Saturday, June 12, 2010


Hello and Happy Saturday Everyone!

First up I wish to thank Ange for sharing her perspective with us. I found her post both informative and interesting. Thank you Ange!

Secondly we have a new post, so please welcome Ryan.
Ryan was raised in the Jewish faith but is now Atheist. I know you will enjoy his interview, another excellent read!

Here Is Ryan's Introduction:

My name is Ryan. As an Orthodox Jew, I was raised as one of the “Chosen People.” A few years ago, I left that world and I’m now a run-of-the-mill “unchosen” person. Read more about my journey at

1) What religion do you practice?
I am an atheist. I don’t think it qualifies as a religion, but I like to think of it as a religion. I’m not non-religious because I’m lazy or indifferent, but because I believe in non-religion.

2) Did you convert or were you born into this religion? If you converted, what did you need to do to convert? And what did you practice prior to converting?
You could say I’m born-again. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, but from the youngest age I had doubts about what I was being taught. So many things just sounded incredibly absurd, and I wondered how we could be so sure we were right while the rest of the world was absolutely wrong. Their gods didn’t help, but ours did? What are the odds? My parents were born non-Orthodox, and I was raised with a great respect for science and the major accomplishments of science. I was also instilled with a healthy reverence for doubt and following the evidence wherever it would lead. I remember my father telling me that we were in a world that was spinning at a dizzying rate, when I had thought the earth stood still. Like all scientists, I was taught to disregard all hypotheses that turned out to be wrong. I was raised to respect truth above all else, and I sometimes enjoyed religious discussions, especially when I believed they would bring me closer to the truth. I spent many hours poring over a religious book titled “Strive for Truth!” until I got to the part where the author defines truth as whatever his religion says it is.

3) Would you consider yourself a moderate, conservative or other.
Devout? I had doubts for a long time, but it wasn’t until my early twenties that I had enough information to safely dismiss the claims of my religion. I had grown up in a house that had no TV, movies, Internet etc., and I was very sheltered. The outside world was something to be feared. Even the library was off-limits. I had little access to resources that might question my religion or very strict way of life, and that may have contributed to my leaving as late as I did. When I was in my early twenties, I stumbled across websites and books that openly challenged some of the fundamentals of my faith (things like the historicity of the Bible, especially Sinai, as well as the creation story). The little faith I had dissolved, and I no longer had an excuse to believe in religion. In a matter of months, I moved out of my parents' home, and began my life free of religion. It’s been a few years since this happened, and I have no regrets about my decision. About a year ago, I discovered Richard Dawkins' books and I was captivated by his ideas. His passionate zest for truth, as well as his awe of the world, his respect for nature and his compassion really captured my imagination. He got me to label myself an atheist, as I realized that to be an atheist one need not lose their awe of nature nor “deny” God 100%. I don’t know that there is no God. I just don’t think that there is one, and there are much more important things for human beings to do than discuss God.

4) In your opinion, what makes someone conservative? What makes someone moderate?
There are lots of atheists who don’t believe in getting in the hair of religious people and making them uncomfortable. Although I don’t quite understand why. If it’s okay for religion to proselytize, why shouldn’t atheists? That's not to say people should necessarily be treated with disrespect; but why should ideas be immune to criticism? Why should religious ideas get any more respect than atheist ones—in other words, no respect at all?!

5) What's your heaven/paradise like?
I don’t believe in heaven, although I think it’s a great idea. It would be wonderful if there was a heaven, or if there was a kind, benevolent God looking after us, but I think both concepts are silly. They also become turn sinister when you contemplate the less-publicized flip side of the bargain and that is hell and a nasty or at the very least demanding God-figure. I think they often go together like bagels and lox. If I could do away with one and keep the other, I would. But since they’re almost inseparable, I’d rather do away with the whole kit and caboodle.

6) In your opinion, does everyone make it into heaven/paradise? If they do not, why?
I don’t believe in the supernatural, though I think heaven is a nice concept. I sometimes think we’re all correct. I’m right when I think there is no heaven (or hell) and my father is right when he thinks that his way of life will get him into heaven, even though the two concepts are contradictory. Although as CNN likes to say, the truth doesn’t take sides! This reminds me of another problem I have with religion: if God was really a nice guy, wouldn’t we all make it to Heaven? (Assuming we all were of decent moral caliber.) God's our friend! Conversely, if he’s more of a prick and sends us off to hell if we don't obey him (or his self-appointed spokespeople), then a) do we really want to worship such a despot? b) how do I know I’ll get into heaven even if I do everything I'm told? Perhaps God is partial to another religion, and I’m up the creek in spite of all the prayer and selfless worship in the world! Consequently, I see religion as one big pile of irrelevance: if God is kind, we can safely ignore him. If he’s not, we’re pretty much screwed regardless.

7) What makes your religion a good fit for you?
I think it’s great because anyone can join. There are almost zero requirements. Talk about accepting! One merely needs to be brave enough to call themselves an atheist and that’s about it. You can be a weak or strong atheist, with weak atheist being uncertain about the existence of God—in other words, agnostic. What other religion allows for so much uniqueness?

8) Do you consider people of other faiths to be your friends?
I have no problem with people of other faiths. I generally don’t disclose that I’m an atheist, though I like to think my friends wouldn’t mind if they knew. I don’t consider religion to be the only significant aspect a person and if I like them enough in other areas, religion may not be a determining factor in whether we become companions.

9) Would you ever join people of another faith to celebrate one of their holy days? Please explain why?
Certainly. I’m all for special occasions and celebrations and as long as religion isn’t front and center, I’m happy to celebrate with friends.

10) What are your thoughts on the burka, and Shariah Law?
I find this to be a rather thorny issue. I think Sharia law is absolutely despicable, and it reminds me of the great chasm between modern perceptions of morality and more traditional, religious views of morality. There are major differences between the two, and it is important that we do not lose sight of that. As far as burkas are concerned, I think it’s important that people should be free to dress as they please, and that women that do or do not want to wear it should be free to choose accordingly. Unfortunately, religious leaders cannot generally be relied upon to enforce freedom, and it’s hard to know whether or not a given woman is free to not wear it. Though if freedom was not an issue, I'd have no issue with it.

11) What are your thoughts on women not being allowed to become priests?
I think women would do a far better job than men. One of the many problems with religion traditionally has been its offensive treatment of women.

12) How much does your religion affect your daily life and how much thought do you give it when making a decision? Does it affect in any way your decision on abortion, gay marriage, etc?
It doesn’t affect me much, although I’m constantly aware of my godless worldview. It especially rears its head when news about political issues such as stem cell research comes up and the debate over morals and values is revived. Humanists like me believe in morality for one reason, while theists often have an entirely different concept of morality, based on absolutes, dusty books, and sometimes disgraceful mythology. I find dialogue next to impossible in this realm.

13) How would you react/feel if your child wished to marry outside your religion?
I would be fine. If she is happy with her decision, why wouldn’t I?

14) In your opinion, if someone is not of your faith, will they go to hell?
That’s one of the great things about my religion (though it’s not really a religion): no heaven and hell! No carrot and stick, nothing supernatural whatsoever. Nothing that’s not based in this world alone. And I think we’ve all seen really good and bad instances in this world alone to feel the consequences of our moral and immoral actions in this world. I know I used to feel immense amounts of guilt just looking into the mirror as a theist, knowing that I was living a lie for the most part; pretending to believe in the Jewish God when I really did not. Structuring my entire life around a religion I did not think was worthwhile or true in the slightest. I don’t think I miss much of it. I have enough faith in the human mind to believe in reward and punishment without an afterlife; I know that if I do something horrendous, I will live with the guilt for the rest of my life, whereas if I do something wonderful, I am graced with the memory for the rest of my life.

15) Who do you think is not a practising ----- in your religion and why? ie who in the public domain claims to speak for your religion? Do you agree with them or not?
I think many atheists stay in the closet and don’t challenge religion as much as they should either from a misguided sense of respect or because they aren’t comfortable or proud enough of their own beliefs. I think it’s important that free speech should be respected in the field of religious belief. Those who are unwilling to tolerate differing points of view should be marginalized as bigots. No one should feel afraid to share their opinion. Respect is a two-way street, and it should be accorded to people, not ideas.

16) Have you ever been the target of a hate crime? Please explain.
I have received a lot of anger and criticism from theists online for not believing in God. What hurt the most was when they attacked my morals and character by saying “you don’t believe in God; you’re automatically a bad person!” Such offensive, desperate people those were. I've also found the angrier their tone, the less convinced they were of their own opinion.

17) Do you ever feel like your religion devalues you?
No. I find religion devalues people by telling them they’re mere pawns in the hand of a master planner. I find the opportunity to be masters of our own destiny exhilarating and empowering.

18) Does your religion give you peace of mind?
In a strange way, yes. I don't believe in any simple answers to complex questions. It would be nice if there were shortcuts to knowledge, but I'm content knowing that those answers are unsatisfactory and seriously lacking. It would be nice to delegate responsibility to a Higher Power, but I'm mature enough to take responsibility for my own life, believe it or not. My school principal once told me, "nothing in life comes easy" and I don't think that changes whether or not a God exists. Our Sages taught, "the day is short and there's lots to be done." I embrace the impossibility of the task.


  1. I'm an atheist who doesn't proselytize to religious people about atheism (although I did at one point try to bring member's of my immediate family around to my way of thinking, and failed). I guess my reasons are twofold: 1. I have way more important things to do than worry about how other people are living their lives and 2. I would rather other people not concern themselves with the way I live my way of life, and I would rather religious people not proselytize to me.

    I guess I'm of the "treat other people the way you want to be treated" school of thought rather than the "treat other people the way they have treated you" school of thought. :)

  2. AE: Thanks for the comment.

    First off, I think family is slightly different than the public. I'd prefer to deal with just the general public for the purpose of this discsussion, as it is much less complex.

    There is acceptable and unacceptable proselytization. Religious groups often advertise their product, and regularly wear "their faith on their sleeve," so to speak. They may have bumper stickers on their cars, commercials in the media, and have public places of worship. So why is it that atheists are often afraid to express their views on religion, and people are marginalized if they come out as atheists? Or why bus ads that say "There is no God" are so controversial. Is it really that much different than ads that say "There is a God"?

    Now I still don't approve of underhanded proselytization, or hate speech of any kind, whether directed at or by religious believers. Yet there is a whole world of acceptable proselytization and dialogue and sharing of ideas *within acceptable boundaries*, and I prefer to focus on these.

  3. I agree with you that it's necessary to challenge religious ideas vigorously. Luckily, there are ways we can do that without getting into face-to-face confrontations with individuals -- by posting on the internet or writing books or, as you say, bus ads. The message gets across more easily that way, when individuals have less reason to feel personally under attack.

    By the way, the new green backgound makes the green print in this post hard to read. If the green background stays, another color should probably be used for the contributr responses.

  4. Thanks Infidel753,
    I switched the background colour. I think it does look better now and easier to read the responses.
    Let me know your thoughts.

  5. Yes, this is much easier, thanks.