- Published on Friday, 07 January 2011 06:10
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2578
We most often associate "chosen people" with the Jews because it comes up in the old testament. (Deuteronomy 14-2 "For you are a holy people to YHWH your God, and God has chosen you to be his treasured people from all the nations that are on the face of the earth.) But Christians think that God chose them and John 3:16 says: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." In this case, all you have to do is believe and you are chosen. Muslims don't talk about it like that - it seems that if you choose to follow Muhammad, then you get accepted. But there is still the same concept of being special and superior to everyone else.
But Jews have it best - they just have to have the right ancestry - if they are born a Jew, even if they are atheist (e.g. like Christopher Hitchens - see note) then they are OK. They don't have to believe or follow anyone. They can mess up if they don't follow all the rules but short of that, they are guaranteed a place in heaven. But, it does not meet all our current ideas of equality of racial origin or any other concept of equality. So does that mean Jews are an exception - are they allowed to think of themselves as superior to the rest of the world? If that's the case, it's not hard to see why there is so much antagonism to them. Fortunately for them, Christians don't believe the Jews are chosen and mostly no longer bear a grudge against them because of their belief that they are chosen. Unfortunately, many Muslims do not see it that way - they still bear a grudge.
So before the Jews criticise others for persecuting them and denying them a country, wouldn't it be better if they changed their tune on the chosen people thing? They could simply say: "Sorry, we choose to reject Deut: 14.2 - we are not chosen by God". This would be a bit like Christians saying: "You don't have to believe in Jesus to be saved - just God or Allah or whatever you want to call him". Neither is likely to happen - so what does this mean for the rest of us?
In practice, all atheists and most religious people think that the rest of the world are wrong in their beliefs yet don't hold it against them. Notable exceptions are fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. So the concept "chosen people" or even "being saved" becomes of interest only to those chosen or saved.
But while ever there are people who do think it's important to be chosen (or saved or superior) and if they are on opposite sides of a dispute, there will be a permanent problem. It makes me think that both the Jews (in Israel) and the Palestinians would be more likely to agree if they could put aside their religious beliefs and simply talk about equality of all humans. While they both cling to the notion that their ethnic/religious group is favoured by God, they'll never agree.
According to Jacob Mendlovic of Toronto who wrote a letter to the National Post which was published on Dec 30, 2010, famous Jews who were also atheist included:
Mordecai Richler, Ayn Rand, Sam Harris, Howard Jacobson, Isaac Asimov, David Grossman, Primo Levi, Nadine Gordimer; philosophers Bernard Henri-Levy, Peter Singer, Sidney Hook, A.J. Ayer; film directors David Cronenberg, Woody Allen; British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband; comedian Bill Maher; physicists Stephen Weinberg, Edward Teller; mathematician Paul Erdos; historian Simon Schama; actor Stephen Fry; British theatre director Jonathan Miller; neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks; British food writer Nigella Lawson; German politician and activist Daniel Cohn-Bendit; psychologist Steven Pinker; astronomer Carl Sagan; playwright Arthur Miller; Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan.