What Religion Are You?

When I say I'm an atheist, the very next question most people ask is: “Well, what were you raised? What were your parents?”

Human beings.

Somehow that answer isn't good enough. They’re looking to place me in a spiritual box and lock me into a religion and all the stereotypes that go along with it.

All my life I've been told I'm a Jew—by my parents, by my relatives, by society at large, simply because my parents professed to be Jews. But if I don't believe in god, or any supreme being, or higher power; if entropy is what rules my universe then am I still Jewish?

Jew's believe in one god.

I believe in none.

Some would argue I am culturally Jewish, a product of my parentage. But it’s ludicrous I’m considered Jewish solely because my parents were (and technically just my mother need be, according to Jewish law). Let’s get one thing straight. Judaism is NOT a race. It is practiced globally, from members of our Supreme Court, to jungle tribes in Africa that pray to one God with ancient Hebrew texts. The thread that holds them together is not racial, or even cultural, but spiritual—a belief system. There are no cultural similarities between the African tribes and our Justices. Take away the religious string and there’s really nothing left of their Judaism.

I adhere to no religion, don’t celebrate any religious holidays, believe passing on fantastical mythologies that promote intellectual laziness is dangerous at best, yet most people still see me as a Jew. Growing up, my family celebrated the major Jewish holidays, though I never cared for the antiquated rituals. Their parables were too often warped tales filled with praising their solipsistic god instead of people for their hard-earned achievements. I didn't like the whining, breast beating nature of my elders. I don’t like brisket, noodle koogle or most deli foods. And as holidays go, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving always meant the most to me culturally, and the food is far better.

If I’m culturally anything, it’s white, middle-class, American. Like most of us, I grew up with people of my socioeconomic status. I was raised in a relatively safe, suburban neighborhood— religiously, even racially diverse, but everyone made around the same amount of money. More fine grain, I’m culturally Californian. We have a whole other way of thinking than the rest of the world out here. Level of intelligence would be my third greatest cultural influence. I find I gravitate to thinkers—those who explore and question.

So how does this make me a Jew?

Liking bagels or preferring salmon to ham doesn’t define one culturally. Nor does espousing the virtues of education, or denouncing violence, or promoting charity. These ideologies are widely held by most of our modern age. I’m not a Taoist because I believe in living a balanced life. And I’m not a Christian because I think Christ, or his myth, had a lot of wise ideas.

What does it mean to say you are Jewish, or Christian, or Mormon if you don’t embrace their belief system? If you were raised Christian and you didn't believe in god, or Christ, would you still be considered a Christian? Hell, if you believed in god, but NOT Christ, could you still be a Christian?

What religion are you?

Most of us would simply state what are parents are or were, and we practice the rituals they bestowed on us. But the more important question is: What do you believe?

Think about it.

Don’t let others, not even your ancestry, define your spirituality. Take the time and invest the energy to find what resonates with you. Then live it.

8 comments:

Ronald Louis Peterson said...

I'm 60 years old today. I was raised Catholic and flirted with aetheism for a time before embracing my Christianity and growing as a Christian.

I had to laugh a little at your comments about people who believe in God and practice a religion as being lazy spiritually. From my experience, going through what I did with regard to my spirituality was far from lazy. Be careful about how you express your non-belief because it may just become your religion and make you lazy spiritually.

J. Cafesin said...

Ronald,
Adopting another's belief system, though you may have studied it intensively, is not constructing one of your own, which takes unique and in-depth thinking.

J. Cafesin said...

Happy Birthday by the way. It's very typical as people age they go back to their religious roots. Death is very frightening. I understand the need to believe there is something beyond it.

Ann Jensen said...

Jews have no requirement of belief. That is a Christian doctrine. Jewish "theology" puts emphasis on what you do, not what you believe. Belief comes AFTER doing. So it's perfectly appropriate to be Jewish without believing in God. In fact, the world "Israel" means "to struggle with God." Before you dismiss anything, you should learn about it. You may find more meaning there than you thought.

J. Cafesin said...

Thanks Ann.
Yes. I'm aware of what Israel means. Yet, any level of Judaism (orthodox, conservative, reform) practiced today still uses the old testament, which is based on the 10 commandments to govern behavior, and the first 3 are agreeing to bow without thinking to their gods will (even if in fact it's murdering your own son). To say you are Jewish without believing in or practicing these commandment... well, why say you're Jewish exactly?

Ann Jensen said...

Rejecting everything Judaism means because of 3 lines is a little like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. So you don't want to bow to the "will" of the commandment's god. What about the rest of the list? Aren't they pretty decent--divinely inspired or not? And I wouldn't say the entire hebrew bible is "based on" the 10 commandments. They may be central, but one could argue that everything is based on the liberation story--and that is a story that has meaning today as well as in ancient times. There's plenty in the hebrew bible that's awful, but there's plenty that's pretty terrific, too. And it's the tension between them that's interesting. I still say you should know what you're rejecting before you reject it. Using the Christian term "old testament" tells me you don't know a whole lot about about Judaism. How much do you know about the other religions you dismiss?

J. Cafesin said...

Ann,
I do not believe in divine anything. I believe the commandments and all other parts of what's commonly referred to as the 'old' and 'new' testaments were written by men, to control man. These writers would have had to be wiser than the common man, as they were literate, which was rare then.

And yes, they had some good ideas, fair laws with complex litigations as in the Talmud. And in fact, much of our 'justice' system is based on these very ideas from 5,000 years back.

And the laws that helped us evolve stuck, and have integrated into our criminal and civil systems.

None of this divine. It's mans achievement and has progressed us to where we are at this time.

Like it or not, we are effectively gods here now. We can destroy this planet and virtually every living thing on it.

Divine intervention (oddly silent in the modern age, [and yet to be caught on video]), won't save us from ourselves. We're going to have to do that.

Stuart Aken said...

62 years ago, I was born into a Christian family and raised in that religion, or, at least one of its many manifestations; i.e.Church of England. at around 14, I fell in love with the local priest (he was very handsome and kind and I was a strange boy at the time) and decided to become a priest. At 15, I dated my first girlfriend (who later became my first wife). At 16 my world collapsed when my mother was killed in a car accident.
The church did nothing to sooth my distress and grief and I started to ask those questions the death of a loved one always brings to mind. It took only a short journey to make me an atheist.
But I live a full life and I look around and see evidence that there is clearly no personal God, as described in the canons of the major religions. I do, however, notice that a battle goes on in all things; there exists in nature, everywhere, opposite forces; right and wrong, black and white, hot and cold, dark and light, small and large, good and evil. I began to wonder if the various myths that support the idea of a God, or Gods, are based on this observation. And I concluded that we will never know. If there is a God, it certainly isn't a God that cares for individuals and, more importantly, it is a being, a force, an entity so far beyond our power to understand, that it is truly incomprehensible. And, of course, if there is this creative force for good, then there must be, by logical progression, an equally powerful and ineffable force for evil. So, that leaves me as an agnostic. I sit on the fence of 'don't know' because I see no reasonable alternative.
You are, of course, so right J when you say that religion is for the spiritually lazy, giving easy answers to complex questions.
I have followed this blog and will return when I have more time - my daughter's just off on holiday with her boyfriend's family and I must give her a good farewell!