Monday, September 17, 2012

Dawkins Anti-Semitic, says Chief Rabbi

The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has accused Richard Dawkins of being anti-semitic. That's a pretty serious charge.

In a BBC TV exchange (which you can view here), Sacks says that a passage in Dawkins’s book The God Delusion - in which Dawkins says that "the God of the Old Testament" is a "vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser" as well as "misogynist", "homophobic", "racist", "pestilential" and "infanticidal" - is “profoundly anti-semitic”. According to Sacks, the passage reflects a centuries-old anti-Jewish attitude.


Of course there are centuries-old anti-Jewish attitudes, but this is not an example.

According to Sacks, Dawkins has misunderstood those sections of the Hebrew Bible because he is a "Christian atheist" rather than a "Jewish atheist".


Dawkins, says Sacks, reads the Old Testament in an "adversarial way," and that is "Christian" because Christianity’s New Testament is supposed to have "gone one better" than the Old Testament.


The truth, of course, is that Dawkins read the Old Testament in the way almost anyone one would coming to it for the first time, be they Christian or not.

Alexander Waugh has a nice illustration of this in his book God - The Biography:


Randolph Churchill, son of Winston, had been annoying his friends by talking too much. They wagered he could not keep quiet for a week. Churchill, a keen gambler, thought he could win the bet by reading the Bible. But he didn't last long. After a few pages, he was heard to exclaim, "God! God's a shit!"

Randolph didn't come to the shocking conclusion that God's a shit because he was already committed to reading the Old Testament in an anti-semitic way, but because that's the conclusion that any sensible person would draw after reading it at first blush. 

In fact, Dawkins's point is hardly new. As the Christian Paul Copan points out, Enlightenment thinkers like Robert Ingersoll were arguing back in the 19th Century that the God of the Old Testament was a cruel and unjust person, and that no one in their right mind could be a Christian as a result.

As Sacks must surely be aware, Christians, just as much as Jews, have strived to show that the Old Testament God is not the monster he might seem to be. They're still at it. Here, for example, is a Christian Apologist attacking Dawkins et al for concluding that the Old Testament God is a moral monster. Here's another. Here's another. Here's another. Here's another.

Clearly, it's not pro-Christian prejudice that leads people to conclude the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster. Rightly or wrongly, it's the Old Testament itself that leads them to draw that conclusion.

Argue, if you wish (and as the above linked posts do), that those atheists who draw the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament is a monster are reading the OT texts in too literal a manner, or are at least unwarranted in drawing that conclusion based on the texts. But the atheist's mistake, if there is one, is clearly not a product of some sort of deeply-ingrained, anti-semitic culture.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

He backed off the anti-semetic thing in the Q&A. It was a ridiculous comment. How anyone could see the God of the OT as a loving God, full of forgiveness is what should be baffling.

Brenda said...

"The truth, of course, is that Dawkins read the Old Testament in the way almost anyone one would coming to it for the first time, be they Christian or not."

If one says something is the truth then one would expect there to be at least *something* resembling an argument supported by evidence and reasons. When do you suppose you will be providing those? Bear in mind that your two anecdotes are not evidence.

I certainly don't recall Robert Ingersoll using the hate filled violent rhetoric that Richard Dawkins uses.

indecision_boy said...

Brenda: I strongly suggest you pick up a bible and read the OT. It is chock-full of things like sacrifices, genocide and hate. If you are finding it difficult, repost here and I'm sure I could dig out some for you. How about Jericho? Sodom? There's oodles in there to look at. If you really wanted.

But then again, it's easier to attack the messenger than to actually read the message, no?

Adzcliff said...

I wonder what is it about the Jewish lens that blanks out blatant stories of infanticide, genocide, misogyny, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and even moral date-rape? Yahweh does and instructs or permits these things, yet it's somehow hate-filled violent rhetoric to point it out??

michael fugate said...

Richard Dawkins violent? and the OT god not? Brenda, please pay attention.

goldheathen said...

No one who was reading the OT from an objective unemotional point of view could possibly come away with the idea that the god depicted in those pages is a loving, kindly god who is interested in the well-being of humans. Dawkins' characterization is right on. The cry of antisemitism smacks of the desperation of one unable to defend his own monstrous god.

Felix said...

I believe this was also discussed on Jerry Coyne's site WEIT :

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/britains-chief-rabbi-calls-richard-dawkins-a-christian-atheist/

Richard responds, post 3.

Steven Carr said...

The Old Testament might indeed be chock full of atrocities, but Jonathan Sacks insists on going through it with children, so they could learn how wonderful it is.

Indeed, Sacks has nothing but praise for the Old Testament. He regards it as a work of beauty, even if other people don't.

Other people might regard the stories of genocide in the Old Testament disgraceful, but Mr. Sacks has a different opinion. He regards them as children's reading material.

Ryan M said...

Don't take Brenda seriously. I think shes just some mentally ill militant agnostic.

Her goals in life seem to be the following: Read only John Searle's work, then bash atheists. It's odd that she seems to only take issues with atheists considering her militant agnosticism should make her equally repulsed by theists.

Shes also suspiciously similar to another militant agnostic named Noen.