Coyne has already done an excellent job explaining why Chief Rabbi Sack's latest article is a fetid mess, so this will be short. (Before starting, I do want to say that, much as I like Coybe's rebuttal, I do think he was wrong to say the rabbi is an "ignorant fool". Clearly he's a bright, knowledgable man, only bright knowledgable men sometimes write terrible essays. That is what happened here.)
My real quarral with CRS's essay is that its grasp of history is so poor. He seems to have forgotten that, in its purest, undistillied, "authentic" form, European Christiniaty was a force for evil, not good. It kept people stupid and locked in ignorance. It compelled people to embrace falsehoods, and it punished those who tried to investigate the universe and share what they found. It's no accident that Europe began to move forward only as its reliance on religion became weaker. European Christiantiy kept people poor, stupid, and without the knowledge they needed to cure diseases or to live rich and fulfilling lives. That began to improve only as the faith of Europe faltered.
The Jews, of course, had it worst of all in Christian Europe, but CRS seems not to know this either. He writes, "Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation." Really? Weren't Jews murdered in Europe before Europe lost the so-called "Judeo-Christian sanctity of life"? During the era of crusades, and pogroms, and libels, and ghetoos, and expulsions, and inquisitions, the people of Europe were entirely loyal to their faith, yet it didn't do much to make our lives any safer or any better. Given the "chance and the provocation" much evil was perpetrated by religious men. So why does CRS worry that the loss of that faith might make things worse?
In fact, one can reasonably argue that secular Europe values life more than religious Europe did. Nowadays, every European city has several major hospitals, and life-saving, and life lengthening health care is provided by the government as an inalienable right. Poor people are fed, housed and given medicine. Children aren't permitted to work in factories, nor can they be abused by their parents and teachers. Slavery has been eradicated. Wars are fought less often, and when they are fought greater care is taken to preserve the lives of both civilians and soldiers. Secular Europe has no more stomach for war, in part, because they are tired of coffins. So which society had a greater appreciation of the sanctity of life? The faithful society that allowed these horrors, or the faithless society that works to prevent them?
CRS concludes his piece by arguing that only moderate expressions of religion like (surprise) his own can successfully combat fundamentalism, but again he's forgotten the history of Europe. European fundamentalism - the fundamentalism that led to ghettos, and witch trials, and the execution of free-thinkers and the suppression of books, etc. - wasn't defeated when it was exposed to more moderate forms of religion. It was defeated by secularism. Secularism - specifically the winning arguments made by secularists - is what ultimately forced the churches to revise their teachings, temper their dogmas, and dispose of what was hateful and dangerous in their doctrines. Were it not for the success of secularism, Jews would still be in ghettos, wearing yellow stars, and banned from universities and from the polls. (It was the Church that did this to us, first. Hitler merely restored the status quo) Men like Galileo would still be confined to house arrest, their ideas banned, their books burned. Secularism changed all that and just as it ultimately won its long, hard-fought battle with fundamentalist European Christianity, it will yet win the fight with fundamentalist Islam.
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