Sketches on Atheism

When Jews Bury Yahweh

JudaismImagine for one second that the following statement was issued by a major Christian denomination: There is no such thing as divine intervention. The Bible was not inspired by God. The classical view of God is rejected. It’s presently unimaginable, yet these are all (word-for-word) confessions made by Jewish Reconstructionists in their 1986 “Platform on Reconstructionism.” Now imagination a major Christian denomination announcing that there was no such thing as a supernatural God who could “suspend the laws of nature,” but was instead the indifferent, non-personal laws of nature itself, as espoused by the Jewish Science movement. Imagine a Christian denomination which rejected a vast sweep of the Bible as simple mythology, welcomed deistic priests, and even conducted some services which made no mention of a god whatsoever, as in the Jewish Reform movement. Imagine a Christian denomination whose leading figureheads told their congregants that the heroic biblical characters they knew and loved – characters supposedly guided by a god called Yahweh – were all fictitious and never drew an earthly breath, as in the Jewish Conservative movement. Imagine a Christian denomination which jettisoned Yahweh altogether, calling it nothing but the poetic invention of primitive human minds, as affirmed by the Jewish Humanistic movement.

These are not aberrations or the eccentric thoughts of fringe Jewish groups. Against a backdrop of a worldwide Jewish population that is roughly 45% secular, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Jewish Science, Renewal and Humanistic movements represent 80 to 85% of all practicing Jews today. That said, it’s important to note that while rejecting the historical validity of the Torah (and therefore the concept of historical revelation) the larger and older Reform and Conservative denominations still, in principle, hold onto a monotheistic theological worldview. Tellingly though, the newest denominations, those which have emerged in the last century – the Reconstructionists, Renewal, Jewish Science and the rapidly growing Humanistic movement – have all abandoned traditional theological concepts and are either spiritualists, desists or atheists.  Here the personal, mindful, wilful, interfering god of the Tanakh – the god Christians and Muslims still believe in – has been redefined as either an indifferent energy, a pantheistic-type nature force, or simply discarded altogether and reassigned to the shelves of human mythology.

It begs the question: What have the present day captains of Judaism seen, and understood, which Christians and Muslims have not seen, or understood? Indeed, what is the lesson here for Christians and Muslims when the very people who introduced Yahweh  to the world in 7th Century BCE – the custodians of the only narrative upon which Christianity and Islam are so inescapably dependent – admit it’s all nonsense?

For the overwhelming majority of observant Jews it’s difficult to see any great problem here; a simple compunctious shrug of the shoulders and downturned smile is all it takes to admit the Torah and the Deuteronomistic History of the Nevi’im (including the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel) are fatally flawed as historical documents. What’s ultimately most important to the Jewish people is their cultural identity, and that is as dependent on a fictitious god and mythological characters like Abraham and Moses as much as the Greek cultural identity is dependent on Zeus, Perseus and Mount Olympus. The Jews are on bedrock cushioned with a rich wisdom tradition like that found in the Ketuvim and have no discernable distance to fall; Christians and Muslims aren’t, however, so fortunate. Their central figures of devotion, Jesus and Muhammad, unknowingly erected belief systems upon on a convoluted historical cartoon, and addressing this disastrously awkward corporeality is not going to be at all fun for anyone with even the slightest emotional investment in the god of the Bible… because the only people endowed with the authority to bury that god, the authors of the single User Manual – the Jews – are either in the process of burying, or already have buried him.

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73 thoughts on “When Jews Bury Yahweh

  1. John, this is beautiful but I have a bone to pick with you. You have made me do too many imaginings that am honestly going to bill you, expect an invoice on the same.
    What kind of straw are the Christians and Muslims still hanging on, me wonders!

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    • Do you accept PayPal?

      We both know most Christians and Muslims don’t actually know where the Jews are at regarding Judaism (and god belief) because the Jews don’t really talk about it in any public arena. I read an article the other day which explained why in pretty clear and disturbing terms, and its worth bearing in mind as we move forward: the Jews are terrified of a wave of antisemitism coming from American evangelicals. I’d never thought about that possibility, but if you look at it, there is in fact a very real danger here, and i think we can both agree the Jews don’t need (or deserve) another round of ideological/religious violence perpetrated on them.

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      • I have just been reading a commentary on Job and there are expressed the views of a rabbi Rubenstein. His thoughts on the matter are summarized as

        should put us in mind of the frequency of divine infanticide in the Bible. The track record of the God of the Jews is, in fact, too awful to contemplate. Rubenstein imagines that a modern-day comforter might counsel Job to admit to guilt, even though he was innocent. Lie, or the truth will out, that God is a demon—if he exists at all.

        which in a way brings some perspective into your various interviews with rabbis.
        Maybe as is frequent among the men of faith they have chosen the ostrich response- bury your head in the sand in the hope trouble will go away if you are no longer looking at it.

        I think there has always been a lot of anti- Antisemitism in Christianity. The Jews did this or that to their man-god. It’s almost like it’s their mainstay. Very thankless people.

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      • I’ve been pleasantly surprised and impressed with the intellectual honesty of the rabbis i’ve been chatting with. There’s a soundness to their thinking missing in the Christian and Muslim fraternities.

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      • Maybe they have read Clifford who writes

        It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence

        and continues to say elsewhere

        If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it — the life of that man is one long sin against mankind

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  2. ”It begs the question: What have the present day captains of Judaism seen, and understood, which Christians and Muslims have not seen, or understood?”

    Perhaps, to some degree and amongst some of the Jewish leaders, like J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”, they have become aware that they influenced millions of people to act on a fiction and as a result bear some responsibility for those who have gone to extremes and taken the innocent lives of people that have been established in that myth as their enemies.

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    • It would be impossible not to have some thoughts of culpability, Larry, but in the end do we ever blame the poppy farmer for the addicts actions, or the addict? The early Christian church picked up the ball and ran with it. They went nuts on their own.

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      • I can assure you that more than the fringe elements of USAian evengelicals will lash out at Jews for burying their god. They have pre-formed argument from the very book. They are false teachers, false prophets, satan is at work trying to destroy Israel to postpone Jesus’ return and Armageddon. Christianity and all monotheistic religions are rife with paranoia as a motivational tool. These believers will twist the truth to maintain the delusion in their head that they use to make sense of the world around them…. logic and reason do not come naturally to humans beyond a certain level of comprehension. The god stuff is beyond that so no matter how much you have to show they are wrong, they will continue to believe that what they ‘feel’ is the truth… they just need better words or science to describe it or some such.

        that is why wrong believe has to be destroyed… the pain of being wrong and having to change your thinking is much less than the pain of inflicting your wrong on others.

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      • I’ve had two Christians in the last week tell me with a straight face (metaphorically speaking) that this was all part of a Jewish conspiracy. One even went as far to say the Jews would willing sacrifice their own statehood rather than admit Jesus was the messiah. That is some scary crap right there.

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      • Yes, it is… and those people vote. They vote and they decide on how tax money is spent, talk to people about who we should war against and so on. Monotheism is the biggest disease on this planet…

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      • I don’t need any reminder that my life is surrounded by people that want to force belief on me that is absolutely dangerous and stupid. You can’t do anything around here unless you say it is for the baby jesus and then you can practically get away with murder just upon saying it was for baby jesus

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  3. “Gimme that old time religion, gimme that old time religion, gimme that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.” What can you expect from an intellectual tradition that favors ignorance over learning?

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  4. This is an excellent thought-provoking piece but your essay loses its integrity when you describe someone’s god as a “convuleted historical cartoon.”

    The world doesnt need intellectual discourse on faith as much as it needs RESPECT for the faiths of others.

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    • Hi Tonia, the “historical cartoon” is not referring to the god of the Torah, rather the foundation narrative of the Jewish people; namely the Patriarchs, Moses and the Exodus. The majority of Jewish Rabbis today admit this is all fiction, so i’m not being disrespectful in any way. Here, i did a full essay on this which details the Rabbis thoughts concerning the Torah. It’ll put it into better perspective.

      https://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/of-course-what-you-say-is-true-but-we-should-not-say-it-publically-13/

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    • Respect is a commodity to be earned. Most faith’s are predicated upon ridiculous notions: eg a God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son to die for us – hold on a sec! Why does God demand the death of anything in order to redeem others?! Sounds ludicrous to be an attribute of a loving God. God ( S/h/it to be politically correct gender-wise) creates Hell. There doesn’t have to be a Hell. But loving God creates one, because eternal torment befits those who don’t love It back the way It loves us. Preposterous!

      These ideas, established in the infancy of the species and nourished fervently from parent to child, persist because of faulty neurology in combination with the stick/carrot process (we got an offer you can’t refuse!).

      My respect goes to the ones able to free themselves of the cultish indoctination fed to them in their youth and surrounding them in their culture. Kudos to all who have managed to free themselves from the shackles of mental bondage!

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      • I came out of a strong, extensive Catholic education, and it was in that very setting that I realized that the entire scenario of the loving God, the Fall, Redemption, etc. was totally idiotic lawn fertilizer! How does beating himself up (in the Passion) and finally dying (grotesque human sacrifice) make it possible for him to forgive humanity for being what he made them in the first place (the Fall and expulsion from Paradise). This whole idea of an inheritable sin was the ultimate of injustice. “Let’s break this kid’s legs and see how well he does in the marathon” logic. Now, let’s force everyone else to buy into one of the two evangelical versions of this fable (Christianity and Islam). Wow.

        Well, John, please, keep it coming!

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    • Ouch … why does anyone have to respect something so blatantly undeserving of any respect at all?

      Such faiths should be stood in front of the Mirror Of Truth and publicly highlighted for the ‘convoluted cartoons’ (vicious ones at that) they actually are — no?

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  5. I guess Judaism has a much longer tradition of questioning and scholarship. Maybe the New Testament offers a slightly different situation, in that some of its significant moments are historical record, making it easier for believers to insist “this bit is true, therefore these others bits must also be true” (?)

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    • There is a fairly clear line where the Tanakh passes from mythological to historical and the Jews do seem to have a capacity to admit it. Christians don’t seem to have the same intellectual integrity.

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      • Well, the stakes are too high. Jews are still Jews, with a distinct cultural identity, even when they’re atheists. Take the mythology out of Christianity and you’re left with… nothing.

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      • Christianity, sure… But it’s just a vaporous belief system. The Jews have a tangible cultural root. The Humanistic movement is tackling this head on, focusing on the actual history and the real cultural identity of the Jews. In their take it’s the mercantile, national and scientific exploits of the Jewish people which are far more important than monotheism.

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  6. What the devil is that floating up there? How does it remain so? There are no pillars holding it aloft as those have fallen one by one. Perhaps it has no weight, being made of wishful thinking. Perhaps it is being held up by wishful thinking as well. Christianity prevails by imagination, the same imagination that created it.

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  7. Great post as usual!
    “the Jews are terrified of a wave of antisemitism coming from American evangelicals.”

    I want to expound on this a bit. As an American living in the South I find ‘evangelicals’ around every corner. I do believe the Jews are justifiably concerned about reprisals against their own cultural antideification. But what would that concern be?
    Evangelicals come in all flavors. All would be fundamentally shaken to have their precious myths exposed to the light of day. Some would just ignore any new revelation as inconsistent with their own myopic world view and life would go on. I think they would be the majority. Most Americans would not really care. They like their gods, pay little attention to the world, and even if they had to give them up by crushing weight of evidence forced down their throats, could do so easily. Really, most just do not care! There would be a small percentage from already existing hate groups (neo-Nazi, skin heads) that would simply add this to their long list of grieviances. They could act out a bit, but are pretty much already on law enforcements radar so can be marginalized. Some ‘evangelicals’ might actually, in the ensuing public debate, begin to have enough reasonable doubt that they would invest in reading and critical thinking enough to personally transform. Those small few would be worth welcoming! However, the group concerning are those that consciously mis-wear the ‘evangelical’ mantle, not for true belief, but for political motivation. News flash: the real thing worshiped here in the States is personal autonomy and complete preservation of the ability to accumulate power and influence, and the money that enables both, free from external interference. Try and interfere with that and trouble WILL ensue.

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    • How would a very public Jewish burial of Yahweh influence power in America? I believe that the most vocal ‘evangelicals’ are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not a few are probably atheists in private. They maintain a vitriolic external persona of piety and righteousness for the expressed purpose of acquiring, maintaining, and expanding power. Undermining Christianity via the mythologicification of the entire OT will be bad for business. The linear relationship is obvious for the typical pastor of a mega church with a lucrative television cable programming network. The same for the many, many who earn a living working for religious based: schools, publishing, book stores, entertainment, and charities all of whom would suffer from a loss of revenue if we got less ‘religious.’ A less obvious but more nefarious example would be of the “Tea Party.” I hypothesize that the Tea Party, and to some degree most Republicans, have embraced a disingenuous affiliation with Fundamentalists precisely because their economic platforms so grossly potentiate wealth disparities and favor the top 1% that they would never get elected to anything unless they had some appeal to a base of support within the working poor. I believe the right wingers embrace Yahweh entirely for political expediency. Somehow voting Republican is voting for Jesus. The actions of those in power, in private as well as in their policies, seems antithetical to the supposed biblical basis of their ‘faith.’ I have not done a complete analysis of the pros and cons used by our Jewish brothers and sisters in calculating the risk-benefit ratio of coming forward with their newest thinking, but understanding their historical penchant for making excellent economic decisions, I imagine that remaining out of the limelight on this topic is the right choice for them.

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      • I think you’re spot on, although i can’t speak for anyone in particular. That’s at least the feeling i get: just keep the volume down, these people are liable to go ballistic if we call last drinks.

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    • Plutocracy, for sure. I’ve heard the Democrats “3rd Way” is trying to silence Elizabeth Warren, which on the face of it sounds just bizarre. All political/economic lines merge right at the top.

      To your point, “Fundamentalists” might be more apt than simply “evangelical.” It’s the Gary North’s and their Reconstructionists/Dominionist brethren who are a real concern. Those people are true nutcases, and therefore unpredictable.

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    • Interesting stuff. He’s a firebrand, no doubt about that. Anyone who $arah Palin hates is OK in my eyes… although I’m not sure he’s exactly right. The atheist rabbis I’ve been chatting with promote the cultural aspect without all the Yahweh nonsense and they don’t seem to find any contradictions. I do agree with him saying Jews have a great influence here, which is exactly why I’ve been focusing on this subject for the last month or so. Go to the root, see what’s happening.

      Here’s the link to The International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. Some interesting stuff in there.

      http://iishj.org/index.html

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  8. This is an intriguing development in the Abrahamic religion. When looking upon Islam I see a child – a religion still going through its terrible-two’s. Christianity did the same thing in the middle ages, but they were eventually bitch slapped into submission – sort of. Judaism is the grandparent of the group – old and wise. It has been around long enough to experience the various phases that the younger monotheisms are going through. I honestly doubt that their actions (i.e. rejection of the patriarchs, etc.) would influence Christianity or Islam, however. Like children, they think they know better. The Jews could reject everything, which would only give Christians and Muslims another reason to scorn them.

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    • Spot on! In some ways, Christianity is still a rebellious teenager. Someday perhaps, as all of us who are parents eventually hope for, the child says: Mom and Dad, you were right!

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      • Wouldn’t that be something – upon reaching adulthood, Christianity turns to Judaism and says, “You were right. Our bad.” That would be phenomenal.

        There are some Christian denominations that are closer than others. I’m afraid my sisters, however, is about as far away as possible. She just posted a comment on Facebook in response to one of my recent articles. I don’t think this is a breach of privacy since I’m not telling which of my sisters this was, but have a look at this:

        “I love to listen/read people who think that they are intelligent and enlightened, ramble on about crap that they really don’t have any knowledge about, and therefor sound like the baboon they “evolved” from….ROTFLMBO!”

        🙂 I think her denomination has a long way to go.

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    • Which is a certain fear. The really awkward part here for Muslims and Christians is that without the Torah they have no god, and that’s why I’m enjoying point this out so much 🙂 It’s also ruinous (as you well know) because the Qur’an and Bible are riddled with Moses and Abraham references which tend to look pretty damn odd if we consider Moses and Abraham were fictional characters.

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      • If CCT and SOM are any indication, you’re going to have a tough time convincing them that Moses and Abraham were fictitious.

        In CCT’s case, I’m finding that he might not even care. He has shared some peculiar beliefs with me lately that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. I’m finding that certain responses have been equivalent to, “That’s not important if it’s real. I believe nonetheless.” And then he usually cites a Bible verse that supports his viewpoint. I don’t think he minds discarding certain portions of the Bible, and I think he’s perfectly aware that he is doing so (unlike some Christians that do so, but argue that they don’t).

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  9. Muggle, Great link. I think Silverman has a point. It is challenging to uncouple the culture of the Jewish people from their religion. How could a person that were ‘converted’ to the Jewish faith but ethnically be non-descended from any middle easter tribe be still called a Jew? Would those that have similar DNA kick out those that do not? I have always wondered why Islam has maintained such a post modern following in SE Europe, India, Indonesia and other Asian nations. That seems to be a religion that is absolutely centered amongs desert nomads with little cultural appeal anwhere else. I think you would have even more difficulty being an Islamic Atheist.

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  10. Fabulous post John. All the great comments and insights shared is a bonus for me. Thank you guys for doing the hard stuff, the checking, research, double checking and slugging away through who knows how much verbiage.
    Yup. Thank you.

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  11. Excellent reporting and analysis. So?

    I’ve said before that not even Jesus standing on a soapbox in the biggest TV station in the world and relayed globally would be big enough to deny the lie. God themself couldn’t do it. (Another dinosaur-asteroid might, but appeal to reason never will)(too much wealth and power at stake.)

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  12. I think I can see the way this is going: “We believe a lot less than you lot do!”
    “Well just hold on there – our god is a helluva lot less real than the one you don’t believe in….etc. Any excuse for a scrap.

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  13. Imagine a Christian denomination which recognized that Yahweh once had a wife…

    Is good to see that the Jews are joining the Buddhists in providing a belief structure that reconciles their need for belief in a higher being with the reality of the world around them, unlike the Christians and the Muslims, who resolutely continue to live in a world of magic.

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    • It does seem to be where Judaism is heading, and it’s not such a bad thing.

      Yeah, it would be lovely to hear a Christian priest speak about Yahweh and his wife, Asherah. It’d be doubly-interesting hearing him then explain that Asherah was also his mother! 🙂

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  14. Judaism fascinates me. I took a class several years ago as part of my history curriculum and I was astounded at how academic they were in their approach to their religion and culture. I still don’t agree with it and they have a long ways to go in terms of women’s rights and other social issues (I personally will always see any sort of religion as a hindrance to growth); but it’s interesting to watch it adapt and unfold to the current society while other monotheistic religions seem to become more exclusive and unforgiving with interpretation. Good article!

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    • Thanks, and you’re spot on. I’ve been pleasantly surprised too at how the non-Orthodox approach belief. I don’t agree with it, gods are such a weak human response to mysteries, but there’s an impressive pragmatism and flexibility to Judaism which is missing from Christianity and Islam.

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  15. Pingback: The Rather Simple Question No Christian Can Answer | the superstitious naked ape

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