06 October 2007

Sinless people in glass houses...

There's a bit of a kerfuffle going on over at the Times. It seems that comments editor Daniel Finkelstein, being either highly astute or else just bored and with a craving for shit-stirring, is rather unimpressed by an observation by Richard Dawkins in a recent Guardian interview. To quote Britain's village atheist:

"When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told - religious Jews anyway - than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place"

Now, you mightn't be surprised that people would start squawking 'anti-semitism' after such an observation, but I'm more that surprised nobody's thrown that particular stone at Richard D before now. After all, take perhaps his most eloquently vitriolic comment from his recent hatchet job:

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably 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."

Dawkins doesn't even need to cite examples to back himself up, being content to point in the general direction of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Judges, and Exodus. But note how careful he is to call this God 'The God of the Old Testament'. He knows well what the fallout would be if he were to start ranting about 'the God of the Jewish Bible'.

Although that's what he means.

For what it's worth, the early Christians recognised these problems as well, and indeed it was largely because of these problems that Marcion, the first Christian to propose a formal canon of scripture, wanted to exclude the entirety of Jewish scripture from the Bible!

It took a lot of work from Origen and Athanasius to explain why Our Lord and his first followers saw these writings as inspired, and indeed invaluable. Essentially, it's because of them that we have the Bible that we do. But that's a story for another day. In the meantime, I think Chesterton's Introduction to the Book of Job might help a bit, especially his observation that:

"All the patriarchs and prophets are merely His tools or weapons; for the Lord is a man of war. He uses Joshua like an axe or Moses like a measuring rod. For Him, Samson is only a sword and Isaiah a trumpet. The saints of Christianity are supposed to be like God, to be, as it were, little statuettes of Him. The Old Testament hero is no more supposed to be of the same nature as God than a saw or a hammer is supposed to be of the same shape as the carpenter. This is the main key and characteristic of Hebrew scriptures as a whole"

You should read it. It's really rather remarkable.

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