In a quite extraordinarily display of whistling in the dark to keep his spirits up, the UK Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks made the following statement in the Spectator a few days ago:
Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.
Really? Atheists believe the whole of humanity's religious beliefs depend on those things? All of them? Hindu, Buddhist, Shintoist, Daoist, Parsi, Sikh? It's not clear if this includes all historical religions too, or just the present-day ones.
Does Jonathan Sacks perhaps believe that all humanity's religions have their basis in the Jewish Pentateuch and that they all believe in the Genesis account of Creation in the Judeo-Christian Bible? Surely he can't be that ignorant. Is he perhaps indulging in a little exploitation of his target audience's assumed parochial ignorance here? Or do all those non-Abrahamic religions count for nothing?
Or is he just whistling in the dark, trying to persuade himself that the huge rise in Atheism and with it, support for secular Humanism, is merely a temporary phenomenon?
Where on Earth does he get the idea that secularism depends on disproving those Bronze-Age myths from the infancy of our species? Secularism is simply the view that the state has no place in regulating beliefs, religious or otherwise, and that people are entitled to hold whatever views they wish free from legal constraints, bans and proscriptions, subject only to them not limiting that right for others. Sacks seems not to have realised that the USA, the French Republic and latterly the European Union were founded on secularist principles where freedom of conscience is regarded as the supreme freedom.
He goes on to say:
The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’
I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing. Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral. But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and nonbelievers alike.
So there we see the real motive. Jonathan Sacks doesn't trust people if they haven't got priests, imams, rabbis, etc, telling them what to do and frightening them with dire consequences if they don't comply. It's about clerical power. It's about controlling people like you control a truculent donkey - with a carrot and stick. It has nothing to do with what is true and what isn't; what has supporting evidence and what doesn't. It's all about the consequences and what it means in terms of social control. Truth can be dispensed with if the consequences of that truth aren't agreeable to Jonathan Sacks. Anything which Jonathan Sacks disagrees with, such as relationships without marriage, societies other than than those based on nuclear families, moral codes which don't depend on reward and punishment are considered bad and, being a cleric, Sacks gets to decide what 'good societies' and 'bad societies' are. These are not matters for the plebeian masses.
Curiously, Sacks seems not to worry that those first five books of the Judeo-Christian Bible from which we are supposed to derive our morals, advocate slavery, racism, misogyny, selling daughters, forced marriages, arbitrary execution without trial, the death penalty for transgressing food and clothing laws, collecting firewood on the Sabbath and being raped, animal sacrifice, discrimination on the grounds of physical disfigurement and sexuality, systematic genocide as foreign policy, land theft, imperialism and unelected, unaccountable autocracy. Nowhere do they advocate democracy, trial by jury, human rights, government of the people, by the people for the people, equal opportunities, freedom from discrimination, and all the freedoms we now take for granted in today's secular societies.
One of the main drivers of the increasing rejection of religious superstition in favour of scientific rationalism is growing recognition that religions are frequently a force for conflict, disharmony and blatant abuse, and recognition that they almost invariably lie at the root of intractable conflict. For many people the 9/11 attack and attacks on London, Madrid, Bali, Beslan and Boston hammered home the destructive mind-control that religion can exert on its victims. The conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Chechnya, etc, etc, are essentially religious conflicts where 'morality' includes mass slaughter of innocent people for the greater glory of a god and to ensure a place in an assumed Heaven for the murderers.
There are no examples of atrocities being carried out in the name of Atheism or secular Humanism.
With, "Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies." Sacks is significantly ignoring the fact that defeating secularism is the antithesis of freedom and the many examples, some of them all too recent, of strong societies which have 'defeated' people with other ideas being very far from moral as most people would understand that term. One wonders if Sacks actually believes in a god or just believes in belief.
You just can't trust the people, you see. Give them too much freedom to believe what they want to believe and you lose control! Then what would the clerics do for a living? What we need is Sharia-style religious courts and theocratic governments to make us behave. Selling us superstitious nonsense in place of science and lying to school children is perfectly okay if it keeps us in our rightful place, and the clerics in gainful employment.
Well, isn't that what religions are for?