Posts tagged " atheism "

Faith and Faithlessness

December 26th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

As a fan of all types of puzzles, I enjoy seeing both jigsaw puzzle pieces and words fall into place. The separate become connected and the random suddenly makes sense. I tend to follow the same steps when reading, looking for patterns that tie disparate topics together.

As such, when I recently read two disturbing articles within a few pages of each other in my morning paper, I viewed them as a pair rather than individually. The first relayed a distressing tale of women who, after testing for genes associated with a highly increased cancer risk, chose to have mastectomies and hysterectomies as a preventative measure. Increased data recently revealed that their risk was much lower than they had been told. It was too late to undo the emotional or physical pain they underwent and those whose decisions included having no more children had no way to reverse events.

The second article spoke of the growing estrangement from organized religion among the young. It featured families for whom Christmas always meant attending church and how they are coping when adult children wish to join their parents for the holidays, but not attend services with them.

What is the connection?

I do not know if they still do so, but insurance policies used to have an exclusion for “acts of God.” Perhaps they have renamed that clause, but the idea was that certain freak weather occurrences can neither be predicted nor prevented. As a populace becomes less religious and even agnostic or atheistic, the idea of an “act of God” necessarily becomes incomprehensible and even unacceptable.

As someone who does believe in God, I would like to point out that I, along with many others, see “acts of God” all the time in a positive sense. Every baby conceived and every baby born is an act of God. Every time I open my eyes and see, use my ears to hear, or walk on my feet, I recognize an act of God. Yes, a monsoon in Oklahoma would be an unusual and unexpected—and painful—act of God, but when doctors have given up hope for a patient who then has a complete recovery that too is an unusual and unexpected—and joyous—act of God.

In other words, while faith does demand that we put forth effort and run our lives in accord with sense and knowledge, in the final analysis having faith means recognizing that God has the final say. I must work diligently, but I cannot guarantee economic success. I must devote great effort to raising my children, but I cannot guarantee they grow up physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. I need to take care of my body, but I cannot guarantee that I will be healthy.

As God moves out of the picture, as the second article I referenced reveals, people come under great pressure in regard to what happens in their lives. If there are no “acts of God” the thinking easily follows that someone—either oneself or others—is accountable for all of one’s problems. Everything, from the straws we use in our drinks to mapping our genes to the most minute decisions of our lives demand intense concentration, for we are responsible for everything. Needing to be all-powerful and all-knowing, or conversely, a victim of circumstances with little or no ability to direct one’s own fate, is exhausting and depressing.

Here is an example. Most people today will affirm that having as many children as God gives you can be overwhelming. But they are less likely to recognize that it can also be an overwhelming burden to decide everything about children on one’s own; how many children, at what stage of life, under what circumstances, with or without a spouse, at what financial and emotional cost for procedures, how to respond to the results of (often flawed) prenatal testing , etc., etc., etc. Believing in God and having guidance from a competent faith leader provides a framework for making those decisions rather than needing to rely solely on one’s own feelings and thoughts or on current trends. The action taken may even be the same, but acknowledging a spiritual aspect provides greater elucidation of the decision being considered as well as a recognition that we can only do the best we can with the tools that we have; we are not going to be omniscient. Taking God out of the picture doesn’t make the decisions easier. The same is true in other areas of our lives. Rising levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness that we are seeing today suggest that the secular path society is following has troubling side effects.

Yes, religious leaders and institutions of faith can and have failed. These failures can range from criminal activities to those of human frailty and foolishness. It is crushing to feel betrayed by one’s faith or those who represent it. Yet, today, we act as if the failures are universal, ignoring the positive, the life-enhancing and the successes of faith and faith communities. Perhaps Bing Crosby portraying a priest in movies such as The Bells of St. Mary or Spencer Tracy’s depiction of (real life) Father Flanagan in Boys’ Town showed only a positive side of faith, but focusing only on the failures presents just as much, or more, of an unrealistic and false picture.

Having God in one’s life, both when times are good and when they aren’t has provided direction, strength and comfort to millions through the ages. As the unfortunate women in the first article I read discovered, science and technology aren’t flawless and the blood of millions murdered under atheist regimes refutes the idea that getting rid of God leads to a happier and kinder world.

I am not urging those without faith to fake it. And, there are those who have studied, struggled and concluded that God doesn’t exist. Yet there are also too many who pat themselves on the back for being enlightened and scientific in rejecting God and the faith of their ancestors, but who too often are instead spiritually ignorant and uneducated. Sometimes they have, unfortunately, met charlatans or incompetent representatives of religion. However,  if they went for mental or psychological counseling and met someone incompetent or deeply flawed, they would look further rather than decide that the entire fields of counseling or medicine are  Irreparably tarnished by the malefactor.

Rejecting faith in response to societal encouragement for doing so, as happens today on college campuses and in many corners of society, isn’t an independent and courageous action, but simply “going with the flow.” As someone who lives a fuller and happier life because of my faith, I feel a deep sadness for those who are unaware of what they are missing by ignoring this dimension of life and worry about a world where fundamental principles bestowed by Judaism and Christianity are rejected.

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Socialism and atheism – why do they go together?

July 16th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

Could you further explain the following passage from your book Business Secrets from the Bible?

“One would have expected the political left to excuse what it calls the “greed” of capitalism and to recognize it as nothing other than Darwinian law applied to the life of modern man. Yet, this is not possible; something as truly spiritual as commerce simply cannot coexist with socialism. The atheist himself recognizes that, to be true to his credo, he must reject the free market because of its godliness.”

Why can’t socialism exist with commerce when socialism also helps those that are less fortunate?

Why would you assume an atheist would reject a free market because of its spirituality when his basis for understanding spirituality is different from yours and he may himself benefit from capitalism if it allows him to benefit himself?

I am trying to test my previous ways of thinking and understand ideas and thought processes that I have never considered before.


Dear Alo,

We are delighted that you are reading Business Secrets from the Bible so carefully and actually thinking through each point.

We disagree with you that socialism helps those who are less fortunate. Its proponents gain control by promising to do so, but the reality has never matched the promise. As Winston Churchill said in the House of Commons on October 22, 1945,

‘The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.’

The only ones who do not share in the miseries of socialism are those in power. Somehow, they manage to live quite well, even opulently, as those who foolishly bought into their promises suffer, some of them even starving to death. We encourage everyone to learn history from fair and honest sources. Sadly, the information taught in schools and universities today is often neither. Unfortunately, you needn’t restrict yourself to history. Search out information about what is happening in Venezuela and other socialist paradises today.

Now, to get to your main point. We must acknowledge that when we write words such as, “the atheist,” we do not mean to say “each and every atheist.” Individuals do not fall 100% into categories. The atheist philosophy rejects the idea that humans are uniquely  touched by the finger of God. We insist that this spiritual distinctiveness is precisely what allows humans to make individual decisions on thousands of large and small subjects. No lion decides to be a vegetarian and no kangaroo chooses to carry her babies on her back rather than in a pouch. People, however, can live not only with great variation but even with inconsistency. By “the atheist” we mean a philosophical idea rather than a specific person.


Good without God?

September 21st, 2010 Posted by Susan's Musings 6 comments

Can you be a good person without being God-fearing?

The immediate and obvious answer seems to be yes. There are self-described irreligious individuals, agnostics and atheists who live upstanding lives filled with hard work, strong marriages, volunteer activities and other honorable undertakings. But recently, I began to wonder about the validity of my question.

What do I mean? Well, a short while ago my husband had an experience which all of us have had at one time or another.  He said something and immediately realized that it came out differently than intended. Unfortunately, he was on a TV show with a massive audience and in the fast-pace of the show, there was no opportunity to elucidate his comments. Add an explosive blogosphere to the mixture and his comments about atheists, which were unintentionally inflammatory, got repeated, magnified and distorted. Our office email filled up with letters from atheists.

The emails fell into two categories. Some people who were hurt or confused by his words wrote to express their feelings or to urge him to rethink. Their messages were thoughtfully written and made some good points. My husband answered each of these and sent each writer a copy of the article he had immediately written explaining both the meaning behind his comments and his disappointment in himself for expressing himself poorly.

The much larger group of emails was angry and written in attack mode. The overwhelming majority of these were disgusting, filled with profanity and threats. And that is what started me thinking. Like many Jews and Christians I have frequently been embarrassed when people who publicly proclaim their religiosity, verbally or through their professions, dress and actions, behave in shameful ways. It is irrelevant whether it is a case of hypocrisy or human failing; the action leads to dismay at the violation of standards. That dismay, however, necessitates a general agreement as to there being standards to violate. It is fair to say that a synagogue-attending or church going individual who commits adultery, embezzles, spews profanity or acts in any reprehensible way, is behaving wrongly. There is a stated correct code of conduct that has been breached.  In contrast, a religious person who considers himself a “good person,” would also judge his goodness through the prism of his religion. Giving charity is good, because God said that one should. That same reasoning holds true for being faithful in marriage and dealing honestly with others. For a religious person, God defines what is good. There is a framework in which to judge the religion and its adherents.

What then of the “good atheist”? Would one of the individuals who sent a polite email feel ashamed by the writers of the vulgar ones? Would they feel that the writer reflects badly on them? Does a hard-working, honest atheist feel betrayed by one who is a con man? If the answer is yes, I’m not sure why. Atheism is defined by what one doesn’t believe, not by what one does. In that case, each individual may decide for himself what being good means. One person can decide that graffiti is wrong while another sees it as an artistic expression. One person might be meticulous in financial dealings while another decides that stealing is honorable as long as it is from a wealthy victim. Who laid down the law that having an affair is wrong? Maybe it is simply a fact of human nature.  If there is no agreed upon external system of values, how can there be right or wrong? But, this does seem to be a problem for society. Stipulating that each and every person decides what’s good or not seems to be a prescription for anarchy.

Perhaps being good means being a law-abiding citizen? By those standards SS, KGB and Stasi officials were all good people. In fact, most of those who broke the law to hide Jews in Nazi Germany did so because they were responding to the demands of a higher Authority than their country’s legal system. Americans who helped slaves escape through the underground railway were similarly acting illegally. History shows that what we commonly label as being good isn’t necessarily synonymous with acting within a legal framework.

I don’t have an answer to my question. The thoughtful email writers offered proof of atheists being good people. I agree that the examples they cited ranging from serving in the military to exemplary business practices to charity work overlap with some of my own definitions of good behavior. I agree that atheists can be good people by terms that are meaningful according to the guidelines I follow.  But I still find myself wondering how they can define behavior using a term which their atheism seems to make either a meaningless one or else one that only exists by the benchmarks of a religiously influenced society. 

In the final analysis, that is what my husband was trying to say in the first place. Cultures where atheism was a defining feature, like Stalinist Russia or Mao’s China, weren’t free, pleasant or successful places. Atheists thrive today when they live in societies with patterns of behavior that were established under a Judeo-Christian culture.  Yet, the system only works as long as the majority of citizens adhere to that moral framework. If too many people take God out of good, the entire structure crumbles.







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