For a long time, I had what might be called bouts of agnosticism. I realize that people have different ideas of what agnosticism means, but I think of it as not being sure whether one believes in god(s) or not. Occasionally, I had my doubts…maybe things just really can’t be chalked up to accident…whatever.
The last time I entertained the idea that god existed was when I was 22 or so (I am now 30) and I wanted to know if God was punishing me for being a terrible Jew. I don’t mean “terrible Jew” in the sense of not keeping kosher, going to services, taking ritual baths after my period, etc., but more in the “good, ethical” sense of the term.
I was going to contact the rabbi at a synagogue in Philadelphia I sometimes attended to make an appointment and ask him about this. At the last minute, I decided not to make one. You might say I came to my senses.
Anyone out there wonder what the rabbi might have said? This was a pretty liberal synagogue, bear in mind… I’m guessing something like, “God isn’t punishing you, but you can overcome the obstacles in your life with his love and his community.” I remember when Ned Flanders, after a stroke of terrible luck, asked Reverend Lovejoy if God was punishing him. Rev. Lovejoy said, “short answer, yes with an if, long answer, no with a but.” I’d like to think, though, that even if I asked the question to a particularly hard-ass rabbi who said, yep, God is punishing you, he or she would’ve gone on to say that it was never too late to embrace God. Maybe.
Those of you who are atheists, when, if ever, did you last believe in god? Those of you who are agnostics, how’s that going?
Huzzah, everyone! One of my interviews was published in Secular Nation magazine. Right now, the article itself is only available in print, but the magazine site itself is http://www.atheistalliance.org/secular/index.php#new_issue
Also, please check out my Not My God video. Thanks again to all who participated. Let’s make another one if, Darwin willing, my book is picked up. I admit, though, I’m a little embarrassed by how I looked and sounded. Gosh, do I really sound like that?!? Ugh. How come no one tells me I sound so hideous?
Please check out my new submissions of people’s stories. Not every one will make it to the book I am writing, but nevertheless, everyone’s stories are worth reading.
It’s not directly about atheism, but…
Lots of people have been asking me, and I’ve been discussing online, the current situation with Israel. My mom lives there, so I have an affiliation to the country that biases me, although I think I would feel the same way no matter where she lived. To those of you who asked, she and her husband and friends are fine, thanks for asking, but naturally concerned. If you’ve read a couple of my older posts, you’ll know that I lived in Israel, as well, and yes, my feelings about being forcibly moved there were less than charitable, but today I acknowledge the importance of Israel.
I have a homemade poster in my room depicting the Israeli flag and the caption, “These colors don’t run, either. Stand with freedom and democracy.” Over my desk, I keep a copy of the Israeli National anthem, HaTivka (“The Hope”) which here I translate loosely:
As long as every (spiritually) living Jewish heart goes on,
We advance towards the East,
Our eye to Zionism.
We have not lost our hope,
The 2,000-year-old hope
To be a free people in Our Land
The land of Zionism and Jerusalem
Yes, I’m not religiously Jewish, but nothing can change the fact that I’m ethnically Jewish. Israel was created in part because, given the events of history, Jews need a sanctuary…although I’ve expressed some skepticism in the past that grouping us together in a small part of the world would make it that much easier for our enemies to “finish the job.” Think how easy it would be to club chickens in a chicken coop. That aside, here in Brookline, a very liberal city with a large percentage of Jews, we’ve had demonstrations for both Israel and Palestine. I told the pro-Israel demo that I was on their side, as they proudly held the flag, singing, “Am Yisrael Chai,” which loosely translates into “Long Live the Nation of Israel.” I sang along as I walked towards home.
Again, yes, I’m not religiously Jewish— but Israel is the only truly democratic and free country in the Middle East. It is a small free nation, surrounded by enemies on all sides, peoples who well and truly wish to destroy us. Obviously, I am sympathetic to innocent Palestinians who are dying, but I’m with Israel here.
My feelings are strong, as my feelings with regards to Islam have been strong in the last several years. I know that not everyone, not all Jews, nor all atheists, are with me on all this. For one of my discussions on the matter, look here. I would like to quote it here in full, but it would take up too much space.
I: You got that right.
In the case of Israel, Israel needs to exist. The US and the rest of the free world needs to think: who are our friends and who are our enemies? Your friend is the nation of people who live in a free country with a true democracy and not governed by religious dogma. Your enemy is the one whose people were cheering in the streets when September 11th happened.
V (Other poster): Sarah, it’s clearly a bigoted statement you’ve made there. If only reality were so prejudiced and myopic. I too saw video clips of Palestinian peasants cheering on Sept. 11th. This doesn’t persuade me that ALL Palestinians are enemies any more than a black riot or a white supremacist group’s lynching persuade me that ALL whites are racists and ALL blacks are angry bigots. Equally weak is the idea that any and all democracies are allies on every American concern or issue.
A war that is waged by a government, where millions of innocent civilians are killed, and excused by that government as “acceptable casualties,” is hardly more moral than a terrorist organization that targets thousands of innocent civilians and calls that “acceptable” turn-around.
In the “Isreal and her enemies” conflict, when it is not clear “who started it,” we can’t just take sides arbitrarily just because it’s politically expedient. Peace only happens with mutual consent and real compromise. In my understanding of Isreal’s history, it is not clear that Isreal has abided by treaties set down 40 years ago. Those that side with Isreal excuse her for breaking the treaties and making land grabs against the UN decisions. If that doesn’t really matter, then what does?
I: I know that I’m bigoted and I think it’s a justifiable and essential bigotry. I am no longer going to be “tolerant” of ideas that threaten me and freedom.
I am not at all saying that all Palestinians are our enemies. I am speaking of the entity itself. I look at the sheer numbers of supporters of Islamofacism, and there are a lot– not just a small niche like Caucasians in the KKK.
Again, Israel does not target civilians. Palestine does. Israel does not indoctrinate children to become suicide bombers. Palestine does. Do all Palestinians do this? Of course not. However, lots of them do. Look at the facts of the situation rather than accept things in the name of “tolerance.”
Again, who are your friends? Who are your enemies?
If you live in Boston, I invite you to join me for coffee and see that I’m not as bad as you think:)
(me again, not on the Amazon discussion)
Even now, Americans don’t know what it’s like to have your enemies next door, blasting rockets at you, so before any pro-Palestine people who are reading this think Israel isn’t really defending itself, think again.
Hi Diddly Ho Infidelerinos,
First some wonderful news. I’m going to be an aunt again! My new niece or nephew will arrive in June. Last week, I spoke to my current newphew, a year and a half old, for the first time on the phone. He lives in Germany, so I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like. According to my brother, it was my nephew’s idea to talk to me, and he said “Aunt Sarah”! Then he said “good night” in German. Needless to say, I was very touched.
Now back to how I got to be an atheist. I’m still nine at this point.
My mother, the religious parent who made me go to Hebrew school in the first place (my dad had a laissez faire attitude about the whole thing and my parents were getting divorced around this time, anyway), wasn’t well-pleased when I told her that I didn’t think God or the Torah were true. I started to think that scientists did not believe in God. She argued with me on that point, saying that Albert Einstein believed in God, and the more he learned about the universe, the more he believed. As an adult, I learned that that was not true, or at least it was hotly debated.
Time went on; I still resented Hebrew school. For what it was worth, many of the kids did. Kids who quit to make time for other extra-curricular activities like gymnastics were held up to us as bad examples. We were warned not to quit after our bar/bat mitzvahs, as did so many other kids, counting their money once the party was over, feeling that they had done their time. One particularly resistant kid, a year older than me, started Hebrew school and they let him start in my year, ketah dalet (fourth year), to be among his age-mates. That was not fair; if he could skip years like that, why couldn’t I?
But the worst was yet to come.
Continued next week
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In all seriousness, I count my blessings every day- I just don’t thank that invisible man in the sky for them.
I’m remembering one summer when my mom, Darwin bless her, sent me to a conservative Jewish summer camp. I was eight and we had to pray for a half hour before breakfast every morning (or so it felt at the time– I didn’t have a watch yet). On Friday nights, after the traditional Shabbat dinner, we would recite the long after-dinner prayer, very boisterous, long and involved, with table-thumping and rockin’ on. Saturday was little besides praying, although we did get Maneschewitz and cake in the afternoon, which was fun, but we weren’t allowed to write, draw or much of anything else. I can’t remember if we were allowed to turn electricity on or off.
Sometimes the rabbi would tell our groups funny stories; other times he would lecture us about how to be a good Jew. I figure it’s pretty much like how to be a good anything else, but more guttural.
We had to take Hebrew classes, as well. I wasn’t an atheist yet– that would come a little later– but I do remember that I didn’t want all this religiosity shoved down my throat.
Even now, the prayers drilled into me as a child echo in my head. Sometimes the singing is beautiful. Other times, the words are a reminder of how all this was forced on me. Remember– a lot of these prayers were never translated for me when I learned them.
God was, He is, He always will be
Hear, o Israel, the lord is our God, the lord is One
Who is like You, God
You shall love God with all your soul and all your heart and all your might
I think as a kid I might have been amused if I knew more about the prayers that referred to “heathens” and said things like “Thank God, he has sent horse and chariot into the sea,” from the Exodus story. I think they’re often removed for today’s audiences, since they’re not very modern ways of thinking. Oh, well.
Now that the High Holidays are over, I wanted to share this email discussion I had with my friend Jim in Connecticut.
I admit I didn’t observe Yom Kipur, though.
You may be better off that way…my friend was looking into taking tomorrow off & was in not-in-so-many-words hit with “your job or your religion”…which makes her mad & rather happy she’s not especially observant but still…working on YK makes her uncomfortable.
(I remember at Wes that it also seemed to fall on dank rainy days and all the folks at All-day services in one of the dorm lounges always looked quite unhappy. )
I have mixed feelings about not getting off work for a religious holiday. I guess I feel that in a perfect world there would be no religion, but in the meantime, there are times when we have to accommodate it, and I figure as long as the person makes up for the lost work, no harm is done. I mean, aside from sacrificing Christian children, which is the best part!
When I went to high school, that was the only place I’d ever lived in that didn’t have an at least significant Jewish population so we didn’t automatically get off on high holidays. When I observed, I had to bring in a note from my dad. If I had known then what I know now, I might have made a fuss and complained to the ACLU, but that was before most people had internet access, and those things didn’t occur to me. Point is, now I’m rambling, that if you goyim don’t need to bring in a note, neither should I, consarnit!
As to being happy on Yom Kippur, it’s not really a celebratory holiday (it’s not negative, exactly, just somber), and it’s hard to look happy when you’re fasting. Technically, you’re not even supposed to drink water, which is plain stupid if you live in the desert and it’s soon enough after the summer to be warm out and get dark later, but to paraphrase Carlos Mencia, that’s Judaism, bitch!
Just kidding. This is Not My God, a site for the personal aspect of atheism. I'm putting together a book with that title, having already 20 interviews lined up, but I still want to hear from more of you.
I've expanded the blog to include material not related to atheism, including rants, raves, consumer issues, curmudgeonly matters and other miscellany.
Read more about Not My God on the About page
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