It's been an interesting morning. At 10:30 AM I noticed that my traffic was way up for the day. And then at 11:12 AM I heard Dennis Prager reading on the air the first paragraph of a post of mine from yesterday in which I express my disappointment at Prager for rejoicing over Osama bin Laden's death when the appropriate response, as it seems to me, is to be glad that the al-Qaeda head is out of commission, but without gleeful expressions of pleasure. That's Schadenfreude and to my mind morally dubious.
(Even more strange is that before Prager read from my blog, I had a precognitive sense that he was going to do so.)
In his response, Prager pointed out that the Jews rejoiced when the Red Sea closed around the Egyptians, and that this rejoicing was pleasing to God. (See Exodus 15) Apparently that settled the matter for Prager.
And then it dawned on me. Prager was brought up a Jew, I was brought up a Christian. I had a similar problem with my Jewish friend Peter Lupu. In a carefully crafted post, Can Mere Thoughts be Morally Wrong?, I argued for a thesis that I consider well-nigh self-evident and not in need of argument, namely, that some mere thoughts are morally objectionable. The exact sense of this thesis is explained and qualified in the post. But to my amazement, I couldn't get Peter to accept it despite my four arguments. And he still doesn't accept it.
Later on, it was Prager who got me to see what was going on in my discussion with Peter. He said something about how, in Judaism, it is the action that counts, not the thought or intention. Aha! But now a certain skepticism rears its head: is Peter trapped in his childhood training, and me in mine? Are our arguments nothing but ex post facto rationalizations of what we believe, not for good reasons, but on the basis of inculcation? (The etymology of 'inculcation' is telling: the beliefs that were inculcated in us were stamped into us as if by a heel, L. calx, when we were impressionable youths.)
The text that so impressed me as a boy and impresses me even more now is Matt. 5: 27-28: "You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. [Ex. 20:14, Deut. 5:18] But I say to you that anyone who so much as looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
Not that I think that Prager or Peter are right. No, I think I'm right. I think Christianity is morally superior to Judaism: it supersedes Judaism, preserving what is good in it while correcting what is bad. Christianity goes to the heart of the matter. Our hearts are foul, which is why our words and deeds are foul. Of course I have a right to my opinion and I can back it with arguments. And you would have to be a liberal of the worst sort to think that there is anything 'hateful' in what I just wrote about Christianity being morally superior to Judaism.
But still there is the specter of skepticism which is not easy to lay. I think we just have to admit that reason is weak and that the moral and other intuitions from which we reason are frail reeds indeed. This should make us tolerant of differences.
But toleration has limits. We cannot tolerate the fanatically intolerant. So, while not rejoicing over any man's death or presuming to know -- what chutzpah! -- where any man stands in the judgment of God, I am glad that Osama has been removed from our midst.