The BBC recently hosted a discussion between Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and Richard Dawkins, which took a decided turn to the bizarre when Sacks accused Dawkins of being a “Christian atheist” — as opposed to a “Jewish atheist” — and accused him of anti-Semitism for criticizing the God of the Old Testament.
Lord Sacks complained about a passage in Prof Dawkins’s book in which he said that the God of the Old Testament was the “most unpleasant character in all fiction”.
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. 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.”
All of this is quite absurd. I’m not sure why Dawkins would say he was joking; what he said was entirely correct and appropriate. The fact that the god he was calling jealous, petty and a megalomaniacal bully happens to be the Jewish god — and the Christian and Muslim god, by the way — does not make him anti-Semitic in the least. The God of the Bible is, in fact, portrayed as all of those things. Thomas Jefferson called that deity “cruel, capricious, vindictive and unjust,” and that is undeniably true.
And the idea that considering the Old Testament deity to have all sorts of heinous traits is a Christian way of viewing the Old Testament is simply ridiculous. Christians find ways to excuse and rationalize away the cruelty and barbarism of the Biblical god just as Jews and Muslims do, and they do so for the vile passages of the Old Testament just as Christians do for the New Testament and Muslims do for the Quran. But the conception of god in all three of those religions is barbaric and repulsive from start to finish.