The Burbank Leader recently ran an opinion piece entitled In Theory: Shunning the idea of an atheist-in-law. I knew before I even clicked the link that the piece was likely a waste of ink. It was, but let me give you a little taste. The “expert” opinions below are in response to the question of “how would [you] react if a member of [your] immediate family told [you] they were going to marry one of the following: an atheist, a gun owner, someone who had not attended college, someone of a different race, a born-again Christian, a Republican, a Democrat or someone born and raised outside the U.S.?”
First, I’ll just give you the real answer up-front. If someone in my immediate family did any of these, the only reaction I’m entitled to have is to be happy that my immediate family member has found their match, and to be happy for them. THAT’S IT. I don’t care who or what they are (ok, serial killer may be an issue. I’m not partial to succubi, either). But you know what the overwhelming response was? Essentially, it was “all that stuff may raise an eyebrow, but I can’t nevah allow no atheist into mah family!”
Let’s just start you off with an “educated” opinion:
“I would agree with those families who oppose bringing an atheist into the tribe. Atheists do not hold our values, and since they dismiss the progenitor of all pertinent values, I can only imagine an ongoing massive headache and heartache.”
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
“Our” values are the “progenitor of all pertinent values”?! Are you kidding me. Rev. Griem? Are you saying that, prior to the inception of the Christian religion, the world was populated with pillaging marauders with no “pertinent” values? (Ok, there were some pillaging marauders, but there are today, too – and some of them are even of the Judeo-Christian persuasion.) You are well aware, sir, that the civilizations of Greece, ancient Egypt, and Mesopotamia, where around 1772 BCE Hammurabi set forth his legal code, had very advanced ethics that very closely mirror those found in the Christian Bible. Hammurabi’s Code was the first written legal code we now know of, and you’re telling me there were no “pertinent” values before the Christian Bible was written?
How about Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics? What was that? Aristotle spends an entire volume fleshing out Plato’s original question of how men should best live. In his discussion of practical ethics, Aristotle contemplates good living AND how to create good living. All of this goes on approximately 350 years before Christ was even born! Aristotle does an excellent job of exploring how one should live in a virtuous and good manner.
And what about the Pre-Socratic Philosophers? Heraclitus, the Milesians, Hesiod, Democritus – the list goes on, and each and every one of them explored the idea of goodness, and living a better life among his fellow humans.
Sorry Rev. Griem, as far as “pertinent values” go, your Christian Bible doesn’t quite get us there. After all, no other ancient text of values or ethical exploration encourages us to beat our children, keep slaves, and take our brother’s wife as our own if something happens to him! We also don’t follow the Bible’s edicts regarding slavery (Lev. 25:44-46), intolerance of religious pluralism (Deut. 5:7, Deut. 7:2-5, 2 Corinthians 6:14) or of freedom of religion (Deut. 13:6-12), discrimination and racism (Lev. 21:17-23, Deut. 23:1-3), treatment of women, honor killing (Ex. 21:17, Leviticus 20:9, Ex. 32:27-29), genocide (Num. 31:15-18, 1 Sam. 15:3), religious wars, and capital punishment for sexual behavior like adultery and sodomy and for Sabbath breaking (Num. 15:32-36).
Even worse than this was the Rabbi’s quote:
“… a person, who publicly avows to not believe in God, has no belief in the order and logic of the world and has no hope for its positive future.”
“Now do you want your nearest and dearest relative to marry someone who publicly exclaims he or she has no hope for himself or herself or the world, or would you prefer someone who merely uses a different hope and belief path to climb the same mountain?”
Rabbi Mark H. Sobel
Temple Beth Emet
Maybe the good Rabbi reacts so strongly because Judaism, unique among the “Judaic” religions, has a growing population of Jewish atheists. (See this Jewish Journal article – and this, from USA Today.) The USA Today article puts it most eloquently when it says “An individual who attends synagogue, participates in Jewish communal affairs, and contributes heavily to Jewish charities would undoubtedly be considered a very fine Jew, without asking questions about whether or not that person believed in God.”
In fact, it was the tenants of Judaism itself that led me, a Jew, down the road to Atheism. I have heard Rabbis say, “God doesn’t care whether you believe in him or not. All that he cares is that you do the right thing.’ Our action in the world is much more important.” Similarly, after adding Jewish Studies as my minor at UC Davis, and studying Hebrew and even part of the Hebrew Bible in its original language, the message rang loud and clear – Judaism isn’t about what you believe, it is about what you do! And what a fantastic philosophy.
As far as not having hope – or believing in the “order and logic of the world…” well, I sincerely hope the Rabbi isn’t insinuating a belief in God gives one hope. What, exactly, does God do in the Bible? He quite literally tortures his followers, first by commanding Abraham to give up his only son (only to say, “just kidding!” when it looked like Abraham was actually going to do it, flooding out whole civilizations, burning cities, and then advocating for prejudice, cruelty, superstition, murder…the list goes on.
So what gives an atheist hope? The same things that give everyone else hope – life! Existence! Isn’t that enough? Isn’t the natural wonder of the world enough to hope for? I think Penn Jillette says it best: “Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.” Creating a better society – enjoying the beauty of nature – having fun – spending time with loved ones – isn’t that enough?! It’s enough for me.
So I’ll leave you with this:
“The word “holiday” comes from “holy day” and holy means “exalted and worthy of complete devotion.” By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. The glory of giving or receiving a blow job. Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.
For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.”
― Penn Jillette, Every Day is an Atheist Holiday