Jonathan Sacks: why does Richard Dawkins single out Jews?
In my latest podcast, the former Chief Rabbi asks why atheists target the Old Testament God over the New
Anti-Semitism is a virus of the mind that lodges itself so deep in the understanding that many of those who are poisoned by it would be shocked to discover that they are carriers. So argued Jonathan Sacks in his fascinating conversation with me for Confessions. And the person the former Chief Rabbi pointed to, as an example of this, was professional atheist Richard Dawkins.
The story of Anti-Semitism begins with Christian theology, and the way in which early Christians, in breaking away from Judaism, came to regard Jews as that against which they had to define and distinguish themselves. In other words, Jews became the representative ‘other’ within a culture saturated with Christian theology. And so, whenever there is a crisis and people look for some group to blame, it is the Jews that so often get held responsible. Black death? It was the Jews. Banking crisis? Goldman Sachs. Coronovirus? Zionists.
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In other words, Anti-Semitism is a way in which our basest fears are formatted by assumptions that are deep within our culture. As Tom Holland has pointed out in his recent book, Dominion, Christian cultural assumptions remain far more powerful in shaping our cultural outlook than we often recognize in the secular West. And atheism is no guaranteed prophylactic against them. Which is where we come back to Dawkins. This is the sort of thing, from The God Delusion, about which Sacks rightly complained:
It’s probably the most properly basic anti-Semitic trope of them all: New Testament God, the ‘Christian’ God = good, kind, merciful. The Old Testament ‘Jewish’ God = homicidal psychopath. To be clear, Jonathan Sacks is not interested in silencing the Bible from criticism. But why is the God of the Old Testament singled out for his criticism? The God of the New Testament is not a different God. As Sacks reminds us, the fact that atheists like Dawkins specifically pick out the Old Testament God as the bearer of all these negative attributes does show how deeply lodged the basic assumptions of anti-Semitism remain alive and well in our culture.
The single most important job in all humanity is the raising of children.
No woman should ever think of motherhood as an inferior function.
That logic (enacted on her by feminist shaming) is why my wife renounced feminism.
This seems to me to be just wrong. Nearly everyone reading this was brought up post WW2, in an environment in which we all were shocked at the holocaust and felt nothing but sympathy for Jews. I was educated 12 years in Catholic schools where the Jews were hardly mentioned, but when they were it was respectful. When I left school I had the idea that I hadn’t been taught properly so I went, not to the Catholic bookshop, but to the Church of England bookshop and bought books about the Bible and read it through again. There’s a lot of indefensible things in the Old Testament, and personally, I do prefer the teaching of Christ, but that doesn’t make me anti-Semitic.
I think there is an element of faulty reasoning in this post. The gist seems to be: Dawkins is more critical of the god of the Old Testament than that of the New. Jewish people only believe in the OT, whilst the NT is specific to Christianity. Therefore, Dawkins is anti-semitic. This does not follow at all. If the god described in the OT is quite different to that described in the NT, it is perfectly possible that Dawkins objections are based only on the descriptions and have no connection to the religions associated with the one or the other. Anti-Semitism is a very unpleasant thing, but let’s not try and detect it where it likely does not exist. That only clouds the matter and brings succour to those least deserving of it (e. g. tropes of the type: look at what they’re doing now – trying to impugn someone who’s not anti-semitic at all).
Excellent article, highly informative and I am pleased that the Government have been swayed.. I am left worried that we are delaying on mandatory measures.
I have struggled to convince my own family over 80’s to keep contacts down to the absolute minimum, their response being its just advice they don’t have to follow it, they have lived through worse or they don’t care about their own longevity. This morning I watched a group of around 20 walkers, all appearing seventy, plus crowd around an information board nearby; less than 24 hours after the government advised them to keep 2m apart.
We need to follow other countries and mandate yesterdays advice today.
I have never read Dawkins but I’ve seen a few extended interviews and discussions. I have never seen him single out Judaism. As far as I can tell he holds all religion in equal contempt, with very good reason. (I should make it clear that I consider Jews to be the world’s most intelligent, hard working and useful people).
Interestingly, I attended a discussion with Tom Holland recently in which he talked about his new book and answered some wider questions. I am not entirely convinced of his thesis, but I haven’t read the book and I left the discussion in at least some agreement with his message.
I am extremely grateful to Saloni for this article. Although i’m nothing like an expert in these things I was once a biologist with a brt of microbiology and the Government’s plans and arguments just didn’t make sense. A few days ago, and in my frustration, I e-mailed Jeremy Hunt as Chair of the Select Committee on Health and who had expressed the view that the Government Plans were ‘concerning’. I urged that the modelling and assumptions behind them are subjected to some serious and rigorous challenging. Like Saloni, it was a relief to see the Government’s massive change.
However, I still have massive concerns. If I recall correctly, the plans are still based on a 0.6% mortality rate. The Government needs to publish its calculations and explain why they are using 0.6% (of what) when, at this stage in a pandemic it is impossible to derive a firm number and, at this stage, the WHO shows something like 2-3% mortality rate. This is a figure that rises (massively) when you strip out figures for total current cases and compare numbers that have survived against numbers who have died.
Great article. I shall be doing something rather similar, in between writing lectures on medieval history, and writing my own wargames rules. They won’t be Space Marines (or Space Wombles as the very first incarnation of these ubermensch were called in 1987), but Romans and Carthaginians, Vikings and West Saxons of Alfred the Great. It is an ideal way to keep your sanity in time of crisis. KEEP CALM AND PAINT YOUR VIKINGS
I think that Saloni is hinting at something that concerns me greatly: why was the Government taking no notice of the clear warnings and evidence? My impression of the Governments initial response, back in January was that it was one of’ denial’. This is an understandable reaction and one that most feel when faced with developments that don’t ‘fit’ into our understandings and world picture. However, this ‘laid back’ , relaxed attitude seemed to continue for several weeks and even up to last week, the Government manged to convey the impression that it hadn’t fully realised, or accepted the full severity of the situation. As you might recall, many of the Government’s initial messages were about ‘actions need to be proportionate’ and ‘bear in mind the needs of the economy’ (or words to that effect). There is also the tendency for even the best advisors to provide the advice they think the receiver wants to hear.
I hope that , at some point, there will be a thorough, independent review of how the pandemic has been managed in the UK.
A Jewish G-d is criticised for being Jealous, homicidal etc but that’s where it ends on the page within a series of stories & when people want to convert to Judaism, they’re motives are actively questioned because being a Jew is hard & becoming a Jew can take between 1-3 years to convert. Whereas other religions had & in some instances still have a concept of a God that expects their followers to not only kill in the name of their God but force people to convert to their belief system or be killed or be treated like second class citizens & pay higher taxes for being not believing in their God & their belief system. Remember we’re talking about the differences between how a G-d is represented & how people believe they should act in the name of their God. In other words the Jews leave everything up to their G-d to sort out the problems, the exact opposite of what other belief systems do, they Kill in the name of a God who no-one can actually see. Fundamentally, Judaism accepts that others have their own way to reach G-d & it is not for them to impose their belief system on the individual. There’s no concept of hell or the devil. We are born with choices to be either good or bad because both are a part of who we are.
‘f you’d bought a grand’s worth of shares in the company in 2014, they’d have been worth Â£14,000 in February. … It’s bloody expensive, for a start (Â£90!?)’
Hmm. Some connection there, perhaps?
The Hebrew Bible is the most wonderful, forgiving religious book in the world – at least it hasn’t inspired Jews to take up mass crusades and unholy murders in the name of a human deity who is a mere man. However, unfortunately the Hebrew Bible tends to get lost in translation. The major translators happened to be well versed in Greek and Latin, and so seem to have been unaware that Jewish G-d is a verb, signifying ‘becoming’, while there is simply no Hebrew verb ‘to be’ in the present tense. This means that Jews who follow the OT tend to be, like the child in the rhyme, ‘loving and giving’, but people like Giles and others who scratch the surface of Scripture simply don’t get it.
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