The past few years has seen a resurgence in militant atheism — think Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. As a backlash against the religious revival of the past 25 years, these authors and speakers have been arguing against religion. It was bound to happen eventually, but now Judaism has been specifically targeted. Someone named R.D. Gold — not an atheist but someone ardently and angrily opposed to Orthodox Judaism — has written a book that argues against Orthodox Judaism’s core beliefs.
Reading Bondage of the Mind: How Old Testament Fundamentalism Shackles the Mind and Enslaves the Spirit was, to me, a relief. I expected a much stronger book that systematically evaluated every Jewish belief and poked every hole possible. Instead I found an angry book that has a few good arguments interspersed with many generalizations and rhetorical tricks. That makes my job — reviewing the book’s arguments from the perspective of an Orthodox Jew — much more comfortable than it could have been.
Click here to read moreWhat I intend to do is to review the book chapter-by-chapter, describing the main arguments, as well as some minor, and explain what I agree and disagree with and why. This will take a series of posts so please be patient.
I am sure that some religious people will ask why I am bringing more attention to the book. Had I remained silent, many readers would be unaware of it. Now that I discuss it, some people might decide to buy the book and read it. That is a very valid issue, although the book has already been publicized on another Orthodox blog (Cross Currents). Additionally, I am reviewing this book because I believe that it is the beginning (or middle) of a growing trend of anti-Orthodox arguments that we ignore at our own peril. After consultation with a rabbinic advisor, I have decided to publish this detailed review.
For many years we Orthodox have had the luxury of presenting any argument we want without challenge, and as long as someone was convinced (or we convinced ourselves) no one objected. We are finally being challenged and I think that it will only make us stronger.
My main comments about the book’s goals and methods can be found in the sections of Preface and Introduction. Discussion of specific arguments will be in the bulk of the chapters and discussion of the religious experience and heterodox branches of Judaism will be in the final chapter.
The author begins with a classic dichotomy — revelation vs. reason, Jerusalem vs. Athens. According to Gold, philosophers believe that truth is reached through "scholarly inquiry, evidence, and reason, that truth emerges from the human mind" while religious thinkers believe that "truth about the world can be found only in God’s word and God’s will" (p. xi-xii).
As anyone familiar with religious philosophy — medieval in particular but modern as well — will tell you, this is a false dichotomy. Someone interested in finding truth will use all of the available tools, including both reason and revelation.