November 18, 2018

Letters to the editor: Orlando, Dennis Prager and atheism, Muhammad Ali and more

An Astute Reaction to Orlando

I’d like to thank Rob Eshman for his insightful response to the Orlando tragedy (“Pulse and Pride,” June 17). It had the merit of being the smartest and most comprehensive reaction I read this week, while remaining succinct and clear. He legitimately referred to the violent attack as an example of Islamic terrorism, but criticized the Donald Trump supporters’ unfair rhetoric against the general U.S. Muslim population. Eshman’s prescriptions for gun control were moderate and respectful to Second Amendment rights. His comparison to last week’s terror attack in Tel Aviv, and Israel’s response to it, was justified.

Guy Handelman, Sherman Oaks

Words That Were Left Out 

I am surprised that the quote you reported by Rabbi Michael Lerner speaking at the memorial for Muhammad Ali did not include his shameful comment that he stands shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians against the unjust rule by Israel (“Best of Our Blogs,” June 17). 

Jerry Freedman, Los Angeles

Atheists Are Unhappy — With Prager

Here is Dennis Prager’s statement of faith and ironically the reason that so many of us have become atheists: “For to know how awful the consequences of atheism are and still be convinced that there is no God is an unhappy fate indeed” (“Two Questions for Atheists,” June 10). 

To assume that atheists cannot possibly be happy and are deluded is a form of moral supremacism. Atheists have moved past that.

Larry Shapiro, Rancho Mirage

Why does Dennis Prager persist in peddling his discredited myth that because they don’t believe in God, heaven or hell, for atheists “there is no ultimate meaning in life,” no “objective morality” and “no ultimate justice in the universe”? Far more profound thinkers than Prager have long rejected the idea that there is no morality without religion.

The Dalai Lama has pointed out that “the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” According to Albert Einstein, “Man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.” 

According to Greg Epstein, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard University, to “suggest that one can’t be good without belief in God is not just an opinion … it is a prejudice. It may even be discrimination.”

Prager needs to practice what he preaches by extending as much tolerance and mutual respect to nonbelievers as he does to believers. It’s called the Golden Rule.  

Stephen F. Rohde, Chair of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, Los Angeles

Prager responds: To Mr. Shapiro: Regarding atheists and happiness, I stand by the common sense position that to care about human suffering yet be convinced that there is no beneficent God and no ultimate justice — so that, for example, the Six Million and their murderers have identical fates — must make any sensitive human being unhappy. If it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person’s heart.

To Mr. Rohde: When I debated the subject of God and ethics at Oxford University, the first thing the Oxford professor of morals, Jonathan Glover, an atheist, acknowledged was that if there is no God, ethics is subjective. I know of no serious philosopher who denies that. Thus, one of the greatest liberal philosophers of the 20th century, Princeton’s Richard Rorty, a nonbeliever, wrote that for nonbelieving liberals such as himself, “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

Finally, I have never written, implied or said that an atheist cannot be a good person. 

CORRECTIONS:

An article about a local Shavuot celebration (“A Shavuot All-Nighter at Temple Beth Am,” June 17) misidentified the congregation at which Charlie Carnow is a member. He belongs to Congregation B’nai David-Judea.

Due to a production error, an article by Scott Edelman and Jesse Gabriel (“Dependable Steps to Defeat BDS,” June 17) did not appear in its complete form. The full story is now online.