Rabbi Avi Shafran
Bless Peter Singer's immortal soul (whether he acknowledges it or not).
Singer, of course, is the Princeton philosopher who made his name by advocating for animal rights as equivalent to human rights, and, then, given that humans are no better than animals, encouraging euthanasia for severely handicapped infants and the elderly. Now, to round out the equivalency between man and beast, he has endorsed the idea of meaningful human intimate relations with animals -- what Slate writer William Saletan deems "the love that dare not bark its name."
Professor Singer, who heads the university's improbably named Center for Human Values, made his case in a recent essay where he reiterates his suggestion that there is no inherent difference between humans and animals, and characterizes the latter as essentially the moral equivalent of human infants. The logical extension of that worldview, he then proposes, is the acceptance of cross-species intimate congress as entirely legitimate.
The professor deserves our blessing -- well, at least our gratitude -- for showing clearly, cogently, and conclusively, the sort of interesting places to which societal rejection of the concept of "morality" inexorably leads. He has done an immeasurable service by providing limitlessly "tolerant" minds everywhere with gaping grounds for pause.
Recent decades have not been kind to the bedrock concept of morality -- the idea that human beings are inherently special, that we carry a spark of holiness within. It has been unceremoniously dumped out the window, like some handicapped baby in a Singerian world, with the bath water of intolerance. To imagine, though, that when our nation's founding fathers envisioned a republic independent of any church, they meant to reject the concept of morality itself, is to flirt with delirium.
Even the most secular-minded of the men who midwived these United States would have undoubtedly considered a society where unwanted babies, the severely handicapped and the elderly were efficiently dispatched, and where men married horses, as nothing less than a vision of hell.
Which should lead us to consider how they might have regarded (and, more importantly still, how we should regard) seemingly less outrageous immoralities, like abortion on demand, assisted suicide and homosexual or adulterous relationships.
Singer's gift to us is - intentionally or not - forcing those issues, and identifying the crux of the matter: morality.
The only conceivable reason for considering animal-human intimate relations (or, presumably, matrimony) as unworthy of societal sanction, Professor Singer cogently observes, is the belief that human beings are inherently special. That indeed is the belief of Judaism, and Singer, with his own air of superiority, summarily rejects it. "We are," he writes, "animals."
Most of us, however, who choose to wear clothes (Professor Singer presumably does too; you'll have to ask him why) and subscribe to an ethical system more sublime than "dog eat dog" or "survival of the fittest," consider humanity special, even hallowed.
Which must in turn lead to the question of what responsibilities our special status as choosing beings places upon us. Judaism is rather clear on the subject and, despite transparent attempts by some to obscure the issues, considers most abortions, the hastening of human beings' deaths, and the misuse of the holy power of sexuality, wrong.
Taking the stance that those "moral issues" must be ignored by enlightened Americans is setting off on a shorter-than-you-might-think journey to Singerland.
And the Professor would agree that the only alternative is the embrace of the vision that Judaism bequeaths, of a society where children, no matter what, are cherished, where fragile life is protected, where the elderly are venerated and where human intimacy is considered a holy and meaningful expression, limited to men and women, in relationships duly consecrated by marriage.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.
|Whilst I am Atheist and have some similar views to singer I have a big question mark regarding the man and many of his views. Despite his assurances that there is no “slippery slope” I am not convinced. Overpopulation, medical advances and the like may prove problematic and certainly there are issues that need to be raised and I am thankful that singer is raising them. However the potential for someone to use signer's view as an "avenue" for ideology, a way of defining limits and pros and cons could be very dangerous in the wrong hands.
There is a particular type of person who has all the logic in the world but little reason and no humanity at all - moral hubris might be a little strong however it amounts to the same thing in the real world where "pure reason" is used by politicians to justify the most barbaric of actions and programs. The Master Race of Hitler and the "Saving Socialism in One Country First" of Stalin are ideas based on sound reasons and quite logical if you accept the monstrous premises upon which they are based.
Singer strikes me as a very intelligent man who is "morally adrift" - the words flow too freely and the ideas seem to take on a life of their own - there is a smugness in his self proclaimed objective to relieve "suffering" and to be at the forefront of a new intellectual climate. So I can take and/or leave most of his ideas and enjoy the University world of "search for truth", but I worry how these ideas will be used by less intelligent people in the world of "dog eat dog".
I’ll continue to find his books interesting and thoughtful but I also have a big question mark?
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|Whilst I consider it generally a good thing to see people engaging in any kind of moral debate, I must say it saddens me to see a man so grossly misunderstood that all subsequent discussion escalates into farce. To compare Singer to Hitler is frankly ludicrous.
Singer encourages us to question what it is to be a 'person'. Is it just that we are a member of a particular species or is it specific qualities and capabilities that make us what we are? Singer draws the parallel between very young children and some animals because in terms of their capacities for rational thought and self-awareness, there is often no significant difference. Singer's motivation for this argument is not to suggest that we all start killing off the old and infirm and start fornicating with horses, but to encourage human beings to behave in a more compassionate and sensitive way towards animals. After all, if we accept that animals possess the capacity to feel pain and show signs of self-consciousness, then surely we have some sort of moral obligation to treat them with sensitivity and not behave cruelly towards them...
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|Horses should not be whipped |
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|Singer himself doesn't believe in his outrageous, childish ethics, which, as cleverly worded as they are (enough to win the Princeton camp), are just that: childishness. Like a spoiled child, singer needs constant agrandizing attention. There are elite circles out there who consider this genius, or progressive for the sake of debate, or maybe-he's-right-after-all illogic in their dismissal of all that they know is good and moral about human life. They too are children and must embrace any idea that separates them from the generation that raised them, that taught them right from wrong. People like singer, and those who may agree with him (whoever on Earth they may be), know in their hearts a certain shame for which, regardless of how they hide behind their degrees and successes and self-importance, always will linger somewhere inside them, a reminder that they have dishonored their parents. Or their God, if it is trendy and correct to have one of those, too. Thank you, Rabbi, for your web article. Even though I am from a Christian family, and I am not exactly at the "foot of the cross", your writing is more enlightening than singer's any day. And if I were a student at Princeton(God forbid) I would be at the frontlines protesting this silly, blabbering little man. Sorry for ranting, Rabbi, but here's a final thought: if we kill undesirables for the betterment of man and toward a societal paradise, won't some of those dead could have been unprecedented geniuses, like Einstein, who could have solved all of humanity's and the world's woes for which they were killed anyway? Roger, Iaeger, WV |
- r. g. -0/8-/2001
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|As Dostoyevsky said, "Where there is no G-d, anything is possible." Thanks to Professor Singer, one can see Dostoyevsky's statement as both a blessing and a warning of future Professor Singers.
When I was in the Army, an old warrant officer told me to never be surprised at what people do. I was a Christian and he was a Jewish guy. I learned a lot from him.
- C. B. -0/5-/2001
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