meaning at all. It seems that Jacobs can not grasp that atheists have family, friends, interests, causes, etc... He goes on in much the same vein. The implication is that atheists must, by their nature, be miserable nihilists or else emotionless robots. I seem to recall that being a favorite tactic among anti-semites. Characterize Jews as less than human so you can then attack them with impunity.

Jacobs' piece only gets more absurd from there. He list three major points that he seems to think make his case that we atheists must either really believe or else be less than human. The points are framed in rather childish scenarios. The first is entitled, "Would you be willing to sell your parent's remains for dog food?" It seems that respect for the recently deceased requires belief in God. He seems to think that atheist have to think simply in terms of unemotional uses and needs. Atheist do have personal ethics and morals. In fact, I'd argue ours are stronger since they are primarily internal. We do not require any sort of external force to make us behave. The "God is watching" scenario is not necessary for us to do what is right. As for bodies, I personally do see burial and/or cremation as a waste. But I do not feel that I have any say over what happens to other peoples bodies. My own, I intend to be made useful. I am an organ donor and have thought about donating what can not be harvested for medical or scientific purposes. To me this "argument" is a rather negative reflection on Rabbi Jacobs both in terms of ethics and reasoning.

His other scenarios are no better. The next has to do with the imminent death of two enemies who happen to be stranded together on a desert island. A natural disaster is going to kill both men. Jacob asks whether it matters if they comfort each other or kill each other directly. He asks, "As no one will ever know what transpired and it will soon be over in any event..." Basically, he's gone back to the idea that you need some sort of big sky daddy to make you behave. He fails to see that in fact some one will know, at least briefly. The two men will know how they behaved in the face of their deaths. What they choose will matter to them. As a human being, I see that every choice I make matters. It matters regardless of there being no God.

His last point is probably one of the older canards routinely dredged up by fools like the Rabbi Jacobs. "Is love, art, beauty or morality intrinsically significant?" Yes, and it does not require belief in God to think so. He tries to use, in a rather distorted way, a naturalist perspective to show that if we are just "an arbitrary series of chemicals, atoms and other blind and indifferent forces..." that atheists should not find such things valuable. In terms of the big picture they do not have any ultimate value or meaning. But, once again, from the point of view of an individual they most certainly do. We have minds. Our perceptions are what give us meaning. It is from the individual point of view that love and all our emotions gain their power over our lives. That does not imply nor does it require the divine. It also does not mean that a materialistic/naturalist view is wrong. Try feeling anything with a severely damage brain.

I'm left with the impression that Rabbi Jacobs article is more about soothing his own fears by childishly attacking others than it is about making any points of substance. He does seem to dwell on death quite a bit. Whether it is his direct intention or not he also in various places implies that atheist are devoid of some of humanities most basic traits, that we are sub-human. The piece is essentially a work of bigotry without any support outside of myths, stereotypes, and other baseless misguided opinions. He is not a scholar and not, as best as I can tell, a very happy person.

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