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.