This topic is somewhat connected to the last post on US-Israel relations.

Over the past year, after finally admitting to myself that I no longer believed in God, I've spent a lot of time reading, thinking, and discussing atheism.  It felt very liberating to remove the last mental roadblock that for so long prevented me from truly exercising my critical thinking skills, and I have to admit that I was quite self-congratulatory about finally being able to think through everything without that vague feeling of guilt that always lives at the back of your mind during the time between losing your faith and admitting that you've lost it.  However, during the past few weeks, as Israel has been all over the news, I've realized that I still had some work to do.  The fact is, unquestioning support for Israel was so ingrained in me after having identified as a religious Zionist for approximately 5 years that (as I realized with some horror) I had continued to avoid any media or discussions dealing with the truth about Israel.  It was as if that part of my brain existed in some alternate Fox News-style universe, convinced that it was fair and balanced while being completely and utterly biased in favor of one very specific view.  Was I really a freethinker who turned fundie the minute Israel was mentioned???  Yes.  Yes, I was.

Since having this realization, I've experienced a sense of emptiness that far surpasses what I felt when I "let go of God," as that somehow felt like a much more organic process.  I suppose it is because in a way, apart from my (unobservant) family, Israel and my support for it was the only factor that continued to connect me to Judaism.  I noticed even before admitting my atheism that I was not only uninterested in all things Jewish, but that I actually felt a strong distaste for the faith, because at its "purest", it represents all the things that turn me off from religion: legalism, ritualism, isolation, groupthink, sexism, etc.  I have been unable to continue participating in rituals (high holidays, Shabbos candles, etc.) that some atheist Jews keep up in honor of the culture.  The thought of ever again limiting my love life to include only Jewish men just makes me laugh.  And now that I can no longer pretend to blindly support Israel, it seems as though there is nothing at all that connects me to Judaism.  I guess if I had been a Christian, this wouldn't bother me, but as a Jew I still fear being a self-loather, a traitor, etc.  I'm surprised, as I stopped being observant some time before I admitted my atheism, but there it is.

I guess I'm wondering if anyone else has experienced this, either in connection to Israel or to any other aspects of Jewish/Jewish-American culture.  It's certainly not a hurdle I expected, though I guess I should have.

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Replies to This Discussion

@Diana D...I am a third generation Jewish atheist and secular socialist Zionist. I continue to hold the values and dreams the Zionist pioneers had decades ago. The religious extremists are not speaking for me or the majority nor do they have the majority power in the government. They have a voice, as do all minorities. I continue to support separation of government and religion here and in Israel.

I affiliate with a Secular Humanistic Jewish congregation, never having to compromise my naturalistic worldview while proudly having a Jewish identity.

I'd be glad to go into more depth on these issues with you if you'd like. Let me know.
Ruthe, thank you for your response. I responded to Shiran below about my views on Zionism, but I would really like to hear more about your affiliation with a Secular Humanist congregation. I've never understood why atheists join those sorts of groups, apart from connecting with a Jewish community. If you live in Israel, and are surrounded by fellow Jews, what is the attraction? (And I'm not putting you down - I'm very curious to understand.)
@Diana D...I'm from the US, not Israel (you might have mixed me and Shiran up). I've visited twice and plan to visit again someday. Relocation is not out of the question. I have Israeli flags and art on display in my home and advocate for Israels' rights by keeping myself informed of the issues, dispelling antiIsrael propaganda myths, letter writing, attending support rallies,... Israel is a great source of Jewish pride. Pride in one’s identity and heritage is vital to well being.

I am not surrounded by fellow Jews. I am alienated from my atheist groups and left wing political roots. Antisemitism has become in vogue in both circles. I am repeatedly having to decided how to respond to antisemitic and unjustified antiIsrael attacks. Because of the pain it’s causing me I'm gravitating toward my local secular Humanistic Jewish Birmingham Temple and the secular intellectual groups at my local Jewish Community Center. It’s only natural to want to be in positive, friendly environments rather than negative, hostile ones.

Connecting with Jewish community addresses my wants to share and/or discuss song, music, dance, art, poetry, literature, history, foods, celebrations, ceremonies, morals, ethics, values, role models, philosophy and politics with neighbors, friends and family without being subjected to a barrage of attacks from antisemites.
Hello. I'm wondering if you live in Birmingham AL. That's where I live. If you do live here and attend a humanistic temple, then I had no idea we had one here. I'll have to look into this.
Hi, Diana.
When I first found out that a religious system isn't right for me, I felt the same thing (and I was 15, so I think it was harder for me because I was in the high pick of adolecens). I'm atheist now- but I still feeling Jewish and proud about it. I still strongly believe Jewish need to live in Israel, I still think this is our land because our anceint fathers were here (acording to archeological and genetical prooves, of course). It was difficult. And I guess that because I'm living in Israel, and I'm actually living in flesh and blood what is happening here, It was harder than others Jewish people who don't live here.
But then, as part of history classes and self interest- I learned about Zionism. And Zionism isn't and never will be a religious ideology. Zionism is purly secular movement- guided by the fact Judaism is nationality, and not religion only. And like every other nationality- we deserve a place of our own, especially because we arn't accepted in any other place in the world.

So, if you think that being an atheist is automaticly means you can't support Israel (because of some reson you think our only "excuse" of being here is religious one, which it isn't true), I'm telling you that you are wrong. Infact, the most logic thing to do is being a Zionist- after all, what is more Jewish atheist than recognize you are part of nationality,not religion only, and that why you have the right to form a place where you can perserve your culture, history and language?
Shiran, I'd like to clarify a few things about my post, as I see having read your response that I wasn't 100% clear.

When I saw that I was a religious Zionist, I meant that I believed that Israel belonged to the Jewish people because God had promised it to us - no other reason was needed, and I held on to it. (Sort of like that infuriating "God said it - I believe it - that settles it" position of the evangelicals.) I knew a lot - A LOT - of other American Jews who identified, and continue to identify, in this way. When I let go of God, I realized that this reasoning was no longer valid, and in its absence I see no other reason for the RIGID, UNQUESTIONING support for Israel that I once held. Without this support, which led to self-censorship and a complete lack of exposure to any criticism of Israel at all, I found myself receiving real facts about Israel and being forced to question my support.

I certainly don't think that being an atheist precludes support for Israel. I have family in Israel and have been there several times. I know many atheist Jews who support Israel, and I don't consider that to be a contradictory position. What I'm saying is that for ME, religion was the only factor guiding my support, and my support grew out of the great spiritual connection I felt to Erez Israel. So without it, I have to do a LOT of research and decide how I feel about the situation based on critical thinking. While I don't anticipate becoming "anti-Israel", I know I will become much, much more critical of it - without denying it has the right to exist, which at this time is a moot point anyway in my opinion. That being said, I have no idea why this should be considered "our" land just because our "ancient fathers" were here. Are we to redistribute the earth based on what archeology and genetics demonstrate? I don't think that your average Jewish New Yorker would cheerfully pack her bags and migrate because a group of Native Americans decided that they wanted to forefathers' land back.

Lastly, as I said in my post, I feel a huge disconnect from all things Jewish, and I've yet to be convinced that there is any intrinsic value in simply keeping the tradition alive for its own sake. I am certainly not convinced that it is a "nationality." I am an Ashkenazi Jew from Russia - what on earth do I have in common with a Jew from Morocco, or Ethiopia, or Lebanon, apart from Torah, which I don't follow? These days the idea of Judaism as a nationality or a race is mostly being used (in my experience) to guilt non-practicing Jews back into the fold, OR to convince them that they HAVE to support Israel, even though there are many religious Jews who do not and many non-religious Jews who do. I don't want any part of that.
I realized you ment that by saying you are "religious Zionist". However, I told you I didn't understand why do you think now (after becoming an atheist) that there is only "religious reson" of supporting Israel unquestionatly.
Yes, I do have criticism about my country- but not in security issues, which I guess this is the topic you have criticism against Israel. My criticism is about our education which is more like "our lack-of-education" and of course- I dislike the privilege of religious people in Israel. But as an American- those issues isn't concerns you. I get those real facts like you are, I just don't get those facts as it is. I do ask my self "it really was necesary? could we act differently? and if we could- what the results would be?" Most of the cases I conclued that the answer of the first question is "YES" or the answer to the last 2 questions is "YES" and "Probably worst then the actual result". Take the blockade for example- the anti-Israeli will take it like it is "The blockade is illegel, breakes human rights and international law". this is a fact. But they are not seeing beyond the blockade- why we are doing it? because we just want to satisfy some inhuman desier or becuase we really need to control the "in and out" of Gaza Strip- so Israeli civilians won't get hurt? can we act differently? If you have an idea-please present it. And finally- would this idea will be as efficient as the blockade? Adding another fact- Israel delivers humaniterain aid in a daily basis to Gaza Strip- which basicly says "No, our intention isn't hurt civilians, our intention is hurt Hamas- a terror organization and enemy of Israel" ends the debate about the blockade.

It shouldn't be considered our land just because our ancient fathers had been here. However, historiclly speaking, Jewish people are currently the only nationality who really do have historic roots on this land- the other nationalities such as Cna'anities and Philisities disappierd ages ago, and defenatly has no conection to todays' Palestinians like anti-Israel people are trying to claime. Palestininas are descendants of work immigrants from Arabian Peninsula who migrate here during Ottoman Empire. In 1948 all the Jewish people from Arab countries were exiled from their countries- Yemen, Iraq, Moroco etc, etc. They returned to Israel land- the logic thing which should've been happen is the return of the Arabs in Israel to their homelands- but it didn't happen.
That being said- I do support a Palestinian state. Even after they are invented nationality (until 1967 they were "Arabs of Israel" generally name of Arab immigrants in Israel), Even after we can't even call them a "political nationality" because they don't want to express some special ideology through a state- they just don't want us to be here and the only thing which keeps them together (in a way...Fatah and Hamas hate each other almost as much as they hate us) is the hatred to Israel and the democracy it represent. Even after all that- I do support a Palestinian state- so we can finally live in peace (and again-in a way....they still going to hate us).
No one, including native Americans, is claiming from this average Jewish New Yorker to leave America. However, the Palestinians (and Helen Thomas...) claime from me, my family and freinds to leave my native country by saying they are the natives (which is proovless). Sort of a Hutzpa!
Anyway, I'm sure this average Jewish New Yorker will be very happy to know that she can return to her native country if some day she will be claimed to leave America.

Well, this is a very personal question. I, in the other hand, feel a huge connection to all (well, most of...) things Jewish. Because this is still the things I grew up with: Gefilte on Pass Over, Shabbath, lightening the candels during Hanucka and a lot of other things. This is a culture thing, family thing. For example- one of my best childhood memories is sitting with my dad at the synagogue (then orthodox, today reform) during Yom Kippur and Rosh Hasha and hear the Shofar. This is very religious thing to do, but I like it and I'm still doing it today because I don't want (and really don't see the need) to gave up those little things which makes you feel like a part of something bigger then you think.
I am sure that each and every person in this group have similar memories to the one I described. Just because you stoped believe it, doesn't mean you have to give up about tradition. What about the value of family and childhood memories? You honestly can say that as a child you didn't had fun in the Seder with all the songs and special foods? Or in Hanucka- with the candels? or at Sukkot? Rosh Hasha? Even Yom Kippur when everything is slower and quieter.....I didn't ate latkes and donats at Hanucka because it was for the memory of the oil which last for 8 days, I did it because it was fun, and special and familiar.

You do the same thing the religious Jewish is doing- deviding the Jewish people To Ashkenazis and Sfaradis. This is wrong, very wrong. I am too Ashkenazi Jewish, so what? do you think I don't hang out with Sfaradis Jewish? or that we don't have issues to talk about? or that we consider our selves as 2 different sub-cultures in the Jewish culture? If I was doing that, it would have been very sad (and very ugly). I do go to Mimuna of my Sfaradi friends- and I enjoy it and see it as a beautiful Jewish tradition, even though I, as Ashkenazi, don't have any kind of connection to the Mimuna. Maybe you don't know what you have in common because you never lived with them- your Jewish environment is consist of American Jewish only.
Are you think I, another Jewish atheist, am trying to guilt you back into the fold by saying we are nationality?
Anyway, I think the "religious=supports Israel, non-religious=against Israel" is a very dumb and childish thing to do. As Israeli- I can say to you that the general feeling here (after the flotilla) is that the criticism against Israel has gone too far- and it is demonizing Israel. Asking for support from the Jewish community around the world has become more necesary then it was because the world is actually questionaize the legitimacy of Israel. In such times-we are trying to convince you that you HAVE to support us, or else Israel's end will come. You HAVE to understand that we feel you can't see this is demonizing Israel, and see it as legitimate criticism about Israel. Well, it isn't. So convincing you that you HAVE to support us because of your nationality is act of survival.
That what I meant to say, I just didn't had better word then "nationality" to express that :P
And about the Palestinian state- I agree. I already said I support the establishment of a Palestinian state only for the sake of Israelis- who can finelly say to their children "dady and momy were in the army sweety, but they made sure you won't have to do that!".
I understand the desire for cultural survival. I live in Michigan, an American state which has lost its economic backbone and much of its population. As a state we have become culturally impoverished, and our educational system is suffering. Schools, Temples and factories are closing regularly. I think that Israel is a symbol of a more modern world. However, one cannot avoid bias. I think that if there were a connection between the Canaanites and the Palestinians it may be overlooked by those with a political reasons. From the perspective of some, it has become a racial issue, claiming that Palestinians are closer by genetic heritage to the original people who lived there than are the European immigrants who make up most of Israel. I don't agree with any of that, but those are the arguments being put forth, and one may see why. Who lived where and why should probably be left out of these discussions, because I don't think it will actually support anyone's point well.

I will point out that cultural survival is not the same as human survival. The Philistines and Canaanites died out as cultural groups, but the people who lived in them lived on. As long as we put cultural groups ahead of our own survival, we risk human death.

I am not willing to die simply to support the culture in which I live or was born, however, I would be willing to die to support the ability for people to live in the culture that they wanted.
Shiran, I *do* question the legitimacy of Israel - I *know* all/most countries came about through war. I am a realist.  I want peace for everybody.  I find your view of Palestinians uncaring. I think the truth is more complex and question why I, as a Jewish person could have the right of return when a Palestinian whose family lived in the land for years does not, and feel the harsh treatment and inequality of Palestinians in Israel was bound to lead to extremism.  I believe Israel would perish tomorrow if it were not propped up by America/ the West - although given the choice, that is better than the current alternative of course.  I think more empathy and love *is* the way forward, caring about human beings. The alternative is more madness and extremism.  First stop, to change the ridiculous marriage laws in Israel?  What do you think?

Hi Shiran....I am new to this site and notice  your thread  was written in 2010.....As you can see  it is now August,2014   and I am  answering  your thread.....After  reading  your very well written piece, I found  I could  relate  to it............I am new  to Atheism so am unsure on  how  it affects me  as a Jew....Since I no longer  believe in God nor  do I hold  much  credence  in the Bible, I wondered  if  I was still considered  Jewish......I have been told  that since  both my parents  were  Jewish  I will always  be  considered  Jewish....... As with Diana D  I am  not into  the culture  of Judaism, as I am not kosher and do not  follow  Jewish  traditions ......The one thing  I do feel strongly  about  is the State of Israel............I have always  supported it and truly  believe the Jews now have a Homeland......I agree with you that the term Palestinian Arab  was made up by them....Prior to  1948..Palestine  was another  name  for the land of Israel....Since  the Arabs  living there  were  nomadic, there  were  no  communities  or towns established  by them.      It wasn't  until  the Jews  came back and  irrigated  the land  and  formed Kibbutzim, did   communities  thrive...The Jews were  able  to plant trees   and grow crops and made a life  for themselves....It was then  that  the Arabs got nervous, and started  their  propaganda  campaign that the Jews stole  their  homeland......All they had  to do  was develop  their own  communities and  maybe  things  would  have turned  out  differently.......The new  state of Israel  was recognized  by the UN  so what was The new  Israelis to do  when they were  attacked as soon  as it became  official.........The formation  of the state of Israel gave all the Jews all over the world a Homeland.....We  got our  pride  back  after  being  expelled  from so many countries.......It is this fact that makes  me, an Atheist Jew, a supporter  of  the state of Israel........I guess that makes  me  a Zionist .....As you  said it is not related  to religion  as much  as  our  Nationality or Ethnicity.....So  I intend  to continue  my support  for Israel  as a proud  Atheist  Jew......  

I find this post odd in certain ways, and I wonder if a generational factor is at work, though . . . well, it's odd that a younger person--among Jews, especially--would be more religious than previous generations, given the history of Jewish secularization. I find it odd that Zionism and religion would have such a close connection, i.e. the former hanging on the latter. I don't think this is historically the case among American Jews, certainly not among the baby boomers I have known and their parents' generation. Of course, the tribe seeks to perpetuate the religion, but not because they are terribly religious. What drives uncritical loyalty to Israel for these generations, esp. the Depression generation and the stragglers still alive from their parents' generation, is the Holocaust and the experience of anti-Semitism in the USA (up through the 1950s, anyway). Religion played a weak, supporting role, at best. I cannot think of a single pro-Israel Jew I've known that has ever argued for Zionism on the basis of religion. The Holocaust, anti-Semitism, and the putative geographical origin of the Jewish people in what is now Israel was the only justification that was needed or would have convinced anyone of anything.

So to read about the religious Zionism of someone apparently so young as you is weird. I don't even remember the existence of religious right-wing Zionists in the USA prior to the 1967 war, so I'm wondering if this isn't more a phenomenon of the past 40 years, rather than the past 140.

As for feeling like a traitor, I cannot relate to your loss of faith. I don't even see Jewish ethnocentrism as inherently tied to religion anymore, and again, I have a hard time being convinced of the religiosity of American Jews born after 1930, though obviously there are pockets of orthodoxy. Tribal loyalty, it seems to me, goes much deeper than religion, and is tied to historical anxiety about the Jewish people, which after 1945 got tied up in securing the survival of the Jewish people via what has turned out to be an essentially secular religion (prior to the rise of the right wing)--Israel.

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