I belong to a number of meetups. In an attempt to find “my tribe” I go to these gathering-togethers of like-minded people to discuss subjects of interest on an equal unbiased intellectual platform. Each meetup has a subject for discussion and there could be anything from three to 40 people in attendance. One of the groups I belong to is called Atheists & Iconoclasts, which has a founding “statement”: The group should promote among its members intelligent, rational discussion of important topics, keeping in mind that conventional beliefs whether in religion, politics, or moral philosophy almost always are irrational, and often delusional.
Each person joining has to give a “joining question,” on which their membership will be adjudicated. My question was, “Why is the possibility that ‘this is all there is’ inconceivable to so many?” My membership was accepted with alacrity by the organizing member, and a little alarm went off in the back of my head. Where do I know this person from? And then the penny dropped. I had seen him (for this article I will call him “Marvin”) chairing another meetup at a restaurant I was visiting. The meetup? The city’s Jewish Meetup, and the reason for it was to organize a meal for the Passover.
My mind went into a funk—the kind that recourses to dictionaries and research to make sure of the facts before moving thoughts through the mouth. First to the dictionary:
- (Philosophy) a person who does not believe in God or gods—1570s, from French athéiste (16c.), from Greek atheos “without god, denying the gods; abandoned of the gods; godless, ungodly,” from a– “without” + theos “a god.”
- a person who attacks cherished beliefs or traditional institutions as being based on error or superstition.
- a breaker or destroyer of images, esp. those set up for religious veneration.
My knowledge of the meaning of the two words confirmed, I went to the meetup ready to have my mind blown some more. My mind was not let down.
The meetup started controversially with someone stating that if something couldn’t be proven by scientific method, it was woowoo. Here there is already a problem as there are many things that cannot be proven by science. Fine, then if not by science, then proven by mathematics and logic. Come on, gentlemen, (I was the only woman in a sea of testosterone) mathematics uses imaginary numbers when it wants to make possible the impossible—the square root of a negative number. It makes as much sense as the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas, but it is accepted unquestioningly—another form of religion. Now shall we discuss the actual meaning of the word “atheist”?
Because we don’t believe in a god, a divine being, a supreme force that castigates and rewards for seemingly bad or good behaviour, a creator behind what simply could be a metamorphosis of carbon atoms into what we now consider “life,” doesn’t mean that everything out there has an explanation. The machinations of science itself are based on “theory” and, while we are at it:
- a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena.
- a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
Synonyms: idea, notion, hypothesis, postulate. Antonyms: practice, verification, corroboration, substantiation.
Note “commonly regarded as correct” and “whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation,” but we want to consider this as being proof?
Marvin became peevish and wanted to leave the meetup he had organized as it wasn’t going the way he thought it should go. People should use logic and stay away from science as “proof that there is no god.” OK, fine, let’s discuss that then. The meeting broke up into little meetup groups and the conversations continued on a more intimate basis. Marvin and I were together and I seized the opportunity. “Marvin, I saw you organizing the Jewish Meetup, now you are organizing the Atheist Meetup. How do you collate the two? Aren’t you being hypocritical?”
But Marvin doesn’t think so. There are many Jewish Atheists. It’s all about the culture, not the religion. Hold on a minute, Marvin, this is a culture based on religion, you can’t have one without the other. After much research, the easiest description of Passover is in Wikipedia—a source I rarely use, but here it worked well for this particular argument:
The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. According to standard biblical chronology, this event would have taken at about 1300 BCE (AM 2450)… In the Northern Hemisphere Passover takes place in spring as the Torah prescribes it: “in the month of [the] spring” (Exodus 23:15).
And bang, there went logic too. Being only “Jewish by culture” is impossible. To be an atheist and an iconoclast while still following the Jewish customs makes a mockery of all three. The Jewish religion is steeped in narratives and symbols—icons if you will. As for no god, as far as I can see—and I am open to correction—there wouldn’t be a Jewish culture without a deity.
It’s dangerous to create boxes with labels and expect others to fit neatly into them. It’s even more dangerous to stand with one foot in one box, and the other in another and proclaiming purity of a belief or non-belief system. There are many places in life where, to steal the words “you can’t have one without the other,” but religion and atheism are not one of them. While they can coexist in a world, or a room, they certainly cannot in a single being—not without a serious conflict of interest. And then we wonder why the world is in turmoil.
Read another perspective on atheism in SPIRITUAL ATHEISM: Good idea with a bad label?>>