The de-conversion story of an Ashkenazi Jew
Hi everyone! My name is Shai, I am 23 years old, I live in a city near Tel-Aviv, Israel, and I am an atheist. As an atheist, I lack the belief in a god, gods, or any other supreme/supernatural being. I believe that everyone on the planet earth are godless creatures that were not created by anything and that the origin of life and its evolution are the product of purely natural processes.
Now that I’ve firmly depicted my worldview, I want to share with d-C’s readers why and how I adopted this rather unusual worldview. (if you lived in Israel, you’d know that it’s quite unusual, although, as far as I know, not illegal, to be an atheist)
I was born and raised in Israel. Since I read that this blog is mainly about Christian de-conversion, my story is probably going to be a bit alien to you. My atheism owes itself to 3 major factors: My personality, my upbringing, and some atheist asshole who sent me some websites about critical thinking and atheism.
First of all, let me tell you a bit about religion in Israel. Israel is defined as a “Jewish democratic state”. Although I bet it sounds to any American/Anglo-Saxon reader to be some sort of cynical euphemism for “Jewish Theocracy” – it’s not entirely true. Israel, on the whole, is a fairly secular nation. But that’s not because Jews are a jolly good bunch who know that personal freedom should trump religious dogma at all costs. First of all, we have organizations here in Israel that are entirely dedicated to removing religious impositions upon Israeli citizens. It is against the law to eat unleavened bread during Passover, whether or not it’s against the law, using a car during Yom Kippur is a creative way to commit suicide.
Jews, you see, were usually a persecuted people, we’re not very experienced at being goons, although pro-Palestinian activists might disagree.
The most important thing to realize about Israel, before I will tell about my own personal de-conversion story, is that secularism is very widespread in Israel. The reason it is so widespread is because a persecuted people does not have time to mince around with silly, useless dogma and mainly has to focus on staying alive. The fact that we’ve survived this long as some sort of homogenous identity (and I’m not a historian, but we do take mandatory Jewish history classes in high school here) is because survival as a people has always been some sort of major activity.
Jews, to my opinion, are a lot more obsessed with remaining a self-identified people (and even more importantly, a non-extinct people) than they are with God. That is Yahweh, the Jewish God.
It is also important to note that Jews have been persecuted for centuries, not just during WWII. A lot of Jews became assimilated into the European or Asian or African lands they migrated to (some 2000 years ago) – but a very large amount of exiled Jews remained Jews, to an extent, in secluded, xenophobic congregations spread throughout the entire old world.
The reason I’m telling you all of this is because there is a very practical reason for Israeli Jews to be secularists. And, case in point, most of the Jews that migrated to Israel in the past 120 years (in Hebrew we call it “Aliyah” or “emigration to Israel”) were secular, mostly bourgeoisie Jews. Yes, a fraction of them were, truly, communists. There was some sort of pan-social worldview among these very secular Jews that dictates that all of us who migrated here should live a hard-working life and be, to a greater or lesser extent – equal.
This, of course, applied only to Jews. And frankly, I have no qualms with that. Jews were being asskicked throughout the pages of history up until we got our little patch of dry, bog-filled scrap of land. To be honest, we couldn’t have received a worst territory to colonize. But hey, the bible sez what the bible sez.
In any event, due to this culmination of circumstances, the Jews that actually built this country, and the Jews who are, more or less, the majority, the more well-to-do and basically, the most historically “senior settlers” are former European and Russian Jews. Or as we call them here – Ashkenazi Jews.
I won’t (unless there’ll be some popular demand for it, hmm?) dive any deeper into Jewish and Israeli history, since now my point has been made.
As an Ashkenazi Jew, I haven’t suffered the inoculation of religion that non-Ashkenazi Jews receive more vehemently. There are all sorts of sects in Judaism (I bet this reminds you Christians of something like Christian denominations) and Ashkenazi Jews are probably one of the most secular ones, although we do have our fundies, as well.
Now, just because I wasn’t inoculated with religion, doesn’t mean I wasn’t taught religion and forced to recite OT verses in class starting from 2nd grade. As a child in a school filled with all kind of Jewish peers – we all believed because Judaism and Jewish religious classes are mandatory in Israel for 11 out of the 12 mandatory years in elementary, junior, and high school.
That said – we all believed. Us secularists believed in it in the back of our heads, we spent holidays together and went to the synagogue and circumcised our sons (yes, I AM circumcised, if anyone’s been wondering) and we all did our bar-mitzvahs. I wouldn’t call it religious oppression. All in all, we didn’t suffer much and frankly, it could have been a lot worse, although in retrospect, I would much rather having a choice in the matter.
I was a secular Jew throughout my theistic years. As a secular Jew, I was also highly spiritual and had very strong faith in God (the Yahweh version, not the Jesus-fondling version) as the True God of the True People ™. A ridiculous idea, now that I think of it, as there are probably millions of “Jews” who are probably not Jews at all (if genetics have anything to say about it. Religion just says that if the mother is Jewish, then perforce so is the son. Never mind that the mother might herself be a result of a pogrom-related rape, something that Jews have endured for centuries)
If anyone here is still reading this lengthy foray, you might be thinking, and you’d be correct, that such a “lax religious environment” is high grounds for de-conversion. That’s right. Although I was religious up to the point where I started digging into critical thinking and science, I was always a very practical sort of person. I always wanted to adopt to myself any method of living that produces repeatable, evidence-based results. In that respect, I always had an itch for science. This is because besides being an atheist, I’m also a child of deaf adults. And being a child of deaf adults (CODA) in Israel is NO CANDY.
Since I was very young, my sister and I pretty much had to take care of the house and our parents. Their deafness and the problems it entailed were major factors in shaping my personality. As a child, I was forced from a very young age to produce results. Another good method of producing results is the scientific method – which is why this method has appealed to me so eagerly when I first came across it.
What eventually nailed the last nail in my Jewish coffin was being exposed to science (mainly Biology, can you believe that?) and to critical thinking. I became obsessed with questions relating to origins and evolution. I think I still am.
I think that atheism is the only product possible for an evidence-based worldview. I think it is easy to de-convert anyone who desires affirmable results. In that respect, these are good AND bad news. Those capable and skilled enough would never need the appeal to atheism because they will achieve their own ends anyway, and if they’re emotionally bound to either their figures of authority (who might be religious), then I can, with quite some certainty, predict that they’re “doomed”. Religion is not only the scourge of the ignorant. I think that anyone who is too deeply attached to those who have poisoned their minds with religion are almost never going to de-convert.
The reason I’m writing this epilogue is because I wish to share a message to anyone who is a de-convert . A message that is a call-to-arms and also a message of warning: religion or any other form of malign irrationality is not going anywhere because the bell-curve of humanity will always allow for individuals who will favor religion or irrationality over atheism and science. That said, atheists of all nations should unite in the struggle for rationality or, in the more extreme cases (if I was an atheist in Iran, I’d be hung) – a struggle for survival.
– freidenker85 (guest contributor)