I think Richard Dawkins called the UK’s “Chief Rabbi” (whatever that is) a very nice man somewhere on RDF before their BBC debate. I thought at the time that that was dubious, and it seems all the more so now that the CR, Jonathan Sacks, has said RD’s description of the Old Testament god in The God Delusion is “profoundly anti-Semitic.”
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Sacks really is a nice guy, and just says and does and thinks some nasty things. That can be the case, obviously. But enough quantity or quality of nastiness and you no longer have a nice person.
The thing I dislike about Sacks is his boast about being glad his dying father didn’t have the option of assisted suicide, because the long time it took him to die gave Sacks the opportunity to show his father compassion. He didn’t say anything about what his father might have preferred – it apparently never crossed his mind that what his father wanted should trump what he wanted in that situation. That level of self-absorbtion makes real niceness difficult.
The dispute began with Prof Dawkins’ claim that a controversial passage from his 2006 book was intended to be “humorous”.
“The beginning of chapter two, which says the God of the Old Testament is the most unpleasant character in all fiction, that’s a joke,” he said in the early stages of the debate.
Later Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said that Dawkins had misunderstood sections of the Hebrew Bible, which are also part of the Christian Old Testament, because he was a “Christian atheist” rather than a “Jewish atheist”.
It meant that Dawkins read the Old Testament in an “adversarial way,” he said, something that was “Christian” because the faith’s New Testament was believed to have “gone one better”.
“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.”
The text was read out loud by Lord Sacks at the debate.
It described “the God of the Old Testament” as a “vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser” as well as “misogynist”, “homophobic”, “racist”, “pestilential” and “infanticidal”.
“How you can call that anti-semitic, I don’t even begin to understand. It’s anti-God,” said Prof Dawkins.
I suppose I can begin to understand it, because there are such things as tropes and stereotypes, and they can be dangerous…But then the Old Testament can be dangerous too.