In our first co-authored column, my son Ari and I tackled the existence of God. A strident atheist, Ari made my iconoclastic views seem moderate. Ari received many accolades, but also stern rebuke from some atheists, who ironically chastised him for chastising others, and insisted that Ari should not criticize those who believe in God, not because he is wrong, but because believers are better off living in delusion, and too fragile to handle the truth.
Now that we are free to speak our minds in America, they advise Ari to remain silent, just as Jews and free thinkers of the past were forced into silence by death and torture. Neil De Grasse Tyson agreed with Ari said, “Ignorance is a virus. Once it starts spreading it can only be cured by reason. For the sake of humanity, we must be that cure.” Thomas Jefferson concurred, advising us to “Question with boldness even the existence of God, because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” The greatest minds in history share this view:
“For me, it is better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring”. Carl Sagan “I don’t know if God exists, but it would be better for His reputation if He didn’t.” Jules Renard “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire “Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong." -Thomas Jefferson
A great modern Jewish sage and ally of Dr. Martin Luther King said “A faith that does not challenge us, nudge us from our comfortable places, and call us to a higher sense of being and living is not worthy of our time, energy and resources.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Another champion of free thought provides this stern admonition “The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy. Because each new generation of children is taught that religious propositions need not be justified in the way that all others must, civilization is still being besieged by the armies of the preposterous. We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature. Who would have thought something so tragically absurd could be possible?” Sam Harris
Bishop Shelby Spong stated that anti-Semitism is as integral to the Catholic Church as the flying buttress. Catholic theologian James Carroll traced 2000 years of anti-Semitism, from Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms, ghettos, the holocaust and today’s current hatred to belief in a Christian God who rejected Jews. A visiting pastor explained to our congregation that his religion taught him that since God was going to send all Jews to hell, Jews are expendable, and thus it was godly to remain silent during the holocaust, and to send Jews on board the MS St. Louis back to their death in Europe. We are too well aware that the God of the Koran is also not just innocuous nonsense, it is lethal.
Elie Wiesel asserts that many Jews were led to slaughter during the holocaust, waiting in vain for divine intervention that was promised by their rabbis if they prayed hard enough, but never arrived. These rabbis told them that they were to blame for their current predicament which was God’s punishment for their lack of faith and failure to observe his laws, just as the Jews of ancient days were punished by the loss of the first and second Temple according to the Torah and sages due to lack of faith in God. Not all Jews believed such nonsense and Wiesel notes that it was mostly secular Jews who staged resistance, such as in the Warsaw ghetto, and who founded the state of Israel rather than waiting around for God to deliver them.
Charles Darwin said "To kill an error is as good a service, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact." Many Jews agree with Elie Wiesel that the old concept of a personal God seems to have died in the ashes of Auschwitz and was buried at Babi Yar along with the bodies of our people. Albert Einstein offers us a rational concept of God as the sublime power intrinsic, not extrinsic to the symmetry, causality, and subtle beauty of the universe, and Carl Sagan offers us this challenge to religious/spiritual thinkers everywhere:
“In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed’? Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”
The time has come to make the vision of Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein a reality by introducing cosmic religion, an evolutionary advance that could transform the religions of the world with the revelations, wonders and insights of science and reason. The time has come, and the fate of humanity may hinge, on our ability to combine the profound truths of science with the ideals, dreams and inspiration of religion to not only allow our species to survive, but to thrive in this new century. Only then, can religion bring out the best in us, rather than the beast in us. It is also time for the Jewish people to share our indomitable spirit, faith in humanity’s goodness, and devotion to intelligence and reason, with all other peoples of the earth, which is our mission and our raison d’etre, in order to help humanity meet the daunting challenges we face today and will confront in the future.