Sunday, October 05, 2008

Yom HaDin

If there's one thing that troubles me about basic monotheistic theology is the idea of divine justice. Not that the idea is a bad one per se, but it just seems to fly so contrary to what I know about life and what goes on in the world that it makes it very hard for me to believe that justice reigns and that everyone gets it square in the end. When innocent children die painfully from genetic defects, murderous tyrants on the other side of the world live in luxury and at any time any regular shmo can die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed medical condition or a car accident or a stray bullet or a hurricane it certainly seems like what rules the roost in this world is mere chance rather than justice. At birth you're dealt a random hand and most of your life is played out with one roll of the dice after another. Sure, maybe you make some decisions on your own that set the course of your life, but there are larger forces in play that can wipe out all your plans in a moment.


Anyway, sure, this is an old old issue and there are always some stock answers that people pull out to reassure themselves. Maybe there's a Master Plan, maybe everything gets sorted out in the next life, maybe maybe maybe. Maybe not.


These were the thoughts that I had running through my mind all through davening on the first day of Rosh Hashana. See, my conception of God (in the abstract, non-anthropomorphic panentheist kinda way) certainly makes good sense of God as the almighty, as the creator, as the sustainer, as ruler, as awesome and fully worthy of reverence and praise. It also can make good sense of God being the source of an objective morality with schar and onesh following suit not as divine interventions, but as natural consequences of community behavior. I'll refrain from going into too much detail, but I see it in how moral action raises the net well being in a society and simultaneously betters the noble sense of self, whereas immoral behavior does the opposite. But still, how can I make account with the traditional conception of the Dayan Ha-emet given what I see of the world and my conception of a non-personal deity? In what sense does a panentheist God judge? And for that matter, in what sense can a panentheist God forgive?


So, as I was saying, I just could not get this out of my mind. What is the meaning of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur if not for the whole Yom HaDin thing?

To work my way through this dilemma I oriented myself to the idea that God doesn't judge per se, but that God is that moral standard against which we must judge ourselves. I think I went through this in a post last year about Yom Kippur, but whereas we might go easy on ourselves when considering our past actions, if we would imagine a perfectly reliable and righteous Judge considering our deeds we'd realize that we wouldn't get away with a fraction of what we'd permit ourselves. We then must judge ourselves to whether we are truly *worthy* of all the gifts given to us in our lives - and, yes, whether we deserve some comeuppance. Different people have different strengths - in this past year have you done all you could do to make this world a better place? I'm sorry to say it, but I know I haven't. Not that I'm a bad guy - or so I like to think of myself - but I've surely fallen short of what I could have done or what I could have been.

See, I believe in justice. I believe it is a characteristic set in the moral fabric of interpersonal relations. It is something we need to strive for, to struggle to achieve, rather than a fact of reality bestowed upon the universe. A common theme in Judaism is that humanity is co-creator with God. We have the potential to make justice have more impact on our existence than even chance. It is in our power and it is our duty.

So we're given a set time of some ten days at the start of the year to orient ourselves back to this basic task. And even if we were to judge ourselves unworthy we are given tools like teshuvah, tefilla and tzedaka to help change our mentality and to alter our behavior so that we can start the new year afresh with full potential. The purpose of these days is not to endlessly harp on our wrongdoings, but to do so only until we right what is wrong and become better people from that point on.

So with that conception in mind, an extended metaphor, I was able to finish davening with a clearer head - and I can look forward to a meaningful experience on Yom Kippur.

24 comments:

alex said...

Interesting post.

"To work my way through this dilemma I oriented myself to the idea that God doesn't judge per se, but that God is that moral standard against which we must judge ourselves."

I suppose you use the word "must" loosely?

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

I strongly believe that if one cares about morality then one must care about an objective morality, otherwise it's all just smoke and mirrors. And as a moral agent, you have a moral obligation to see that you're keeping yourself within bounds.

arnie draiman said...

"to right what is wrong" is exactly what tzedakah is! tzedakah from the root tzedek meaning justice, but also 'right'. perfect. just another great way to say tikkun olam - repairing the world (to right what is wrong!).

danny siegel (www.dannysiegel.com) wrote a book about 'wrights' - like cartwrights (people who make carts right again), etc.

keep up the good work.

arnie draiman
www.draimanconsulting.com

The Candy Man said...

OP, I like that you are trying to keep it relevant. You may find that the spiritual tricks that work for you at one point in life do not work at a later one.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I actually think your conception of the Yom Hadin is far closer to the truth than the simplistic literal understanding to which most Jews subscribe.

Orthoprax said...

RJM,

Well that's nice to hear, but what do you believe is closer still? Also, just as a question, how do you make sense of the chaos that seems to rule? Do you see moral judgment in nature?

The Candy Man said...

I actually think your conception of the Yom Hadin is far closer to the truth than the simplistic literal understanding to which most Jews subscribe.

Let's be honest, it's an apologetic. The prayers are obviously meant literally.

Orthoprax said...

CM,

And? Why can't the prayers be understood non-literally? Since when does the composer mandate the understanding of the day for all?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I think that Yom Hadin and Yom Hakippurim are days set aside for rededication to correct priorities and a refreshed engagement with ultimate realities, and that it is based upon this change in our focus and direction that our future destiny is set in motion. I don't think this is an apologetic, but the prayers utilize modes of expression that are poetic and more comprehensible to the average person.

In essence the same idea is communicated - the consequences that befall you will be determined by the choices you make and whether they conform to the grand design within which you are situated or not.

This is why the primary emphasis is placed on teshuva, with a "guarantee" that sincere repentance will be rewarded. Because it is not God who changes, but us.

The Candy Man said...

I think everyone should be careful of reading meanings into prayers - or Bible verses - that were not intended in the first place. Ain mikra yotzai miday p'shuto. There is nothing wrong with a little midrash, or apologetic, or whatever, but it should always be accompanied by an honest disclaimer that this was clearly not the author's original intent.

I think this is one of the big sources of confusion in Orthodox Jewish education. This is why people can go through yeshiva and still think that sh'chita is mandated somewhere in the Chumash. Terrible.

Freethinking Upstart said...

XGH totally stole your name... you should sue.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Orthoprax,

"I strongly believe that if one cares about morality then one must care about an objective morality"

Simply because morality is something that is not objective does not mean it souldn't matter to us.

Take beauty for example. When choosing a mate, everyone cares about the beauty of his/her potential mate, even though everyone also knows that beauty is not objective.

Different people see beauty in different ways, just as different people see morality different ways. What is ugly to one may be beautiful to another just as what is moral to one may be immoral to another.

But the fact that beauty is subjective never stopped people from caring about it, so why should the fact that morality is subjective stop people from caring about it?

Orthoprax said...

YA,

"But the fact that beauty is subjective never stopped people from caring about it, so why should the fact that morality is subjective stop people from caring about it?"

A subjective morality leaves you with no rationale to impose your views on others. If others see murder as morally ok, by what right are are you to stop them? Neither side is actually correct if morality is just a matter of subjective perceptions.

So if you really care about morality and want to see the world be more moral then you have to believe in an objective morality to which people ought to obey. One side is in fact more right than another and it has the moral justification to enforce it.

If you don't believe this then what meaning is morality?

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"A subjective morality leaves you with no rationale to impose your views on others."

Which is exactly why one has no right to murder even if morality is subjective.

Your see, it works both ways, Subjective Morality means you have no right to impose yourself on others, but it also means others have no right to impose themselves on you.

Things like murder, rape, stealing are all forms of someone actively imposing themselves on someone else, which they would have no right to if morality is subjective.

It's fine if person A thinks murder is morally fine, and person B thinks murder is morally wrong.

But if person A decides to act on his moral views and kill person B, person A would have no right to do so since that would be a form of person A using his moral views to impose himself on person B, thus one would have a right to stop person A since he had no right to impose himself in the first place.

In all cases of imposition, the burden of proof to impose oneself on another is on the imposer, or first imposer/initial imposer, and active imposer if both parties are imposers.

In our case, Person A is clearly the imposer, the first imposer, and the active imposer. If person A wanted to act on his moral views and kill person B, the burden of proof would be on person A, a proof which person A would not have since morality is subjective.

"Neither side is actually correct if morality is just a matter of subjective perceptions."

Yes. Just like beauty no party can be objectively correct on morality since it is just a matter of subjective perceptions. Concepts of "Good" and "Bad" are created by humans and thus are subject to change by them, just like concepts of "Pretty" and "Ugly" are created by humans and thus are subject to change by them.

Both morality and beauty have greatly evolved and changed over the course of history, slavery is no longer considered moral by many, although some still do consider it moral. Just like Fat women are no longer considered beautiful by many, although some still do consider them beautiful.

The reason I find morality meaningful is the same reason you find beauty meaningful.

Orthoprax said...

YA,

"Subjective Morality means you have no right to impose yourself on others, but it also means others have no right to impose themselves on you."

Says who? Stalin's morality said otherwise.

What I meant is that you have no moral rationale to impose your views on others since you have zero moral authority. But anybody can do whatever they want to anybody else - what's stopping them?

"But if person A decides to act on his moral views and kill person B, person A would have no right to do so since that would be a form of person A using his moral views to impose himself on person B, thus one would have a right to stop person A since he had no right to impose himself in the first place."

And so who is right? Nobody. It's a battle of wills and might makes right. Very nice.

"Just like beauty no party can be objectively correct on morality since it is just a matter of subjective perceptions."

Nice. You just granted moral equivalency to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Hitler and Pol Pot. If you can't call the likes of them WRONG then your system of morality is impotent and worthless. You invite evil into the world.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

Thank you for your...kind words...

"Says who?"

Says you.

You said "A subjective morality leaves you with no rationale to impose your views on others."

"What I meant is that you have no moral rationale to impose your views on others since you have zero moral authority."

Correct. Which is why person A has no moral rationale to impose his views on others by murdering them. regardless of what his subjective views of morality may be.

"Stalin's morality said otherwise."

It doesn't matter what Stalin believes to be moral, if morality is subjective it still leaves him with no rational to impose his morals on others.

"And so who is right? Nobody. It's a battle of wills and might makes right. Very nice."

Nobody is objectively right of course but that's only because there is no such thing as objective right. However there is such a thing as who is acting rationally.

Person A's logic: My subjective morality tells me murder is OK, therefore I can impose my moral views on others by killing them.

This is a flawed form of logic because if person A's morality is subjective then he has no rational to impose his morality on others, since no one can be right in the first place.

Person B is not using flawed logic of any kind since he is not using morals to impose himself on others.

Now, lets take a look at the other side of the coin, lets examine Objective morality.

Unlike subjective morality, Objective morality allows one to impose morality on others.

If someone believes that God is telling him to blow up a Israeli marketplace full of civilians then that would be a form of objective morality in which not only does the person in question have the right to blow up innocent people, he has an objective moral mandate/requirement to blow up innocents.

Objective moral belief causes just as much slaughter of civilians and enslavement (and im willing to bet more) than a subjective moral belief. Weather it be Muslims blowing themselves up or beheading people while subjecting their women to a miserable form of existence, Christians launching crusades and trying to force pseudoscience into the schools, Jews owning slaves (torah allows slavery), or now days throwing rocks at other Jews for driving on the sabbath. It all stems from their belief in Objective morality which gives them the right to do ANYTHING they want to other people just because my objective morality said "X" so i can force that on others.

"Nice. You just granted moral equivalency to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Hitler and Pol Pot. If you can't call the likes of them WRONG then your system of morality is impotent and worthless. You invite evil into the world."

It works both ways Orthoprax. Objective morality has caused as much if not much more of what you would consider "evil" into this world. You of all people should know this.

I am not willing to concede that if morality is subjective than someone would have the rational to kill me, but even if that's true, I would much rather live in a world where it's not immoral or moral to murder, then a world where it's not only moral to murder, it's a requirement to murder innocent people. at least if morality is subjective it wouldn't be immoral for a Radical Muslim to not kill me. But if morality is objective then not only would it be moral in a radical Muslim's eyes to kill me, it would be a requirement.

Look, we have feelings of morality, but i honestly don't see any reason to invoke morality on an objective level without evidence for it. Simply saying that if morality is subjective then it can have negative implications has nothing to do with the validity of subjective morality. I need hard evidence.

"You invite evil into the world."

What is evil Sherlock? It's always the other guy isn't it?

Orthoprax said...

YA,

"This is a flawed form of logic because if person A's morality is subjective then he has no rational to impose his morality on others, since no one can be right in the first place."

The likes of Stalin don't need a moral rationale, he does things for other reasons. Morality doesn't exist so he kills people for his personal interests. And you can't tell him he's wrong!

"Person B is not using flawed logic of any kind since he is not using morals to impose himself on others."

Ergo - pure moral impotence. You pave the way for nihilism and perhaps genocide if people are in the mood. You certainly are not going to intervene.

"Objective moral belief causes just as much slaughter of civilians and enslavement (and im willing to bet more) than a subjective moral belief."

If that's so then the beliefs are WRONG. See, it's an amazing power to actually be able to make moral progress and lead away from error. Subjective morality can't even make the first step.

"Look, we have feelings of morality, but i honestly don't see any reason to invoke morality on an objective level without evidence for it."

There are facts of life and the human condition that humanity has come to a solid consensus about. Peace, life, non-suffering, freedom - etc. These are objective bellweathers that help tell us whether a moral is a good moral or not. How does this moral policy effect the lives of the people who bind themselves to it? We learn from experience and we can rationally discuss right and wrong.

"What is evil Sherlock? It's always the other guy isn't it?"

Evil is causing suffering, loss of life, poverty, hunger, enslavement - and so on. The wellbeing of humanity is objectively reduced when evil is at work.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"if that's so then the beliefs are WRONG"

How do you know this? the same way you believe you have an objective morality that says your right and they're wrong, they believe they have an objective morality that says they're right and you're wrong. Why is your footing any better?

"There are facts of life and the human condition that humanity has come to a solid consensus about. Peace, life, non-suffering, freedom - etc. These are objective bellweathers that help tell us whether a moral is a good moral or not. How does this moral policy effect the lives of the people who bind themselves to it? We learn from experience and we can rationally discuss right and wrong."

And how do you know peace, life, and non suffering are morally good? Tell that to a radical Muslim. If you say my objective morality says X is bad, he would just come back and say "well MY objective morality says X is good"

again, you are still on equal logical footing with all the evil monsters you accused me of being on on equal moral footing.

These are objective bellweathers that help tell us whether a moral is a good moral or not.

Oh? and what are they? Is it because certain things make everyone happy? if so, then how do you know happiness is a moral good thing? Is it because certain things make people sad? If so then how do you know making people sad is a morally bad thing?

"Evil is causing suffering, loss of life, poverty, hunger, enslavement"

Again, How do you know this?

Causing suffering is bad? tell that to religious people brainwashing they're kids, they believe they're objective morality says they should do it.

Loss of life is bad? Tell that to a suicide bomber, his objective morality tells him it can be a very good thing.

enslavement is bad? The objective morality Jews believe in says it's A-OK.

The same way you can say my belief in objective morality tells me they are wrong and I'm right, they can just as easily say "Well my belief in objective morality tells me we're right and your wrong". Why are you on higher ground?

The Obj/Sub moralists debate goes like this:

Obj: X is moral/immoral

Sub: How do you know X is moral/immoral?

Obj: Because X causes/leads to Y

Sub: And how do you know Y is moral/immoral?

Obj: Because Y promotes the Z of mankind!

Sub: *sigh* And how do you know promoting the Z of mankind is moral/immoral?

Starting to see the problem here? For every justification of what is moral/immoral, another justification is required to justify the morality of the justification. And for every justification of the justification, another justification is required to justify the morality of the justification that justified the justification...etc

It never ends :(

(ill have to think about the person A/B scenario, im tired atm)

AngryJew said...

IMHO, your last 4 paragraphs do not justify your first 4 paragraphs. The god described in the very prayers you say cannot be seen in this world.

Schar Ve'Onesh and Random calamity cannot coexist, can it? If there is no Schar Ve'Onesh, or WORSE, if it's selective Schar Ve'Onesh, How can you believe in real justice?

Orthoprax said...

YA,

"How do you know this? the same way you believe you have an objective morality that says your right and they're wrong, they believe they have an objective morality that says they're right and you're wrong. Why is your footing any better?"

I'd just first like to make this one point clear, we've exchanged a fundamentally intrinsic problem with the non-morality of subjectivism for an extrinsic epistemological problem of objectivism. With all things being equal, I would far prefer to have a moral code even if I can't prove it valid then to have no meaningful moral code at all.

Anyway, now to the question of how do I know certain moral values are true? The most obvious cases are those moral values that a society must hold for a society to exist in the first place. Could a society persist if it took no value in human life? Could a society persist if in it theft was acceptable behavior? No, it would quickly break down into anarchy and the enforcement of some sort of moral order would inevitably evolve. Intrinsic to the human condition and human society are general rules by which we must rule ourselves. Foundationally - this is what objective morality is.

Beyond that, the success of civilization generally and the peaceful and happy living of humans are just furthering the ends of what each rational person would want for themselves. Morality is the means by which we organize our behavior to collectively go towards those goals. When you go against these goals, you select yourself as an enemy of all people and you must be stopped and/or punished.

Now at the end of the day, can I prove that humanity is the moral end to value? No I can't. But neither can I prove any axiom of science or math or logic. You have to start somewhere. I'm willing to have that otherwise obvious axiom be my moral foundation. Those who disagree are an enemy of all mankind.

In comparison, based on what does the Muslim fanatic think that it is moral to do terrorist acts? Is he founding it on beliefs which are demonstrably false? I think so. Ergo, how likely is it that he is doing right?

In theory we have a polarity of right and wrong - moral progress is possible and we can further the interests of mankind. Through discussion, examination of the facts, causuistry, empathy and so on we can see which morals move us closer to our collective goals and which ones do not.



AJ,

"Schar Ve'Onesh and Random calamity cannot coexist, can it? If there is no Schar Ve'Onesh, or WORSE, if it's selective Schar Ve'Onesh, How can you believe in real justice?"

Read the post again. I didn't say I believed in justice as an enforcement from above, but as a characteristic set in the fabric of human relations. It exists in an immanent sense, but it's up to us to materialize.

Gila said...

Yeshivish Atheist, do you then justify suicide because the person who wishes to die does not impose ideas of morality on another person, only on himself or herself?

Yeshivish Atheist said...

It's a good question Gila. Some may argue that suicide does impose morality on others to a certain degree because of all the emotional suffering the relatives will be caused from the one who committed suicide. However, others try and counter this argument by pointing out that divorce can also cause great emotional suffering to relatives and yet that is legal, So we can't consider that good enough to overrule a persons right to do what they want to their own body.

I personally am not a fan of suicide, and I would probably always advise against it, but if the person is mentally sane, and of age, and said person wants to commit suicide, than that is his/her body and his/her choice to make, even if it's a very bad choice. I would incessantly try to talk said person out of it, but I don't think I could force said person to not do it, unless said person was mentally sane or underage.

Yeshivish Atheist said...

"unless said person was mentally sane or underage."

whoops, meant to say not mentally sane or underage

www.malaga-3d.com said...

This can't work in reality, that's what I think.