Skip to comments.Chief Rabbi: atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians
Posted on 07/02/2013 6:14:44 AM PDT by Mrs. Don-o
I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: On the surface, hes profound, but deep down, hes superficial. That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.
Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of Gods covenant after the flood, the whole of humanitys religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.
Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche? Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?
A significant area of intellectual discourse the human condition sub specie aeternitatis has been dumbed down to the level of a school debating society. Does it matter? Should we not simply accept that just as there are some people who are tone deaf and others who have no sense of humour, so there are some who simply do not understand what is going on in the Book of Psalms, who lack a sense of transcendence or the miracle of being, who fail to understand what it might be to see human life as a drama of love and forgiveness or be moved to pray in penitence or thanksgiving? Some people get religion; others dont. Why not leave it at that?
Fair enough, perhaps. But not, I submit, for readers of The Spectator, because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.
Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more Love your neighbour as yourself; instead the will to power. No more Thou shalt not; instead people would live by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be unjust as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner. Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.
This had nothing to do with him personally and everything to do with the logic of Europe losing its Christian ethic. Already in 1843, a year before Nietzsche was born, Heinrich Heine wrote, A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again the mad fury of the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak. Nietzsche and Heine were making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.
Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isnt, or natural, which it manifestly isnt either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isnt their problem. Let someone else worry about it. Octopus
The history of Europe since the 18th century has been the story of successive attempts to find alternatives to God as an object of worship, among them the nation state, race and the Communist Manifesto. After this cost humanity two world wars, a Cold War and a hundred million lives, we have turned to more pacific forms of idolatry, among them the market, the liberal democratic state and the consumer society, all of which are ways of saying that there is no morality beyond personal choice so long as you do no harm to others.
Even so, the costs are beginning to mount up. Levels of trust have plummeted throughout the West as one group after another bankers, CEOs, media personalities, parliamentarians, the press has been hit by scandal. Marriage has all but collapsed as an institution, with 40 per cent of children born outside it and 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce. Rates of depressive illness and stress-related syndromes have rocketed especially among the young. A recent survey showed that the average 18- to 35-year-old has 237 Facebook friends. When asked how many they could rely on in a crisis, the average answer was two. A quarter said one. An eighth said none.
None of this should surprise us. This is what a society built on materialism, individualism and moral relativism looks like. It maximises personal freedom but at a cost. As Michael Walzer puts it: This freedom, energising and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members. It opens solitary men and women to the impact of a lowest common denominator, commercial culture.
In my time as Chief Rabbi, I have seen two highly significant trends. First, parents are more likely than they were to send their children to faith schools. They want their children exposed to a strong substantive ethic of responsibility and restraint. Second, religious people, Jews especially, are more fearful of the future than they were. Our newly polarised culture is far less tolerant than old, mild Christian Britain.
In one respect the new atheists are right. The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. But the idea that this can be defeated by individualism and relativism is naive almost beyond belief. Humanity has been here before. The precursors of todays scientific atheists were Epicurus in third-century BCE Greece and Lucretius in first-century Rome. These were two great civilisations on the brink of decline. Having lost their faith, they were no match for what Bertrand Russell calls nations less civilised than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion. The barbarians win. They always do.
The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.
I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews dont do that sort of thing. Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral. But Durants point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.
We see it already. It's as if we said "God, leave us alone." And He said--- after a long period of patient forbearance --- "OK."
After which, all horrors.
Punishment? Perhaps. More like the natural and logical consequences of what we have chosen. The punishment is, getting what we asked for.
It's a rich reading, a prime example of God's "fellowship" with Abraham: God chose him to be a man of justice, and by God, he was.
But we still have hell to pay. Here come the natural and logical consequences of banishing God. Here come--- as Kipling said --- "The Gods of the Copy-Book Headings."
Lord, help us.
There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.
And the consequences to our country?, Well, John Adams pointed it out:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Our system of government cannot survive without a Judeo-Christian society underpinning it. Kicking the underpinnings out, will collapse it.
I would put up a couple of nominees. How about 8th century Monte Cassino? Based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Rule of St. Benedict.
I have always thought I would rather live under a good Abbot than a bad Democracy. And that it's better to make Liturgy than to make Law.
Boy, I remember when Christopher Hitchens became America’s most famous atheist. His IQ points dropped by the minute.
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
Last night our bishop had a Holy Hour at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona for the Fortnight for Freedom.
It was a nice turnout, several hundred strong and twenty priests.
But in a diocese of a hundred thousand Catholics and a hundred priests?
Abraham spoke up again:
See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes!
What if there are five less than fifty innocent people?
Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?
He answered, I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.
But Abraham persisted, saying, What if only forty are found there?
He replied, I will forbear doing it for the sake of forty.
Then Abraham said, Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.
What if only thirty are found there?
He replied, I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there.
Still Abraham went on,
Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord,
what if there are no more than twenty?
He answered, I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.
But he still persisted:
Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.
What if there are at least ten there?
He replied, For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.
Which is worse, a person who does wrong and believes they are right in doing so because they don't know any better or a person who knows right from wrong and does wrong anyway?
To the faith community: As a Jew or Christian, you knew what you should do in action and deed to assist others in their faith....but you did not.
So therefore, since you interpreted G-d's rules for your own pleasure and advancement, the injured parties of "faith" have multiplied in ever increasing numbers to reject and fight the "G-d" of your self serving interpretation.
I understand there is an industry built around the grievances of faith's "rejects"..but that does not remove the responsibility of G-d's people to repent and correct any wrongs done to others.
Many keep their repentance to themselves and expect earth shattering results because they had good intentions. Just praying to G-d for forgiveness is not going to heal our "social fabric". Sorry, my Christian brethren..but the Jews have this one right. G-d does not want you to keep communications between you and him a secret that stays with your Priest or at the foot of your bed. Oh yes, you can pray and ask for direct forgiveness from any human on the planet that you may have harmed.
There is so much work to do to rebuild our country and it may not be in building anymore mega church buildings to bring in more converts but in our own homes and communities.
Indeed. With "terror and slaughter".
Pray. Then stand by to repel boarders ...
Based on the premises of Nietzsche (was he driven mad by the consonants?), there is no "just," no "justice," no need to "justify" anything. There only is what is, and the main categories of action are "possible" and "impossible." The Holocaust, events proved, was possible, and nothing further need be said.
Our general use of language, as the author shows, doesn't lend itself to communicating this concept. We instinctively seek justice and justification. The answer to the "atheist's" question about how there can be a God when the world is so dreadful is, "What's dreadful about it? This is the world you want, with no objective standards and no ultimate meaning. The mass murder just 'is,' same as you, and what difference does it make?"
atheism isn't exempt from analysis or critique of its real world consequences. Atheism is a metaphysical stance -- there are no gods and no God, there is no intrinsic purpose to existence, there is no natural moral law, there is no accountability in an afterlife. Those are quite explicit and consequential assertions, just as the negation of those assertions -- that there is a God, that there is a purpose to existence... -- is an explicit and consequential assertion. Atheism lacks liturgy. It does not lack beliefs and consequences. It lacks belief in God; it does not lack belief in the intrinsic consequences of God's non-existence. As Nietzsche emphatically noted, if God is dead, everything changes.
...atheism is to sin as alcoholism is to angst. Stupor-- metaphysical or medicinal-- is a denial of reality and a denial of consequences, which feels good for an evening or a weekend.
- Michael Egnor
Joel Marks, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the U. of New Haven, who for 10 years authored the Moral Moments column in Philosophy Now, made the following statements in a 2010 article entitled, An Amoral Manifesto.
This philosopher has been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isnt The long and short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality I experienced my shocking epiphany that religious fundamentalists are correct; without God there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality.
Marks then quite boldly and candidly addresses the implications of his newfound beliefs:
Even though words like sinful and evil come naturally to the tongue as say a description of child molesting. They do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality yet we human beings can still discover plenty of completely naturally explainable resources for motivating certain preferences. Thus enough of us are sufficiently averse to the molestation of children and would likely continue to be ( An Amoral Manifesto Part I )
Mr. Marks's "consensus" based on subjective personal preference has been Overtaken By Events. "Molestation of children" has been redefined under the influence of a coalition of libertines and Moslems.
The only religions that can defeat this cult which is a socio-polical system are Judeo-Christianity and Communism and G_D help us if it the latter.....
Maybe the Buddists will help out as in Myanmar, but G_D help us if the religion of communism is the only thing that does the job....
A wise post.
There’s a relevant Kipling quote for almost every occasion.
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings look to be rounding the corner at the end of the street just about now.
Ahem . . . Jews are not conventionally proselytary. They do not have a mission to make Jews of all mankind. They do, however, have a mission to "compel" the nations of the earth to accept the Noachide Laws. This mission was largely forgotten for most of the past two millenia for the simple reason that if any Jew had caused a chrstian to defect, whole Jewish communities would have been exterminated.
Rabbi Sacks's unfortunate attitude about the validity of all religions has been the cause of opposition within the Torah world.
His dismissal of the Torah's account of the origin of the rainbow, the symbol of Noachism, is most disappointing. While there are Orthodox Jews (including among Charedim) who accept evolution, Orthodox Jews, almost unbrokenly, tend to accept the historical nature of everything recorded in the Torah after the conclusion of creation: Cain and Abel, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the 26 generations that span the historical distance between Adam and Moses. Even Rabbi Sacks in the source cited above invokes the covenant with Noach as a historical reality (though unfortunately he seems to be among those who believe that non-Jewish religions are legitimate partners in the Noachide covenant). Disappointing.
Oh well. At least he opposes historical criticism strong enough to have fired someone from Jews' College for accepting that belief (this was formerly referenced at Wikipedia, but for some reason no longer is).
Here is a section on Sacks' liberal ecumenicalism at a Noachide wiki.
I can see why the John Paul II fan club likes him, though.
Just curious, Mrs. Don-o . . . are you opposed to the Catholic Church “imposing a single truth on a plural world?”
Yes, we're challenged by the atheists and secularists. But in a way, even their advance didn't go as fast as our retreat. We engaged in pre-emptive surrender before they even drew a drop of blood.
When I say "we," I mean, of course, Judeo-Christian society.
Lord, help us.
Exactly. Well said, tax-chick.