The New York Times‘ Deborah Solomon just interviewed a very wealthy Jewish man, Edgar M. Bronfman, Sr., whose new book Hope Not Fear bills itself as A Path to Jewish Renaissance.
Listen in on the conversation:
Solomon: In your book, you seek to define Judaism as something besides religious belief.
Bronfman: I don’t believe in the God of the Old Testament, but I am happy with my Judaism, without that.
If you take the spiritual element out of Judaism, what is left? Some would say the rest is just archaeology, bones in the desert.
That’s their problem; that’s not my problem. What we have left is our ethics, our morals. It was our people who developed the Ten Commandments, and civilizations all over the world are based on the Ten Commandments. Whoever wrote that—and we assume it was Moses—had a great deal of wisdom.
But every religion has an ethical system.
Well, they do now. But we were the first.
Now apply Christian apologetics to the statements Bronfman made. Let’s ignore his atheism for the moment and focus on his claim that God isn’t necessary for the existence of morality.
Of course I think first of Lewis’ opening chapters in Mere Christianity. What a writer! Don’t miss that book!
But let me stand on more solid theological ground by borrowing (most immediately) from John Frame: Bronfman has denied the personal absolute necessary for ethical pronouncements. Moses was a person, but he wasn’t absolute. Why should his ethical norms be privileged over anyone else’s? By what standard can it be said that he was wise? Maybe that what he says works? Then what goal shall we all work toward in order to be named “wise”?
Without God, a personal absolute, you cannot get to an “ought.” (You can’t even get to an “is,” but that’s another discussion!)