The latest turn in the New Atheist debates can be summed up like this: even if you don’t believe in God, religion still has a lot to offer. Public intellectuals like Alain de Botton and James Gray in Britain, and scientists like E.O. Wilson and Jonathan Haidt in America, all of them atheists, have made a similar case in their recent books and essays.
George Robinson |
Special to the Jewish Week
To most Jewish Week readers, Claude Lanzmann is the man who directed “Shoah,” the nine-and-three-quarter-hour documentary about the murder of six million European Jews by the Nazis. Of course, if that were all he had done, Lanzmann would be worthy of admiration and study. As Franco-Jewish journalist Jean Daniel told him after one of the first screenings of the film, “This justifies a life.”
The novelist Jonathan Safran Foer grew up with a fairly typical American Passover. His father would use the Maxwell House Haggadah, supplemented with his own pamphlet of writings, and lead the annual Foer seder. But nine years ago, sitting at his family seder in Washington, D.C., Foer thought that, literary-wise, the Haggadah could use a little work.
When Nathan Englander sat down for a recent interview at a hummus restaurant in the East Village, he had just come from the Public Theater. He was there helping stage a theater adaptation of one of his early short stories, “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” which will premiere at the Public in November.
When Shalom Auslander, a lapsed Orthodox Jew, came out with his wickedly funny memoir “Foreskin’s Lament” in 2007, he was often mischaracterized as a New Atheist. It was clear he shared a similar disdain for religion with atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, but he never declared himself a non-believer.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that some of the same criticisms that met Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel about Sept. 11, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” published in 2005, are now being leveled against the new film adaptation. Like the book, the film has drawn strong, often biting rebukes from critics who feel it exploits some of Sept. 11’s most harrowing images—the picture of the falling man leaping to his death, in particular—and universalizes a unique tragedy.