The more I read of Kate Cohen's book, We of Little Faith: Why I Stopped Pretending to Believe (And Maybe You Should Too), the more I enjoy what this talented writer has to say about openly, honestly, and bravely proclaiming one's atheism.
Here's some additional excerpts from the book, which I wrote about in an initial post a few days ago. First, I recall that one of the comments on the post said that it isn't possible, or at least very difficult, to be a Jewish atheist, since Judaism is a religion that believes in God.
That ridiculous, as anyone familiar with the actual beliefs of people in a religion would know. For example, there are Christian pastors who don't believe in God, though they don't proclaim this from the pulpit.
More obviously, it is common to be an atheist Jew. Cohen says this about atheism and being Jewish:
Whether someone is "still Jewish" is not a question you hear in an area with a sizable Jewish population. Anyone familiar with Jews is also familiar with the concept that being Jewish is as much about belonging as belief. It isn't something you change easily. Or at all. You can be more or less observant, you can downgrade to "culturally" Jewish, but it's hard to give it up entirely. I'm pretty sure you can even convert to Hinduism and still be Jewish.
In a chapter with the engaging title, "Sorry, Honey, God's Just Pretend," Cohen speaks about why she taught her children that we know there's no God, rather than leaving the question of God open. I heartily agree with her logic.
One day, in the middle of doing her math homework at age nine, after having heard a casual remark I made to her father, she [her daughter] paused, pencil poised, to ask me the obvious but as yet never asked question: "How do we know there's no God?"
It's a question atheists get asked all the time, often by people who think we should use that gentler term "agnostic," people who are comfortable with doubt and suspicious of certainty. In answer I would say that all evidence points to the fact that God is a popular and useful fiction, and that no evidence points to the fact that he actually exists.
...So chances were good that teaching my kids there was no God would likely result in... their not believing in God. I can't prove that God does not exist. So how can I teach my children as fact something that cannot actually be proven? Isn't that intellectually irresponsible?
Well, I can't prove that monsters don't exist, either but I have no trouble saying to my kids, "Monsters are pretend." What, after all, is the alternative?
"Mommy, are monsters real?"
"Well, honey, I don't believe monsters are real and neither does your father. Certainly, we've never seen one. But a lot of people do believe they are real. What do you think?"
Of course not. Monsters are pretend. No one would accuse me of indoctrinating my children with a nonbelief in monsters or of brainwashing them with my skepticism about the paranormal. And yet that's precisely what happens when the subject is God.
...Belief in God seems harmless enough. What's the harm in imagining that a kindly old man runs the world? There is none -- as long as they know it's not actually true. Being able to tell fact from fiction comes in quite handy in life, personally and politically, and at least one study has shown that kids who are raised with religion can't do that as well as kids who are raised without it.
So, sure, let's imagine Great-Grandma looking down on us from heaven, but let's be clear we are making that up. And because our surrounding culture tells us, over and over, that heaven might be true, we have to be extra clear that the heaven scenario is no more plausible than the idea that Great-Grandma's spirit has been distilled in a bottle of scotch.
When the kids are old enough, they can have a sip. Or that Great-Grandma now haunts the 793s of the public library; where, in the Dewey decimal system would they like to be filed?
It's okay -- not just okay; mind-expanding, pleasurable -- to think about those things. To picture an alternative universe and ponder its metaphorical significance. I'm happy to do that and happy for my kids too. But I would never say such speculative flights of fancy are or even might be factually true, and I would never say that of heaven or God, either.
Just as I would never say, "It could be that ladybug is in charge; one day you can decide for yourself," I would never say, "I don't think God is in charge, but who knows?" I taught my children there is no God. Or, to be more accurate, I taught them that there are lots and lots of gods, all of them fascinating and all of them invented by human beings.
...Each of these beliefs is something they could learn among the local religious offerings. Not just fiction posing as fact, but also, in some cases, wrong posing as right. Shall I refrain from imposing my moral values on my children as well?
Let's consider a few more imaginary conversations:
"Teddy says wives have to do whatever their husbands say. Is that true?"
"You know, people disagree about that. I think women and men are equal, but a lot of people don't. It sure is an interesting question."
"My teacher says it's now legal for men to marry other men. That's gross, isn't it?"
"No, I don't think it's gross. I think two adults who love each other should be able to get married. But some people think marriage should only be between a man and a woman. They think men who want to marry other men are doomed to burn in hell for all eternity. When you get older, you can decide for yourself."
Not a chance.
...As a parent, I am not willing to say "that's just my opinion" about whether something is fact or fiction, right or wrong. All beliefs -- mine, theirs, Mike Pence's -- are not equal. Many are wrong. Some are harmlessly wrong (I'll go to heaven after I die) and some are harmfully wrong (gay people will go to hell after they die).