Outstanding video of a “debate” between Hitchens, Sam Harris and two rabbis on the subject of life after death is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbzd6ZbCowY . I note several things about this debate. 1. The lack of tension between the “sides”. 2. The enthusiasm of the audience response to Harris/Hitchens comments although the forum is a Jewish University and 3. That the Harris/Hitchens team still wins, hands-down.
But most telling is the comment by Christopher Hitchens at 1:32:55 “Ever since Spinoza, it seems to me that the Jewish people–who probably ought to be doing this because it was their fault to invent monotheism in the first place–have become the first to transcend it.”
One down, two to go.
” The theologians admitted Trinitarianism defied human reason, but they pointed out that if there is a God it should not be surprising he would blow our minds.”
Nice (non) answer, theologians.
My favorite cartoon:
Thanks for this, Ted. I will definitely read it. I had understood that about 20% of American Jews considered themselves atheists. This chart from the Pew Forum shows the following:
It is interesting in its number reporting for other major religions, too.
Now, please forgive me, but you have touched here on a subject that I would like to explore further, whether here or in follow up conversations that I hope may continue among some of us who have participated here.
I have wondered lately about two notions. One is exegesis. The other is the accumulation of knowledge. In terms of exegesis, I think the high percentage of non-belief in Jews compared to the other non-eastern religions is a trail that comes from centuries of continuing exegetic work that got its biggest boost from the invention of Reform Judaism. This was largely through the work of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who basically believed that Judaism had to modernize and re-invent itself or it would wither and die–at least in America. Once the “establishment” (in the form of Reform rabbis) began to encourage their congregations to look to the purpose behind the stories, it became easier and easier for them to start what we call free-thinking. If you are indeed correct that the percentage of believers in god among Jews is down to 24, I can only shout “hurrah”. Amen to that. Let’s keep pushing.
Christianity has had its Reformation, which started to erode the church-state identity of Catholicism, but did not really provide what one would term a liberal exegesis of doctrine. Things are changing, but slowly. I would highly recommend that everyone view former priest, James Carroll’s lecture “Jesus: Jew or Gentile”, available as a free download from iTunes U in the Emory University collection “Jesus and Culture”. In it, Carroll calls for what I can only term a new Christian exegesis that strips its apocalypticism from it. He argues that from Bonhoeffer forward, nothing else is permissible for Christians; and that Christianity must go beyond Vatican II in its reconciliation with its Jewish roots. This is not your grandfather’s Christianity. It is, I think, a huge step that Christianity could take toward getting to something akin to Reform Judaism. From there, who knows…
As far as Islam is concerned, I am not very optimistic. Granted I have neither studied it, nor do I have much knowledge of its exegetic evolution, but from what I can see, there is a dearth–read: None–of clerical movement away from a pure “us against them” theology. One could conclude that they have moved even further from the days when Maimonides opined that the Jews were better off under the Caliphate than the Church. Of course, maybe that’s because Christianity has modernized to some extent and that accounts for the relative change. In any event, until that happens within Islam, it will remain the poster boy for everything noxious about religion.
The second subject of my attention is accumulated knowledge. It is here that I see both the second reason for the rise of Jewish atheism and an eventual win for secularism, atheism, humanism or free-thinking in general. The way I put it most succinctly, in Judaism, it is the journey, not the destination; in Christianity it is the reverse. (I know, I know, Christians will dispute that and say it is both; but i think that’s a cop-out.) Jews, in my opinion largely because of this presupposition that you have to make the most out your life here because that’s really all you’ve got, have always pushed education hard–very hard. And, as seems readily evident, academia leads the way to free thought and recognition that superstitions are just that; that myths are myths, no matter who wrote or spread them; and so on. What you see here is the result of an accumulation of knowledge. As more and more people become more and more educated, religion and belief in the supernatural will fade.
Bible translations did not begin to happen until the second millennium and English translations not until the 15th and 16th centuries. A significant reason for this was that Christianity–the Church–did not want people reading it. They wanted them to get their dogma and theology from the clergy, period. Sure enough, within a couple hundred years of readable bibles becoming generally available, biblical criticism cropped up. This is a process that is only going to accelerate.
Dare I say, I have faith in us?