Britain’s Chief Rabbi calls Richard Dawkins a “Christian atheist”

This is one of the funner religion-related posts we’ve had in a while.  Two days ago Richard Dawkins debated Britain’s chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks (why on earth is he a Lord?) at the BBC’s “Re:Think” religion festival in Salford, England. I’ve put a video of the debate at the bottom, which includes a hilarious exchange. As the Torygraph reports:

Lord Sacks claimed that a remark in Prof Dawkins’s best-selling book The God Delusion, likening God as portrayed in Jewish scriptures to a fictional villain, was based on centuries of prejudice.

He said that although Prof Dawkins does not believe in God, he was nevertheless a “Christian atheist” as opposed to a “Jewish atheist”.

Now what’s the difference between those? It came from Dawkins’s completely accurate characterization of the Old Testament God as a misogynistic, arrogant, vicious, preening bully—a celestial dictator who hands down horrible laws mandating the stoning of adulterers and disobedient sons, and the murder of dozens of children for making fun of a prophet’s bald head. Apparently that’s the Jewish god, and if you impugn Him you’re a Christian atheist.

The story continues:

Prof Dawkins said that his remark that the stories of the Old Testament suggested God was “jealous”, “petty”, “pestilential”, a “megalomaniac” and a “bully” was a joke. [JAC: It’s not a joke: just read the Bible! Dawkins is being conciliatory here.] But Lord Sacks replied: “There are Christian atheists and Jewish atheists, you read the Bible in a Christian way. Christianity has an adversarial way of reading what it calls the Old Testament – it has to because it says ‘we’ve gone one better, we have a New Testament’.

“So you come prejudiced against what you call the Old Testament and that’s why I did not read the opening to chapter two in your book as a joke, I read it as a profoundly anti-Semitic passage”

Prof Dawkins expressed incredulity. “How you can call that anti-Semitic?” he said. “It’s anti-God.”

Lord Sacks insisted: “It is anti the Jewish God, Richard.”

Well, yes, God chills out a bit in the New Testament, but as far as I know all Christians see the Biblical God as one entity—the one who inspired the writing of (or wrote himself) the entire Bible.  And you don’t have to be prejudiced to see that the Old Testament God—the “Jewish” one—is a nasty piece of work.  What Bible is Sacks reading? How does he excuse the genocides, murders, and horrible “laws” promulgated by his God?

Here—see for yourself.  The relevant exchange begins at 21:04 when Sacks tries to defend the indefensible: God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son. The real fireworks begin about a minute later and extend to 24:30 when Sacks and Dawkins begin debating the notion of religion as child abuse.  But the whole video is worth watching. Richard acquits himself admirably and Sacks—well, Sacks acts like an educated rabbi.

I guess a Christian atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a loving God.

h/t: Sigmund


  1. Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I think he’s what could be called the token Jew of the house of lords. He was even invited to Prince William’s wedding as ‘representative of the Jewish community’. Personally, I think the Barons de Rothschild would have been a more fashionable choice 😀

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      His predecessor was also a Lord and like Sacks, he had earlier been knighted. Prior to that, some of the Chief Rabbis received honours (a knighthood, a Companion of Honour and a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order).

  2. Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I wrote the following at, just reproduce it here.

    The Chief Rabbi telephoned me yesterday and I now understand a little better where is coming from. When I said “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction” I could just has happily have said “The God of the Bible”. In Lord Sacks’ ears, however, the one word that stood out was “Old”. He thought I meant the God of the Old Testament AS OPPOSED TO the God of the New Testament. That sounded anti-Semitic to him, because there has been a centuries-long tradition of Christian apologists attacking the Old Testament God as COMPARED with the New Testament God. I was able to reassure the Chief Rabbi that, in my opinion, the God of the New Testament was in some respects even worse, and I adduced the obscene idea that God deliberately had his son (alias himself) tortured and executed as a scapegoat for our sins. This cheered him up greatly.

    The relevant part of The God Delusion, where I deal with the God of the New Testament is this:

    So far, so vindictive: par for the Old Testament course. New Testament theology adds a new injustice, topped off by a new sadomasochism whose viciousness even the Old Testament barely exceeds. It is, when you think about it, remarkable that a religion should adopt an instrument of torture and execution as its sacred symbol, often worn around the neck. Lenny Bruce rightly quipped that ‘If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.’ But the theology and punishment-theory behind it is even worse. The sin of Adam and Eve is thought to have passed down the male line – transmitted in the semen according to Augustine. What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor? Augustine, by the way, who rightly regarded himself as something of a personal authority on sin, was responsible for coining the phrase ‘original sin’. Before him it was known as ‘ancestral sin’. Augustine’s pronouncements and debates epitomize, for me, the unhealthy preoccupation of early Christian theologians with sin. They could have devoted their pages and their sermons to extolling the sky splashed with stars, or mountains and green forests, seas and dawn choruses. These are occasionally mentioned, but the Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life. Sam Harris is magnificently scathing in his Letter to a Christian Nation: ‘Your principal concern appears to be that the Creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked. This prudery of yours contributes daily to the surplus of human misery.’

    But now, the sado-masochism. God incarnated himself as a man, Jesus, in order that he should be tortured and executed in atonement for the hereditary sin of Adam. Ever since Paul expounded this repellent doctrine, Jesus has been worshipped as the redeemer of all our sins. Not just the past sin of Adam: future sins as well, whether future people decided to commit them or not!

    As another aside, it has occurred to various people, including Robert Graves in his epic novel King Jesus, that poor Judas Iscariot has received a bad deal from history, given that his ‘betrayal’ was a necessary part of the cosmic plan. The same could be said of Jesus’ alleged murderers. If Jesus wanted to be betrayed and then murdered, in order that he could redeem us all, isn’t it rather unfair of those who consider themselves redeemed to take it out on Judas and on Jews down the ages?

    • Greg Esres
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      hat sounded anti-Semitic to him, because there has been a centuries-long tradition of Christian apologists attacking the Old Testament God as COMPARED with the New Testament God.

      Doesn’t really matter, in my eyes, because it’s still an ad hominem attack on you.

    • Neil Schipper
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink


      The Jewish god, his genocidal tendencies and megalomania notwithstanding, also has a tolerance for negotiation that to my knowledge is absent in Abrahamism versions 2 & 3.

      There are stories in the OT where the prophet of the day argues with god, along the lines of “Dude, are you seriously going to kill all those people? C’mon, think about it!”

      Think of it: the mortal is chastising his immortal omniscient omnipotent creator for being something of a moral dimwit. And sometimes the mortal prevails!

      You might concede this makes the OT god at least a little bit charming, even if it doesn’t quite overcome the genocidal tendencies and megalomania.

      Tongue out of cheek, this aspect of the fictional OT god is plausibly credited for the long rabbinical tradition of tolerance for re-interpretation and hair-splitting legal argument and counter-argument, sometimes even leading to speciation into sub-Judaisms. This has been carried out for centuries without vicious heresy charges leading to death sentences. It took many centuries for xtianity to learn this trick.

      On a separate matter, Richard. Your site mods have banned me from commenting. Possibly some of them are neo-Stalinists. Perhaps you might look into this; for further info, feel free to contact me at NeilSchipper at

      All the best,


      • Dermot C
        Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Well, to give the impression of OT exceptionalism misses the mark. Arguing wih God or the immortals is a common trope in ancient literature; I think of Gilgamesh, The Iliad off the top of my head.

        It’d be more surprising if ancient Jewish literature didn’t feature mortals questioning God. The Babylonians did it, the Greeks did it. If you had lived then, wouldn’t you?

        To claim charm for the OT God is a bit of a stretch; did Zhukov find Stalin charming when they discussed tactics for the Battle of Stalingrad? I don’t think so.

        What comes through to me from the OT is the usual classical world’s interpretation of the gods as cruel, and, even in their merciful moments, capriciously unjust, for, as that era recognised, even mercy must carry a large element of injustice.

        • Neil Schipper
          Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          Your characterization of religions in the ancient world may be correct, but distinctions between the persisting Abrahamisms are what’s under discussion.

          Also, Zhukov was surely seen by Stalin as not easily replaceable, and as you well know, many, many “sincere disagreeers” were, with a nod from Stalin to his assistants, strong-armed to Lubyanka to await a bullet to the back of the head.

          The rabbis, over some 15 to 20 centuries, lived in communities where people knew how to use killing instruments, yet the slaughter of challengers to the alpha rabbi of the day did not emerge as a ubiquitous pattern.

          We, you and I, ought to conclude that Jewish tolerance for religious disagreement is exceptional in Abrahamic history.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

            Your characterization of religions in the ancient world may be correct, but distinctions between the persisting Abrahamisms are what’s under discussion.

            no, it’s relevant, since it’s in context that we understand better what the writings were all about to begin with.

          • Dermot C
            Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Toleration is a quality that is in the gift of the powerful. Your ‘Abrahamism’ is a peculiar piece of jargon which I don’t recognise, I prefer the term ‘the Abrahamic religions’. Yes, Christianity and Islam in their political hey-day were massively intolerant, and yes, they are far more evangelical than Judaism. And when they achieved state-power, then yes, their fundamental documents are a blue-print for the intimidation of the Other. They oppressed others because of their beliefs.

            Yet, other empires were relatively tolerant, the Roman, the Hellenistic. Judaism, for 19 centuries stateless, rootless, was historically too weak and beleaguered even to consider intolerance within its own ranks and of subject peoples. After the creation of Israel, no-one on earth denies that religion, Judaism and Islam, is a stumbling-block to a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian national question. Once you get power, you can pull the plug on toleration.

            As for your comment, Paul, on Stalin, perhaps I wasn’t clear in the analogy, although I doubt it. Stalin stands for God; no doubt all his victims felt exactly as Zhukov (who was merely an exemplar) did in facing up to him. That’s not charming; neither is the God of the OT; nor are those Jews, while they give praise to Him for their return to the Promised Land, who corral the Palestinians into their jail-statelet.

            • Neil Schipper
              Posted September 16, 2012 at 1:40 am | Permalink

              They oppressed others because of their beliefs.

              Although you didn’t explicitly say exclusively, the moral perfectionism of a common strand of New Atheism comes shining through.

              Your morally perfect take on Israel-Palestinians is another supporting data point.

              My earlier demonstration of the weakness of the Stalin analogy alluded to the (mere) absence of evidence that an underling ever retuned Stalin’s moral compass; retunings do show up in the Yaweh stories. Moreover, for many centuries Jewish students were required to have heavy exposure to those retuning stories, and it became part of the cultural DNA. If there were instances of Stalin being argued out of some tactic, they didn’t show up so much in the public conversation of the Soviet Union during Stalin’s time.

              But to really help you along: it’s not hard to understand why Stalin entertained disagreement from another mortal with some needed expertise: expedience. We expect an omnipotent and omniscient god to have zero reason to change his mind due to any cajoling by any mortal. That the objections would be on moral grounds is icing on the cake. That such a god would ever change his mind in this way is hilariously ironic.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

                Re: Neil.

                On your substantive point, that the the gods can be debated with. Yes, but you have not acknowledged that this is a common theme in ancient and classical literature, as I first pointed out, and Ichthyic concurred. Your paean to Jewish irony is therefore one-sided and doesn’t take into account the sceptical strand in other great cultures, thereby magnifying Judaism and diminishing, say, the Greek contribution to intellectual thought.

                It is true that the Greeks imparted far more humour into their scepticism than the Jews; this may be a problem of translation, but if you wanted to laugh at the gods, would you read the OT or the classical Greeks? No contest.

                As for your rather patronising tone, I am not a New Atheist, I am simply an anti-theist, always have been, since the age of 12, and I don’t recognise moral perfectionism in myself. I know little of your personal history or guiding morality and wouldn’t presume to sermonise you on them.

                Apologies for giving you the wrong moniker, last time up, Neil.

                Cheers, over and out.

      • Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        I was also banned from for no reason. And no way to appeal.

        • Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          I remember I said Richard was too careless in choosing opponents (or interviewers) and fell easily into fundie traps.

          • Matt G
            Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            Banned from Richard’s site? That’s nothing – he once turned me into a newt.

            • Marella
              Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

              You recovered?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      He thought I meant the God of the Old Testament AS OPPOSED TO the God of the New Testament.

      Which brings up my favourite philosophical conundrum: if God is omnipotent, could He create a rock so large that hitting Himself in the head with it would explain the change of personality he underwent between the OT and the NT?

    • gravelinspector
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      I adduced the obscene idea that God deliberately had his son (alias himself) tortured and executed as a scapegoat for our sins. This cheered him up greatly.

      That’s the way to do it, Richard. You give them some rope, teach them how to tie a running knot in it (the traditional “Hangman’s Knot” is impressive, but time-consuming and fiddly to tie), and do all the other legally permissible things to instruct them, and then step back and watch while they hang themselves.
      If you’re feeling altruistic, get them to use a tall stool ; if you’re feeling godly, use the shortest stool that will do the job of getting them up “en point.”
      I’ll have to follow up on that reference to “King Jesus” ; the Claudius books were a good enough recommendation for Graves (whose son was, allegedly, an oilfield geologist ; small world) to anticipate something quite grimly entertaining.

    • Jeremy Nel
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      I was able to reassure the Chief Rabbi that, in my opinion, the God of the New Testament was in some respects even worse, and I adduced the obscene idea that God deliberately had his son (alias himself) tortured and executed as a scapegoat for our sins. This cheered him up greatly.

      Man, there’s something about Richard’s writing that makes me keep wanting to smile. So wonderfully… British.

      (I say that enviously, of course, and not as a Brit myself.)

      • David Evans
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

        In this quote, as often, he reminds me of Bertrand Russell. Here’s Russell on being imprisoned as a pacifist:

        I was much cheered on my arrival by the warden at the gate, who had to take particulars about me. He asked my religion, and I replied ‘agnostic.’ He asked how to spell it, and remarked with a sigh: ‘Well, there are many religions, but I suppose they all worship the same God.’ This remark kept me cheerful for about a week.

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Richard, you’re being far too charitable to both YHWH and Jesus. But, seeing how a truly honest accounting of either would pretty much guarantee a serious attempt on your life by any number of religious fanatics, I’ll give you a pass….



      • Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        That’s what an antisemitism charge entails: the call for a heroe, a cat’s paw. Imagine how many millions would cheer Dawkins demise. Even Jesus would be happy!.

    • Matt G
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      If he’d lived in the Wild West, they’d all be wearing nooses around their necks.

    • Gary W
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      I was able to reassure the Chief Rabbi that, in my opinion, the God of the New Testament was in some respects even worse, and I adduced the obscene idea that God deliberately had his son (alias himself) tortured and executed as a scapegoat for our sins. This cheered him up greatly.


    • Marella
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      So the good rabbi doesn’t mind that you disparage god so long as you don’t disparage Jews? Well I suppose that shows more sense than I would have expected from a religious leader, though a strange set of priorities for someone who claims to believe in god.

      • Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        It’s not so unusual for a Jew. There’s a veeeery long tradition in Judaism in dissing God / YHWH / Adonai / HaShem, of being pissed at God, or even outright hating God, but still remaining true to Judaism.

        Representations of the motif start (generally) with that wrestling match between Israel aka Jacob and God, and continues into modern times with jokes where a booming voice from the heavens is dismissed as evidence in a rabbinical debate as being an insufficient authority. And then there’re all the openly atheist Jews, including even some rabbis.

        Indeed, ask most rabbis — and certainly though not exclusively the non-Orthodox ones — if one needs to believe in God to be a Jew, and they’ll mostly answer, “no.”



        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink

          The Church if England is commonly believed to bear similiarities to that 😉

    • th123
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      That sounded anti-Semitic to him, because there has been a centuries-long tradition of Christian apologists attacking the Old Testament God as COMPARED with the New Testament God.
      Is there any evidence for the existence of this supposed “centuries-long tradition”? It is my impression that it is a more recent phenomenon for semi-secular, liberal or progressive Christians to distance themselves from the Old Testament.

      • Posted September 15, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        It is my impression that it is a more recent phenomenon for semi-secular, liberal or progressive Christians to distance themselves from the Old Testament.

        Quite the contrary; it’s as old as Christianity itself.

        First, it was quite popular amongst the Gnostics to view YHWH as the Demiurge, an evil malignant force to be dispensed with.

        And, second, even the Gospels themselves are virulently anti-Semitic. There’s the “Brood of Vipers” epithet, the cursing of the fig tree, the portrayal of the Sanhedrin as a bunch of poo-flinging barbarians, and lots more.

        Now, you might be wondering about all those passages about “I and the Father are One,” and “jot nor tittle,” and so on, but you have to understand that the Christian Bible is an anthology assembled by committee in the Fourth Century. Not only is it a mish-mash, the various sects all considered their own scriptures the ultimate truth and rejected the scriptures of the other sects as blasphemy. For every bullet point in the orthodox version, you’ll find at least a few irreconcilable competing perspectives, often radically so. There’s nothing special about what became orthodoxy except that that’s what the winning political faction had invested their energies in.

        And, yes, many of these disputes were settled by the sword.



    • Patrick
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      The corollary to what Professor Dawkins says about Christianity’s claim that Jesus got us off the hook for sins committed by ‘our first ancestors’ and by our future descendants is that we are now licensed to sin away to our hearts’ content! Either way, the Christian argument denies us free will.

      On another website a rather foolish commentator gleefully thought he had got one over on Professor Dawkins when he spotted a contradiction. Dawkins, he said, went along with the new scientific orthodoxy of a few years ago which found 98% of our DNA to be ‘junk’; now in 2012 he sees it as essential for life. I am sure Dawkins would be the first to admit the contradiction of himself because, like any good scientist, he is ready to abandon any theory once it has been shown to be invalid. A man with an open mind. The same can not be said for the Chief Rabbi who closed almost every sermon with ‘three and a half thousand years of belief’. It is no wonder that the enlightenment, begun more or less in the eighteenth century, has still a long battle ahead of it.

      • Mordi
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know hy I was sent this comment, or how you know my email, but I’ll reply.
        I’m a Jewish agnostic. I like Prof’ Dawkins very much, and despise Jonathan Sacks. Why is Sacks a Lord, well this is automatic to religious leaders in the UK. But he as a Jew should have refused the knighthood, knowing it’s history going back to the Knights Templer when they came to Jerusalem, and slaughtered thousands of Jews. But that is Sacks all over. In a discussion with Prof’ Dawkins he said he became went to University to study philosophy, but this did not give him the answers he was seeking, so he became a Rabbi. Rubbish; he saw that becoming a Rabbi would bring him more fame & fortune than becoming a philosopher. In this same discussion Sacks arrives in a car with a driver, Dawkins arrives on foot. Sacks is very well dressed, Dawkins casual as always. I don’t believe that Sacks believes the creation story, he is far to intelligent to believe that piece of fiction, and the world being 6000 years old. I would love to debate with Sacks, we would end up having a blazing row, he would call me an anti Semite (which I’m not, I just hate religion), and I would expose him for what he is, as he would lose his cool. Sacks will retire in a few days, the new Chief Rabbi will hardly be known. No doubt Sacks will go onto some lucrative company boards if he is not already, but at least he will stop having to pretend that he believes in the myths in the Torah.

  3. Filippo
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    FYI, as relates to discussions in this forum regarding what constitutes child abuse, in N.Y. Times:

    “Panel Weighs Regulating Circumcision, Dividing Jews; Oral Suction Method May Face new Rules”

  4. Splog
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Sacks argument seems to be roughly: “everyone judges things from within a cultural context, Dawkins’ main cultural exposure is Christian(esque) in nature, therefore his view is anti-semetic and further we can say he is a Christian atheist in the same way we can say he is a British atheist”.

    One of the problems with this is by implication Sacks is saying that any view that isn’t rooted in Jewish culture or disagrees with it is fundamentally in opposition and is anti-semitic. Balderdash. Dawkins’ view is merely asemitic in nature, deriving as it does without input from the wider Jewish works on the old testament. Sacks’ argument also implies that Dawkins’ assessment is far removed from what a culture free objective assessment would conclude on the basis that a) it doesn’t take into account Jewish culture (huh?) and b) Dawkins has a bunch of Christian baggage (which has prejudiced him to interpret ‘angry god demands followers commit genocide’ to mean ‘angry god demands followers committ genocide’. Hmm.

    Whilst the “you’re a Christian atheist” argument has some merit, there is a question of degree and it doesnt apply in this case (else all conservatives would be liberal conservatives in the liberal west, all communists in the west would be capitalist communists, and we’d have Christian muslims, Hindu Mormons and the like).

    Sacks sounds GREAT. Tempered, reasonable, intelligent, etc. Which would appear in this case to let him get away with saying things that he otherwise shouldn’t.


    • Splog
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Ah. I appear to have the wrong idea going by Richard Dawkins’ comment. Oops.

    • pktom64
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Sacks sounds GREAT. Tempered, reasonable, intelligent, etc. Which would appear in this case to let him get away with saying things that he otherwise shouldn’t.

      Well, yes but he only sounds great. When you listen to what he says, it’s a lot of bollocks, and I mean that. I still have to find one debater of the “New Atheists” that said some compelling stuff. They’re always talking about something else or making obvious and grotesque errors of logic and argumentation… it’s quite mind-blowing actually.
      Tho I have to confess that the Rabis usually seem less stupid, or less literal (even if Sacks believes in the Red Sea business… my god!!)

      • mark d.
        Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        You’re absolutely right. The reason Sacks gets away with all this crap — and far more besides: look at his record on a whole raft of issues — is simply a matter of *theatre*, by which I mean psychodynamics: in our culture, lots of people are eternally ready to slip into a compliant hypnosis when presented with someone who so oleaginously recreates for us the archetype of the wise and gentle old uncle/grandfather figure, ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘thoughtful’ and with a ‘quiet and smiling manner’ that rubs the grease of faked ‘reconciliation’ and ‘respect’ and ‘humanity’ over everything in reach.

        Alas, pretty well everything Sacks says and does *has something revolting about it* — if you look at the content, rather than being seduced by the archetype you see delivering it. Again: people whould look up his record — which to my mind reveals an anachronistic, essentialist, fundamentalist, racist, nutcase … with a ‘gentle’ and ‘smiling’ manner to make it alll seem sweet and reasonable…

        An equally clear case of what I’m talking about, as it happens, was the dirt-bag that was ‘Mother Teresa’: people looked at her and saw *the archetype* — the granny you once loved/the mother you didn’t love enough, ‘humble’, ‘spiritual’, ‘giving’, ‘selfless’, simplifyingly old and unsexual, etc etc. The *reality* of ‘Mother Teresa’ and her ‘works’ — all of it documented years ago — just doesn’t get through to people: what they see when they look at her is simply their own projection into a congenial and semi-vacant space… And when you present them with the reality, *they get all annoyed* — as if you are trying to take their granny away from them (which, in a psychodynamic sense, you are).

        So it is with Sacks… As Hamlet might have put it: “One may smile, and smile, and … not be very ‘humane’ at all…”

        • andreschuiteman
          Posted September 15, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          Beware of grey-bearded wise men.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted September 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

            *looks in mirror*

            time for some Grecian Formula!

            • Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

              I read that as, “wise men,” not, “wise guys.” You’d be perfectly safe, in that case.


        • jimvj
          Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          “oleaginous” that’s the word that came to me 5 minutes into the debate (scratch that, a series of interruptions from the oleaginous one).

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

          Odd you should mention Mother Theresa in this context. As I recall Christopher Hitchens had something to say about Mother Theresa too.

          I was just watching the video (the bit where Sacks accused Richard of being antisemitic for attacking the O.T.God) and Richard was being very gentlemanly in his rebuttal, and (with all due respect to RD) I was wishing Hitchens was there to call the Rabbi on his duplicity.

    • Greg
      Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      In terms of important philosophical beliefs, there doesn’t seem to be much basis for terms such as “Christian atheist” or “Jewish atheist”. I don’t notice any reliable differences in beliefs between atheists who had Christian upbringings (e.g. Dawkins and Hitchens) and those with Jewish upbringings (e.g. Jason Rosenhouse and Jerry).

      However, in terms of aesthetic preferences and nostalgia, there may be differences among atheists of different upbringings. Jason Rosenhouse and Jerry seem to have special fondness for the Jewish culture/food/language,etc. Similarly, Dawkins has remarked on his appreciation of the trappings of Christmas. In this regard, it might be possible to subdivide atheists into “Jewish”, “Christian”, “Hindu”, etc. However, in this regard, you could just as easily refer to Dawkins a “British atheist” and Jerry as a “felinophile atheist”.

      Needless to say, I’m sure that the Rabbi meant the former type.

      • MKray
        Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        Of course there are different kinds of atheist. I understand that in Northern Ireland you can’t just be an atheist: you are a catholic atheist or a protestant atheist.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

          Oh dear I can’t resist this, it’s a variant of the joke the rabbi told. A guy is walking through Belfast one day when something cold pokes him in the back and a voice behind him says “Are ye Catholic or Protestant?”. Oops. So he thinks quickly and says “Neither, I’m Jewish”. “Oh bad luck, ye just met the only Arab in Belfast!”

          • Dermot C
            Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

            Good one; I’ll use this! Plagiarism, don’tcha just love it.

      • Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        No differences in belief, but those raised in a jewish context often have one skill which is useful in the debates over religions which others do not: some ability to read Hebrew.

  5. yesspam
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    The Rabbi is wrong, simple as that. His views are an attempt to censure criticism of a book that should now be regarded as profoundly racist and supremacist about others. This was not exceptional at the time, but just look at how the Hebrew Bible portrays  ‘Cannanites’ and Samaritans.  The Yahwists who wrote the book accused others of practices such as child sacrifice when this was part of some branches of the cult of Yahweh. It refers gleefully to the slaughter of women and children all in God’s name. This was standard for the time in which it was written. It is not standard now.  That progress is due to the development of our moral understanding, and that growth has little to do with religion. The parts of the book that Richard Dawkins was referring to were written long before Rabbinic Judaism started anyway.  Thousands of years of human effort, (mostly male effort) has gone into ‘explaining away’ all the nasty bits of the Hebrew Bible. Why not accept like Humanistic Jews do that this is just a book that reflects its time, the events in it are not always true, and they are not morally correct. The Rabbi needs to accept that if he wants the kudos of hanging with his new science chums he will be expected to bring evidence to the table to back up what he says, and the mis treatment of minorities including, but not restricted to Jews, (Gays, Atheists, other Christians) by Christians is not explained by what he says. A last thought, the writers of most of the Hebrew Bible did not call themselves Jews, they were Hebrews, or Israelites. RD is discussing their concept of God, not the God that modern branches of Judaism beleve in. Therefore RD can in no way be accused of anti-semitism. The Rabbi should rethink and apologise.

  6. Greg
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    When the Rabbi says, “I read it as a profoundly anti-Semitic passage”, it is disingenuous to later say, “I was not concerned that Richard was an anti-semite at all…I was concerned that he was using an anti-semitic stereotype.”

    No. The original statement was an unmistakable accusation that Prof. Dawkins holds anti-semitic beliefs, and is therefore an anti-semite. First of all, any sensible person will recognize that Dawkins’s criticism of Jewish belief applies with equal force to all religions. Secondly, by playing the anti-semitism card so casually and inappropriately, the Rabbi cheapens real criticism of genuine anti-semitism!

  7. Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Didn’t the Chief Rabbi know that the Christians who attacked his god over centuries and centuries weren’t True Christians and they were ignorant of Sophisticated Theology, and were the very Straw Men Dawkins attacks who don’t actually exist?

    Interesting that the Chief Rabbi called Dawkins description ‘anti-Semitic’ , rather than ‘incorrect’.?

  8. Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    There’s a light you’ve got to shine,
    A job no one else can do,
    Hashem’s given you the tools (genocide, racism, homophobia, and old-fashioned misogyny),
    Now the rest comes down to you.

  9. Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I guess a Christian atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in a loving God.

    Except of course that this *love* is the love of Saddam Hussain or Adolf Hitler and other such nice people: when you stop professing your unconditional love for them, they lovingly torture you to death, the Christian loving god being more powerful, even lovingly tortures you for all eternity.

    Greater love hath no god than this, that a god torture the objects of his love for all eternity.

  10. Mark
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I’m not even sure his description of “adversarial” attitudes toward the Old Testament is true. If early Christians had really wanted to be adversarial toward the Hebrew Bible, they could have simply tossed it aside as Marcion advocated. Yet Marcionism was denounced as heresy at least by the Catholic Church and does not appear to figure into the official theology of most other sects of Christianity. Richard Dawkins simply takes the Marcion position one step further and denounces both books.

  11. Dermot C
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Sacks is a Lord because the hopeless multi-culturalist liberals who run the British state don’t have the guts to separate Church and State. They therefore invite leaders of other religions to non-elected seats in the House of Lords; hence ‘Baron Sacks of Aldgate in the City of London’. Yes, he’s that pompou; beautiful voice, but vainglorious.

    Even some liberals in the CofE want diseestablishment, but this handy little sinecure suits very nicely the top bods in Britain’s religious bodies; disgusting endemic corruption is what it is.

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I found it unendurable to listen to the Rabbi speak. In general, it seems a poor strategy to ask a Rabbi or preacher “why” questions because you will just get gibberish.

    I also thought it was a missed opportunity to allow the Rabbi to hold on to his claim to answer “why” questions; while objecting to the existence of “why” questions is one tactic, it strikes me as more effective to point out that the answers to the “why” questions are just invented, not hugely different from a lie.

  13. mark d.
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Sacks really doesn’t do well at all here when faced with Howard Jacobson (1st interviewee…)

    • Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      Brilliant! Thanks! But I think this confirms a point I just made on a discussion over at – that the difference between a Jewish Atheist and Christian Atheist is that a Jewish Atheist wouldn’t let Sacks get away with nearly so much as Dawkins does. (Even though Jacobson isn’t exactly an atheist and is absolutely no admirer of Dawkins.)

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Thank God I’m a Buddhist atheist! It’s all just so much easier.

  15. lanceleuven
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Well I’m very glad to hear the Rabbi has finally put this question to bed. I know we were all desperate for a definite answer on the subject.

  16. Posted September 15, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    One thing that I would say is that God does not chill out in the New Testament at all. In the Old Testament God is cranky and megalomaniacal, but everything is for this world alone, but in the New Testament God develops a mad and bad side, for he devises a place of eternal punishment, a place where the fire is never put out, where those who are damned will remain for eternity. That, by any measure, is a worse god than any dreamed of by the Old Testament.

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Once again, you beat me to it, Eric. The NT god becomes our Dear Leader of the thought police with eternity of suffering at stake. And to really bring home the love-bacon, we are all judged guilty simply by being born! The gods of the OT have nothing on this new and improved version.

  17. WML
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I guess Sacks thinks it’s impossible for an atheist with a Jewish background to hold the same view as Dawkins about the nature of the god character, which then means that he thinks such a person is an anti-semitic Christian atheist.

    Oy gevalt!

  18. dunstar (@eightyc)
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I myself am a Jedi Atheist.

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      I dislike forced humour…


  19. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Prof Dawkins said that his remark that the stories of the Old Testament suggested God was “jealous”, … was a joke.

    Exodus 34:14 “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”

  20. Tim
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    why on earth is he a Lord?

    Why is anyone a Lord?

  21. Posted September 15, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Why is he a Lord? It could be because he did something patriotic that could not continue being ignored. Or, perhaps, he bought the title (MANY HAVE DONE IT). Mostly Lordships are given as political favors to influential groups. As a fictional account (of a revered tradition) read LOS PILARES DE LA TIERRA by Ken Follet.

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re conflating the purchase of feudal lordships (a scam) with modern life peerages (an imperfect kind of meritocracy). (The hereditary peers are the real anomaly in a modern democracy.)


  22. Sastra
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Believe it or not, there really is a position called “Christian Atheism” which is embraced by atheists who refer to themselves as “Christian Atheists.” I’ve even run into a few of them.

    Although they are atheists, they claim that the moral teaching of the man Jesus in the Bible are some of the most sublime, uplifting, humble, and beautiful moral teachings available to us. They want to be like Jesus — just not with all that God and salvation crap. Some of the founding fathers (like Jefferson) echo some of the sentiments of Christian Atheists.

    Personally, I think they’re cherry-picking verses and taking them out of context, forming a Jesus who resembles their ideal: peaceful, modest, kind, gentle, wise, and compassionate. The actual character in the Bible spends a lot of time spewing forth verses on hell and grumbling about who is and isn’t following him. Even many of the admonitions to be simple, forgiving, and loving are made in light of the fact that the End is near, when the wicked (pretty much everyone else) will be purged from the earth and then there is no need for retribution or personal wealth. Lovely. Not.

    Christian Atheists are accepting the warm and fuzzy faith-based picture of Jesus, getting it from their own upbringing or perhaps the culture. If you approach the Bible objectively, I don’t think you’d get it from the Bible. Such Christian Atheists might merit the rabbi’s accusation. Unlike Dawkins, they would indeed argue that everything changed about God in the New Testament.

    • Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Bill Maher could well be one of them. He tends to be very positive about Jesus. It is something I do not understand, since Jesus’ love for the underdog seems to me very similar, even identical to the love nice people such as Saddam Hussein or Adolph Hitler or Colonel Khadaffi express for those who suck up to them, and then don’t hesitate to ruthlessly slaughter them or torture them when they change their minds.

  23. david
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins: How do we know when a passage is literal and when it’s not?

    Rabbi: If it’s contradicted by scientific fact it’s not literal.

    How convinient!

    There are at least two major problems with this approach:

    1. “Scientific fact” changes, it’s provisional, always capable of being revised in the light of further evidence.

    2. The overwhelming majority of believers, understandably, are not up to date with what is and isn’t considered a scientific fact.

    What this means is that even the most sincere and commited believer simply can never be sure that they are equipped to know whether a passage is literal or not. And the upshot of that is that the text is always and necessarily ambiguous. So what was the point of God offering a text whose meaning can never be clear? Simply saying you have “faith” is no answer to this problem, because it immediately reaises the question: “faith in what exactly?”

    The “what”, the undecipherable “X” is precisely thing thing whose meaning you can’t confidently discover. And if the “X” is always out of reach, and thing whose meaning and nature you cannot definately grasp, what does it mean when you say you believe in this “Z”? Why don’t they say: “I belive in the unknown, in the ineffable” and simply leave it at that? What does the Rabbi say to all those millions of believers who went before him, who, through no fault of their own, but through their contingent historical location, sincerely misunderstood important passages? Why would God communicate to humanity in a way that was guarenteed to be ambiguous? Verily thou art the Hideden God.

  24. Matt G
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Funny how fairness looks like intolerance or bigotry when you are a chauvinist. Jewish chauvinists see anti-Semitism everywhere, male chauvinists see anti-male bias everywhere, American chauvinists see anti-Americanism everywhere, white supremacists see anti-white bias everywhere, etc.

    • six45ive
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      and feminists see anti female bias everywhere and black supremacists see anti black bias everywhere.

      • Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your sweeping generalisations.


  25. SpinozaStudent
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    As a rabbi and agnostic/atheist (I waver in my religious commitment) I submit the following, for what it’s worth:

    One year ago, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) I began my sermon with the very words that so annoyed Rabbi Sacks. That is, I read the first paragraph of “The God Delusion.” I read it aloud not as an opportunity to smear Professor Dawkins but as a challenge to the Jewish people sitting before me.

    It didn’t occur to me that the passage is anti-Semitic, nor did anyone in the congregation object to my (tacit) approval of the passage.

    Now, it could be that I am not much of a communicator; if they already fell asleep at “Happy new year, dear friends” then they wouldn’t have heard the Dawkins citation. But I am more inclined to think that we Jews (non-Orthodox Jews, at least) are highly skeptical. We tend to take God with a grain of salt. Ditto, the Bible. And everything is open to interpretation and disagreement.

    In the denomination to which I belong, Conservative — which is quite traditional along the Jewish spectrum — I wager that about half the rabbis do not believe in a supernatural being. Many do affirm belief in God, but not necessarily a supernatural being.
    The explanation of that distinction I leave for another time.

  26. Nilou Ataie
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    If people have a problem with descriptions of their imaginary friends based on their own holy books, they should question what the hell it is they are doing. The Old Testament describes God as nuts. The Quran says Mohammad had sex with a child.
    I’m sorry but the emperor has no clothes and a raging case of genital herpes!

  27. Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Per [Google:] the ignostic-Ockham,God is a square circle and cannot be loving or – cruel!

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Is he also a married bachelor?

      If so, it sounds like Ben Goren would be a typical ignostic-Ockham atheist! 😀


      • Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

        Actually, igtheism is the position that best describes my theological take on the question of gods, but it doesn’t capture it perfectly.

        Gods are literary characters, just like Leprechauns and dragons and demons and faeries and angels and unicorns. Gods make perfect sense in the context of fantastic literature.

        But, you know how it’s impossible to come up with a coherent real-world definition of “Leprechaun,” in no small part because rainbows clearly have no ends? Same deal if you try to wrench gods out of their natural (literary) habitat.



        • Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          Rabbi Sherwin Wine came up with ignosticism and Paul Kurtz with the term igtheism, and some call it also theological non-cognitivism. Mine differs in that it pervades arguemnts about Him.
          As we knock on each one for Him, we knock off some referent, and without referents, He is indeed that married bachelor.
          Google ignostic morgan.

  28. alttaawiil
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    so, does this sacks lord guy think god is semitic? as in, a descendant of shem? undercuts His supposed universality somewhat…

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Nah, he’s just hamming it up.


  29. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Mr Sacks is incredibly rude. He doesn’t listen to others and won’t allow them to have their say, raising his voice and talking over them. He slides away from answering awkward questions and sets up straw man arguments to move the discussion away from anything he finds difficult to answer.

  30. Posted September 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    A quick fact check of the rabbi’s responses reveals that the degree of truth in his speech did not match its eloquence.

    Here’s one example: the rabbi asserted that the Bible is a polemic against power, and that the story of the Exodus, where long-oppressed slaves won out over the most powerful empire of the time (Egypt) is Exhibit A. While a beautiful message, the claim that the Bible is a polemic against power is not only untenable but contrary to fact. Here are six instances in the Pentateuch (the first five books) alone that glorify the powerful:

    1) Throughout the Pentateuch, the only way the people get to hear God’s command is via Moses (and rarely his brother Aaron). When a man named Korah and his supporters complained to Moses and Aaron that “the entire congregation is holy! Why do you raise yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” the Lord had some of them swallowed up in an earthquake and the others burned alive (Numbers 16).
    2) The Bible supports the power of the master over that of his slave. Not only does the Bible not present any polemic against the power of the master, it instructs the master to consider the slave to be sub-human. E.g. If someone strikes a non-slave and the victim dies, the perpetrator is put to death (Exodus 21:12); however, if a master strikes his slave and the slave dies, as long as the slave survives a day or two before passing, Biblical law dictates: “If he [the slave] survives a day or two, he [the master] will receive no retribution, for he [the slave] is his [the master’s] money (Exodus 21:21).”
    3) A priest is given the power to incarcerate anyone he wishes for as long as he wishes. All he has to do is see some sort of spot on the person’s skin and declare it to be leprosy. No doctor or anyone else is consulted (Leviticus 13). Indeed when the priests got into a bitter dispute with their king Uzziah, they suddenly noticed that the king had leprosy on his skin! The alleged leper spent the rest of his life in jail (2 Chronicles 26).
    4) The people must obey every legal decision rendered by the priests or the judge at that time or else be put to death (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). No jury of one’s peers. No appeals process. All the power resides in the hands of those priests or judges.
    5) When a famine cripples the entire Near East, the only one who has any food is Joseph, viceroy to the Egyptian king, who had stored up seven years’ worth of food. Rather than use his seat of power to save as many as possible from starvation, the Bible devotes a whole section to tell us how the people had to beg Joseph to keep them alive, and only after selling to him literally every piece of property they owned – their animals, their land, everything – did Joseph give in (Genesis 47). No polemic against power found here. (One could argue that the Joseph story as a whole is a polemic against the power of his brothers who had tried to kill him. But this episode in the story is clearly an example of the opposite dynamic – one of the powerful winning out.)
    6) Perhaps the best of them all: “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).”

    Did anyone notice anything else from what the rabbi (or Dr. Dawkins for that matter) said that does not stand up to a fact check?

    • Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

      Haughty John Haught, replying to John Loftus, prattles that ti’s not morality, but hope that shines through the Bible! What denial of that evil the book espouses!
      So much for advanced theology!

      • Dermot C
        Posted September 19, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Well, I think we have to be careful here; the Bible comprises 66 books and you’d expect different writers over the hundreds of years of its authorship to have various themes.

        It’s a compendium of literature; some religious, some mythical, some historical, some poetical. Of course the authors have different concerns and world-views.

        Maybe, Haught is right – and I don’t know the context of his comment – when he says the Book is about hope. But hope in what? Perhaps most literature is about hope. So, to say it’s about hope is not really saying very much.

        Are Job and Ecclesiates about hope in God? More about disillusion – and therefore hope – with God.

        Yes, of course, books in the Bible approvingly detail genocide, infanticide, the concubinage of women etc. But there is more to it than merely the advocacy of evil; would you want to meet the writer of Job? I think I would, and I suspect s/he and I could have a decent discussion on the ‘only conversation that matters’ – ‘what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure and what is true’ – to quote Hitchens.

        • Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          Job’s author justifies might is right and has no answer for evil. So why would I ever care to meet him?

          • Dermot C
            Posted September 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

            Well, if a discussion on might being right was good enough for Socrates in Plato’s ‘The Republic’, I think it was, it’s good enough for me!

            If you have an answer to the problem of evil, Skeptic…, you’re a better man/woman than I, ‘cos I don’t.


            • Posted September 21, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

              He justifies might is right! That is no answer to the problem of evil. No being has the right to let evil befall sentient beings as the [ Google:] Fr. Meslier’s the problem of Heaven notes. It would be a one-way street for Him as we as independent beings have the right not to worship Him and so forth! This cuts at the theist heart!
              Job in its fancy cuts unwittingly at Moses’ Folly and Christ-insanity!
              God,Allah, Yahweh and Ahura Mazda get no way out!

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 21, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Goodness, Skeptic…so many exclamation marks! And so little proof-reading; vide your third sentence.

                I suggest you read Job as the great piece of literature it is, written by a highly intelligent Jew, concerned with the problem of how terrible things happen to the best of men. Don’t confuse the morality of the ending with the author’s point of view; that’s what we tell children to think.

                ‘Groundhog Day’ is not a great film because the hero gets Andie McDowell in the end…and so forth!

              • Posted September 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                It’s still might is right. And what about my other points?
                I don’t care about literature and the humanities.
                WEIT,what about that certain argument with your name on it?
                Yes to better proof-reading. I have “dyslexix” fingers.
                Thanks for anwering.

              • Dermot C
                Posted September 21, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

                Skeptic…you’re funny, and I mean that in a good way. But, the repetition of a proposition does not constitute an argument. All I can say is that you should read whatever is of value and of interest to you, that is, if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Joyce, Orwell are of no interest to you.

                Goodnight and cheers.

              • Posted January 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for the advice should I ever read non-fiction again. Ti’s a change that just happened to me.

              • Posted January 9, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

                Yes to my doing better proof -reading. I have the tools now to do so better.
                Good point.

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        He unjustifiably dismisses justified crticicism of that execrable anthology!How does one justifiably find hope there that amounts to hope in the paranormal- no there there!

  31. Rory
    Posted September 20, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    “The relevant exchange begins at 21:04 when Sacks tries to defend the indefensible: God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice his son.” Gods demand of Abraham is an allegory. And it is defensible. Look up Soren Kierkegaard’s critique of the scenario in ‘Fear and Trembling’. That is all.

    • mark d.
      Posted September 20, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      The usual stinking crap: “If the story is revolting to your modern sensibilities, just pretend it’s metaphorical…”

      No. Not this game. Not any more. Not ever.

      • mark d.
        Posted September 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        > Look up Soren Kierkegaard’s critique of the
        > scenario …

        The other game: “Still bothered by this eruption of primitive idiocy…? Then look for an evasive discussion penned by a self-lacerating fruitcake who was born in 1813. *That’ll* make it all seem reasonable..”

        Sorry. We don’t do this crap any more.

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Yes, what would haughty Haught say are the nice metaphors for the Deluge, Hell and so forth are? Yes, errantists err as much as inerrantists, just differently.

      • Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        Amen. Again, errantists err. Mock their twaddle!

  32. kernel sanders
    Posted February 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    “Christian Atheist”, means an Atheist who was raised in a Christian household and so views religion through Christian eyes. To put it bluntly many forms of christianity are stupider than Judaism. Christianity is based on Faith and Judaism is based on practice. Even in Orthodox Jewish communities there is space for non-believers. The religions are like night and day. Christians talk about huge swathes of text at once, Jews will spill volumes of ink over a single word. Jews have a scholarly tradition that makes Christianity look like a bunch of unreflective yokels found some crib notes from Aristotle. So yeah there is a big difference between a “Christian Atheist” and a “Jewish Atheist”. A Christian Atheist has given up the McDonalds of religion, and Jewish Atheist has given up the Gourmet Kosher Deli of Religions.

    • James
      Posted February 10, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      There is no room for Atheists among fundamentalist religious Judaism. Their religious practices include the belief that swinging a chicken over ones head can remove ‘sin’ and eating food that has been previously partly eaten by a Rabbi can increase ones intelligence and spiritual understanding.

  33. Alex
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    The Rabbi called him a “Christian Atheist” because he was interpreting the Old Testament from a Christian perspective and trying to use it to debate a Rabbinic Jew on the morality of the Old Testament. Anyone who knows anything about Judaism as it is currently practiced knows that when it comes to practical decisions Jews place far more emphasis on the Talmud than on the Bible. The Talmud tends to place all sorts of ludicrous and absurd requirements on the practice of laws the Rabbis evidently didn’t like. The best example of this phenomenon is that of the Rebellious son. The Mishnah place all kinds of ludicrous preconditions for verifying whether or not a son is truly “rebellious” the silliest of which is the condition that a rebellious son would be identifiable because they will only subsist on a diet consisting entirely of meat and wine. This restriction, along with the others which define the three month period in the kid’s lifetime in which he can be a “rebellious son” led our Rabbis to conclude that the phenomenon of the “rebellious son” as described in the law does not exist and the law is impractical to carry out (the Rabbis continue to argue with each other why a law that cannot be carried out is written in the Torah in the first place). Rabbi Sacks was pointing out that Mr. Dawkins like many other militant atheists tend to treat Jews as Christians who simply don’t accept the New Testament. He seems to think that he can merely recycle the same arguments about the Old Testament he uses against Christian apologists. Unfortunately for him that doesn’t work with Orthodox Jews.

    • theredheifer
      Posted January 30, 2014 at 1:43 am | Permalink

      Actually RD’s comments work very well against Orthodox Jews. The Oral Torah is just apologetics for the written Torah. Judaism has had longer tham most religions to re invent what its sacred texts mean, but that does not change what the text says. That is why most Jews are not religious. They know that when the Yahwist alone party constructed the written Torah they did so to elavate Judah’s history and religion over that of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Everything since is interesting as literary analysis, but nothing more than that. Coming up with conditions for the use of the death penalty does not change the fact that there are so many crimes for which the writen Torah demands the death penalty. Christians also say that their sacred texts no longer literally mean that homosexuals should be killed. Judaism is no different in this respect, it has just spent more man hours re inventing itself. It would of course be fascinating if women could have been involved in this process. Maybe then we would have learnt something. Try reading some non religious interpretations of the Torah, and you see why RD was correct.

      Evidence for the Oral Torah being revealed to Moses. NIL.

      • skeptic
        Posted April 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        evidence for moses and the exodus nil

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