The literary/cultural critic and devout atheist Christopher Hitchens is famous for disliking Mother Teresa.
So it should come as no surprise that he’s taking swipes at Hanukkah.
But it’s worth pointing out because, well, who attacks Hanukkah?
Hitchens calls the long-ago triumph of the semi-fundamentalist Maccabean Jews over the Hellenism of the Syrian Greeks the “triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness.”
He writes: “When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.”
Hitch even goes after liberal Rabbi Michael Lerner for liking Hanukkah.
Lerner is fighting back, asking readers first to read Hitch’s diatribe: “After you’ve read it all, you could try to figure out why anyone with a serious intellectual curiosity would give a moment’s attention to Hitchens’ intellectual clownishness.”
Lerner (right) also cites a recent column about Hanukkah by the NYT’s David Brooks, who writes about the messiness of the good guy/bad guy Hanukkah story.
Brooks writes of the Festival of Lights: “It commemorates an event in which the good guys did horrible things, the bad guys did good things and in which everybody is flummoxed by insoluble conflicts that remain with us today.”
Whether you agree with him or not, Brooks’ take on the holiday is worth reading and giving some thought.
Lerner writes of Brooks:
Brooks is entirely right to raise the fact that in the actual struggle, the Maccabees were often brutal in imposing their religious system on others and in using violence to achieve their ends. But David Brooks has been a supporter of using violent means to achieve democratic ends in the Middle East. I’d feel more convinced by Brooks if he had raised the same objections to celebrating July 4th or Veterans’ Day in the U.S. Why raise these issues around Chanukah but not about the use of the atomic bomb against Japan’s civilian population. And how does imposing “democracy” at the point of a gun on societies that are resistant to it on a higher moral scale than imposing some other relgious, ethical or ideological system through violence?