Monday, February 13, 2012

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen pushes the same old bigotry

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen recently had an article published for the website and journal of renowned homophobic lobbyist group, The Australian Family Association. As an organisation, their goal is a pretty paltry and simple one - maintain a 'No Fags' barrier to marriage in Australia.

Now maybe the doctor title might lead you to think that Rabbi Cowen has some serious psych or med cred that leads him to speak authoritatively on the topic of bullying. Luckily, and out of curiousity, I found his educational creds described;

He received a PhD in social philosophy from Monash University , Melbourne and rabbinic ordination (s'micha) both in the Kollel Menachem Lubavitch, Melbourne , of which he was Programme Director, and from the chief rabbi of Haifa.

His educational background was described on the site, of which Rabbi Cowen is the rep for Australia/Asia-Pacific. is all about;

The Institute of Noahide Code is an educational and research which encourage the practice of The Seven Laws of Noah.

The Noahide laws are comprised of seven universal laws biblically binding upon all humanity. They include prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, forbidden sexual relationships including adultery and incest, murder, theft, cruelty to animals and the failure to implement orderly processes of justice. In 1991, a joint resolution of the United States congress called its principles "the bedrock of society from the dawn of civilization…” without which "the edifice of civilization stands in serious peril of returning to chaos".
Now, so far all of this is pretty uncontroversial for someone who seems to be pretty devout. Not even just for Judaism, but for faith in general. Even I, the godless atheistic heathen-y type that I am can sympathise with prohibitions on "incest, murder, theft, cruelty to animals and the failure to implement orderly processes of justice." That all seems pretty sensible to me. I mean I could probably ask in greater detail what 'the failure to implement orderly processes of justice' means, and probably raise the point that I think the kosher and halal preparation of meat actually does fall within the ambit of 'cruelty to animals', but that would be kind of nitpicky.

On the other hand, I think in this day and age, creating prohibitions against 'idolatry, blasphemy, forbidden sexual relationships including adultery...' is going to be pretty dicey. Idolatry? I'm sure it's important to the ultra-devout, but most people these days don't really give much of a toss. Blasphemy? So what, every time you stub your toe on the living room table, hop around like a loon, shouting 'JEEEEZZZUUSSSFFAAAAARRKKKINGKEEEERRRRRIIIST!' in agony, you're up for some punishment? Forbidden sexual relationships? Well, sure I'm down on any of that shit involving the non-consensual, kids and animals - that stuff's nasty, but what else is lurking in that broad definition? Well, the entrenched religious gay-hate is probably a given, but who knows what else is in there? And adultery? Well, given you never know the circumstances involved, I mean are you really going to persecute someone who flees an abusive marriage to find love in someone else's arms for example? Wouldn't that be, well, kind of shitty?

But back to Rabbi Cowen's article for the AFA. We shouldn't be surprised what the AFA is all about. here's a list of their patrons;

Rev. Dr. Margaret Court, A.O., M.B.E., Ph.D. (Hon), LL.D. (Hon).
Rabbi Shalom Coleman, CBE. AM. MA. B.Lit. Ph.D. Hon LLD (UWA)
Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Ph.D.
Rev. Dr. J.I. Fleming, B.A., Th.L. (Hons), Ph.D.
Major General W.B. “Digger” James, A.C., A.O., M.B.E, M.C., M.B.B.S.(Syd), F.R.A.C.S.
Sir Peter Lawler, O.B.E.
Dr T.B. Lynch, A.O., M.B., B.S., F.R.A.C.P.
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, A.C., D.B.E.
Major General Peter R. Phillips, A.O., M.C (Retd), B.A. (Qld), F.A.I.C.D.
Dr Gregory K. Pike B.Sc., Ph.D.
Bikram Singh Sandu Dip., Prayag Sangit Sumiti.
Dame Mary Scholtens, D.S.G., (Papal).
Judge Frank Walsh, A.M.

So I'm sure, like me, you noticed that banging-on old bigoted trout Margie Court at the top of the list. The AFA is a faith-oriented organisation. Faith, when personal and meaningful, can be nice enough I guess, I don't really care, but when it intrudes into the public sphere, I find it an odious thing indeed.

Rabbi Cowen lays out his opposition to school anti-homophobic bullying programs here;

Whilst to all good and reasonable persons, it is totally and unmistakeably clear that the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped, this must be radically separated from the moral agenda of the homosexual “anti-bullying” program for schools. This program, which goes under many names, has the primary goal to teach, as mentioned above, that homosexual activity is normative alongside heterosexual activity.
In clear terms - you shouldn't bully children, that's cruel and abhorrent. Unless they're fags, then it's not only okay, but necessary.

As the result of a doctrinal putsch in the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, followed by the American Psychological Association in 1975, the human being was redrawn, and what was formerly understood to be an abnormal behaviour – homosexuality – became normal and co-normative with heterosexual behaviour. Since then defence of homosexual behaviour has become a pillar of political correctness. In terms reminiscent of the Stalinist placement of political dissidents into psychiatric hospitals, opposition to homosexual behaviour, not – as held by civilization for thousands of years – homosexual behaviour itself, has become an illness. It is called homophobia.
And we skirt perilously close to Godwin's law, with the term putsch.  For those who aren't down with curious German/Swiss words thrown casually into conversation, we have this courtesy of the ever-helpful "putsch. noun: a plotted revolt or attempt to overthrow a government, especially one that depends upon suddenness and speed. Origin: 1915–20; < German Putsch, orig. Swiss German: literally, violent blow, clash, shock; introduced in sense “coup” in standard German through Swiss popular uprisings of the 1830s, especially the Zurich revolt of Sept. 1839."

Perhaps the most resonant use of putsch in our cultural awareness is a putsch of an altogether more infamous kind. Hence the skating close to Godwin's Law. In case you missed the tyrannical overtones, 'Stalinist' is thrown in for shits and giggles.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a “phobia” as a “persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation...” In truth, popular parlance has mutated this use of the word “phobia” – which means “fear” – so that it now also connotes “hatred”. This is evident in the current stratagem, which focuses on bullying homosexually inclined children. The twin stratagem of the homosexual movement in the adult sphere was to protect what it regards as the inherent and unalienable dignity of homosexual behaviour, by defining a physical attack on a homosexual victim as a “hate” crime, requiring an extra penalty in addition to the penalty for the offense of assault itself. The implication is that bullies and louts are not afraid of their victims, they hate them. So opponents of homosexual behaviour are purported to be parties to bullying and hatred: their irrational “fear” has become an irrational “hatred”.
I can sympathise with tinkering with the definitions of a 'phobia'. Misuse of language annoys me sometimes. Still, the only reason this is usually done in contexts like this is to delegitimise the basic right to live without violence or discrimination that most people would like to enjoy, and see others enjoy. Unless you're a hard-line theist, in which case you will often (but not always) have your own special hate-target, that you don't want anyone regarding as fundamentally human.

This paper speaks from the standpoint of the world faiths which acknowledge and accept both the Abrahamic precepts and the revelation at Sinai, at which the Ten Commandments – the core of the Bible – were given. That teaching understands every human being to be made in the image of G-d. What this means is that the human being has a soul, which is alive to the Divine and has a spark of the Divine. It is the mirror of G-d in the human being. It possesses in microcosm, the Divine attributes, and resonates with the basic values and norms which those attributes translate into proper conduct. These norms find their concrete expression in the shared basic laws of ethical human conduct, namely “Noahide” laws (after the name of Noah, the father of all humanity). They were practised by Abraham, father of the great world religions, and reiterated at Sinai.
So, there you have it, nothing medical in this paper, nothing scientific, nothing  from the psych profession. Instead we are to be treated to a thesis that proceeds from the standpoint of people who believe in invisible things. The laws of Noah are the shared basic human laws apparently. Hooray! That means we can throw out shit like the Magna Carta and two thousand years of evolved jurisprudence!

I find it hard to take any of this stuff seriously. I don't think you can mount a serious attack on law, psychology and human rights with the teachings of Abraham, a guy who screwed his daughters and nearly stabbed his son to death. I'm generally against living under any doctrinally rigorous religious code at all. The commandments etc may have influenced law, and even provided a foundation, but they were patently flawed, which is why laws have evolved to be more nuanced, more tolerant. In short, I don't give a rat's ass what any holy book says. Ancient superstitions are irrelevant. Our laws - while never perfect - still allow a good deal more harmony, tolerance and compassion than any holy book's laws could ever provide.

So, Rabbi Cowen, it's nice that you like to chip in for the AFA. But our Constitution is secular. Our nation is secular. You are more than willing to share various Iron Age outlooks with your co-religionist Margaret Court, but you have no authority to have them inform any law of the land. This is because we have some things that you do not - compassion, tolerance and a live and let live approach. We accept the freedom of belief, because we keep it separate from public policy (in theory anyway - too many of our pollies are cowardly apologists for your cause).

I hope you notice that during this whole piece I've not attacked Judaism directly. I've in fact commended some of the Noahide codes as laudable. I've attacked elements of the Abrahamic traditions, to be sure, but not through the lens of one creed or another. I don't respect religious belief in general - I think it's foolish, hard-hearted and ignorant - but I've not ridiculed Judaism for any purpose other than general moral lapses that apply to other faiths as well. Please be aware, it was not I who bought the phrase 'putsch' into the debate, nor I who threw the term 'Stalinist' around.

If you wish to attack any of the nation's sexual orientations, please bring some facts to the debate. No matter how earnestly you believe them, or indeed how dear they are to you, the teachings of the holy books are relics from a more simple time. And given their dubious historicity, simplistic morality, and dearth of true modern relevance, can you please, please, please stop using these beliefs to destroy people's lives. If, as you say "it is totally and unmistakeably clear that the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped" then don't start adding qualifications to it. You either believe that bullying a child into suicide or self-harm on any grounds is morally indefensible or you don't. No child should be allowed to be bullied for who they are, or who others perceive them to be.

Abandon the hardline teachings and embrace compassion, or keep the hard line, and accept that you are encouraging the death of children. Just don't dance around in the middle.

The article that led me to all this in the first place
Rabbi Shimon Cowen's article at the AFA website
AFA's list of patrons's Mission
Rabbi Shimon Cowen's bio at
National Centre Against Bullying's help page
10 interesting facts to help people stop being so fucking pompous about heterosexuality

If you're on facebook, check out the following;
Friends of Dom Crouch against Bullying
Gay Marriage Rights in Australia