Thursday, January 26, 2012

Voting Atheist


A Newsweek headline (January 30, 2012) asks Why Jews Vote Like Atheists. Unfortunately the short article doesn’t answer the question. So I will: Jews vote like atheists because most Jews are atheists or at least functional atheists. An atheist is someone who denies the existence of God, and a functional atheists is one who may or may not deny God but lives as if God is irrelevant to their lives.

How do atheists vote?

According to the article, atheists are somewhat conservative on financial matters and liberal on cultural matters: separation of church and state, reproductive rights, gay rights, etc. Yep, that’s me.

Why are so many Jews atheist or functional atheists?

The article doesn’t say, but I suspect it is because the god we are given to believe in is essentially unbelievable. What most Jews know about God comes from our liturgy, and the God presented there is an all powerful Guy who loves us and takes care of us and wants nothing more from us than an endless string of praise and platitudes. It’s hard not to be an atheist when the only God you are offered is the one you outgrew in the ninth grade after reading about the Holocaust.

But don’t imagine that Jewish atheism is a modern phenomenon. We have a 2000 year history of atheism going back at least as far as the first century atheist Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah. (If you haven’t read the novel As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg, you should. If you have read it, read it again.) So maybe it is in our DNA.

I admit I vote like an atheist, and I am a fan of ben Abuyah and other famous Jewish atheists like Spinoza, Einstein, Sagan, Freud, and Emma Goldman, but I don’t consider myself an atheist. Sure if we are talking about the God who walks in the garden of Eden at the cool of the day, then, yes, I have my doubts, but if we are talking about Ain Sof, the all embracing nonduality that is reality, then I am a true believer. 

11 comments:

Claire said...

Sure, Jewish atheism has a long and illustrious history. As I understand it, there's no positive faith requirement in Judaism. In other words, you don't have to believe in a god to be Jewish. If I read the 10 Principles right, the rule is, if you do believe in something like that, it has to be one god, and it has to be YHVH. But there appears to be no requirement to believe in YHVH - right?

Charles Kinnaird said...

I just looked online and saw that As a Driven Leaf is on the shelf at the local library. Last month I interrupted my reading of The Life and Times of Chaucer to read Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. Looks like I'll have to give Chaucer another hiatus until I've read Steinberg's book.

Raksha said...

Re "I admit I vote like an atheist, and I am a fan of ben Abuyah and other famous Jewish atheists like Spinoza, Einstein, Sagan, Freud, and Emma Goldman, but I don’t consider myself an atheist. Sure if we are talking about the God who walks in the garden of Eden at the cool of the day, then, yes, I have my doubts, but if we are talking about Ain Sof, the all embracing nonduality that is reality, then I am a true believer."

Wow...nothing much I can add to that! Except that I'd like to read that Milton Steinberg novel about Ben Abuyah. This isn't the first time I've heard good things about it.

Judy said...

I am not sure atheism is the issue. I think that most Jews try to keep religion out of politics because we know that without that we will be even more subjected to other religious beliefs.

Raksha said...

Come to think of it, I do have something to add to this that relates to something I've just started kicking around on my own blog. It occurs to me that this could be one of the big differences between Judaism and the other Abrahamic religions. I was asked recently if Jewish atheists were still considered Jews. Since the questioner was a Gentile I refrained from saying, "Yes, of course they are," but I still answered without hesitation that Jewish atheists still consider themselves Jews and are so considered by other Jews. Now if you were going to defend this attitude in the conventional way you'd say that ethnically they are still Jews but religiously they are not. That answer sounds rational enough and would satisfy most people. Only problem is--it just isn't true! Religiously (is that the right word?) as well as ethnically, Jewish atheists ARE still Jews.

I can't defend this rationally. It's one of those paradoxes we are so famous for being able to deal with, at least better than most people. All I know at this point is that you couldn't say that about an atheist from a Christian or a Muslim background. A "Christian atheist" would be a contradiction in terms, but a Jewish atheist isn't. See, I don't even need the quotation marks for "Jewish atheist"! Maybe you can explain this, because I sure can't--at least not right now.

--Linda

Barry said...

We vote like atheists because the people who scream the loudest about their religious beliefs in America are absolutely scary. I'm talking about you, Rick Santorum, and you, Michele Bachmann.

No One Special said...

What exactly does it mean to "vote like an atheist?"

SEC_SAM said...

It really doesn't mean anything. Probably what the writer is trying to say is why do Jews vote like anti-Christians.

eashtov said...

Shalom All,

So what is it that confers Jewish status to a person
beyond an accident of birth, anti anti semitism
and politically liberal beliefs that are labeled tikkun 'olam?

Biv'racha,
Jordan

andrea perez said...

Don't Christians who aren't evangelicals get tiered of hearing how , like us, they are atheists? I'm sure there are a lot of Americans who vote for equality (liberal social values) and conservative or moderate on spending issues. But are they anti-God or anti-Christian? Seems a mouthful to me and you never hear from them. I'd be a bit mad by now if I were them.
Just wondering.

Veg said...

Please check out

My Jewish Atheism
at
http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2013/05/08/my-jewish-atheism/