Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jewish Atheist or Christian Atheist?

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, recently debated well known Scientist and prominant Atheist Richard Dawkins at the BBC's RE:Think festival. During the debate Rabbi Sacks referred to a section of the Richard Dawkin's book which described "the God of the Old Testament" as a "vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser" as well as "misogynist", "homophobic", "racist", "pestilential" and "infanticidal". Rabbi Sacks described this as "profoundly anti-semitic" and later explained:

 Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said that Dawkins had misunderstood sections of the Hebrew Bible, which are also part of the Christian Old Testament, because he was a "Christian atheist" rather than a "Jewish atheist".
It meant that Dawkins read the Old Testament in an "adversarial way," he said, something that was "Christian" because the faith's New Testament was believed to have "gone one better".

I recommend you watch the video, which sadly I can't embed. Rabbi Sacks clarified a little:

In the question and answer session that followed the main debate Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks clarified his position, saying he was very fond of Prof Dawkins.
"I was not concerned that Richard was an anti-semitic at all," he said.
"I was concerned that he was using an anti-semitic stereotype, which has run through a certain strand of the Christian reading of what is called the 'Old Testament' as a result of which thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews, died in the Middle Ages because that's how people spoke about the God of the Old Testament."
"It really terrifies me to see the power of these stereotypes persisting into atheism, it really bothers me" he said. 

I'm not quite sure what I think about Jewish Vs. Chrisitian Atheists, I need to think about it a little more. 

Another gem from the debate:

"How do you decide which bits [of scripture] are symbolic and which bits are not?" asked Prof Dawkins at one point during the discussion.
"Very simple," replied the Chief Rabbi.
"The rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: if a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be read literally."

Rabbi Sacks also starred in an unrelated BBC program Science Vs Religion (where he also met Richard Dawkins) that was released last week:

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