Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Thank God for the Atheist World!*

I grew up in a Orthodox Jewish home. I was taught at an early age that the world was created by God, and that the most important thing in the world is to serve Him. I later went to doubt everything I was taught was holy. Eventually, I just flat out denied it. There are many reasons I had at the time for going this way. But the most important thing, I think, is that my mind is not compatible with this belief. Being free minded is one of the things I most hold dear. Some people cherish money, others sex, but I cherish freedom of mind and spirit above all else. How could I live my whole life without questioning my beliefs? I was taught that to merely question certain fundamentals in my religion was off limits and not permitted by God Himself. On the one hand, I was devoted to my religion, but on the other hand, it was impossible not to question. It was a difficult situation to be in.

One day, while in Yeshivah, I was learning the Kuzari by Rabbi Yehudah Halevi. The book starts off telling a story about the king of the pagan kingdom of Khazar who wanted to adopt a new religion. He decided to call on three representatives from the major religions in Europe to argue in favor of their respective religions. First he heard from a Muslim cleric, then a Christian, and lastly a Rabbi. The Rabbi's arguments so impressed him, that he decided to convert his kingdom into Judaism. The book is used to bolster a Jews faith in Judaism, but for me it had the opposite affect. I was impressed with king that he was so open minded. I thought to my self, shouldn't I be so open minded? Do I believe because I think it has validity or do I believe because I was born into it? I looked around my yeshiva from the heads of the yeshiva to the students and I wondered if any of them ever honestly examined this religion that they spend so much time and effort on?

Unfortunately for me I didn't see a lot of people there that seriously examined their faith. I concluded that most people don't really give it much thought. The answers they give in yeshiva are very weak, and will only convince a person who wants to believe, not a person who wants to objectively judge it. I couldn't live like that. Besides, what did I have to lose? I mean it's not like Judaism is false, right? So I went on with my questioning, but I never really found any answers that satisfied me.

I kept on asking myself one simple question: if I wasn't born into this religion, would I think it was true if I had examined it objectively? The answer that I couldn't deny was, no, I wouldn't have believed in it. The only real reason that I did believe in it was because I happened to be taught this way. It was this simple point that brought me to where I am today. I just couldn't honestly say I believed in it anymore.

For a while I was confused, angry, and sad. But as I got more used to my beliefs and ideas, I was happy. I finally was able to believe what I felt was true and good, and not just what I was expected to believe. This was liberating for me, and even though it wasn't a easy way to go by any means, I am still glad I did it. The road less traveled is sometimes the right choice.

*Sorry GH, but I just couldn't resist.

19 Comments:

Blogger Mis-nagid said...

It's like reading my own mind. Freaky.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Orthoprax said...

Indeed.

"I mean it's not like Judaism is false, right?"

I said the same exact thing. Maybe we were taught to be too sure in our religion. If we thought that its case wasn't so airtight maybe we wouldn't have been so willing to seriously look into it critically.

12:03 AM  
Blogger daat y said...

But hsow des that make you an atheist?

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Marvin said...

I think what you are saying is that you are culturally orthodox eg...attend shul, kiss the torah, say good shabbos and eat chicken soup friday nights, but like me, don't really give ahit!

8:46 PM  
Anonymous none said...

doc, you don't have to figure out if you'd choose judaism without being born into it, in order to make an objective decision.
out of curiosity, did you ever learn the beginning of the chovas halavavos (the first shaar the one they tell you not to learn in yeshiva) or the first perek of nefesh hachaim? how much research did you do into the sifrei machshava before you decided it was all bogus? did you just open up the rambam's guide to the perplexed and found yourself still perplexed? where did you search for the answers?

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In what did you stop believing?

Let's imagine that you have come across very strange passages in Talmud which you feel confident that they are fairy tales, according to your recipie you will stop believing in whatever the Talmud says in its entirety.
Yet there are many other options.
1- allegory
2- they were as superstisous their society was
3- it actually made sense with the info they had then.

All of the above have been argued by many bona fide Rishonim.

Do the same with the Torah on your own. (not to mention the Rambam which accordint to Abarbenel has already use the above on Tana"ch.

But, you say, this is not 'Orthodoxy'. Are you saying that you are buying in to fundamentalist nonrational ideology?
Thats like building a straw man.

Why this none or all atittude?

2:46 AM  
Anonymous suzan said...

read http://www.feldheim.com/cgi-bin/category.cgi?item=1-58330-806-7&category=131

4:36 AM  
Blogger Mis-nagid said...

LOL! You folks are hysterical. Gee, if only Mr Spinoza had thought to read apologetics. I mean, surely Shmuel Waldman's book would have put to rest all his questions.

9:57 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

anonymous,

>In what did you stop believing?

I stopped believing in the divine origin of the Torah. I stopped believing in God as commonly understood in Orthodox Judaism. That isn't to say that Tanach has no value; but I now understand it as a human creation with warts and all

>Yet there are many other options.
1- allegory
2- they were as superstisous their society was
3- it actually made sense with the info they had then.

And I do believe in all three options if used judiciously. I do however, object to someone saying something is allegory in order to reconcile their beliefs with Tanach, if it is clearly not the intent of the author in Tanach

>Do the same with the Torah on your own. (not to mention the Rambam which accordint to Abarbenel has already use the above on Tana"ch

have you read what Spinoza wrote about Rambam's attempt to 'rationalize' Tanach?

I don't think it's a good idea to try shove our modern understandings of metaphysics into the mouth of the prophets

>Why this none or all atittude?

I don't have a ‘none or all attitude’ any more. I used to, but I have grown passed that. That was a major reason behind this blog.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous none said...

the author of the tanach didn't write the tanach for people to analyze the way they do modern literature. i don't see how you can claim to know so much about the author's intent.
tanach was given with torah sheh baal peh to explain the author's intent

1:58 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>the author of the tanach didn't write the tanach for people to analyze the way they do modern literature.

I don't want to read it in any modern way; I just want to read it in a more conservative way than the Rambam.

>i don't see how you can claim to know so much about the author's intent.

You’re right, no one can ever claim with certainty an author’s intent, but what I am saying is that if we stick as closely to their words as possible then we have a better chance of knowing their intent.

Of course there are times when an allegorical interpretation is the right approach, but we must be very careful and not do it just because we don't like what the author was saying. Context is key.

>tanach was given with torah sheh baal peh to explain the author's intent

That’s not what I believe. Besides, we were discussing the Rambam's approach, which is not torah `sheh baal peh`.

2:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spinoza,
What I meant about the Rambam according to the Abarbenel is that Rambam says that Maaseh Merkava is astonomy but wait, he says that it's MISATKEN astronomy, it's astronomy the way the Bablonians thought it to be, and the greeks have proven it wrong (according to the Rambam) so Yechezkel Hanavie has written prophecy but it was mistaken, it was according to the best info available then.
But wasn't it Prophecy, you ask? Well we gotta redfine prophecy.

3:40 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

why would he say it's astronomy? I would think that it was a religious symbol. I'm not sure if the prophet actually thought God had a body or not. It's very possible that some of them did, especially Ezechial

>But wasn't it Prophecy, you ask? Well we gotta redfine prophecy.

My personal views regarding prophecy is that it's inspired words which affected the hearts and minds of the Hebrew nation. I don't think of it as a divine message. Do you agree with that, anonymous?

6:24 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Yeah, the strong suggestions against "questioning your faith", really got to me too. No honest system is that finicky about a little transparency.



I think I am still in the stage you describe yourself as first being in...a little pissed off.

4:46 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>I think I am still in the stage you describe yourself as first being in...a little pissed off.

I'm sorry to hear that. Things will probably improve as time goes on. Time heals all wounds.

Can I ask how long it has been since you started having serious doubts?

7:55 PM  
Blogger BTA said...

Re: reading Mis-nagid's mind. I find it amazing that this isn't the majority of frummies.

Great post.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>Can I ask how long it has been since you started having serious doubts?

Almost two years of real honest to goodness doubt. Most of my life I was skeptical, but never had the time to really look at other opinions other than those taught in yeshiva, and thus never really formulated an alternative.

And, I won't forget to mention, how embarrasing for me, I was easily scared into submission by speeched detailing the consequences of anything less than strict observance.

9:10 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>Almost two years of real honest to goodness doubt.

me too (or around that) although I can't say I doubt any more. I would categorize it as deny

>And, I won't forget to mention, how embarrasing for me, I was easily scared into submission by speeched detailing the consequences of anything less than strict observance.

aint nothing to be embarrassed about. It's hard to drop superstitious beliefs that you were taught from day one.

It takes a mature mind to comes to make such a drastic change. Some mature early, others mature later. It started to happen for me in my mid twenties, and after a year or so of doubting, I finally came to peace with my new way of thinking

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering how many in yeshivas are also skeptical. I'd imagine that after they reach a certain age, there are quite a few. Maybe some of the biggest ones are the self-appointed mashgiachs.
At least the blogosphere brings some of it out in the open.

2:38 AM  

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