As an atheist in yeshiva, I tend to get into some interesting conversations about seemingly anything and everything. In the course of the discussions regarding belief in God and keeping to the orthodox religion there are to arguments that I keep hearing to which I can’t help feeling sad and hurt that humanity is in this state. Sadly, however the more I hear these I am slowly moving from pity to frustration.
The first of these is in the respect given to the “virtue” and “gift” of simply believing (emunah p’shutah). The sad thing is that I hear this from people who are intelligent and rational and nonetheless yearn for this simple faith. Rather than follow their own logic they prefer to struggle with their own thoughts just to maintain some level of faith. It hurts me to see people in this state. To see people whose mind is telling them that two plus two is four yet wish themselves to see it as five because this is what their culture demands of them is saddening.
Why do people consider faith a virtue? Why is believing in something notwithstanding the lack of evidence to support it, and some times in the face of contrary evidence viewed as a virtue!?!?
In my experience, to the extent that a person is willing to think critically, to just that extent he can be saved from following foolish and sometimes wicked ideas. As much as people criticize Hitler for being an atheist (which he was not), a big part of the blame must go to the believing sheep of a people that followed him. Just as no critical thinker could possibly go along with his bizarre pseudoscience of racial superiority, no critical thinker could follow such absurd ideas as the ones religion claims either. The one thing in which we have advanced above all other animals is our critical thinking skills, and yet some people throw it away in exchange for the cheap comfort of religion. I find it maddening. Belief cannot give you real knowledge about the world; it cannot give you any usable information. I find it ironic that these people use phones, medicines, airplanes, and GPS, yet shun the thought process that made it possible.
The other claim I have been getting is that even if Judaism were all false, it is still a preferable worldview to the secular existentialist. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. First of all, lying to yourself should never be forgivable let alone preferable. Secondly, it is a horrid, pathetic, and restrictive way of thinking in its own right and especially when compared to reality, the comfort of delusion cannot compare to the amazement of knowledge.
Last night I sat by a meal at a friend of mine, and for dessert he served cherry pie and fruit. As my host started saying a nice piece of torah regarding why the Jews were asleep during the giving of the torah I stared at my piece of watermelon. I noticed that it these white things going through it which resembled veins. As I further marveled at the similarity between various life forms, I realized that the watermelon on my plate was a (very) distant cousin of mine, the watermelon and I share a common ancestor. How mind-blowingly amazing is that!? How can that compare to what my host was discussing? To take that back a step further, the silver spoon with which I was eating the watermelon and I also have something in common. We are both made of heavy elements and that means that we were cooked up in a star.
This feeling of oneness with everything that is based on facts is infinitely more preferable to me than the schismatic view that Judaism takes. From a Jewish perspective, there is me, and everything else is (to quote the Ramchal) means to which I can attain reward in the next world. How pathetic is that?
It gets even worse, as a Jew you must believe that you are inherently and fundamentally a different species from all other species. A Jew walks down the street knowing that he is different from the goyim around him, he thinks differently than the goyim around him, he feels differently than the goyim around him, he lives and dies differently than the goyim around him. How much human solidarity gets lost here? How many opportunities for true human connection get lost over this self-imposed ghetto? Instead, I can look around and see how much I have in common with the regular American, the Chinese, the African American, the Italian, and the Arab. Consequently, I can learn so much more about people, I stop believing the xenophobic fear I was raised with, I am more comfortable in my world.
Furthermore if accept the facts of evolution as opposed to the false idea that God created us, I suddenly view our future quite differently. As a believer in the Torah, you must accept that we are the greatest living creature that could ever be, we are perfect, and created in God’s image. I however, understand that we are just a product of evolution. While I cannot say that being human is that bad, it is rather good actually, I can dream though of what we will evolve to over the next few million, or billion years. If we evolved from amoebas in the short time span of this planet, can you imagine where we will be in the future? I do not view the past as perfect, I do not view the knowledge that we gained in the past, or the present for that matter as perfect. Rather I can dream about a future species that will have evolved from humans that will be as similar to us as we are to the amoeba and will be capable of so much more. The possibilities are endless, and to think that I am a part of this process is TRULY awe-inspiring.