Because I feel some people have become confused in thinking that I am promoting religion or thinking that being Jewish is some type of special gift that makes me better, I am writing to tell you that I don’t feel this way. Think of this as your Christmas gift (or Chanukah or Festivus or whatever).
Despite the fact that I too practice a religion, I also think atheism is a purposeful and noble use of the mind. Too often people with a religion have only bad things to say about atheism and atheists. This is not the view of all people who have a religion however.
True, I have recently had a run in or two with people who obviously have a chip on their shoulder against all things religion and due to it may be projecting their negative feelings upon others like me, but I don’t think it is totally uncalled for.
We people with a religion have not been perfect by any means. We often make great claims but never live up to them, and then we judge others for not living up to our impossible claims as well.
So I would like to write here about things that we Jews have not been so forthcoming about over the years. If you have a bone to pick, I understand. I don’t necessarily subscribe to a lot of things Jews do, stand for, or generally practice but the same can be said for most Jews. Having been a Jehovah’s Witness before returning to the faith of my grandparents (my parents were not observant), I have tried to take the lessons I learned about hypocrisy and self-righteousness and look for ways to use what I learned to keep me from turning into anything that resembles what I once was in the Watchtower.
Us Against Them
While most Jews today will tell you that we don’t view the term “chosen people” as meaning that we are “special,” in reality it is hard to say that somewhere along the line we don’t feel special for being Jews. I mean, who wouldn’t feel special when you are taught that God chose your ancestors (and through them you) to be a special envoy of God’s redemption of the world?
We still often see things as “us and against them,” as Jews vs. Goyim (Gentiles). I myself have rolled my eyes many a time when a non-Jew is just doing things their way, just as Jews do and see things their way, but since I found it annoying said: “Oy, Gentiles!” It’s a bad habit. Just because someone is a Gentile doesn’t mean they will be annoying. And just because someone is annoying doesn’t mean they are a Gentile. I got a lot of Jewish family members and friends who probably annoy me more than Gentiles--and they’re Jewish!
A lot of Jews don’t share my choice to seek ways to change how we see ourselves in relation to the world. They don’t like that I am part of the Jewish-Christian dialogue. I am also one of those Jews who believes, like some of our greatest teachers, that atheism is a facet of the world which is part of God’s purpose and therefore essential and beneficial in ways many of us religionists don’t understand (or appreciate as well as we should). I think we need to do more to make sure we don’t ever believe that “chosen people” makes us “special” or more important or more holy than others, but I am very sorry that many of my fellow Jews don’t agree.
Those Horrible Christians!
Yep, some Jews still spit at Christians when they see them. Some Jews don’t use nice words for Christians and Jesus. And if you think that Christians have some twisted views of us Jews, you need to realize that some of us have very bad misconceptions about Christians too.
And we can be just as stubborn in refusing to believe we can be wrong about Christians and the way we view them. We are no better at being less tolerant, less bigoted, and at times even less violent than Christians. The hatred goes so deep that rational argument and facts can mean nothing to us in a discussion about Jesus. Some of us don’t believe what you Christians say because we don’t like you, not because we have examined the facts. That’s not fair, but yes, it happens.
I don’t share these views. I try not to. To be honest, I rather like Jesus a lot. I know the New Testament very well and can read most of it in the original Greek (though I have been slacking off recently). But just as often that Christians say horrible things about me, you can rest assured that I have sometimes slipped and said a horrible thing about them in return.
While Jews believe we must love our neighbor, we have a view that teaches us that we don’t have to like them. Because of this some of us are just as prone to being unforgiving as others using hurtful words and stubborn pride.
I also think that we can be blind to how we are a little dishonest when it comes to how Christians interpret Scripture texts in reference to Jesus. Some of their interpretations can work. For instance, while Isaiah 7:14 doesn’t read “the virgin will be pregnant,” it does read that the “maiden” or “young woman” will be with child. In ancient Israel, young women or maidens were girls, women who had never been with a man. The culture made it almost impossible to have premarital sex at the time Isaiah wrote these famous words. While the Hebrew word at Isaiah 7:14 isn’t describing the woman’s lack of sexual experience, it is saying she is a type of woman who, because of her age and our ancient culture, had yet to have sex. Things like that we tend not to disclose when we discuss how texts should be rendered into English, and that’s not right in my opinion.
We May Be Too Eager to Let Critical Analysis Do the Work
Granted, Jews have not been so ready to embrace our own Scriptures as literal. Since their inception, Jews have understood that much of what we’ve written is from so far back that all that we can carry in our stories are the lessons and none of the actual history.
This means that we probably didn’t win or even fight any of the battles in the glorious and violently gory details as described in the Bible regarding the conquest of Canaan. It likely wasn’t even a conquest as both DNA studies and our secular history suggest we just merged with the people of the Fertile Crescent.
But this doesn’t mean we have always been free of violence. We are preparing to celebrate Chanukah in a few days, and not all the truths of the Hasmonean dynasty under the Maccabees is as innocent as you think. The Catholic Church is not the only group guilty of forced conversions. Under the Hasmoneans, Jews did their own forced conversions, lots of them. We tend not to shine the light on ourselves in cases like this.
So we are often eager to embrace the critical analysis of Scripture that shows we didn’t have the genocidal armies described in the “conquest of Canaan,” a conquest that likely never occurred. It gets us off the hook for a lot. But where’s the spotlight on how we forced our religion on others during other periods of time? How about how many Jews treat the Palestinians in their midst in the Middle East today? We are not so free of dirt under our fingernails.
I’m a Windbag
Granted, if there’s a soapbox to stand upon I will push you off in order to pontificate atop it until you fall over into a boredom-induced coma. Right now I’ve probably used three times the words and sentences I could have otherwise used to get my points across.
My apologies to some who don’t get what I am saying a lot of the time. I am in horrible need of both an editor to chop my words of their excesses and probably a rope to tie my hands together to keep me from pounding away at the keyboard.
Perhaps a few people who I claim have misunderstood some of my posts on threads would have understood them if I would just learn to say only what I need to say and nothing more. This is where I fail. The mistake is with me.
This doesn’t mean that some out there in cyberland aren’t being mean. We all know there are people out there who “love to hate” and find it great sport to argue anything with anyone. They love seeing people get frustrated by what they type. To you I am only sorry that we have to deal with you folks from time to time.
But if you didn’t understand what I wrote, it doesn’t mean you are a cyberbully or troll for calling me out on it. I am not the world’s greatest writer, and I don’t know everything. I am capable of being just as fartheaded and perhaps even meaner and way better at insulting others than you. But if you don’t understand what I am writing, it’s not impossible that it's my fault. So I own that I need to improve. Sorry for being a poo-poo head.
I for one love you not despite what you believe, but because you have the courage to take your stand. The world needs more reason, more trust in the scientific method, and people of religion would probably be better at their religion if they adopted far more critical ways at looking at their own creeds and actions. Please do not give up on calling us on our sh#t. We religionist scan be very sh#tty, and unless we have people like you to call us on it, we will never clean ourselves up.
And as this all-too-brief commentary on the subject proves, we theists need a lot of cleaning up.
We have been very stupid at times. But don’t confuse our stupidity with the God that might be out there who is looking at us and saying: “I never said that! Where did they get that?” If God truly inspired the Scriptures, I hope he has a good lawyer to sue us someday for getting more than half of it lost in the translation and blaming him for the parts we made up and slipped into it.
I would like to apologize for my fellow religionists who treat you badly, think you are all out to get us, and worse actually work violence against you and in some areas persecute you greatly. I would like to apologize for these, but I can’t. I think they need to stop, change their ways, and then apologize themselves (and make up for what they do). Until then any apology would be empty. You are as a human as I am, and you deserve just as much respect as I do. On my end I actively pursuing ways to get anti-atheism to stop and die.
Now I can’t help it if you lump me in with them or can’t see the difference between us, but I won’t blame you if you do (though it might make me mad at times when it happens). Just be kind enough when you pick up your pitchforks and torches (from the same shop we religionists get ours--damn, I should be selling pitchforks and torches!). If you could keep just one thing in mind as you pillage us for our sins (which I can’t say we don’t necessarily deserve), please remember this: I’M NOT WITH THEM!
David Jay Cohen