From the 11/13/20 WSJ, What Gentiles Can Learn from Lord Sacks:

Sacks wrote that for all their fame as critics of traditional religion, the New Atheists lacked “the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche.” One failed, he reflected, to get the slightest sense that they have grappled with the issues that science alone could not address: “the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond.” To atheists like Mr. Dawkins, Sacks applied a beloved aphorism, adapted from an Oxford don: On the surface he’s profound, but deep down he’s superficial.


Subjecting religious belief to the belief in a moral order emanating from the mystery of a supreme being, whether literally or metaphorically, leaves a gap in the mooring of a moral order that is not tied to the state.  Julien Bender in The Treason of the Intellectuals expressed a warning in 1927 that with the abdication of an objective moral order, the treason of the intellectuals, humanity was “heading for the greatest and most perfect war ever seen in the world,” . However much violence we have attributed to religion it paled in comparison the state violence of the 20th century in cultures where religion was marginalized if not rejected in the name of nationalism and reason.

Benda’s original work was titled Treason of the Clerks, referring to an objective moral order that would have included clergy and philosophers.  The translation to “Intellectuals” was an effort to clarify by the translator, but carries a different meaning than commonly used today.