Jewish Atheist

An agnostic atheist perspective
from a once orthodox Jew.

Jews are Atheists bc they have a “Childish” Understanding of God

FailedMessiah quoted an amazingly simplistic article about why many jews are atheists. Failed Messiah also had a great response. Here’s the highlights:

Why so many Jews are atheists
Rabbi Levi Brackman • Ynet

It is indisputable that a disproportionate amount of secular Jews self identify as atheist or agnostics…

Now, it is undeniable, and Hitchens agrees, that Jews have traditionally been deeply analytical questioners. One has only to study the Talmud (the magnum opus on Jewish law canonized in the fifth century) to recognize this. In fact the entire genre of rabbinic literature is full of questions, arguments and intellectual query…

The Jewish mystics wanted to understand what the Bible meant when it said that God is one. They question how one unified God was able to create a universe so fragmented. The question of why a God would care what humans do (or don’t do) is a question that Jewish mystics prominently ask.

These are questions that atheists also ask. It is fair to say that most Jewish metaphysicians were skeptics at heart. They doubted the simplistic way of understanding the Bible. But their motives for asking these existential questions were different than those of the atheist. For the mystic intellectual inquiry brings a deeper appreciation and understanding of the truth inherent in the words of the Bible. The atheist, conversely, questions in order to disprove. The fundamental quest for truth, however, remains similar.

In my view, many secular Jews become atheists because of a lack of Jewish knowledge… Most contemporary Jews—if they are given a Jewish education—discontinue all formal Jewish education at around age thirteen…

Thus, most secular Jewish adults, at best, have a thirteen year olds concept of how Judaism perceives God… Indeed the concept of God I believed in at age thirteen has little resemblance to what I believe in today after many years of study.

To be sure, belief in monotheism is not solely dependent on an in-depth knowledge of Jewish metaphysical teachings. But a sophisticated understanding of the uniquely Jewish concept of God is necessary if such a belief is to stand to the intense scrutiny of a deeply analytical and questioning mind. My experience tells me that most Jews—especially those who claim to atheists—lack such knowledge and the God they say they don’t believe in I don’t believe in either. It is difficult to take the claim of being an atheist seriously knowing that the individual has not studied the extensive literature on Jewish metaphysics…

FailedMessiah’s Response:
Lets list a few of the common reasons people – Jews included – give for being agnostics or atheists:

1. Large chunks of the Torah are factually incorrect. The universe is not 6,000 years old, no worldwide flood took place, millions of Hebrews did not flee Egypt, and the Land of Israel was not conquered like the Book of Joshua claims. This is not speculation; it is science-based, fact-based reality. And it doesn’t even begin to touch on the Torah’s internal contradictions, of which there are many.

2. Theological issues surrounding the Holocaust.

3. Corrupt rabbis and religious leaders. (This was a quite popular reason 120 years ago, and it seems to be regaining its popularity today.) Some of the proponents of the mysticism Brackman cites were, in fact, major criminals or enablers of major criminals – just like today.


A Jew whose Jewish education stopped at 13 is far more Jewishly educated than your average hasidic Jew is secularly educated.
A Jew who goes to college and graduates will have taken physics and other advanced sciences. A hasid who learns in yeshiva will generally have a secular education that stopped about the 8th grade. But because much of science and history contradicts Torah, that hasid’s science education will in all likelihood stop even earlier than that – much earlier, in fact.
So while a non-Orthodox Jew knows something about Judaism, the hasid knows little about science or history...
Convincing answers exist for the science / Torah split for people who want to find convincing answers. For people who simply want to find the truth, convincing answers are much harder to come by.

Acknowledging this conflict – and honestly acknowledging the very real issues Judaism cannot answer in this regard – has to come before chiding people who lack faith.

But to do this one needs to know these points of conflict actually exist…
I’d like to add a point as well about the abuse of skepticism in the rabbi’s article:
"These are questions that atheists also ask. It is fair to say that most Jewish metaphysicians were skeptics at heart. They doubted the simplistic way of understanding the Bible."
Firstly, that isn’t skepticism. Skepticism is about doubting the highly improbable, un-parsimonious views. Those rabbis weren’t skeptics. They were farther from it than even most religious jews. They wanted to believe even more unsubstantiated stuff was hiding in the “divine” texts than most. That’s basically the opposite of skepticism. That’s just more belief. (And this is a good example of the Orwellian double-speak and language confusion so common in religious circles.)
"But their motives for asking these existential questions were different than those of the atheist. For the mystic intellectual inquiry brings a deeper appreciation and understanding of the truth inherent in the words of the Bible. The atheist, conversely, questions in order to disprove."
This is amazingly convoluted logic. Ok, firstly, he switched from skepticism to “intellectual inquiry”. Those are very different. And the reason that “the mystics” find “deeper appreciation of the truth” in it is bc that’s their motivation. They’re not looking for objective truth - which is what skepticism is about. Rather, they’re looking to bury their heads further into the ground, to further narrow their tunnel-vision. In contrast, “the atheist” - actually, he is unfairly equating atheists with all skeptics, unsurprisingly; but let’s pretend he’s focusing on skeptical atheists - isn’t trying to prove or disprove anything. Skepticism is a methodology of sorts for finding objective truth. (As Dawkins once said about science - which shares many features with skepticism - “[It] replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.”) That truth can be god just as it may not be. For us, atheism isn’t a belief. It’s a conclusion from looking at the evidence. And that itself is a big difference between “the atheists” and “the mystics”.
"The fundamental quest for truth, however, remains similar."
That sounds like saying “well, astronomers and astrologers are both looking for truth.” It’s equivocating two fundamentally different approaches. One which tries to be objective and one which assumes the conclusions it’s trying to validate. No, the two are not the same. They are not both looking for objective, reasonable truth.
"Thus, most secular Jewish adults, at best, have a thirteen year olds concept of how Judaism perceives God…
Honestly, just how fucking complicated does this rabbi suppose the “jewish idea of god” is? How long would it take to explain? An hour? A day? A week? While I agree that many people do lack a sophisticated understanding of god, I really disagree in the rabbis conclusion that that’s what’s causing them to disbelieve. Rather, what I think the rabbi doesn’t realize is that his “sophisticated” view of god is, to atheists, just as ridiculous as the other conceptions of god (which is part of the reason why atheists don’t mind, and may enjoy, speaking about “god” in simplistic terms). And contrast that ‘sophisticated’ and ‘complex’ view of god with science which, as FM pointed out, quite many religious people don’t understand. Cause you know what, understanding evolution, cosmology, etc actually is complicated and actually does take time. I don’t think atheists are such bc they lack a sophisticated view of god, but I do think that many theists are such bc they lack a sophisticated view of science, philosophy, history, and ethics.
(Oh, and of course kids who go to religious schools for most of their life are more likely to be religious: Not bc they “understand god” more, but bc they were indoctrinated longer.)
And I think this graphic is relevant to the rabbi’s premise:
As many have said, I’m not an atheist bc I lack an understanding of the bible or god etc. I’m an atheist bc I DO understand.
  1. betsumei reblogged this from skepticalavenger
  2. ismael-sarepta said: It’s more the case that *religion* has a childish understanding of God. When was the last time you heard your rabbi speak lucidly on Deism, or Apophantic Theology, the Divine Substance, or even understood what Maimonides was saying?
  3. chinneths reblogged this from skepticalavenger and added:
    Jews are Atheists bc they have a “Childish” Understanding of God...skepticism.That’s
  4. skepticalavenger reblogged this from jewishatheist
  5. jewishatheist posted this