Today is a very special Shabbat because we are celebrating my son’s Bar Mitzvah– the first in our family in 30 years– and the last such milestone after our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah of two years ago. As the son of a Holocaust survivor I feel very proud to have now successfully passed the torch of the Torah, the moral and legal framework of Judaism, on to the next generation.
Considering this observance of Jewish faith and ritual in a larger context, particularly the secular vs. religious debate that occupies so much of the media, I feel that many critics of religion and of religious observance are missing a very big point.
In a column on religion in the New York Times on March 3rd, Peter Steinfels takes to task Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, which so many people continue to read. Steinfels notes that the new wave of books on atheism, including, of course, Sam Harris’ "Letter to a Christian Nation", is being criticized primarily by avowed atheists, philosophers, and scientists writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books.
Critics, such as Marxist Terry Eagleton, make a very simple point that I find amply evident–
Referring to Dawkin’s book, Eagleton observes:
"In a book of almost 400 pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. … The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history– and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry."
Today, as my wife and I embrace our son and celebrate with our family, friends, and our Jewish community the coming of age of another generation of Jewish men, we are also celebrating the passing of the mantle of knowledge that inspires people to do the right thing in the name of humanity. I thank God for that.
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