Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

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When a predator wants to pray

with 5 comments


The case is philosophically very interesting in various regards. I recommend at least a quick look. Below, I will summarize and make an observation.

There is a show on NBC where they catch pedophilic sexual predators red-handed and on one of their episodes they caught a 56 year old (prominent) rabbi soliciting sex with a 13 year old boy. (According to the evidence police later found this was not his first time. He also had a long and explicit sex-chat with the decoy posing as this underage boy during which he sent the boy a picture of himself performing oral sex on another man).

Then the rabbi got a 6.5 year sentence and served his term. When he got out, he declared that he repented (the Hebrew word for this official repentance seems to be “T’shuvah”) he wanted to be allowed to pray in a relatively inclusive synagogue on the sabbath days. The community of the synagogue initially allowed him, but as the news of his past deeds became widely known in the community, some people expressed strong objections to his presence citing the presence of children in the building on the sabbath days as a safety concern.

After a “backbreaking amount of time” was spent on debating “how to handle the former Rabbi’s presence in the synagog” involving online forum debates about their moral duty to a fellow faithful and consultations with expert psychiatrists, prosecutors and detectives, “the Board decided that without agreement on suitable strictures for this individual’s attendance, this person would, sadly, not be welcome.”

My observation is this: This is a tough moral dilemma. Any community, especially those which consist of very well-intended people, would struggle to come to a solution which would satisfy every member. (And they couldn’t reach a consensus in the case, the vote was not unanimous at their board.) I don’t profess to have a good solution either. But if religion can provide significant moral guidance into people’s lives, which is unattainable without faith, why didn’t religion make the dilemma easier to solve for this particular religious community? Why do their reasoning and deliberation process sound very much like what would have happened in a non-religious community with the same amount of social cohesion and generosity?

This question bothers me a lot, because I see atheists being criticized time and again on the grounds that atheism impoverishes the moral dimension of the individual and society, whereas faith in God provides moral guidance. Unless this moral guidance is as invisible as God himself, shouldn’t we be able to perceive its effects somehow?

My own take on this matter is that we are all permanently stuck in the same moral ambiguity. Believing in God or having faith in commandments doesn’t solve any problem. Yes, we can assume that there is a god commanding us to do x and even reach at quick verdicts with harsh punishments, unconditional forgiveness, or principled indifference, but this case shows that when a well-intended epistemically responsible group of adults who care for each other face a tough moral dilemma it shall remain tough, regardless what the creator of the universe commands. This is so in part because there is an ambiguity about what the command is, born out of the puzzlingly cryptic and convoluted statements through which the alleged commands are conveyed. But even if the commands were utterly unambiguous, the question “Is God’s command righteous?” is always a meaningful question to ask even for a theist, assuming that the theist wants to do his epistemic duty to find a satisfactory solution to the dilemma as the good people of the synagogue tried in this case.

Written by burkayphil

October 11, 2012 at 9:48 am