God at His Computer
Photo Credit: Jewcy
In response to my article The Mary Jo Kopechne Memorial Bridge, reader Layla asked this question in a comment: "... how does a Jew call him or herself a Jew when they do not believe in God? Being Jewish is of faith - not national origin."
Actually, more Jews in America do not believe in God than do (1). Believing in God by itself does not make you Jewish; indeed, many atheist Jews interpret Judaism as a matter of culture and history.
For example, I identify with a culture that goes back thousands of years; I read Hebrew (and a little Aramaic, although that is not a necessary or sufficient condition for being Jewish) and enjoy the works of Rashi, Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon, and other Torah scholars; I have weekly discussions on Jewish law with a Rabbi friend; and I celebrate Jewish Holidays not because they are Jewish Holy Days but because they are Jewish holidays. One can read some of my celebrations in my archive of articles on Jewish Holidays.
There are at least three million other Jews in America that feel as I do. Some are members of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (2), an organization that strives (according to its website) to "provide a home for humanistic, cultural and secular Jews".
I am an atheist Jew precisely because of Judaism; because Jews for thousands of years have been taught to dissect, to argue, to disagree, to re-interpret, and to question the meanings of our sacred texts. Our most Holy work the Old Testament was not written by a single person but by dozens of authors (3) and thus was made open to many interpretations.
My reading of the Old Testament is that it is an excellent summary of how Jews viewed their laws, culture and history of thousands of years as a journey with their personal God. Jewish Law started with the Ten Commandments and hasn't stopped even unto the current day. The early Hebrews found it easier to persuade one to moral behavior by invoking the authority of an almighty God.
In the present day, one can find hundreds of emails where the purported author was some famous person or expert in order to enhance the believability or importance of the text. For example, many Jew-hating sites like to quote Benjamin Franklin warning against the Jews because they need an authority to validate their hatred.
In a like manner, it was easier to persuade a fellow Hebrew to Honor one's parents or to keep the Sabbath Holy if the person demanding it were God himself. I do not need fire or brimstone to behave morally. I once was a bad person and became better over the years without needing God's wrath to change my behavior.
I believe that the last six of the Ten Commandments, those that have nothing to do with God are great moral imperatives, are the correct way to live in a civilized society:
FIVE: 'Honor your father and your mother.'
SIX: 'You shall not murder.'
SEVEN: 'You shall not commit adultery.'
EIGHT: 'You shall not steal.'
NINE: 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.'
TEN: 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.'
I know that the majority of Jews do not believe in God; in addition, I do not believe that the majority of Christians truly believe in God. For if they did, if they really believed there was a God and that these were his Commandments, then the world would not be filled with so many violations by those who say they love or fear Him.
My sons are both atheists. They do not steal, bear false witness, murder, or covet what is not theirs, and most importantly they honor their parents. I have no doubt that if God existed he would prefer to have them as children than those who profess a faith but are faithful only to His first four Commandments but unfaithful to last six and are thus vile creatures. What good is a church- or temple-going believer in God if he is evil toward another human being?
As a final argument, I should point out that according to the Nazis: "A Jew was defined as anyone who had one or more Jewish grandparents." Therefore I would have been killed. Arguing that I was an atheist would not have saved me, even if I had used as authority Layla's dictum that "Being Jewish is of faith".
About.com, 3 Nov 2003, Who Doesn't Believe in God?
If America is such a religious and Christian nation, who in the United States doesn't believe in God? It seems almost incredible that anyone, or at least any significant percentage of the population, would actually buck tradition and society by not believing - but in reality, quite a few people don't bother with theism.
Netscape News reports on a recent Harris poll:
* Ten percent of Protestants, 21 percent of Roman Catholics, and 52 percent of Jews do not believe in God.
Society for Humanistic Judaism, Welcome to the Society for Humanistic Judaism
Humanistic Judaism embraces a human-centered philosophy that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas.
Humanistic Judaism offers a nontheistic alternative in contemporary Jewish life. It was established by Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine in 1963 in Detroit, Michigan, to provide a home for humanistic, secular, and cultural Jews. Today, Humanistic Judaism is part of a worldwide movement.
Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life.
Humanistic Jewish communities celebrate Jewish holidays and life cycle events (such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvah) with inspirational ceremonies that draw upon but go beyond traditional literature.
Lost History, Who Wrote the Bible?
Book Author By Tradition Author By Conjecture Conjectural Editor Genesis Moses (Yahwist + Elohist) + Priest* Ezra* Exodus Moses (Yahwist + Elohist) + Priest* Ezra* Levitcus Moses Priest* Numbers Moses (Yahwist + Elohist) + Priest* Ezra* Deuteronomy Moses (found by Hilkiah) Deuteronomist [Jeremiah & Baruch]* Ezra (slightly)* Joshua Joshua Yahwist + Elohist* Jeremiah & Baruch* Judges Samuel Yahwist + Elohist* Jeremiah & Baruch* Ruth Samuel ? 1 Samuel Samuel + Gad? + Nathan? Yahwist + Elohis* Jeremiah & Baruch* 2 Samuel Samuel + Gad? + Nathan? Yahwist + Elohist* Jeremiah & Baruch* 1 Kings Jeremiah? Annals of the Kings of Israel & Judah (Ch. 1&2 by Yahwist)* Jeremiah & Baruch* 2 Kings Jeremiah? Annals of the Kings of Israel & Judah* Jeremiah & Baruch* 1 Chronicles Ezra + Nehemiah? Chronicler (Ezra?)* 2 Chronicles Ezra + Nehemiah? Chronicler (Ezra?)* Ezra Ezra Ezra + Nehemiah Nehemiah Nehemiah Ezra + Nehemiah Esther Mordecai? (495-479 B.C.) ? (460-330 B.C.) JobMoses? various authors Psalms David+ (compiled by Hezekiah) compiled later Ezra Proverbs Solomon+ (compiled by Hezekiah) compiled later Ezra Ecclesiastes Solomon (compiled by Hezekiah) compiled later (250-200 B.C.) Song of Songs Solomon (compiled by Hezekiah) compiled later (300-400 B.C.) Isaiah Isaiah Isaiah (Ch. 1-39) + "Second Isaiah" (Ch. 40-66) Jeremiah Jeremiah & Baruch Jeremiah & Baruch + "Second Jeremiah" (Ch.27b-29a,33b,39,mid49) Lamentations Jeremiah & Baruch various authors Ezekiel Ezekiel Ezekiel Daniel Daniel (580 B.C.) ? 165 B.C.)