Today I watched the following clip of Richard Dawkins debating the validity of the Bible with a panel of theologians. Many things could be extrapolated. What I would like to focus on are the comments made by the Jewish representative, whom unfortunately I don’t know the name of, so hereafter I’ll refer to as “Rabbi”.
In the first 20 seconds of the clip, Dawkins expresses dismay at 40-45% at American people believing Biblical stories of Adam and Eve are literally true. Rabbi is seen in the background nodding her head, presumably in agreement that literal interpretations of the Bible are of concern.
As the clip progresses, Rabbi speaks of the need to argue about the significance of Biblical stories. She acknowledges the messy, and sometimes grotesque storylines – like that of Sodom and Gomorrah – then continues by inferring life is not idealistic, therefore, debating Biblical representations can help one consider the nuances of God and life. Rabbi implies that doing so helps us grow, individually and collectively.
Rabbi’s comments are eloquent. They also succinctly adhered to what a Jewish friend of mine recently told me, that Judaism is all about one’s personal relationship with God, not a system dictated by fundamentalism. “Listen to the voice that is missing” (1:50 into the video) is a theological approach to understanding the Bible not often heard in Christian circles.
Rabbi talks about the Jewish canon developing: “We [Jews] continually developed how we see the Bible, so we continue to develop how we see God” and how we see ourselves. Rabbi continues, “I think there is truth in the messy, horrible stories”. She poignantly points out that the Jewish Bible is not the only reference material Jews use to define and explore their faith. Her words were like fresh air, she is intellectual yet relatable … Christianity began as a Jewish sect, yet somehow, somewhere these insights have been lost … I’ll return to this point shortly.
At the 9:15 minute mark a Christain leader throws in the obnoxious remark “where would ‘we’ be without the 10 commandments?” (because, you know, humans can’t work out morality without being told by an authority, lol! … such sentiments that denude faith in human beings have always amusing to me – through my teaching/learning career I’ve developed a deep appreciation of the innate good in people, but that’s another story best told another time). Rabbi’s response is golden.
Dawkin impressively recites the first few commandments, and he questions the point of these, only to be cut down to size by Rabbi who states: “It means humility”. She goes on to explain the first two commandments (1. I am the Lord your God; 2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain) are about suppressing one’s ego and recognizing “I am a human, but I am not the centre of everything”. Like WOW, this woman is truly amazing, and her insights into the ‘Old Testament’ are relevant to Jews and Christians alike. Her understanding was of the Bible are filled with much humility and grace.
For some time now, I’ve said to anyone who cares to listen, I have great empathy for the Jews. Their writings (known to the broader public as the Old Testament) were abducted by Christians, then (some) Christians had the nerve (and ego) to tell Jews the interpretations of their appreciation of their stories were wrong! As an artist, I fully get that others may interpret my work according to their biases, but for anyone to tell me the expression of my ideas is “wrong” indicates real arrogance. Like yeah, I didn’t know what I was thinking and you *obviously* know me better than I know myself. This is a crime too many Christians make against Jews.
My heart goes out to all Jewish communities, of all places and times. I fear you have been misunderstood on a monumental scale. I have Christian heritage, therefore, I am as much to blame as anyone born into similar circumstances. For what it’s worth, I apologise for my ancestors’ cruelty.
I was raised a Catholic, and yet it is only now, in my fifth decade upon the earth, that I have begun to investigate and appreciate the Jewish basis of the Christianit faith that I was born into. Woe is me and my ignorance.
When I first began deconstructing Christianity, I did so through a very Greco-Roman lens because that is what I was most familiar with. The further I inquire, the more I appreciate Judaism, and I can’t help but wonder if all Christians would benefit from fully embracing the fact that Christianity began as a Jewish sect.
As Rabbi implied, Jews are not necessarily a perfect people. Nonetheless, Judaism does not insist upon dogmatic protocols. I admire this. There is something precious that to be found in the spirit of encouraging a personal relationship between the divine and the individual, without giving into narcissistic tendencies.
Rabbi’s criticisms of Dawkins do not attack his argument per se, but how his voice and language aligns with fundamentalism, which wants to convert people forcefully, thus is of concern. Like, WOW, again! What a powerful insight to a subtle aspect of religious discussions that can so easily be overlooked. Rabbi (I wish I knew your name), your presentation was superb!
Richard Dawkins, I appreciate your work and critical thinking that has led many to question their beliefs. Having said that, if I were to critically appraise the debate I watched today between yourself and theologians, Rabbi won. I concur, the Bible needs to be argued and debated. Further, I can’t help but see the New Testament as being a development of the Old. My convulsions are this: the New Testament is an attempt (by Jews who lived about 200p years ago) to develop the Old Testament according to Greco-Roman values of their time. Rabbi, if by chance you come across this blog, I would warmly welcome your comments and feedback.