On Being a Jewish Atheist

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lpetrich
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On Being a Jewish Atheist

Post by lpetrich » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:36 am

"How can you be both an atheist and Jewish?" - Brute Reason by Miri Mogilevsky
1) Judaism is a religion, but being Jewish isn’t necessarily.

Jewish people have at various times considered ourselves and been considered by others a faith, a nationality, an ethnicity, a race, and a culture. While the distinctions between some of these categories are blurry–and some of them are recognized mainly by anti-semites–that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
So one can be ethnically or culturally Jewish and not believe in the religion.
2) Belief in god isn’t particularly central in most Jewish communities and practices.

If you’re not Jewish, you may not believe me if I told you that in my many years of attending Jewish services, celebrations, and events in a variety of different traditions and communities, the subject of any individual’s belief (or lack thereof) in god hasn’t ever really come up. But it’s true.
Even when other participants find out that she is an atheist, she does not get into much trouble over that, and some of the other participants sometimes reveal that they also are atheists.
3) Because I fucking said so.

Here I have to admit that I find it irritating as all heck when random people (usually on OkCupid, usually with a skeptical tone) ask me “how” I can be both Jewish and an atheist. First of all, it’s eminently googleable. Try it.
It seems absurd because of what many people are most familiar with -- there does not seem to be a good way of being a Christian atheist.
Here’s a fact: polls and studies consistently find that about half of Jewish people are agnostics, atheists, or otherwise doubters of god’s existence. Less than half of Jewish people consider themselves “religious.”

Jews who openly question god or deny god’s existence are hardly unknown and include Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Niels Bohr, Richard Feynman, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Franz Kafka, Isaac Asimov, Howard Zinn, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee, Stanley Kubrick, Baruch Spinoza, Peter Singer, Noam Chomsky, Saul Alinsky, Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, and Albert Einstein.
Spinoza believed in a "God", but what he called "God" was so grossly heretical that he was excommunicated and called an atheist for a long time. It was sort of like a ground of being or the laws of nature, something that everything else is inside of in some way, a pantheist "God".

Einstein had similar beliefs.

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Tubby
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Post by Tubby » Sun Sep 17, 2017 5:02 pm

In the biographies I have read of famous people with Jewish family trees, it is pretty common in their upbringing for their parents to observe an annual feast with some table wine, maybe do a brief scripture reading now and then, but rarely go to synagogue or pray. Liberal politics seems to inspire their passion more than religious observances.

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Aupmanyav
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Post by Aupmanyav » Fri Sep 22, 2017 2:16 pm

Have been seeing the topic for some time, thought would add my voice. In this respect some are more like Hindus (myself strong atheist and Hindu). Culture is important for me and not anti-religionist. If others believe let them. Have come across many atheist jews on forums.
'Sarve khalu idam Brahma'
All things here are Brahman (physical energy).

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Fri Sep 22, 2017 9:28 pm

I married a Long Island Jewess.

She referred to herself as a 'cultural Jew'. She did not believe in any god as she'd heard others reference it, even Jews. She considered herself an atheist.

She observed minimal ritual. She had a mezuzeh on the door frame and did a half-fast observance of Hanukkah with candles and the menorah, but that was about it. She dragged her goy husband to see Jerusalem and Israel, where, in her youth, she'd lived a year on a kibbutz.

She considered herself affililated with the local 'Reform' congregation, although she had no membership and only went there to meet up with others outside the temple. Her brother was 'Orthodox' and attended temple regularly. I was never quite sure who or what my MIL worshipped.

Never once did we splatter our front door with lamb's blood.

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Post by sohy » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:33 pm

I think the usual term is "secular Jews." They identify as Jewish and enjoy some of the celebrations, but don't believe in god. I've also known some Christian atheists, that enjoy the church community and some of the Christian mythology but don't believe in any literal gods. I don't have a problem with it. People often are much happier when they have community and feel a part of something larger than themselves. Atheists are terrible at creating those things, so if it floats your boat to be a secular person who embraces a particular mythology, why not?

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Post by Koyaanisqatsi » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:49 pm

I'm a militant atheist, but I still love Christmas. It helps, of course, that it's really a pagan ritual that was co-opted, but still. I love all of it, including singing carols and decorating the tree, etc. I associate it with some of the happiest times of my childhood, which, I suspect is why any of us do any of the "cultural" rituals in our adulthood; either because they remind us of happier times or because of operant conditioning (or some combination thereof).

Though I certainly would never refer to myself as "culturally Christian" I would (and have) referred to myself at times as being "culturally" a W.A.S.P., however ironically or sardonically I may have meant it at the time (and usually followed with a, "Now I'm a W.A.S.A.").

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Post by dancer_rnb » Sun Sep 24, 2017 3:17 pm

[quote=""sohy""]I think the usual term is "secular Jews." They identify as Jewish and enjoy some of the celebrations, but don't believe in god. I've also known some Christian atheists, that enjoy the church community and some of the Christian mythology but don't believe in any literal gods. I don't have a problem with it. People often are much happier when they have community and feel a part of something larger than themselves. Atheists are terrible at creating those things, so if it floats your boat to be a secular person who embraces a particular mythology, why not?[/quote]

I think our communities just don't evolve around religion or atheism.
I went out for a quick bite with several friends after running a dance last night.
That is my community.
I've seen one or two people say dancing is our religion.
There is no such thing as "politically correct." It's code for liberalism. The whole idea of "political correctness" was a brief academic flash-in-the-pan in the early 1990's, but has been a good conservative bugaboo ever since.

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Ozymandias
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Post by Ozymandias » Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:17 pm

[quote=""dancer_rnb""]
I've seen one or two people say dancing is our religion.[/quote]

You are welcome to believe whatever you want, but I personally don't believe that dancing exists.

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Jobar
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Post by Jobar » Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:29 pm

You mean you don't think Fred Astaire saved our soles?? Blasphemy!! Stone him, stone him!
:D

Seriously, hasn't Richard Dawkins called himself a 'cultural Christian'? While I don't think of myself as one, I have known others who were atheists for all intents that did.

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Post by Iolo » Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:59 pm

[quote=""Jobar""]You mean you don't think Fred Astaire saved our soles?? Blasphemy!! Stone him, stone him!
:D

Seriously, hasn't Richard Dawkins called himself a 'cultural Christian'? While I don't think of myself as one, I have known others who were atheists for all intents that did.[/quote]I think Jewish history makes it easier to describe what is a very common experience. A friend of mine used to call herself a 'cultural Catholic'. I myself was brought up an Anglican Christian Socialist and dropped the religious bit, but I am still, manifestly to anyone who knows the signs, an Anglican freethinker. It is a matter of reserved good manners, despite the increasing bad taste of so many members.
Gobeithiaw y ddaw ydd wyf.

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Post by sohy » Tue Sep 26, 2017 11:42 am

Bah Humbug. I hate Christmas even though most of my atheist friends do celebrate. My dislike of it has nothing to do with my atheism. I just hate all the fuss. The only holiday that I like is Valentine's Day, despite the many different theories on how the holiday came about.

All you need is some candy, and some cute little hearts. It gives me the opportunity to wear my garnet heart earrings once a year too. It's just a simple day about love that doesn't require a lot of planning or fuss. Love is all we need. Of course that's not true but it's fun to pretend it is. :)

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Post by Ozymandias » Tue Sep 26, 2017 3:03 pm

Really? Valentines Day is awful. It is a cheap money-grab for restaurants, florists and card markers, not to mention all the hideous kitch.

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Post by Aupmanyav » Wed Sep 27, 2017 2:14 am

But, is it not fun where it is celebrated? In India, we consider it as againt the tradition and is not appreciated by many. ;) :(
'Sarve khalu idam Brahma'
All things here are Brahman (physical energy).

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Post by Tubby » Wed Sep 27, 2017 2:27 am

[quote=""Aupmanyav""]But, is it not fun where it is celebrated? [/quote]

The stressful aspect in our schooldays was that popular students were given small gifts of candies from the opposite sex while unpopular students were left out.

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Post by Iolo » Wed Sep 27, 2017 1:27 pm

[quote=""sohy""]Bah Humbug. I hate Christmas even though most of my atheist friends do celebrate. My dislike of it has nothing to do with my atheism. I just hate all the fuss. The only holiday that I like is Valentine's Day, despite the many different theories on how the holiday came about.

All you need is some candy, and some cute little hearts. It gives me the opportunity to wear my garnet heart earrings once a year too. It's just a simple day about love that doesn't require a lot of planning or fuss. Love is all we need. Of course that's not true but it's fun to pretend it is. :) [/quote]

Under capitalism all public events and festivals will be commercialised, inevitably. Give 'em all up!
Gobeithiaw y ddaw ydd wyf.

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Post by sohy » Wed Sep 27, 2017 6:11 pm

[quote=""Ozymandias""]Really? Valentines Day is awful. It is a cheap money-grab for restaurants, florists and card markers, not to mention all the hideous kitch.[/quote]

No no no. It's delicious candy and great sex. Oh wait. I forgot. Ozy doesn't like sex. :D Sorry Bro.

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Post by sohy » Wed Sep 27, 2017 6:16 pm

[quote=""Iolo""]
sohy;677191 wrote:Bah Humbug. I hate Christmas even though most of my atheist friends do celebrate. My dislike of it has nothing to do with my atheism. I just hate all the fuss. The only holiday that I like is Valentine's Day, despite the many different theories on how the holiday came about.

All you need is some candy, and some cute little hearts. It gives me the opportunity to wear my garnet heart earrings once a year too. It's just a simple day about love that doesn't require a lot of planning or fuss. Love is all we need. Of course that's not true but it's fun to pretend it is. :)
Under capitalism all public events and festivals will be commercialised, inevitably. Give 'em all up![/QUOTE]

Gawd. You guys are such spoil sports. I guess you've got no romance in your lives. :( You can have fun on any holiday without spending much money. Last year my man and I split a small box of Godiva chocolate and then made mad love. What could be better than a holiday like that! Unless of course you're prudes. :p Any excuse for sex or chocolate sounds pretty good to me.

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Post by Jackrabbit » Wed Sep 27, 2017 6:25 pm

[quote=""sohy""]Bah Humbug. I hate Christmas even though most of my atheist friends do celebrate. My dislike of it has nothing to do with my atheism. I just hate all the fuss.[/quote]
I quit all the christmas present shit years ago, since that is 95% of the hassle. I don't give any and don't get any. Nobody seems to resent it. I still get together with the family, though I try to arrive after all that is over.

Fortunately, my biblebanging parents never celebrated the religious part of the holiday. Their faction did not recognize the arbitrary designation of a date for the alleged birth, recognizing that no one knew the actual date. Not that there was one, of course. Therefore their celebration of the holiday was no different from that of atheists. Eat, drink, get stuff, give stuff. They sung the carols, but not the ones about jeebus. Jingle Bells and the like, nothing about mangers.
Moe: "Why don't you get a toupee with some brains in it?" <whack!>

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Post by Ozymandias » Thu Sep 28, 2017 12:16 am

[quote=""sohy""]Last year my man and I split a small box of Godiva chocolate and then made mad love. What could be better than a holiday like that! Unless of course you're prudes. :p Any excuse for sex or chocolate sounds pretty good to me.[/quote]

I don't eat chocolate any more. There is no point going to the gym 3 days a week if I am going to eat chocolate. And as you said earlier, I don't like sex.

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Post by Iolo » Thu Sep 28, 2017 4:53 pm

[quote=""sohy""]
Iolo;677244 wrote:
sohy;677191 wrote:Bah Humbug. I hate Christmas even though most of my atheist friends do celebrate. My dislike of it has nothing to do with my atheism. I just hate all the fuss. The only holiday that I like is Valentine's Day, despite the many different theories on how the holiday came about.

All you need is some candy, and some cute little hearts. It gives me the opportunity to wear my garnet heart earrings once a year too. It's just a simple day about love that doesn't require a lot of planning or fuss. Love is all we need. Of course that's not true but it's fun to pretend it is. :)
Under capitalism all public events and festivals will be commercialised, inevitably. Give 'em all up!
Gawd. You guys are such spoil sports. I guess you've got no romance in your lives. :( You can have fun on any holiday without spending much money. Last year my man and I split a small box of Godiva chocolate and then made mad love. What could be better than a holiday like that! Unless of course you're prudes. :p Any excuse for sex or chocolate sounds pretty good to me.[/QUOTE]

Chocolate is an aphrodisiac now then. And never advertised, always given away free for the festival? I'm impressed!
Gobeithiaw y ddaw ydd wyf.

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Post by Roo St. Gallus » Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:18 pm

[quote=""sohy""]
Ozymandias;677199 wrote:Really? Valentines Day is awful. It is a cheap money-grab for restaurants, florists and card markers, not to mention all the hideous kitch.
No no no. It's delicious candy and great sex. Oh wait. I forgot. Ozy doesn't like sex. :D Sorry Bro.[/QUOTE]

Well, there is that...I have much the same attitude about Mr. Valentine's Day as Ozy, but I like sex just fine. I'm not a particular fan of candy, so most Valentine's Days I feel either cheap, trite, or alone. Sometimes all three.

My opinion on Christmas is much like yours. I think it vastly overrated. It is one of the biggest build-ups for one of the biggest let-downs, every stinking year. I end up feeling manipulated and abused; rode hard and put away wet. And garish and tasteless, too. I still cannot believe that so many expend so much to replicate such vast amounts of useless, and largely unwanted, waste in obligatory gift giving. I have been trying to convince friends and family for years to take what they might spend on a 'gift' for me and instead spend it upon themselves....to get themselves something they REALLY WANT. I do, and then thank my friends and family for allowing me to obtain such an awesome seasonal 'gift'.

My culturally Jewish wife had more Christmas sensibilities than I. She spoke of there not being any such thing as a 'Channukah bush'. I could never convince anybody else in the neighborhood to build a bonfire in the street...but she bought in to my acknowledgement of the annual cycle of solstices and equinoxes, so we settled on burning candles in a menorah in front of the fireplace with a burning yule log. (And I got fried potato latkes with sour cream!!!) "Close enough for cultural crap," in her determination.
Last edited by Roo St. Gallus on Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by dancer_rnb » Fri Oct 06, 2017 1:21 am

Valentines Day was made to torture the lonely......Bah Humbug.
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Post by Tubby » Tue Oct 17, 2017 5:16 pm

I was reminded of this thread while reading on a Soviet chess player, less famously an electrical engineer too.

His parents were Russian Jews, his father was a dental technician and his mother a dentist, which allowed the family to live outside the Pale of Settlement to which most Jews in the Russian Empire were restricted at the time. As a result, Mikhail Botvinnik grew up in Saint Petersburg's Nevsky Prospekt. His father forbade the speaking of Yiddish at home, and Mikhail and his older brother Issy attended Soviet schools. Mikhail Botvinnik later said, "I am a Jew by blood, Russian by culture, Soviet by upbringing." On his religious views, Botvinnik called himself an atheist.

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