I love all my friends. We are friends not because we agree with each other on everything, but because we have shared experiences, ideals, interests. But thanks to many run ins with Jewish atheists, I feel like it’s important that I talk about the things that I wish my atheist friends understood about my faith.
Whatever God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either
It is very easy to be an atheist when you see God as the parent in the sky throwing down lightning bolts like Zeus. Reading the Torah with a literalist view, God seems like the kind of character that no modern, sensible person would believe in.
Very few people, however, actually believe in this kind of God, me being one of them. I think what my atheist friends have a problem with is not God, but rather a concept of God that conflicts with science and progressive philosophy.
Knocking over this proverbial “straw man” is simple, and that’s why atheist writers in debate will actually mock the God concept. If you build God in an image that’s easily defeated, then guess what, you’ll win every argument! But this isn’t the God that most people believe in, myself included.
God is not in your science book, and science is not in my God book
Just as it is easy to knock over a caricature of God, so is it easy to knock over the fundamentalist believer. When we allow the religious person to be someone who is outdated, rigid, backwards and prejudice, then it’s easy to denounce religion entirely. If all I saw in the religious landscape was fundamentalists, I wouldn’t be that religious either.
This is not an Orthodox vs. non-Orthodox issue either. The more one studies kabbalah, reads sacred text and speaks with learned people, the less the Parent-In-The-Sky-God seems to be obvious. I will never forget the Orthodox rabbi who told me he wasn’t sure what God was. That’s religion at its best!
You believe in something, whether you believe it or not
Instead of focusing the God conversation on Pat Robertson-ism versus Richard Dawkins-ism, I think we need to focus instead on what I consider to be the key parts of genuine spiritual experience: faith, rapture and covenant.
Faith is about allowing oneself the permission to not have all the answers and to dwell in the mystery. Science is like that. Science is agnostic on everything until proven otherwise.
Whether we like it or not, we put faith in things. I have faith that my mother loves me. I have no way of proving it — it could be that she took care of me as a child for fear of social reprisal, that she sent me to college so that I could get away from her faster, that she supported my marriage and came to my wedding because it meant that I was “someone else problem”. Never the less, I have a strong conviction that her love is real.
It’s not hard for a believer to put his/her faith in God. We feel God in the same way that we feel love with people. A stranger walking down the street has no reason to love my wife because they have no person experience with her. In the same way, a non-believer who has no experience with God has no reason to have what some might call “perfect faith”.
Rapture is about being caught up and enveloped by the experience of the transcendent. This is not just a religious experience, either. Gazing at the stars and becoming aware of one’s smallness and preciousness in the universe is the same kind of feeling. This sense of losing control and submitting to an experience that is somehow beyond oneself is how the theist experiences God, and the way that atheists experience other things.
Covenant is the final piece of the God puzzle, and yet the trickiest part for most non-believers. Theists, because they have experienced the first two ingredients in a belief in God, easily live in a covenant with their Creator. Atheists, on the other hand, lack the first two experiences as they relate to the divine and therefore cannot stand covenant, as it seems like arbitrary nonsense. I can understand that. But it’s important to me for my atheist friends to know that I am forced into a sense of covenant because my experience of rapture and faith put me there. Covenant is not about fearing God’s celestial finger pointing, but rather a logical extension of an experience.
Religions don’t kill people…people kill people
Religions on their own do not promote violence, bigotry, genocide, sexism or any of the other things that my atheist friends are convinced they do. In reality, it’s violent, bigoted, genocidal, sexist people using whatever tools they have at their disposal who promote all of our social ills.
The only reason you feel the way you do is that the wrong people have given you the wrong message about religion
I’m not out to convince anyone to believe in a higher power. But I do think it is time that theists “come out of the closet” and commit to active religious lives in full view of the public. We need to show people who use God as a vehicle for social control and manipulation that the creator of the universe is beyond agenda.
The best way to make an atheist is to give a person a negative experience with religion. The more positive experiences we can give, the better.