“Men create the gods after their own image, not only with regard to their form but with regards to their mode of life.”

Aristotle


I have been hearing from people who have had to sit at Seders year after year, uncomfortably, stifling their inner thoughts about what nonsense this is, how tedious, what’s the point?  Early in her adulthood, my wife decided that THIS was the year she was going to stand up at a family Seder (with two rabbis present, mind you) and denounce the whole thing as a sham based on a story, but she decided to distract herself by focusing on the (meaningless) Hebrew and helping with the dishes…so the words were not said.

A fellow-atheist commentator, Rick Levy, reports having to endure Seders while connected to his family in California.  He used “let my people go” and I hereby credit him with it. 

Special deal

And then I had a conversation with my brother about what I was going to do for Passover.  He’s a 4-day-a-year Jew, and these folks must have some arrangement with God, because their annual four days of observance, plus Hanukkah, gets them into heaven…or at least makes them just as Jewish as the people who do 24/7 observance.  I told him that I grow less and less comfortable celebrating something that didn’t happen.  That was a conversation-stopper.  My family never discusses religion with me.

So each year the fakery continues.  And each year, there is a certain percent of agnostics who would like to stand up and politely declare the whole thing a farce and politely depart.  Each year a certain percentage of those at the table are inwardly rolling their eyes as the observant of all ages go through the prescribed ritual, repeating the big lie over and over.

Stifling skepticism

The thoughtful agnostic knows that the supernatural events didn’t happen – but stifles his skepticism because of the consequences of expressing it.  The thoughtful educated agnostic knows that none of it actually happened; for us, the cognitive dissonance is unbearable.

Yet they sit.  They re-enact, even though the Torah’s account of deliverance nowhere mentions freedom (a later add-on) and says God arranged it all for his greater glory.  What a schmuck of a god.  But that’s all they knew, back in the day.

Four sons

One of the staples of the Passover tradition is the account, in the Hagaddah (Passover service guidebook; Maxwell House distributed them for decades), of the four sons.

This is from Passover on the Net (I quote at length because of the accompanying spin):

“The wise son asks, with genuine intellectual curiosity: “What is the meaning of the statutes and laws that G-d has commanded?” Just like on Passover, when Jews eat matzah rather than bread, the wise son seeks to understand the essence of the laws. In modern times, the wise son is the truly unique student, who eschews his own ego and is only concerned with grasping the truth. Yet even with a rare mind like his, the wise son must be positively challenged rather than pampered. The wise son needs to focus his gifts and avoid potentially negative influences, which could easily turn him into the wicked son.

“The wicked son is intentionally vague when he haughtily asks: ‘What is this service to you?’ ‘To you’ being the operative phrase, since the wicked son is choosing to separate himself from the Jewish community. In today’s day and age, the wicked son is a metaphor for children who are more concerned with fitting in than honoring their family’s values. One might ask: Why is the wicked son second in the list of sons? Perhaps he should have been relegated to last. But since the wicked son is still engaged and asking questions - albeit with a flippant attitude - he is still connected on some level. With the right educational approach, a ‘wicked’ son could easily be turned into a ‘wise’ one.

“The simple son asks plainly: ‘What is this?’ While the simple son is definitely not an intellectual, he has a kind and generous heart. He is asking questions because he wants to do the right thing. But his understanding of Judaism - and life in general - comes from experience, not from books. In today’s day and age, the simple son is the energetic, highly active student, who needs a more kinetic-based approach to learning. To grow as a thinker, the simple son must have all of his senses engaged in the learning process.

“Finally, the fourth son is the one who does not know how to ask. He is not a simpleton - he is apathetic. He’s so laid back he doesn’t even care. In modern times, the fourth son represents the student who cares far more about his Game Boy than his studies. Not only does the fourth son not care, he doesn’t even listen. The challenge for educators of the forth son is to turn his heart - to turn him on and tune him in to learning.”

(These are just one of many possible descriptions of the sons.  But, given the basic adjectives, I suspect they wouldn’t vary much.)

Stacked the deck

Notice how the values are stacked in favor of obedience.  The writer has selected his adjectives carefully and very cleverly embedded a religious value system into the definitions:

Wise = wanting to know God’s law (humanist rating — good for people — 1-10: 0)

Wicked = assimilationist; disrespectful of authority (HR: 7)

Simple = sounds mildly retarded or autistic (HR: 0)

Apathetic = probably turned off to the system (HR: 5)

More sons/daughters

Of course, we could further proliferate the adjectives ad infinitum and define them as we please.  I therefore nominate (stipulating that the asker can be a daughter too):

The humanistic child, who asks, What kind of a God is this who causes such human misery for his own amusement?

The skeptical child, who asks, Did any of this really happen?

The courageous child, who says, If none of this happened, can we just call it a family dinner and dispense with the nonsense?   

It’s a fragile wall of mutual consent.  Cracking it can have dire consequences.  As I said, religion is off-limits in my family, and they’re not even Orthodox.

Soon many Jews will be condemned to the tedious, rigidly ritualistic Seders commemorating events that didn’t happen, engineered by a deity that’s nothing but a bully with superpowers.  They will be expected to pretend that they respect this nonsense, even participate in it (I always passed on the reading). 

If you are one of the imprisoned legions, which child/son will you be?  Is this the year that you have the courage to say: Let my people go!

Views: 26

Tags: Judaism, Passover, humanism, secular, seder

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Comment by Alan Perlman on March 30, 2013 at 5:43pm

Doesn't mention Moses??  I haven't seen one of those. Or maybe I don't remember accurately.

The first level of spin that is applied to the Passover story is that it is about freedom and social justice.  The Torah says absolutely nothing about either one!  Everything is done by God's command and for his greater glory.  These were primitive people - knew nothing about freedom.  Justice was harsh.  I read the whole thing. 

New Age people further spin "freedom" into psychological liberation from attitudes and addictions.  The people who wrote the Torah wouldn't know what the hell you're talking about.

Comment by Grinning Cat on March 30, 2013 at 12:57pm

It's significant that the traditional theistic Haggadah text intentionally doesn't mention Moses, in order to give God the glory.

In contrast, humanistic Haggadahs / haggadot -- there are a few on the web as well as in paper editions -- do name the people in the story. They tend to recognize that the exodus story is probably myth, while elaborating on it to advocate for working for freedom and justice for everyone.

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