Jewish Atheists: Contradictio in terminis?

 
justbiyourself
 
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justbiyourself
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09 March 2014 17:25
 


Can Jews be atheists? I have been pondering about this question a long time since Christopher Hitchens described himself als jewish*. It seems to me that the belief that you are jewish just because your mother is jewish, is indeed just a belief. And if you don’t subscribe to that belief, you’re not a jew. What atheist can say he is a catholic atheist or a protestant atheist - because his mother was a catholic or protestant - and still be taken seriously? Judaism, like Catholicism or Protestantism, has no basis in biology. There is no Jewish gene. Jews are not a race - race itself is a rather dubious word with barely, if any, foundation in biology.

Hitchens clearly did not believe in the Jewish God and was a strong opponent of circumcision - an important, if not central aspect to the Jewish faith. And yet he said he was jewish and an anti-theist. I just don’t get that.

How can someone, so rational and well-spoken, be so wrong on the question of genetics, race and judaism? Or - and this is possible too ofcourse - am I the one that is wrong? Can anyone please enlighten me? Thanks in advance!

P.S. My apologies for my poor command of the english language, english is not my native language.

*http://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/apr/14/politics

 
simacha
 
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simacha
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10 March 2014 16:33
 

There is a distinction between Judaism and ethnic Jewish culture. One can be Tibetan and not a Buddhist, but only one ethnicity is a synonym for religion, and that is Jewish. As for atheism, there is a strong history of doubt. Even the religious history is one of skepticism. In the Bible, Jacob (later called Israel) is perhaps most famous for wrestling with God. Add to that the years of analytic commentary on the scripture and it is very easy to see a cultural history of critical thinking (which precedes atheism). Hitchens often remarked on the “atheist gene” in the Jews.


The culture retained its identity while scattered in foreign lands, and was shaped into its modern form by a history of first self-imposed isolation, followed by external antisemitism. These were not merely religious, but cultural and ethnic influences. The Nazis did not make a distinction between practicing and non-practicing Jews, so quite naturally it is easy to see how even the atheists in the community identify themselves as strongly as believers in the hatred of Nazism. Shared adversity is a cohesive force, and this glue has remained strong until today.

 
pathofleastresistance
 
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pathofleastresistance
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23 November 2015 08:13
 
justbiyourself - 09 March 2014 05:25 PM


What atheist can say he is a catholic atheist or a protestant atheist - because his mother was a catholic or protestant - and still be taken seriously?

Answer: MOST PPL IN ENGLAND where Hitchens is from.  99% of the people have no choice but to participate in a school system which does not espouse separation of Church and State but rather espouses the Christian perspective and includes daily services / “assemblies” and weekly hymnn sessions. With that consider that if questioned, something like 60% of adults will say they are COFE (Church of England affiliates) when questioned, but in fact will also state they are atheist or are secular or not sure about a god when questioned. These same people are uncomfortable with their own children having to repeat their negative religion in-school experience and yet they ALL comply. I, American atheist jew am supposedly the ONLY PARENT in 20 years who has withdrawn the child from the religious assemblies (though it is a parental right) and I will say, that even atheists thumping to the rhetoric of the BHS (British Humanist Society) will actively chide atheist parents from taking such a shocking action. 

In short, there is such a thing as Christian atheist and this is COFE.

I will also say that the official policy of the BHS is that schools should have to teach all religions along with humanism in schools and they actively attack the formation of religious acadamies even private ones not assisted with public funding.  It is felt that somehow separation of church and state is not desirable. There is still a bit of socialism and emphasis on group think here.

[ Edited: 23 November 2015 08:18 by pathofleastresistance]
 
ehrlich
 
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ehrlich
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03 May 2016 05:55
 
simacha - 10 March 2014 04:33 PM

There is a distinction between Judaism and ethnic Jewish culture. One can be Tibetan and not a Buddhist, but only one ethnicity is a synonym for religion, and that is Jewish…

That’s the crux of the problem.

The racial definition of a jew, meaning any person with a jewish mother, is not consistent with the religious definition of a jew, a person believing in the jewish religion. A person may have a jewish mother and may not believe in the jewish god. A person may believe in a jewish god, but may not have a jewish mother. Thus, both groups of persons are not equal, the racial definition is not synonymous with the religious definition.

However, jews use both definitions in order to identify themselves as jews.

 
AdrianP
 
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AdrianP
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05 May 2016 11:01
 

Can someone tell me the difference between religion and Tradition?

 
June
 
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June
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09 May 2016 01:11
 
justbiyourself - 09 March 2014 05:25 PM


Can Jews be atheists? I have been pondering about this question a long time since Christopher Hitchens described himself als jewish*. It seems to me that the belief that you are jewish just because your mother is jewish, is indeed just a belief. And if you don’t subscribe to that belief, you’re not a jew. What atheist can say he is a catholic atheist or a protestant atheist - because his mother was a catholic or protestant - and still be taken seriously? Judaism, like Catholicism or Protestantism, has no basis in biology. There is no Jewish gene. Jews are not a race - race itself is a rather dubious word with barely, if any, foundation in biology.

Hitchens clearly did not believe in the Jewish God and was a strong opponent of circumcision - an important, if not central aspect to the Jewish faith. And yet he said he was jewish and an anti-theist. I just don’t get that.

How can someone, so rational and well-spoken, be so wrong on the question of genetics, race and judaism? Or - and this is possible too ofcourse - am I the one that is wrong? Can anyone please enlighten me? Thanks in advance!

P.S. My apologies for my poor command of the english language, english is not my native language.

*http://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/apr/14/politics

Your English is just fine.  Of course Jews can be atheists, and still identify as Jewish.  As you have said correctly,  Jews are not a race.  Not all practice religious observances, most may even be secular.    By religious conversion any person can become Jewish.

It is by tradition that anyone with a Jewish mother is also identified as Jewish.

I find it highly unlikely Christopher Hitchens had made any comparison to Judaism with race and genetics.  Adolph Hitler had made that erroneous judgement which had proved to be deadly.

Rather, he may have spoken about the tradition in Judaism of having a Jewish mother.  Within the Orthodox or Conservative branch they do not recognize a child as being Jewish if the mother is not Jewish.

What unifies the Jewish people are their memories, culture, traditions and history.  Religious observances vary widely from Orthodox to Reconstructionist. 

 

[ Edited: 09 May 2016 01:15 by June]
 
 
Aaron
 
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Aaron
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13 August 2017 05:40
 

Funny, I’m still not clear. My first name and last name combined leave little doubt that I’m from a Jewish family. When I post online regarding unrelated topics, I often get antisemitic hate apropos of only my name.

Sometimes I say I’m a secular Jew, but I’m beginning to think that that’s an oxymoron? Simply put, are there any genetic markers for Judaism that differentiate it from other religions? There’s the the idea of a lineage of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, etc. tracing back to the Roman Empire, but that doesn’t mean anything.

It seems to me that I’ve heard explanations in the past that ascribe a biological basis for being specifically “Jewish,” but I’m doubtful (unless anybody can clarify).

 
 
jdrnd
 
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jdrnd
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13 August 2017 06:18
 
justbiyourself - 09 March 2014 05:25 PM


Can Jews be atheists? I have been pondering about this question a long time since Christopher Hitchens described himself als jewish*. 

I am Jewish because I grew up in Brooklyn NY in a Jewish household and Jewish neighborhood. Both my mother and father were Jewish. 
I went to Hebrew school until I was a teenager.  I prayed at the Synagogue.  I know all the “stuff” I’m supposed to say, think and do, as a Jew.
My mannerisms and the way I speak sound Jewish. 
Nevertheless, I know that the supernatural does not exist.
If we met on the street, you would think I am Jewish.
I guess I am.
If you met my kids on the street (who are also kind of, sort of, Jewish) you would not know they are Jewish.
They were brought up in a secular household and Christian/secular neighborhood in a New England state.
They too know that the supernatural does not exist.

Interestingly, its safer to be Jewish than atheist.
On college forms my kids identified themselves as Jewish.

I am not sure about what you are getting at by asking if Jews can be atheists.
Anybody can be an Atheist…..
even the Pope.

 

 
Aaron
 
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Aaron
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13 August 2017 06:49
 
jdrnd - 13 August 2017 06:18 AM
justbiyourself - 09 March 2014 05:25 PM


Can Jews be atheists? I have been pondering about this question a long time since Christopher Hitchens described himself als jewish*. 

......

I am not sure about what you are getting at by asking if Jews can be atheists.
Anybody can be an Atheist…..
even the Pope.

 

I have re-ask, is “Secular Jew” an oxymoron? I realize that language is mutable and we can appropriate the traditional component of being Jewish. In some sense, I rather find the idea attractive of having an “affinity” group to belong to. But there’s this nagging sense that religious Jews don’t like this. If Judaism can still be Judaism without god-belief, that’s great. In that case, I wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of reclaiming my history. It’s been too long!

 
 
jdrnd
 
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jdrnd
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13 August 2017 16:52
 
Aaron - 13 August 2017 06:49 AM

I have re-ask, is “Secular Jew” an oxymoron? I realize that language is mutable and we can appropriate the traditional component of being Jewish. In some sense, I rather find the idea attractive of having an “affinity” group to belong to. But there’s this nagging sense that religious Jews don’t like this. If Judaism can still be Judaism without god-belief, that’s great. In that case, I wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of reclaiming my history. It’s been too long!

I am an atheist.
If we met and I didn’t tell you my world view you would assume I was Jewish.
I am not religious.
But I might still say “Oy gevalt”.
Do Atheists say “Oy gevalt”?

Why can’t I be “an atheist of Jewish extraction”.
If I can, can I shorten that term to “Jewish atheist”?

You are kind of making a mountain out of a molehill.