A significant area of intellectual discourse — the human condition sub specie aeternitatis — has been dumbed down to the level of a school debating society. Does it matter? Should we not simply accept that just as there are some people who are tone deaf and others who have no sense of humour, so there are some who simply do not understand what is going on in the Book of Psalms, who lack a sense of transcendence or the miracle of being, who fail to understand what it might be to see human life as a drama of love and forgiveness or be moved to pray in penitence or thanksgiving? Some people get religion; others don’t. Why not leave it at that?Fair enough, perhaps. But not, I submit, for readers of The Spectator, because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all....
...Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it...
...The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’
The title of this post is taken from Sack's opening line "I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ I think some people would use that line to criticize Rabbi Sacks. Rabbi Sacks is of course using a very broad brush in painting European religiosity in such a positive light. (See Dov Bear). Nor have atheists been sticking their ethical head in the sand, quite as broadly as Rabbi Sacks claims. (see Why Evoloution is true). Furthermore it remains more than a little untested whether religious moderation is really enough of an animus to combat the religious "barbarians". As someone once told me all the pathos is to be found in the extremes.
p.s - on a sidenote, I'd be happy if someone can explain the connection between the cartoon The Spectator added and Rabbi Sack's piece.
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