Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Concept of God v. The Existence of God

Can one be religious and a philosopher as well. Only if one can accept the fact that a believer in a god can be unbiased in his philosophy. I believe that this cannot be. To be a god-believer and to be philosophically impartial is not possible. This, of course, also holds true for the confirmed atheist. He, too, can not be impartial and his philosophy therefore is also biased.

But one can hypothesize the possibility of a god or no-god, and argue from this hypothetical base. But one cannot argue the philosophy of life, universe, morality, and more with the pre-existence of an absolute belief one way or the other.

Let me argue morality from the atheistic point of view. Is a moral and ethical code possible without a central belief in a supernatural power? Of course. One can advocate the principle of social Darwinism - that our ethical and moral codes can stem from our needs as human animals to survive as a group, as is the case for many other animal forms who have learned that within their herds or flocks, etc. there are social rules to be followed. Our ethics, morals, and laws can originate from such needs, as can our needs to "explain" what we otherwise cannot explain.

Gods exist to "explain" what we "cannot explain." The belief in a god helps assuage these needs, particularly our strong need to imbue our bodies with the concept of an everlasting spirit that will continue to exist beyond our deaths, or that will, at some distant point in time be resurrected into a living form. Human society also needs gods to form the idea of absolute good, as well as the concept of absolute evil. These, of course, are concepts which do not, and never have existed. But a future "heaven on earth," represented by the presence of absolute good and the absence of absolute evil, has always been the everlasting unachievable desire.

I am a non-believer, but, that said, I am an ardent supporter of the idea of a god as necessary for a society that exists in the presence of many unknowns. A god provides an ideal for good. A god serves as a concept that helps acknowledge that human thoughts and decisions are not always rational, but emotional as well. A god provides the "missing link" between matter and essence. A god provides strength under duress, and answers where none otherwise exist. God-concepts (religions) have existed, in one form or another, to provide such answers since the beginning of recorded time! I also think that a world without a god-concept would be a rather sterile world; bereft of the very strong human emotion that ties into who we are and what we are. Religion has been a central point of all surviving societies - it clearly seems to be a societal necessity. Religion plays a need in the "public square." It helps punctuate life.

The idea of a god and a heaven provides an everlasting reach for man. But this "reach" which will always exceed man's "grasp" is what helps stimulate us to be the remarkable beings that we are.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Sacrifice of Youth for the Greater Good

Ancient civilizations were known to indulge in human sacrifice in order to appease the gods. As primitive, and as repugnant, as this policy may appear, perhaps we should analyze it more closely. Those ancient societies, simple as they may have been, were certain that the outcome - a greater good - clearly justified the offering. And the "chosen one" was always a male or female youth. The gods never seemed interested in a mature, or aged individual. What applies to those societies still holds true today.

Let us hypothesize that our society was threatened, but could be saved with the "sacrifice" of one of our young citizens. Would we? Should we? A society that has made the decision to sacrifice one or more of its members in order to achieve the greater good of survival, must, quite naturally, be certain the objective justifies the expense. Is it worth one "sacrificial gift"? Is it worth 100 such "gifts"? Is it worth, perhaps, 1,000 or more "gifts"?

In ancient days, when a "sacrifice" was necessary to save the civilization, the objective was clear and easily justified. But when the objective is unclear, significant questions regarding "sacrifice" must be raised. When intervening in conflagrations around us, it is never without human sacrifice, and any such sacrifice must be deemed significant - whether one soldier dies, or 1,000 soldiers die. Under conditions clearly threatening the survival of our nation, such sacrifice is acceptable. But should our youth be brought home in body bags for "humanitarian" issues such as Darfur, or the slaughter of innocents in Libya, or Egypt, or anywhere else a rebellion occurs? If so, should we intervene in another Tiananman Square, or in the suppression of a future rebellion in Tibet or North Korea, or Russia. I think not. The sacrifice would be far too dear! We choose our benevolent interventions "prudently," don't we.

We intervene in "merciful" causes when it appears it will cost us little in the way of human expense. But such action is never accompanied by a "get out of jail free" card! It had better be deemed truly worthy of the "sacrificial" cost that will surely be required.

Lionel Trilling wrote "good will generates its own problems, that the love of humanity has its own vices and the love of truth its own sensibilities."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update on the Jewish Holiday of Purim

The Jewish holiday of Purim is rapidly approaching. This holiday commemorates the "saving" of the Jewish people from a Persian plot to annihilate them; a plot which was aborted by the famous Queen Esther, a Jew who had hidden her faith, and who was wife to the Persian monarch. When apprised of the plot by her cousin, she announces her faith and denounces the plotter, Haman, to the King, who subsequently has the schemer impaled on a stake of his own design. Additionally, 75,810 Persians were killed as a result of Jewish reprisal.

We learn here that though there were "bad" Persians who threatened the Jews with extermination, no Jewish lives were lost, but over 75,000 Persians (mostly innocent, I'm sure) lost theirs.

We should also recall that it was a later "good" Persian king, Cyrus, who, in the last two verses of the Bible, proclaims "The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and has charged me with building Him a House in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any one of you of all His people, the Lord his God be with him and let him go up."

Similarly, it seems incumbent on us to remember that in Hitler's Germany there were the "bad" Germans as well as good Germans. And the Germany of 2011 is not the Germany of 1933. We Jews have not held the Persians forever guilty of a perceived plot of annihilation. So must we Jews not hold Germany forever hostage to its history. At some point, in our hearts and minds, Germany will have to be "set free." As a King Cyrus followed a Haman, so can a benevolent Germany follow a tyrannical one.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is a Woman's "Right to Choose" always "Right?"

A couple engages a surrogate mother for implantation and gestation of their fertilized egg. Now, of course, we have two mothers here - the surrogate who is, in fact, providing the environment to bring the embryo to term, and the biological mother who has provided the genetic material to the product of conception. For the purposes of this discussion, lets ignore any legal and contractual issues that may exist, and consider only some moral ones.

Does the surrogate mother now have the moral right to electively abort the fetus she is carrying? After all, it has become, so to say, part of "her body." Or, does she now relinquish "moral" control of this fetus to that of the biological couple, i.e. it is not really part of her body, but belongs to the biological couple.

But if it does belong to the biological couple, does the couple then hold the right to have the fetus aborted? I do not believe than anyone would condone forcing the surrogate, at the donor's demand, to undergo an abortion to which she is opposed. If one agrees with this conclusion, then the final "right to abortion" must lie with the surrogate mother.

Should, then, a woman's right to choose be no different whether it affects her biological fetus or whether it affects a surrogate fetus? Should she legally have he right to abort in both situations? If not, then clearly she no longer has the absolute "right to choose." "Right to choose", then, depends on which products of conceptions are permitted to be removed and which are not - a limited choice.

If one believes that the "right to choose" trumps all, then to choose elective abortion of a surrogate fetus must be endorsed.

But does "the right to choose" really extend to this circumstance? Maybe the legal right does, but how about the moral right?