Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks takes Richard Dawkins to task in The Times
Richard Dawkins is one of the great atheists of our time, and his latest book, The God Delusion, is his angriest. Imagine, he says, a world with no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian Partition, no Bosnian massacres, no religious persecution of the Jews, no Northern Ireland troubles, and so on. No religion, therefore no evil in the name of God.
This is good, honest, challenging atheism. I only wish I had as much faith as the learned professor. It would be nice to believe that if you cured people of believing in God, you would thereby have cured them of hate, violence, anger, injustice, cruelty and the urge to control, exploit, dominate and oppress.
Nothing in history suggests such a thing. On the contrary, if people do not commit evil in the name of God they have never been short of other reasons to do so: race, the war of classes, the political system, the march of progress, the Darwinian struggle to survive.
In the perennial battle between our lowest and highest instincts, which is the human condition whether we are atheist or believer, people usually robe their most brutal acts in the mantle of high ideals. In this respect the history of religion, like the history of substitutes for religion, is all too human.
There is, though, another thought-experiment worth performing. Imagine a world with no Book of Psalms, no Isaiah, no Ten Commandments, none of Michelangeloâ€™s religious art or Bachâ€™s devotional music, no Dante, no Milton, no medieval cathedrals, no prayer. Imagine one with no narrative like the Exodus to give hope to the oppressed and enslaved. And that really is the point.
It took an even greater atheist, Nietzsche, to see the truth with fearless clarity. He called Judaism and Christianity â€œthe slave revolt in moralsâ€. It was, he believed, the ethic of the underdog, the weak, the vulnerable, the powerless. It generated an entirely new set of virtues: â€œPity, the kind and helping hand, the warm heart, patience, industriousness, humility, friendliness.â€