Saturday, July 21, 2012

Screech atheists

This post, by guest blogger Fatima Lipschitz, is part of a series of reflections on chief rabbi Sacks’ “The Great Partnership”. “Fat Lips” (as “Sacksy” calls her) complements my “left-brain” academic criticisms (I, II, III, IV) with a note of “right-brain” personal support for the chief rabbi’s call for debate amongst people as reasoning and reflective as himself, one that by-passes those infantile screech atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens.

The Chief Rabbi and I, being much holier than thou, don’t like screech atheists. Sure we have had our differences—eating gefilte fish from the small end, not the large?—but on this we see eye to eye. We soar like eagles, aloft and aloof, above the hawkish din of Dawkins and Dennett and the squawkish harrying of Harris and Hitchens. Our eagle’s eye view affords us an expansiveness that lowly creatures of hemmed in horizons cannot know. And what we pineapples of politeness think is, screech atheists are as yesteryear as the dodo.

Now, some people, far lowlier than thou, dare to claim that the Chief Rabbi’s disdain for screech atheists amounts to ingratitude of the intellect. (Honestly, what word less befits that gentleman!) If it weren’t for screech atheists marking out one extreme of the debate, they claim, the middle ground, which he and I so effortlessly command, would not be so clearly discernible. To decry the vanguard whilst following in their path is close to hypocrisy.

But do we need reminding? The Rabbi is a shmatta mensh, a man of the cloth. He has a tradition to defend: mankind wakes up, one fine apple-ripened morning, and perceives how nicely his world meets his needs. He doesn’t start rootling around in the undergrowth, trying to figure out how things got to be that way. He looks G-d squarely in the eye, and says, “Thank you L-rd, for giving us noses because, without them, our glasses would fall off and then we wouldn’t be able to see your handiwork clearly.” Maybe Dawkers and Hitchers did something to pave the way for the Chief Rabbi’s philosophical triumph; like G-d, I won’t be drawn. But you can’t expect to the Chief Rabbi to worry about evolution, about who tilled the field in which he spills his seed.

In fact, I met that atheist, Ms Millicent Flabbergast, at confession the other day—or maybe it was the mikveh—and she said to me:

“If it weren’t for screech atheists, the chief rabbi would never have been goaded to give us what is”—and here I paraphrase—“the strongest possible defence of religion and faith”—and not as Ms Flabbergast put it, the greatest thing since sliced bacon. “He should acknowledge that.
“Besides, religions are bullies. Maybe not in today’s cosmopolis, where they’ve learned some manners. But go elsewhere, to Jerusalem, Jedda, or Jacksonville, or take cosmopolites back to their childhoods, and there is religion, big and bullying. And what do you do to bullies? You stand up to them! Catharsis for some, protection for others.
“If some atheists screech, it’s only because they’re forced to, to be heard above the bellowing bollocks that billow from pulpits.”

For the Chief Rabbi to merit temerity of this order! There’s just no way of responding to such criticisms.