Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jonathan Sacks' debate with Dawkins

This is a post that I wrote very late one night a few months ago but I left it in my list of unpublished posts.  I do not know the reason why I didn't publish it and I have totally forgotten the debate I saw between Dawkins and Sacks.  But since this is a personal blog of mine, I will just publish it without reading it through again and without listening to the debate one more time.

I just saw this debate between the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks and Richard Dawkins (click here) and I must say I'm extremely uneasy with Sacks' response.

He says the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was a firm teaching against human sacrifice.  Dawkins' point is this is a case of child abuse.  Dawkins is of the view that it is surely immoral of God to lead Abraham to prepare Isaac for the sacrifice and only stopped him before he plunged the knife into Isaac's breast.  In his book, The God Delusion, he suggests that any child who has gone through such a trauma would suffer some permanent psychological problems after that and he asks a legitimate question why God should do that in the first place.  It's wrong for Sacks to ignore all that and to simply say that it's a lesson to the Jewish people not to commit human sacrifices.  Sacks is so obviously missing the point.

Sacks does not consider (and I'm surprised Dawkins does not raise) the fact that elsewhere in the Bible, there is at least one instance when God countenanced a human sacrifice to himself.  Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to God after making a promise to God when the spirit of God came upon him.  As Dawkins puts it in his book, this time, God did not intervene to stop the human sacrifice.  I am a little disappointed that Dawkins fails to remember this case of human sacrifice to God.

Sacks uses a cheap trick to discomfit Dawkins and throw him out of kilter.  He accuses Dawkins of anti-semitism.  Asians may find this hard to understand because we don't owe Jews anything but in the West, people have this guilty conscience whenever a Jew brings in anti-semitism.  Sacks uses it unfairly on Dawkins and Sacks tells a blatant lie.  He says that when Dawkins speaks of the God of the Old Testament as a "homicidal, infanticidal, genocidal bully", Dawkins is guilty of anti-semitism.  Dawkins rightly points out that he is speaking about a non-existent being and he says nothing against the Jews.  Sacks says that this description of the Old Testament God is a stereotypical portrayal of the Jewish God for the first 1700 years of Christianity and it has resulted in the deaths of many innocent Jews.  It's therefore anti-semitic.

I'm surprised nobody points out the outrageous falsehood of what Sacks says.  I'm surprised Dawkins does not jump on Sacks for this piece of nonsense.

It is Sacks who is anti-Christian and dishonest.  To say that Christians or the Church, in order to rage against the Jews, portrayed the God of the Old Testament as a homicidal maniac for the first 1700 years of Church history is not just an outrageous lie; it's an anti-Christian polemic and a dishonest one too.  Any Christian who had dared then to say this of the God of the Old Testament would have been burnt at the stake for blasphemy.  That's because the God of the Old Testament is the Christian God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God of the Christian Church.  What Dawkins says of the God of the Old Testament is not at all anti-semitic.  It may be blasphemous to Jews, Christians and Muslims but as Dawkins will say, blasphemy is an offence that has no victim.  To accuse Dawkins of being anti-semitic is cowardly and dishonest.  That may tug at the heartstrings of people in Europe who have such a heightened sensitivity to every whimper that comes from a Jewish rabbi but to most Asians, it sounds like an undignified wallowing in self-pity over something that happened a century ago in entirely unrelated circumstances and which is totally irrelevant to the motion of the debate.

Sacks is also unfair in another aspect of his argument.  Whenever Dawkins brings up an example in the Old Testament of God's cruelty, Sacks will stop him and ask him if he has read Jewish commentaries on these verses.  It may be heartening to see that Judaism has seen fit to re-write Scriptures by reinterpreting the troublesome verses but surely Dawkins has the right to read the holy book in the original version?  The Jewish commentators may decide to ameliorate God's character and nature so that it becomes something entirely different from what is actually reported in the holy book itself but that does not alter the fact that the holy book is wrong.  Sacks declares that it is heresy to read the Bible literally.  He explains that in Judaism, whenever the holy book conflicts with science, the part that is in conflict is no longer read literally.  That seems a rather clever way out of a predicament, doesn't it?  The Jewish Bible will be read literally until it conflicts with science.  Thereafter, it's not read literally but commentaries will be written to re-interpret the verses.  Frankly, I like this aspect of Judaism and I think it is laudable that rabbis take it upon themselves to correct the errors of their holy book by re-interpreting the erroneous parts.  I have said many times that this is precisely what all religions should do and it's a feather in the cap of Judaism that its rabbis do this.  But Richard Dawkins has every right to question the veracity of a holy book that needs to be revised according to scientific discoveries of men.

What Jonathan Sacks has done is to show that he really hasn't got a single logical leg to stand on.  He has shown that his version of Judaism is benign and moderate and the scholars of his school of Judaism go out of their way to reinterpret erroneous passages in Scriptures so that they are in line with science and truth.  The harsh bits of Scriptures are pared off, the ostensible evil of God is white-washed and reinterpreted and only that which is good, kind and pleasant is allowed to remain in the faith.  That makes his brand of Judaism a model religion for all religions to follow.  But that doesn't win him the debate.  It doesn't show Judaism to be true.  On the contrary, the fact that his brand of religion needs to be reinterpreted and corrected so that it can go alongside science is a confession that it is flawed since what is true has no need of correction or reinterpretation.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thaipusam - Mortification of the flesh as penance

Happy Thaipusam to all Hindus.  I happened to be in Little India for breakfast when I saw the colourful Thaipusam procession.  I will let my photos do the talking.  Notice that there are people of all races in the procession.  There is an air of festivity, a lot of drum beats, music, singing and dancing.  Although the body-piercing procession can be quite frightening to the uninitiated, the mood of this festival of Lord Murugan's triumph over the evil demon Soorapadman is joyous and upbeat and not at all mournful.