Launch of The Theory and Practice of Universal Ethics
ADDRESS TO THE LAUNCH OF ‘THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF UNIVERSAL ETHICS’ – THE NOAHIDE LAWS’ BY RABBI DR SHIMON DOVID COWEN
JEWISH RUSSIAN COMMUNITY CENTRE, BALACLAVA, VICTORIA
If ever there was a need for our world to understand, appreciate and salute some fundamental unifying ethics, surely it is now.
We’ve had the recent vile and violent attacks in Paris. The so-called thought leaders of the Western world describe us as being ‘post-modern’ for want of being able to provide an adequate descriptor. Anxious to junk the values which have seen personal well-being blossom like never before as ‘outmoded’, ‘dated’, ‘no longer relevant’ we are being left with nothing except an ideology of self-centredness which is the antithesis of a recipe for a cohesive society.
In this void bravely enters our author Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen with this wonderful offering ‘The Theory and Practice of Universal Ethics – The Noahide Laws’.
In fairness, if you want a light read whilst watching the cricket – this book is not for you.
Every chapter, every line, every word needs to be pondered and considered if the reader is to begin to absorb the wealth of wisdom, tradition and guidance in this 386 page masterpiece detailing the foundations of true civilisation.
Only a few pages escape without an impressive list of footnotes highlighting the scholarship and wide research of our author. The list of footnotes draws on a library of sources, especially historic traditional writings.
As a legislator, I am very conscious that I want to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour in any legislative instrument.
So what determines ‘good’ and ‘bad’? One’s perspective on how to categorise a particular piece of legislation will depend on one’s moral compass which in turn is determined by one’s religion or world view.
And as we know there is a substantial number of religions – each with its own traditions and teachings.
Now, out of this diversity Rabbi Dr Cowen has extracted some ethics which have a very wide or universal application.
Over 75% of the world’s population have adopted religions which interestingly reach back to the Noahide laws which provides a commonality between them.
And talking of religion, allow me to quote from page 21 – a quote which our journalists and commentators who have become increasingly anti-theistic will do well to read and absorb.
‘This beholdenness to something higher than psychophysical elements, the primacy of the spiritual, marks a civilised society. This does not include everything which assumes a religious veneer, but rather religion focused on monotheism with the universal values projected by it …... Civilizedness is not the same as reason by itself: a society could be the most scientifically and intellectually developed of its day, as was the Germany in which Nazism arose, and yet manifest the ultimate barbarism’.
When given the privilege of addressing students, I encourage them to excel, but I also seek to stress that excellence of itself is not sufficient. The juxtaposition I employ is the oratory skill of Hitler and Martin Luther King. Both capable of holding a crowd and swaying their audiences.
On oratory qualities alone, both might score equally well.
So, do we celebrate and salute them equally? Hopefully not. Because another measure is required – morality. One used their oratory gifts for untold good. The other for untold evil. We celebrate one and condemn the other. We salute one and rightly shun the other.
Our attitude and value judgement is ultimately based on our religion or world view.
And Rabbi Dr Shamon Cowen makes that point more emphatically, eloquently and capably than I ever could do.
In short, this insightful treatise takes the reader on an excursion through ancient writings and traditional interpretations and transforms them to make them relevant for today’s world, highlighting the essential need for the spiritual to enjoy a civilised society.
I wholeheartedly endorse and praise this robust and well researched treatise, noting my lower status than those who have already done so – substantial figures like a former Governor-General, a monarch, learned Rabbis and a President of the European Union.
Hearty congratulations and sincere thanks to author Rabbi Dr Shimon Cown for undertaking this mammoth venture and distilling his findings and scholarship into one volume to help us understand the roots of our civilisation and the essentials for civilisation.
Friends, it’s a privilege and honour to be allowed to help launch ‘The Theory and Practice of Universal Ethics – The Noahide Laws’ - a book which will be as relevant in a 1,000 years’ time as it is today.