Noted biologist and author Richard Dawkins may be the world’s best-known atheist, but in one rabbi’s books, he’s guilty of anti-semitic stereotyping for what he wrote in a book of his own, his best-seller, The God Delusion. And this is not the opinion of just any rabbi, but of Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the U.K.
The accusation was made Wednesday during a discussion between the two at the BBC’sRe:Think religion festival in Salford. Lord Sacks took umbruge at a passage in The God Delusion where Dawkins describes the deity as the “most unpleasant character in all fiction… jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”. According to Sacks, this way of interpreting the Bible perpetuates a centuries-old kind of anti-semitism used against Jews by Christians. This, he said, made Dawkins a “Christian atheist” as opposed to a “Jewish atheist” or, one supposes, a plain old atheist-atheist.
Lord Sacks clarified his position as:
“In Judaism we accept open argument and we do not rule people out at all. I was not concerned that Richard was anti-Semitic at all – I was concerned that he was using an anti-Semitic stereotype which has run through a certain strand of Christian reading of what is called the Old Testament, as a result of which thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Jews died in the Middle Ages, because that’s how people spoke of the ‘God of the Old Testament,'”