I haven’t slept much during the past three years of my life. I’ve been consumed by one question that seemingly begets ad infinitum: The veracity and utility of religion.
I’ve read the powerful prose of Nietzsche, the caustic wit of David Hume, the ancient arguments of Epicurus, and the wisdom of Einstein. And I believe every thinking person ought to read these authors, as well. But it is not these giants who keep me up at night.
Religion is presently being intellectually slaughtered. Nothing less than the fate of our spiritual and moral world is being warred over—and Jews, until now, haven’t seemed to care or notice. They are preoccupied by such urgent and profound questions as, “Can a clone be counted as part of a minyan?” Or, “Can a non-Jew open your wine bottle?”
Conversely, the modern debates over religion by leading intellectuals, including, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins, address modernity’s greatest questions:
How must neuroscience reshape our perception free will? Does evolutionary science discredit the sanctity of humanity? What theological demands does the Holocaust oblige? Of what philosophical and theological consequence is it that a nighttime observer can watch the Andromeda galaxy slowly move towards a collision with our own?
If you’ve never watched these debates, which are all on YouTube, the opening line of the third paragraph of this article provides a quick summary.
Sadly, in this premier intellectual battlefield, the most recognizable defender of the Jewish religion has been Rabbi Shmuley Boteach—a radio/TV personality, whose best selling and most well known work is Kosher Sex.
Against all odds, through millennia of endless persecution, the Jewish tradition has survived. And today, when that tradition is threatened by its greatest foe, secularism, who have the Jews summoned to defend it? This is tragedy, literally, of biblical proportions.
Rabbi Boteach should be ashamed. He took a job he must have internally known he was neither equipped for nor worthy of. But the blame is not his alone. The silence of the real Jewish leaders and intellectuals is equally duplicitous.
All this may be about to change.
Tomorrow evening, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, will debate religion and science with perhaps the world’s most outspoken, eloquent, and fierce atheist, the great evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins. (See link for details: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/19354861)
Rabbi Sacks, to my understanding, is the first real Jewish leader and intellectual to join the fray. His eloquence, passion, warmth, and impressive character have elevated him from a British leader into an international Jewish household name, and a man much of worldwide Jewry has proudly called their representative. His calm demeanor and genuineness is staggering, and the perfect balance to the scathing vivaciousness of Professor Dawkins, known as “Darwin’s Pitbull.”
If you’re thinking about watching the American presidential debates, you shouldn’t think twice about watching Rabbi Sacks and Professor Dawkins. The former debate is about the imminent future of America; the latter is about the eternal future of humankind. The former may slightly entertain and inform you; the latter may utterly transform your intellectual and spiritual landscape.