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We Are Indeed on a Slippery Slope

By now, an awful lot of people have seen Rabbi Moshe Averick’s blatherings about how atheism will inevitably lead to pedophilia. They’ll have noticed that he quotes a couple of academic philosophers–those leaders of popular thought–to prove how we’re putting the world’s children at ever greater risk. They’ll have noticed that he claims that a religion without any textual prohibitions against sex with children is all that stands in our way. They’ll have recalled that the world’s single largest religious organization has a craptastic track record on using their authority to do anything other than perpetuate child sexual abuse. That’s all good, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about this slippery slope concept the good rabbi puts out there:

Since these values are nothing more than reflections of the prevalent subjective preferences they obviously will shift and metamorphose to accommodate changing needs and attitudes. In my own lifetime I have witnessed radical societal swings in moral behavior and attitudes regarding marriage and sexuality, homosexuality, the killing of unborn children, euthanasia, and the use of illicit drugs.

One can reasonably predict that as the infatuation with skepticism and atheism grows among the influential “intellectual elite” of our society, so too will their readiness to embrace more radical changes in moral values. Religious believers expressing dismay and horror at the ominous moral storm clouds looming on the horizon are met with smug derision, hysterical counter-accusations, or utter indifference. There is nothing that atheistic societies are incapable of rationalizing and accepting – including the sexual molestation of children.

Averick got his rabbinical degree in 1980, so we can make a fairly good guess that his lifetime starts somewhere in the 1950s. Since he’s concerned with sexual behavior, let’s take a look at what has changed since then.

  •  In the 1960s, sexual harassment was first enshrined in law, making nonconsensual sexual behavior illegal in education (as clarified by Title IX) and the workplace. Through the 1970s and 1980s, guidelines were released on what constituted sexual harassment and the protections the harassed are entitled to (the latest of these was released this year). Companies began training their employees on the topic. In the last twenty years, courts have made it explicit that these laws protect people of all genders from behavior by people of all genders.
  • In the 1970s, the process began to change rape law and prosecution to recognize that consent, rather than the relationship of the people involved, is what defines sexual assault. States started to legally recognize spousal rape. The 1980s brought huge educational campaigns among young people to make them aware that agreeing to a date does not constitute consent for sex.
  • Our understanding of the age of consent and laws surrounding it also changed dramatically during this time. They had been based on religious and patriarchal drives to preserve the sexual purity of women before marriage, but despite increasing secularization and feminist influence, the laws were not lifted. In fact, they were strengthened by being applied to boys and to non-heterosexual relationships. This happened as our society recognized that consent requires a certain level of maturity and decision-making ability that may not mature at the same time our bodies do.
  • We have come to understand that certain relationships that bear unequal authority do not make consent a simple thing to withhold. Because of this, teachers, counselors, and even rabbis may now face criminal and professional sanctions if they abuse their positions to have sex with those whom they are supposed to serve.

So, yes, we’ve definitely been on a slippery slope for the last 60 years. However, the slippery slope that exists in the real world, outside Averick’s atheist-phobe head, is a path that has been inexorably leading us to a strong understanding that sex should involve mutual desire without coercion.

Of course, this isn’t the only place where Averick fails to understand that there are multiple people involved in the sexual relationships he worries about. That lack of understanding also keeps from being able to describe consequentialism as an ethical system:

For the benefit of the philosophically challenged let me explain “consequentialism” in a nutshell: If you like the consequences it’s ethical, if you don’t like the consequences it’s unethical. Thus, if you enjoy child pornography and having sex with children it’s ethical, if you dislike child pornography and having sex with children it’s unethical.

Well, no. Averick himself is somewhat philosophically challenged. Consequentialism is significantly more complex than this, not least because everyone except Averick seems to understand that there are consequences to people besides the one who makes a decision. In this case, even a pedophile consequentialist may well decide that the lifelong negative consequences to a child outweigh the momentary pleasurable consequence to themselves of acting on their attraction. Nothing about consequentionalism itself requires selfishness.

Personally, I would be perfectly happy with a system of sexual morality that based on full attention to the consequences of actions to all the parties involved. It beats the hell out of the system we had in place when Averick was born, which was based entirely on authority. That system of a few people telling everyone with whom they could–and had to–have sex, wasn’t any kind of objective good. In fact, it was so ugly that we shouldn’t be surprised when its advocates have to rely on the sort of tortured logic Averick indulges in.

Yes, rabbi, we have been on a slippery slope, but if you look at that slope in any detail, you’ll see that the end result is anything but pedophilia. We’ve been on a slippery slope to consent, which is exactly where I want to be. And if you want to attribute that to increasing secularism, I’ll take it and with thanks.

Comments

  1. Gretchen says

    “In my own lifetime I have witnessed radical societal swings in moral behavior and attitudes regarding marriage and sexuality, homosexuality, the killing of unborn children, euthanasia, and the use of illicit drugs.”

    I always feel like people who make this argument think history only goes back 100 years or so. It seems incredibly short-sighted.

    What does seem to have evolved, as you so aptly point out, is our ability to see all humans as valuable and worthy of a good life – something the rabbi should think is a good thing.

  2. says

    Consequentialism depends on empathy. I think the word he’s looking for is “objectivism”, which is entirely about self-centred motivation. The fact that Ayn Rand was atheist would serve as a good way to smear other atheists with her short-sightedness and lack of empathy. He totally missed an opportunity to conflate us with Randroids.

  3. Daniel Schealler says

    I’ve long suspected that Moshe writes in these inflammatory ways in a red-flag-to-a-bull mentality.

    I think it’s just a good way of getting our attention. I try not to take the hand-waving too seriously.

    At the core of it Moshe is making the fairly standard and familiar argument that only Godly morality counts and anything else reduces down to a subjective free-for-all – the usual false dichotomy.

    Its such a tired argument that I don’t think the atheist blog-o-sphere would even bother linking to it if it wasn’t for the whole reducing-atheists-to-pedophiles thing… Hence my aforementioned suspicious regarding bulls and the color red.

  4. Pen says

    I agree, we have made progress in sexual morality in that we now consider consent to be central. What we need next is to take seriously the problem of limiting the unwanted consequences of sex. Abstinence-only sex education is immoral in that it can’t work and condemns people to serious consequences. We should be distributing contraceptives the way the Gideons distribute bibles.

  5. says

    “We’ve been on a slippery slope to consent” – I love this line. The only thing I’d want to add to this great article is that if you do take a consequentialist view of sexual relationships it dramatically reforms the discussion regarding sexual promiscuity. Having lots of consensual sexual partners with whom you engage in enjoyable sexual activity can be construed quite easily as a positive, morally speaking, and so we get a moral argument for having more sex! This runs counter to pretty much any religious argument regarding sex I’ve come across.

  6. Stephanie Zvan says

    Gretchen, I think my favorite short view there is on drugs. Soothing syrups for infants, anyone?

    Daniel, I agree that I probably would have ignored this if not for the talk of pedophilia, but part of that is that I don’t think the atheist community as a whole has a good grip on that argument. We’re stuck, unfortunately, at the same level of the rest of society, talking about it as though it were the same thing as child rape. It’s not, and I think any discussion of sexual morality that doesn’t make the distinction has real problems.

  7. says

    Moshe Averick is no different than Tim Tebow and Governor Rick Perry whose words & actions prove they are just more Programmed Religious Robots who have no idea they were ever programmed in the first place, much less that they still are.

    It’s obvious they do not realize about the only reason they believe in the god and the religion they do is because of who raised them. I strongly doubt they realize had they been raised by Hindus, they would, as do some Three Billion others, believe in many gods.

    (It should be remembered all Religious Terrorists, be they Moslem, Christian or Jew are also the products of the religious programming they received as children by those who raised them.)

    I submit very few Jews, Christians and Moslems even have the slightest clue we Atheists Are the Leaders, or among the leaders, in Every Field OTHER THAN in CRIME and Religion.

    (The leadership in CRIME is held by Christians.)

    PROOF HERE

    http://www.celebatheists.com/
    http://www.jmarkgilbert.com/atheists.html

    (FYI #1, More than an few Atheists Were “Religious” leaders before successfully De-Programming themselves. FYI # 2, Religious people make up over 99.75% of all those in American Prisons,)

    I also doubt most realize we Atheists just Dis-Believe in One Less God than do the Christians, Moslems and Jews.